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Appeals court limits Florida law against secret recordings

A man who secretly recorded a meeting with a Florida police chief is celebrating victory in a federal case with free-speech and privacy implications.

Homestead’s police chief had invited James McDonough to a meeting in 2014 after the man complained about an officer who arrested him on minor charges that were later dismissed. A friend of McDonough’s and a detective also attended. McDonough used his cellphone to secretly record some of the discussion, and published some of it online.

Police Chief Alexander Rolle Jr. later said he didn’t know the conversation was being recorded, and the local state attorney sent McDonough a letter, warning that if he did it again, he’d be charged with violating a Florida law she said requires participants in private conversations to be notified and give consent before being recorded.

McDonough sued State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle in Miami federal court, alleging that the threat of prosecution violated his First Amendment right to free speech.

The judge ruled that the warning didn’t violate his constitutional rights because it’s reasonable to prohibit recordings in police stations, given their law enforcement responsibilities.

Representing himself, McDonough took his case to an appeals court, which turned its attention to the wording of the state law.

An 11th Circuit of Appeals panel ruled 2-1 this week that the Florida law “does not apply to the recording of all oral communications,” and is “expressly limited to communications ‘uttered by a person exhibiting an expectation that such communication is not subject to interception.'”

Because the chief didn’t assert an expectation of privacy, the “government’s threatened prosecution has no basis in the law,” the ruling said.

“I still can’t believe I beat KFR,” McDonough told The Miami Herald. “I think the appeals court decision gives the right to citizens to record any public official as long as it is in the performance of their official duties.”

The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office declined to comment.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Jeb Bush, Mark Cuban: Donald Trump dragging down GOP, billionaires

President Donald Trump‘s performance in the White House will make it harder for Republicans — and billionaires — in the coming elections, two of his most prominent critics said Saturday.

Billionaire businessman Mark Cuban and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush lashed out at the Republican president during separate remarks at a summer festival in New York City’s Central Park.

Cuban, who owns the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, said he may challenge Trump in 2020.

“If he lasts four years, I’ll be there to kick his (butt),” Cuban declared as the young New York crowd roared. “We’ll see. I’m not making any proclamations yet.”

Cuban also warned that Trump “might ruin the path” for another billionaire outsider to run for president in the future.

“He’s not setting the best example,” Cuban said.

After six months in office, Trump and his party have failed to enact any major legislation. His poll numbers are near historic lows and an investigation into Russian interference in the last election is focusing on his closest aides and family members.

Energized Democrats hope they can capitalize on the GOP’s political struggles in next year’s midterm elections when the House majority is at stake.

Bush, a regular target of Trump’s personal attacks during the 2016 Republican primary election, said he would not run for president again. He also tried to distance his party from the new president, noting that Trump was registered as a Democrat in recent years.

“He’s not really affiliated with the party, just to be clear. He’s Trump,” Bush said, speaking less than a mile from Trump Tower.

Bush also lamented the rise of celebrity politicians — Cuban, among them — as he pondered the future of the GOP.

“We may have really talented people that are really good on TV being our leaders for a while until we sort things out,” Bush said, noting that Cuban was on Saturday’s speaking program. “Ideas and policy really matter. It’s not just about personality.”

He said Republicans have “a huge opportunity” with control of the White House and both chambers in Congress. Should the GOP squander that, he said, Republicans may struggle in 2018 and 2020.

Despite the criticism, Bush said he’s rooting for Trump to succeed.

“I find him deeply troubling in a lot of ways. But I pray for him every night. And I pray for our country every night,” Bush said. “I care about my grandkids.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Extensive Enterprises wins three awards in Florida journalists’ ceremony

Extensive Enterprises Media and its media, including FloridaPolitics.com, won three statewide journalism awards Saturday night from the the Society of Professional Journalists Florida Pro Chapter, during ceremonies held in Coral Gables.

EEM’s magazine INFLUENCE took second-place for best magazine single issue, for the Winter 2016 edition. That category was won by City & Shore Magazine, published by the South Florida Sun Sentinel, for its August 2016 issue. The Mirror Magazine took third place.

