"The stench of voter suppression"
The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "It takes the federal courts and the U.S. Justice Department to defend democracy and protect Floridians from their governor and Legislature who are determined to suppress the vote."
Now it should be clear even to Gov. Rick Scott that barriers to voter registration drives and the state's heavy-handed purge of the voter rolls are unconstitutional. The governor should start encouraging all Floridians to vote and quit putting up barriers to the polls that disproportionately affect the poor and minorities."Hours later, the Justice Department ordered the state to halt its purge of suspected noncitizens from the voting rolls, noting that effort also violates long-established federal voting rights."
The federal backlash, coming in separate moves Thursday, is the most powerful rebuke yet of a Republican governor and GOP-controlled Legislature bent on disenfranchising Florida voters by using measures that primarily marginalize African-Americans, Hispanics, poor people and other reliable Democratic constituencies.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle threw out restrictions on third-party groups that register voters, calling them "harsh," "impractical" and "plainly" illegal.
The question of whether Scott and his fellow Republicans overreached is not even close. In tossing parts of the 2011 election law, Hinkle sounded incredulous about the lengths that Republicans went to erect new hurdles to voting."Message on voting loud, clear".
More from The Miami Herald editors: "The Scott administration’s attempt to purge the voting rolls of suspected noncitizens violates federal civil rights laws, the Justice Department warns, and the GOP-led Legislature’s law imposing a 48-hour deadline on the League of Women Voters, Rock the Vote and other third-party groups that hold voter registration drives is a bust, a federal judge rules."
Democrats cry voter suppression. Republicans insist they’re simply trying to prevent voter fraud. Who’s right?"Purge the purge list".
The problem is the way state GOP leaders in Florida (and various other GOP-led states) are going about it. They want to “prevent” a problem that there’s no evidence even exists. It carries the stench of voter suppression in a presidential election year when Florida is among a handful of swing states key to victory for either President Obama or his Republican opponent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Back in the contentious presidential nail-biter of 2000, the integrity of Florida’s voting system was challenged by butterfly ballots and dimpled chads and a purge of thousands of voters the state deemed to be ineligible felons when, in fact, they were eligible to vote. Those structural problems were fixed years later by federal and state laws, with new ballot scan machines in Florida and rules that made early voting possible days before the official Election Day. The point was to have access to voting and transparency.
But now, Florida seems to be heading back to those “Flori-duh” days of purging voters who have every right to vote and finding ways to limit young people, immigrants and minorities — who typically lean Democrat — from voting with onerous rules on voter-registration drives, restrictions U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle called “risky business” for those groups that faced $1,000 in fines if they submit new voter forms past the 48-hour rule.
Leonard Pitts Jr. writes that "The demographic trend lines are clearly against the Republican Party. But rather than work to broaden the party’s appeal, some GOP leaders have chosen instead to narrow the other party’s base under the guise of addressing a problem that does not exist. Thus, you get a campaign to gut the aforementioned Voting Rights Act of 1965. Thus, you get restrictive new Voter ID laws. Thus you get Florida (like New Mexico and Colorado) culling its voter rolls of noncitizens and somehow, apparently by sheer happenstance, targeting those most likely to vote for the other party." "The GOP, demographics and voter suppression".
Meanwhile, Rick Scott whines that "Fla. not targeting minorities".
Florida's "phantom" votes
"Almost half of Florida's voters will have their ballots counted this November by machines that can malfunction in as little as two hours and start adding votes."
A New York study found that the precinct-based vote counter added votes in some races on a ballot, which can invalidate some or all of the votes."'Phantom' votes raise doubts for November". See also "Panel flags earlier vote system".
Although not used in Palm Beach County, Election Systems & Software's DS200 scanner will count votes in some of the most populous counties in Florida, including Miami-Dade, Broward and Orange.
State elections officials stand behind the scanner, which they say has been thoroughly tested.
Even so, the manufacturer issued a nationwide bulletin warning that the scanner needs to be carefully cleaned to avoid adding "phantom" votes.
The addition of extra votes can generate overvoting - instances where two or more candidates are chosen on a ballot in the same race. If a voter doesn't correct the ballot, his or her vote in that race is thrown out. In 2008, overvoting rates were so high in Florida counties using the scanner that an estimated 11,000 people lost their vote for president, an analysis by the nonprofit watchdog group Florida Fair Elections Coalition concluded. Miami-Dade County precincts with large numbers of minority and non-English-speaking voters were especially hard-hit.
Ballot design was part of the problem, the coalition said. However, the group requested that the state Division of Elections temporarily remove the DS200 from its list of authorized voting equipment.
That didn't happen.
