Brendan Farrington, Author at Florida Politics

Brendan Farrington

Lawyer: Frank Artiles’ racial slurs offensive, but also free speech

A lawyer representing a state senator who could be punished for using a racial slur and other vulgarities said Thursday that the remarks — as offensive as they were — are protected by free speech and that other senators have used similar language.

Tallahassee attorney Steve Andrews wrote to the Senate lawyer reviewing the case of Republican Frank Artiles and said that a complaint filed by black lawmakers shouldn’t be pursued because Artiles is protected under the U.S. Constitution.

He also said Artiles’ comments should be judged side-by-side with the remarks of other senators.

“Should this matter be sent to the Senate floor, my client intends to put evidence of other similar speech by other Senators,” Andrews wrote to Senate lawyer Dawn Roberts.

He also said Roberts should step down from the case because of conflicts of interest, having previously represented Artiles and witnesses that could be called.

The matter began Monday night during a private conversation with two African-American senators at a members-only club near the Capitol. Artiles used obscenities with Sen. Audrey Gibson, including one particularly offensive to women.

Sen. Perry Thurston intervened and Artiles, a Cuban-American from the Miami area, used a variation of the “n-word” and used a vulgarity to describe Republican Senate President Joe Negron, according to the complaint filed Wednesday by Thurston.

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, reviewed the complaint and found it’s likely Artiles’ comments and behavior violated Senate rules.

The Florida Legislative Black Caucus is asking for Artiles’ expulsion, which would be an option if the full Senate determines there was a rules violation.

Negron asked Roberts to make a recommendation by Tuesday.

In the meantime, Republican Gov. Rick Scott weighed in on the matter while speaking with reporters in Tampa.

“If I had an employee that said what he said, I would immediately fire him,” Scott said.

Thurston wasn’t immediately available for comment, according to a receptionist in his Senate office.

In a separate letter to Negron, Andrews told the Senate president that he should avoid voting on any punishment because he has already prejudged Artiles by condemning the comments earlier this week.

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AP writer Gary Fineout contributed to this report. Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Helping kids who make mistakes: Florida considering 2 ideas

There’s widespread agreement between lawmakers, law enforcement and child advocates that the state can do more to help juveniles who make stupid mistakes to stay out of trouble and avoid a criminal record that could follow them the rest of their lives.

But what approach it should take is still a matter of disagreement.

“Everybody’s heart is absolutely in the right place wanting to decriminalize being a youth in Florida, it’s just a matter of how to go about it,” said Mary Slapp, vice president of Teen Court of Sarasota, a juvenile diversion program in which offenders are tried by other teenagers and sentenced to community service.

There are two bills moving through the Legislature aimed at helping young offenders by getting them into diversion programs, like teen court, after they’ve committed their first misdemeanor crime.

A Senate bill would mandate that law enforcement issue a civil citation after a first juvenile arrest for a list of specific misdemeanors and a House bill would automatically expunge a youth’s arrest record after a diversion program is completed.

All sides agree the expansion of civil citation programs around the state has helped keep youth from committing more crimes, but tinkering with the program to improve it is where it gets complicated.

Republican Sen. Anitere Flores said the program has been inconsistent from county to county and she points to statistics that show civil citations are issued instead of arrest in only little more than half the cases where youth are eligible for them. According to Department of Juvenile Justice statistics, 8,831 youths eligible for civil citations were arrested, while 9,696 were issued citations.

“That’s a lot of kids,” she said. “Having the lack of uniformity means that some kids are getting a second chance and a whole bunch of other kids aren’t.”

Her bill requires civil citations in cases like alcohol possession, battery, trespass, theft, prowling, resisting an officer without violence and others. State statistics show that about 4 percent of youths who go through the civil citation program commit crimes again.

