April 06, 2017

Diverging from Senate, House passes narrower plan for religious expression in school



Lawmakers on either side of the Florida Capitol have different ideas on to what extent they should secure students’ and teachers’ rights to express religious beliefs in public schools — forcing the need for compromise before the Legislature can send a proposed law to the governor for his approval this spring.

A plan the Florida House approved Wednesday by a 114-3 vote fortifies basic rights to religious expression that are protected by the state and U.S. Constitutions. The Senate two weeks ago endorsed language that does that, too, but that also goes much further — by also requiring schools to give students a “limited public forum” to pray and otherwise express their beliefs at school assemblies and other school-sanctioned events.

The two proposals were originally identical, but a House committee quickly scaled back that chamber’s version to eliminate the more controversial elements that remain in the Senate-approved bill.

The House vote sends SB 436 back to the Senate — where senators can either make further changes or agree to the House language, which would then send the bill to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk to be signed into law. Senators could potentially take it up as early as Thursday, but it’s more likely to happen next week.

Full story here.

Photo credit: The Florida House. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

March 20, 2016

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to speak about Israel at AIPAC


Israel will be front and center in the 2016 presidential when frontrunners Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton speak at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference Monday.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Gov. John Kasich will also speak. The only presidential candidate not attending the conference is the one who is Jewish: Bernie Sanders. The Vermont senator told AIPAC in a letter that his campaign schedule in the west conflicts with the conference although he would be willing to send his written remarks.

Vice President Joe Biden speaks at 7 p.m. Sunday. Clinton speaks Monday morning while the Republican candidates speak Monday night in Washington D.C. (The exact schedule for Monday hasn’t been released yet.)

AIPAC is considered one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in the country. The candidates will make their case about why they feel they are the best for Israel.

Trump is on the defense after he was attacked by GOP competitors for his past words about Israel.

"On Israel, Donald has said he wants to be neutral between Israel and the Palestinians," Cruz said at the GOP debate at the University of Miami. "As president, I will not be neutral."

Trump did make that statement during an MSNBC town hall in February. He has repeatedly said that in order to be an effective negotiator he believes he must approach the two sides with neutrality. But Cruz omitted Trump’s comments and actions that have shown support for Israel, including that he endorsed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and was the grand marshal of the Salute to Israel parade in New York City in 2004 (see the above photo). PolitiFact rated Cruz’s statement Half True.

Marco Rubio, before he dropped out of the race, lobbed similar attacks on Trump as did a PAC supporting Rubio.

A group of rabbis and Jewish leaders called “Come Together Against Hate” is expected to protest Trump’s speech -- some plan to stand up before he speaks and silently leave the room.

"We denounce in the strongest possible terms the bigotry, racism, xenophobia, and misogyny expressed by Mr. Trump, and violence promoted by him, at various points throughout his campaign..." states a press release from the group. “Our goal is not to disrupt the proceedings or to offend any of our fellow conference attendees. Our hope is to shine a moral light on the darkness that has enveloped Mr. Trump’s campaign."

The AIPAC audience will want to hear the candidates’ views on the Iran nuclear deal.Clinton backed the deal and has talked up her role as Secretary of State ushering in sanctions. Cruz has spoken harshly about the deal while Trump called it “horrendous.” Kasich signed a letter to President Barack Obama from 15 governors opposing the deal in September but in the Jan. 28 debate signaled he wouldn’t immediately scrap it.

Trump’s AIPAC speech will be another chance for him to present himself to a large Jewish audience after his speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition in December was criticized for his stereotypes about Jews.

"I don't want your money, therefore you're probably not going to support me," Trump said. "Because stupidly, you want to give money. Trump doesn't want money. Even though he's better than all these guys... even though he's going to do more for Israel than anybody else."

Israel was not the top issue for Jewish voters leading up to the 2012 presidential election, according to a survey done by the Public Religion Research Institute.

The economy was the most important issue for Jewish voters followed by the growing gap between rich and poor, health care, the federal deficit and then Israel tied for fifth along with national security.

A few Florida politicians were also scheduled to speak during the March 20-22 conference including U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Delray Beach, State Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee and State Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami.

Photo credit Reuters

October 07, 2015

A misleading claim about Planned Parenthood 'illegally' selling body parts in Florida

An Orlando-based conservative Christian group has called on Gov. Rick Scott to choke off all forms of state funding for Planned Parenthood, saying the organization has broken the law and doesn’t deserve taxpayer money.

In a letter dated Sept. 22, 2015, Florida Family Policy Council President John Stemberger thanked Scott for investigating state Planned Parenthood affiliates after videos showing officials discussing fetal tissue were released by the anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress this summer. But Stemberger wanted Scott to go further.

Stemberger said because of what the videos show, the group should not get money through the state’s Medicaid program and Title X, a federal grant program for family planning and preventive health services.

"No organization with a record of illegal activity and abuse, now found to also illegally sell baby parts and likely altering abortion practices to do so, should receive taxpayer dollars," Stemberger wrote. (GOP presidential candidate and former Gov. Jeb Bush ended direct state subsidies for the group in 2001.)

Planned Parenthood has been subject to hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives because of the videos, but has it been proven the organization broke the law with their fetal tissue donations? The short answer is no, but there’s no shortage of accusations.

