by BRANDON LARRABEE | News Service of Florida
The Florida Supreme Court appears poised to release hundreds of pages of secret documents and testimony involved in a lawsuit challenging congressional districts drawn by the Legislature in 2012.
In an order issued Monday, justices told lawyers representing Republican political consultant Pat Bainter and his consulting firm, Data Targeting Inc., to explain by noon Tuesday why the court shouldn't release the records three hours later.
The court noted a decision by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to turn down a request to keep the documents sealed after Dec. 1 -- when the state justices initially scheduled a release. Also, it cited the leak of the documents to some media outlets over the weekend.
In addition to those records, though, the court would release Bainter's previously closed testimony in the redistricting case before Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, who sparked a special legislative session this summer when he struck down two congressional districts for violating a constitutional ban on political gerrymandering.
"Now the public will be able to fully understand all elements of the shadow process that was designed to deceive the public, circumvent the will of the people and make a mockery of the Legislature's proclaimed transparent and open process of redistricting," said David King, an attorney for the groups challenging the map.
Though Lewis found two districts violated the Constitution, voting-rights groups appealed to the Supreme Court. They say Lewis didn't go far enough to completely rid the map of violations of the anti-gerrymandering "Fair Districts" amendments, which were approved by the voters in 2010.
While the Supreme Court has ordered the release of the documents and testimony, it has not ruled on the challenge to Lewis' decision.
Many of the most salacious details about the emails and documents, which Bainter fought to keep private for months, were divulged after the Scripps-Tribune Capital Bureau in Tallahassee published all 538 pages online. They detail the activities of political consultants who Lewis found engaged in a secretive effort to submit maps to the Legislature under the names of other people, using a public system.
» Read more
by JIM Turner | NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
TALLAHASSEE — Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga signed an administrative order Monday creating a 27-member commission to determine how civil legal needs can be met for low- and moderate-income Floridians.
One of the main tasks of the new Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice will be to figure out how to provide additional money for civil legal aid, something Gov. Rick Scott has vetoed the past four years.
Labarga said the commission will be asked to consider partnerships with the business community. He added that the commission isn’t expected to ask for “a lot of money” from legislators.
“It is our hope that they come up with solutions that combine all these efforts and various ways to do it,” Labarga said. “My intention, our intention, is to lock up all these smart people in a room, let them knock it around and see what they come up with.”
» Read more
by News Service of Florida
In an issue that has been a priority for Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican senator from Volusia County filed a bill Friday that would cut the state's corporate income tax.
The bill (SB 138), filed by Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, will be considered during the 2015 legislative session. Under current law, the first $50,000 of a corporation's net income is exempt from the tax. The bill would increase that exemption to the first $75,000 of net income.
Scott has long targeted the corporate-income tax, calling during this year's campaign for a phase-out of the tax. Hukill during the 2014 session proposed a similar bill to raise the exemption, but the measure did not pass.
» Read more
by Steve Bousquet | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau
Gov. Rick Scott on Monday signed the death warrant for Johnny Shane Kormondy, who killed a Pensacola banker and repeatedly raped his wife as the couple returned home from her 20th high school reunion in 1993. Kormondy is set to die on Jan. 15, 2015.
In a summary of the case, the governor's office said that Kormondy shot Gary McAdams in the back of the head, killing him, and was the leader of the attack on the McAdamses, having recruited accomplices, provided transportation and cased the neighborhood prior to the crime. Kormondy also threatened to kill witnesses who testified at his trial -- including Cecilia McAdams -- if he were released from prison.
Kormondy was convicted of first-degree murder and three counts of sexual battery. The jury recommended a death sentence by a vote of 8 to 4 and he received life sentences on each of the sexual battery counts. Kormondy, 42, has spent half of his life on Death Row at Florida State Prison in Starke.
Kormondy would be the 21st person to be executed since Scott took office as governor in January 2011. That would tie the number of executions ordered by former Gov. Jeb Bush, who served two terms for a total of eight years from 1999-2007.
by Lynn Hatter | WFSU
A preliminary report on the future of the joint Florida A&M-Florida State University College of Engineering shows a separation could be as high as a billion dollars.
The Florida legislature commissioned the study earlier this year after a plan pushed by former State Senator John Thrasher failed. Thrasher is now president of Florida State University.
According to the study, separating the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering and creating two separate programs at each university could be a billion-dollar task. The report by the consulting from Collaborative Brain Trust also lists pros and cons of separation.
It notes that the FAMU-FSU Engineering school has been a model of cooperation between a public, white majority university and an HBCU. It also notes the school has produced women and minority graduates in engineering—groups underrepresented in the field. But it also acknowledges problems, like a need for renovation, FAMU’s enrollment drops at the school, and dissatisfaction from FSU faculty.
