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News Service Of Florida

The News Service of Florida provides journalists, lobbyists, government officials and other civic leaders with comprehensive, objective information about the activities of state government year-round.

Florida adds dozen more Zika cases

Florida health officials added another 12 reported cases of the Zika virus during the past week, including the first sexually transmitted case in 2017, according to information posted on the state Department of Health website.

As of Monday morning, the state had 128 reported Zika infections this year, up from 116 reported a week earlier. Of the new total, 97 were classified as “travel related” — meaning people brought the mosquito-borne virus into Florida after being infected elsewhere — up from 88 last Monday.

During the past week, the Department of Health announced that a person in Pinellas County had been infected with Zika through sexual transmission. The department did not identify the person or list the person’s gender but indicated a sexual partner might have contracted the disease while traveling recently to Cuba.

The department said it does not have evidence that mosquitoes are transmitting the disease in Florida.

Other cases reported this year have involved people who were exposed in 2016 and tested in 2017. Zika is particularly dangerous to pregnant women because it can lead to severe birth defects.

Analysis shows some lawmakers crossing party lines

The Senate’s reputation for bipartisanship in Tallahassee appears to be well-earned, while the names of House and Senate members who most frequently voted against their parties included a few surprises, according to an analysis of votes in the 2017 legislative session.

Among the lawmakers who cast the most-frequent crossover votes: Rep. Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville; Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando; Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee; and Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah.

The News Service of Florida analyzed more than 90 votes from the regular legislative session to determine the partisan makeup of those votes and the number of times each lawmaker voted against his or her respective party.

Many bills, particularly on noncontroversial issues, receive unanimous or near-unanimous support each Legislative Session.

But the News Service analysis looked at issues where at least 20 percent of the members of the House or Senate voted on each side of the issue. Votes were deemed partisan if less than 10 percent of the membership crossed party lines.

Members’ individual rates of following their parties were calculated separately. A member voted with his or her party if he or she voted the same way as two-thirds of the caucus on one of the divided votes tracked by the analysis. The votes counted were those initially cast, not those recorded or changed by members afterward.

Any divided votes where a party split by a narrower margin were disregarded. That also meant that the counts in one chamber could be different between the parties. For example, House Republicans were graded based on 67 votes, while House Democrats were graded on 59.

For longtime observers of Tallahassee, where the Senate is generally considered a more genial and less partisan chamber than the House, the top-line numbers will not come as much of a surprise.

Exactly half of the divided Senate votes tracked were partisan – though it should be noted that almost none of the votes on amendments are roll-call votes in the Senate, which could mask some differences. Of the 22 votes, 11 fell more or less along party lines; 11 saw substantial cross-party voting.

Things were more hard-edged in the House, though perhaps not as much as the chamber’s reputation would suggest. Less than two-thirds of the votes analyzed – 43 of 69 – were considered partisan. Another 26 saw a good deal of partisan crossover.

Part of that is because of the difference in party discipline in the House. Among the GOP caucus, 21 members — many of them members of the leadership team — voted with the party 100 percent of the time. Another member – Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah – would have voted with the party all the time had he not mistakenly voted against a compromise version of a bill (HB 7069) he shepherded through the process.

The median Republican, meaning no more than half of the members of the GOP voted along party lines either more or less often, stuck with the caucus 97 percent of the time. (Four members hit that mark.) Democrats had far less party cohesion. Just one Democrat, Rep. Lori Berman of Lantana, voted with her party every time. Eleven more members voted with Democrats at least 95 percent of the time. The median Democrat, Rep. Larry Lee of Port St. Lucie, voted with his party 91.5 percent of the time.

In the less partisan Senate, oddly, the individual party scores were more pronounced. Twelve of the Republicans’ 23 members and six of the Senate’s 15 Democrats voted with their respective parties all the time on divided issues where their parties largely voted together.

The analysis largely discounted two GOP members of the Senate – Sen. Dorothy Hukill of Port Orange, who missed the legislative session because of cancer treatments, and former Sen. Frank Artiles of Miami, who resigned after a racially tinged tirade at a members-only club near the Capitol.

