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162 posts from December 2016

December 27, 2016

Adam Putnam continues to pile up cash

PutnamTimesFile

@JeremySWallace

December is typically a slow time for politicians to fundraise given the holidays. But the man most Republicans expect to run for governor in 2018 continues to pile up the cash.

Since the start of December Florida Agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam has raised more than $134,000 in a political committee he controls called Florida Grown PC. The Republican’s biggest donor in December was from a Tallahassee property management company called Arbor Properties, which gave Putnam $50,000.

Because Putnam is raising money in a PAC instead of a traditional campaign account he is able to get around campaign donation limits. Donors can only give a candidate for governor a maximum donation of $3,000, according to the Florida Division of Elections. But donations to political committees do not have the same restriction.

Since the start of 2015, Putnam has now raised more than $6.5 million for the committee, more than any other single politician in Florida than Gov. Rick Scott, who has raised more than $7 million in a political committee he controls called Let's Get To Work.

December 24, 2016

Miami City Manager airs dirty laundry in fight with police union

@NewsbySmiley

In response to allegations of heavy-handed punishment and allusions to racism, Miami's top administrator on Friday issued a memo detailing the sex, race and transgressions of every full-time employee fired under his watch -- a dirty laundry list that includes men and women accused of fraud, drug trafficking and brawling on the job.

Daniel Alfonso's package to city commissioners included more than 600 pages of backup documents, and came in response to insinuations this month by Miami's police union that he has disproportionately punished African American employees. Union president Javier Ortiz also told commissioners that Alfonso has lost every firing challenged by the Fraternal Order of Police, a statement Alfonso sought to clarify and contextualize.

"As I have stated in the past, these decisions are not taken lightly and you will find that at the very least, the documentation provided supports strong disciplinary action," Alfonso wrote to commissioners Friday. "Among the causes presented are workplace violence, fraud and child pornography to name a few. More than a third of the dismissals for cause are from employees who have been sworn to protect and serve our taxpayers."

Continue reading "Miami City Manager airs dirty laundry in fight with police union" »

December 23, 2016

Florida housing agency chief resigns after audit reveals expensive meals, bonuses

Stephen augervia @TB_Times' @susanskate

The executive director of Florida Housing Finance Corp. has resigned in the wake of an audit that rapped the agency for hosting expensive meals, including a $52,000 dinner, and awarding nearly $443,000 in employee bonuses while thousands of Floridian were waiting for help to save their homes.

Stephen Auger, who has headed the state-run agency since 2005, said he was stepping down from his job in a letter to the agency's board chairman the day after the Tampa Bay Times reported on the audit.

"It has been an honor and a blessing to have been part of an organization of such fine people who work so diligently to provide a range of affordable housing opportunities that help make Florida's communities great places to live, work and do business," Auger wrote.

MORE: “Audit hits Florida housing agency for nearly $443k in employee bonuses, $52k filet mignon dinner”

But the agency under Auger's tenure has repeatedly come under fire for its lackluster performance in helping struggling homeowners during the foreclosure crisis. In a blistering report last year prompted by a Times' investigation, a top federal official said Florida had one of the highest rejection rates and lowest acceptance rates of applicants seeing mortgage relief from the federal Hardest Hit Fund.

Full story here, and check back for updates.

Herald/Times reporter Kristen M. Clark contributed to this report.

Photo credit: Florida Housing Finance Corp.

Florida scientists want to meet with Trump, talk climate change

Climatetrump122416_18544767_8col

via @TB_Times' @craigtimes

Ten Florida scientists have written President-elect Donald Trump a letter offering to brief him about climate change while he's spending Christmas at his Mar-A-Lago estate.

Trump has repeatedly denied climate change exists, at one point calling it a "Chinese hoax" designed to ruin the American economy. More recently he asserted, "Nobody really knows" if climate change is real.

The scientists want to show him that he's wrong — somebody does know, and they know that low-lying Florida is the state most vulnerable to rising sea levels.

And that includes Trump's own waterfront estate.

"The future of Florida is at stake," they wrote in their letter, dated Thursday. "We would like to discuss with you the impact that sea level rise will have on properties like Mar-A-Lago."

