After Rick Scott removed Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala from the case of accused cop killer Markeith Loyd after she announced she would not pursue the death penalty in his or any other case during her tenure.
Later, Dover House Republican Ross Spano called on Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren to condemn Ayala’s actions.
Warren refused, saying that he would seek out the death penalty only in “rare cases that are so heinous, atrocious, and undeserving of mercy as to be considered the worst of the worst in our society.”
At the Tampa Tiger Bay Club Friday, Warren was asked again about his thoughts on the case. He responded with essentially the same thing — the issue was between the governor and Ayala.
Warren did acknowledge “prosecutors have the discretion to make charging decisions or the decision not to charge, the sentences that we seek, within each municipality, locality and jurisdiction. and the exercise of that discretion is critical to having a well-functioning criminal justice system.”
That prompted a more provocative reaction from Hillsborough County Public Defender Julianne Holt, a Democrat like Warren.
“As an elected constitutional officer, I am given broad discretion on how I run my office,” she began. “If I abuse that discretion, if I do things that are illegal, unethical immoral, things of that sort that rise to a certain level, then the governor has the ability to remove me, suspend me. If I’m charged with a criminal offense, the governor can take action.
“But it is extremely scary to me to think that if one person is unhappy with the decision that Mr. Warren makes in our community, decides to hold a news conference and be critical of him, that the next thing he would get is a message saying you’re removed from that case, somebody else is going to come in to my community and take that case.
“The next time he’s in a similar position, is he going to exercise his discretion, or is he going to be doing because he’s fearful of what may come from Tallahassee?” she asked. “I want him to keep his discretion.”
Her response was met with loud cheers from the Tiger Bay audience.
Florida lawmakers are looking to shut down a charitable program funded for decades by state employees.
A bill to end the Florida State Employees’ Charitable Campaign comes after a yearslong slump due partly to a drop in participation and controversy surrounding its management, according to a new bill proposed by a House lawmaker and unanimously favored in committee Thursday.
The bill, CS/HB 1141, is sponsored by Rep. Clay Yarborough through the House Government Accountability Committee.
The measure would end the FSECC, which offers a way for employees on Florida’s payroll to give to charities of their choice. If they choose to take part in the program, they are encouraged to authorize payroll deductions divided incrementally from their annual salary.
The FSECC is the only authorized form of workplace solicitation of state employees permitted during work hours, according to the of the Florida Department of Management Services (DMS), which administers and channels the funds collected from employees to a third party for distribution to the actual charities.
Participation in the program is voluntary.
“At its peak in 2005 the program raised $4.9 million,” Yarborough told the House Government Accountability Committee Thursday. “However, since then … the campaign has experienced an ongoing and significant decline in employee contributions — so much so that in 2016 employees pledged a historic low of $282,000, which was a decrease of more than 94 percent.”
The FSECC was enacted by the legislature in 1980 and allows workers to choose among a wide range of “eligible charitable organizations that meet human or environmental needs,” and are inclusive of domestic or international causes.
Channeling the money through the FSECC reduces the expense and effort that arise from multiple charity drives cropping up throughout a calendar year that had the potential to disrupt workplace efficiency.
“The bill basically removes government as the middleman and supports state employees giving directly to the charity of their choice, and we all know that with today’s ability to donate to charities — from computers to and hand-held devices — direct giving is easier than ever,” Rep. Yarborough said.
During its 36-year history, the FSECC raised more than $94 million, according to a house House of Representatives staff analysis of the campaign.
The FSECC was run by the United Way for years and took in roughly $4 million a year from 1999 to 2009, when donations began to dip.
The newspaper further noted a partisan investigation by Statehouse Democrats found Solix took 47 percent of the campaign’s proceeds in 2013 and more than half last year to cover its overhead. This year — in part because donations continued to tank — Solix could walk away with a bigger chunk, nearly two-thirds of the contributions.
DMS renewed the contract with Solix last year even though there were grumblings from state employees once the Democrats’ investigation was made public and there was a dispute in the percentages taken in for overhead between numbers given by DMS and United Way, the previous steward of the campaign, and the percentages taken in by Solix for overhead.
Florida statutes dictating the rules and ethics for the FSECC do not allow the agency to do business with a third party if the overhead exceeds 25 percent, except in rare circumstances.
