June 1st, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda
State lawmakers are back at the state Capitol for a 20 day special session after a fight over healthcare derailed budget talks. As Mike Vasilinda Tells us, plenty of special interests are bending lawmakers ears, but few constituents are speaking out.
Americans for Prosperity Buses left Lakeland and Orlando early Monday. They carried dozens of pastors to the Capitol. Margarita Romo came from Pasco county to counter claims that expanded heath care would only benefit those who don’t want to work.
“And we know that in Pasco county, there are twenty-eight thousand people that would benefit from this and that’s the county that I’m from. Over twenty-eight thousand. Why not?”
Q: And the majority of those you say are working?”
“They’re working people, they’re not all sitting around” says Romo.
On the other side? The no tax group Americans for Prosperity which is running a TV spot that says ”Dumping more people on the broken Medicaid program is the wrong answer.”
Andres Malave of AFP says they are also sending post cards to people in districts whose Senators support Medicaid expansion. “Floridians that have received mail from us are folks in the districts of Senators that continuing to claim that they are going to support a broken entitlement program” says Malave.
What is clear is that lawmakers aren’t getting hit with a barrage of email on either the budget or healthcare. Several offices say they are averaging 50 to a hundred a day, but few of those are from constituents.
Sen Nancy Detert says she’s only heard from about 20 of her half a million constituents.
“Those 20 people count, and it’s important.”
Q:”so..if you get 2,000?”
If I get two thousand not from my district, they don’t count” says Detert.
But on July first, state government faces a partial shutdown if there is no budget, and the closer that date becomes, the more likely average people will start paying attention.
The House and Senate are expected to start talking about a budget deal this coming weekend, but neither side shows signs of changing their mind on expanded health care.
Posted in Business, Economy, Education, Elections, Environment, Ethics, Health, Politics, Rick Scott, State Budget, State Employees, State News, Taxes, Voting | Comments Off on Other Voices Seek to Influence Legislators
May 13th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda
The Seminole Tribe says it is exploring all of its options for card games at its Hard Rock Casinos in Florida. The Tribe’s deal runs out in July, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us lawmakers have been slow to act.
A June Special session on the budget is the last chance for lawmakers to approve a yet to be negotiated deal to keep the cards being dealt at Hard Rock Casinos across Florida. Barry Richard drafted the original deal for the tribe.
“The Tribe’s main concern is to not only preserve its legal rights but also to avoid having to fire thousands of people who are employed because of the card games” says Richard.
The Seminole deal could also be derailed by another lawsuit. Back in 2012 three counties voted to legalize slots. The state refused all o them a license. Now, a horse track in Gadsden County is challenging the states denial. If they win, it could violate the exclusivity deal with the Seminoles.
Attorney Marc Dunbar thinks otherwise, but says his case could impact the Seminole deal. “The clock is ticking. We have between now and October where they have to decide if they want to continue the exclusive black jack for the Seminole tribe. And a case like this only increases the pressure in those negotiations” says Dunbar.
And as the clock ticks, no legislative panel has been named to negotiate with the Seminoles. That increases the chances the deal with die. That doesn’t mean, though, the games will stop right away.
There is precedent to keep the games running past the expiration of the compact. Weeks after the Seminoles started the card games in 2008, the Florida Supreme Court said the first compact was illegal. The cards kept flowing, and once there was a real deal, the Seminoles sent the state a check.”
But no deal does mean the money will stop..temporarily, or permanently if the deal goes bust.
Governor Rick Scott turned negotiations with the tribe over to state lawmakers after they failed to take up a deal he had negotiated in 2014. The Seminole Tribe predicts payments to the state could reach 450 million a year by 2030.
Posted in Business, Charlie Crist, Economy, Elections, Gambling, Legislature, Rick Scott, State Budget, State News, Tourism, Voting | Comments Off on Clock Ticking on Seminole Gaming Deal
December 4th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda
The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee was told today that Five Florida counties, St. Lucie, Palm Beach, Broward, Miami Dade, and Lee, under performed in the November General election. Only St. Lucie failed to turn in its vote totals on time. State Senators began what will be a months long look at what went wrong November sixth.
Voters were still in line Wednesday morning in Miami Dade. Some votes in St. Lucie country were late being counted and submitted and did not count. Long lines and other problems plagued voters in Palm Beach, Broward and Lee counties.
“Sixty-two of the sixty-seven counties performed very well”. is what Secretary of State Ken Detzner told State Senators investigating the problems. He said voters are like customers and need to receive good service.
