Orlando Archives - Page 5 of 77 - Florida Politics

Ben Newman New Year’s prank: leaving GrayRobinson for possible political run, not love of burritos

Orlando lawyer and Republican fundraiser Ben Newman also is known — sadly not to all — as a merry prankster and over the weekend had many believing he was leaving the powerful GrayRobinson law firm to run a burrito truck.

Me among them. Sorry about that.

Newman has left GrayRobinson, where he’s been a shareholder for seven years, but not to feed the hungry masses yearning for queso, he said Monday morning. Instead, he’s moving on to a national law firm, Wilson Elser, and thinking about running for office.

“Sorry about that,” he told FloridaPolitics.com, politely but not entirely suppressing a well-deserved laugh.

FloridaPolitics and OrlandoRising — I — bought Newman’s trail of posts on Facebook declaring he was quitting law to pursue his lifelong dream of running a food truck. Among other things (Photoshopping a picture of a food truck with his name on it), he changed his status to CBO (Chief Burrito Officer) at El Queso Loco Burrito Company.

My texts and calls to Newman before I wrote went unanswered early Monday, apparently because the numbers I had were old and out of date (his GrayRobinson numbers;) and while they still recorded messages they did so for someone who wasn’t around anymore to retrieve them. I also Facebook messaged him, but that was too late. Turned out I also had a private, valid email address available for him. But in a full disclosure of incompetence, I didn’t come across that until too late, and went ahead and wrote before I had his or anyone else’s confirmation.

Full mud bath for my face, please.

After being alerted that I fell for his prank, Newman called to set the record straight, pointing out that he loves pranks, and a lot of people know that, though he’d left no clues this time. He was leaving GrayRobinson and decided to “goof,” he said.

“Rather than be serious all the time, I thought I’d have a little bit of fun. I’m just leaving it out there and letting people draw their own conclusions. Some people know it’s a joke and others fell for it,” Newman said. “I’m a serial prankster.”

But now for the serious news — we hope. Newman said one of the reasons he left GrayRobinson was because he’s positioning himself to possibly run for public office someday. He didn’t think it would be appropriate to do from that firm, which has one of the biggest lobbying operations in the state. With Wilson Elser he’ll feel freer to do so, he said.

Generally, he said he’s positioning for possibly for a run for the Florida House or the Florida Senate. Those seats are both filled by solid Republicans where he lives — state Rep. Bob Cortes and state Sen. David Simmons. Newman said he’s looking ahead to possible shuffling of positions this year, particularly if Attorney General Pam Bondi leaves.

The New York City-based Wilson Elser also gives him more of a national platform for his practice, which focuses principally on health care law and medical malpractice defense. Wilson Elser already has an Orlando office, and he said he’d be helping the firm develop more of a statewide presence.

 

Politics in Orlando now takes place in a post-Pulse city

A before-and-after time line now exists for Orlando – June 12, 2016 – and on this side of the Pulse massacre the city may be seen by the world and through its own citizens’ eyes as a very different place, with a new political perspective.

Before June 12, Orlando was a city without an an image, an identity or, most importantly, a unifying factor for its people that didn’t involve mouse ears or rocketing roller coasters.

It took horror, pain, shock, suffering, outrage to change that. It took the unthinkable, the unbearable. It took June 12. Nothing good may ever be attributed to the slaughter of 49 people and destruction of countless other lives that took place at the popular gay nightclub Pulse, perpetrated by the ISIS-pledging, gay-hating madman Omar Mateen.

But in the aftermath, a new, Orlando emerged, pledging unity, support, hope, faith, understanding and love. Politics in Orlando now takes place in a post-Pulse city.

That became clear in the responses of a score of Orlando political leaders who expressed to FloridaPolitics.com how Pulse has changed things.

“We are kinder to one another,” said longtime Democratic Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan, the LGBT godmother voice for Orlando.

“Gay, straight, trans, black, Latino, Muslim, Evangelical, Atheist, Democrat, Republican – you name it. We were all there for each other,” said Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, who also is gay.

For now, the post-Pulse period has only just begun, said Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, a Republican. All of that unity, support, hope, faith, understanding and love still is needed, must continue for practical reasons, she said.

