August 29, 2014

Crist asks Scott to let federal gay-marriage ruling stand

Democratic candidate for governor Charlie Crist sent a letter to Republican Gov. Rick Scott on Friday, urging him not to appeal the recent federal court ruling that found Florida's gay-marriage ban unconstitutional.

"By declaring the marriage ban finished you could discourage any future appeals and end the nightmare that loving same sex couples all across our state endure every single day, ending court battles that could drag on for months or years," Crist wrote.

Crist was Florida's Republican governor when voters approved the Constitutional ban on gay marriage. But he later expressed his support for marriage equality, and filed a legal brief in support of six same-sex couples seeking to marry in Florida.

The text of his letter to Scott is below.

Continue reading "Crist asks Scott to let federal gay-marriage ruling stand" »

Senate education chairman declines award from school boards association

Senate Education Commitee Chairman John Legg declined an award from the Florida School Boards Association on Friday -- one day after the organization announced plans to challenge the school voucher program in court.

"It is now apparent to me that the association's stance on educating low income students and access to choice in education is too conflicting with my own," Legg wrote in a letter to FSBA Executive Director Wayne Blanton. "It saddens me that the FSBA would take a position that looks to eliminate customization in education, an approach which is widely viewed to be essential to improving student learning."

The FSBA named Legg its Legislator of the Year on July 1.

His notification letter included a hand-written message from Blanton: "Thanks for all you have done for us. Your support of technology is greatly appreciated by all of the school districts."

Legg, a Trinity Republican and longtime supporter of school choice, declined the honor Friday.

"It is my sincere hope that the FSBA will abandon this hostile view toward low income students and customization," he wrote. "While in the past, we may not have agreed on every issue, we nevertheless maintained a healthy respect while working to resolve our differences for the betterment of all students. I hope the FSBA will redirect its efforts for the advancement of all our students and I look forward to working with you to that end."

The FSBA lawsuit takes aim at the tax credit scholarship program, which provides private-school scholarships to children from low-income families. The association's attorney claims the program conflicts with the state's Constitutionally mandated duty to provide a free and uniform system of public schools. 

The state teachers union, PTA and the League of Women voters of Florida are also participating. 

Read the letters from the FSBA and Legg below.

Download Legg  Download FSBA

Voter groups appeal newly drawn congressional map in latest redistricting challenge

@tbtia

The coalition of voter groups that originally challenged maps draw during redistricting efforts in 2012 said they will also apeal newly draw maps approved earlier this month by a Leon County circuit court.

Last week, Judge Terry Lewis upheld the revised congressional map that the Legislature approved during a three-day special session. Lewis said the new map corrected what he had determined were violations of the state's Fair District rules against gerrymandering. The new map updated boundaries for congressional seats currently held by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden, along with adjoining districts.

Lewis ruled that the new map would go into effect for the 2016 election. Both Brown and Webster are running for re-election now under the old boundary lines.

The coalition that originally challenged that map said the new one doesn't fix the issues they've raised and have criticized Lewis' ruling. They said the changes the Legislature approved to districts 5 and 10 didn't go far enough to fix the political gerrymandering.

The voter groups have now asked the state's First District Court of Appeal to look into Lewis's rulings. The coalition, which includes the League of Women Voters of Florida, the NAACP and Common Cause, makes it clear their fight is focused on changing the maps again in time for the 2016 election.

The First DCA has twice ruled against the voters groups on redistricting appeals but the Florida Supreme Court has twice overturned those rulings.

Florida Legislature sets schedule for 2015 session

@tbtia

Incoming Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli has notified members of which weeks to block out of their schedules leading up to the 2015 session.

They will first gather Nov. 18, two weeks after the election, to have an organizational session. If Gov. Rick Scott wins re-election, this will be business as usual. But if Democrat Charlie Crist wages an upset, there will be many changes in the Capitol and the Republican-controlled Legislature will have even more to discuss.

Of course, either way the gubernatorial election goes, there will be some newly elected members (and some former members returning) joining the Legislature on Nov. 18 and for training the week of December 8.

Here are the committee weeks:

  • -The week of January 5
  • -The week of January 20 (Begins on Tuesday because the state observes Martin Luther King Day)
  • -The week of February 2
  • -The week of February 9
  • -The week of February 16

The 60-day regular session begins March 3, 2015.

After winning GOP primary, Miami congressional candidate still doesn't intend to disclose firm clients

@PatriciaMazzei

Nothing has dogged Miami Republican congressional candidate Carlos Curbelo on the campaign trail more than his refusal to disclose the clients of his media and public relations firm, Capitol Gains.

The company isn't registered in his name. He hasn't appeared in corporation records filed with the state of Florida since 2009, when Curbelo says he was advised by U.S. Senate attorneys to divest from his firm. Curbelo was state director for Florida Republican Senator George LeMieux from 2009-10.

But Curbelo listed himself as the company's president, owner or principal in various federal campaign contributions he made in 2013.

That year, Curbelo donated $500 in January to Miami Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart and reported his occupation as president of Capitol Gains. In May, a $2,500 contribution to Republicans for Immigration Reform, a so-called "SuperPAC," listed him as Capitol Gains' owner. And in December, in a $2,600 contribution to his own congressional campaign, Curbelo wrote that he was a Capitol Gains "principal."

That same year, Curbelo's financial disclosure filed with Congress reported the firm as an asset belonging to his wife that paid him a salary.

Curbelo readily acknowledges that he runs the firm he founded in 2002. His wife, Cecilia, who for the past five years as been listed as the corporation's sole managing member, stopped working in 2009 when the couple's first daughter, Sylvie Marie, was born.