“If you are in the burger business and you don’t have enough cash registers or burger makers, and you don’t appropriate the money for that type of service” says Detzner.
The committee was told more early voting hours would have solved some of the problems. And the number of early voting sites varied widely from as low as one site per thirty thousand residents to a high of one site per 210 thousand people.
“There may not have been enough sites. Where they were located may not have been strategically the best locations, but we’re going to find out” Detzner told reporters afterward.
A long ballot and record absentee ballots also contributed to delays, which prompted Committee Chair Senator Jack Latvala to promise “There will be some legislation that will be out of this committee by the first part of session”. Fast food comparisons dominated the meeting and the point was made When the line gets too long, the franchisee needs to open another restaurant nearby or lose business.
It will be months before changes are proposed, but more early voting sites, more equipment, and better funding for elections are all items for consideration.
The committee chairman also suggested the Governor might want to consider removing some Elections Supervisors who did not perform on election day. Next week the Secretary of State will take a team of experts to each of the counties that had problems and report to the Governor in January.
Posted in Amendments, Elections, Legislature, Politics, Rick Scott, State News, Voting | 2 Comments »
December 3rd, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda
A legal showdown is about to begin over whether six counties where voters have approved slot machines can actually install them. The Attorney general says no, but courts and the legislature may have a different opinion.
The legal showdown will come after voters in conservative Lee County in Southwest Florida voted overwhelmingly for Mitt Romney.But these voters cast ballots even more solidly for slot machines, approving them by almost a two to one margin. They weren’t alone.
On election day, voters in Brevard and Palm Beach counties also said yes to slots. That brings the total to six counties that have said yes to slots since January. Prior to the first vote last January, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi told the Department that supervises slots that it didn’t matter how people voted, they could not issue a license.
Attorney Marc Dunbar, who has an interest in a barrel racing track in Gadsden County, which approved slots in January, disagrees. “There are a couple of cases that will likely be filed in the next six to eight weeks that will push the issue a little bit now that the voters have overwhelmingly said they would like to have slot machines at their pari-mutual facilities,” says Dunbar.
As slots backers get ready to go to court, state lawmakers are about to begin a two year review of every gambling regulation in the state. The state does already has slots, indian casino’s, boats to nowhere, and internet cafe’s. Senate President Don Gaetz set up the committee looking at gambling because each form is regulated differently. “We have completely unregulated aspects of gaming like internet cafes then we have over regulated aspects of gaming like some of our dog tracks and horse tracks” says Gaetz.
Any changes put the deal with the Seminole Tribe in jeopardy, The deal the state cut with the Seminole Tribe expires in two years, and another full court press for destination casinos is expected over the next two years.
Posted in Business, Economy, Gambling, Pam Bondi, Politics, Rick Scott, State News, Taxes, Voting | 1 Comment »
June 18th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda
A Circuit Court judge in Tallahassee spent an hour this morning listening to arguments over Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Plaintiff and registered Democrat Michael Voeltz is asking that the President’s name be taken off the ballot because, as Mike Vasilinda tells us, he believes Barack Obama is not a US citizen.
Michael Voeltz was a registered voter with no party affiliation until last fall. Now he is a Democrat suing to keep Barrack Obama off Florida’s ballot.
Judge Terry Lewis listened skeptically to an hour’s worth of arguments Monday morning.
“What if it was artificial insemination and you don’t know who the father was?” Judge Lewis asked.
“Then you’re out of luck to be President,” the Plantiff’s lawyer replied.
The Obama Campaign and Florida’s Secretary of State are on the same side in the suit.
“We ask that Your Honor grant the motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action.”
They want it dismissed because they say Obama is simply a candidate yet to be nominated by his party.
“There has been no nomination to office, there has been no election to office, as a result of the presidential preference primary of January 31,” Obama Campaign attorney Mark Herron said.
But Attorney Larry Klayman calls that argument nothing more than a delaying tactic.
“What the defendants are doing is basically trying to push the issue down the road and create a fait accompli,” Klayman said. “It’s a shell game.”
The judge gave both sides a week to submit a proposed order. Voeltz says the suit is important to the future of the country.
“He was imprinted very early with anti-American attitudes, that were imprinted on him by, you know, a Communist mother, a Communist father, who was never a citizen of the United States,” Voeltz said.
Michael Voletz wouldn’t tell us what he does for a living, but he does say he isn’t wealthy. And when asked how he was paying for the lawsuit, told us “I don’t really think that’s any of your business.”