Republican Rep. Larry Ahern also believes in the civil citation program, but he doesn’t believe in forcing mandates on law enforcement. His bill would try to help first-time juvenile offenders while allowing police officers the discretion to decide when a citation is appropriate. As well as expunging records, it would legally allow people who’ve completed diversion programs to deny the arrest ever occurred when applying for a job, housing or the like.

It also would apply to any misdemeanor, not just a limited list.

“The record that follows a juvenile through their adulthood over a stupid mistake was a big part of the equation, so how do you eliminate that?” Ahern said.

The Florida Sheriff’s Association is backing the Ahern bill and opposed to the Flores bill. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri cited several hypothetical scenarios where arrests would be more appropriate than a civil citation, such as a drunken teenager on a beach creating a disturbance and resisting officers, or a teenager prowling in a backyard who is clearly about to break into a home.

Gualtieri said the sheriffs worked with Ahern on the different approach.

“We have offered something that absolutely takes care of the problem, what does the mandate do that our solution doesn’t do?” Gualtieri said.

While Slapp said civil citation is a good tool, she believes neither bill addresses problems with a lack of flexibility in the current program, such as a limit on three citations. She also said there are certain felony situations that don’t qualify for a civil citation, but where a diversion program would be more appropriate than an arrest, such as when a youth who takes a joyride on a golf cart doesn’t realize it’s a felony motor vehicle theft.

That’s what happened to Katy McBrayer. She was a straight A student and well-behaved at 14 when she started dating an 18-year-old who introduced her to drugs. She started making bad decisions, skipping school and staying away from home. Then she was caught driving a golf cart off a school’s property. Neither the Flores nor Ahern bill would have applied in her case because it was a felony.

She got in trouble again, for burglary and marijuana possession, and was allowed the option of going to teen court rather than to trial.

She mended her relationship with her parents, went to night school and ended up earning a college scholarship.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Court: Florida dairy’s skim milk is skim milk, not imitation

A small, all-natural dairy isn’t being deceptive when it calls its skim milk “skim milk,” a federal appeals court ruled Monday in a victory for the creamery that’s fighting the state’s demand to label the product “imitation” because vitamins aren’t added to it.

The ruling overturns a decision last March when a federal judge sided with the Florida Department of Agriculture, which said the Ocheesee Creamery couldn’t label it’s skim milk “skim milk” because the state defines the product as skim milk with Vitamin A added. The state instead said that if the creamery wanted to sell the product, it should label it as “imitation” skim milk.

That didn’t sit well with a dairy whose whole philosophy is not to add ingredients to natural products. So instead of complying, the creamery has dumped thousands of gallons of skim milk down the drain rather than label it as an imitation milk product.

“The State was unable to show that forbidding the Creamery from using the term ‘skim milk’ was reasonable,” the three-judge, Jacksonville-based panel wrote in its ruling.

The court said the state disregarded far less restrictive and more precise ways of labeling the product, “for example, allowing skim milk to be called what it is and merely requiring a disclosure that it lacks vitamin A.”

The Institute for Justice is representing Ocheesee Creamery owner Mary Lou Wesselhoeft in the lawsuit against the state.

“All Mary Lou wants to do is sell skim milk that contains literally one ingredient – pasteurized skim milk – and label it as pasteurized skim milk,” Institute for Justice lawyer Justin Pearson said in a press release.

The creamery, about 50 miles west of the state capital, has offered to put on its label that it doesn’t add vitamins to the product, but the state hasn’t accepted the compromise. It was selling between 100 and 300 gallons of skim milk a week for $5 a gallon before the dispute. The product made up about 25 percent of its profits.

The dictionary definition of skim milk is simply milk with the cream removed. But the Department of Agriculture says under state and federal law, skim milk can’t be sold as skim milk unless vitamins in the milk fat are replaced so it has the same nutritional value as whole milk.

The department didn’t immediately return phone calls and an email seeking comment.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida’s death penalty fix heads to Rick Scott

Florida will require a unanimous jury recommendation before the death penalty can be imposed under a bill lawmakers sent to Gov. Rick Scott on Friday.

