Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Group: 'Middle class champions' in Florida Legislature will vote right on these issues

The liberal-leaning Progress Florida organization on Wednesday delivered a warning shot to members of the Florida Legislature:

If at the end of the session that starts next week you want to be designated by the group as a "Champion of Florida's Middle Class," vote the right way on these 10 issues:
  • Guaranteeing Free, Quality Public Education – We must ensure Floridians’ constitutionally protected right to a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools” by rejecting efforts to revive the so-called “parent trigger” bill and curtailing the use of private school vouchers, both of which slash public education funding while privatizing public education for corporate gain. Charter schools should not be funded by taxpayers at the expense of public schools. We cannot continue the practice of cutting K-12 and higher education funding and threaten our state’s Bright Futures Scholarship program.
  • Creating and Protecting Quality Middle Class Jobs – Florida’s Defined Benefit retirement plan is one of the strongest in the nation and should be strengthened and preserved, rather than phased out in favor of risky 401(k) type plans. Florida’s low-income earners should be protected from corporate extremists aiming to preempt local laws designed to prevent wage theft or provide benefits such as earned sick time. Public employees should not face the threat of job loss due to corporate privatization schemes like the prison plan that narrowly failed last year. The legislature should not be placing large corporations over small businesses and middle class working families. Florida should be putting our main street, family owned small businesses first.
  • Ensuring Effective, Efficient Government – Corporations must pay their fair share in taxes. We cannot continue the practice of increasing billion dollar corporate tax breaks and subsidies and pushing for further reductions or the elimination of the corporate income tax altogether while slashing funding for education and neglecting the needs of the state's small businesses.  Large corporations must pay their fair share and corporate tax loopholes should be closed once and for all.  Inefficient government practices, like taxpayer subsidies for nuclear power plants and other handouts to big business that don’t help create jobs, should be stopped. Cutting corporate taxes simply rewards big business and the wealthy and does nothing to aid job creation.
  • Promoting a Stronger Democracy and Protecting Voting Rights – To avoid a repeat of last year’s election fiasco, when voters endured unforgivable wait times of up to eight hours (the longest in the nation), we need to return to a minimum of at least 14 days and 12 hours per day of early voting for all Florida voters. Voters should have the same access to the ballot regardless of what county they reside in. The legislature should be held to the same 75-word maximum for constitutional amendments that citizen-led constitutional amendments are.
  • Ending Corporate Welfare and Protecting Small Businesses – Attracting new businesses and industries to Florida should be a top priority this legislative session, but that goal cannot be achieved without creating a balanced approach to the state's budget problems, making smart investments in education and infrastructure, ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and making sure corporations pay their fair share so that small businesses have a competitive opportunity against large corporations.
  • Reforming Tallahassee’s Culture of Corruption – In order to reach optimal government effectiveness we must clean up the culture of corruption in Tallahassee and push for real ethics reform. These reforms would prohibit the use of Committees of Continuous Existence (CCEs) except to engage in political activities related to the election or re-election of candidates; provide teeth for the Commission on Ethics to go after those current and past elected officials who have been found to have violated ethics and elections laws; eliminate the revolving door of legislators and their staff leaving public service to lobby their former colleagues; and keep contribution limits to candidates low while increasing disclosure and transparency.
  • Providing Access to Affordable Health Care – We must address Florida’s high rate of uninsured residents by extending Medicaid to pay for health care coverage for nearly a million Florida families in dire need. Florida must take advantage of provisions under the Affordable Care Act to set up a state health insurance marketplace in 2014 that will allow millions more Floridians to have access to affordable health care coverage.
  • Protecting Our Land and Water – The successful Florida Forever conservation and recreational land buying program should be restored. Attempts by corporate polluters to influence policy when it comes to protecting our water should be rejected. Any efforts to expand the dirty and dangerous practice of oil drilling on state owned land should also be rejected.
  • Advancing Women’s Rights and Equality – Lawmakers should stop putting politics in the exam room by introducing bills that restrict access to health care services, and instead make it easier for more women to access health care. Florida lawmakers should also support ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in employment, housing and public accommodations.
  • Protecting Homeowners – Homeowners should be protected from predatory practices that have contributed to the state’s sky-high foreclosure rate. Homeowners should be allowed every opportunity to save their homes and should be afforded their day in court.
    Last year, 27 lawmakers -- 26 Democrats and one Republican -- were named "middle class champions." (None were legislators who represented Manatee County.)

Monday, February 25, 2013

White House: Sequester would cut aid for Florida children, senior, environmental protection

The White House on Sunday released state-by-state breakdowns of what it described as the "devastating impact" of budget sequestration if it goes into effect Friday.

