February 04, 2017

Charlie Reed, 'an unruly giant,' honored at Tallahassee service

FullSizeRender(9)Charlie Reed's formidable presence roared back to life Friday inside the Alumni Center at Florida State University. This, after all, is what a memorial service is all about.

Reed, who died in December at age 75, was the leader of higher education systems in Florida and California for more than three decades and was a feared and respected fixture in Tallahassee, where he also served as Gov. Bob Graham's chief of staff in 1984-85.

He was blunt and highly critical of what he saw as a penny-pinching, short-sighted Florida Legislature. He was fiercely supportive of students, hard-working and unpretentious, and he hated titles like "Chancellor," demanded to be called Charlie and refused to work under a contract. He said if he wasn't wanted any more, he needed an hour to clean out his desk.

"Not always liked, but he was respected," California educator Jim Rosser said. "An unruly giant," said Tallahassee lawyer and former university regent Duby Ausley. "Enough work ethic for a hundred people," in Graham's words.

Graham, fighting the flu, couldn't attend. But former U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley, also a former governor of South Carolina, read his remarks, which included Graham's moving recollection of a story John Sowinski wrote on the FloridaPolitics.com news site.

Sowinski is known today for his work on ballot initiatives, such as opposing expansion of casino gambling in Florida. But when Reed was chancellor of Florida's universities, Sowinski was a lobbyist for university students who clashed with Reed on tuition and other issues. As Graham told the story, when Reed learned Sowinski wanted to go back to Orlando, he offered to put in a good word with Orlando Mayor Bill Frederick, who hired Sowinski and gave his budding career a big boost.

"I enjoyed that column," Graham wrote, "because it spoke exactly to who Charlie was -- someone who really lived to help others."


November 01, 2016

Florida Supreme Court to hear arguments over abortion waiting period law


Justices on the Florida Supreme Court will this morning hear arguments about whether a state law requiring women to see a doctor 24 hours before having an abortion should continue to be blocked by court order -- as it has for most of the last year and a half -- or should go into effect.

The law, signed by Gov. Rick Scott in June 2015, was challenged in a lawsuit by abortion-rights activists and a Gainesville clinic, who argue that it creates an undue burden on abortion access and violates the state Constitution.

Bread and Roses, the Gainesville clinic, won an injunction that stopped the law from going into effect last summer in a Tallahassee circuit court, but an appeals court reversed that opinion. The Florida Supreme Court stepped in April of this year, agreeing to hear the case and stopping the law from going into effect in the meantime.

The 2015 law is one of several passed in recent years that opponents say curtail access to abortion, which courts say is guaranteed under the state and federal constitutions. A law issuing new requirements for abortion clinics was stopped by a federal judge this summer. State agencies under Scott declined to appeal that case.

Supporters of a 24-hour mandated waiting period argue that requiring a full day between an initial doctor's visit and the abortion protects pregnant women. It gives them time to consider their options and makes it harder for doctors or others to pressure women into having an abortion, supporters say.

But opponents say that argument belittles women and they say a waiting period simply disadvantages poor women who cannot afford to take multiple days off work and those who do not live near or have transportation to a clinic.

The justices hear oral arugments around 9:40 a.m. at the Supreme Court in Tallahassee. They likely will not issue a ruling in the case Tuesday.

October 19, 2016

Three groups accuse Florida of violating federal 'motor voter' law

Three voting rights groups on Wednesday put the state of Florida on notice that it may file a lawsuit for alleged violations of the federal "motor voter" law.

In a release, Project Vote, Demos and the League of Women Voters of Florida said they notified the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) that it is violating federal law by not offering online customers a chance to register to vote as required by federal law, and that DHSMV is not meeting its voter registration obligations regarding changes of address that are done in person, by mail and online. The state agency is under the control of Gov. Rick Scott and the three elected Cabinet members.

According to the League's release, federal law "requires an 'opt out' system, in which an individual who changes their address through DHSMV will automatically have their voter registration information updated unless they specifically decline the update. None of the DHSMV address change methods comply with this requirement." Unless the state is willing to meet with the League to work out a corrective plan, "the groups plan to initiate litigation," the League said.

The League's release did not explain why it waited until 20 days before a presidential election to take action. DHSMV did not respond to the Times/Herald's request for comment Wednesday. "We are reviewing," an agency spokesman said.

July 29, 2016

Women's group 'outraged' by Pam Keith's exclusion from U.S. Senate debate


The Florida chapter of the National Organization for Women says it's "outraged" that an Orlando TV station is excluding Democrat Pam Keith from its U.S. Senate primary debate next month.

Keith -- an African American from Miami and the only female candidate in the Senate contest -- wasn't invited to WFTV Channel 9's "one-on-one" debate between U.S. Reps. Alan Grayson and Patrick Murphy because she hasn't polled high enough to meet the threshold to participate.

