Florida Legislature Archives - Page 6 of 38 - Florida Politics

How state officials decided who made the cut for new statue

As interesting as who’s on the list to be the subject of Florida’s next statue in the U.S. Capitol may be who’s not on the list.

Last week, the Department of State released 129 names submitted by the public as recommendations for a new statue in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. State lawmakers will make the final decision.

Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of what is now Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, is the top public choice.

Every state has two statues. Florida is seeking to replace the one of Confederate Army Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith. Lawmakers passed and Gov. Rick Scott approved the change this past session.

But that’s exactly who some people nominated as a protest vote, according to emails to FloridaPolitics.com. Another commenter said he voted for NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt, killed in a crash in the 2001 Daytona 500. Neither was on the list of public recommendations.

Which raises the question of just who didn’t make the cut, and why. A special committee of the state’s Great Floridians Program is scheduled to meet Wednesday at the R.A. Gray Building in Tallahassee to select three finalists to pass along to the Legislature.

“This is a dynamic process, but we wanted an opportunity for the public to be involved,” said Meredith Beatrice, the department’s spokeswoman. “We made a good-faith effort to compile a list for the committee’s review, but names must meet the eligibility criteria.”

That includes being a “citizen of the State of Florida, either by birth or residence” and being “deceased for 10 years or more, as of January 1, 2017.” That knocks out Earnhardt, who was from North Carolina.

Beatrice said she would provide another list of the names from the public that were not included on the official list from last week. Meantime, it’s not immediately clear whether all on the public list meet the criteria.

For example, naturalist and artist John James Audubon, who received one vote, did spend time in the state in 1831-32 working on illustrations for a volume of his great work, Birds of America, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History website.

But it’s not apparent he was a “resident.” He “explored the east coast of Florida and the Florida Keys,” the site said, complaining about the mosquitoes. “Reader,” he wrote, “if you have not been in such a place, you cannot easily conceive the torments we endured.”

The eligibility requirements aren’t in the law passed this year but are “guidelines prescribed by the Department of State,” which adds there will be “no recommendations of fictional characters, animals, plants, structures, or other non-human entities or beings.”

Other “suggested criteria,” according to the department, include “significant contributions … to Florida history, economy, culture, arts, education, infrastructure, and/or environment,” “distinguished military or civil service,” and “length of time the (person) was a resident of the State of Florida.”

Beatrice noted committee members “may also recommend individuals for consideration that have not been previously submitted.”

The effort to take down Smith’s statue started after a church shooting last year in Charleston, South Carolina, left nine people dead. The gunman had photographed himself holding a Confederate flag and made clear he was motivated by racism.

Earlier this year, the Florida Senate changed its official seal to remove a representation of a Confederate flag.

Florida’s other statue in the U.S. Capitol, of scientist-inventor Dr. John Gorrie of Apalachicola, a pivotal figure in the invention of air conditioning, will remain.

Cory Booker keynotes Florida Democratic Party summer gala

Although party unity was the theme of the Florida Democratic Party’s annual Leadership Blue Gala, bashing Donald Trump played second fiddle to remembering the tragic murders of 49 Americans in Orlando last weekend, and what might be done about it.

Saturday night’s event at the Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood began with a video scroll of the names of the 49 people killed in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando a week ago, the worst mass shooting in American history.

“I am so tired, and I know you are tired, we are all tired,” said Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was speaking in her own home 23rd Congressional District. “We are tired of trying to put into words how this happened again. Tired of politicians who will observe a minute of silence, and stop there … tired of the hurt which aches in a place deeper than flesh and blood and bone. We are tired in our souls, because one mass slaughter is already too much to bear, yet we have suffered this again and again and again and again.”

Senator Bill Nelson gave praise to his fellow Democratic Senators who participated in the nearly 15-hour filibuster that won them the chance to get a vote on gun control legislation this coming week in Washington.

“Don’t we want to know if a person with a criminal record is purchasing a weapon?” he asked, referring to the fact that suspected or known terrorists can still buy guns, a loophole that Democrats want to change in Congress. “Isn’t that common sense? This isn’t asking for much. If you are on a terrorist watch list, you cannot buy a gun.”

