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16 posts from March 18, 2013

March 18, 2013

Broward GOP elects former Davie mayor Tom Truex

On the national stage, some Republicans say their party must ditch the social conservative label and loosen their opposition to gay marriage. But in Broward County Monday night, the local GOP elected one of the county’s best-known social conservatives to lead them through the 2014 elections when everything from the governor’s mansion to local offices will be in play.

Tom Truex, a former Davie mayor, was chosen to replace Rico Petrocelli, a former Plantation council member who quit the post in February with a vague explanation that he wasn’t getting along with the board. The chair position has been plagued by turnover — a handful of activists have served as chair since 2010.

Truex served on the Davie Town Council until he lost the mayor’s seat to former council member and Democrat Judy Paul in 2009. He lost a race for Broward GOP chairman by four votes in 2010.

In his speech to the Broward Republican Executive Committee, Truex emphasized he was “battle tested” and “experienced as a past elected official.”

He called for allowing the media to attend all party meetings.

“The perception of the Republican Party isn’t that great,” he said. “The way to improve the reputation of the Broward Republican Executive Committee isn’t to hide silly things we do, but to stop doing so many silly things.” Read more here.


Rarity in Tallahassee, surplus spending will bring gains to education

An improved economy and six years of relentless budget cuts have produced something that had been as rare as unicorns: a surplus.

The House and Senate on Monday released their allocations for general revenue spending next year, providing the first glimpse of how they’ll carve up a third of the state’s $74 billion budget in the coming weeks. (General revenue is derived from the sales tax, the corporate income tax, documentary stamps and various other taxes and fees; federal grants make up another third of the budget, while state trust funds make up the remainder).

The House’s proposed $26.9 billion in allocations was more detailed, including a target of spending $1 billion more in k-12 education, $300 million to restore the cuts from higher education last year, and the first across the board pay raise in over six years for “hard working” state employees. (Does the modifier mean it will be merit-based?)

That increase in allocations on education will provide one of the big dramas for the 2013 legislative session: whether lawmakers will agree to pay for Gov. Rick Scott’s across-the-board teacher raises of $2,500.

The raises are expected to cost about $480 million, which was part of the $14.3 billion education budget Scott proposed in January. In the House allocations, Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford and leaders set aside $14 billion in general revenue dollars for education. Of that, $10.6 billion is for lower education and $3.4 billion is for higher education. That’s a $300 million difference between Scott’s budget and the House allocation. Senate President Don Gaetz and his appropriation chair Joe Negron came down between the two, though closer to the House total, by setting aside $14.2 billion for education, or 1.2 percent more than the House.

While it might seem the House is low-balling education, its allocation is actually $1.6 billion more than its allocation at this same point last year, representing a 13 percent increase from what it proposed spending last year.

Continue reading "Rarity in Tallahassee, surplus spending will bring gains to education" »

Senate Education Committee offers little insight on charter-school funding

The Senate Education Committee on Monday devoted an hour to discussing the 12 charter-school proposals floating through upper chamber.

But perhaps most telling was that which went unsaid.

Senators hardly spoke about a pitch from Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, to create a recurring revenue stream for charter-school construction and maintenance. Advocates for Florida's charter schools consider that bill their top priority this session.

Continue reading "Senate Education Committee offers little insight on charter-school funding" »

Crisafulli urges Republicans to return their money from Allied Veterans affiliates

Calling the allegations of fraud committed by the Internet cafes controlleld by Allied Veterans "outrageous", Rep. Steve Crisafulli sent a letter to his Republican colleagues Monday telling him he is donating the money to charity and urged them to do the same.

Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, who is designated to be House speaker in 2016, follows the announcement on Friday by the Republican Party of Florida that the party was donating $300,000 to the non-profit, state-run Florida Veteran's Foundation to compensate for taking the tainted cash. The Florida Democratic Party has not announced what it will do with the estimated $176,000 it received.

Here's Crisafulli's letter:

Continue reading "Crisafulli urges Republicans to return their money from Allied Veterans affiliates" »

Larcenia Bullard funeral arrangements announced

An email from Debbie Brown, Secretary of the Florida Senate:

We regret to inform you of the passing of former Senator Larcenia J. Bullard on March 16, 2013, at the age of 65. Senator Bullard represented Senate District 39 from 2002-2012 and served in the House of Representatives from 1992-2000. 

Continue reading "Larcenia Bullard funeral arrangements announced" »

Checking out the House the House built

The Florida House has come up with a unique way to demonstrate the spirit of bipartisanship that members say they've embraced this session. This past weekend, Republican and Democrats began working together to build a Habitat home for a Tallahassee family.

The "House the House Built" project is taking place in just one week, "Extreme Home Makeover" style. Normal Habitat builds can take a few months.

When members arrived Saturday morning, there was just a concrete foundation. They installed the house's walls, roof trusses and windows on the first day. After three days of work, the house exterior is mostly finished. 

They plan is to hand over the keys this Saturday to Cookie Ashby, a formerly homeless single mother who plans to move in with her two daughters and grandsons ages 6 and 1.

It was Rep. Richard Corcoran's idea for House members to launch a service project while in session. Two Jacksonville legislators, Republican Daniel Davis and Democrat Reggie Fullwood, are leading up the effort. The House raised about $75,000 to pay for the build.

Davis said the goal is to bridge the divide between the parties while doing something good.

Continue reading "Checking out the House the House built" »

Sen. Garrett Richter's Kentucky Derby ride offers a glimpse into Tallahassee's world

The head of the Senate Select Committee on Gaming has never served on a gaming committee and reminds people that he has a steep learning curve.

But Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, is a horse racing fan who flew to the Kentucky Derby with Internet café lobbyist Dave Ramba and two other gaming lobbyists last year, where they sat on Millionaire’s Row. 

“I have been going to the Kentucky Derby every year since before I entered the Legislature,’’ Richter, a six-year legislative veteran, told the Herald/Times on Monday.

Richter’s wife and business partner, Gary Tice of Naples, also attended the event. Ramba told the Herald/Times Richter was one of “at least 20 to 30 legislators and that many lobbyists who took private jets to the Derby for House and Senate leadership fundraisers” during the May 4 and 5 event.

Unlike most years, the session began and ended early last year because of reapportionment and the Derby weekend was a perfect venue for collecting campaign cash for most lawmakers. But the high-end fundraiser, at one of the most prestigious gambling events in the nation, also offers a glimpse into the comfort with which legislators mingle with the same lobbyists who seek their votes.

Continue reading "Sen. Garrett Richter's Kentucky Derby ride offers a glimpse into Tallahassee's world" »

House education allocation includes $1B increase to school spending

House Education Appropriations Chairman Erik Fresen has his budget allocation, and it includes a $1 billion hike to public-school spending, he said.

"Per-student funding will absolutely go up in my budget," Fresen said Monday, adding that it was too soon to know exactly how much per-pupil spending would rise.

The House education allocation puts $10.57 billion in state revenue toward public schools, slightly less than the $10.7 billion Gov. Rick Scott has suggested in his proposed budget. Public schools would receive another $630 million in trust-fund money.

As for the controversial $2,500 across-the-board teacher pay raises Scott considers among his top priorities?

Continue reading "House education allocation includes $1B increase to school spending" »

Partisan divisions return as Senate panel OKs voting bill

It was bound to end sooner or later, and it did on Monday.

The bipartisan cooperation that marked early work on an elections bill vanished as Democrats on the Senate Ethics & Elections Committee repeatedly forced roll-call votes on amendments the Republican majority opposed.

The GOP prevailed on a series of 8-5 votes and on final passage of the bill (SB 600), sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, the panel's chairman. A visibly peeved Latvala at one point said he would consider giving way on a point the Democrats wanted, "but not now," he said, and he quickly left the hearing without speaking to reporters.

With other Republicans rallying around Latvala, the GOP-crafted bill has two major provisions that worry election supervisors: a requirement that anyone voting absentee must have an adult witness their signature, and a requirement that anyone who wants an absentee ballot mailed to an address other than their voting address must fill out an affidavit.

"This is going to impact seniors, students and our military voters," said Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley. He predicted that the witness requirement would result in a surge of uncounted absentees because voters would not follow the new step.

But most of the debate focused on Democratic maneuvering on changes Republlicans oppose.

Democrats tried to mandate 14 days of early voting at 12 hours a day, including the "Souls to the Polls" Sunday immediately before the election. That failed, and the bill calls for a minimum of eight days of early
voting at eight hours a day. Election supervisors can provide up to 14 days at 12 hours a day, but, as they requested, it's at their discretion and not mandatory.

Democrats tried to add as early voting sites "any suitable location," and that failed too. Republicans have agreed to expand early voting sites to include "fairground, civic center, courthouse, county commission building, stadium, convention center, government-owned senior center, or government-owned community center" to the list of early voting sites in the future.

Democrats tried to repeal a provision in law that requires out-of-county voters to cast provisional ballots on Election Day. "It slowed the process down. That was one of the bad things in House Bill 1355," said Sen.
Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, referring to the notorious 2011 bill widely blamed for the long lines at the polls last fall.

Latvala said that two-thirds of the counties reported their provisional ballot totals, which amounted to about 9,000 statewide, including most of the state's largest counties. "That, to me, is not a big problem," Latvala said. "That, to me, is not too much work to ensure that people are not voting twice."

-- Steve Bousquet

Three alleged prostitutes said they were paid to lie against Bob Menendez for $300-$400 each

@MarcACaputo via  Ezra Fieser

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic –Three women who said they recorded interviews last year claiming they were paid to have sex with US Senator Robert Menendez have admitted to investigators that they were paid to make the claims and don’t know the senator, Dominican police said today.

The women told police that a Dominican lawyer, Melanio Figueroa, paid them each between $300 and $400 to record the interviews last October, National Police spokesman Gen. Máximo Báez Aybar said in a press conference.

Two of those interviews might have been published by conservative news website The Daily Caller just before the November elections. The women, whose faces were blurred out to conceal their identity, claimed to have been paid as escorts for sex with a man named “Bob.”

The accusations along with other claims that later surfaced helped enmesh Menendez and his friend and political benefactor Salomón Melgen, a Florida eye doctor, in scandal.

Both men have denied the accusations with Menendez, a New Jersey democrat, referring to them “nameless, faceless, anonymous allegations.”

Some of the claims, including the use of underage prostitutes, were also made in anonymous emails that launched an FBI investigation, which appears over. The women in these videos don't appear to match the description of many of the women in the emails from a shadowy tipster, who suggested in one email to the FBI that he had nothing to do with the women in the Daily Caller video.

Police said had yet to determine Figueroa’s motives. He is wanted for questioning, Báez said. No arrests have been made in the case.

A third player in the case: Melgen's cousin, Vinicio Castillo Semán, accused in anonymous emails of improprieties with Menendez and Melgen. He not only denied wrongdoing, he pressed this case against Figueroa.

Castillo made one of the women's affidavits public and has held press conferences to charge that they're the victim of a conspiracy. Castillo's family wields great power in the Dominican Republic; he's named after his father, who is the nation's drug czar and is Melgen's uncle.