According to the White House, Florida this year would lose:
  • $54.5 million for primary and secondary education, putting at risk 750 teacher and aide jobs.
  • $31.1 million for education of children with disabilities, putting at risk 380 teaching and other jobs.
  • Head Start and Early Head Start services for 2,700 children.
  • About $5.2 million in "environmental funding to ensure clean air and clean water."
  • About 31,000 civilian Defense Department employees would be furloughed, reducing gross pay by more than $183 million.
  • About $970,000 in grants for law enforcement, courts, corrections and other criminal justice programs.
  • Child care for 1,600 "disadvantaged and vulnerable children."
  • About $509,000 for vaccinations, meaning 7,450 children would not get needed shots.
  • About $3.8 million to provide meals for children.
Read the whole White House list here.

Read more here:

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Charlie Crist to keynote Manatee Democrats' annual dinner

This just in:

Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist will be the keynote speaker at the Manatee County Democrats annual awards dinner and dance on March 15 at the Fete Ballroom of the Polo Grill in Lakewood Ranch.

Crist was a Republican governor of Florida from 2006 through 2010 who ran in 2010 for the U.S. Senate as an Independent.  He campaigned for President Barack Obama in 2012 and late last year changed his party registration to Democrat.

Manatee Party Chair Patty Benson notes that Democrats are eager to hear the message of someone who has a history of working across the aisle, but also one who brings a track record of supporting  issues which are important to local Democrats and many Floridians.

"Charlie cares about kids, he cares about education and about less fortunate Floridians," Benson said in announcing his appearance.  "His mother was an educator and his father was a doctor, so he comes from the sort of roots that are inherent to the experiences of middle class families, and it shows."

Event organizers have put together an evening of cocktails, dinner, auction and raffle activity, and dancing to music by The Ciceron Brothers.  Auction items include rounds of golf, fine art, restaurant gift certificates and a three night stay at a Bermuda beach resort.

The event begins at 6 PM and the cost is $75.00 per person. Checks may be mailed to Manatee County Democratic Party, PO Box 10605, Bradenton, FL 34282.

Lucy Lapides is Chair of the Dinner-Dance committee. She can be contacted at 941-704-5971 or

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Voting changes sponsored by Rep. Jim Boyd win bipartisan support

From the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau:

Democrats joined with Republicans Wednesday in a bipartisan vote in support of four changes to Florida's voting laws prompted by the chaos and long lines last fall. The House Ethics & Elections Subcommittee passed the bill on a 12-0 vote. 
Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, the sponsor, called the bill a "collaborative effort to address the difficult experiences by many voters in the 2012 election." 
The changes, broadly supported by voters, election supervisors, Gov.Rick Scott and the state elections division, would undo two of the most controversial changes in a Republican-backed rewrite of the election laws two years ago. The bill would require early voting on a minimum of eight days and a maximum of 14 days with optional early voting on the Sunday before Election Day. It also would expand early voting locations to include county courthouses, fairgrounds, convention centers and civic centers. 
Under the bill, a county could offer as little as 48 hours of early voting (six hours for eight days) but no Democrat on the panel raised an objection to the provision. The maximum early voting hours would increase from the current 96 to 168 hours, or 12 hours a day over a 14-day period. 
The bill (PCB EES 13-01) also would limit ballot summaries to 75 words for constitutional amendments proposed by the Legislature. 
Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, the ranking minority member on the panel, said more work is needed to prevent voters from being disenfranchised. "There's a firm realization that Florida needs more voting days. We need more polling locations and they need to be properly staffed and properly equipped," Cruz said. "I really hope we can work toward a better solution." 
Among those voting for the bill was Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, sponsor of the 2011 changes that triggered a flurry of lawsuits and Democratic complaints of voter suppression that are now viewed with disfavor even by Republicans. "I don't think any of us would want to inhibit a person from being able to participate," Baxley said. 
In a deal cut between the two parties to promote a spirit of bipartisan cooperation, Democrats withdrew nine amendments, including allowing early voting at community colleges, making Election Day a paid holiday and requiring early voting on the Sunday before Election Day. The amendment sponsors, Reps. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation and Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, said they would propose them later when the bill gets to the House floor during the regular spring session.

Read more here:

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Jim Boyd-led committee OKs raising campaign contribution limits

The Florida House Ethics and Elections Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, on Monday gave the first approval to a measure that would raise to $10,000 the limit on contribution to Florida election candidates and abolish controversial political slush funds.

However, the final version of the legislation -- and the prognosis for adoption -- are far from certain.

The Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau reports:

A House plan to eliminate controversial political slush funds and raise campaign contribution limits to $10,000 passed its first committee stop on a bipartisan vote Monday. 
But the top priority of House Speaker Will Weatherford faces a fight. Senate critics and ethics watchdogs warn that the bill will create new loopholes, allowing political parties to control big checks with little accountability, concentrate power in the hands of incumbents and make the system less democratic. 
Those criticisms did not dissuade the House Ethics and Elections Subcommittee on Monday, however, which passed HB 569 on a 10-2 vote. Democratic Reps. Katie Edwards of Plantation and Mike Clelland of Lake Mary joined Republicans who predicted the bill will result in "dramatic change." Clelland defeated Rep. Chris Dorworth, a Republican designated to become House speaker in 2014, after Dorworth's used his political committee for personal expenses. 
"The bill is simple. It takes Florida's election process and makes it one of the most transparent in the nation, and it does so by protecting everyone's free speech,'' said Rep. Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill, the sponsor of the measure. 
The bill eliminates the controversial Committees of Continuous Existence, the political committees that can collect unlimited funds but can't spend on campaigns. They have become the method of choice for legislators to pay for meals, travel and entertainment to get around the legislature's strict gift ban. 
The House proposal also raises limits on campaign contributions to $10,000 from the current $500, a level Weatherford has called "archaic." The measure also allows the party to contribute as much as $10,000 to a candidate's committee, up from the current $500, and allows candidates to keep as much as $100,000 in unspent money for the next campaign for the same office. 
In exchange for the higher finance limits, candidates for state offices would be required to file weekly campaign finance reports after they qualify for office and, during the last 10 days of the general election cycle, would be required to provide 24-hour reporting.
Read the rest here

And read the proposed legislation approved by Boyd's committee, here..

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Vern Buchanan to Barack Obama: It's wrong to 'execute' Americans without due process

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, has joined the chorus on both the right and left in criticizing the Obama administration after it was revealed the Justice Department had devised a legal rationale for the killing  overseas of Americans suspected -- but never tried and convicted -- of being terrorists.

Here's the letter Buchanan sent to the White House on Wednesday:

Dear Mr. President, 
I am writing to express grave concern over your administration’s policy permitting the execution of American citizens suspected of affiliation with terrorist organizations. 
This appears to represent a disturbing violation of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution which guarantees all American citizens due process under the law and protects individuals against government overreach. 
Your policy, which was conducted secretly until exposed by the media, also represents an outrageous circumvention of congressional oversight.  According to press reports, the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy, and some of his Senate colleagues have been denied information about this policy when they requested details on 12 separate occasions. 
The secrecy behind this policy contradicts the remarks you made in a 2009 speech when you stated, “Whenever we cannot release certain information to the public for valid national security reasons, I will insist that there is oversight of my actions — by Congress or by the courts.” 
Although national security is one of the most fundamental responsibilities of government, it should never come at the expense of the freedoms specifically enumerated in the Constitution.  The U.S. Supreme Court, in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, said, "A state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation's citizens." 
Our country was founded on a system of checks and balances to protect the American people, yet your policy as put forth by the Attorney General sets a dangerous precedent. 
No individual – not the president, attorney general or a CIA operative – should preside as judge, jury and executioner over the life of another American citizen.  Even the Magna Carta written 800 years ago established the concept of due process, stating that no free man could be punished except through the law of the land. 
It is imperative that you explain to the American people why you believe the assassination of American citizens by their own government without due process is legally and constitutionally acceptable. 
Vern Buchanan 
Member of Congress

Monday, February 4, 2013

Reports: Buchanan outspent Fitzgerald by almost 5-to-2

U.S. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, outspent his Democratic challenger Keith Fitzgerald by an almost 5-to-2 margin in last year's election, according to new financial disclosure forms filed with the Federal Elections Commission.

Through Dec. 31, Buchanan spent $3.56 million on his re-election campaign, compared to almost $1.45 million spent by Fitzgerald.

In the Nov. 6 election, Buchanan was re-elected to a fourth term in Congress, receiving 53.6 percent of the vote, compared to 46.4 percent for Fitzgerald.

The fund-raising gap between the two candidates was smaller than the spending gap, in part because of Fitzgerald's fund-raising prowess and in part because Buchanan started the campaign with cash raised in prior years and because he loaned his campaign $500,000.

Buchanan collected more than $2.7 million in contributions, and Fitzgerald raised almost $1.45 million. At the end of the year, Buchanan's campaign finished with $125,627 in cash on hand, and $250,000 in debt, according to the FEC filings.

The filings reveal that Fitzgerald raised more than Buchanan from individual donors. Fitzgerald collected $1,112,288 from individuals, while Buchanan raised $1,082,753.

Buchanan made up the difference, and then some, with almost $1.09 million in donations from political action and other committees. Fitzgerald reported more than $335,000 in contributions from PACs and other committees.