Continue reading "After winning GOP primary, Miami congressional candidate still doesn't intend to disclose firm clients" »

Elected officials tour Miami-Dade courthouse, which judge compares to 'exploded meteorite'

@PatriciaMazzei

The crew traipsing through the nooks and crannies of the historic Dade County Courthouse Thursday comprised circuit judges, elected officials and their aides –- all of them far too nattily attired for the task at hand.

They had come from more elegant quarters -– a judge’s chambers -– but appeared out of place in the courthouse’s damp basement, stepping gingerly over water pumps and around protective plastic sheeting.

“Don’t get near the poles,” Chief Judge Bertila Soto, clad in high heels, warned, “because there’s live wires.”

(The warning sign, in case the others missed it, was a message inscribed in black marker: “Shock. Danger!”)

Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo initially declined an offer to walk into the former probate court division, closed because the level of carbon dioxide in the air was too high.

“Nah, you know what? I just kind of feel like I don’t want to,” Bovo joked. He eventually went in with the others.

In a restored courtroom, Circuit Judge Jacqueline Hogan Scola interrupted an attorney in trial to add to the banter.

“This is the Starship Enterprise,” she said of the courtroom in question. “The rest [of the building] is the exploded meteorite.”

“It’s beautiful,” Judge Jennifer Bailey said of the courthouse, which was completed in 1928. “It’s state of the art -– for 1930.”

Miami-Dade commissioner reveals 'hate' for Florida's open-government law

@PatriciaMazzei

A Miami-Dade County commissioner let it be known in a public meeting Thursday that she’s no fan of the state law that required the meeting to be public in the first place.

Sally Heyman bemoaned Florida’s Government in the Sunshine law, which among other things forces policy meetings between two or more commissioners to be advertised in advance and open to all.

“We still hate this,” she said at an aptly named “sunshine meeting” with Commissioners Esteban “Steve” Bovo and Xavier Suarez. They spoke about an upcoming vote on a ballot question to finance a new civil courthouse.

She and Suarez pointed fingers at Bovo, a former state legislator, and his ex-colleagues for the law. He answered that it predated him.

It was also already in effect when Heyman was in the Florida House of Representatives, from 1994 to 2002.

So she mentioned another commissioner, Javier Souto, who was not present and who served in the state Legislature from 1984 to 1992. “We can blame Souto,” she concluded.

Except Souto had nothing to do with it, either. The law, considered a model of government transparency for the rest of the country, has been in effect since 1967.

NextGen says Rick Scott trying to "hide from" donation

NextGen climate has unleashed another attack on Gov. Rick Scott as it relates to a drilling project that the state ultimately shut down.

"The Collier family, owners of the company that leased their land for oil exploration to the drillers that threatened drinking water for seven million Floridians," stated the narrator in the TV ad. "Rick Scott took $200,000 from them and now he is trying to hide from it. Sound familiar?"

At that point, the screen shows a photo of Scott while the text states, "He took the 5th 75 times."

The ad then replays video footage of Scott at a 1995 legal deposition saying, "I don’t recall. I have no idea. What’s your question?"

PolitiFact Florida previously fact-checked aNextGen ad about that $200,000 donation, rating it Half True. And we have fact-checked a Florida Democratic Party ad about Scott taking the 5th 75 times and rated it Mostly True. Scott's pleading the 5th was related to a Medicare case, though, not oil drilling. 

But this new ad tacked on another allegation that we will fact-check here: Is Scott trying to hide from this donation? Turn to PolitiFact Florida for the answer.

Florida Health Choices website aimed at the uninsured draws little interest

@tbtia

Last year, legislators allocated $900,000 to help Floridians find affordable health care through a new state-backed website.

At the same time, they refused to expand Medicaid or work with the federal government to offer subsidized insurance plans.

Six months after the launch of the state's effort, called Florida Health Choices, just 30 people have signed up. Another seven plans were canceled either because consumers changed their minds or didn't pay for services.

These numbers are dwarfed by the nearly 764,000 Floridians who are too poor to afford subsidized plans, yet can't qualify for Medicaid under Florida's stringent standards. They are supposed to be the target market for Health Choices.

But Health Choices doesn't sell comprehensive health insurance to protect consumers from big-ticket costs such as hospitalization. Instead, it has limited benefit options and discount plans for items like dental visits, prescription drugs and eyeglasses.

The plan's biggest backer in the Legislature blames the lack of business on the federal Affordable Care Act, which features comprehensive plans with varying subsidies for those who qualify.

Read more here.

August 28, 2014

Will Floridians be able to get endless supply of pot?

Opponents have made many arguments against Florida’s proposed medical marijuana amendment, but here’s a new one: They say patients would be able to get an unlimited amount of pot should the measure pass.

Dr. Rafael Miguel, director of the Sarasota Memorial Institute for Advanced Medicine's Pain Medicine Program, was one of three representatives for Drug Free America who visited the Tampa Bay Times editorial board on Aug. 20. He joined Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and Tallahassee attorney Susan Kelsey to discuss why the Sunshine State should shy away from Amendment 2 in November.

Miguel offered several reasons why the medical establishment did not like the constitutional amendment. He said there was an unreasonable focus on marijuana’s smokeable form in order to obtain psychoactive effects, and added that the process by which doctors help patients get cannabis flies in the face of the prescription model of doling out drugs.

Miguel focused on how "recommendations" to use marijuana are not prescriptions, and that they don’t allow doctors to control the amount and dosage patients consume, or for how long they consume it.

"You don't get refills -- you get it forever," Miguel said. "There's no regulation on consumption."

PolitiFact Florida has written about the amendment’s guidelines before, but we were curious in this case whether doctors who recommend medical marijuana to patients would indeed have no say in how much or for how long their patients could take it. See Joshua Gillin's full fact-check.