Turns out the New Jersey company was getting $0.71 for every dollar Florida state employees were contributing to the FSECC. Still, DMS defended their choice of Solix.
Mentioning nothing of HB 1141, Scott said, “Chad Poppell has done an outstanding job as Secretary of DMS and I want to thank him for his hard work to improve efficiency and foster innovation in state government. Under his leadership, Florida has remained a leader in government efficiency and provided the critical support to our state agencies to ensure Florida families and businesses receive the services and support they need.”
The Thursday introduction of the bill Thursday was its second hearing. The House Oversight, Transparency and Administration Committee also voted unanimously in favor Monday.
A group of church and civil rights leaders joined mothers of slaying victims from Florida and Central Florida Friday outside the office of State Attorney Aramis Ayala.
They were there to send a message to her and the community.
“We stand with you, State Attorney Ayala,” proclaimed Christine Henderson of Equal Justice USA of Florida.
She and a dozen other speakers proclaimed that people throughout Florida stand with Ayala for her controversial decision to not pursue death penalty prosecutions in Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, which covers Orange and Osceola counties. Her decision that the death penalty is unjust for all brought loud and long condemnations Thursday from Gov. Rick Scott down to Orlando Police Chief John Mina.
But on Friday, a tide rolled Ayala’s way.
Among them were three mothers of murder victims who said they share Ayala’s belief that a death sentence does not help some family’s healing, and that the long, drawn-out appeals process can only increase a family’s pain.
Among them was Stephanie Dixon, mother of Sade Dixon, the pregnant girlfriend of Markeith Loyd, who is charged with killing her and Orlando Police Master Sergeant Debra Clayton.
Loyd’s case is at the center of the Ayala controversy, an alleged heinous pair of murders that sparked widespread anger in Orlando. On Thursday Scott stripped the case away from Ayala and gave it to neighboring State Attorney Brad King.
But Scott did not ask Sade Dixon’s mother, who stands with Ayala
“You have to understand we want closure. And with closure doesn’t mean to be dragged in and out of courts of appeals and anything else,” she said. “So with the death penalty he’s not going to be executed for another 30, 40 years anyway. But he’s going to continue to have the appeals to drag us back in court and relive this violent, hideous act.
“Life in prison, any way it goes, he will die I prison,” she said. “He will never see the light of day. He will never be back in court … This monster will die in prison.”
The procession of supporters included representatives of the Catholic Diocese of Orlando, and several local and statewide church and Civil Rights organizations fighting against the death penalty,
“Let us end this cycle of violence and vengeance,” said Deborah Shearer of the Catholic Diocese
It was proceeded by an impromptu press conference by a father of a victim who offered the other view: that some families want the death penalty.
As Ayala supporters gathered to address the media, Rafael Zaldivar, father of slain Alex Zaldivar, took to the microphone stand to denounce Ayala in the name of his fallen son, and to demand the death penalty for convicted murderer, Bessman Okafor. Okafor’s case is among those awaiting a decision by the Florida Supreme Court.
Zaldivar called for Ayala’s resignation, or at least that she not touch Okafor’s case if it is remanded back.
“I cannot allow her to destroy five years of work,” Zaldivar said. “It is not her right to decide for the rest of us. Twelve people must decide that.”
But a few minutes later, the podium was taken by Darlene Farah of Jacksonville, Marietta Jaeger Lane of Punta Gorda, and Dixon of Orlando, all saying that Ayala is offering what they all wanted in their daughter’s cases – the opportunity for swift, sure justice, and healing that does not include revenge.
Jaeger Lane, whose daughter Susie was murdered at age 7 in Montana, said she shared Zaldivar’s desire initially, but moved on.
“As a Florida resident I am extremely proud of State Attorney Ayala’s wisdom,” she said. “In the beginning, I had the normal reactions of rage and seeking revenge. I wanted the killer to die. But in time I came to see what the death penalty is. It is an insult to the victims of the offenders. To kill somebody in my little girl’s name would be to demean and profane my sweet little girl’s name.”
Farah’s case, involving her daughter Shelby Farah, also was high-profile, in Jacksonville. She said she sought life imprisonment without parole from the start, but got that only after Melissa Nelson defeated incumbent State Attorney Angela Corey and agreed to take the plea in January.
