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438 posts from March 2016

March 31, 2016

National backlash over LGBT laws doesn't stretch to Florida


When Gov. Rick Scott signed a law three weeks ago allowing pastors to religiously object to gay weddings, there was no national outcry. Disney didn't threaten to pull out of Orlando. The NFL didn't say it would refuse to hold the Super Bowl in Miami or Tampa.

But elsewhere across the South, that kind of high-profile reaction is exactly what's happening, as states pass sweeping changes that activists and business groups say could lead to discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

With same-sex marriage legalized nationwide, this is the new battleground for LGBT rights. In state capitols across the country, conservative lawmakers have proposed bills seeking to balance religious freedom with the Supreme Court's summer ruling in Obergefell vs. Hodges that every couple has a right to get married — regardless of their sex or gender.

"Where do one person's rights begin and another one's end?" said Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, a sponsor of one such bill in Florida this year. "This opened up a sort of Pandora's Box of religious liberty issues that I suspect for many years are going to be debated in statehouses across the country."

During the past week alone, debate over several similar bills rose to the national stage:

• A North Carolina law passed last week is provoking outrage, including opposition from tech companies like Facebook and Google, for requiring transgender people use the restroom for the sex indicated on their birth certificate and overruling local ordinances banning LGBT discrimination.

• Wednesday night, the Mississippi Senate followed the House's lead in passing what may be the most sweeping proposal yet: allowing county clerks to refuse same-sex marriage licenses, businesses to fire LGBT workers and adoption agencies from refusing gay couples.

• In Georgia, lawmakers passed a bill that would have allowed religious groups to fire people they don't feel are in line with their faith and refuse to rent space to anyone deemed "objectionable." But Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed it this week after Disney threatened to stop filming movies there and the NFL said it may not consider Atlanta for a future Super Bowl.

Read the full story here.

Ted Cruz's misleading claim about the EPA, puddles and ditches

Politifact-photos-Cruz_Iowa (1)

Ted Cruz says the Environmental Protection Agency has gone overboard in regulating farms by regulating even puddles and ditches.

"They're hurting from a federal government whose policies have been making it harder and harder for farmers to survive. They're hurting from an EPA who is imposing massive burdens on farms," Cruz said in a March 29 CNN town hall in Milwaukee, Wis. "For example, the Waters of the United States Rule (is) where the EPA has tried to define a puddle or a drainage ditch on your farm to be navigable waters and thus subject to massive environmental regulations."

Are puddles and drainage ditches regulated by the EPA? We’ll wade through the research to find out which draws from a similar claim by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

State doesn't have to pay legal fees for botched Congressional maps


The League of Women Voters was successful in suing the state and forcing a redrawing of the state's congressional districts, but they will have to bear their own costs for attorney fees, the Florida Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.

In a 4-3 decision, the court denied the League of Women Voters of Florida's request to be compensated for years of attorney fees in their effort to uncover evidence that the Florida Legislature had violated the state Constitution barring them from drawing Congressional districts in a way to benefit incumbents or political parties.

Attorneys for the League of Women Voters of Florida argued that for years, the Legislature engaged in a "war of attrition" and employed a "scorched-earth policy" that erected costly barriers for them as the sought to uncover critical evidence that ultimately led the Florida Supreme Court last year to rule that the Legislature's redistricting was "tainted" by illegal partisan intent."

The League, which did not identify a specific dollar amount in court documents, argued that not awarding the fees would embolden recalcitrant legislatures to try to run up costs on their opponents to avoid constitutional violations from being uncovered like happened in their case.

But justices Jorge Labarga, R. Fred Lewis, Charles T. Canady and Ricky Polston ruled against them. Justices Barbara J. Pariente, Peggy A. Quince, and James E.C. Perry ruled in favor of the League of Women Voters request.

In the dissenting opinion written by Pariente, she it could not be overstated how important the efforts of the plaintiffs were in forcing the Legislature to comply with the state constitution.

"If the Appellants (the League of Women Voters) had not brought their cause of action, the Legislature's unconstitutional, gerrymandered redistricting plan would have remained in place, and this offense to Florida's Constitution and the basic foundation of our democracy would have gone unchallenged," Pariente wrote.

Supreme Court okays utility-funded solar power ballot item


The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday approved a constitutional amendment backed by utility companies that would maintain the status quo in how solar energy is regulated.

It will appear on the ballot in November's election as "Amendment 1," and 60 percent of voters must approve it in order for it to go into effect.

Under the proposed amendment -- called Consumers for Smart Solar -- local and state regulators would maintain control over solar energy.