Keith received 10 percent and 11 percent support in the two polls she has been included in; the station said candidates needed to have at least 15 percent support in order to be eligible.

"This discriminating action by the station and other candidates demonstrates the ongoing fight both women and minorities face in our society," Florida NOW said in a statement. "To summarily dismiss Ms. Keith’s candidacy as inconsequential is an insult to all voters, especially women and people of color."

The group endorsed Keith's campaign several months ago.

Earlier this week, Keith also blasted WFTV and her opponents for the decision to exclude her. She decried their decision as "blatant racism and sexism."

The station hasn't responded.

But it said earlier this week that other Senate candidates, Democrats and Republicans, would be invited to do three-minute segments “to communicate their stance on the issues to the people of Central Florida.”

When asked about it by the Miami Herald's editorial board on Thursday, Murphy was vague on whether Keith should be included and he was unaware of what terms for debate his campaign staff negotiated with the station. He deferred to both his campaign and to WFTV's set criteria, and he said he personally had no part in those talks.

"If the host comes up with qualifications that she meets, then of course, by all means" she should participate, Murphy said. "I've known Ms. Keith for several years, so I don't have any personal contention or beef with her."

Grayson's campaign hasn't commented. For his part, Grayson has appeared on stage with Keith at at least a couple candidate forums during the campaign. He had agreed to debate her on radio next month, but that event was cancelled after Murphy declined to participate.

Florida NOW touted Keith's credentials as among the other reasons she should be allowed to take part in the WFTV debate, which is expected to be the only Democratic debate before the Aug. 30 primary.

"Pam Keith is uniquely qualified to run for the U.S. Senate. Her experience as a Naval Officer JAG and attorney fighting for labor workers gives her an advantage neither of the other candidates possess," Florida NOW said.

"Women and minorities make up 50 percent of the voters in Florida. To exclude Pam Keith from the Senate debates is an insult to these voters," the group added. "It demonstrates a bias that should never be included in a news organization whose duty is to inform the public. ... WFTV needs to change their position on this debate."

Keith has been campaigning full-time since November 2014, longer than any candidate from either major party. Nonetheless, Murphy and Grayson -- sitting U.S. congressmen from Jupiter and Orlando, respectively -- have garnered almost all of the attention in the Democratic field.

The Grayson-Murphy debate is set to be taped in advance and will air at 7 p.m. Aug. 12 on WFTV in Orlando and online at WFTV.com.

Lesser-known Democratic candidates Reginald Luster of Jacksonville and "Rocky" Roque De La Fuente of Orlando also weren't invited to WFTV's debate. They each launched their campaigns last month -- just in time to qualify for the primary ballot -- and neither has been included in any polls.

July 11, 2016

Florida LGBT caucus endorses Hillary Clinton, Debbie Wasserman Schultz

The caucus of the Florida Democratic Party that represents gays and lesbians announced today that it has endorsed Hillary Clinton.

Clinton did not go on record supporting same-sex marriage until 2013. As PolitiFact reported, Clinton opposed same-sex marriage as a candidate for the Senate, while in office as a senator, and while running for president in 2008. She expressed her support for civil unions starting in 2000 and for the rights’ of states to set their own laws in favor of same-sex marriage in 2006.

As polls showed that a majority of Americans supported same-sex marriage, Clinton’s views changed, too. She announced her support for same-sex marriage in March 2013.

Other endorsements by the Florida LGBTA caucus include U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston and Bob Poe, who is running for Congress in Orlando and is openly gay and HIV-positive. The caucus also endorsed Carlos Guillermo Smith and Beth Tuura for state House in central Florida. 

May 05, 2016

Florida Supreme Court will consider 24-hour abortion waiting period case


The Florida Supreme Court agreed Thursday to hear a case challenging a state law that requires women to see a doctor and wait 24 hours before having an abortion.

Five of seven justices agreed to consider overturning a lower court's decision that the law should be enforced while a pending lawsuit over the constitutionality of the law moves forward.

Gov. Rick Scott signed the waiting period into law last year, prompting the American Civil Liberties Union and Gainesville-based abortion clinic Bread and Roses Women's Health Center to sue the state. The law, they say, violates strict privacy protections in the Florida Constitution.

The law went into effect for about a day last July before a Tallahassee judge issued an injunction blocking its implementation. That was lifted in February by the 1st District Court of Appeals.

The Florida Supreme Court halted it again on April 22.

Oral arguments have not yet been set by the Supreme Court, but they will not take place for at least two months, according to the justices' order.

In deciding to hear the case, the justices broke on familiar ideological lines with Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and justices Barbara ParienteFred LewisPeggy Quince and James Perry voting to accept jurisdiction. Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston dissented.

April 22, 2016

Supreme Court stops 24-hour waiting period for abortions


Women will no longer be required to wait 24 hours before having an abortion -- at least for now.