EEM’s Peter Schorsch and his SaintPetersBlog took second-place in best blog writing. Again, the winner was from the Sun Sentinel, for food critic Michael Mayo and his The Eat Beat Blog. The Tampa Bay Times’ political blog, The Buzz, placed third.

Scott Powers took a third-place award for best in-depth blog entry, for a post he wrote for FloridaPolitics.com and Orlando-Rising.com on the Pulse nightclub massacre, headlined, “The Soul of Orlando to America: Give us a moment.” Both the first- and second-place winners in that category were written by Eric Barton of Florida Bulldog, one on the medical examiner, and one on Florida education.

The big winner in the awards ceremony was the Sarasota Herald Tribune, which won nine-first place awards in various newspaper and special categories, including the Gene Miller Award for Investigative Reporting, and the First Amendment Foundation Freedom of Information Award.

Among other major awards, WUFT.org won the James Batten Award for Public Service. The Florida Times-Union and Tia Mitchell won the Diversity Award. The Times-Union also won the Integrity Florida Award for Public Corruption Reporting.

Pat Beall of The Palm Beach Post was named Journalist of the Year in Florida. Lisa Peakes of WUSF Public Media was named Anchor of the Year in Florida.

Experts: No duty for laughing teens to rescue drowning man

It may be reprehensible and morally outrageous, but legal experts say a group of Florida teens had no obligation to rescue a drowning disabled man they instead mocked, laughed at and recorded on a video that was later posted online. Still, authorities are pursuing possible misdemeanor charges against them for failing to report a death.

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, in a 2012 legal argument, summarized that across the U.S. there’s no general duty to render aid to someone in distress. “You don’t have the duty to rescue someone if that person is in danger. The blind man is walking in front of a car and you do not have a duty to stop him absent some relation between you,” Kennedy said in arguments on the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.”

Kennedy added that there are “some severe moral criticisms of that rule, but that’s generally the rule.”

The case in central Florida’s Brevard County involves the July 9 drowning of Jamel Dunn, 31, in a retention pond. Police in the city of Cocoa discovered later that five teenagers, ages 14 to 16, had made a video of the drowning, which was published Friday by Florida Today. The teens can be heard laughing at Dunn, telling him he’s going die and that they weren’t going to help him as he struggled and screamed.

Police identified and interviewed the five teens involved. The office of State Attorney Phil Archer initially determined there was no immediate indication that a crime was committed because state law does not require people to give or call for help when someone is in distress. But later, after the story drew widespread attention online, officials said they were pursuing misdemeanor charges of failure to report a death against the teenagers.

“While this in no way will bring justice for what occurred, it is a start,” Cocoa Mayor Henry Parrish III said. “I know that everyone working on this investigation has been tireless in their efforts to find answers. Everyone has been affected by what we have seen.”

Many countries, including Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy and Russia, do have laws requiring people to render aid, even if it means only summoning authorities. And violations in some countries can result in prison time.

But Florida’s law is hardly unique across the U.S., legal experts said.

“Generally, throughout the U.S., there is no duty to rescue,” said David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice. Still, he added: “It seems like common sense that those kids should have tried to help the guy instead of filming it.”

There are some differences in various states, but Weinstein said exceptions typically include required assistance in car crashes; for people in special relationships with others such as police officers, firefighters, teachers, married couples, common carriers such as bus drivers and employers; and if you yourself put the other person in danger in the first place.

Some states, such as Nebraska, require most people – especially professionals – to report suspected child abuse or face possible misdemeanor charges, said attorney Jeffrey Lapin in Lincoln, Nebraska. He agreed the Florida teenagers committed no crime.

“While it is morally and ethically wrong, it is not illegal to not render aid or make extremely despicable comments,” Lapin said in an email Friday.

The Cocoa mayor, Parrish, was even more blunt: “Never in my life would I have ever thought we would need a law to make this happen,” he said.

Lapin noted that in the final episode of the sitcom “Seinfeld,” the four main characters are convicted of violating a purported city ordinance by failing to assist an overweight man who is getting carjacked – instead joking about the man’s large size and doing nothing. The judge character said the four had “callous indifference and utter disregard” for a positive society.