Lawmakers rushed to get the bill passed on the fourth day of their legislative session in hopes of fixing a death penalty law that’s been found unconstitutional twice since January 2016. The effort has been seen as a better-than-nothing option for both proponents and opponents of the death penalty.

The House approved the measure 112-3 the day after the Senate unanimously passed it, a rare case of a death penalty issue receiving bipartisan support.

Not that everyone was pleased with it. Many Republicans prefer allowing the jury to have a simple majority in order to condemn a murder convict, while many Democrats would like to abolish the death penalty altogether.

But Republican lawmakers believe the unanimous jury bill is better than risking the death penalty’s abolition, and Democrats believe it will lead to fewer executions.

Lawmakers’ sentiments are reflected in two people who had vastly different experiences in cases involving the death penalty.

Herman Lindsey was on death row for two years before the state Supreme Court released him in a unanimous 2009 decision, finding there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him of a 1994 Broward County murder. Lindsey wants the death penalty abolished.

Chris Crowley‘s sister Angie was murdered in 1986 and her killer, William Happ, was executed in 2013 based on a 9-3 jury recommendation. Crowley would prefer a simple majority jury recommendation to impose the death penalty. But he and Lindsey will accept the bill though it’s not exactly what they want.

Under the bill going to Scott, Happ would have received life without parole. Crowley fears that murderers sent to jail for life still have a chance, however slim, of going free through future changes in law, court decisions or a prison escape.

“It’s gone too far the other way,” said Crowley. “I don’t like it. I think it’s a slap in the face to the victims, but it’s better than nothing.”

And there’s something Crowley believes never would have happened if Happ hadn’t been executed: his confession.

Happ never admitted to the crime until he was strapped to a table in Florida’s death chamber and offered the chance to speak one last time. Crowley watched the confession from behind glass just before the lethal injection began. He says Happ would have kept silent if he wasn’t faced with death.

“He did it to try to and save his soul,” Crowley said.

Lindsey has a different view after facing the prospect of dying in the same chamber. While he knows the Republican-dominated Legislature won’t abolish the death penalty, he wishes lawmakers would at least take a pause.

“Just like they’re passing this bill, it won’t take much to do a moratorium — take a stop and review the whole death penalty,” said Lindsay. “For them to say, ‘Let’s improve the jury,’ that’s a patch. I’m standing here in front of you with the experience of being on death row, falsely accused, and who did it? The jury.”

Lawmakers hope confusion that left executions on hold and ongoing death cases in limbo will finally be resolved once Scott signs the bill.

The U.S. Supreme Court in January 2016 declared the state’s death penalty sentencing law unconstitutional because it gave too much power to judges to make the ultimate decision. It was based on a case where a judge issued a death sentence after a 7-5 jury recommendation. The Legislature responded by overhauling the law to let the death penalty be imposed by at least a 10-2 jury vote.

In October, however, the state Supreme Court voted 5-2 to strike down the new law and require unanimous jury decisions for capital punishment.

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Reprinted by permission of The Associated Press. AP writer Gary Fineout contributed to this report.

State could flip burden of proving ‘Stand Your Ground’

Florida’s “stand your ground” law, a source of contention for years, could soon provide even more protection to people who invoke it. Some lawmakers want to make prosecutors prove a defendant wasn’t acting in self-defense before proceeding to trial.

Florida has been a leader in giving citizens immunity in cases of self-defense, with its “stand your ground” law serving as an emotional point of debate after several high-profile shooting deaths, including that of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.

While at least 22 states have similar laws that say people can use force – even deadly force – to defend themselves from threats, Florida could soon be alone shifting the burden of proof to prosecutors.

Republican Sen. Rob Bradley says his bill “isn’t a novel concept.”

“We have a tradition in our criminal justice system that the burden of proof is with the government from the beginning of the case to the end,” he said.

