Florida represented by Confederate general’s statue in U.S. Capitol; Democrat aims to get it removed

Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith’s statue representing Florida at the U.S. Capitol is slated for removal under a 2016 measure — but lawmakers haven’t picked a replacement.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, today urged Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature to meet in a special session in Tallahassee to make good on their 2016 decision to remove a statue of a Confederate general that represents Florida in the U.S. Capitol.

Chris King

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King, meanwhile, issued a call on his campaign Facebook page to “remove all the Confederate monuments in Florida.”

Symbols of the Confederacy have come under new scrutiny since Saturday’s deadly white supremacist march on Charlottesville, Va., which was triggered by the city’s planned removal of a Robert E. Lee statue.

The Republican-controlled Florida House and Senate passed — and Scott signed — a bill in 2016 calling for the removal of the statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith from the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. But  lawmakers this year could not agree on a replacement statue, so the confederate general remains in the hall where each state gets to place two statues. Florida’s other statue is of air conditioning impresario John Gorrie.

A commission in 2016 recommended three Florida figures to potentially replace the Confederate statue: Educator and civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune; Everglades preservationist Marjory Stoneman Douglas or Publix founder George Washington Jenkins Jr.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz

The Senate this year passed a bill for a Bethune statue. A House measure favoring Douglas stalled in committee.

“It’s time to stop playing games,” Wasserman Schultz declared in a news release today. “No family visiting our nation’s Capitol should have to explain to their child that the statue representing our state honors someone who fought for a philosophy built on hatred and oppression. Governor Scott and the Florida legislature must take immediate action by calling a one-day special session during their upcoming interim committee meetings to pass a bill with one of the three recommendations from the committee established by law…These three Floridians represent the best of the history of our state. The removal of the Confederate statue must be made an urgent priority.”

 

 

 

Senate Democrats not completely shut out of power in Negron administration

Senate President Joe Negron
Senate President Joe Negron

With his three fellow Palm Beach County senators all Democrats, new Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, only went so far Tuesday in his approach to power-sharing with the minority party.

Sens. Jeff Clemens, D-Atlantis, Kevin Rader and Bobby Powell all picked up vice-chairmanships in the Negron administration. But Negron did name a few Senate Democrats to more muscular roles as chairs of four committees, although Republicans rule the rest.

Within the county’s delegation, Clemens will serve as second-in-command of the Community Affairs Committee; Rader, vice-chair of the Agriculture Committee; and Powell, the number two of the budget panel overseeing transportation, tourism and economic development.

Rader also will alternate with a House counterpart to be named later as chair of the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee.

Senate Democrats Bill Montford of Tallahassee, Lauren Book of Plantation, Randolph Bracy of Orlando and Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville were named chairs of Commerce and Tourism, Environmental Preservation and Conservation, Criminal Justice, and Military and Veterans Affairs, respectively.

Ruling Republicans control the remainder of the committees, including the powerful Appropriations Committee, led by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, a one-time Negron rival.

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, who once represented Wellington, is the new Rules chair, directing the course of legislation in the Senate.

Republicans command 25 of the 4o seats in the Florida Senate, with Democrats making a net gain of only one seat in this month’s elections.

$6 million facelift for Florida Senate chambers gets debut

The renovated Florida Senate
The renovated Florida Senate

The Florida Senate debuted a $6 million facelift Monday — its first major overhaul in 40 years — on the eve of the Legislature’s organization session.

New desks, chairs, carpeting, a jumbotron for viewing bills and amendments, and a stained-glass window atop the chamber’s dome are all part of the renovation, which began the day after lawmakers ended the 2016 session in March. The state’s motto, “In God We Trust,” is also prominently displayed.

The work was initially proposed in the early 2000s, around the same time the House renovated its chambers, but was delayed to pay for upgrades to committee rooms and other Senate workplaces. Taxpayer dollars that covered the work were accumulated over several years in the Senate’s administrative account.

“It was time, it needed to be done,” said Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who hands the Senate leadership to incoming president Joe Negron, R-Stuart, whose district includes part of northern Palm Beach County.

Wooden Ionic columns were added at the front of the chamber, reminiscent of those which had been in the Senate chambers in the late 1940s, which was torn down when the state’s Capitol opened in 1978. The stained-glass ceiling also is a replica of a similar display in the state’s Historic Capitol.

Old Senate chambers, before renovation began
Old Senate chambers, before renovation began

 

 

Pro-Mast ad rips Perkins business practices

Republican congressional candidate Brian Mast continues to hammer away at what his campaign has described as Randy Perkins’ shoddy business practices.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a political action committee that has endorsed Mast and has poured $3.5 million into the closely watched District 18 race, is releasing its final ad of the campaign, blasting Perkins for “grossly overcharging a school district or refusing to reveal his profit from a half-a-billion-dollar-government contract.”

Brian Mast
Brian Mast

Perkins, a Democrat who owns a disaster relief company, has pushed back hard against those claims. His lawyers called similar allegations made in a previous ad released by the National Republican Congressional Committee “false, misleading and deceptive.”

The lawyers threatened to sue local television stations that ran the ad. Local TV stations stopped running the ad.

The new CLF ad will begin airing on West Palm Beach cable and broadcast today and will run through Election Day.

Perkins has run his own ad, denouncing Mast for lying about his business practices.

Democratic congressional candidate Randy Perkins is already the target of GOP attacks in Palm Beach-Treasure Coast District 18.
Randy Perkins

 

Florida Supreme Court rules unanimous juries needed to impose death sentences, overturning state law

Florida Supreme Court building, Tallahassee
Florida Supreme Court building, Tallahassee

The Florida Supreme Court ruled Friday that juries must unanimously recommend death sentences before a judge can impose them, a decision which declares unconstitutional current state law and complicates the fate of nearly 400 death-row inmates.

