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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Death penalty fix likely ready for floor votes at start of session

Herman Lindsey, one of 26 exonerated off Florida's death row, speaks to state lawmakers in opposition to the death penalty Tuesday in Tallahassee.


Herman Lindsey, one of 26 exonerated off Florida's death row, speaks to state lawmakers in opposition to the death penalty Tuesday in Tallahassee.

Legislation that lawmakers hope will restore normalcy to Florida’s death penalty is on track to land on Gov. Rick Scott’s desk at the start of their upcoming session.

On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee gave a bill requiring jurors to vote unanimously for a sentence of death its approval on a 17-1 vote, clearing it for passage by the full chamber. A similar Senate bill is expected to pass the Rules Committee this afternoon.

“The goal of the bill is to have a working death penalty statute and allow victims and families throughout our state to continue to have justice,” House sponsor Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, said.

The legislation (SB 280 and HB 527) was necessitated after a Florida Supreme Court ruling last fall that declared the state’s death sentencing laws unconstitutional because they allowed juries to sentence someone to death without unanimous consent.

Since then, trial court judges were postponing death cases or prohibiting capital punishment. However, a Monday ruling from the Supreme Court suggested some death cases could continue with unanimous jury votes and new jury instructions. …

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Richard Corcoran is that guy who's always quoting Game of Thrones

The Florida House posted a new video Tuesday.

And even by the smashmouth political stylings of Speaker Richard Corcoran, this one is over the top.

The minute-long video begins with an ominous shot of the Capitol, with a voice over by Corcoran.

"I remember being just a little boy, mesmerized by those stories. This idea of a group of men, working side-by-side together, none greater than the other. All of them willing to die for something greater than themselves."

Then, as if it's an HBO teaser for Game of Thrones, appearing on screen, one-by-one, are the words "Session. Is. Coming." 

As the music builds to a crescendo, a grungy montage unspools in slo-mo. A contemplative Evan Jenne. A rotunda crawling with suits and special interests. An anonymous handshake. An FHP trooper guardin the American flag. A gold eagle.

And then: Corcoran addreses the House members with the pledge: "And it's all up to us."

Final shot: the Florida House shield, gleaming, ready for battle.

So, either this is tongue-in-cheek (at taxpayer expense) or Corcoran and the House are taking themselves way too seriously.

But the video is on the mark with one thing: Session is coming.


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Daily recess requirement advances in Florida Senate

Omari Accius 6, enjoys recess at Citrus Grove Elementary School on Thursday, February 9, 2017. Florida lawmakers are again considering a statewide mandate for daily recess in public elementary schools.

Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald

Omari Accius 6, enjoys recess at Citrus Grove Elementary School on Thursday, February 9, 2017. Florida lawmakers are again considering a statewide mandate for daily recess in public elementary schools.

Parent-driven efforts to require daily recess in Florida’s public elementary schools cleared a key milestone on Tuesday: An actual hearing — plus a favorable vote — in a state Senate committee.

Although similar legislation last year earned near-unanimous approval in the House, senators never had the chance to formally consider the issue, because one committee chairman refused to take up the bill.

Not this year.

The 7-0 vote by the Senate Education Committee gives the recess legislation (SB 78) a more viable path in the upcoming session, which begins March 7.

More here.

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Florida House panel votes to kill Enterprise Florida, decimate Visit Florida

Gov. Rick Scott lost again.

Over the last two weeks he toured the state, launched campaign style robo calls, and penned a sharply worded letter in newspapers statewide all in a bid to pressure House Republicans out of backing a bill to kill the state agency that has been central to his job creation programs.

But on Tuesday the House Appropriations Committee responded with an unmistakable rejection. The committee vote 18-12 for the bill that kill Enterprise Florida and decimate Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency that Scott credits for helping the state set tourism records each of the last five years.

Seventeen of the panel's 20 Republican members voted for the bill despite the potential of facing more anger from the governor.

The bill has no more committee stops and could head to the full House for a vote when the spring legislative session starts in March. The bill however faces big hurdles still. The Florida Senate has no companion bill and in order for a bill to become a law both chambers must pass identical bills. 


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One county does not elect its sheriff and bill would make sure that stops

Voters across Florida would be asked to decide if Miami Dade County should have an elected sheriff under a proposed 2018 constitutional amendment that passed the Senate Community Affairs on Tuesday.

The bill, SJR 134 by Sen. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, would ask voters to require Miami-Dade to convert the county's appointed sheriff to an elected post.

