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Bobby Olszewski hauls $21k in first month of run for HD 44; set for special election

Republican Bobby Olszewski raised more than $21,000 in April, his first month, in a campaign that now will be abbreviated to just a few months to win the seat opening up for House District 44.

Olszewski is one of three candidates who had filed for the HD 44 seat before Republican incumbent state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle got picked Monday to fill a vacancy on the 5th Appeals Court District, opening the seat to a special election that will happen this summer, rather than in November 2018.

So far, Olszewski, a former Winter Garden commissioner who made a close run for Orange County Commission last fall, is the only one of the three who has reported raising any money. Dr. Usha Jain of Orlando – another Republican, who also ran for that Orange County seat last year, losing in the first round of balloting – has reported not raising any money through the end of April. Democrat Paul Stanton has not yet reported his April campaign finance numbers, but raised no money in his first report in March.

There’s no word yet when the special session might be set, but it would have to be at least 60 days away.

Olszewski said he’s been preparing for the prospect of running in a special election this summer from the beginning, and indeed has said so in campaign materials, including on social media, for several weeks. Eisnaugle applied for the the appeals court appointment in March.

“My campaign team, along with my volunteers and donors, are engaged, organized, and are hitting the ground running,” he said in a statement to Orlando-Rising.com. “I am personally very excited for this special election because I am already so involved in our community. I have a new pair of walking shoes to knock on doors as well as being stocked up with plenty of sunscreen and water for the unrelenting Florida summer!”

Olszewski’s campaign finance report shows he received $20,410 in donations, and lent his campaign another $1,000. Expenses in April were been limited to $246 paid to an Arkansas fundraising consultant.

“After announcing our candidacy for Florida State House with over 30 endorsements, we are absolutely thrilled that in just three weeks, we were able to raise over $21,000 for our race during the busiest time of session in addition to not having a special election date,” he stated. “We really see the enthusiasm and momentum building every day.”

Commission makes Orange County safe for mimosas

That morning mimosa or bloody Mary, or that pitcher of beer to help get through the 8 a.m. Orlando-time match between Chelsea and Manchester United is not going to be a problem any more in Orange County restaurants.

The Orange County Commission unanimously voted to roll back the hours to 7 a.m. for the sale of alcoholic beverages in Orange County restaurants and hotels. Previously, first call was at 11 a.m.

The extended hours come late for Orange County, as several neighboring counties including tourism resort rival Osceola County, as well as several cities including Orlando already allow for drinking in restaurants and hotels that early.

“My family owns a restaurant and I realize the potential of them being able to serve mimosas in the morning during their breakfast rush, and what that could do for that small business,” said Commissioner Jennifer Thompson.

“It seems like we’re all in support of mimosas,” added Commissioner Emily Bonilla.

“It’s all about making brunches great again,” said Mayor Teresa Jacobs, borrowing a line first used by one of the speakers on the ordinance.

It also was all about making Orange County competitive, again, argued the Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association, which pushed for the law change, and other tourism and hospitality groups including the International Drive Area Chamber of Commerce. With the surrounding counties and a few in-county cities already allowing for the early drinking, Orange county restaurants and hotels were watching patrons driving a few miles, or even a couple blocks in some cases, to have that morning cheer.

That included a large number of European tourists who would get up in the morning to watch their favorite soccer teams or other sports from the British Isles or the Continent, only to discover their hotel only served straight orange juice or tomato juice. Or coffee.

“This will provide a level playing field,” said Maria Triscari, president of the I-Drive Area Chamber of Commerce.

There was some concern that county officials might not have reached out enough into the community to get a more diverse response to the ordinance before voting on it. Commissioners Victoria Siplin in particular raised the concern, as did Jacobs. But in the end, no one was there to speak against morning mimosas, and Siplin and Jacobs were as enthusiastic in their support as any of the other commissioners.

Health care costs dominate Stephanie Murphy round table

A week after she watched the Republican American Health Care Act pass the House against her wishes, Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy still is getting an earful on the woes of health care, on Tuesday from a chamber of commerce meeting that did not necessarily share her concerns.