“The death penalty harms the surviving families,” Farah said. “We spent three and a half years waiting and the trial hadn’t even started yet because the prosecutor was seeking the death penalty. For the emotional well-being of my family, I did not want them returning for trials and appeals for years, and probably decades.”
I think having condemned inmates spend 20 years or more on death row while their appeals play out thwarts the argument that is a deterrent. Inmate Douglas R. Meeks, for example, has been awaiting execution since March 21, 1975.
He is one of 16 inmates who have been on Florida’s death row since the 1970s.
And keeping inmates locked up 23 ½ a day in a cramped cell with no air conditioning for the entire time they’re awaiting execution is borderline inhumane.
By the way, I’ll concede that the people on death row committed inhumane acts in the first place.
Having said that, State Attorney Aramis Ayala in Orlando was wrong on multiple levels when she announced she wouldn’t seek the death penalty against Markeith Loyd, who is accused of killing Police Lt. Debra Clayton and his pregnant ex-girlfriend.
Gov. Rick Scott did the right thing Thursday with his order that took the case away from Ayala and gave it another state attorney who will pursue the death penalty if Loyd is found guilty.
In a statement, Scott said: “I want to be very clear, Lt. Debra Clayton was executed while she was laying on the ground fighting for her life. She was killed by an evil murderer who did not think twice about senselessly ending her life.”
Ayala referenced several of the factors I mentioned as a reason for not seeking the death penalty in this emotionally charged case. The trouble is, it is her job to follow the law — not make it. If this were a 50-50 decision under existing law, then yes, she could decide not to go for death. But it’s not even close.
If we’re going to have the death penalty, then cop killers go to the head of the list. It is the duty of people in Ayala’s position to prosecute those offenses to the full extent of the law.
There are valid reasons lawmakers should consider abolishing the death penalty, but that’s their call. Death penalty opponents praised Ayala, but that missed the point. What they should be doing is bringing public pressure on legislators.
Just so we’re clear, they also should pick a better case to make their point than one involving the murder of a police officer.
Ayala made history in January when she was sworn in as Florida’s first African-American State Attorney. She made history this time for a different reason. She may not like the death penalty, but it’s part of the job.
Vice-President Mike Pence and Gov. Rick Scott will be in Jacksonville Saturday afternoon.
The subject: health care reform, specifically the House version of legislation, and the President’s economic agenda.
The roundtable event will include small businesses, and is invite only.
Pence is slated to begin his remarks at 2:15, though invited guests are urged to be there by noon.
It will be at the MAC Papers location on 8370 Philips Highway.
Pence was last in Jacksonville during the 2016 campaign, when he talked faith, “precious moments with” Donald Trump, and 9/11 at the local First Baptist Church.
Scott, who closed out the news week reprising a familiar call to allow the states to administer Medicaid via block grants, has worked closely with President Donald Trump and his administration on possible alternatives to the Affordable Care Act.
While the GOP line is “repeal and replace Obamacare,” finding bill language that offers comfort to moderate Republicans in the Senate and the Freedom Caucus in the House has proven challenging, making promotional media stops like this one for the vice-president a necessity.
Also speaking at the event: Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and U.S. Congressman John Rutherford.
Gov. Rick Scott has used an executive order to pull the prosecution of alleged cop-killer Markeith Loyd away from Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala and to reassign it to State Attorney Brad King in Lake County.
Scott’s unprecedented move comes hours after the unprecedented announcement by Ayala that she would not prosecute death penalty charges, including in the case of Loyd, charged with killing his pregnant girlfriend Sade Dixon last December and that of Orlando Police Master Sergeant Debra Clayton in January.
Ayala stated later she is complying.
“Upon receipt of any lawful order, my office will follow that Order and fully cooperate to ensure the successful prosecution of Markeith Loyd,” she said in a written statement issued by her office.
The move is the latest event in a day of uproar that began with reports that Ayala, a newly-elected state attorney for Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, had concluded that Florida’s death penalty law was unjust and would not use it, even in the Loyd case.
The outrage included Scott and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s swift condemnations, the head of Florida’s largest police union to demand Ayala resign, and Scott’s demand that she recuse herself from the Loyd case.