Nelson has proposed legislation that would ensure that any individual who is, or has been, investigated for possible ties to terrorism is entered into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which gun shop owners use to run background checks on prospective gun buyers.

And, if a background check is conducted for a potential gun buyer who is, or has been, investigated for potential ties to terrorism, Nelson’s bill would require that the NICS system automatically notifies the appropriate division of the FBI.

There was some Donald Trump bashing.

“The Republican Party has nominated a reckless, racist, rambling bigot, “said FDP Chair Allison Tant. “It’s going to be up to every single one of us to stop him. It’s our job, and unlike Jeb or Marco, we in Florida are ready and willing to take him down.”

Tampa Representative Janet Cruz will be the House Minority Leader next year. With only 39 members in the 120-member body, she admitted it wasn’t always easy to be a House Democrat in the Florida Legislature.

“Do you have any idea the battle scars that are on these 39 members? We are fierce, and we are warriors!” she proclaimed. Her priority as incoming leader, she said, was to stop the “seesaw nature of our campaign cycles,” though whether their candidates are better this year won’t be determined until this November’s election.

Cruz also gave out some love to Wasserman Schultz, who has been under fire from progressives — especially Bernie Sanders supporters — over the last year. “I want to apologize for how you’ve been treated,” she said, as the crowd gave a mighty cheer.

All of that was the warm-up to the main event, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who gave an impassioned, at times hilarious and intensely personal 52-minute speech.

Booker brought the crowd to its feet when he talked about empathy.

“How you see a Muslim American says more about you than it does them. How you see a gay American says more about you than about them. How you see an immigrant says more about you than it does about them! You can see them with love! You can see them as your brother and your sister!”

Booker also called this fall’s election between Trump and Clinton as “an inflection point” for the country.

More caucus meetings will be held on Sunday before the Florida Democrats call it a weekend, with many meeting up next month at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

Business lobby upset over worker’s comp decision

The state’s business lobbying groups called for legislative action Thursday after a Florida Supreme Court decision earlier that day on the worker’s compensation law.

The court’s 5-2 ruling for injured St. Petersburg firefighter Bradley Westphal strikes down a provision in the law limiting the time that injured workers can get temporary disability benefits. (Story here.)

Three justices, however, suggested the Legislature needs to overhaul the worker’s comp law.

Thursday’s decision comes six weeks after the court invalidated the law’s legal fee schedule as unconstitutional, saying it was a violation of due process. Both decisions were authored by Justice Barbara Pariente.

Shortly afterward, an umbrella organization representing worker’s comp insurers filed a request for a 17-percent rate hike, directly attributed the increase to the court’s decision in Castellanos v. Next Door Company.

“With job creators already facing a 17.1 percent workers’ comp rate increase, today’s ruling causes even more uncertainty, and is a further sign that Florida’s workers’ comp system is under attack,” said Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

“A legislative solution for both cases will help bring certainty back to Florida’s job creators and injured workers that Florida’s workers’ comp system is working,” he added.

Spokespeople for the Florida House of Representatives and state Senate had no immediate comment other than saying their legal counsel were “reviewing” the latest decision.

Bill Herrle, executive director of National Federation of Independent Business/Florida, called the Westphal decision “one more blow from the Supreme Court that poses a very real threat to small business owners’ ability to employ Floridians.”

“Legislative action will be required to maintain a stable workers’ compensation market for Florida businesses,” he added, saying he hoped the Office of Insurance Regulation “acts as quickly as possible so that Florida business owners have a chance to do whatever they can to meet these unexpected costs.”

Logan McFaddin, regional manager for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI), said the decision “could significantly destabilize Florida’s business environment.”

“The Florida worker’s compensation system provides essential benefits to injured workers in a timely, efficient, and economically sound manner and the wage-replacement benefit system balances the interests of employees and employers,” McFaddin said. “We continue to support the 2003 Florida workers compensation reforms that were put in place to protect the interests of employees, as well as help control costs for business owners.”