The member of either chamber to vote the least with his or her party was Daniels, a freshman Democrat. She voted with the party 64.8 percent of the time, more than six points below the next-closest Democrat.

Among House Republicans, Plasencia was the least partisan by percentage, voting with the GOP almost 76.8 percent of the time.

The member who voted against fellow Republicans the largest number of times was former Rep. Eric Eisnaugle of Orlando, who left the Legislature this spring after he was appointed as a judge on the 5th District Court of Appeal. Eisnaugle, though, cast more votes overall and ended up with a slightly higher percentage (77.6 percent).

In the Senate, the least partisan member was Garcia, who voted with fellow Republicans about 71.4 percent of the time. Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, voted against the GOP the same number of times but cast two more votes along party lines and ended up siding with fellow Republicans 75 percent of the time.

Montford, whose sprawling district includes conservative rural areas, was the most likely member of his caucus to break ranks. Montford sided with fellow Democrats 72.2 percent of the time while casting the most votes (five) against his party on either side of the aisle.

On legislation, the least-partisan divided vote in the House came on legislation (SB 106), which would have repealed a state law requiring liquor to be sold in separate stores from most retail goods. The measure became infamous, and was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott, after it passed by one vote, only to have five members say afterward that they would have voted against it and another say he mistakenly voted for it. Republicans narrowly favored the bill and Democrats opposed it by a relatively slim margin. The same was true of the bill in the Senate, though it more cleanly passed that chamber.

BREAKING RANKS

The 10 House Democrats most likely to cross party lines, based on an analysis by The News Service of Florida. They are ranked by the percentages of votes they cast with the Democratic caucus on divided issues where the party largely hung together:

Rep. Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville — 64.8 percent
Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation — 71.1 percent
Rep. Roy Hardemon, D-Miami — 74.1 percent
Rep. Nicholas Duran, D-Miami — 78.4 percent
Rep. Matt Willhite, D-Wellington — 79.7 percent
Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs — 80.0 percent
Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach — 84.0 percent
Rep. Richard Stark, D-Weston — 84.8 percent
Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach — 85.5 percent
Rep. Robert Asencio, D-Miami — 86.4

The 10 House Republicans most likely to cross party lines. They are ranked by the percentages of votes they cast with the Republican caucus on divided issues where the party largely hung together:

Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando — 76.8 percent
Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-Treasure Island — 77.6 percent
Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando* — 77.6 percent
Rep. Bill Hager, R-Delray Beach — 80.8 percent
Rep. Jay Fant, R-Jacksonville — 81.0 percent
Rep. Sam Killebrew, R-Winter Haven — 81.8 percent
Rep. Rick Roth, R-Loxahatchee — 86.6 percent
Rep. Dan Raulerson, R-Plant City — 86.8 percent
Rep. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota — 87.3 percent
Rep. Don Hahnfeldt, R-The Villages — 88.1 percent
* Eisnaugle has resigned from the House.

The Senate Democrats most likely to cross party lines. They are ranked by the percentages of votes they cast with the Democratic caucus on divided issues where the party largely hung together:

Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee — 72.2 percent
Sen. Daryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg — 76.5 percent
Sen. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami — 83.3 percent
Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando — 88.2 percent
Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation — 88.9 percent
Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville — 88.9 percent

The Senate Republicans most likely to cross party lines. They are ranked by the percentages of votes they cast with the Republican caucus on divided issues where the party largely hung together:

Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah — 71.4 percent
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater — 75.0 percent
Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami — 82.4 percent
Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa — 88.9 percent
Four senators tied at — 94.4 percent.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Shark video could spur legislative action

As state investigators seek more evidence from the public about a growing number of videos that showcase abuse of sharks, legislation may be filed that seeks to better define state wildlife laws.

“It is unfortunate that it takes events like this to bring to light other cruel animal abuses that occur on our waters,” state Rep. Alex Miller, R-Sarasota, posted on Facebook last week in reaction to a video that showed a shark being dragged behind a boat at a high speed through Tampa-area waters.