The Attorney seeking to disqualify the President from the Florida Ballot also told the judge today that he did not believe US Senator Marco Rubio should be allowed to run for President because Rubio’s parents were born in Cuba.
Posted in Elections, State News, Voting | 2 Comments »
June 14th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda
Governor Rick Scott, who is being sued by the Federal Government over his efforts to remove what he believes to be illegal voters from the rolls before this years elections, disclosed today that in 2006 he was told he couldn’t vote because he was deceased. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, Scott believes the mistake is proof that legitimate voters will always be able to have their votes counted.
Governor Rick Scott begins most mornings with a calls to talk radio shows. Thursday, he was defending his efforts to remove potential non citizens from the voter rolls, when he dropped this story about when he went to vote in 2006.
“They said I had passed away,” Scott said. “I said, here’s my drivers license, I’m here, I’m really alive. So they allowed me to vote provisionally, and then they went back and checked and saw actually I was alive.”
It was Florida’s Secretary of State using another agency’s database that told the Supervisor of Elections in Naples that Rick Scott was dead.
The Secretary of State sent information to Collier County that showed Richard E. Scott, born 12/1/1952, had died in January ‘06. But the Governor’s middle initial is ‘L”.
Collier County Deputy Elections Supervisor Tim Durham says it is the only time he has seen such a mistake.
“Very unusual set of circumstances,” Durham said. “The other Rick Scott has a different middle initial, he was also a Florida resident, with the exact same date of birth.”
Scott used the story to illustrate his point that voters who are eligible will indeed be able to cast a vote and have it counted, but the American Civil Liberties Unions says there is another lesson to be learned.
“What happened to him shows what is wrong about using inaccurate data to throw people off the voting rolls,” Howard Simon of the Florida ACLU said.
The Secretary of State’s office says it now no longer relies on the Department of Health database.
Posted in Civil Rights, Rick Scott, State News, Voting | No Comments »
June 4th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda
The State of Florida wants to keep checking the voter database for non citizens, even though the US Department of Justice has said the process is illegal this close to an election. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the state is expected to argue the purge is just normal maintenance, which is allowed, when it responds later this week.
Candidates lined up Monday to get their name of the ballot this year. Others mailed their paperwork, detailing the area they want to represent. The unanswered question, though, is who’ll be able to vote for them. The U.S. Department of Justice has shut down state efforts to examine voter rolls within 90 days of the August election. We asked Governor Rick Scott why he ordered the effort now.
“There’s no perfect time to do any of these things,” Scott said. “We just want fair elections. That’s what all of us want.”
The State says it has been trying to get Federal approval for the purge and the use of a federal database since last September. A trail of emails show that conference calls to were cancelled by both sides.
As early as a month after first asking to use the database, the state was told it would need an alien database registration number for the computer to make the match. The Catch-22 is that the state doesn’t collect that number because it doesn’t register non-citizens.
What is clear is that the state is not giving up.
Reporter: The 90-day requirement doesn’t apply here, is that right?
“We’ll be addressing that in our letter to DOJ,” Secretary of State Spokesman Chris Cate said.
Reporter: And when will that letter go?
“We’ll send out our letter to DOJ this week,” Cate said.
Initial matches of voters to the state’s suspect list have gone overwhelmingly to the voter who was a citizen and properly registered.
Posted in Civil Rights, Elections, Rick Scott, State News, Voting | 1 Comment »
March 28th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda
State officials say state law forbids them from talking about Sanford Shooter George Zimmerman’s concealed weapons permit. Information about concealed weapons was taken out of the public domain in 2006, so we don’t know who has a concealed weapon, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, we do know a lot of people are carrying weapons in Florida.
One in every 20 Floridians has a valid concealed weapons permit. Sanford shooter George Zimmerman still has his. State law is very specific about when the permits can be suspended or revoked.
“If you’re charged with a felony crime, and the department is notified, we can certainly move to have the license suspended,” Sterling Ivey with the Florida Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services. “Once a conviction takes place, we can revoke that individual’s license.”
This past year, state lawmakers lowered the cost of a concealed permit by fifteen dollars. They now cost 70 dollars. Applicants must also pass a gun safety course. The Brady Project to prevent gun violence says concealed carry permits are too easy to get in Florida.
“You know, this man George Zimmerman, is a living example of that,” Brady Project President Dan Gross said. “This is a guy who had an arrest record, this is a guy who had a violent past. This is a guy who in numerous other states would never be offered a permit to carry a loaded, hidden, handgun.”
