State Capitol Briefs

Advocates: Disabled vet to get new trail in 10-20-Life case
Opponents of Florida’s 10-20-Life law said Tuesday that Clay County Circuit Judge Don H. Lester has granted Ronald Thompson, 65, a new trial. Thompson, a disabled veteran, was sentenced in 2010 to serve 20 years for firing a gun in a 2009 dispute with four young men. ”He has been punished enough,” said Greg Newburn, Florida project director for Families Against Mandatory Minimums. ”He presents no threat to public safety…We hope the state will do the right thing, which is to dismiss these charges and let Ronald Thompson stay at home.” The case involved an elderly neighbor who tried to bar her grandson and three friends from her home. The News Service of Florida reported Friday that Thompson fired two shots into the ground to scare them off. But Jackelyn Barnard, a spokeswoman for State Attorney Angela Corey, who prosecutes cases in Clay County, said the crime was graver than that. ”Mr. Thompson was convicted of shooting at four young people,” Barnard said before Tuesday’s ruling. ”One shot hit the ground near one of the victims. The dirt flew up on him, it was that close. The other shot was fired at the car the kids were getting into. This was a battle of words. There was no violence from any of the four young people involved.” No one was injured, but Thompson was charged with four counts of aggravated assault, and Corey’s office offered a three-year plea bargain, which Thompson refused. He was found guilty, and because he had fired a gun, faced a mandatory prison term of 20 years under the 10-20-Life law. At sentencing, however, Judge John Skinner refused to impose the 20-year sentence, opting instead for three years. Corey’s office appealed, and an appellate court imposed the 20-year mandatory minimum. Thompson, who has served nearly three years, then sought a new trial because he alleged his original defense attorney made mistakes. Newburn said he hopes state prosecutors will dismiss the case. ”Lawmakers need to reform the law immediately,” he said.

Online travel flap continues
Combatants concluded arguments Tuesday in their respective quests to avoid a lengthy court hearing over how much and who should pay local tourist taxes for rooms booked over the Internet. Mirroring cases being argued in courtrooms across the country, attorneys for Expedia, Orbitz and other online travel companies urged state Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis to forego a trial and grant summary judgment in a case with few disputed facts. Lewis, who said the six hours of argument was highly unusual for such a hearing, did not indicate when he would rule. At the center of the controversy is whether local tax collectors are losing out on tourist development taxes when customers book their rooms with online companies. Gary Cruciani, an attorney for Broward County in this case, said travel companies should pay taxes on the entire cost of the transaction and not merely the discounted price they paid to the hotel.

Oir Commish: Florida Insurers prepared for 2012 season
More than nine out of 10 Florida insurers have finances adequate to handle a one in 80 year hurricane while more than 75 percent could handle a 100-year storm, Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty told the governor and Cabinet members Tuesday. (To compare, Hurricane Andrew but varying analyses was at most a one-in 50 year storm.) Improving reinsurance markets and the increasingly ability of insurers to tap into the global credit market, combine to make the state’s insurance market the soundest it has been in years. Testament to the improving health of the market, McCarty said net income for Florida domestic insurers rose by more than 40 percent in the first quarter of 2012 from the same period a year earlier.

New parole commissioner appointed
Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet on Tuesday named Melinda Coonrod to the Florida Parole Commission. She will replace Monica David, who steps down after two, six-year terms. For the past three and half years, Coonrod served as an attorney and administrative hearing officer for the Florida Department of Agriculture. She has also been an adjunct professor at Florida State University, and an assistant state attorney for the second judicial circuit. A Florida State University graduate, Coonrod received a law degree from the Shephard Broad Law Center, Nova University in Fort Lauderdale. The governor and Cabinet also reappointed Tena M. Pate as chairman while Bernard R. Cohen, Sr., was selected to serve a two-year term as vice chairman.

Judge blocks contracting law aimed at Cuba
A Miami federal judge Monday issued a preliminary injunction against a new law that would prevent the state and local governments from contracting with companies that have business links to Cuba. U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore said Odebrecht Construction, Inc., which filed a lawsuit early this month, had ”demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success” that the law violates the federal constitution. The law would prevent companies from receiving government contracts of $1 million or more if they do business in Cuba or are affiliated with firms that do business there. Odebrecht, a Coral Gables-based firm that does major transportation and construction projects, is a subsidiary of the Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht S.A. Another subsidiary of the firm is involved in the expansion of the Cuban port of Mariel, according to the lawsuit. Odebrecht argues that the law is unconstitutional because it intrudes on the federal government’s powers to set foreign policy. ”In both its purpose and effect, the Cuba amendment affects foreign affairs by imposing penalties on businesses that have business operations in Cuba in order to influence the conduct of the Cuban government through economic pressure,” the lawsuit said. ”The Cuba amendment has more than an incidental or indirect effect on foreign affairs.” Moore wrote that the law could violate three parts of the U.S. Constitution and said he would later issue a more-detailed order. Gov. Rick Scott signed the law this spring but also raised questions about whether it conflicted with federal law

Law Enforcement consolidation next week
Most law enforcement staff from the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services will be absorbed into the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on July 1 under legislation passed earlier this year. The reorganization is expected to save the state more than $3 million over the next five years and $1.28 million in recurring, annual savings. It also will allow for more officers to patrol state forests, parks wildlife areas and state waters.

Arizona ruling may bring Bill to FLA
With the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling upholding a key part of Arizona’s immigration law, the incoming Senate president in Florida said it wouldn’t be unlikely to see legislation here that mirrors the provision. The Supreme Court on Monday upheld a section of the law that requires police to try to determine the immigration status of people who are stopped if there’s reasonable suspicion they may here illegally. Other parts of the law – including a provision that would make it a crime for immigrants not to carry their registration papers – were thrown out. Sen. Don Gaetz, expected to take over in November as Senate president, told the Palm Beach Post that the part of the Arizona law that was upheld makes sense. ”When someone is stopped for a DUI or speeding or anything else, it is customary for law enforcement officers to check to see if other laws have been broken or if there are outstanding warrants,” said Gaetz, R-Niceville. ”So I don’t think it’s outside the realm of reasonables that we check to determine whether someone is breaking federal law with regard to illegal alien status. Legislation filed in Florida in recent years has failed to pass, but one of the arguments against it – that its main provision would be unconstitutional – is now off the table. A measure seeking to give police the requirement for checking immigration status in Florida died in committee during the 2011 session, and no such bill moved this past year.


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