The video has spurred social-media outrage and the circulation online of other videos and photos believed to be related to the people in the shark-dragging episode.

“If current law does not find this to be a prosecutable crime, I will present a bill this session that brings more clarity,” Miller said in the post.

Miller’s Facebook post came before the Manatee County State Attorney’s Office and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Division of Law Enforcement announced Friday they hope for a “swift and lawful resolution” to the incident that sparked the online outrage.

Also, Gov. Rick Scott called on state wildlife officials to review fishing regulations after watching what he called a “disturbing video” showing a “hateful act.”

“The brutality and disrespect shown to this animal is sickening and I am sure that you share my outrage over these individuals’ heinous actions,” Scott wrote to Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Chairman Brian Yablonski on July 28.

Yablonski responded that the commission will move forward to strengthen regulations where needed.

Among the other pictures and videos that have been circulated is a video showing a man firing two shots into a hammerhead shark that had been reeled to the side of a boat.

Hammerheads are among a number of shark species it is illegal to harvest in state waters.

The shark in the initial video may be a blacktip or spinner shark, which can both be caught. The blacktip is among 12 species in which the state has no size limits. Spinner sharks must be at least 54 inches to be pulled in.

In their joint statement, the FWC and the State Attorney’s Office asked for public “understanding and patience.”

“These investigations are complex, and both the FWC and the State Attorney’s Office appreciate the public’s understanding and patience,” the statement said. “We take these incidents seriously, and this investigation is moving forward.”

Miller said she expects that, “In the age of social media more and more of these incidents will come to light.”

She noted that current law appears “pretty vague and doesn’t address mistreatment of sharks, although it does include a list of sharks that aren’t allowed to be harvested.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Jack Latvala takes aim at Richard Corcoran over tourism

Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala, the chairman of the influential Senate Appropriations Committee, may soon be in a gubernatorial fight with House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Neither has formally jumped into the 2018 Republican primary for governor with Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

But Latvala, who has set an Aug. 16 date to announce if he will run for the governor’s mansion, doesn’t appear to be waiting.

Speaking Friday before about 75 people at the Rivertown Community Church in Blountstown, Latvala said lawmakers will need to revisit changes — driven by Corcoran during the 2017 legislative session — that have created fissures between the state’s tourism-marketing agency and regional tourism groups.

And he charged that the changes were more about scoring political headlines than effective legislation.

“In the case of that bill, and the House of Representatives’ efforts in the whole economic-development and tourism area, it was all about making political points, all about trying to make headlines, trying to raise your name identification, whatever,” Latvala said. “And what we’ve done is make a product that is going to be very hard to implement.”

“And I’m sure we’re going to have to come back next year and work on it a little bit,” Latvala continued. “I don’t know the House speaker understands that or frankly cared. That’s the same House speaker who introduced a bill that would have eliminated Visit Florida, eliminated Enterprise Florida, eliminated every other economic, 18 other economic-development programs we have in Florida. And I’m not sure he cares.”

Corcoran, however, said Friday the changes were about creating greater transparency.

“Florida taxpayers demand transparency and accountability,” Corcoran said in an emailed statement. “The FL House will continue to fight to expand transparency and accountability for the taxpayers.  And any elected official who opposes it, does so at their own peril.”

Friday’s afternoon meeting in Blountstown, set up by Sen. Bill Montford was aimed at discussing economic issues with officials and business leaders from several rural Northwest Florida counties.

Montford acknowledged that any meeting, particularly when more than one lawmaker is present, is political in nature. But Montford wanted Latvala to hear about the needs of rural communities that haven’t enjoyed the prosperity that many of the state’s larger counties and regions have experienced in recent years.

Education, transportation infrastructure, access to capital and economic growth were all tossed on the table, as well as recent news of the struggles at the state tourism-marketing agency Visit Florida.

Homer Hirt, a member of the RiverWay South Apalachicola Choctawhatchee, a regional tourism effort, said a financial-disclosure requirement in the new state law (SB 2-A) “is a sour point” for local tourism agencies.