In 1996, Miami-Dade voters updated the county charter to provide for an executive mayor system that included giving the mayor the ability to appoint a county manager who hired department heads, including the police director, making Miami-Dade the only one of the state’s 67 counties not to have a sheriff on the ballot. 

In January 2007, Miami-Dade changed to a strong mayor system, giving the mayor direct oversight over county operations including the appointment of a police director and other department heads. 

Frank Artilles

“This is a no-brainer,” he said. “The sheriff’s association was very clear: 66 out of 67 counties have an elected sheriff. This is the most viable alternative to get this passed.” …

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Miami lawmakers on Trump deportations: ‘You’re going to catch a lot of good people’

Two Miami Republicans in Congress immediately questioned on Tuesday the Trump administration’s new policy exposing nearly all immigrants in the country illegally to deportation.

U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen were speaking at an event highlighting the contribution of immigrants to Miami’s fledgling tech industry when the Department of Homeland Security announced its rules expanding the categories of people prioritized for removal — a reversal from the Obama administration, which had focused on deporting criminals.

“I worry that when you cast a wide net, you’re going to catch some criminals — but you’re going to catch a lot of good people who don’t have papers but they have not committed violent crimes,” said Ros-Lehtinen, who was born in Cuba. “This is a community that has been immigrant-friendly.”

Curbelo agreed, saying there is “broad consensus” to deport “people who are here with the goal of doing us harm.”

“I’d like to encourage the administration to keep the focus on deporting dangerous criminals,” said Curbelo, the son of Cuban immigrants. “Also, I would encourage the administration to try to keep families together as much as possible.” …

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Anti-abortion activists target Sen. Nelson in Gorsuch confirmation battle

Anti-abortion activists working to confirm Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch will demonstrate outside Sen. Bill Nelson's Tampa office tomorrow.

Local activists will be joined by members of Susan B. Anthony List for the noon event, according to a release.

Nelson, up for re-election in 2018, faces pressure from the right and left.

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'We choose life,' say churches calling to stop executions

Darlene Farah, whose daughter Shelby was murdered in 2013, calls for an end to the death penalty surrounded by church leaders in the state Capitol on Tuesday.


Darlene Farah, whose daughter Shelby was murdered in 2013, calls for an end to the death penalty surrounded by church leaders in the state Capitol on Tuesday.

As state lawmakers prepare to pass legislation requiring juries vote unanimously to sentence convicted murderers to death, a coalition of churches has a different idea: Abolish the death penalty entirely.

Members of the Florida Council of Churches and representatives from the AME and Catholic denominations on Tuesday called on lawmakers to pass a moratorium on executions, citing high cost of death penalty appeals, the possibility of wrongful convictions and the impact on victims' families being forced to relive their loved one's murder repeatedly in court.

"Even if we pass unanimous juries, we still haven't solved the economic issues and we still haven't solved the fact that familiesk eep being dragged through this trauma over and over again," said Rev. Russell Meyer, a Lutheran pastor from Tampa and executive director of the Florida Council of Churches.

What's more, they say, there is a moral problem with the state killing people -- even the most depraved criminals.

"The church has come today on the issue of life and death," said AME Rev. James Golden. "We choose life." …

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Trump advisor Stephen Miller to attend Fox News town hall in Jacksonville

Fox News is hosting a town hall from Jacksonville at 7 tonight that will focus on immigration.

Among those attending is Stephen Miller, the 31-year-old aide to President Trump who was involved in the crafting of the controversial travel ban, and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who has drawn fire for complying with Trump's directive on sanctuary cities.

"Moderated by Martha MacCallum, the town hall will feature a dialogue between key newsmakers and Florida voters on the issue of immigration in the context of national security and jobs."


White House Senior Advisor Stephen Miller

Rep. Ron DeSantis

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez

Former ICE Director Sarah Saldan

Immigration attorneys Francisco Hernandez, Joanne Fakhre and Karen Winston

Florida Coastal law professor Ericka Curran

St. Johns County under sheriff Matthew Cline

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Trump's visits to Florida costing taxpayers millions

CBS News looks at the costs of President Trump's frequent travel to Florida, which by some estimates is up to $10 million.

The piece includes an interview with Tom Fitton of the conservative Judicial Watch, which is pressing the White House to reveal the costs. Trump has gone to Florida the past three weekends. "He doesn't need to go to Florida every weekend," Fitton says. "He can work at the White House or up at Camp David."

>>> We profiled Judicial Watch during the 2016 election <<<

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Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida backs Perez in DNC race

A few days before the Democratic National Committee is slated to pick its next chairman, one group of Florida Democrats has made an endorsement in the race.

The Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida announced Tuesday it has endorsed Tom Perez for chair. Perez, the only Hispanic in the running, was secretary of labor under former President Barack Obama. He's also a former assistant U.S. attorney general for civil rights.

"Tom's perspective and powerful life story will be assets in the fight ahead, standing up to the Trump Administration and expanding our party's big tent," Democratic Hispanic Caucus John A. Ramos said in a statement. "In our experience, our party can only succeed when the stakeholders involved are as diverse as possible. Tom will create an inclusive DNC and speak to everyone who shares our values of opportunity to get our party winning in Florida and across the country."

Earlier this month, the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida endorsed one of Perez's rivals, Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, calling him a "clear and passionate voice for all people."

The DNC election will take place Saturday in Atlanta.

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Should food stamps be used to buy soda and candy? A Tampa Bay lawmaker says no

A Florida EBT card

Florida Department of Children and Families

A Florida EBT card

Should people who get food stamps in Florida be allowed to buy candy and soda with them? A newly-elected Tampa Bay legislator says no, and he's pushing to change state law to prevent it.

MassulloRepublican Rep. Ralph Massullo of Lecanto is one of 24 GOP freshmen in the state House and represents parts of Hernando and Citrus counties on the North Suncoast. He's also an industrial engineer and a dermatologist who says that something has to be done about the rising rates of obesity in the U.S., especially among children.

"The fact that we're allowing junk food as the most common purchased item leads to non-nutritional states and disease," Massullo said in a Times/Herald interview. "I don't want the government to get into the nitty-gritty of our lives, but I also don't want government making us sick." …

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Advocates for gun safety set to take on Republican-led Florida Legislature today

Steve Frappier was one of the lucky ones in baggage claim at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Jan. 6.

As a gunman abruptly opened fire that afternoon, killing five and wounding six, Frappier escaped injury when a bullet miraculously struck the laptop in his backpack instead of him.

Frappier, a former Coconut Grove resident who moved to Atlanta last summer, is taking that life-changing experience and turning it into advocacy.

He has joined Everytown for Gun Safety and other national gun-control organizations in calling on Florida lawmakers to oppose a slew of NRA-backed measures this spring that would make it easier for conceal-carry permit-holders to have guns in public places.

Among those measures is one that now hits close to home for Frappier: Allowing concealed guns in airport terminals.

Some conservative lawmakers argue the Fort Lauderdale airport tragedy might have had a different outcome or might have ended sooner with fewer casualties had concealed-weapons permit-holders been legally allowed to carry their guns in baggage claim.

The shooting lasted less than 90 seconds. …

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Bill Nelson's post-election pep talk: 'It has been a difficult slog'

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (right) speaks to Florida Senate Democrats, including Minority Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens on Monday as part of a pep-talk tour of the state Capitol.


U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (right) speaks to Florida Senate Democrats, including Minority Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens on Monday as part of a pep-talk tour of the state Capitol.

Sen. Bill Nelson sounded a little like the coach of a losing team in the locker room at half time Monday as he made the rounds in the state Capitol, delivering pep talks to House and Senate Democrats.

"I know that it has been a difficult slog," Nelson told a gathering of six Senate Democrats. "We ended up with one net plus in the Florida Senate. But the next time around is a very, very good opportunity for Democrats. I think you see the lay of the land on the national scene, and I think that's going to translate in all the races on the ballot."

The only Democrat elected statewide in Florida, Nelson is holding out hope that progressives upset about President Donald Trump's election will turn out in massive numbers to vote in 2018.

He needs that hope. He'll be on the ballot, too, defending himself first against possible primary challenges from several Democrats mulling a run and then against the winner of a Republican primary in which Gov. Rick Scott is already seen as a favorite in Tallahassee. …

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Richard Corcoran's offer: Keep Visit Florida, slash budget to $25 million, end bonuses, freeze benefits, cut travel

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes


House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes

On the eve of a key committee vote, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran on Monday offered what he considers an olive branch: He would let Visit Florida survive but with a much-reduced annual budget of $25 million and restrictions on bonuses, benefits and travel.

Gov. Rick Scott's office responded by calling a "67 percent cut to tourism marketing" unacceptable, and said: "More than a million Florida families rely on jobs in our tourism industry and are threatened with this massive cut." Scott's office said he supports transparency and accountability at Visit Florida and has proved it with "changes (and) new leadership at Visit Florida."

A Corcoran-crafted amendment to an incentives bill (HB 7005) to be offered by Rep. Paul Renner in the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday would require Visit Florida to agree to a series of restrictions as conditions for getting a $25 million a year from the Legislature. …

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