“She informed me this afternoon that she refuses to do that. She has made it clear that she will not fight for justice and that is why I am using my executive authority to immediately reassign the case to State Attorney Brad King,” Scott announced in a press release this afternoon.
Ayala was elected as state attorney for the 9th Judicial Circuit, covering Orange and Osceola counties. The Dixon and Clayton murders occurred in Orange County.
King was elected as state attorney for the 5th Judicial Circuit, covering Marion, Lake, Citrus, Sumter, Hernando counties.
The fight between Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida House continues to heat up, with the governor taking to the airwaves to bash “the politicians in Tallahassee.”
The Naples Republican released a 30-second advertisement Thursday. The ad — paid for by Let’s Get to Work, his political committee — is expected to air across the state beginning next week, according to Gary Fineout with The Associated Press.
The advertisement comes one week after the Florida House voted overwhelmingly to approve a bill to eliminate Enterprise Florida. The House also voted to adopt a measure to slash Visit Florida funding.
“The politicians in Tallahassee don’t get it. They don’t understand how jobs are created,” the governor is shown saying in the advertisement. “If the politicians in Tallahassee say they don’t want to market our state and we lose tourists, then we’re going to lose jobs. If we lost 2 percent of the jobs in tourism, that’s 28,000 jobs.”
Scott continues by saying the “politicians are wrong.”
“There is not a job that is expendable,” he says. “Every job is important. Florida will compete.”
Scott has been traveling the state rallying support from business, economic development and tourism leaders. He held a tourism rally in the Capitol, and hosted roundtable discussions in Tallahassee and Sarasota this week.
Since the Congressional Budget Office said the Republican health care plan would raise the ranks of the uninsured by 14 million people next year earlier this week, Gov. Rick Scott has been silent.
Florida House Democrats are now calling him out for his sudden reluctance to weigh in on a subject he’s never been shy about talking about before.
The governor has been a major critic of the Affordable Care Act and traveled to Washington last week to meet with President Donald Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio, and House Speaker Paul Ryan to discuss the American Health Care Act.
Scott told reporters later he was “encouraged” about the Act, adding that it was still a “work in progress.”
But after the CBO came out with their score card earlier this week that said that the GOP plan would raise the number of uninsured to 24 million over a decade and could have a huge impact on Florida’s Medicaid program, the governor has been silent.
Florida House Democrats now say it’s time for him to speak up.
“Rather than acting as a leader, the Governor took the path of a typical politician and ducked the question entirely,” says House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz. “If Governor Scott isn’t prepared to defend ‘Trumpcare,’ he at least owes Floridians an explanation about what exactly he’s been discussing with Republican leadership during his taxpayer funded trips to Washington DC.”
“Trumpcare would rip the rug out from under the millions of Floridians who have gained access to quality, affordable health care under the ACA,” says Coral Gables Rep. Daisy Baez. “This would be incredibly harmful to the overall health and well-being of all Floridians, and they deserve to know where Governor Scott stands on this issue.”
Democrats note that Florida leads the nation in those finding coverage through the insurance exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act, with over 1.6 million Floridians signing up during this year’s open enrollment period. They also not that the plan will be financed in part by cutting $880 billion to Medicaid, which could have a huge impact on states like Florida, which opted not to expand Medicaid under the ACA.
“Florida’s Medicaid system is already lacking the resources necessary to provide the level of care our citizens deserve, and these proposed cuts would be devastating for our state’s working families,” said Miami Rep. Nick Duran. “I would encourage the Governor to consider carefully how many Floridians stand to lose from the proposed billions of dollars in cuts to the Medicaid program.”
A former health care executive before entering the political stage, Scott savaged the ACA even before it was signed into law by Barack Obama in 2010, and his criticisms have never stopped.
“Other than President Obama and a few stragglers, everyone now realizes that Obamacare was a terrible notion,” Scott wrote in an op-ed in USA Today last fall. “It was sold on a lie. It was invented by liberal academic theorists who have no interaction with real families and businesses and therefore it doesn’t work.”
“This is no time for Republicans to go wobbly or get weak in the knees about repealing Obamacare,” the governor wrote in another column for CNN.com in January. “If we refuse to roll back the welfare state, what real purpose do we serve?”