“That is why you see some like (Experience) Kissimmee, Amelia Island (CVB), Franklin County (TDC) and Visit South Walton pulling back as partners,” Hirt said.

Under fire from Corcoran and other House leaders, Visit Florida this year had to fight to keep its state funding from being cut by two-thirds. The agency ultimately avoided major funding cuts. But with lawmakers approving new disclosure rules tied to the state funding, the agency has lost partnerships with at least 12 local organizations.

The law requires tourism boards participating in the “Targeted Marketing Assistance Program” to make public local operating budgets; travel and entertainment expenses; and the details of salaries and benefits of staff and board members tied to public and private funds.

Latvala’s shot at Corcoran — who also is widely expected to run for governor in 2018 — wasn’t his first of the day.

Earlier, Latvala implied a new state $85 million economic-development fund won’t be strong enough to allow Florida to compete for a new auto manufacturing plant planned by Toyota and Mazda.

“This could bring jobs to FL but cuts in econ. dev. means we likely can’t complete with AL or MS. Think about that,” Latvala tweeted.

On Friday, the two Japanese automakers formally announced they would buy 5 percent shares in each other’s companies and jointly build a plant at an undesignated location in the U.S. where they would develop technology for electric and autonomous-driving vehicles and produce about 300,000 vehicles a year.

Corcoran and Latvala had different stances on a request by Gov. Rick Scott for $85 million in business incentives during the 2017 legislative session.

Latvala backed Scott’s request for the money. But Corcoran called such incentives “corporate welfare” and even labeled them “de facto socialism.

Lawmakers eventually created the “Florida Job Growth Grant Fund,” with $85 million, during a special session. The money is slated to go to infrastructure and job-training programs to help entice businesses to Florida.

The job fund was praised by people who attended the Blountstown roundtable. They said some of the money should be set aside for rural counties so those areas can’t be overlooked.

“The have-nots, as we’ve been called, need to develop that infrastructure and that training,” said Roy Baker of Opportunity Florida in Marianna. “We need to develop our sites and talents. Site location consultants that move employers to new locations throughout the United States tell us that talent comes first.”

Latvala’s appearance highlights the importance of conservative Northwest Florida for Republican politicians.

Putnam will be in the Panhandle on Saturday, making an appearance at the annual Possum Festival Parade in Wausau in Washington County.

Florida offering tax `holiday’ for back-to-school shoppers

With computers returned to the discount list, Florida retailers are readying for back-to-school shoppers this weekend during the state’s sales-tax “holiday.”

The holiday, which will run Friday through Sunday is a large part of a tax-cut package (HB 7109) that lawmakers passed this spring. The package is projected to provide $91.6 million in tax breaks during the budget year that started July 1.

James Miller, a spokesman for the Florida Retail Federation, said the tax holiday is “much needed at this time of year,” as families buy clothes, supplies and other items before school starts.

“Families are going out and stocking up anyways,” Miller said. “Being able to save 6, 7, 8 percent is really big.”

A House bill analysis estimated the holiday period will reduce state revenue by $26.6 million and local government revenue by $6.8 million.

The holiday allows shoppers to avoid paying sales taxes on clothes and shoes costing up to $60 per item; school supplies that cost $15 or less; and personal computers and related accessories priced at $750 or less.

The state has offered back-to-school tax holidays most years since 1998. Computers return to this year’s list after being left out of a 2016 tax holiday.

Two years ago, meanwhile, the holiday ran 10 days, with the clothing limit at $100 and a discount on the first $750 of the sales prices of computers.

Florida retailers have long backed the tax holidays. But not everyone thinks such discount periods provide wide-ranging benefits.

The Washington, D.C.-based Tax Foundation released a study July 25 deriding the periods as simply shifting spending rather than stimulating economic growth.

“Shoppers waited until the holiday to purchase exempted goods, thereby slowing sales in the weeks prior to and following the holiday,” the study said.