Florida’s Supreme Court has ruled that the burden of proof is on defendants during self-defense immunity hearings. That’s the practice around the country. According to a legislative staff analysis of Bradley’s bill, only four states mention burden of proof in their “stand your ground” laws – Alabama, Colorado, Georgia and South Carolina – and all place the burden on defendants.

Bradley’s bill died last year but now its chances are improving: It’s ready for a full Senate vote when the session begins next week, and one of two House committees assigned to hear it has approved it.

Democrats are opposing the bill, but have little leverage to stop it in a legislature dominated by Republicans and with a Republican governor.

The bill has received passionate opposition from people who feel the existing law has already been abused and will be invoked even more by people seeking to avoid responsibility for violent crimes.

Stand your ground is not just about guns: The defense can be invoked after any act of violence aimed at self-protection, whether it’s punching, stabbing, shooting or striking someone with an object.

Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman‘s fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin isn’t the only case that’s part of the debate in Florida.

Lucy McBath‘s 17-year-old son Jordan Davis was fatally shot by Michael Dunn during an argument over loud music outside a Jacksonville convenience store. And in the Tampa Bay area, retired police officer Curtis Reeves is claiming self-defense in a “stand your ground” pretrial hearing after fatally shooting Chad Oulson in a dispute over a cellphone at a movie theater.

Both Zimmerman and Dunn claimed self-defense at trial and “stand your ground” was included in their juries’ instructions. Zimmerman was acquitted and Dunn was eventually convicted of murder.

McBath believes the way the law currently reads is why Dunn’s first jury couldn’t reach a decision, and says expanding “stand your ground” protections would make it harder to keep people safe from gun violence.

Testifying against the bill at a Senate committee meeting, McBath said the current law already “encourages citizens to shoot first and ask questions later.”

“This legislation would effectively require defendants who raise stand your ground defenses to be convicted twice,” she said. “Having lived through this grueling experience firsthand with two trials for my son’s murder, I can attest to the anguish and the pain that this process elicits. We should not make it harder for family members to achieve the justice that they deserve.”

Marissa Alexander, in contrast, supports Bradley’s bill. She unsuccessfully tried a “stand your ground” defense and was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2012 for firing a gun near her estranged husband. She called it a “warning shot” to protect herself from abuse. Her conviction was thrown out on appeal and she was freed after reaching a plea deal in 2014.

“I feel like you go into that kind of situation guilty until proven innocent,” she said. She hopes Florida will start another trend if it passes.

“Florida kind of sets the tone and other states follow,” she said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Legislature at “open war” with state Supreme Court

The Republican-dominated Legislature’s tense relationship with the state Supreme Court is hanging over this year’s legislative session as lawmakers take up two bills to deal with the aftermath of court rulings that Republicans don’t like.

One of them is a fix to the state’s death penalty rules and the other a revision of the “stand your ground” law to better protect defendants claiming self-defense.

It’s no surprise that two other bills are seen as a shot back at the court – a proposal to limit justices’ terms to 12 years and a bill that would require them to file reports to the governor and Legislature on the timeliness of their decisions.

One of House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s priorities this session is to “reign in” the Supreme Court, which he said is trying to serve as two branches of government by writing laws.

“You see decision after decision after decision where courts are legislating from the bench,” Corcoran said.

Of the 2,300 or so bills before the Legislature, House Bill 1 would ask voters to change the state constitution to set 12-year term limits for Supreme Court and state appeals court judges. The fact that it’s the lowest numbered bill is symbolic of its importance to Corcoran.

“Nobody should have an office for life,” Corcoran said.

In Florida, that’s not necessarily the case. Voters can remove a Supreme Court justice from the bench and justices are forced to step down after they turn 70. And while Democrats have raised concerns about term limits, the GOP-backed bill sailed through committee approval and is ready for a full House vote.

“There’s open war against the judiciary,” said retired Supreme Court Justice James Perry, who stepped down Dec. 30 because of the mandatory retirement age for Florida justices. “They want to control us. We’re not their agency. They can’t control us. We’re not a political branch and that’s something they can’t seem to wrap their arms around.”

