State Capitol Briefs
The News Service of Florida
LAWSUITS CHALLENGING VRA REACH SUPREME COURT
A pair of lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of a key portion of the Voting Rights Act could be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court in its next term. The lawsuits are from local governments in Alabama and North Carolina, but many of the challenges are similar to those lodged by Florida against Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires jurisdictions with a history of racial or language discrimination to get federal approval for all changes to elections laws and procedures. Florida, which has five “covered jurisdictions,” has asked a three-judge federal panel in Washington, D.C., to either grant preclearance to a series of voting changes passed by the Legislature in 2011 or strike down Section 5. The petitions to have the Alabama and North Carolina cases heard were filed on Friday.
MEGGS FILES GAG ORDER MOTION IN COLE TRIAL
State Attorney Willie Meggs has filed a motion in Leon County Circuit Court to bar Carletha Cole and her attorneys from discussing with the press details of Cole’s case. The gag order request, filed on Friday (July 20, 2012), comes in response to allegations by Cole that she walked in on Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll and another female aid in a sexually compromising position. Meggs said recent actions by Cole and her lawyers is making it difficult to prosecute the case against Cole, a former Carroll aide who was fired and faces charges of illegally leaking tape recorded messages to a Jacksonville reporter. Carroll is not a party in the case. “The efforts on the part of the defense to try this case in the media include an on camera interviews given by Mr. (Stephen) Webster (Cole’s attorney) to a local news station on at least two separate occasions within the last week,” Meggs wrote in his motion. “The extensive media coverage in this case will affect both the State and the Defense=s respective rights to a fair trial here in Leon County.”
FLORIDA TRANSIT PROJECTS NET $50 MIL. IN FED FUNDS
Florida will receive more than $50 million in federal transportation funds for 14 projects to revamp and renovate aging public transit systems, according to a list of projects released Monday (July 23, 2012) by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Included in the list of approved projects is $15 million to renovate transit facilities in Gainesville and $5 million for a new transit facility in Fort Myers. The Florida projects were included in a group of 255 projects in 48 states that were approved for funding under a $787 million U.S. DOT program targeting public transportation. Since 2010, the federal program has pumped $1.8 billion in funding to replace aging transit facilities and vehicles around the country “to meet the growing demand from millions of riders across the country.”
DAWSON SENTENCED TO SIX MONTHS IN PRISON
A federal judge Friday (July 20, 2012) sentenced former South Florida Sen. Mandy Dawson to six months in prison and two years of supervised release after she pleaded guilty in April to tax-evasion charges, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami. Dawson, 55, served from 1998 to 2008 in the Senate, following six years in the House. Dawson was part of a broad federal investigation into influence buying in Tallahassee, with convicted ophthalmologist and lobbyist Alan Mendelsohn saying in court that he funneled money to Dawson in exchange for her not blocking legislation. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a news release that Dawson, a Democrat who represented parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties, failed to file tax returns over a series of years and evaded at least $29,000 in taxes.
GREER TRIAL DELAYED UNTIL NOVEMBER
The criminal trial of former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer has been delayed and is now slated for November. Orlando Circuit Judge Marc Lubet ordered the trial postponed after Greer’s lawyer asked for the delay to review documents, the Tampa Bay Times reported late Thursday (July 19, 2012). The trial had been scheduled to start at the end of this month. Greer, who was former Gov. Charlie Crist’s hand-picked choice to head up the party is charged with money laundering and fraud in relation to an alleged fundraising scheme in which he is accused of steering party money to his own company when he was chairman. He was forced out at the beginning of 2010. The highly anticipated trial is worrisome for many Republicans because Greer is likely to discuss in detail who did what in relation to questionable spending at the party during his time as chairman.
OBAMA ANNOUNCES JAXPORT FAST TRACK
Responding to calls for speedy action, President Barack Obama on Thursday announced that the federal government would fast track a local application to deepen shipping channel into the JAXPORT, a move local delegates say will allow the Jacksonville deepwater port to better compete for traffic as the Panama Canal widening is completed. Obama said federal review of a feasibility study would be pushed up a year to make the project ready sooner. The federal action follows state and federal efforts to deepen the Port of Miami, a priority of Governor Rick Scott. “We are moving from talk to action, and that’s what it’s going to take to keep this nation competitive globally,” said JAXPORT CEO Paul Anderson. Obama made the announcement at a campaign stop during the first of a two-day swing through the state.
LOAN SERVICES CO EXPANDING, 150 NEW JOBS RIGHT AWAY
A loan service company is expanding in Florida and will create 150 new jobs in Boca Raton with plans to add 1,000 new jobs over the next two years. Gov. Rick Scott’s office on Wednesday (July 18, 2012) was publicizing the planned expansion by Digital Risk, which evaluates loan applications for lenders. Scott visited the company’s Maitland location Wednesday to tout the decision by the company to expand in Florida rather than four other sites it was considering. The company already employs 1,300 people in Florida. The company will benefit from state incentives, which weren’t immediately disclosed.
JUDGE REJECTS CHALLENGE TO CONTRACEPTIVES RULE
A federal judge Tuesday (July 17, 2012) tossed out a challenge by Florida and six other states to part of the federal health overhaul that requires coverage for contraceptives in insurance plans. The lawsuit, filed in Nebraska, centered on religious organizations’ objections to the requirement in the Affordable Care Act. The states contended, at least in part, that Medicaid enrollment would grow if the coverage requirement leads organizations to stop providing insurance to their employees. But Senior U.S. District Judge Warren Urbom found that the states didn’t have legal standing to sue, saying their theory “is based on layers of conjecture.” Urbom wrote that the state’s complaint “merely offers guesses about how independent actors will respond to the rule and speculation that these responses could cause people to qualify for, and obtain, state benefits that they would not otherwise seek, which will then strain the state’s budgets. This is not sufficient to establish standing.” Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning has spearheaded the lawsuit. Along with Florida, the other states that signed onto the case were South Carolina, Texas, Ohio, Oklahoma and Michigan.
FLORIDA JOBLESS DROP EXAGGERATED
State economists have cast a cloud over Florida’s sunny economy recovery picture, releasing data showing nearly 70 percent of the drop in the state’s unemployment rate since December has been due to discouraged workers. The Legislative Office of Economic and Demographic Research estimated in a report Tuesday that Florida’s unemployment rate of 8.6 percent would be 9.5 percent if workers who have stopped looking for jobs were added to the picture. The rate would still be lower than the 9.9 percent posted in December. The figures provide some analytical backup to anecdotal information that much of the state and national recovery is due to a smaller labor force and not to job growth. Florida releases its June unemployment rate on Friday.