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175 posts from June 2013

June 27, 2013

Group aiming for gun veto intensifies battle; fights suit in Colorado

The Colorado-based gun group that has been waging an email campaign against a Florida bill that would help prevent some people who are mentally ill from buying guns has come under fire in its home state.

The National Association for Gun Rights (NAGR) and its affiliate, the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners (RMGO), both based in Colorado, have been named in a lawsuit over the misuse of an engagement photo of a gay New Jersey couple kissing in political attack ads.

The Southern Poverty Law Center in May added the names of the gun groups plus Dudley Brown (executive vice president of the National Association for Gun Rights and the executive director of the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners group) and and NAGR's Lucius O’Dell and Andrew Brown to a suit filed in the U.S. District Court in Denver. The lawsuit originally named just the anti-gay organization, Public Advocate of the United States.

Continue reading "Group aiming for gun veto intensifies battle; fights suit in Colorado" »

After fourth child dies despite DCF's watch, judge concludes: 'the system is not working'

Despite claims of Secretary David Wilkins and Gov. Rick Scott that the state is doing a good job managing the troubled child welfare system, critics of the Department of Children & Families told the Miami Herald on Wednesday that the recent “cluster” of child deaths suggests the agency is in deep trouble.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeri Beth Cohen, who chairs the county’s foster care oversight board called the Community-Based Care Alliance, said she could not recall any time in recent history in which so many young children had been killed after the state had been given meaningful opportunities to save them. Two of the four recent deaths involved small children from Miami-Dade.

“We have a very severe systemic problem,” Cohen said. “The system is not working, and it’s scary.”

“Every single one of these deaths could have been avoided,” said Cohen who was a veteran child welfare judge before transferring to Miami’s drug court, where she often still deals with parents whose addictions undermine their parenting. “You can’t explain away this many child deaths in this short a period of time where the state’s child protective investigation system is implicated. It’s urgent and it’s serious and it’s unconscionable..''

Wilkins, who was appointed to head the agency by Scott after a career as a corporate executive, has traveled the state in the past few months proclaiming that the host of changes made following a 2011 child death scandal have made Florida children safer. ” Story here. 


Dead voter who was sent a ballot purged from Miami-Dade elections roll

@msanchezMIA & @kikeflor

The Miami-Dade Elections Department has purged from its voter roll the name of a woman who died in 2010 but was recently sent a ballot to vote in a special referendum in Miami Lakes.

After learning on Tuesday about the ballot sent to Belén Alvarez Vásquez, county officials contacted the state’s Division of Elections, which is responsible for comparing names on the statewide voter database with deaths reported to the state’s Health Department.

The Division of Elections hadn’t previously found Alvarez Vasquez’s name in the Health Department’s death records because of a mismatch in how her last name was recorded by the agencies. The voter rolls used both of her last names while the Health Department only used the last name “Vasquez,” said Chris Cate, a spokesman for the state’s Division of Elections.

More here.

NAACP vows decisive action in wake of voting rights ruling

Florida NAACP leaders voiced disappointment Thursday with the Supreme Court decision striking down the heart of the Voting Rights Act, and they promised to hold Gov. Rick Scott, state legislators and members of Congress accountable for any new changes in state voting laws.

"They can't be left alone without our input," said Adora Obi Nweze, president of the Florida State Conference of NAACP Chapters, in a conference call with reporters. The right to vote "impacts everything we do. It really guides our whole life."

Without federal oversight of election procedures in Florida, she said, it's more important than ever for groups such as the NAACP to keep elected officials under a microscope.

Tuesday's 5-4 decision invalidated the decades-old coverage formula used to ensure that any changes in voting procedures do not discriminate against minorities in five Florida counties: Hillsborough, Monroe, Collier, Hardee and Hendry. NAACP special counsel David Honig said the fact that there were "eight-hour" waits to vote at some Miami-Dade precincts last fall underscores the need for federal oversight of Florida elections.

"Someone made the deliberate decision not to have enough voting machines. That's a tactic that dates back to the early 1900s," Honig said. He also cited the problem-plagued efforts by Scott and other Florida officials to "purge" the Florida voting rolls of non-citizens in 2012.

The civil rights' activists comments came on the eve of a hearing in Miami Friday by President barack Obama's Commission on Election Administration. Among the scheduled witnesses at the hearing will be representatives of The Advancement Project, a voting rights group that produced a study showing that black and Hispanic voters faced longer wait times at the polls in Florida than white voters did.

The study, by University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith and colleague Michael Herron, examined data from 5,196 of the approximately 6,100 precincts that Florida used in the November 2012 general election. The study also found that minority voters were more likely to cast provisional ballots than whites. The Advancement Project's study can be found here.