“We are pleased that the Supreme Court will allow the people of Florida to have a voice on our amendment to advance solar energy in the Sunshine State," Consumers for Smart Solar co-chair Dick Batchelor said in a written statement. "We look forward to making our case to the people of Florida – that we must advance solar energy – and do it the right way – a way that protects all consumers, whether they choose solar or not."

The solar issue has been a hot one, though.

The utility-backed group launched after another ballot item was proposed that would have allowed property owners to sign lease agreements with solar companies to finance and install equipment. That could have threatened monopolies heald by the utilities.

That amendment -- Floridians for Solar Choice -- failed to gather enough signatures to appear on the ballot. They're looking to 2018.

Floridians for Solar Choice was supported by many environmental groups as a way to encourage more alternative energy. Shortly after the Supreme Court's ruling on the utility-backed Consumes for Smart Solar, environmentalists started to chime their opposition.

“This amendment hoodwinks voters by giving the impression that it will encourage the use of rooftop solar when, in fact, it would do the opposite," said Earthjustice attorney David Guest. "If the Constitutional amendment passes, people who install rooftop solar could end up with higher utility bills than if they did not have solar."

A separate solar power constitutional amendment to give commercial property owners a tax break on solar panels will appear on the August ballot.

A Miami Herald reporter reflects on five days in Havana

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HAVANA -- A few steps from la esquina caliente, the shady spot in Havana’s Parque Central where men gather at all hours to engage in their favorite Cuban pastime — talking baseball — a 54-year-old sailor who gave his name as Manuel de Jesús Richards Adams admired the ornate theater across the street. He hoped to glimpse at President Barack Obama.

Obama didn’t plan to deliver his landmark speech at the Gran Teatro until the next day. But to Richards, Obama’s schedule remained a mystery.

“Do you know if he’s there?” he asked me. “Do you know when he’s coming?”

In Cuba, people don’t know.

And not only about Obama’s itinerary, though the lack of detailed information about his visit seemed particularly stunning given how palpably excited Cubans felt about his trip.

Down Old Havana’s busiest drag, Obispo Street, 34-year-old Alexander Noriega sold wooden statues — whittled by his uncle — at a small handicraft market. He seemed surprised to learn Obama had held a news conference moments earlier, side by side with Cuban leader Raúl Castro, who was forced to field a couple of reporters’ questions.

“They’ll show it to us later,” Noriega said confidently, referring to state-run television. His assumption proved only partially correct: A government network did re-air the joint appearance — but without the inconvenient Q&A bit where Castro was asked about political prisoners.

In Cuba, people don’t know what they don’t know.

More here.

Photo credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press

State hurricane fund 'strongest' it has ever been, official tells Florida Cabinet


With hurricane season just 60 days away, Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet got welcome news this week.

The state's insurance catastrophe fund is essentially "fully funded' for hurricane season and could cover the state even if it were hit with a powerful storm, the state's chief investments strategist told Scott and the Cabinet at a meeting earlier this week.

Ash Williams, the executive director of the State Board of Administration, said the state has $13.8 billion in cash and another $2.7 billion in bonds for the cat fund. That gives the state nearly $17 billion to handle the damage from a hurricane even if all of the state's private insurers were maxed out.

"We're in the strongest financial position we've ever been in," Williams said.

Williams said in present day dollars, when Hurricane Andrew hit the state in 1992, it cost the state over $26 billion. He said between what the insurance industry has in reserves - $7 billion - and what the Cat Fund has access to, Florida could easily cover the damage.

"We could literally write a check from where we are," Williams said.

Florida's Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater remarked that it's been a long road for Florida to get to this point. After busy storm seasons in 2004 and 2005, all Florida homeowners were hit with a special assessment in 2007 to help recover from the financial losses created by the storms.

"I'm just glad to say we're getting to this point," Atwater said.


Palm Beach prosecutor Dave Aronberg, Hillary Clinton backer, says politics won't play role in Donald Trump manager case

The Palm Beach Post wrote about the role of the county's state attorney, Dave Aronberg, in the case involving Donald Trump's campaign manager. Aronberg, a Democrat, vows that party affiliation won't play a role and he has some ties to a few of the presidential candidates:

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg, whose office will decide whether to pursue misdemeanor battery charges against Donald Trump’s campaign manager, is a Democratic Hillary Clinton donor who knew Ted Cruz in law school and has close ties to Republican Attorney General and Trump endorser Pam Bondi.

Politics won’t be a factor in deciding whether to prosecute Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, Aronberg said Wednesday, and some prominent local Republicans have given Aronberg high marks for the way he’s run his office since his 2012 election.

But theorizing about political motives has already begun, with some conservative outlets drawing attention to the Clinton campaign’s November rollout of a 150-member “Florida Leadership Council” that includes Aronberg. Aronberg also contributed $1,000 to Clinton in January.