In 2003, Gov. Jeb Bush and the Legislature enacted changes to the worker’s comp system, though critics say they favored employers at the cost of injured employees. Companies said the changes cut costs to employers, which helps businesses grow jobs

“The impact of both decisions will likely motivate legislative action either through a special session in 2016 or in the regular session in 2017,” McFaddin added in a text message.

Sand, surf and gun? Florida’s highest court may say yes

Months after Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature rejected the idea, the state’s highest court was urged Wednesday to throw out the three-decade-old law that prohibits openly carrying guns in public.

Dale Norman, who had a permit to carry a concealed weapon, was arrested by Fort Pierce police in 2012 because his gun was in a holster as he walked down a sidewalk. He was convicted of a second-degree misdemeanor but appealed his conviction to the Florida Supreme Court with the help of Florida Carry, a gun rights organization that has filed several lawsuits against gun regulations imposed by local governments and state universities.

Eric Friday, the lead attorney for Florida Carry, told justices it was a violation of 2nd Amendment rights for the state to ban people from carrying their guns in public.

“There is a core constitutional right, your honor, to bear arms inside and outside of the home,” Friday said.

Despite Friday’s assertion, justices sounded skeptical about overturning the law, wondering if its removal would lead to a “Wild West” scenario where residents could walk down the street carrying a gun in their hands.

After Friday said the state would never place limits on cameras used by journalists because of 1st Amendment rights, Chief Justice Jorge Labarga retorted: “I don’t think journalists’ cameras kill people.”

But justices also had some sharp words for the lawyer representing Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in the case and were critical of the logic used to defend the law. Justice Charles Canady asked how the public was safer by allowing people to carry concealed weapons while banning open carry. Florida has nearly 1.8 million people with permits to carry a concealed weapon.

The Legislature has been sharply debating many of the state’s gun laws the past few years, including the ban on open carry that passed the full House this spring but was not considered by the Senate. Gun right advocates, noting that many other states allow open carry, have vowed to push for the legislation again in 2017.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Appellate court approves of controversial evidence standard

A state appeals court has upheld the retroactive use of a contentious evidence standard approved by lawmakers in 2013.

The 4th District Court of Appeal this week affirmed a trial court ruling against plaintiff Simona Bunin.

She’s one of the inventors behind a line of spray-bottle flavored olive oils. Bunin, based in South Florida, also holds a patent for a disposable women’s panty.

She wanted to use an expert to help prove her case that she lost her sense of smell after using Zicam nasal spray, a zinc-based cold remedy.

The company that makes it has denied a link between its product and loss of sense of smell, but also changed its formula so that the nasal spray no longer contains zinc.

Hundreds of reports similar to Bunin’s claim have been lodged against the product, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a consumer advisory in 2009 not to use it.

Nonetheless, a judge sided with Zicam’s makers and the Publix supermarket chain and said Bunin’s expert’s testimony couldn’t come in at trial.

That’s because the state switched to the Daubert standard, which holds expert evidence to a higher scientific bar than the old Frye standard that had been used in Florida.

It’s generally considered easier for plaintiffs to get damaging expert testimony before a jury under Frye, and much harder to do so under Daubert, which is seen as more defense-friendly.

Bunin appealed, saying the Daubert standard “should not be applied retroactively to her case, which was filed in 2009.”

A three-judge panel of the appellate court disagreed. Its unanimous opinion said such changes to evidentiary standards are “procedural” and “are to be applied retroactively and … to pending cases.”

Last year, the Florida Bar’s Board of Governors voted to recommend that state trial courts not use the Daubert standard, which is favored by Republican Gov. Rick Scott and conservative lawmakers.

NFIB/Florida joins groups opposed to workers’ comp hike

The National Federation of Independent Business/Florida is adding its voice to the business groups decrying a proposed 17 percent hike in the cost of workers’ compensation insurance to employers.

The rate increase “is a $623 million tax on workers in Florida that will go primarily to workers’ compensation attorneys,” NFIB/Florida Executive Director Bill Herrle said in a statement.