The Tax Foundation questioned the expense of having to recalibrate store computers for the discount periods and called the holidays “a gimmick that distract policymakers and taxpayers from real, permanent, and economically beneficial tax reform.”

The foundation also labeled the discount periods as a form of “picking winners and losers” – a favorite target of many Florida politicians opposed to business incentives — by favoring products and industries through arbitrary tax exemptions. The foundation also maintained that large businesses lobby for the holidays as a way to receive free advertising.

Miller disagreed.

“I know there are reports out there saying these sales-tax holidays aren’t that good for retailers,” Miller said. “One thing I would say is if that was the case, retailers wouldn’t be making this one of their significant legislative priorities year in and year out.”

He added that many retailers that don’t offer items on the state’s discount list take advantage of the period by offering their own sales.

“There are tens and tens of thousands of retailers in this state that benefit from this,” Miller said. “There are others retailers that can piggyback on it and have promotions in conjunction with it. That’s what I would do if I were a retailer. When you consider technology, clothing and supplies, that is a large number of retailers that will be eligible. We are excited about the weekend, and we know they are too.”

Florida, one of 16 states this year offering back-to-school breaks, also offered a tax holiday on disaster-preparation items in June to mark the start of hurricane season.

Two other key portions of the overall tax-cut package – an elimination of sales taxes on feminine hygiene products and a reduction in a commercial lease tax – go into effect on Jan. 1.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Bill seeks payment for injured sunbather

After the proposal stalled during the 2017 legislative session, a Central Florida senator this week filed a bill that would direct payment of nearly $1.9 million to a woman who suffered severe injuries when she was hit by a Volusia County Beach Patrol truck.

Republican state Sen. David Simmons of Altamonte Springs filed the “claim” bill, which would lead to Volusia County paying $1.895 million to Erin Joynt. The bill (SB 38) would help carry out a $2 million judgment in a lawsuit filed by Joynt, a Kansas woman who was injured in July 2011.

A legal concept known as “sovereign immunity” typically shields government agencies from paying large amounts in such lawsuits. But the Legislature, through passage of claim bills, can direct agencies to make payments.

Joynt was hit by the truck while sunbathing on Daytona Beach. Simmons’ bill, which is filed for the legislative session that will start in January, said she suffered injuries such as cranial fractures, facial fractures and rib fractures.

A similar bill was approved by one Senate committee during the 2017 session but then stalled.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Floridians continue pulling plug on landlines

Landlines are quickly going the way of rotary-dial phones in Florida.

A state report released this week showed that large numbers of Floridians continue unplugging the types of phone lines that were a fixture of life for decades. Instead, they are reaching into their pockets for mobile phones or using internet technology to chat with friends and family.

The report, released by the Florida Public Service Commission, said an estimated 51 percent of homes in the state were wireless-only in 2015. Meanwhile, the number of traditional residential wirelines in the state dropped 15 percent from 2015 to 2016.

The shift away from traditional residential lines has particularly affected the three largest carriers – AT&T, CenturyLink and Frontier, which acquired Verizon’s landline business in the state. Along with using more wireless phones, customers also have shifted to using a type of internet technology known in the telecommunications world as “Voice over Internet Protocol.”

The report, produced each year by the Public Service Commission, said consumers are “able to find comparable services at reasonable prices” through the different types of technologies and providers in the industry. The report said there are an estimated 21.1 million wireless phones in Florida and 4.2 million Voice over Internet Protocol subscribers – while the state’s population was 20.6 million last year.

“Access lines for both residential and business customers have maintained a steady decline over the past several years,” the report said. “This contrasts with the continued growth in wireless-only households. While declines have occurred in the business market, they are partially offset by significant growth in business VoIP lines. Carriers are managing the shifts in market conditions by bundling services and providing a variety of pricing plans in an attempt to meet consumer demand and expectations.”

In all, Florida had almost 3 million wirelines in 2016, with business lines totaling about 1.8 million and residences making up 1.2 million, the report said. That is down from a total of nearly 4.58 million lines in 2013, 3.8 million in 2014 and 3.27 million in 2015.