The Florida Supreme Court on Friday tapped the brakes on the controversial state law, which requires women to visit the doctor, in person, a full day before an abortion. It's the latest in a protracted legal fight that began last summer after the measure was passed by the Republican-controlled state Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott.

Gainesville-based abortion clinic Bread and Roses Women's Health Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida sued the state, claiming the law violates broad privacy protections under the Florida Constitution. A Tallahassee circuit court still hasn't ruled on that question. The fight has so far surrounded an injunction stopping the law from going into effect.

For about a day in July, the law was in effect before a judge issued the injunciton. Then, on Feb. 26, a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeals ruled in the state's favor, allowing the waiting period to become state law while the lawsuit moves forward.

The Supreme Court's 5-2 ruling, however, puts the law's implementation on hold while the state's highest justices decide whether to accept the case.

March 16, 2016

Statewide primary turnout was 46 percent, highest since 1976

The state Division of Elections says the turnout for the presidential primary Tuesday was 46.04 percent, the highest for a Florida presidential primary since 1976, according to  turnout data on the agency's web site.

That percentage reflects the total number of Republicans and Democrats who voted in the closed presidential primary only. But many counties also had city elections on Tuesday's ballot, which are open to all voters, regardless of party affiliation, and which had the effect of lowering the turnout percentage for those counties.

Turnout numbers were still unofficial Wednesday. Broward and Duval were still counting absentee ballots, and many counties have not yet finished counting their provisional ballots and overseas ballots. All counties have until 5 p.m. March 27 to send their certified totals to the state.

A few factoids about the turnout:

* Marco Rubio finished second overall, but came in third behind Ted Cruz in 27 counties, most of them small rural counties in North Florida. The largest county where Rubio finished third was Tallahassee's Leon County, but Cruz ran neck-and-neck with Rubio in the North Subcoast counties of Pasco, Hernando and Citrus.

* The nine candidates who had suspended campaigning but remained on the ballot received a combined 78,000 votes, with more than half of that amount (43,449) going to Jeb Bush.

* The three counties where Bush got the most votes were Miami-Dade (3,976); Lee (3,336); and Hillsborough (2,619), according to unofficial returns.

* As usual, turnout in Pinellas County was higher than the statewide average. It broke 50 percent and stood at 50.02 percent on the county elections website Wednesday. By comparison, turnout in Miami-Dade was a lackluster 29 percent, according to the county elections website.

* Gone but not forgotten: Mike Huckabee got more votes in Pinellas (154) than in any other county in Florida.

February 28, 2016

ACLU asks Supreme Court to consider blocking 24-hour waiting period for abortions


Abortion rights activists are asking the Florida Supreme Court to intervene after an appellate court on Friday decided to allow a controversial 24-hour waiting period law to go into effect.

Late Friday night, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida requested that the state's highest court take up their request for an emergency injunction that stopped the waiting period, signed into law last year by Gov. Rick Scott, from being enforced.

The injunction was granted July 2, 2015, the day after the law went into effect. But Friday's decision by the 2nd District Court of Appeals to overrule the injunction means the law is now in effect. Women must see a doctor in person 24 hours before having an abortion.

"The appellate court's ruling is already causing havoc across the state as women seeking abortions struggle to make an additional, unnecessary trip to the clinic—which often means missing work, losing wages, and finding child care," Julia Kaye, staff attorney at the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement.

The ACLU is acting as lawyers for Bread and Roses, a Gainesville-based abortion clinic in a broader lawsuit, which alleges that the law violates strict privacy protections in Florida's Constitution. That lawsuit is pending in a Tallahassee circuit court.

Supporters of the law say it protects women's health and ensures that no women are pressured into having an abortion without first having the chance to seriously consider it.

"This is a huge win for women's health and the ability for women to have a face-to-face consultation with the doctor before the procedure," state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, said in a statement Friday after the injunction was lifted. Sullivan sponsored the 24-hour waiting period legislation.

December 18, 2015

Senate trial closes; will judge draw maps?

After eight rulings by the Florida Supreme Court and an admission of guilt by legislators, the Senate redistricting trial ended Thursday with a Tallahassee judge asking the parties to tell him their top choices for a new Senate map.

Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds now must decide whether to accept one of four proposals offered by the challengers — a coalition of the League of Women Voters, Common Cause of Florida and a group of Democrat-leaning individuals — or a map drawn by Senate staff but never voted on by the Legislature.

The challengers said Reynolds should pick one of two maps that create four Hispanic-majority districts in Miami-Dade County, boosting the number of Hispanic-dominated seats from three and opening the door to a Hispanic district dominated by Democrats.

The Senate’s lawyers, who operated solo during the four-day trial as the House sat on the sidelines, told the judge that if he rejects the Senate’s proposed map — the Senate’s first choice — they would like him to draw his own. The Senate offered up its map drawer to work with the plaintiffs’ map drawer to do the job. More here.