“For the sake of Florida’s small businesses and the millions they employ, this cannot stand,” he added. “The filing is the tip of the iceberg.”

The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) last week asked the state to consider a 17 percent rate hike in the cost of workers’ comp to employers. Workers’ comp is mandated by states to pay workers who get hurt on the job.

The council submitted its filing to the Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) on Friday.

If approved, it would take effect Aug. 1.

That would collectively cost Florida businesses roughly $623 million and make the Sunshine State the costliest in the southeast part of the country to buy such insurance, according to the NCCI’s news release.

The council is “a licensed rating organization authorized to make rate filings on behalf of workers’ compensation insurance companies in Florida,” according to the OIR.

The organization directly attributed most of the increase to a Florida Supreme Court decision, Castellanos v. Next Door Company, which struck down Florida’s workers’ compensation law’s legal fee schedule as unconstitutional.

Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Chamber of Commerce also have come out in opposition to the increase.

Business lobby blasts workers’ comp rate hike

The state’s business groups are saying “we told you so” over the cost of workers’ compensation insurance.

The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) has asked the state to consider a 17 percent rate hike in the cost of workers’ comp to employers. Workers’ comp is mandated by states to pay workers who get hurt on the job.

The council submitted its filing to the Office of Insurance Regulation on Friday. If approved, it would take effect Aug. 1.

That would collectively cost Florida businesses roughly $623 million and make the Sunshine State the costliest in the southeast part of the country to buy such insurance, according to the NCCI’s news release.

The organization directly attributed the increase to a Florida Supreme Court decision, Castellanos v. Next Door Company, which struck down Florida’s workers’ compensation law’s legal fee schedule as unconstitutional.

Its 5-2 decision noted that the plaintiff’s lawyer was only paid the equivalent of $1.53 an hour for working on his workers’ comp case.

The schedule basically amounted to caps on how much lawyers could make: For instance, 20 percent of the first $5,000; 15 percent of the next $5,000 and 10 percent of the remaining amount of benefits they helped secure.

After the Castellanos decision came out on April 28, business interests and others cried foul on social media.

Tamela Perdue, general counsel of the Associated Industries of Florida business lobby, tweeted that workers’ compensation “rates will be significantly impacted by this ruling.” She sits on the state’s Workers’ Compensation Panel.

Friday’s filing serves as critics’ chickens-coming-home-to-roost moment.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce quickly sent out a statement “encourag(ing) the Florida Legislature to put small businesses and injured workers before personal injury trial lawyers through whatever means necessary.”

“We’ve led efforts for more than 10 years to help lower workers’ comp rates by almost 60 percent, and now that personal injury trial lawyers and an activist court are forcing rates to likely skyrocket, we’re not about to back down,” Mark Wilson, the Chamber’s president and CEO, said.

“The Florida Chamber will lead the charge to ensure small businesses aren’t crushed under the weight of increased workers’ comp rates, and that workers’ have access to quality health care so they can return quickly back to work,” he added.

Meantime, Associated Industries said the rate hike was “a threat to Florida’s continued economic growth (that) will quickly tarnish the state’s successful business climate.”

“Today’s workers’ compensation rate increase filing by NCCI comes as no surprise,” AIF president and CEO Tom Feeney said. “We warned that the unbridled hourly rate attorney fees the decision permitted would trigger a significant increase that directly hurts all Florida employers and will hamper continued job creation.”

The group also announced a “Helping Florida Work” town hall tour in Jacksonville, Tampa and Miami in June-July. The goal: “To foster ideas and initiatives that tackle the threats now facing Florida’s workers’ compensation system,” Feeney said.

Dominic Calabro & Howard Simon: Lawmakers must back criminal justice reform

As Florida residents continue to engage in this presidential election, Republicans, Democrats and independents are split on many pressing issues. But there’s one issue many voters are united on — criminal justice reform.