The business market has been somewhat more stable than the residential market, showing a 4 percent decline in 2016, compared to the 15 percent drop in the residential market.

AT&T and Frontier saw significant drops in their residential wireline businesses in 2016, while CenturyLink has fared better, the report said.

“This may be a result of CenturyLink’s ability to mitigate its decline in residential access lines or because it serves rural areas with less competition,” the report said. “Continuing a five-year trend, CenturyLink experienced a 6 percent decline in residential access lines during 2016, while AT&T declined 22 percent and Frontier declined 25 percent for the same period.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

New lethal injection drug focus of execution fight

It’s not unusual for lawyers representing Death Row prisoners whose execution dates have been set to file last-minute appeals to try to get more time to argue about why their clients should be spared.

But an attempt by death-penalty lawyer Marty McClain on behalf of Mark James Asay, scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection late this month, is even more complicated.

For one, McClain is challenging a new triple-drug lethal injection formula, never before used in Florida or any other state.

In addition, McClain — who’s represented more than 200 condemned prisoners over the past three decades — is accusing the state of hoodwinking him into agreeing to a legal delay that could cost his client a review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gov. Rick Scott last month rescheduled Asay’s execution for Aug. 24, more than 18 months after originally signing a death warrant for the Death Row prisoner, who was sentenced to death nearly three decades ago.

Asay was one of two Death Row inmates whose executions were put on hold by the Florida Supreme Court in early 2016 after the U.S. Supreme Court, in a case known as Hurst v. Florida, struck down as unconstitutional the state’s death penalty sentencing system. Lawmakers later revamped the sentencing system.

Asay was convicted in 1988 of the murders of Robert Lee Booker and Robert McDowell in downtown Jacksonville. Asay was accused of shooting Booker, who was black, after calling him a racial epithet. He then killed McDowell, who was dressed as a woman, after agreeing to pay him for oral sex. According to court documents, Asay later told a friend that McDowell had previously cheated him out of money in a drug deal.

A Jacksonville judge Friday rejected a request by Asay to put the execution on hold. Asay’s lawyer challenged, among other things, a new drug protocol adopted by the Florida Department of Corrections this year.

In the new protocol, Florida is substituting etomidate for midazolam as the critical first drug, used to sedate prisoners before injecting them with a paralytic and then a drug used to stop prisoners’ hearts.

In a 30-page order issued Friday, Duval County Circuit Judge Tatiana Salvador ruled that Asay failed to prove that the new three-drug protocol is unconstitutional.

Etomidate, also known by the brand name “Amidate,” is a short-acting anesthetic that renders patients unconscious. Twenty percent of people experience mild to moderate pain after being injected with the drug, but only for “tens of seconds” at the longest, the judge noted.

“Defendant has only demonstrated a possibility of mild to moderate pain that would last, at most, tens of seconds,” Salvador wrote. “Therefore, this court finds the potential pain, and anesthetic aspect of etomidate does not present risks that are ‘sure or very likely’ to cause serious illness or needless suffering or give rise to ‘sufficiently imminent dangers.’ “

Salvador rejected a request by McClain for a rehearing Friday’s order, but the lawyer’s motion gives a glimpse into arguments he can be expected to present to the Florida Supreme Court as Asay’s case winds its way up the judicial chain.

Asay argues that the state failed to provide him notice of the revamped lethal injection protocol, essentially keeping McClain from having enough time to present evidence at the circuit court hearing last week.

McClain also argues that the Jacksonville judge failed to fully consider the implications of a U.S. Supreme Court decision, in a case known as Glossip v. Gross, focused on lethal injection protocols.

That ruling requires prisoners challenging lethal injection procedures to establish that “any risk of harm was substantial when compared to a known and viable alternative method of execution.”

McClain argues that, instead of the new drug protocol, corrections officials should use the three-drug lethal injection procedure involving midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride that was in effect when Asay’s original death warrant was signed last year, or a single-drug protocol adopted by some other death-penalty states.