“I think it’s very important to realize that a lot of people – especially those most traumatized by the Pulse violence – are still in the beginning stages of processing what they’ve actually been through, and how it has affected them,” Jacobs said. “So I want to be very clear in reassuring people that how they feel, how they act, and how they grieve and recover is an incredibly personal and individual path. Each survivor, victim, family or friend of those who perished needs this community to be their soft shoulder, and to extend understanding and compassion as each of us travels the path to healing.”

And perhaps to extend that understanding, compassion and healing elsewhere. A number of area politicians, including Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke, a Republican, and Commissioner Victoria Siplin, a Democrat, spoke of extending love and support beyond Pulse, to address the victims and communities such as Pine Hills experiencing their own violent horrors, or at least to keep the momentum going. Orlando City Commissioner Robert Stuart is formally looking for ways to foster that, through a “Compassionate City” project he, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and the city commission launched in August.

“I hope that the unity that brought our great community together these past few months continues into the new year,” said Congresswoman-elect Stephanie Murphy, a Democrat. “I also think this tragedy has caused many of us to get more involved in our community to honor the lives lost and to help prevent tragedies like this from happening again.”

Support for Orlando’s gay community is now the standard in political rhetoric. Recognition of Orlando’s Hispanic community, particularly the hard-hit Puerto Rican community, is nearly universal.

“It made everyone everyone confront the horrors of homophobia and its root causes,” said Anthony Suarez, a Republican lawyer who chairs the Puerto Rican Bar Association of Central Florida. “Those that profess that gays and lesbians are sinners and committing sin had to reflect on their comments and the results of such. For a very religious community, the reaction was overwhelming support and a mainstreaming of tolerance.”

“It’s been very fascinating,” added Clarke, “My circle of friends and other folks, I’ve seen a softening. It’s sad it takes a tragedy to do that.”

Yet some divides remain, now hardened by the affirmations Pulse brought to very different beliefs held by people on opposite sides of existing divides. Almost every Democrat believes the introspection of the massacre surely, finally, signals a change in the popular thinking tide on gun control, while virtually no Republican concedes that point.

“We have a moment in time where our voices can be louder than most in calling for serious gun safety reforms,” said Democratic activist Susannah Randolph.

Others prefer to put the focus on better-supporting law enforcement. “We must stay vigilant and ensure that law enforcement has the tools they need in order to protect us,” said Orange County Commissioner Betsy VanderLey, a Republican.

Sheriff Jerry Demings, a Democrat, couldn’t have agreed more, saying, “The Pulse nightclub incident represents a paradigm shift in how terror subjects now see soft targets within the continental US, as their primary targets for violence. American cities must prepare for the change in strategy and develop plans to prevent, respond to, and mitigate terror attacks.”

Many Republicans said they see the Pulse massacre as Demings implied, an act of radical Islamic terrorism.

“The tragedy at the Pulse nightclub confirmed to me that the appeasement of any radical group, such as ISIS and it’s supporters, will not work,” said Republican state Sen. David Simmons.

Few Democrat cite terrorism at Pulse, and some even dismiss it.

“Terrorism based on religion has nothing to do with it,” said Democratic attorney John Morgan. “That is the cover to give that miserable miscreant cover for a higher purpose.”

There also is a sense of fear, of driving the horrors of the world home.

“When I go to crowded public places, there’s a bit of anxiety while I constantly look over my shoulder at the people around me and the nearest exit points,” said Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph, a Democrat. “This is not how we should live, but it is embedded into our psyche now.”

Lost, perhaps, to many non-Puerto Ricans are the ties that Pulse has brought with the island.

“Many of these people who lost their lives on this tragic date are from Puerto Rico, the island of my parents, the place I few up in,” said state Rep. Bob Cortes, a Republican. “The tragedy not only affected Orlando, but also had a huge impact on Puerto Rico… We saw the whole world in mourning.”

And the whole world has watched, Mayor Jacobs said.