After Tuesday's decision, Scott told reporters: "I want to make sure there's no racial discrimination in any of our elections."

-- Steve Bousquet

June 26, 2013

Lawyer group challenge speedy executions

Lawyers representing death row inmates filed suit with the Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday in an attempt to invalidate parts of a law that Gov. Rick Scott signed two weeks ago that would speed executions.

The suit, filed by the public agency Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, called "The Timely Justice Act" a legislative overreach that takes away the judiciary's "efforts to shape, and authority to govern, the means and method of capital postconviction litigation." It named Attorney General Pam Bondi as the defendant.

The new law requires governors to sign death warrants 30 days after the Florida Supreme Court certifies that an inmate has exhausted all legal appeals. Once a death warrant is signed, the execution must take place within six months. The bill passed 84-34 in the House and 28-10 in the Senate. The new law will accelerate the fate of at least 13 of the 404 death row inmates who have exhausted their appeals. If Scott signs the death warrants on the 13 eligible inmates, and their executions followed, he would be on a pace to put to death 21 people since taking office in January 2011. The only other governor who executed that many people was former Gov. Jeb Bush, who ordered the execution of 21 convicted killers over an eight-year period.  

The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the accelerated pace, calling it the result of an “abrupt whirlwind of political maneuvering." Scheduled to go into effect on Monday, the law would violate the Separation of Powers by requiring “constitutional officers of the judicial and executive branches” to take immediate actions because of the legislative action, according to the suit. It also claimed the law suspends the writ of habeas corpus, violates due process by interfering with judicial resolution of constitutional claims, and will result in cruel and unusual punishments “contrary to evolving standards of decency.”

Continue reading "Lawyer group challenge speedy executions" »

In wake of four child deaths, Gov. Scott stands by DCF chief

Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday said he supports child welfare secretary David Wilkins, following the fourth case in the past six weeks of the death of a child who had drawn the interest of administrators in the agency headed by Wilkins, the Department of Children and Families.

The Miami Herald reported that two-year-old Ezra Raphael of North Miami Beach died last week of blunt trauma and the medical examiner has ruled the death a homicide. DCF reported in February that the "risk is high" of danger to the child, but the agency closed its investigation without taking any other action, The Herald reported. Ezra's mother had previously been declared unfit as a mother and lost custody of an older child.

The other recent child deaths are detailed here by the Herald.

Commenting on the latest death, Scott told reporters: "You would hate for anything to happen to any child ... Any time anything like this happens, you take it very seriously and the expectation is you go back and make sure it doesn't happen again. I think Secretary Wilkins is doing a very good job. He's very committed to doing the right thing. He's very committed to making sure that every child is taken care of, and he'll do the right thing in looking into this."

A day earlier, following a Cabinet meeting, Scott praised Wilkins and his wife Tanya for their efforts to help foster children find adoptive parents and for helping to make Florida "the best place for children."

-- Steve Bousquet

Does immigration bill include a free 'ObamaCar'? Pants on Fire!

As chief defender on the right of the Senate immigration bill, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has been churning out press releases debunking myths about the bill.

"Remember the ‘Marcophone’ myth? Now we have the Obamacar myth," says a June 25 Rubio press release.

Yep, you read that right: Rubio, a potential 2016 Republican presidential contender, issued a press release claiming that a conservative slam against the Democratic president is a myth.

Rubio’s press release linked to a June 24 article on the conservative news site Breitbart with the headline "New Immigration bill has taxpayer subsidized Obamacars for youths." It featured a photoof a goofy-looking Obama climbing into a car.

"Breitbart News has learned there is a provision included in the immigration bill that could be used to give free cars, motorcycles, scooters or other vehicles to young people around the country over a period of 15 months after the bill passes," the story said. "The new provision is a result of the latest addition to the Corker-Hoeven amendment, which is essentially an entirely new version of the bill."

The claim was made multiple times on the Internet, including on Fox News on June 25. The commentators joked about the alleged car giveaway with contributor Laura Ingraham asking, "I want to know, are Segway scooters part of the deal?’ "

PolitiFact previously examined a claim by bloggers that proposed immigration legislation would give away taxpayer-funded cell phones. We ruled that claim False. That referred to grants aimed at helping American ranchers and others in remote locations along the border get satellite phone service so they can be in touch with authorities.

Are free "Obamacars" another rumor driven off track? Read more at PolitiFact.

Scott: Federal ruling won't change Florida's gay marriage ban


Reacting to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision Wednesday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he will uphold the voter-approved amendment to the state Constitution in 2008 that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman.

"It impacted federal law, not state law," Scott said of the high court's 5-4 ruling. "In 2008, Florida voters amended our constitution and said that we are a traditional marriage state, that marriage is between a man and a woman. As the governor of this state, I'll uphold the law of the land, and that's the law of our state."