However, a number of congressional Republicans, including Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen are expressing serious doubts about the House proposal in the wake of the CBO report.
Thanks to the efforts of Governor Rick Scott and the state’s committed business leaders, Florida has one of the strongest economies in the country. With our unemployment rate under 5 percent, Florida continues to exceed the nation’s annual job growth rate and tourism, one of the state’s economic drivers remains strong, with just under 113 million visitors in 2016, an increase from just 86 million visitors just three years ago.
Much of this success has been a result of Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida.
Their contributions are critical to our state’s recovery and continue to be important drivers in Florida’s economic well-being. The two organizations are responsible for helping create thousands of jobs in conjunction with private businesses, and the organizations allow us to compete with other states for businesses and visitors, many of whom have significantly increased their business and tourism marketing programs to entice companies and visitors.
It is important to have a business climate that allows companies to flourish, people to be able to find high-paying jobs and to ensure that we are economically competitive on a national level.
Political differences in the Capitol are putting the success of the Sunshine State at risk. Members in the Florida House have filed numerous pieces of legislation taking aim at Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. The bills call for drastic cuts or the complete elimination of the two public-private partnerships, outcomes that would undoubtedly slow down or even reverse the good economic fortune of Florida.
As an employer of hundreds, I hear every day how important it is for Florida families to have good jobs that pay well and build a more prosperous future for our children.
Research from Florida TaxWatch shows that Florida’s targeted economic development incentives have generated positive return on state investment by enticing qualifying businesses to bring high-wage jobs to the state and diversifying the state’s industry portfolio. Incentive programs also have numerous protections, such as sanctions and clawbacks, in order to ensure that the hard-earned dollars of Florida taxpayers are not spent unwisely.
We must compete with the millions each year of incentives paid by other states, counties and municipalities.
The data also backs up the power of tourism marketing in attracting visitors to the Sunshine State. Continuing to fund Visit Florida will bring hundreds of millions of people to the state.
Every 76 visitors to Florida support one job.This investment is diversifying the Florida economy, creating jobs and improving the income of Floridians.
If the legislature were to make significant cuts to, or eliminate, Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, it will put Florida at an economic disadvantage versus the rest of the nation, stifling job creation and slowing economic development and extinguish the hopes of hundreds of thousands of Florida workers who seek a more prosperous future. We must continue to fund our incentive and tourism marketing programs. We must remain a state open for business.
Pat Neal, former state senator and the former chair of the Christian Coalition of Florida, currently serves as chairman-elect for the board of directors of Florida TaxWatch, the state’s independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research institute and government watchdog, and the president of Neal Communities.
Sarasota GOP Chair and state Rep. Joe Gruters said he is a “long-shot” to be Gov. Rick Scott‘s choice to succeed Jeff Atwater as Chief Financial Officer once Atwater leaves the office in May.
On Wednesday afternoon, Gruters appeared on Tampa Bay area radio station News Talk 820 WWBA with guest host David Jolly, who formerly represented Florida’s 13th Congressional District.Gruters had shown loyalty to Scott and President
Jolly said Gruters had shown loyalty to Scott and President Donald Trump when he backed both candidates when they were considered outliers within the GOP, and Scott would reward such loyalty by picking Gruters to succeed Atwater later this year, Jolly said.
“Well, Congressman, that’s so nice of you to say,” Gruters responded, as Jolly laughed.
“Even to be mentioned with some of these other names that are being popped up is an incredible honor,” Gruters continued. “I don’t know who it’s going to be. My guess is that I’m a long shot candidate, there’s other great candidates like (Jacksonville Mayor) Lenny Curry, Pat Neal, who’s a great friend of mine in Manatee County who would be a strong 2018 contender.
“But here’s the deal: you never know. Listen, I’m going to continue to fight for jobs and economic development no matter what the position I’m in, whether it’s state House or anything else.”
“Joe, you’re a winner in Florida politics,” replied Jolly, who was guest-hosting for Dan Maduri. “It wouldn’t surprise me if either now or in the future, we’re talking about Joe Gruters in a Cabinet position.”
Atwater announced he will leave the CFO position after the regular Legislative Session ends in May. Scott has given no indication about who he will select to replace him.