“I think it’s important for us to understand that how the world sees us – how the world views Central Florida – has changed,” Jacobs said. “We’ve long enjoyed a global reputation as a fantastic leisure and business destination, but now, the entire world has watched as we’ve come together, in seamless unity, like no community before us. The world has watched us respond to the victims’ families, those who survived, those with broken hearts and bodies, our first and second responders – our extraordinary outpouring of acceptance and love came naturally, from within the fabric of this community. So I would say that as we heal, let’s not forget that through our individual and collective actions, we’ve not only changed how the world perceives us, we’ve learned something wonderful about ourselves. Let’s cherish and nourish not only our famed culture of collaboration, but our extraordinary culture of caring.”

Orlando, Miami ranked among top places for New Year’s Eve celebrations

If you can’t make it to Times Square to ring in 2017, have no fear: The nation’s best place to party might be closer than you think.

A new WalletHub report ranked Orlando as the best place to celebrate New Year’s Eve. And the Central Florida city wasn’t the only Sunshine State city on the best list. Miami ranked No. 7, while Tampa landed in the No. 13 spot on the WalletHub list.

The company compared the 100 biggest cities “based on 20 key indicators of an epic New Year’s Eve.” Analysts compared the cities across three areas — entertainment and food, costs, and safety and accessibility — and complied 20 metrics, including luxury shopping, average cost of a New Year’s Eve party ticket, and walkability.

Orlando ranked No. 1 overall, with a total score of 76.96 points. It ranked eighth in costs and 82nd in the safety and accountability category. The town the Mouse built came in second in the entertainment and food category.

The City Beautiful fared well in several other categories, including where to find the lowest average price of a New Year’s Eve party ticket and one of the communities with the most nightlife options per capita. When it comes to nightlife options, Orlando was tied for first with San Francisco, Portland, Las Vegas, Atlanta and New Orleans.

Orlando also ranked high in the number of restaurants per capita, sharing the top spot with Miami.

Miami ranked No. 7 in WalletHub’s overall list of the best place to for New Year’s Eve, with a total score of 66.96. It landed in the No. 7 spot in the entertainment and food category, and was ranked 48th in the safety and accessibility category. The South Florida city was ranked 65th when it comes to costs.

Tampa was in the No. 13 spot, with a score of 62.71. It was ranked 20th when it comes to entertainment and food, and earned the No. 14 spot in the safety and accessibility category. It landed in the No. 37 spot in the costs category.

Jacksonville (No. 53), St. Petersburg (No. 63), and Hialeah (No. 90) also earned a spot on WalletHub’s list.

And in case you were wondering, North Las Vegas was ranked No. 100 on WalletHub’s list of the “Best Places for New Year’s Eve Celebrations.”

Source: WalletHub

2016 in Orlando politics: Pulse, outside money, hotel taxes, frogs

Story co-written by Orlando-Rising staff reporters Scott Powers and Lawrence Griffin.

In Orlando, 2016 will always be remembered as the year of the Pulse gay nightclub massacre, and Pulse redefined everything; but it’s not the only major event to have shaped politics in Orlando during the year.

Here are a few events that defined politics in Central Florida in 2016 and which promise to continue being game-changers in 2017:

1. The Pulse massacre – The hours of horror early on June 12 changed how Orlando sees itself and how the world sees Orlando. While nothing good can ever be attributed to the tragedy itself, the post-tragedy saw one region-wide group hug after another, often with Orlando’s LGBT and Hispanic communities being embraced by all. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer rallied the business community to support the victims, while Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs brought people together. Orlando’s faith community united to support all the region’s people regardless of their personal identities. Orlando’s Republicans united to support gay rights. Time will tell if this is just a moment of mass grief or a genuine pronouncement of brotherhood and sisterhood. But for now everyone in Orlando politics has a shared vision of universal love.

2. Stephanie Murphy‘s shock of John Mica – Lost to many, in the realization that national Democrats spent more than $6 million to get her elected, is just how identically U.S. Rep.-elect Murphy reflects the look and views of the 21st-Century Florida’s 7th Congressional District: a young, well-educated, business-oriented, minority (Vietnamese-American) woman with fairly conservative fiscal and foreign-policy views, and liberal social values; or how much 12-term incumbent Mica was SO-20th Century. Before she’s cast her first vote Republicans already are targeting her. But they might wind up liking her.