The report also calls the current way the school is run, "dysfunctional" and says the administrative problems need to be addressed. But it adds, any plans to separate the school could end up in a federal lawsuit.
A final report is due Dec. 10.
» Read more
by Ivan Penn | Tampa Bay Times
State regulators in Tallahassee are expected to decide today whether to back proposals by Florida utilities to gut their energy-efficiency goals by more than 90 percent and end programs that offered rebates for solar installations.
Ahead of the state Public Service Commission decision, environmental groups and solar backers warned during a conference call with the news media Monday that a vote in favor of the utilities' proposals could push Florida further behind the majority of the nation for the next decade.
Earlier this month, PSC staffers recommended that their bosses back the utilities' proposals.
"Unfortunately, they're not looking out for Florida families," Tim Heberlein, an organizer for the Sierra Club of Florida, said during the call. "Florida was already on the bottom half of states. The decision tomorrow will lock in energy efficiency goals for the next five to 10 years."
» Read more
by Jimmy Geurts | Tampa Bay Times
TAMPA — Three days after President Barack Obama announced sweeping changes to immigration rules through executive actions, advocates are starting to spread the word to their communities about how they work.
Tampa lawyer Gil Sanchez held a free immigration seminar Sunday inside Raymond James Stadium. The event's purpose, he said, was to inform those who are potentially affected about what the changes mean — and what they don't mean.
"Although it's very new still, there's also a lot of misinformation that can start percolating, and that can really affect the Hispanic community," he said.
Sanchez gave a presentation detailing the executive actions, and offered individual consultations to the roughly 200 attendees trying to figure out if they are going to be protected from deportation.
Nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants would qualify under the changes Obama announced Thursday, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents who have lived here for at least five years and pass background checks could avoid deportation and receive employment authorization.
So-called Dreamers, or young immigrants brought to the United States illegally by their parents, would now qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program as long as they've lived here since 2010. An earlier age limit of 31 years also has been removed.
Sanchez said he would have liked to have seen some other changes, such as relief for the parents of Dreamers, who do not qualify under the executive orders.
"That really comes to what Obama wants, which is the unification of the family," he said.
Yet he said it was a step in the right direction toward what he hopes will be broader immigration reform.
"Being able to give peace of mind to families that are undocumented and have kids that are citizens, that's a big step," Sanchez said.
» Read more
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- The Florida Department of Children and Families says it didn't know one of its child abuse investigators left his previous state job amid allegations related to bribery and strip clubs, according to a report by The Scripps-Tribune Capital Bureau.
The Department dismissed investigator Karlos Barnes last week, following questions by Scripps about about Barnes' 2013 hiring and previous Division of Alcoholic Beverage and Tobacco work ( http://bit.ly/1tp5tvD ).
Department of Children and Families spokeswoman Alexis Lambert said Thursday that the agency decided not to retain Barnes passed his probationary period, which ended this month.
"This decision was made based on information obtained from (the agency that previously employed Barnes), which indicates he may not be suitable for a position of such special trust and responsibility," she told the news organization.
The department has a policy of reviewing public personnel files before hiring. Barnes says the allegations against him at the alcohol agency are "completely untrue," but that he respects the department's decision.
"I don't have anything to say, I pray for all of them," Barnes said. "I don't believe in dirtying someone's name."
Barnes resigned from the alcohol department in late 2010 after using a state database to conduct searches for unofficial purposes.
No charges were ever filed against him for his work there and an investigation was halted without explanation shortly after.
» Read more
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Monday he is stepping down, leaving under pressure following a rocky tenure in which he has struggled to break through the White House’s insular team of national security advisers.
During a White House ceremony, Obama said he and Hagel had determined it was an “appropriate time for him to complete his service.”
Hagel is the first senior Obama adviser to leave the administration following the sweeping losses for the president’s party in the midterm elections. It also comes as the president’s national security team has been battered by crises including the rise of Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria and Russia’s provocations in Ukraine.
The president praised Hagel, a Republican who grew close to Obama while they both served in the Senate, as an “exemplary defense secretary” who forged a strong bond with troops stationed around the world. Hagel, who served in the Vietnam War, is the first enlisted combat veteran to serve as defense secretary.
“Chuck Hagel has devoted himself to our national security and our men and women in uniform across six decades,” Obama said.
While Obama has sought to consolidate foreign policy decision-making within the White House, advisers have privately worried about Hagel’s ability to communicate the administration’s positions. There have also been concerns that Hagel wasn’t proactive or engaged in Cabinet meetings and other national security discussions.
In what appeared to be an effort to refute that criticism, Obama said Monday that Hagel had always “given it to me straight” during their private conversations in the Oval Office.
» Read more