Several members of the Sanford Chamber of Commerce peppered the freshman congresswoman with complaints that the problems with health care are not those that Murphy bemoaned, such as access and pre-existing conditions, but costs to small businesses and individuals.

Murphy, elected last fall to represent Florida’s 7th Congressional District, covering Seminole County and northwest and central Orange County, recognized that this round table discussion was not a Democratic forum, one of several events she attended in Sanford on Tuesday.

She precluded the questions by stressing her willingness to work across the aisle and her personal, professional and political commitments to small businesses. But she found herself largely peppered with health care law requests that may run counter to her priorities.

Several people at the round table expressed little concern for coverage for all, or pre-existing conditions, or for refugees, but argued that the costs must be contained and brought down. One called the other issues “lipstick on a pig” when people cannot get health insurance they can afford.

Murphy, citing her husband’s small business, agreed that the costs “are prohibitive,” but mostly listened as members of the chamber relayed their concerns.

One member said she and her husband are spending $2,200 a month, for a $5,000 deductible, contending the  costs of insurance have “gone out of control.” Another said he knows small business owners unwilling to hire a 50th employee for fear they’ll be required to provide insurance. Another spoke of how he believes uncovered procedures, such as laser eye surgery, have fallen dramatically in price because the free market has driven down costs, something that does not happen for insured procedures.

Murphy responded by applauding the diversity of perspectives. “While we may not agree on everything, I think the important thing is we continue to have these conversations,” she said.

 

David Smith raises another $15,000 in House District 28 race

Republican David Smith has raised another $15,600 in his campaign for the Florida House District 28 seat being vacated by incumbent Republican state Rep. Jason Brodeur.

Smith’s April fundraising tally is his third straight strong month, following a $21,300 haul in March and $25,000 he lent his campaign to kick it off in late February. With about $7,200 spent on EM Campaigns of Tallahassee, Creative Direct of Virginia, Smith entered May with more than $54,700 in the bank.

His now lone Democratic opponent Lee Mangold of Casselberry raised just $775 since filing on April 24. Another Democrat who had filed, Devin Perez of Oviedo, withdrew last week.

HD 28 covers northeast Seminole County, including Smith’s home in Winter Springs.

Smith, 56, said he added 140 new donors to his base, including numerous veterans who work in Central Florida’s simulation and training industry, where the former Marine Corps colonel was once director of the Marine Corps’ modeling and simulation center at the University of Central Florida’s Research Park. Those donors, he said, include several general officers.

“What might be somewhat noteworthy is that my financial support is coming from friends, not big corporate donors or PACs. This was my strategy from the outset of the campaign in order to establish a solid ‘grass roots’ base of support,” Smith stated in an email to Orlando-Rising.com. ” I’m pleased with what we’ve accomplished at this early point in the campaign.”

Aramis Ayala argues that Rick Scott can only reassign cases with consent

In her new response to Gov. Rick Scott‘s argument in their Supreme Court battle over power, Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala contends that the Florida Constitution is clear that she has absolute power over all criminal cases in her jurisdiction, and that the governor can only override it with her permission.

The issue is whether Scott has the power to reassign first-degree murder cases from Ayala’s 9th Judicial Circuit to Ocala’s State Attorney Brad King‘s 5th Judicial Circuit after Ayala announced she would not seek the death penalty in any cases.

Scott argued in his April 26 brief that that the governor has the executive power to reassign cases from state attorneys if there is a good reason.

Yet Ayala argues, in a brief filed Monday, that all the key cases Scott cited, and Ayala’s previous record that Scott cited, all have something in common that the first-degree murder cases he reassigned do not share:

In all the other cases, the state attorney consented to or even requested that the governor reassign cases, while in the 23 cases at issue in Florida Supreme Court battle of Aramis Ayala versus Rick Scott, she gave no consent or made no such requests.

“As Ayala explained in her petition, ‘if a state attorney voluntarily cedes the power to prosecute, the state attorney has herself given the power to prosecute to another, so there is little concern of gubernatorial overreach’ and likewise, ‘if the person who ‘shall’ prosecute cases is unavailable, then the governor offends no constitutional power by naming a replacement.’ Ayala has only ever argued that the Constitution does not tolerate transfers of cases from a qualified state attorney who opposes transfer,” he brief states.