Florida Voter Purge to Continue
"Despite a Justice Department letter, objections from county elections officials and evidence that a disproportionate number are voters of color, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner's office planned to continue scrubbing the election rolls, a spokesman said Friday. Gov. Rick Scott (R) ordered the search for potentially ineligible voters." "Florida Voter Purge Will Continue, Defying Federal Warning".
"Road to the future of Florida Senate goes through Tampa Bay"
"The road to the future of the Florida Senate goes through Tampa Bay in November."
Some of this year’s fiercest state election fights are likely to occur in the region, mainly because of a job held by someone that’s rarely a household name — the state Senate president."Fight to control leadership of state Senate looms over this year’s elections".
“After the election this year, you will probably get a sense of the Senate leadership for the next six years,’’ said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who is running to be Senate president from 2016-18.
That’s because, due to redistricting, every seat in the 40-member chamber is up for election, and the winners will determine who holds the clout for the next decade.
Latvala, who returned to the Senate in 2010 after being termed out in 2002, wants to make sure that enough returning and newly elected Republican senators support him. He even held a fundraiser to raise money for his political committee, proclaiming the money would go to “the first Senate president from Pinellas County.”
Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, is also lining up support for the 2016-18 presidency, albeit more quietly. And Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, says he, too, remains a candidate.
The men are all Republicans but they differ in philosophy. Thrasher and Negron are conservative; Latvala is a moderate. Thrasher forged his reputation as a dominant House speaker who forcefully pushed through former Gov. Jeb Bush’s agenda. Negron began his career in the House and moved to the Senate where he has become a budget and health care expert. And Latvala is a maverick who relishes challenging leadership and forging consensus on thorny issues.
Latvala helped secure the 2014-16 Senate presidency for Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, when Thrasher and Negron lost confidence in Gardiner and attempted to hoist Thrasher to power instead. Now Gardiner, and Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, the designated Senate president for 2012-14, can help determine which candidates align with whom in 2016. The battle is fiercest in Tampa Bay.
"Get tough on the unemployed, and go easy on employers"
The Orlando Sentinel editorial board: "If there were any questions about where loyalties lie among Florida lawmakers, consider what they've done to the state's unemployment compensation system: made it harder for the jobless to collect benefits and eased the burden on businesses of paying for them." "Florida's jobless crackdown shows skewed priorities". See also "Workers: State blocks unemployment benefits".
"'I don't agree with the system, and I don't think it's working,' said Terry Andrews, Osceola County's school superintendent, a day after the much-lower-than-expected scores were released."
"I'm not against testing, but when we test kids for 48 days out of the year, there's something wrong," Andrews said, referring to his district's testing calendar. "And when we have five third-graders who are so upset, they throw up on their tests, and we have to put them in plastic bags to grade them, it's time to look at what we're doing.""Critics of Florida's testing culture in schools grow louder".
Even before the writing scores were released, however, there were signs of an increasing frustration with Florida's stable of standardized tests and how the state uses test scores to make promotion, class-assignment and graduation decisions for students, grade schools A to F and, starting this year, help judge teacher quality.
Two Florida school districts have signed a national "time-out-from-testing" resolution. The Central Florida Public School Boards Coalition has put together a white paper on the negative "ramifications" of testing, which in its view dominates too much of public education.
The Florida School Boards Association will take up the paper, and its findings, at a meeting this month.
Those upset with the system argue it puts too much stress on students and teachers, costs too much, eats up too much time and limits creativity in classrooms.
But state education leaders say the accountability plan, adopted in 1999 when Jeb Bush was governor, has improved student achievement, boosting Florida's showing on both state and national tests and increasing the number of students graduating from high school.
Florida has had a "meteoric rise" because its accountability plan measures student achievement and holds schools responsible for improving it, said Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson.
Before then, the state was a bottom feeder on most academic measures.
"Tampa strippers get ready"
"Tampa strippers get ready for a really big party -- the GOP".
Deutch "wants to find out how the purge originated"
William March: "U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton has filed a public records request for documents related to the state's attempted voter roll purge, which is targeting alleged non-citizens illegally registered to vote. ... Deutch spokeswoman Ashley Mushnick said he wants to find out how the purge originated, and how people's names got on the list. The Associated Press reported that Gov. Rick Scott initiated the purge, despite advice against it by former Secretary of State Kurt Browning." "Deutch seeks records on state voter purge".
"Transferring public education money to private companies"
The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is angry that the Legislature forced Florida school districts to keep providing private tutoring for low-performing students at high-poverty schools. "
Mr. Duncan's department just gave Florida a waiver from that and other No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements, saying research shows that such tutoring doesn't improve academic performance."The private tutoring scam".