A coalition of South Florida governments studying climate change has settled on 2 feet as the likely rate of sea level rise here by 2050. Because Florida is so flat, even a few inches of increase means water pushes a long way inland. For instance, the mangroves lining the shores of Charlotte Harbor have retreated the length of a football field from where they were 50 years ago.

And the streets in Miami Beach, which has an average elevation of 4.4 feet and some 7 miles of beaches, are already flooding more often from high tides rather than from heavy rains.

Last year five Florida scientists met with Gov. Rick Scott — who as a Naples resident is another waterfront property owner who has expressed skepticism about climate change — to try to convince him that not only did it exist, but it was a major issue he should address.

Scott was cordial but remained noncommittal. He said he wanted solutions. They sent him some. He did not respond.

More than two dozen Florida scientists sent Trump a similar letter in October, proposing a meeting to show him the evidence about climate change. So far, they have received no response, said Ben Kirtman, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Miami.

The climate news isn't all bad, he pointed out. "We see a lot of economic opportunity here," Kirtman explained.

So how likely is it that Trump will respond this time when he didn't last time?

"I'm always optimistic," Kirtman said, laughing. "Cautiously optimistic."

Photo credit: AP

Donald Trump playing golf in West Palm Beach today with Tiger Woods

via @learyreports

President-elect Donald Trump is taking a page from the Obama playbook and hitting the links today, joined by Tiger Woods, aka Mac Daddy Santa.

The pair were scheduled for 18 holes at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach. Four other people are playing, but Trump's team did not identify them.

A spokeswoman said Trump will have meetings with high-level staff after the game.

Woods, who lives in Florida, introduced his "Mac Daddy Santa" persona to the world via Twitter.

Florida's denial of felons' voting rights 'radically out-of-step,' report says

@ByKristenMClark

A new report from the Brennan Center for Justice takes Florida to task for its law denying voting rights to felons unless they successfully navigate an arduous and lengthy process to get those rights back.

The Brennan Center calls Florida’s law “radically out of step with policies around the rest of the country” and “one of the harshest laws in the nation.” The law needs to be replaced,the report said.

MORE: Read the full report

According to the report, released this month, 1.6 million Floridians are denied voting rights because of the state law. Those residents represent more than 10 percent of the state’s voting-age population. A disproportionate number, nearly one-third, are black.

“Florida’s criminal disenfranchisement law is rooted in some of our country’s most discriminatory voting practices, and it continues to have its intended effects today,” said the report’s author, Erika Wood, a New York Law School professor and director of the Voting Rights and Civic Participation Project of the Impact Center for Public Interest Law.

“It is time for Florida to learn from the past and then leave it behind. The right to vote should not be used as a tool for lifetime punishment,” Wood added.

Full story here.

Florida members of Congress tell feds: Pay our state for Trump's Mar-a-Lago security costs

Mar-a-Lago

via @learyreports

President-elect Donald Trump's travel to Florida is causing steep security costs and lawmakers want the federal government to pay.

Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio along with Reps. Alcee Hastings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel and Patrick Murphy sent this letter:

Dear Attorney General Lynch and Secretary Johnson,

We are writing to make you aware of the attached request from the Mayor of Palm Beach County regarding reimbursement for ancillary costs associated with helping protect President-elect Trump, who has often visited his home in the area.

According to Mayor Burdick, the county spent approximately $250,000 to provide security support for the President-elect during his four-day visit over Thanksgiving alone.

Congress appropriated $7 million to the Department of Justice in the recently-passed government funding bill (P.L. 114-254) to reimburse State and local law enforcement agencies for overtime costs associated with protecting the President-elect before his inauguration.

We urge you to consider using those funds or any other resources that you deem appropriate to help the county offset these costs.

We appreciate your attention to this matter.

Photo credit: AP

Will Weatherford says he's not running for governor in 2018

@MichaelAuslen

Will Weatherford won't run for governor in 2018, the former Florida House speaker said Thursday.

"Running for governor is a pretty big commitment, and it's something that is certainly of interest," he told the Herald/Times. "My focus right now, which I'm really enjoying, has been growing a business with my partners who are my brothers and being there for my four young children."