Nearly every American has a family member, loved one or neighbor who has — or who will — come into contact with the criminal justice system. This creates a huge financial burden on taxpayers across the country who shoulder an enormous $80 billion price tag to maintain a prison system in which recidivism rates remain stubbornly high. And the costs keep getting worse — nationwide, taxpayer spending on prisons has increased nearly 600 percent in the past 30 years.

Our bipartisan coalition, the U.S. Justice Action Network, came together to rally the growing support across the country for justice reform. We polled likely voters in Florida and five other key 2016 battleground states, and it’s clear there is a strong consensus on this issue. An overwhelming majority of likely voters in the Sunshine State, regardless of political affiliation, agree that the current criminal justice system imprisons too many for too long, that mandatory-minimum sentences should be replaced, and judges should have greater discretion in determining sentences.

At a time when our federal prison system houses more than 2.3 million Americans, it’s no surprise that 69 percent of voters in Florida agree that our prisons house too many individuals. Even less surprising is that 74 percent of our voters agree that we are spending too much tax money keeping those who have committed nonviolent offenses behind bars, and nearly 80 percent of voters say the main goal of our justice system should be rehabilitating those in our prisons and jails to become productive, law-abiding citizens.

Floridians also support specific policy recommendations that make our criminal justice system fairer. When it comes to sentencing reform, an overwhelming majority — 80 percent — favor giving judges the discretion to hand down sentences in a range versus a one-size-fits-all approach like mandatory minimums.

In addition, a 2011 Florida TaxWatch poll found that 84 percent of Floridians support major changes that would send fewer nonviolent offenders to prison and instead seek more cost-effective alternatives, while 73 percent agree that fewer nonviolent offenders should be sent to prison in the first place. And 86 percent of Floridians agree a candidate who is “tough on crime” can also support cost-effective programs such as community supervision and treatment that saves taxpayer dollars while reducing future crime.

These are levels of support any politician in office or running for office would envy. The good news is Washington is listening and already discussing how to fix our federal prison system using many of the same ideas from the states, including in the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. The bill, which has bipartisan support and is currently under consideration in the U.S. Senate, would reform federal sentencing guidelines to give judges more options when trying individuals who have committed nonviolent crimes and give the formerly incarcerated better access to rehabilitation programs, so those who leave prison don’t go back.

This bill now has the backing of influential law-enforcement groups including the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Major County Sheriffs’ Association, who know that such reforms will help them do their job better and keep communities safe.

In Florida specifically, the 2016 Government Efficiency Task Force recommended smart justice reforms, such as the expansion of traditional work-release programs to reduce costs and improve offender outcomes, as well as the expansion of community-based alternative programs that focus on treatment and rehabilitation of mentally ill offenders while diverting them from jail.

If the Florida Legislature and our nation’s Congress adopt these criminal justice reforms, it could save taxpayers a significant amount of money, as well as reintroduce countless individuals into society who have a great likelihood of a successful re-entry.

Regardless of which side of the political aisle you sit on, the numbers in support of criminal justice reform can’t be ignored. Voters in Florida and across the country realize that we have to act smart, and we have to act now. In this divisive political climate, when Republicans and Democrats agree on both the problem and its solution, our leaders must take action now. It’s time for Congress and the Florida Legislature to move forward with these common-sense reforms that are both smart policies and smart politics.

___

Dominic Calabro is President and CEO of Florida TaxWatch.

Howard Simon is the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

Curt Clawson is why we can’t have nice things

Judging by the expression on her face, Lizbeth Benacquisto appeared genuinely surprised — and touched — by the standing ovation given to her by her colleagues in the Senate upon her return to the Florida Legislature.

The date was April 23, 2014, and it was the day after Benacquisto finished second in the four-way Republican primary to replace Trey Radel, who had been forced from office after being arrested in Washington D.C. on drug charges. Radel represented Florida’s 19th Congressional District, which encompasses most of Lee County and includes Fort Myers and adjacent Cape Coral. CD 19 is a haven for retirees, wealthy and otherwise.

Almost immediately after Radel announced his resignation, Benacquisto was declared the front-runner to succeed Radel and restore dignity to the seat.