Despite numerous challenges to the use of midazolam as the first drug in the lethal injection process, courts have repeatedly upheld its use, McClain wrote.

Etomidate is another matter, he wrote.

“It carries a risk of pain and a risk of seizure-like movements as Mr. Asay dies. This raises Eighth Amendment bases to challenge both the substantial risk of pain and the undignified manner of death,” he wrote.

The use of etomidate — which could cause pain for up to 20 seconds — “creates a risk that is substantial harm when compared to known and available alternative methods of execution,” McClain added, referring to the standard laid out in the Glossip ruling.

The change in the protocol has come as states have scrambled to obtain lethal-injection drugs because manufacturers have refused to sell the substances to corrections agencies for execution purposes.

Florida Department of Corrections officials maintain that the use of etomidate is “compatible with evolving standards of decency,” a standard used by the courts in evaluating death penalty procedures.

“The process will not involve unnecessary lingering or the unnecessary or wanton infliction of pain and suffering. The foremost objective of the lethal injection process is a humane and dignified death,” Department of Corrections spokeswoman Michelle Glady said in an email, quoting from the agency’s lethal injection protocol adopted earlier this year, when asked about Asay’s latest motion.

In another issue in the case, McClain argues that Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s office, which represents the state in death penalty cases, used its power to “obtain a strategic advantage” by getting him to sign off on a legal delay.

In a letter to Scott last month, McClain argued that Bondi had misrepresented the status of the case when she gave the governor the go-ahead for scheduling the execution.

After McClain filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, known as a “writ of certiorari,” this spring, Bondi sought a 30-day extension in the case.

McClain said he interpreted Bondi’s request for a postponement, to which he agreed, to mean that the state would not seek a new execution date for Asay until after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the appeal this fall.

Without the 30-day extension, the U.S. justices could have taken up Asay’s appeal before their summer hiatus, which started June 28 and lasts until October, McClain argued.

Instead, the court gave Bondi until July 5 to file her response to Asay’s request.

Two days before the deadline, Bondi certified to Scott that Asay was eligible for execution. After Scott signed Asay’s death warrant July 3, setting the execution date for Aug. 24, Bondi quickly filed an objection to Asay’s appeal in the U.S. court.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

New driver’s licenses to boost security

Colorful high-tech driver’s licenses and state identification cards, designed for added security and to cut down on fake IDs, will start rolling out across Florida this month.

But unless it’s time to update a card because of an expiration date or a name or address change, there’s no need to rush out for a new ID.

In the works since 2014, the new design will become available Aug. 21 at a driver’s license office in Volusia County’s Orange City.

A week later, offices in Okaloosa, Leon, Duval, Brevard, Manatee, Lee and Broward counties will start issuing the new licenses.

“We are in the middle of reaching out to all of our stakeholders, and letting them know how to identify the new card, this is what it looks like, these are some of the security features you can look for,” said Alexis Bakofsky, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. “Starting Jan. 1, 2018, it will be the only credential that is issued in Florida.”

Intended in part to crack down on fake licenses, the state agency expects to spend $460,000 to complete the statewide rollout. The money comes from the state’s Highway Safety Operating Trust Fund.

The agency did not provide information on how much it has spent on the redesign.

The card features nearly double the number of security features as the current card, Bakofsky said.

“Some you’ll see. Some you will not see,” Bakofsky said. “That is to maintain security so that a law enforcement officer, or anyone who needs to authenticate that credential, can safely do so.”

Each card will have better safeguards, from features that appear only when viewed under ultraviolet light to a pastel-colored linear rendering of the Florida state seal and a large orange “FL.”

A head shot of the person who has been issued the card will appear in four locations, including one that is a part of a transparent background.

A red box will be affixed to the front for people under 21, stating when the cardholder will reach that age.

The back features an image of the state of Florida, the year 1845 in reference to the year of Florida’s statehood and the word “Florida” amid blue lines representing ocean waves.

The information on the card will also be linked through two barcodes and a magnetic stripe on the back.

The state is working on a new feature to replace the magnetic stripe in 2019.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

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