Most U.S. states have no such laws.

There are situations in which U.S. law does require assistance to be rendered. One of those is on the high seas, where federal law requires the “master” of any vessel under U.S. jurisdiction to help anyone “found at sea in danger of being lost,” according to the statute. A 1989 international treaty extends that obligation to mariners around the world.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia also have “Good Samaritan” laws aimed at protecting people from being sued for anything they did while rendering aid or attempting to rescue someone in danger. There are exceptions to those laws as well.

Tampa local officials bemoan expected expansion of Florida homestead exemption

While it won’t go into effect for another year and a half, the expected passage of a Florida constitutional amendment expanding the homestead exemption is already giving local officials severe headaches.

On the 2018 ballot, Amendment 1 asks voters to approve an expansion of the homestead exemption from $50,000 to $75,000 of the first $100,000 of a home’s taxable value.

State lawmakers who supported it said the average homeowner would save about $275 per year, based on the statewide average home value of $220,000 and an average tax rate of 10 mills ($10 for every $1,000 of taxable property value).

Local government officials statewide are already assuming taxpayers will support the measure and are already beginning to budget accordingly.

In calling for an increase in the city of Tampa’s millage rate for the first time in 29 years on Thursday, Mayor Bob Buckhorn attributed part of the reason to the fact that passage of the amendment would reduce approximately $6 million in revenue to his city’s budget.

Tampa City Councilman Harry Cohen acknowledges that while that reduction may appear modest in a proposed $974 million budget, it will cut funding that would otherwise be used to expend on sidewalks, fixing potholes, making stormwater improvements and funding parks and recreation.

“I think it’s very important as we evaluate these tax policies, that we understand that the money for these things that we want has to come from somewhere,” Cohen told a Tampa Tiger Bay Club audience gathered at the Ferguson Law School School on Friday. “We’re all sensitive to the tax burden, but local government does have to be paying for the things that people expect of us.”

“If the citizens want fewer services,” Polk County Commissioner Robert Braswell groused, “then we’ll provide fewer services.”

“It will be a litmus test for what kinds of things should government do, and how much,” said Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill.

Merrill added that if the amendment passes, Hillsborough would have its budget reduced by $30 million in its first year. That would be on top of the fact — like most local governments in Florida — the county is still contending with the aftermath of the Great Recession starting in 2007, which began bringing in dramatically lower property tax revenues.

Merrill said that the size of his county’s government is 25 percent smaller than it was a decade ago, still down $100 million in general revenues.

Robert E. Weissert, the executive vice president and counsel to the president and CEO for Florida TaxWatch, also doesn’t support Amendment 1, because of the inequity it creates. Though that sentiment might surprise those who assume TaxWatch is an anti-tax organization, Weissert says it shouldn’t.

“It’s just a tax shift,” he said, with local governments shifting from owner-occupied homes to businesses and non-homestead properties, such as vacation homes and apartment complexes. He also noted that the higher exemption would protect the state’s 29 poorest counties from losing any more property tax revenue.

Local government officials have complained for months about maneuvers by the Florida Legislature which they call an assault on home-rule. Add to that sources of income like the communications services tax which have dried up significantly over the past decade as fewer people use landline telephones, and Cohen said cities are becoming like “discount airlines.”

“We’re basically making it so that we live on a cheap carrier, where you can’t get peanuts, you can’t check a bag, and you have three inches left on your seat,” quipped the Tampa Council member. “Eventually it’s going to become very, very uncomfortable for the people who live here because we are degrading the quality of our lives.”

Getting the homestead exemption expansion on the 2018 ballot was a top priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran during the 2017 legislative session. When asked to justify the amendment while speaking in Tampa last month, Corcoran said: ” I care more about the people of this state than I do the governments of this state.”

And Corcoran dismissed what he seemed to say were crocodile tears by local government officials.

“The concept that you can give somebody a $25,000 homestead exemption and put in on the ballot, and the result is this: that local governments have only two choices — they have to raise taxes, or cut essential services that really benefit their local community, is absolute crap,” he said.

Corcoran’s drive to get the measure on the ballot was noted Friday, and not positively.