3. Teresa Jacobs‘ battles with the tourism industry – Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association president Rich Maladecki and Teresa Jacobs had a falling-out over the allocation of Tourist Development Tax funds in the spring. Maladecki wanted to fast-track a proposal to use the funds in a way Jacobs wasn’t happy with – it would have given less than she wanted to the Orange County Convention Center and put an undue burden on the county’s revenues. Maladecki declined to present anything to the Tourist Development Council on the plan, saying he wanted to pass it quick and not discuss it more as Jacobs wanted. However, a new deal was struck later that Jacobs could get on board with, putting $45 million towards the completion of the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center’s Phase II, finishing the acoustic Steinmetz Hall.

4. The retirement of Martha Haynie – Perhaps no one in Central Florida politics has a more sterling reputation for credibility and accountability than Orange County’s retiring longtime Comptroller Haynie. She’ll be succeeded by former Orlando City Commissioner Phil Diamond, who arrives with high marks for his own integrity, including her endorsement. But whether the more-laid-back Diamond can continue Haynie’s fearless way of speaking truth to power, often annoying the hell out of even fellow Republicans like Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, will be crucial to keeping checks and balances working in local politics.

5. George Soros‘ election of a state attorney for Orlando – New York billionaire and Democratic-cause financier decided he wanted African-American district attorneys throughout America and he didn’t care who they are. He’d never met nor spoken to Aramis Ayala, yet poured $1 million into what had been her long-shot bid for Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit state attorney’s race. Low and behold, she beat incumbent Jeff Ashton in the Democratic primary, essentially winning the job then. Ayala has her own strengths and charms but now she’s got to run a huge prosecutor’s office for Orange and Osceola counties based on her short experience as an assistant state attorney.

6. East of Econlochachee River development – The two large developments called the Lake Pickett projects, The Grow and Sustany, would have brought hundreds of new apartment buildings to an area east of the Econlockhatchee River that many wanted to keep an environmental safe haven. Opponents of the projects had a litany of complaints, saying the project would damage everything from the environment to the already-congested traffic. Then in November, Lake Pickett North (Sustany) was shot down altogether at a hearing for its comp plan and a zoning change. That was due to the changed vote of District 6 commissioner Victoria Siplin, who, after hearing the complaints of citizens, couldn’t in good conscience allow the project to go through.

7. Heroin and rising crime – In April, the Heroin Task Force’s work came to an end and they concluded with a set of recommendations Mayor Teresa Jacobs vowed to implement, including: continuing joint enforcement details among law enforcement, increasing bond amounts for heroin trafficking and growing availability of drugs such as Naloxone that could save a heroin addict’s life. Meanwhile, in both the Parramore neighborhood and Pine Hills, violent crime has been surging. City officials and residents have cited a lack of good education and a lack of good jobs as the symptoms for much of it. Sheriff Jerry Demings’ new plan Operation RISE will offer more visibility and opportunities for the community to come forward with what they know. That’s Demings’ big hope – that people will start coming forward. But the bodies are still piling up.

8. The Fall of the House of Grayson – They sought to become the most politically powerful family in Central Florida, maybe in all of Florida, but voters had different plans. Orlando’s liberal lion U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson stumbled through his own pratfalls in the U.S. Senate race to become an also-ran. His newlywed Dena Grayson’s largely stealth campaign supported by large networks of her her outside backers discovered none of them could vote in Florida’s 9th Congressional District. And his daughter young Star Grayson discovered that name recognition might not be a good thing, in her poor showing for the Orange County Water & Sewer District.

9. Darren Soto‘s win as the first Puerto Rican congressman from Florida – All along, from back when it was drawn as a Hispanic-access district in Florida’s most-Puerto Rican community in 2011, Florida’s 9th Congressional District was to be Soto’s for the taking. But that didn’t prevent him from having to earn it in a bruising primary, before easily vanquishing yet another white Republican, albeit a good one in Wayne Liebnitzky, in the general. Now the former state senator who spent his whole life in New Jersey or Orlando, yet uses a Puerto Rican coquí campaign mascot to symbolize his heritage, will have the responsibility to demonstrate it’s a good thing for Central Florida to have a Puerto Rican in Congress.

