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August 15, 2014

At Florida International University, Miami-Dade lawmakers are graduation mainstays


No, that wasn’t an official meeting of the Miami-Dade legislative delegation at FIU earlier this month — it was just graduation ceremonies. But there certainly were a lot of lawmakers there.

Spread out over the first week of August were five FIU summer commencement ceremonies — with four of them featuring local lawmakers as the commencement speaker. Local state Sen. Anitere Flores was the first to deliver a speech, followed by state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz later that day, and state Reps. Jeanette Nuñez and Erik Fresen the following day.

These are the same lawmakers who make funding decisions regarding FIU every year. Asked if the university was trying to cozy up to lawmakers, FIU spokeswoman Madeline Baro said the legislators actually gave really good speeches, and “we have a great relationship with the Dade Delegation.”

Flores, who is both an FIU grad and previously worked for the university, told graduates that her mom was part of FIU’s first graduating class. She expressed hope that one of the graduates in attendance might discover the cure for cancer, or be the one “that figures out how for it to not to take an hour to get from Kendall to downtown.”


Jeb Bush conflicted over feds role in medical-marijuana enforcement


Former Gov. Jeb Bush opposes Florida’s medical-marijuana initiative, but the potential GOP presidential candidate said he’s not sure if the federal government should enforce federal cannabis laws if the Sunshine State proposal passes.

Bush’s struggle with the state-federal split over medical marijuana reflects a broader struggle in the national Republican Party, where anti-drug hardliners are at odds with states-rights conservatives and libertarians over the issue.

Though a top Republican and frequent critic of President Obama, Bush refrained from repudiating the current White House’s position to de-emphasize enforcement of certain marijuana laws in the 20 states that have legalized medical cannabis, plus Washington D.C., and the two states that have completely legalized adult personal use of the drug, Colorado and Washington.

Asked Friday about the federal government’s role in prosecuting pot laws in medical-marijuana states, Bush said he’d have to give it more thought.

“In medical marijuana states? I don’t know. I’d have to sort that out,” Bush said. “I think that states ought to have a right to decide these things. I think the federal government’s role in our lives is way too-overreaching.”

“But having said that,” he continued, “if you’re in Colorado and you can purchase marijuana openly, should people in Wyoming not be concerned about that? And I think there, maybe, the federal law needs to be looked at — interstate commerce.”

More here

False ad by RPOF pins blame on Crist for Duke fiasco

Failed nuclear projects by utility provider Duke Energy have suddenly electrified both sides of this year’s gubernatorial campaign.

After environmentalist PAC NextGen Climateran an ad accusing Gov. Rick Scott of not doing anything to stop the North Carolina company from fleecing consumers, the Republican Party of Florida responded withits own commercial pointing fingers at former Gov. Charlie Crist.

"Crist made it easier for Duke to take your money," the narrator of the Aug. 12, 2014, ad says. "Crist signed a law helping Duke get billions, while Rick Scott put a stop to the Crist giveaway."

PolitiFact Florida already reviewed whether Scott allowed Duke to take ratepayers’ money; we found the claim Half True largely because Scott didn’t say much of anything about the issue. But did Crist have anything to do with the company taking money for doomed nuclear power plant plans? We’ll check this bill line by line. Turn to PolitiFact Florida for our fact-check.

This fact-check was written by Joshua Gillin.

Crist blasts Scott for plan to use a lottery to select marijuana producers

Crist and John MorganThe growing tensions between prospective producers of medical marijuana and state regulators have now become political fodder as former Gov. Charlie Crist on Friday blasted the Gov. Rick Scott for a plan to use a lottery to select the companies that will develop legalized pot in Florida.

Speaking to reporters in Miami on Friday, Crist said he believes the system should be based on a merit-selection system, similar to one endorsed by nurseries, investors and families of people suffering from the ailments the low-THC marijuana will be used to treat.

"The best way to award any contract is to have a good, open, honest, competitive process," Crist said when asked about the issue Friday, according to the News Service of Florida.

"I don't know that a lottery is the right way to go, frankly,'' he said. "It seems to me that people ought to submit their applications. They ought to be reviewed, thoroughly reviewed in a comprehensive fashion, and those that are determined to be the best are the ones that should get the contracts."

Crist’s comments come a day after the Department of Health, an agency of the governor, released its proposed rule for the development and cultivation of the low-THC marijuana.

The issue has the potential to become a legal fight, or discourage many companies from participating, and Crist is clearly prepared to use this as another wedge issue against the governor.

Despite appeals from families and prospective companies that the agency use a merit-based system to select who will obtain the licenses, the agency -- fearing litigation -- continues to adhere to a lottery system. Under the rule, the companies will comply with certain criteria and from that list a computer-generated "double random lottery-type system" will decide which companies will be granted the license in each of five regions of the state.

Among those who support using a merit-based system are dozens of Tallahassee's biggest-named lobbyists and lawyers, most of whom are Republicans, who have been hired to represent the wanna-be pot producers. 

Crist is also a supporter of Amendment 2, the proposal on the November ballot to allow for the legalization of a broader array of marijuana for a specific list of ailments. He has been heavily backed by Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan, who is the prime supporter of the amendment and is Crist's boss at the Orlando-based law firm of Morgan & Morgan.

Scott has not commented on the marijuana rule but has indicated that he personally opposes the amendment. Scott was joined on the campaign trail on Friday with former Gov. Jeb Bush, who came out in opposition to Amendment 2 on Thursday.

Photo: Charlie Crist and John Morgan

Supervisors say special congressional elections could be held in March and May

Florida's congressional districts won't change by November and new elections can't be held until next year, the state's top elections officials told a circuit court judge on Friday.