“I think the motivation behind this was Richard Corcoran running for governor,” Braswell said.

“I have no comment on that,” Merrill followed up.

Richard Corcoran proud of Trump’s efforts to crack down on undocumented immigrants

House Speaker Richard Corcoran is proud to hear the Trump administration is escalating crack down on undocumented immigrants is only going to crank up in the coming months, and he says the Legislature will attempt to do their part in 2018.

The Pasco County Republican, still very much contemplating a run for governor next year, issued a statement on Friday in response to comments made earlier this week by Thomas Homan, the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), who said that illegal border crossings have dropped by almost 70 percent this year, allowing ICE agents to now target the more than 300-plus sanctuary cities and counties that have ignored ICE requests that they detail criminal undocumented immigrants for ICE arrest and deportation proceedings.

“The idea that a city decides what laws it will follow and what laws it will ignore should offend every American,” Corcoran said. “Politicians who believe they are above the law by adopting ‘sanctuary’ policies are violating their oath to uphold and defend the Constitution.”

Corcoran notes that the Florida House passed Groveland Republican Larry Metz‘ “Rule of Law Adherence Act in the past legislative session. That bill would have required state and local governments and law enforcement agencies to assist and cooperate in the enforcement of federal immigration laws. It died in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Testifying before Congress last month, Homan said that no illegal immigrant is safe from deportation, though the administration is prioritizing criminals, fugitives, threats to national security and those who illegally re-entered the U.S.

He went on to say that arresting any undocumented person is a good thing: “Most of the criminal aliens we find in the interior United States, they entered as a noncriminal. If we wait for them to violate yet another law against the citizens of this country, it’s late. We shouldn’t wait.”

Standing up against illegal immigration is popular among Republicans, especially those who vote in primary elections. If he were to enter the GOP gubernatorial primary for governor next year, it’s clear that Corcoran would take a tougher stance on the issue that either Adam Putnam or Jack Latvala, who was one of 21 co-sponsors of a sponsored a measure several years ago to offer in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrants.

Gwen Graham vows to help more Floridians receive care after free clinic ‘workday’

Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Congresswoman Gwen Graham did one of her campaign “work days” at a Seminole County free clinic Wednesday and came away pledging to “help more Floridians receive care” if elected.

Graham volunteered as a health care navigator for at Shepherd’s Hope and spent her shift helping patients determine if they were eligible for clinic services. She also shadowed a patient from through the entire clinic experience, from intake to discharge.

“Working at Shepherd’s Hope was an eye-opening experience. I am heartbroken by how many Floridians depend on the clinic as a safety net for care, but inspired by the doctors and volunteers who give their time to help those in need. They provide care to people from all walks of life, from veterans to working families, and provide an invaluable service to our state,” Graham said in a news release.

After the work day — a campaign staple for both her and her father, Bob Graham — she also condemned Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature for not expanding Medicaid, which she said: “literally cost Floridians their lives.”

“I don’t know how you could visit a clinic like Shepherd’s Hope and not want to expand coverage,” Graham said. “As governor, I will help more Floridians receive care.”

Shepherd’s Hope serves uninsured patients with an income at or below 200% of the poverty level. In 2016, the clinic saw more than 17,000 patients.

After thanking Graham for her visit, Shepherd’s Hope CEO Marni F. Stahlman also blamed Florida’s lack of Medicaid expansion for many “preventable and predictable” deaths and extended an invitation to all Florida elected officials to visit the clinic.

Sarah Sanders replaces Sean Spicer as press secretary

The Latest on changes to the White House communications staff (all times local):

2:45 p.m.

New York financier Anthony Scaramucci has been formally named White House communications director and Sarah Huckabee Sanders has been promoted to press secretary in the Trump White House’s latest shakeup.

Trump says in a statement read by Sanders that he’s “grateful” for departing press secretary Sean Spicer’s “work on behalf of my administration and the American people.”

He adds: “just look at his great television ratings!”

Scaramucci also is addressing reporters at the White House. He calls Spicer “a true American patriot” and says he hopes Spicer “goes on to make a tremendous amount of money.”

___

2 p.m.