But the required spending does something near and dear to the hearts of Florida legislators: It transfers public education money to private companies. In Palm Beach County last year, roughly 100 outside groups were eligible to provide private tutoring. They billed the district $60 to $70 a session for individual tutoring, and could collect up to $1,254 per student.
"The location is hardly a coincidence"
"Just weeks before the nation's Republicans gather in Tampa to make Mitt Romney their presidential candidate, the state's Democrats are in town to choose delegates for their convention. The location is hardly a coincidence." "State Democrats gather in Tampa to select delegates for convention".
PBC Dems could get whipsawed on immigration
The Palm Beach Post editors: "If Palm Beach County Democrats don't handle complaints about party official Clarence Shahid Freeman carefully, they could get whipsawed on immigration the way Republicans already have been."
Florida's GOP courts Hispanics, particularly Cuban-Americans, but concocted a voter-roll purge that flagged legal Hispanic voters."Whom do Dems care about?".
As Post reporter John Lantigua revealed in a two-part series [last] week, immigration lawyers Aileen Josephs and Cynthia Arevalo have filed a complaint with the Florida Bar accusing Mr. Freeman of the unlawful practice of law. Mr. Freeman is president of the Boynton Beach Democratic Club, is on Palm Beach County's Democratic Executive Committee and was an officer of the Brazilian American Democratic Club based in Boca Raton.
The lawyers say Mr. Freeman, who is not a lawyer, improperly took money from immigrants to intercede in immigration cases and used his Dem
Florida's "shady officials" leave a cloud of ethical suspicion
The Tampa Tribune editorial board: "Shady officials have, in copious numbers, left a cloud of ethical suspicion over Florida's state and local governments. In the most recent 10-year period for which records are available, Florida leads the nation in corruption convictions by the Public Integrity section of the U.S. Department of Justice. The 781 convictions are averaging more than six each month since 2000." "Please pass the sunshine".
Next time, read up on the First Amendment
The Sarasota Herald Tribune editors: "Next time Florida lawmakers are tempted to meddle with voter registration drives, they might want to read up on the First Amendment and the freedoms it protects. Thursday, a federal judge cited those freedoms as a reason to suspend the state's onerous new restrictions on groups mounting voter registration drives." "Reprieve for voter drives".
Young faces credible Dem challenger
Adam C. Smith: U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young "faces another credible Democratic challenger, St. Petersburg lawyer Jessica Ehrlich, 38, who ... makes clear she will try to wrap the Paul Ryan budget proposal revamping Medicare around Young's neck." "Challenger Jessica Ehrlich criticizes Rep. C.W. Bill Young".
To replace Rod Smith
"Florida Democratic Party chairman Rod Smith has made it clear he will not seek another term as chairman after November's election. So who is his likely replacement? So far, we hear mainly about three contenders for the next party chairman: Hillsborough State Committeeman and Democratic National Committee member Alan Clendenin; Palm Beach Democratic chairman Mark Alan Siegel; and outgoing state Rep. Scott Randolph of Orlando." "For party chairman".
"Assault on state's fragile environment by Scott administration"
Daniel Ruth on the "assaults on our state's fragile environment by the Scott administration."
The Scott administration, with its zeal to give businesses carte blanche in dealing with our natural resources, seems to hold the anachronistic view of wetlands as being peat bogs that breed mosquitoes and other vermin, dirty and dangerous places that should be drained and backfilled for development and agriculture."Greed, folly imperil Florida environment".
The governor and his aides need a primer on the intrinsic value of wetlands. They should log on, for example, to the St. Johns River Water Management website. They would learn that wetlands benefit us by:
• Cleaning, or filtering, pollutants from surface waters.Why, then, would anyone — especially the state's highest elected official — tolerate dissembling when the welfare of the state's wetlands is at stake? Scott and his DEP appointees should be the lead stewards of our environment, always protecting our treasures from irresponsibility and greed.
• Storing water from storms or runoff.
• Preventing flood damage to developed lands.
• Recharging groundwater.
• Serving as nurseries for saltwater and freshwater fish and shellfish that have commercial, recreational and ecological value.
• Providing natural habitat for a variety of fish, wildlife and plants, including rare, threatened, endangered and endemic (native) species.
The audacity of retirement
"It's actually a better deal for the state to have a retiree return to work since they are not entitled to further retirement benefits whereas a new hire would be."
In any event, "New hires must now work eight years to become vested in the system and will receive a retirement based on their highest eight years of earning instead of five. The new retirement parameters for calculating benefits are now set at age 65 instead of 62, or 33 years of employment instead of 30 if younger and all employees are required to contribute 3 percent of their earnings to the retirement program - although that is being challenged in court." "2nd retirement no more an option for state workers".