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New state rule bans after-hours Capitol protests

Capitol protests, like last summer's 31-day sit-in by the Dream Defenders, are no longer allowed thanks to a rule change that will limit more than just demonstrations.

With little fanfare, Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford on Monday approved a proposed rule by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that bans overnight stays at the Capitol and shoos members of the public from the building after 5 p.m. or 30 minutes after an official function.

Members of the public who don't have a Capitol Access Card, or who aren't the guests of staff or lawmakers, will be told to leave after those times. That sets up a scenario that sounds problematic for free speech advocates.

"Those invited to stay could stay, but those exercising their First Amendment right would be told to leave," said Barbara Peterson, executive director of the First Amendment Foundation. "If the building is open to others, why wouldn't it be open to me? I would argue it would violate the First Amendment."

The FDLE proposed the rule change after the Dream Defenders ended their sit-in last summer. While no one at the time alleged the group was unruly or disruptive, the FDLE said its presence required additional officers, costing $172,592.88 in overtime.

"FDLE gave careful consideration to the security needs of the Capitol and formulated a plan which was signed off by Speaker Weatherford, President Gaetz and the Governor in consultation with the members of the Cabinet," Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said in an email.

No alimony reform

Remember the controversial alimony reform bill Gov. Scott vetoed last session? It won't be back.

The organization behind the proposal announced Thursday that there will be no new legislation filed during the 2014 session.

"I am beyond saddened that this bill will not become a reality," Family Law Reform president Alan Frisher wrote in a statement. "Our proposed bill was good legislation. It protected our citizens and corrected inconsistencies in Florida law."

In January, Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, told the Times/Herald that he was working on a proposal similar to the alimony bill he sponsored last year. The 2013 bill sought to eliminate permanent alimony, and capped payments based on salary and length of marriage.

But according to a news release issued Thursday, he and Senate sponsor Kelli Stargel have decided to focus instead on tax cuts.

Crist to visit D.C.

Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is scheduled to speak Saturday at the annual Gridiron Club dinner in Washington, D.C. The former Republican-turned-Independent-now Democrat will represent the Democrats and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz will represent the Republicans. We hear there won't be cameras at the prestigious white-tie event this year.

Kathleen McGrory contributed.

New state rule bans after-hours Capitol protests 03/06/14 [Last modified: Thursday, March 6, 2014 7:18pm]
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