The difference is clear, and so is the reason why, Ayala’s response, filed by Tampa attorney Marcos E. Hasbun and Washington D.C. attorney Roy L. Austin, Jr. It cites the Florida Constitution which gives the state attorney full authority over all criminal cases in that circuit.

“Scott ignores the constitutional mandate that state attorneys “shall” prosecute local cases,” the response states.

And that means a key provision of state law, Section 27.14, that allows for the governor to reassign cases, flies in the face of the Florida Constitution, Hasbun and Austin argue.

“Because Florida’s Constitution is the supreme law of the State, the fact that it does not permit transfer here means that no state law—including Section 27.14—can change that. The Constitution is alone sufficient to resolve this case,” they state.

They also note that Scott has been inconsistent in his state opinions about the power, stating that on at least four occasions his office has advised private citizens that the governor did not have the power to reassign criminal cases without the consent or request of the state attorney who has jurisdiction.

“Either Scott was being less than honest with these citizens or his view has suddenly changed. In his Opposition, Scott now claims that he can reassign state attorneys against their will whenever he wants, and for whatever reason he wants, as long as doing so is not ‘without any reason whatsoever.’ How does that square with the Constitution’s directive that each state attorney ‘shall be the prosecuting officer of all trial courts in [her] circuit,’ or with the traditional notions of independent prosecutors? It doesn’t,” Ayala’s response argues.

The new brief also argues that Scott cannot claim that he has the power to reassign cases because he also has the power to suspend state attorneys  for “malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties, or commission of a felony,” and reassigning cases seems like a much lesser version of that action.

Scott has never accused Ayala of any of those things, her attorneys suggest, adding, “nor could he, particularly given that he concedes that Florida law never requires a prosecutor to seek the death penalty, even when all aggravating factors are met.”

House argues prosecutors have no discretion on death penalties

In a friend of the court brief bound to raise state attorneys’ eyebrows throughout Florida, the Florida House is arguing that prosecutors have no discretion with regard to capital punishment, that the state Legislature’s intent was to rest all discretion with juries.

The House filed the brief in the Florida Supreme Court case of Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala versus Gov. Rick Scott. The issues, in that case, are whether prosecutorial discretion gives Ayala the power to refuse all capital punishment prosecutions, as she’s done; and whether the governor has the right to strip capital cases away from her, as he’s consequently done.

The brief, filed late Wednesday, argues that a state attorney is not the one to decide on death penalties. It contends the state attorney’s role is more clerical, to review facts of a case to determine if aggravating circumstances exist that could merit a death penalty, and then leave the decision of death or life in prison entirely up to the jury.

The House of Representatives is one of the numerous bodies filing amicus curiae briefs in the case, indicating the enormous ramifications the legal battle holds for prosecutors, the governor, and the Florida Legislature. Among others expected is a dissenting brief from several Democratic members of the House and Florida Senate.

The official House brief declares, “the policy of this State, reflected in legislative enactments, reserves to the jury — speaking for the community and reflecting that community’s values — the threshold decision whether death should be an authorized punishment for a capital murder conviction. A state attorney, by contrast, has no authority to abrogate the Legislature’s death penalty policy within her circuit.”

Ayala’s lead attorney, Roy L. Austin Jr., called the House argument “stunning.”

“This is a stunning position that calls for an unconstitutional interpretation of the Florida statutes, not to mention contradicting the positions and pleadings from the governor, the attorney general, the FPAA and every state attorney in Florida,” Austin said in a written statement to Orlando-Rising.com.

On March 16, Ayala, the newly-elected state attorney for Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, covering Orange and Osceola counties, announced that she had reviewed Florida’s laws, court decisions, and the opinions of various parties to conclude that Florida’s death sentence law was not just for anyone, so she would not use it. Scott responded by stripping 23 cases from her and reassigning them to State Attorney Brad King of Florida’s 5th Judicial Circuit.

