News from Tallahassee for 11/28/15

Democrats call for end to redistricting 'skullduggery' posted on 7/14/15


FL Redistricting mapTHE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE —Republican legislative leaders, who have been huddling with staff and counsel, continue to offer little comment publicly as they decide how to respond to a Florida Supreme Court ruling last week that eight congressional districts must be redrawn.

But state Democrats haven't been holding back.

Shortly after Thursday's court ruling, Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, announced that he would reintroduce legislation for the 2016 session to create an independent commission to oversee future district-map drawing.

And on Monday, Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, wrote to House Speaker Steve Crisafulli requesting that all meetings on redistricting involving lawmakers, staff and attorneys be held in public.

"The Republican leadership will never be able to adequately redress these wrongs, but you at least owe it to the people of Florida to not repeat them," Cruz, who is slated to become House minority leader after the 2016 elections, wrote to Crisafulli.

Since Thursday, there has been scant reaction from House and Senate Republicans to the long-awaited court ruling that ordered the Legislature to redraw congressional lines within 100 days.

"When the president has a comment, I will let you know," Katie Betta, spokeswoman for Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said in an email Monday.

In an opinion written by Justice Barbara Pariente, the Supreme Court majority ruled that Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis was correct to find that a congressional map approved in 2012 as part of the once-a-decade redistricting process was corrupted by the efforts of Republican political consultants --- violating an anti-gerrymandering "Fair Districts" constitutional amendment voters approved in 2010.

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Lawsuits from public records group are a nuisance, Florida cities say posted on 7/7/15

by mike brassfield | tampa bay times

It starts with a demand that a low-level city employee produce a public record on the spot. Or with an email to a private company demanding invoices relating to a public agency.

Often, it ends with a lawsuit.

For more than a year, government officials all over Florida and the vendors they do business with have complained about a nonprofit group called the Citizens Awareness Foundation.

They say the group sues after requesting records in ways designed to force low-level office workers into technical violations of the state's public records law. Other times, the records requests arrive in emails that appear to be junk mail or phishing scams and, thus, aren't fulfilled.

Cities often settle these lawsuits because it's cheaper than fighting in court.

"It was truly being done, in my mind, for the purpose of extorting money from the cities," said Dunedin City Attorney Tom Trask, adding that industry colleagues call the foundation's tactics a "scam."

In Dunedin and Madeira Beach, foundation workers entered the marina dockmaster's office with cameras rolling, demanding that receptionists produce a slip rental agreement on the spot rather than contact the city clerk, the official records custodian, or allow the worker to seek guidance from a supervisor.

Madeira Beach is fighting its suit in court, while Dunedin settled for $2,500, instead of spending as much as $10,000 litigating.

The situation has gotten the attention of the state Legislature. Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, sponsored a bill this past session that would have required the requester to contact a government agency's records custodian (who would reach out to the business vendor if needed) and give five days notice before suing.

Such a law might have made a difference for Michael Foley, who owns RoyalAire Mechanical Services in Oldsmar. He said he deleted an email he received just before 1 p.m. on a Saturday from "An Onoma" requesting invoices referenced in the company's heating, ventilating and air conditioning contract with the University of South Florida. He figured it was spam.

Foley immediately produced the documents when the lawsuit was served, but said the foundation's lawyers rejected the papers as well as an initial settlement offer to cover court costs. Foley eventually spent more than $3,000 fighting the suit before paying a cash settlement.

That was one of four such lawsuits the foundation filed in Pinellas County last year. It also filed five in Hillsborough, two in Pasco and one in Hernando.

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Bondi’s net worth now at $1.4 million, records show posted on 7/7/15

by JAMES L. ROSICA | Tribune/Scripps Capital Bureau

TALLAHASSEE — Attorney General Pam Bondi is benefiting from a continuing rebound in the real estate market, which has boosted her net worth $150,000, new financial disclosures show.

Bondi’s reported wealth has increased from about $1.24 million to $1.39 million, according to a disclosure of financial interests filed last month with the Florida Commission on Ethics.

Her personal residence in Hillsborough County increased in value from $720,000 to $810,000 – a 12.5 percent jump.

And the reported value of her one-third interest in a condominium went from $278,000 to $342,000 – a 23 percent increase.

Bondi, however, still is the least wealthy of the four statewide elected officers, all Republican.

Gov. Rick Scott, formerly head of a chain of for-profit hospitals, is No. 1 with a reported net worth of $146.8 million.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who holds a 20 percent interest in his family’s Florida citrus growing business, is a distant second with $8.28 million.

And Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, a former banking executive, is third with $2.61 million. All net worths are financial snapshots taken on Dec. 31, 2014.

Those officials and others in government must disclose their finances as part of a transparency initiative approved by voters nearly four decades ago.

In 1976, Floridians OK’d a “Sunshine Amendment” to the state constitution, calling for elected officials and candidates to “file full and public disclosure of their financial interests.”

Reubin Askew, Florida’s governor from 1971-79, championed the amendment’s passage.

Bondi’s reported worth was $472,260 in 2010 when she first ran for office.

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Gov. Rick Scott spends nearly $300K on political consultants in 3 months posted on 7/6/15

by jeremy wallace | miami herald

For someone who cannot seek re-election, Gov. Rick Scott is spending a whole lot of money on political consultants, adding fuel to speculation that he is aiming to run for the U.S. Senate in 2018.

This week, Scott’s Let’s Get To Work political fundraising committee reported paying $26,000 to a pair of political consulting firms, one in Miami that specializes in Hispanic outreach and the other based in Tallahassee. With that, Let’s Get to Work has now spent $292,616 on eight different political consulting firms just since April 1 on a wide range of services, including work on surveys, research, advertising and general consulting.

Scott has told some big political donors that he is interested in running for the Senate in

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New Florida laws for July 1: Beer growlers, flags, abortion waiting period posted on 7/6/15

by News Service of Florida

The state's record-setting budget goes into effect on Wednesday, along with 130 other new laws that were produced by the Legislature this year in the regular and special sessions and signed by Gov. Rick Scott.

Starting Wednesday, the state will no longer collect sales tax on gun club memberships, people with 64-ounce beer containers known as "growlers" can get them filled at breweries, and governments in Florida will have to start looking to buy American-made U.S. flags.

Lawmakers also decided that, as of Wednesday, the state's decades-old ban on gay adoption will no longer be in statutes, children can secretly record sexual abusers and law enforcement agencies can't require officers to issue any preset number of tickets.

At least one of the new laws has an uncertain future.

The requirement of a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions, approved largely along party lines, faces a legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union, which also wants the law put on hold while the lawsuit proceeds.

For the year, lawmakers sent 239 bills to Scott during the regular and special sessions. He vetoed seven and signed the rest.

A number of the new laws make technical changes to state statutes or have ties to the $78.2 billion spending plan.

Sixty-three of the laws approved by the Legislature went into effect immediately upon Scott's signature. Among those proposals, people without conceal-carry permits can now pocket their weapons when forced to leave home because of hurricanes and other disasters (SB 290); current and past members of the U.S. armed forces, reserves or National Guard since Sept. 11, 2001 can ask to have their home and personal information exempt from state public record (HB 185); rural letter carriers can drive without a seat belt while working their route (SB 160); and there will be fewer tests given to public-school students (HB 7069).

Here are highlights of the laws taking effect July 1:

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