STATE CAPITOL BRIEFS: FRIDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2012
REPUBLICAN SENATORS DEFEND SUPREME COURT JUSTICES
Three Republican senators called Friday for their party to step back from its stance against three Supreme Court justices facing voters in November. Sens. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, and Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, issued a joint statement asking the Republican Party of Florida to reconsider its position on Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince. “Each of us has been disappointed in one ruling or another from this and other courts,” the senators wrote. “But the need for a fair and impartial judiciary far outweighs our individual disagreements with any specific opinion.” The justices, facing merit retention elections, must get the support of a majority of voters to remain on the court. Conservative activists have launched a campaign to oust the trio, which forms the backbone of the court’s left-of-center majority. The RPOF announced in late September that its executive board had voted to oppose the justices. No sitting Supreme Court justice has ever lost a merit retention race.
ETHICS COMMISSION LOOKS TO REVAMP LAWS
The Florida Commission on Ethics is trying to build support for legislative changes that include better enforcement of fines and allowing other agencies to refer ethics-related cases to the panel. Commissioner Matt Carlucci, a former Jacksonville City Council president, has written a letter to newspapers that spells out legislative priorities. They include using property liens to help enforce fines that are levied against officials for not filing financial-disclosure information. Currently, some officials take advantage of a four-year statute of limitations to avoid paying the fines. Also, the letter proposes allowing the governor’s office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, state attorney’s offices and the state chief financial officer to refer cases to the commission. Carlucci’s letter said those agencies sometimes handle cases that fall short of criminal conduct but could merit review by the commission. Another proposal would change a standard that allows officials who win ethics cases to recover their legal costs from people who file complaints. The letter said officials should be required to show “actual malice” to recover such costs.
SCOTT WANTS REVIEW OF COLLEGE PRES CONTRACTS
Gov. Rick Scott asked Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel to review the contracts of the 28 state college system presidents. The request comes in the wake of financial controversies at Florida State College at Jacksonville, which recently agreed to a $1.2 million severance package with President Steven Wallace, after questions were raised about how grants were awarded. Scott said he needs an assessment of the liabilities taxpayers might be on the hook for if there are similar large payouts.
FLORIDA FORECLOSURE RATE TOPS U.S. IN SEPT., 3RD QTR
An expected surge of foreclosures pushed Florida to the top of the heap during the third quarter as lenders resumed proceedings that had been stalled by robo-signings violations more than two years ago, according to data compiled by RealtyTrac, which monitors retail sales and foreclosures around the country. For the quarter ending Sept. 30, one in every 117 Florida homes was in some sort of foreclosure action, more than double the national average. Florida also led the nation for foreclosures in September, the first time the state had claimed the dubious top spot since April 2005. For the quarter, Florida’s foreclosure rate was up 14 percent from the same period last year. September’s foreclosure rate was 24 percent higher than a year ago, the 11th straight month of year-to-year increase, RealtyTrac reported Thursday.
GIBSON FILES ETHICS COMPLAINT OVER MAILERS
Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, has filed a complaint with the state ethics commission against a group that has pretended to be a Democratic-leaning organization while sending out mail pieces in Senate races, The Florida Times-Union reported. Gibson contends that the group, known as “Progressives,” has received contributions but has not reported them as required by state law. The group has been linked to Republican operatives and has sent out critical mailers about several Democratic Senate candidates, including Gibson. It is registered with the state as what is known as an “electioneering communication organization,” which requires it to disclose money it receives and spends.