For the second year in a row, lawmakers are trying to fix the state’s death penalty. The U.S. Supreme Court in January 2016 declared the state’s death penalty sentencing law unconstitutional because it gave too much power to judges to make the ultimate decision. The Legislature responded by overhauling the law to allow the death penalty be imposed by at least a 10-2 jury vote.

In October, however, the state Supreme Court voted 5-2 to strike down the new law and require unanimous jury decisions for capital punishment – a decision Corcoran said created upheaval throughout the justice system. Bills are ready for votes in the House and Senate that would require unanimous decisions.

While Republicans are supporting the new death penalty bill, it doesn’t mean they’re happy about being forced to fix the law.

“Do I think the Supreme Court has shown a hostility to the death penalty? Sure. I do, but we have an issue before us,” said Republican Rep. Chris Sprowls, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. “The court has made a decision, and we can either ignore that decision and continue to allow paralysis of the system, or we can fix it.”

Another bill addresses a 2016 Supreme Court ruling that states defendants making a “stand your ground” self-defense claim bear the burden of proof during pre-trial hearings. The bill would shift that burden to prosecutors.

Republican Sen. Rob Bradley is sponsoring the bill and he doesn’t hide the fact that Republican lawmakers aren’t fond of the court. He said that tension escalated when the Supreme Court forced lawmakers to give depositions in a lawsuit over the political maps they approved.

“That decision alone has created a real tension between our branches,” said Bradley. “My sense is that they are frustrated by some of the actions they see on the part of our branch. That tension, I don’t think, is unhealthy, but to not acknowledge that there is a tension would be ignoring reality.”

Another bill would force the court to file a report with the governor, attorney general and legislative leaders each year for the next five years detailing how long it takes the justices to rule on cases and detailing why there were delays when cases aren’t resolved within 180 days. Its sponsor, Republican Rep. Frank White of Pensacola, said if the court knows the Legislature is watching, it will try harder to resolve cases more quickly.

But Perry sees the bill as just another way to poke at the court and said it isn’t constitutional because one branch of government can’t tell another how to do its job.

“It’s a power play that they know they can’t win,” Perry said.

But he also noted there have been many other times lawmakers have ignored the constitution when passing legislation.

“The constitution trumps statutory law every time and it trumps them every time. They don’t seem to get it!” he said.

Tale of 2 parties: Florida GOP high, Dems low ahead of 2018

The state Republican and Democratic parties met two miles from each other Saturday, their first meetings since Donald Trump carried Florida in November’s election, but the atmosphere and enthusiasm were worlds apart.

As both parties chose their leaders, it was easy to see which has more confidence heading into an election cycle when the governor’s office and all three Cabinet seats will be open. Republicans were aglow in victory after Trump stunned many political observers by winning the state Barack Obama carried in 2008 and 2012. At the same time, Democrats held a contentious election to choose a new chairman with little talk about this past election.

“How good does this feel? We defied the mainstream media, we defied conventional wisdom, defied the pollsters,” Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam told GOP county chairs. “Right across town, Democrats are having their election and they’re not feeling near as good.”

As both parties prepare for 2018, Republicans are focused on how to build off the momentum Trump built with voters who traditionally haven’t been part of the political process while Democrats elected wealthy real estate developer and major party donor Stephen Bittel as chairman in hopes of ending two decades of futility at the polls.

“Donald Trump got a lot of people off of the couch and got them involved. It is our job at the Republican Party of Florida to harness all of that passion, all of that energy, and keep them in the game,” said state GOP Chairman Blaise Ingoglia, who was easily re-elected. “And when we do, and mark my words we will do it, we will cripple the Democrat Party for a generation.”

After the Democrats elected Bittel, a group of protesters stood outside the meeting room holding signs that read, “SHAME,” ”This is not the party of the people” and “People over $$.”