10. Emily Bonilla‘s upending of Ted Edwards – District 5 incumbent Ted Edwards started feeling the burn over the summer as opposition kept growing louder to what many said was his overly corporation-friendly style of governing. Though there were three contenders at first, all vying as the populist answers to Edwards, it was ultimately environmental activist and businesswoman Emily Bonilla who succeeded, not without help from an onslaught of George Soros-paid mailers that attacked Edwards hard. Bonilla’s message of balanced, smart growth that didn’t encroach upon the environment resonated with many voters disillusioned with Edwards, and she ultimately won the day.

11. Fight over legal statuses of the county officials – Orange is a Democratic-voter dominated county with a Republican-dominated leadership, except in the constitutional offices like sheriff, property appraiser and tax collector. In one of the less-heralded but critical political battles, Democrats Scott Randolph and Rick Singh won a court case keeping their offices partisan and likely Democrat, while Mayor Teresa Jacobs got voters to pass what could turn out to be only symbolic statements that they should be charter, not constitutional offices, and non-partisan. For now, the Democrats won. But Jacobs is still in charge.

12. Linda Stewart‘s grab of Andy Gardiner’s Senate seat – Senate President Andy Gardiner termed out in 2016 and his seat was up for grabs between the progressive, environment-friendly Democrat Linda Stewart and Republican Dean Asher. Stewart, who has served on a myriad of other governing boards, won the election and is now in the Senate, currently trying to pass a bill to force Gov. Rick Scott to fill up the Environmental Regulation Committee faster. With her election, all of Orange County’s senators are now Democrats. That’s good for the Democratic party, but in a GOP senate that Gardiner used to rule, what does it mean for Orange County’s clout?

13. The political resurrection of Val Demings – By the election of 2014, Val Demings’ name was mud in this town, at least among many Orange County Democrats, because she inexplicably abandoned her party’s only hope of winning the mayor’s race that year. But that wasn’t the real Demings. Her steamroll run to election in Florida’s 10th Congressional District showed who she really is: an ambitious, determined, streetwise fighter and fire-and-brimstone orator whose progressive views mix with her deeply-held values of a cop and a janitor’s daughter.

14. Groundbreaking on Creative Village – Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer’s vision for Orlando includes an ambitious plan for a work-live-play-learn community focusing on high-tech enterprises in a 68-acre corner of downtown, but for several year’s it’s been pretty much just plans. That changed when University of Central Florida President John Hitt and others finally managed to push through their cornerstone plan for a downtown UCF campus, with $20 million in state money, $20 million in UCF money $20 million in private money, and $67 million worth of contributions from Orlando. Now it’ll be up to Dyer and Creative Village developer Craig Ustler to make the proposed 150,000 square feet of retail and commercial, 225 hotel rooms and more than 1,500 residential units start happening.

15. Orange County’s tightening of citizen initiatives – The citizen-petition charter-change route has been hostile partisan territory for several years as Democrats out of power in county politics have used it when they couldn’t get Mayor Teresa Jacobs and the Board of Commissioners to pursue Democratic priorities, while Republicans charged their ideas were irresponsible. So Jacobs, her Charter Review Commission and the commissioners crafted their own charter amendment and got voters to overwhelmingly approve it, making that process much tougher, setting new rules on how and where petitions can be collected.

16. Shakeup at the Orange Democratic Executive Committee, but not at the GOP – Orange County Democratic chair Juan Lopez stepped down in November, the latest in a long line of short-term local DEC chairs. The election of new chair Wes Hodge was swift, and it was accompanied by a complete turnover of Orange Democratic executive committee office holders. But he still faces the problem of slim turnout at local meetings – something he hopes to turn around, especially as Democrats are by and large the biggest political party in the area. Local Republicans’ election went smoothly and without drama as long-running chairman Lew Oliver was re-elected for another four-year term over Trump-enthused challenger Randy Ross.