Outgoing press Secretary Sean Spicer says that he chose to resign from his position to give incoming communications director Anthony Scaramucci a fresh start.

Spicer says during a brief phone conversation with The Associated Press following his announced departure that, “we’re at the point where” the president “could benefit from a clean slate.”

He says he felt it would be best for Scaramucci to be able to build his own operation “and chart a new way forward.”

Spicer is also complimenting Scaramucci, a New York financier and frequent defender of the president who was a staple at Trump Tower during the president’s transition.

Spicer says of Scaramucci’s hiring: “It’ll be great, he’s a tough guy.”

___

1:50 p.m.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer says it’s been “an honor” and “privilege” to serve President Donald Trump and the country.

Spicer resigned Friday in protest over the hiring of a new White House communications director.

He says in a tweet that he will continue his service through August.

One person with knowledge of the situation said Spicer objected to the hiring of New York financier Anthony Scaramucci’s lack of qualifications for the communications role. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the personnel matter publicly.

___

1 p.m.

White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will be conducting an on-camera briefing on Friday afternoon, following White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s resignation.

Spicer announced his departure after President Donald Trump hired a new White House communications director, ending his rocky six-month tenure as Trump’s top spokesman.

Sanders has been handling most of the briefing duties in recent weeks, and most briefings have been off-camera. The last on-camera White House briefing was held on June 29.

___

12:35 p.m.

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus says he supports incoming communications director Anthony Scaramucci “100 percent.”

His comments come moments after White House press secretary Sean Spicer resigned over Scaramucci’s hiring.

Priebus and Spicer spent years working closely together at the Republican National Committee. Priebus has also reportedly opposed hiring Scaramucci for various administration positions.

Priebus told The Associated Press that he and Scaramucci are “very good friends.” He says it’s “all good here” at the White House.

___

12:07 p.m.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer is resigning his position, according to two people with knowledge of the decision.

One of those people said Spicer is quitting because of objections over the appointment of a new White House communications director, New York financier Anthony Scaramucci.

The people with knowledge of the decision insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the personnel matter publicly.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

No more dog racing at South Florida casino, state says

In a decision sure to ripple through the state’s gambling interests, the Havenick family has won its years-long fight to drop dog racing at its Magic City Casino in Miami.

A spokesman for the state’s greyhound breeders on Friday said they’re already working on a legal challenge to the decision, which has been long awaited by the Havenicks. They also operate a dog track near Naples.

“This approval paves the way for our family-owned business to adapt to current market demands and transition to jai-alai activities,” family spokesman Isadore “Izzy” Havenick said in a statement Friday.

“More importantly, our business will be able to increase year round jobs and expand our growing amphitheater to a capacity of 4,000, allowing for multiple uses of the outdoor facilities, coupled with over 7 acres of free parking,” he added.

Operators—who essentially complain that dog racing has become a loss leader—have been trying to exploit a technical loophole, converting their licenses to offer gambling to what are known as summer jai alai permits.

Pari-mutuels, particularly in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, covet such permits because at a minimum they allow a facility to open a cardroom and offer simulcast betting. But offering slots, which Magic City already does, has always been the end game.

Pari-mutuels in Florida usually are required to continue running live dog or horse races to have slots and card games that make those facilities more money. A move afoot called “decoupling,” removing the live racing requirement, has failed in the Legislature in recent year, including this past Session.

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which regulates gambling through its Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, approved the Havenicks’ request this week in a first-of-its-kind ruling.

“It’s an outrageous decision,” said Jack Cory, the lobbyist who represents the Florida Greyhound Association and National Greyhound Association in Florida. “We will challenge this decision in the courts, up to the Supreme Court of Florida. Bureaucrats have no right to change the Legislature’s intent, or the voters’ intent.”

Statewide voters in 2004 approved a constitutional amendment legalizing slots at existing jai-alai frontons and horse and dog racetracks only in Miami-Dade and Broward counties and only if voters there OK’d it in referendums. The caveat was that tracks had to continue racing dogs or horses.

The greyhound association’s general counsel—Jeff Kottkamp, a former lieutenant governor—is “preparing an appeal as we speak,” Cory added in a Friday interview. Kottkamp declined further comment.

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