In their 5-2 ruling, justices vacated the death sentence of Timothy Lee Hurst, who was convicted of killing a co-worker at a Pensacola fast-food restaurant in 1998.

The U.S. Supreme Court in January reviewed Hurst’s case and ruled against Florida’s death penalty sentencing law because a jury’s role in the state was advisory, with the judge making all critical findings. The high court said this violated the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury.

Florida justices, however, stopped short Friday of vacating all death sentences in the state. Florida is second only to California in the number of people on death row.

Scott says even with Zika deal, “incompetence of Washington” was exposed

Gov. Rick Scott during an earlier trip to Miami to discuss spread of Zika virus
Gov. Rick Scott during an earlier trip to Miami to discuss spread of Zika virus

Florida’s plan for spending its portion of the $1.1 billion in federal Zika-fighting money approved by Congress was still unclear, Gov. Rick Scott conceded in a conference call Thursday.

But the deal approved late Wednesday did give Scott a chance to once again tee-off on Congress and the Obama administration.

“What was frustrating is everybody said they were funding,” Scott said, recalling that he made two trips “walking the halls” of Congress, lobbying for a deal on dollars to fight the mosquito-borne virus.

“Not one person said they were against it. But nothing happened, time and time again…It just shows you why people are frustrated with the incompetence of Washington,” said Scott, who is widely thought to be considering a U.S. Senate run in 2018.

He conceded, though, “it was refreshing something passed.”

Scott also said, “I don’t know how much Florida is going to get and when we’re going to get our funding.”

The governor pointed out that he has already allocated $61.2 million from the state treasury for efforts to combat the virus, including $25 million in long-range research money. Some of those dollars could be replaced once the federal cash arrives, he said.

Scott repeated his call, however, for 10,ooo Zika prevention kits from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with better guidance for mosquito control in the 4.5-square-mile area of Miami-Dade County where local transmission of the virus has been identified.

Rubio asks feds to investigate jetty where Marlins’ pitcher Jose Fernandez died

A bag of baseballs signed by Jose Fernandez washed ashore following boat crash.
A bag of baseballs signed by Jose Fernandez washed ashore following boat crash.

Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio asked the U.S. Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers to investigate Wednesday the Government Cut jetty where Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez and two others were killed in a boat crash last weekend.

“While our hearts are heavy with grief for the numerous lives lost every year on the water, we can do more to save others,” Rubio said in his letter to federal officials.

More Jose Fernandez coverage | Gallery: Marlins honor Fernandez | Gallery: Jose Fernandez killed

The jetty off Miami Beach is poorly lit and mostly submerged at high tide, according to reports. Boaters frequently have problems navigating around it, experts said.

 

Catholic bishops have “concerns” about medical marijuana ballot proposal

Bishops have concerns about medical marijuana initiative
Bishops have concerns about medical marijuana initiative

With polls showing Florida’s medical marijuana ballot measure likely to win voter approval in November, the state’s Catholic bishops are tapping the brakes.

The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops on Tuesday didn’t say they were opposing the initiative, on the ballot as Amendment 2.

But they have “concerns.”

“At first glance, the proposed amendment appeals to a sense of empathy and implies safe and limited use by the infirm,” the bishops wrote. “However, closer inspection reveals that the framework established by Amendment 2 is problematic.”

The bishops cited four areas where the proposal has problems. They said it has a potential for fraud and abuse; opens the door to risks from edible marijuana products; there’s no assurance of quality and consistency with the medical pot sold; and could provide greater access to marijuana for kids.

 

Rubio, Murphy step up air attacks in U.S. Senate race

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (left), Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (left), Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter.

Democrat Patrick Murphy and Republican Marco Rubio stepped up their air attack Tuesday in Florida’s U.S. Senate race, with Rubio putting up two new spots and Murphy using Spanish-language television for the first time.

The Jupiter congressman’s ad dubbed “Negligente” echoes themes in another Murphy spot already airing statewide, critical of Rubio’s opposition to abortion.

The ad claims the Republican senator’s voting record is risky to women, especially at a time when the Zika virus is coursing through Florida.

“Marco Rubio opposes a woman’s right to choose even in cases of rape, incest, or if a woman is infected with Zika. He is irresponsible on women’s health,” said Freddy Balsera, a strategist recently hired by the campaign as an Hispanic strategist.

Rubio, meanwhile, is airing two new spots across the state that rip Murphy for inflating his resume — especially his claims as a small business owner that have been diminished through media reports.

Scott steers another $25 million toward Zika — this time for research

Gov. Rick Scott spending more on Zika fight.
Gov. Rick Scott spending more on Zika fight.

Gov. Rick Scott steered another $25 million in state funds toward the Zika virus Thursday — this time toward research and development of a vaccine and improved testing methods.

Scott has already put $36.2 million from the state treasury into fighting the virus, while Congress remains deadlocked over aid to the states.

“I have traveled multiple times to Washington this year to meet with Congressional leaders to tell them how urgent this need is,” said Scott, who wrote a piece for USA Today condemning Congress’ inaction.

“Yet, despite endless claims of support from those within both parties, nothing has been done. Every minute that passes that Congress doesn’t approve funding means more time is lost from researching this virus. For the sake of our state’s future children, this is time we cannot afford to waste.”

The Florida Department of Health will oversee the grant process to distribute Zika vaccine research funding, Scott said, with more details released in coming days.