17. Betsy VanderLey‘s victory – Orange County District 1 Commissioner Scott Boyd termed out in 2016, and his seat was the lone one open for grabs on the county commission board. There were numerous contenders, among them local Muslim leader Nuren Haider, Dr. Usha Jain and Winter Garden politician Bobby Olszewski, but Betsy VanderLey – boasting recommendations from Teresa Jacobs and Boyd himself – came out on top in the end. VanderLey is a longtime resident of District 1. Her priorities on the board will be tackling school overcrowding and urban sprawl. And, as a non-politician (a theme in this year’s election if there ever was one), she says residents can trust her not to make decisions on her own behalf to climb ladders rather than representing the community.

18. Carlos Guillermo Smith‘s unavoidable LGBT voice in the Legislature – This was the year that had so much promise for LGBT rights advocates, with seven openly-gay candidates running for election to the Florida Legislature. But Smith was the only newcomer to win, joining Miami Beach’s incumbent state Rep. David Richardson. Smith, an Orlando Democrat, is likely to be a force though, even in a Democratic minority. A former lobbyist for Equality Florida, he’s as comfortable with a megaphone in his hand as he is in looking for ways to craft deals.

19. The rise of women – Sure, Hillary Clinton lost, but not in Orange County. And locally, freshmen U.S. Reps. Val Demings and Stephanie Murphy, state Sen. Linda Stewart, state Reps. Amy Mercado and Kamia Brown, and Orange County Commissioners Emily Bonilla and Betsy VanderLey all replaced men, and each except Demings defeated a man to do so. Only U.S. Rep. Darren Soto and state Reps. Bruce Antone and Mike Miller defeated women in significantly races, and Soto and Antone did so in primaries.

20. Marijuana’s approvals – Under a new City of Orlando rule, local law enforcement can now choose to write a warning citation rather than arrest for marijuana possession in the city. Some were concerned that this could still lead to marijuana arrests of minorities if police act in a discriminatory manner, and Chief John Mina‘s assurance that it wouldn’t happen is all they had to console themselves. But many were very pleased with the change. Buddy Dyer isn’t taking any chances with medical marijuana not running smoothly – he’s put a moratorium on marijuana dispensaries opening here, beyond the three they’ve already licensed, until they see what gets done in the coming legislative session in terms of zoning for them. The first medical marijuana production plant, Knox Medical, also opened late this year after Amendment 2’s passing, and will deliver medical cannabis to patients with untreatable epilepsy or neurological disorders.

Val Demings named assistant whip for Congressional Dems

Orlando’s U.S. Rep.-elect Val Demings is entering Congress as one of the Democrats’ leaders.

Demings was elected in December to represent Florida’s 10th Congressional District, covering

Representative-elect Val Demings’ office announced Tuesday she has been appointed by Democratic leadership to serve as an Assistant Whip in the Democratic Caucus. The former Orlando Police Chief will represent Florida’s 10th Congressional District in the 115th Congress.

“I’m proud to announce that Rep.-Elect Demings will serve as an Assistant Whip,” said “She comes to Congress with a long and distinguished record in public service on behalf of the people of Orlando and central Florida. I look forward to working with her to ensure that the voices of workers and their families in Florida and across America are heard loudly and clearly in the 115th Congress,” Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, a Democratic congressman from Maryland, stated in a news release issued by her office.

The Assistant Whip team is composed of leaders in the Democratic Caucus who work with the Democratic Whip to build unity among House Democrats. Assistant Whips are responsible for talking to their fellow Democratic members about upcoming legislation that will be considered in the House.

“I am extremely honored to have been asked to serve as Assistant Whip under Whip Steny Hoyer,” Demings stated in the release. “My number one priority in Congress is to be a voice for the people of Central Florida. There is no question that many challenges lie ahead, but I will work hard everyday to make sure the Democratic party continues to promote policies that protect working families.”

Hold the door on the DSOs

Now that Pitbull has opened Pandora’s Box, all sorts of corporate welfare stories are flying around where Richard Corcoran can see them. Last week, the University of Central Florida (UCF) put itself on the radar with its unprecedented decision to turn a private, not-for-profit outfit called Limbitless into a university direct-support organization (DSO).