Responding to a court order to have a proposal in place by noon today, the Florida Association of Supervisors of Elections, in conjunction with the Florida Secretary of State, concluded that the earliest date they could conduct a special election in the 25 counties affected by the new congressional districts would be in March 17, with a general election to follow on May 26.  Download Response.Sec.of.State

"We have submitted a timeline that we believe is swift, feasible, follows election laws and ensures voter enfranchisement while providing fair, accurate and transparent elections,” said Jerry Holland, Duval County supervisor of elections president of the association.

Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis ordered the elections officials to present him with the plan by Aug. 15 when he ordered the Florida Legislature to redraw two districts -- District 5, represented by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and District 10, represented by U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden.

Holland said that Lewis had said that "the cure should not be worse than the illness" and the elections officials have since been working to "explore elections scenarios from combining existing election schedules to creating a new accurate timeline that would allow for alternative congressional elections should the judge choose to make such an order,'' he said.  Download STATEMENT BY PRESIDENT OF THE FL SUPERVISORS OF ELECTIONS

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Gov. Rick Scott says he doesn't plan to reinstate acquitted Miami Lakes mayor


Michael Pizzi returned triumphantly to Miami Lakes Town Hall on Thursday after a federal jury found him not guilty of corruption charges.

But he remains suspended from his mayoral office -- and Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Friday he doesn't intend to put Pizzi back in office.

According to Scott, who held a campaign event in Homestead, because Miami Lakes held a special election last year in which voters elected Wayne Slaton as mayor, there is no job for Pizzi to return to.

"They have a mayor now," Scott said. "They had an election."

"I expect all elected officials to live up to the highest standard," the governor added. Under the Miami Lakes charter, he said, "there's nothing to reinstate him to."

It's unclear how the Miami Lakes charter differs from, say, the city of Miami's. When former City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones beat a corruption case against her in state court, Scott reinstated her -- even though another person, the Rev. Richard P. Dunn II, had been chosen in a special election to replace her.

During last year's special election in Miami Lakes, it appeared clear that the winner would essentially keep the seat warm until the end of Pizzi's trial. Had Pizzi been convicted, the new mayor would remain. Otherwise, it seemed clear that Pizzi would get his old job back.

"Let me be clear," Pizzi, an attorney, told a Miami Herald reporter on Friday. "Under Florida law, I am the mayor of Miami Lakes right now."

--with reporting by David Ovalle (@DavidOvalle305) 

This developing story will be updated.

Truth-O-Meter tackles NextGen's oil drilling attack on Scott

California billionaire Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate group unleashed an ad that accuses Gov. Rick Scott of being cozy with a polluter.

"A dangerous new type of oil drilling near the Everglades threatened drinking water for 7 million Floridians," states part of the ad. "But one Floridian is benefitting. Rick Scott drank from a fountain of campaign cash from the company that profited off pollution."

The text on the screen states: "Rick Scott $200,000 from oil interests."

Scott’s side refuted the ad and the Republican Party of Florida counter-punched with its own TV ad: "Crist’s team says Gov. Scott took contributions from this polluter. It’s total fiction. Scott didn’t take a nickel. Scott held the polluter accountable. Shut down their wells...."

Did Scott, who is facing re-election, take campaign cash from a "company that profited off pollution" and receive $200,000 from oil interests? We decided to drill down to sort out the facts. Turn to PolitiFact Florida to read the fact-check.

Fact-checking Charlie Crist's private jet ride

Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign has focused on painting the Republican incumbent as a friend of the environment, which means attempting to show Democratic challenger Charlie Crist isn’t.

A Republican Party of Florida commercial released Aug. 7, 2014, lambasts Crist for taking a supporter’s personal aircraft to a press event.

"On his way to an event about -- get this -- green issues, Crist cruised in on a private jet," the narrator says. "That’s rich. What’s richer? The jet belongs to a serial polluter with a history of environmental violations fined nearly $2 million for polluting water."

That certainly sounded like fodder for headlines, but was it true? PolitiFact Florida attempted to pull the permits on this one and find out what happened.

This fact-check was written by Joshua Gillin.

Twisted web is weaving in Sheldon case


Even by the up-is-down, dogs-and-cats-living-together nature of Florida politics, George Sheldon has got to be shaking his head at the irony of today’s 1:30 p.m. hearing before Leon County Circuit Judge James Hankinson.

Sheldon is one of two candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for Attorney General. The winner of the Aug. 26 primary will then face Republican incumbent Pam Bondi.

Since late July, Sheldon has been trying to put behind him what most people would consider a technicality over paperwork. Notified by the Florida Bar that his license had lapsed, Sheldon appealed and said he should qualify for an exemption. To qualify for that exemption, Sheldon declared that he had been living out of state while working in his $179,000 job with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

His Democratic opponent, Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, said this raised “serious questions” about his residency.

Turns out, the Florida Constitution requires AG candidates to reside in the state the preceding seven years before taking office. Sheldon dismissed the concerns as political, saying he kept his homestead exemption on his Tallahassee home. His driver’s license and voter registration all peg him as a Florida resident.

“This is a political issue, not a legal issue,” Sheldon said. “My situation is the same as with members of Congress, members of the military, ambassadors, and others who perform service to their country in Washington or overseas, while Florida remains their home.”

But last week, supporters of Thurston, keeping the issue alive, filed a lawsuit against Sheldon and Secretary of State Ken Detzner alleging that the residency question was enough to throw him off the ballot.

For those not affiliated with either the Thurston or Sheldon campaigns who have read this far, thanks. Here’s the irony I promised in the lede.

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