See what Joshua Gillin of PolitiFact Florida found.

August 16, 2012

Sen. Sobel calls for new task force on hate crimes

After several people were gunned down in a Wisconsin Sikh temple this month, Florida State Sen. Eleanor Sobel is calling for a new task force to look into state policies regarding hate crimes.

“Florida represents a diversity of ethnicities and religious beliefs and we should be doing everything we can to ensure that such a despicable event does not occur here,” Sobel, a Broward County Democrat, said in a statement.  “We have the third largest number of active hate groups in the nation and I want us to begin this process by taking this first step.”

The shooter in the Sikh temple shooting was tied to white supremacist groups.

Sobel said she was not calling for any changes to state law or policy, but simply a review of current state law. In a letter to Gov. Rick Scott, Sobel said the task force should involve representatives from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Florida Supreme Court, the Legislature, the state's Attorney General and private citizens.

There are currently several task forces operating under the govenor's purview, including one created this year to review the state's Stand Your Ground law.

Read Sobel's letter.




February 29, 2012

Foreign law ban poised for House vote

Court or other rulings that uphold foreign law would be void under a widely-criticized measure poised for its final House vote Thursday.

Rep. Larry Metz, R-Eustis, the bill's sponsor, first denied HB 1209 targets a specific group or case. But Democrats eventually pushed him to say the bill stems from a Pakistani case, and "several others throughout the United States."  

Continue reading "Foreign law ban poised for House vote" »

January 12, 2012

School prayer bill advances in Senate

The contentious debate over school prayer is once again being played out before the Florida Legislature.

A bill that would allow voluntary, student-led prayer in secondary schools sailed through the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday -– but not before meeting resistance from Anti-Defamation League officials, who called the bill “unnecessary, divisive and unconstitutional.”

Said sponsor Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando: “All I’m trying to do is allow those School Boards and those students who want to partake in this type of activity [the opportunity] to do that.”

Continue reading the story here.

August 03, 2011

Florida Together to Diana Cardenas: 'Retract and apologize for your public comments regarding the LGBT community'

An open letter from Florida Together Executive Director Michael Kenny to Diana Cardenas, wife of American Conservative Union board chairman Al Cardenas:

Diana Cardenas,

On behalf of Florida Together which represents more than 80 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) organizations in Florida, I call on you to immediately retract and apologize for your public comments regarding the GLBT community.

Read the complete letter at Steve Rothaus' Gay South Florida blog.

January 16, 2011

Tallahassee reverend: The governor's in the house

On this Sunday before MLK Day, Gov. Rick Scott attended services at the Flipper Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, located on the edge of FAMU in Tallahassee. Scott walked into the tiny chapel with his wife, Ann, just before the 11 a.m. services began and signed a few autographs before taking a third-row seat. As the (awesome) 17-member choir sang, Scott clapped and tapped his foot (he was wearing black cowboy boots with his suit). Rev. Oliver Simmons -- who told the 100 or so congregants that Jesus "ain't your dog but he's got your back" -- a few times addressed Scott from the pulpit, telling him leaders are always targets for critics. "Governor, I don't envy you one bit," he said. Rev. Simmons also said he saw a few church members sending texts, figuring they were telling friends, "The governor's in the house."

And Simmons told Scott he's welcome to join the African-American church, noting "That would be a first." Simmons said he believes it's the first time the church's 80-plus-year history that a governor attended services there. "We're just blessed today," he said. 

After the services, Scott hung around for awhile, posing for pictures with church members. Mrs. Scott said she and the governor plan to visit different churches in Tallahassee and around the state.  

April 01, 2010

When senators prayed to 'Our economy sucks'

The state Capitol crowd is still chuckling -- and in some cases complaining -- about the prayer of the day delivered in the Senate on Wednesday by the Rev. Don Roberts, the president of Goodwill Industries of Manasota. The pastor's invocation was intended to be a loving tribute to the late Sen. Jim King of Jacksonville, who was a strong supporter of Goodwill's programs. But, along the way, Rev. Roberts took shots at Sen. Mike Bennett, Gov. Charlie Crist, and said "Our economy sucks, if you will excuse the expression, Lord" -- not the kind of language one normally expects from a man of the cloth.

The good reverend even made a blessed plea to overhaul the Florida tax system, saying: "Our tax system remains mired in 19th Century purgatory with no clear consensus on how to get out of this mess, despite former Senate President John McKay’s best efforts." He even took a lighthearted shot at atheists.

The transcript of Roberts' prayer, excerpted from the Senate journal, is below.

-- Steve Bousquet

Continue reading "When senators prayed to 'Our economy sucks'" »

February 26, 2010

Proposal would allow gov't spending on parochial schools

A proposed amendment to Florida's constitution unveiled today would allow the state to spend public funds on churches and other sectarian institutions. The proposal would open the door for the state to issue vouchers for students to attend parochial schools.

The measure -- which if approved by the Legislature would go before voters -- is sponsored by Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, and Rep. Steve Precourt, R-Orlando.

The proposed amendment would read: "Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to provide that an individual or entity may not be barred from participating in any public program because of religion and to delete the prohibition against using revenues from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution."

Read the press release from the lawmakers below:

Continue reading "Proposal would allow gov't spending on parochial schools" »