Limbitless is by all accounts doing the Lord’s work. A creation of UCF engineering students, the company makes artificial limbs from 3D printers and enlists celebrities like Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr., to deliver them to kids who would otherwise have to do without. So far, around 15 families have benefited from Limbitless’ ingenuity and generosity.

Everyone should hope that these kinds of young people can build these kinds of ideas into ventures that generate profits and enable them to do well by doing good.  And everyone who thinks that government should not be in the business of “picking winners and losers ” should say, “Whoa!”

As a nonprofit, Limbitless has had to compete in the real world for whatever it needs to fund its overhead. With the magic and fairy dust of DSO status, the overhead burdens are lifted. UCF will furnish Limbitless with free office space, lawyers, flacks, and the priceless imprimatur of the nation’s second-largest university.

DSOs have been proliferating like kudzu for decades and performing the same function. The whole point of a DSO is to provide a thick and shady haven. Reporters are rarely seen, except when the DSO does something spectacularly stupid, which has been known to happen.

Nonprofits, too, have been breeding grounds for scandal. What UCF has done is unprecedented for a reason. Let’s hope it’s not too late to hold the door.

 

Linda Stewart files bill to stop short-handed contamination votes

Upset that the Florida Environmental Regulation Commission voted 3-2 this year to increase levels of water contaminants when it was short two members, state Sen. Linda Stewart filed a bill seeking to avoid such short-handed votes in the future.

Stewart, a Democrat from Orlando, filed a bill Wednesday that would require the governor to fill vacancies on the seven-member panel within 90 days. The bill would also require a supermajority of five votes to alter certain areas of the Florida Administrative Code that deal with things like air pollution, water quality standards, hazardous substance release notification, and drinking​ water.

Stewart filed Senate Bill 198, frustrated with the commission’s July 26 approval of a measure that increased allowable concentrations of certain contaminants in the state’s water bodies, including almost 100 known carcinogens, such as benzene.

“Three unelected and unaccountable people voted to allow these known cancer-causing chemicals into Florida’s waters. It defies belief that some folks in Tallahassee value the health and well-being of campaign accounts and corporate profits more than they do the lives of the people they were elected to serve,” Stewart stated in a news release. “I think they need a serious reminder that cancer doesn’t care whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, or rich, or poor – and I look forward to working with every one of my colleagues to see that science and not politics is what drives this decision-making process in the future.”

Stephanie Murphy joining Blue Dogs, New Democrats

U.S. Congresswoman-elect Stephanie Murphy announced Tuesday she intends to join the two moderate-Democrat organizations in Congress, the Blue Dog Coalition and the New Democrat Coalition.

Murphy said the coalitions – the New Democrats promote small business, the Blue Dogs, fiscal conservatism – “align with her goals of strengthening Central Florida’s growing entrepreneurial and small business sectors, keeping our nation secure, and ensuring fiscal discipline in Congress.”

Murphy, of Winter Park, was elected Nov. 8 in an upset victory over 12-term U.S. Rep. John Mica, also of Winter Park, in Florida’s 7th Congressional District. The district, which includes north-central and Orange County and all of the largely-suburban Seminole County, had been a Republican stronghold for decades until redistricting and an evolving electorate changed it to purple this year.

“When I take office on January 3, I want to hit the ground running to help strengthen our economy, keep our nation safe, and bring fiscal discipline back to Congress,” Murphy stated in a news release. “I campaigned on a new approach – on working with both Democrats and Republicans to get things done. Both the New Dems and the Blue Dogs have strong reputations for reaching across the aisle and putting good public policy over partisan politics. That’s exactly what I’ll do in Congress.”

The combined membership of the New Democrat Coalition and the Blue Dog Coalition represents more than one-third of the Democratic caucus.

Both coalitions have strong bipartisan reputations and a history of working with Republicans. Murphy said she will work with her New Dem colleagues to advocate legislation that strengthens our nation’s middle class and will work with her Blue Dog colleagues to help introduce No Budget, No Pay, which says Members of Congress must pass a budget and appropriations bills on time or they don’t get paid.