Ayala sued, both in the state Supreme Court and in U.S. District Court, asserting her rights under the doctrine of prosecutorial discretion, and challenging Scott’s authority to reassign cases if she had not violated any laws.

At issue in most of the filings so far is whether prosecutorial discretion could be exercised before or after Ayala or any other prosecutor reviewed all the facts of the case and weighed aggravating and mitigating circumstances.

But the House argued that the prosecutor does not have discretion, even after he or she reviews the facts of a case. That could fly in the face of the common practice among prosecutors, who often weigh a number of factors, from victims’ families desires to potential plea bargains, in deciding whether to pursue death penalty prosecutions.

In the brief, a section title lays it out bluntly: “The Legislature’s capital sentencing scheme leaves no discretion to the state attorney to assess whether death should be an authorized punishment in a capital murder case.”

In another argument that may make state attorneys uncomfortable, the House also challenged the independence of state attorneys.

Citing a 1939 Florida Supreme Court Decision and several statutes, the brief argues that a “state attorney in this State is not merely a prosecuting officer in the Circuit in which he is; he is also an officer of the State in the general matter of the enforcement of the criminal law. … It is the State, and not the County, that pays his salary and official expense. And when a state officer like the petitioner refuses or is unable to follow the State’s policies as set by the Legislature, the Legislature fairly can expect that either the Governor, or a chief circuit judge, will find someone who will.”

Orlando-area judge ordered suspended for campaign ad

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a 90-day unpaid suspension and public reprimand for an Orlando-area judge who “circulated a deceptive, misleading advertisement.”

Shepard

The court’s hearing panel also suggested paranoia on the part of Circuit Judge Kimberly Shepard, who believed “sinister forces (were) at work” trying to defeat her, they said.

Shepard previously was a Democratic state representative, serving one term in 1992-94 before being ousted by Republican challenger Allen Trovillion. She ran for a 9th Circuit Court judgeship and won in 2014, now sitting in Orange County.

During the campaign, she handed out fliers that “implied that the Orlando Sentinel had endorsed Ms. Shepard, when it had, in fact, endorsed her opponent,” Norberto Katz, according to a report by a hearing panel of the Judicial Qualifications Commission.

“The advertisement’s language was taken from a 1994 endorsement for Ms. Shepard for a legislative race, without disclosing the date and office to which it applied,” it added.

The court’s order also said Shepard “has not shown any remorse for her misconduct” and “has not apologized or acknowledged her wrongdoing.”

But it said her “conduct does not warrant the ultimate discipline of removal from office,” explaining that she “did not make numerous misrepresentations in her campaign materials or engage in campaign finance violations.”

The judicial conduct hearing panel previously reported that her response to the ethics investigation against her “reflects a fear of sinister forces at work conniving at her defeat.”

“The ‘existence’ of these forces—and their alignment against her—appear to justify in her mind her behavior in both the underlying matter and this proceeding,” its report said.

 

Barbara Poma, foundation, to develop national memorial, museum at Pulse site

The owner of the Pulse nightclub announced Thursday her newly formed foundation will seek to develop a national-caliber memorial and museum campus on the site of America’s worst recorded mass shooting.

Barbara Poma pushed through the pain of last year’s tragedy to declare her new foundation’s motto, “We will not let hate win,” and announced the creation of the OnePulse Foundation, which will raise money and work with the community to plan, develop, build, operate, and maintain the memorial in Orlando.

“We have come so far in these 11 months. I can say finally that I am finding hope and inspiration by being back here at Pulse,” Poma said. “Pulse has become part of you, and you a part of Pulse. What was once our little corner at Kaley [Street] and Orange [Avenue] is now shared with the world. Together, we are all part of Pulse’s future, right here on this property.

“I know that my goal is to ensure that Pulse becomes a place of healing, It’s time for Pulse to contribute to the community in a permanent way, a healing way,” she added.

She and other key members of the effort, including foundation board chair Earl Crittenden and early organizer Jason Felts offered no details on what might be built, when it might be opened, how much it might cost or how much money they expect to raise. All of that went into the to-be-determined category, for the site the city of Orlando nearly purchased last year before Poma decided she wanted to take the memorial effort in another direction.