Then Curt Clawson entered the race, spent $4 million of his own money for his campaign — much of it in negative advertising directed at his opponents — and Benacquisto would be left wondering what happened.

Clawson received 38 percent of the vote to Benacquisto’s 25 percent and former state Rep. Paige Kreegel‘s 25 percent.

Benacquisto took time away from Tallahassee to campaign. The special election overlapped with much of the 2014 Legislative Session. Almost any other lawmaker would have been criticized for missing the committee meetings and floor votes which mark the sixty days of a legislative session. But not Benacquisto, one of the chamber’s most beloved members. Photographs from the day she walked through the double doors and onto the floor of the Florida Senate show her being applauded and embraced by both Joe Negron and Jack Latvala, two former rivals then locked in a bitter struggle to one day serve as president of the body.

Benacquisto returned to her post as Majority Leader and easily won re-election in the fall of 2014.

Despite how well things worked out for Benacquisto after her loss, she really should today be serving in Washington, D.C.

Lizbeth should be running for re-election to Congress.

Unfortunately for Benacquisto and the people of southwest Florida, that is not the case.

Instead, the situation is that Clawson is not running for re-election. He announced Thursday he wanted to be closer to his ailing father. Kudos to Clawson for being the dutiful son, but he should never have been in office in the first place.

Clawson was just another faux outsider with a real checkbook who bought himself a line on a resume.

So much of Clawson’s political story was the kind of gimmickry that should have served as a harbinger for what has transpired during the 2016 presidential race. His former basketball coach showed up in his campaign commercials, one of which Clawson paid tens of thousands of dollars to air during the Super Bowl. He challenged President Barack Obama to “man up” and compete against him a basketball shooting contest.

Of course, Clawson’s campaign was backed by Tea Partiers like Michele Bachman and Rand Paul, but those endorsements played well in a community home to, among others, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, himself an “outsider” who used his checkbooks to bludgeon his opponents.

The unending television ads Clawson was able to pay for during a compressed special election drowned out any real examination of his background.

The Naples Daily News posted an expose on the jobs record of Clawson and found that it included “an Obamacare bailout, layoffs for workers and outsourcing, a poor workplace safety record and even the death of a worker, Shawn Boone,” according to a story by then-Miami Herald reporter Marc Caputo.

Caputo asked Boone’s sister, Tammy Miser, what she thought of Clawson. This was her emailed response: “If Florida wants someone who will not respond to their needs, is in the habit of tearing down a community and does not act on the behalf of the public’s health and welfare then Mr. Clawson is the man for them.”

But if you have the kind of money Clawson has, that sort of damnation doesn’t really matter.

Once in office, Clawson was quickly revealed as less-than-ready for prime time.

During a House hearing in July of 2014, Clawson mistook Nisha Desai Biswal and Arun M. Kumar, two senior U.S. officials of Indian-American descent, for representatives of the Indian government, saying, “I am familiar with your country, I love your country. Anything I can do to make the relationship with India better, I’m willing and enthusiastic about doing so. […] Just as your capital is welcome here to produce good-paying jobs in the U.S., I’d like our capital to be welcome there. I ask cooperation and commitment and priority from your government in so doing. Can I have that?”

That was one of several “airballs,” Clawson heaved during his brief time in Congress. Allied with Reps. Bachmann, Marsha Blackburn, and Steve King, Clawson is one of those bury-your-head-in-the-sand-and-vote-against-everything conservatives who has gridlocked the nation’s capital.

Clawson voted against a temporary extension of a highway funding bill (which passed overwhelmingly) because he thought it relied on financing “gimmicks” that the government wouldn’t allow businesses to use, according to an analysis by Ledyard King of the USA Today. He also opposed the Student and Family Tax Simplification Act because he said it could have made undocumented immigrants eligible for tax credit refunds.

Clawson defied then-Speaker John Boehner. He was one of just ten Republicans not to support Paul Ryan as Boehner’s successor.

Meanwhile, it’s not exactly clear what Clawson accomplished in his first term, other than speaking some common sense on the issue of climate change.