Scott was asked whether he supports the state same-sex marriage amendment. "Look, it's the law of the land. Voters in 2008 decided we're going to be a traditional marriage state," he said.

Asked whether he has reconsidered his position on the issue, Scott replied: "Look, I've been married since I was 19. I believe in traditional marriage."

Wilton Manors celebrates Supreme Court ruling on DOMA

Broward's gay community smiled today upon hearing the news that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down DOMA. Here is a snapshot of what I heard from gay residents at restaurants and shops in Wilton Manors today -- the heart of the county's openly gay community:

Paul Hogan and Bill Sullivan have been together for more than three decades -- they met while working for U.S. Senators in Washington D.C. (Hogan for Bob Graham and Sullivan for George Mitchell) and ultimately got married on Election Day in Washington D.C. in 2012. They are co-owners of SoBeArt Antiques in Wilton Manors. 

"It's unconstitutional! -- Hello-o!" cheered Hogan who threw his hands up in the air and yelled 'Mazel Tov' when I asked for his reaction. "My president made a beautiful statement. ... I'm proud of my president."

The couple hopes that with the backing of the federal mandate that it will lead to the right to get married in Florida.

"I love living here -- as crazy as it is," Hogan said. "I didn't want to have to leave here to get married. Why can't I get married where I live?"

The decision left many couples hopeful that in the future they can share financial benefits the same as married couples. Many have endured the hassles and expense of trying to purchase joint home insurance, health insurance or other benefits.

"I hope we can leave each other our pensions," Hogan said. "That's the main thing - our inheritance and estates."

At Rosie's Bar and Grill, CNN's coverage of the Supreme Court decisions blared in the dining room while staffers decorated with red balloons. (The hangout which has rainbow colored lanterns dangling from the ceiling is known for their sense of humor -- there is a sign declaring "Drama Queen Drive" and a tad of sexual innuendo on the menu.)

"We have so many people here in longterm relationships denied the right to marry," said owner John Zieba. Now they have a chance to have their relationship recognized by the federal government, he said.

Richard Stetler, owner of The Best Wine Cellar, said the decision is "phenomenal." However he expressed doubt that the entire state of Florida would vote to allow gay marriage in the future.

"I don't think Northern Florida is going to allow it," he said.

Lamar Stockman, a Fort Lauderdale retiree who is not married but has a partner, declared Wednesday one of the happiest days of his life.

"I never thought I would see this in my life time," he said while eating lunch at Storks coffee shop. "All my life I have been under the impression this would never be approved."

Gary Rubinstein, a 57-year-old Fort Lauderdale resident, said that he married his partner in September in New York.

"It's awesome -- amazing, the best thing ever," said Rubinstein, while at Starbucks. "I think it is just the tide of what is going to happen nationwide."

Nate Klarfeld, who chairs Broward's steering committee for Equality Florida, has been together with his partner for 10 years and they have three grandchildren between them. (Both had children from previous relationships.)

"I want them to be able to see us as a recognized couple," he said, while at Starbucks. 

Klarfeld said he thinks that opinion has changed due to the straight community interacting with openly gay people in everyday settings.

"I don't think it was due to massive education. .. It was over the water cooler, soccer games, seeing us kissing in the lobby, going to work."

I also spoke to Dan Daley, a 23-year-old Coral Springs city commissioner and Republican by phone today. (Daley is a former legislative aide to Democratic state legislator Ari Porth who is now a judge.)

"I think it is terrific," said Daley. "History has been made. Equality shouldn't be a partisan issue." 

Daley said he identifies himself as a fiscal conservative and moderate on social issues. He called out the Republican Party for "saying less government, less government, less government unless it is in someone's bedroom. ... The Republican Party needs to come into 2013 and realize some of their positions on issues are falling apart."



Dead woman receives absentee ballot for Miami Lakes mail-in referendum


Belén Alvarez Vásquez died nearly three years ago, but an absentee ballot was still mailed to her by the Miami-Dade Election Department for a Miami Lakes referendum that took place Tuesday.

“I don’t understand how they could have sent her an absentee ballot when she is dead,” said Ada Morales, Alvarez’s daughter. “The first thing I thought when I saw the ballot was that there was some kind of fraud.”

The Election Department’s spokeswoman, Carolina López, told El Nuevo Herald that the last time that Alvarez had participated in an election was in the August 2010 primaries, but that “up to now no notification of her death had been received from the state or the family.”

Morales said that she reported the death of her mother to the Social Security Administration. But a ballot was sent to Alvarez in early June — despite the Florida Election Department’s publicized update of electoral rolls.

More here.