Weatherford, a 37-year-old Republican from Wesley Chapel, isn't ruling out a run in the future. His children are all young — 8, 6, 4 and 2 years old — and he said he has years ahead of him to return to politics.

"While I'm compelled at some point to re-engage in the political arena, I just think the timing right now is not right," he said.

More here.

December 22, 2016

Supreme Court: Death penalty cases finalized before 2002 won't be re-heard

@MichaelAuslen and @ByKristenMClark

Death sentences for nearly 200 prisoners were cemented Thursday after the Florida Supreme Court ruled they are not eligible for new hearings or lower sentences under a revamped death penalty law.

In a 6-1 ruling, the court decided that more than half of the 386 inmates currently on death row could see their sentences change. But the justices also said recent rulings throwing out parts of the state’s death penalty law would not apply retroactively to inmates whose cases were finalized before a key U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2002.

The court also lifted a stay on the execution of Mark James Asay, originally scheduled for March 17 of this year. Asay was convicted in 1988 of killing two men, Robert Booker and Robert McDowell, in Jacksonville.

It’s a signal that executions could begin again after an 11-month hiatus while Florida’s death penalty was shrouded in uncertainty.

Gov. Rick Scott’s office is “reviewing the ruling,” spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said. The state has executed 23 people while Scott has been in office, more than any governor since the death penalty was re-instated in 1976.

Thursday’s ruling caps a tumultuous year for Florida’s death penalty. The only execution in 2016 was that of Oscar Ray Bolin, Jr. on Jan. 7. He was executed just five days before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the state’s death penalty unconstitutional in Hurst v. Florida, prompting the Legislature to re-write sentencing laws.

Then, in October, the Florida Supreme Court decided that the Hurst ruling required a unanimous vote by the jury to sentence someone to death. Current law requires a supermajority vote by 10 of the 12 members of a jury.

Deciding how to apply those rulings to the 386 prisoners on death row has been a “thorny issue,” the justices wrote, requiring them to balance fairness and inmates’ constitutional rights with the principle that decisions by judges and juries are final.

Critics of the ruling, including some justices on the deeply divided court, say drawing a line in the sand on the day the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its 2002 decision in Ring v. Arizona is arbitrary. That case required that juries find specific aggravating factors before sentencing someone to death and called Florida’s death penalty laws into question.

Just one justice, who retires Dec. 30, disagreed entirely with the majority. Justice James Perry wrote that all death row inmates should be entitled to new sentences.

“(The ruling) creates an arbitrary application of law to two groups of similarly situated persons,” he wrote. “Coupled with Florida’s troubled history in applying the death penalty in a discriminatory manner, I believe that such an application is unconstitutional.”

The court’s decision could also lead to more confusion about Florida’s death penalty in the future, said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

“That’s not a principled basis to decide whether someone should live or die,” he said. “And that only adds additional fuel to the cries of death penalty opponents that the United States is incapable of carrying out capital punishment in anything but an arbitrary manner.”

In a second ruling on Thursday, the Supreme Court granted a new sentencing hearing to another death-row inmate, John F. Mosley, who was convicted of killing his girlfriend and infant son in 2004. His sentence was final after the Ring decision, unlike Asay’s.

Trump is in Florida, but it's not clear if he's meeting with state officials

@MichaelAuslen

President-elect Donald Trump is spending Christmas in the Sunshine State, but it's not clear if he and his team will meet with any Florida officials while he's here.

Trump transition spokesman Jason Miller said Wednesday on a conference call with reporters that he was "not aware of any specific meetings that are happening."

"Obviously, Florida is a very important state to the president-elect, a place where he spends a lot of time," Miller said. "But as far as if there's anything more specific that's happening on this particular trip, I don't have anything to share at the moment."

Trump is spending Christmas at his Palm Beach estate, Mar-a-Lago.

The trip comes as several Florida politicians are reportedly being considered for administration jobs, including Attorney General Pam Bondi and U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller. As well, there are any number of policy reasons Trump or his advisers would want to meet with elected and appointed officials from the nation's third-largest state.

Trump is friends with Gov. Rick Scott, and two state representatives played key roles in his election: Rep. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, was co-chairman of the Florida campaign, and Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, chairs the Republican Party of Florida.