Still, Bittel tried to paint the best picture of the party’s future.

“We have had an under-resourced operation in Florida for a long time. That changes, starting today, and we will build a different kind of party, I’m a different kind leader and we will change things,” Bittel said. “I grew up in Florida in an era when we won everything. I’m looking forward to that era again.”

But Bittel, 60, grew up more than four decades ago, and there’s a new generation of Democrats who have rarely seen victory.

Florida hasn’t elected a Democrat as governor since 1994. They’ve lost 14 of the past 15 Cabinet races. And despite Democrats’ success in passing a ballot initiative that requires political districts to be drawn in a way that doesn’t favor parties or incumbents, Republicans maintain huge majorities in the Legislature and hold 16 of Florida’s 27 U.S. House seats.

Republicans appear better situated heading into a critical state election. Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the three GOP Cabinet members, including Putnam, are leaving office because of term limits. Also in 2018, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is seeking a fourth term, and it’s widely thought Scott will challenge him in what could be Nelson’s toughest re-election yet.

But despite under-performing again in 2016, Democrats think 2018 can be different. Democratic strategist and former state party political director Christian Ulvert pointed at several pluses. First, Nelson, the one consistently successful Florida Democrat since 2000, will be on the ballot.

“This year, we have a potential for Bill Nelson setting the tone, to really set the stage from the top down,” Ulvert said.

He also said the party has a rich field of popular city mayors who could be on the ballot for statewide races, including Fort Lauderdale’s Jack Seiler, Tampa’s Bob Buckhorn, Miami Beach’s Philip Levine, Orlando’s Buddy Dyer and Tallahassee’s Andrew Gillum.

Putnam, who is likely to run for governor, warned Republicans that despite their successes, the party cannot become complacent.

“We can’t get arrogant and cocky and lose our way,” Putnam said. “We can’t take anything for granted.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Husband’s cancer is a factor in Gwen Graham’s decision to run for governor

Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham says she wants to run for governor, and she plans to run for governor. But there’s one very important factor that’s weighing on her decision: her husband has cancer.

“Every part of me wants to run for governor, that’s what I feel passionate about, that’s what I know I need to do for the state of Florida, but things happen in life that could take me off that path. I hope not,” Graham said Wednesday evening while conducting her last “work day” as a congresswoman — helping sell Christmas trees at an outdoor stand.

The work days were a signature of her father Bob Graham‘s time as Florida governor and a U.S. senator. Like her father, she spends time experiencing different jobs as a way to reach out to constituents and voters.

She decided not to seek a second term in Congress after the Florida Supreme Court ordered new congressional districts be drawn so that don’t favor incumbents or political parties. Graham’s district became far more Republican and she decided to explore a 2018 run for governor rather than risk re-election.

She sounded a lot like a candidate when talking with reporters outside the Christmas tree stand, saying she plans to campaign in all 67 counties and discussing her campaign strategy. But she said she’s waiting to see how treatment progresses on her husband Steve Hurm‘s prostate cancer.

“He absolutely wants me to run. He’s very supportive of that and I couldn’t do it without him by my side,” she said. “I wouldn’t do it without him by my side.”

Republican Gov. Rick Scott is leaving office in 2019 due to term limits. Among other Democrats believed to be considering a run are Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and trial lawyer John Morgan. Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is also considering a run.

The Republican Governors Association is already preparing for a potential Graham candidacy, wasting little time after this year’s election to begin attacking Graham in news releases. The association called Graham “just another Washington politician.” Graham hadn’t held elected office before winning her House seat two years ago.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

It’s likely to be a close election in Florida, again

Another close election in Florida? Count on it.

Through Friday, 2,268,663 Democrats and 2,261,383 Republicans had cast ballots by mail or at early voting sites – a difference of 7,280 in favor of Democrats. Overall, more than 5.7 million Floridians have voted, or nearly 45 percent of those registered. That far surpasses 2012 totals, when 4.8 million Floridians cast ballots before Election Day.