No wonder Clawson is yet another politician stepping down because he wants to, as the cliché goes, spend more time with his family.

No matter how sick Clawson’s father is, the reality is Clawson is just another one of these rich guys who thought it would be neat to win an election, but found out how hard governing is once they are in office.

It’s telling that in the days that have followed Clawson’s decision to step away from politics, only one of his colleagues in the Florida delegation has released a statement to the press corps acknowledging his leaving.

With Clawson not running, Lizbeth Benacquisto has been given a second chance at possibly representing Florida’s 19th Congressional District. Several other candidates have already announced they will run or are considering it.

After the back-to-back disasters of Trey Radel and Curt Clawson, hopefully, the poor voters of southwest Florida will get it right this time.

Material from the Naples Daily News, Roll Call, and Wikipedia was used in this post.

Seminole Tribe trying to stop publication of financial info

The Seminole Tribe of Florida, owner of Florida’s largest casinos, is trying to get a federal judge to block the publication of information related to a trial that could upend their businesses and to seal a key deposition until it can be redacted.

Tribal attorneys this week filed an emergency motion seeking to seal a deposition of the chief executive officer of the company that runs the Seminole casinos in Florida. A hearing on the motion could be held as early as Friday.

A copy of the deposition of Jim Allen, CEO for Seminole Gaming, had been turned over to POLITICO by the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation through a public records request.

The state of the Florida and the tribe are locked in a dispute over whether the Seminoles’ casinos can continue to have blackjack tables at their casinos including ones located in Tampa and Hollywood in South Florida.

The tribe filed the lawsuit last year after portions of a five-year gambling deal with the state expired.

The Associated Press has requested a copy of the deposition that was released to POLITICO. Agency spokeswoman Chelsea Eagle said the request was “under review” because of the ongoing lawsuit and that the agency would redact the document before releasing it.

Barbara Petersen, an attorney and president of the First Amendment Foundation, said the state has no legal authority to withhold the records from other media organizations.

“They let the horse out of the barn, they can’t now deny access,” Petersen said.

The motion asks the judge to block any further release of information from the deposition until the tribe can decide whether the material contains trade secrets. It contends that attorneys representing the state agreed to keep material confidential ahead of the trial that is now scheduled for October.

“Allowing third-parties to receive pretrial discovery materials prior to the tribe’s review and redaction of trade secret or confidential information will do nothing to advance the litigation, and would likely cause the tribe annoyance, embarrassment, and oppression,” the motion states.

It also states POLITICO “refused to comply with requests by both the tribe and the state of Florida to return the transcript and to permit the tribe to replace it with a version that is redacted and is actively threatening to publish the contents thereof.”

Barry Richard, an attorney who represents the tribe, downplayed the tribe’s motion. He said the state “inadvertently released” a transcript that included financial information that he maintains is confidential under the trade secret law.

“This is not a major case,” Richard said in an email. “The tribe and the state both requested POLITICO to return it so the confidential info could be redacted.”

Petersen said that under current law financial information is not included under the definition of trade secrets although the law is going to change later this year.

POLITICO LLC, the publisher of POLITICO, late Thursday filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit in order to argue against the tribe. The court filing contends that the tribe’s motion is an “unconstitutional prior restraint on the news media.”

“The law is clear that the press cannot be punished for publishing information that was lawfully obtained and concerns a matter of public interest,” the motion states.

Gov. Rick Scott in December reached a new $3 billion deal with the tribe that would let them keep blackjack and add table games, such as craps and roulette.

The deal also allows for the addition of slot machines at a Palm Beach county dog track and also leaves an opening for another casino in Miami-Dade as well as create a path for existing tracks in that county and Broward to eventually add blackjack tables as well.

But the deal was rejected by the Florida Legislature during this year’s session that wrapped up in March as various interests – including the owners of existing tracks that compete against the Seminoles – pushed for changes that were not part of the initial deal approved by tribal officials.

The setback means that it could be the courts that ultimately decide what type of gambling will be allowed to continue in the state.

Reprinted with permission of The Associated Press. 

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