The NRA declined to appear on camera for this story. But they argue that statistics show only law abiding citizens get and keep a permit. State figures show 98 percent of all applicants receive a carry permit.
Since 1987, more than 2 million concealed weapons permits have been issued in Florida, and of those permits just three of every thousand have been revoked.
The Brady project counters that just one concealed permit in the wrong hands is an injustice.
In addition to lowering the license fee, lawmakers also reduced the renewal fee by ten dollars. Concealed weapons permits now cost about eight and a half dollars a year.
Posted in Adam Putnam, Amendments, Business, Cabinet, Charlie Crist, Children, Civil Rights, Crime, Criminal Justice, Drugs, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Ethics, FAMU, Gambling, Gas Prices, Gulf Oil Spill, Health, Highways, Holidays, Housing, Hurricane Season, Insurance, Legislature, McCollum, Oil Drilling, Pam Bondi, Pension, Politics, Property Taxes, Religion, Rick Scott, Sansom, Sink, State Budget, State Employees, State News, Supreme Court, Swine Flu, Taxes, Tourism, Transportation, Unemployment, Unions, Utilities, Veterans, Voting, Weather, Wildlife | 24 Comments »
March 14th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda
The Florida Senate spent just 13 minutes in session today on the first of a fifteen day extraordinary session called to redraw a map of state Senate Districts. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the session is necessary because the Florida Supreme Court found the Senate defied voters wishes and drew a map favoring incumbents.
When does two come before five but after seven? When does 22 fall between 17 and 19? And what about 33 coming between 38 and 39?
The math is possible only on the map drawing new lines for the state Senate.
The Florida supreme court, in this 200-page-plus opinion, found that the way the senate numbered its districts, was proof that the Senate ignored voters and tried to protect incumbents.
The way districts are numbered is important because it decides who gets a two-year term and who gets a four years. Under the first Senate map, Sen. Arthenia Joyner would have gotten a ten year term, thwarting another constitutional amendment: “eight is enough.”
“I didn’t know how it happened,” Sen. Joyner said. “So, I’m here to serve whatever term I get, and I came knowing it would be 8, and if it’s 10, it’s 10.”
Senator Don Gaetz says the numbering was developed by a professional staff, but he’s willing to try anything to get the court to say OK.
“One way is that we can simply draw lots,” Gaetz said. “Another way is that we can have the department of the lottery run some balls in a tumbler.”
Lawmakers will spend several hundred thousand dollars fixing a map that voters told them to do right the first time.
The public’s only opportunity to comment will be at a March 20th committee hearing or on the web at MyFlorida Senate.gov. If the Senate fails to fix the problems outlined by the court, the court will have sixty days to draw the map.
Posted in Elections, Legislature, State News, Voting | No Comments »
March 8th, 2012 by Anna Laura Rehwinkel
If lawmakers don’t act by Friday, Florida’s unemployment tax will more than double. The tax is going from 71 dollars an employee to more than 170. As Whitney Ray tells us, efforts are underway to reduce the increase, but lawmakers will have to act fast or they’ll run out of time.
Good food and great services are the ingredients for success for Brian Rowe and his BBQ business. Piggy’s BBQ employees 35 workers. The restaurant has added catering and a food truck, but the rising price of food and fuel presents a huge challenge.
“It hurts our bottom-line. I’m not going to do a price increase to our customers,” said Rowe.
It could get worse. Piggy’s is about to be hit with a 35-hundred dollar increase in state unemployment taxes. The tax is skyrocketing from 71 dollars to more than 170 per employee.
“It’s kind of a double whammy there. When you have all these increases that are affecting us, ultimately you will have to increase the prices or drop your staff and have fewer staff,” said Rowe.
And if lawmakers don’t act by Friday there will be an 817 million dollar increase to all business owners statewide. Legislation to cut the increase in half is being heard late in session. State Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff says the bill will make it across the finish line.
“I don not anticipate Sine Dieing before this thing passes. This is a priority of the governor and we have been working diligently to get it through,” said Bogdanoff.
The increase is needed to pay back the federal government. In 2009, the state ran out of cash to pay unemployment claims. Florida borrowed 2.6 billion dollars from Uncle Sam to keep the money flowing and now the bill has come due with interest.
Critics of the bill say delaying the increase will only prolong payment to the federal government, and since they are charging interest, in the long run businesses will end up paying more.
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