That will be “an iconic, meaningful, national memorial to the victims, the survivors, first responders and medical professionals,” Crittenden said.

Poma founded and owns the popular gay nightclub where Omar Mateen, the gay-hating, ISIS-pledging madman, murdered 49 people and wounded 53 others during the horrific morning hours of June 12.

The effort will be overseen by a board of trustees including entertainer Lance Bass, retired NBA player Jason Collins, Virgin Produced CEO Felts, Walt Disney World President George Kalogridis, DeVos Sport Business Management Program Chair Richard Lapchick, former U.S. Ambassador Robert Mandell, and a number of business, law, arts, and community leaders throughout the Central Florida area.

Their mission, Poma and Crittenden said, is to have the community develop the vision for the memorial and museum, which would house artifacts and tell the stories of Pulse’s patrons, including those who died.

That will begin with collecting the thoughts and wishes of the families and survivors, and of the first responders and medical teams who were involved in saving lives after the shooting, Crittenden said. “We will also capture the community’s thoughts which of course are of critical importance,” he added.

Federal budget bill deal offers $296M for Puerto Rico Medicaid

The $1 trillion stop-gap budget deal congressional leaders have struck to keep the federal government open through September includes $295.9 million to shore up Medicaid in Puerto Rico, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto‘s office said Monday afternoon.

That’s a little less than halfway between the $500 million congressional Democrats such as Soto were pushing for, and the $146 million opening offer from Republican negotiators.

There is no indication that there are any strings attached to the money that would threaten, through delay or repeal, provisions in last year’s PROVESA Act creating debt relief mechanisms for the island government, “as far as we know,” according to Soto’s Communications Director Iza Montalvo.

That point is critical for many Puerto Ricans in pushing for relief for the island. Many throughout Central Florida reacted with angst last week to reports that additional Medicaid money could come only with a trade-off of reduced debt relief.

Puerto Rico is suffering from separate but related crises. The money in the budget deal replenishes a dwindled Puerto Rico Medicaid fund. It’s a key part of the commonwealth’s struggling, federally under-funded [compared with states] health care system, which has led doctors and other medical professionals to flee the island in droves because they can’t get paid. But the other crisis arises from $75 billion in government debt the commonwealth has declared it cannot pay, which has led to widespread cutbacks and even closures of schools, hospitals, utilities, police, fire, and other public services.

Third Republican files for House District 51

Republican Tim Tumulty announced Monday he would run again for House District 51, where he unsuccessfully challenged Republican Rep. Tom Goodson last year.

“I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had over the years to develop a deep understanding of our community,” said Tumulty. “As the former Mayor of Cocoa Beach, I saw firsthand how the decisions made in Tallahassee have a direct impact on our community and our way of life.”

“I plan to continue to fight for our conservative values in the Florida House by keeping taxes low, developing more trade school opportunities for our children and holding our government accountable,” he continued. “I look forward to meeting with as many people as I can on the campaign trail and the opportunity to represent their interests in Tallahassee.”

Goodson switched to the reliably Republican HD 51 from HD 50 last year after former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli termed out of the Legislature. He beat Tumulty with 61.7 percent of the vote in the August 2016 Republican Primary.

Goodson is now termed out, making way for Tumulty and a pair of other Republicans to duke it out for the Space Coast seat. So far, Thomas O’Neill and Taylor Sirois are the only other candidates to enter the race.

Both candidates filed for the seat in April, so neither has filed their first campaign finance report.

When he ran for the seat last cycle, Tumulty was able to raise nearly $30,000, $6,500 through loans and about $23,000 through contributions.

The Cocoa Beach Republican holds degrees from Brevard Community College, the University of Central Florida and the Florida Institute of Technology.

He currently works as a math and physics teacher at Cocoa Beach Jr./Sr. High School, and in the past has worked in restaurant management, as a mortgage broker, and as an electrical engineer at Kennedy Space Center.

Since he officially filed on April 28, his first campaign finance report, covering the last three days of the month, is due May 10 alongside the inaugural reports from O’Neill and Sirois.

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