“COREY PROSECUTOR OUTED AS HILLARY SUPPORTER,” the Drudge Report blared on Wednesday, linking to an article that erroneously reported that Aronberg had “brought battery charges” against Lewandowski. While the Jupiter Police Department determined there is probable cause to charge Lewandowski, Aronberg’s office stressed on Wednesday that it has not yet received any information on the case to determine whether to prosecute.

“Law enforcement charges on a probable cause standard. The state has to proceed on a legally higher standard of proof, which is beyond a reasonable doubt as well as whether there is a reasonable likelihood of a conviction,” Aronberg said in a statement released Wednesday.

Keep reading the Palm Beach Post's article here.

Patrick Murphy hates super PACs, but gives them video footage


via @learyreports

There’s Patrick Murphy strolling on a beach with a young man. They appear to be engaged in serious talk, and Murphy points to the horizon, but the video is silent.

There he is on the same beach holding a child’s hand. And another beach shot, this time with an older man and a woman, her arm locked in Murphy’s.

Now Murphy's in an orange grove with an old guy in a hat. But again, viewers have no idea what he and the man are talking about.

Murphy visits a diner. Traverses hallways. Works the phones in a darkened office. Tours a mapping business. Pops into a welding garage.

The 5 minute 42 second video posted on the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate’s campaign website isn’t for the public. It’s “b-roll” to be used by super PACs or another outside group that wants to make a positive ad on Murphy’s behalf.

This is how candidates in both parties get around the law barring direct coordination with super PACs. Murphy's tactic is notable given his public opposition to the super PAC era. He calls it “gross.”

As we reported last year:

Murphy has been endorsed by End Citizens United and has sent out fundraising emails slamming the Supreme Court decision. Yet Murphy’s wealthy father has pumped money into a Super PAC supporting his House campaigns and Murphy was propped up by the House Majority PAC.

Murphy, of course, has a super PAC on his side in the Senate race.

UPDATE: A campaign spokesman, Joshua Karp, did not answer a question about the video and how it squared with Murphy's position. In a statement, he said: "Patrick believes that we need to end the influence of big money in politics, and in the U.S. Senate that will be one of his top priorities."

The Senate Leadership Fund and America Rising, two GOP groups, cast Murphy as a hypocrite and used his b-roll to create its own ads.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Donald Trump's Pants on Fire about Michelle Fields

Donald Trump is maintaining the innocence of his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who was arrested March 29 and charged with simple battery for forcefully grabbing a reporter.

Following a March 8 press conference in Jupiter, Fla., Michelle Fields, at the time a writer for the conservative website Breitbart, tried to ask Trump a question as he was leaving. Lewandowski allegedly grabbed Fields’ arm and pulled her away,leaving bruises.

When news of the incident started to spread, Lewandowski tweeted at Fields, saying, "you are totally delusional. I never touched you." But security footage of the event released by the Jupiter Police Department March 29 appears to show Lewandowski grabbing Fields. 

Despite the recent video, Trump said Lewandowski didn’t misrepresent what happened. Rather, it’s Fields who is being deceptive, he said.

"(Fields) said she went to the ground, or something to the effect of she almost went to the ground," Trump said at a March 29 CNN town hall. "She was in pain. She went to the ground. When she found out that there was a security camera, and that they had her on tape, all of a sudden that story changed. She didn't talk about it."

Keep reading Lauren Carroll's fact-check and see why PolitiFact rated Trump's statement Pants on Fire.

After underage romance led to ‘sex offender’ tag, harsh sentence, Florida man freed early from prison


Carlos Manuel Delgado was released from Columbia Correctional Institution in Lake City on Wednesday afternoon — 13 years, 4 months and 24 days before the end of his sentence.

Or, from the perspective of Republican Gov. Rick Scott and members of the Florida Cabinet: Delgado spent 11 years, 2 months and 17 days in prison because of what they call a miscarriage of justice that branded Delgado a “sex offender” for an atypical crime.

In a rare action, Florida’s top elected officials voted Tuesday to commute Delgado’s sentence and allow him to go free. This is only the fourth sentence commuted in the last five years, according to state records.

They described his case as an unjust consequence of a “stupid decision” and “mistake” Delgado made in 2000 that didn’t align with the truly abhorrent crimes that Florida’s sex offender laws are intended to punish.

Absorbing his first taste of freedom in more than a decade, Delgado on Wednesday afternoon was still trying to take in his changed circumstances.

“From the point that the police came to get me, it was surreal,” he told the Herald/Times in a phone interview. “It’s been really crazy. It’s been super unbelievable.”

More here.