“There is a lot of uncertainty facing our country in the next few years, and there is too much on the line for partisan politics to derail our progress. When I see offensive rhetoric or where I disagree with a proposal, I will oppose them in the strongest possible terms. But, where I can find common ground, I will do so,” said Murphy. “Despite the challenging political environment, I’ll also continue to fight for issues I care deeply about, such as commonsense gun laws, access to women’s health care, comprehensive immigration reform, efforts to curb climate change, and protecting our seniors and veterans.”

3 Pulse families sue social media, alleging aid for IS

Families of three patrons killed in the Orlando nightclub massacre sued Facebook, Google and Twitter, claiming the gunman who killed their loved ones was radicalized through propaganda found through social media.

The families of Tevin Crosby, Juan Ramon Guerrero Jr. and Javier Jorge-Reyes filed the lawsuit Monday in federal court in Michigan. They are seeking an unnamed amount of money under a federal law that allows the estates of victims of terrorist attacks to sue anybody who provided “material support” to the terrorists.

The complaint said terrorist groups like the Islamic State group use social media to spread their propaganda, raise money and recruit potential terrorists like Pulse nightclub gunman Omar Mateen, who opened fire in the Pulse nightclub where 49 patrons were killed in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

During the June rampage, Mateen pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in telephone conversations with a 911 operator and a police negotiator. He was killed in a shootout with SWAT team members after a three-hour standoff.

The social media companies should be doing more to delete the accounts of members of the Islamic group, also known as ISIS, and detect “replacement” accounts created after previous accounts are deleted, the lawsuit said.

“Most technology experts agree that defendants could and should be doing more to stop ISIS from using its social network,” the lawsuit said.

Facebook said in a statement the company takes the threat from terrorists seriously.

“Our Community Standards make clear that there is no place on Facebook for groups that engage in terrorist activity or for content that expresses support for such activity, and we take swift action to remove this content when it’s reported to us,” the Facebook statement said. “We sympathize with the victims and their families.”

Representatives of Google and Twitter didn’t respond to email inquiries.

A similar lawsuit against Twitter brought by the families of two men killed in Jordan was dismissed in August.

In that case, a federal judge in San Francisco agreed with Twitter that the company cannot be held liable because federal law protects service-providers that merely offer platforms for speech, without creating the speech itself.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

central florida expressway authority

Scott Batterson appeals bribery conviction to Supreme Court

A former Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority board member now is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review his 2014 state bribery conviction.

Scott Batterson, 40, filed his “petition for a writ of certiorari” on Dec. 12, court dockets show.

The request comes after a three-judge panel of the state’s 5th District Court of Appeal split in upholding the conviction. Judges Wendy Berger and Thomas Sawaya affirmed; Judge Richard Orfinger dissented in favor of overturning.

Orfinger said a bribery charge requires the defendant to receive something in return, and Batterson did not. He has since been ordered into the county jail pending further action in the case.

The appeal went to the U.S. Supreme Court because Batterson is relying on that court’s unanimous decision in June overturning ex-Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell‘s federal corruption convictions.

“To qualify as an ‘official act,’ the public official must make a decision to take an action … or agree to do so,” that opinion says. “Setting up a meeting, talking to another official, or organizing an event – without more – does not fit that definition of ‘official act.’ “

Batterson was convicted in a 2014 scandal in which he was seen as the linchpin of a pay-to-play deal at the expressway authority. The body has since been reorganized as the Central Florida Expressway Authority.

Prosecutors argued he tried to cut a deal with a contractor in exchange for that person hiring friends of his.

On Oct. 17, 2014, Batterson was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison by Circuit Judge Jenifer M. Harris.

Batterson made it clear to the contractor, according to the state’s case, that he and a newly appointed member of the authority’s board, Marco Pena, with help from lobbyist and former Florida House Speaker-designate Chris Dorworth, would be able to gain control of the board and steer a $5 million contract to the contractor.

Batterson and Pena resigned from the board after previously pleading guilty to charges of violating the state’s open-meeting laws.

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