As early voting was set to end in 51 of Florida’s 67 counties Saturday, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump once again were campaigning in the Sunshine State. Their running mates Tim Kaine and Mike Pence and other top surrogates have been frequent visitors in the state that’s a must-win for Trump’s presidential campaign.

“How many of you have already voted?” Clinton asked a crowd in Broward County. The response was enthusiastic cheers. “OK, so that means you’ve got time to get everybody else to get out and vote, right?”

Earlier in Tampa, Trump told supporters at a rally that 66 of the state’s 67 counties supported him in Florida’s primary last March.

“Florida is just a place I love – my second home, I’m here all the time. I might know Florida better than you do,” Trump said. “I see maybe more enthusiasm right now than I did (in March).”

Florida’s 29 electoral votes are the biggest prize in Tuesday’s presidential election among states that could swing to either candidate. In 2000, Florida set the standard for close presidential elections when George W. Bush beat Al Gore by 537 votes out of about 6 million cast. It took five weeks to call the election in the state that determined the presidency.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio was campaigning across north Florida Saturday, starting with an event at a Pensacola Beach bar. He’s being challenged by Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy.

Unlike Murphy, Rubio has avoided campaigning with his party’s presidential nominee. While he supports Trump, he has condemned his words and behavior.

Murphy attended a Broward County rally with Clinton and later planned to attend a St. Petersburg concert with singer Jon Bon Jovi and Kaine.

While only 16 counties will continue early voting on Sunday, they are some of the state’s largest, including Democratic strongholds of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. Democrats were planning “souls to the polls” events encouraging African-American churchgoers to take advantage of the last day of early voting in the counties where polls will be open.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

ACLU asks court to continue to block abortion waiting period

A lawyer representing an abortion clinic told the Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday that the state’s 24-hour waiting period would significantly restrict a woman’s right to abortion and asked justices to continue blocking the law until a lower court can decide whether it’s constitutional.

The delays could lead to victims of domestic abuse being forced to forgo an abortion, or cause additional emotional distress for women who have a doomed pregnancy, said Julia Kaye, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer representing a Gainesville clinic. She said it could also mean the difference between using drugs to end a pregnancy rather than surgery.

“Women think long and hard about this decision and take it very seriously,” said Kaye. She added that if woman aren’t ready for an abortion, they can already wait before deciding whether to go through the procedure. “This law actually only impacts the women who are already ready, the women who do not want or need to delay their procedure any longer.”

The state attorney general’s office argued that the law doesn’t create significant burdens for women and the waiting period is necessary because the decision can’t be undone.

“The waiting is not because it’s a medical procedure; it’s a waiting period because it’s an irreversible, life-altering decision on the order of things like marriage, divorce, giving up your child for adoption,” said Denise Harle. “There is a societal interest in people entering into those decisions with due deliberation.”

Gov. Rick Scott signed the waiting period into law last year and it was quickly blocked by a lower court after the ACLU sued. But an appeals court lifted the injunction in February and the law was in effect until the Supreme Court temporarily blocked it two months later. The court is now deciding whether the injunction should stay in place while the lower court hears the initial lawsuit.

Justice Barbara Pariente pointed out that the state doesn’t require a waiting period for hysterectomies, vasectomies and other medical procedures.

“There’s not a waiting period after you decide that you’re going to lose your breast through a mastectomy – that you’ve got to wait another 24 hours before you go through that procedure, not that you haven’t thought about it up until that time,” said Pariente, who is a breast cancer survivor. “It’s not neutral and that’s my concern.”

After the hearing, Kaye said the law did create problems for women in the two months it was enacted.

“We got to see some examples of how harmful it is,” Kaye said. “Women suffered. Women missed work and wages they would not have otherwise had to lose, women experienced sickness that could have been avoided and women experienced and received a very clear message from the state: They are not capable decision makers.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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