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Subpoenas quashed for nine legislators in Florida trooper firing case

Sen. Marco Rubio has been in politics for nearly two decades.

Sen. Marco Rubio has been in politics for nearly two decades.

Nine state legislators who were subpoenaed to testify in the case of a fired Florida Highway Patrol trooper cannot be forced to testify, a hearing officer has ordered.

The quashing of the subpoenas is in the case of Charles Swindle, who was fired from his job as a trooper after superiors concluded he had falsely charged Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, with lacking proof of car insurance. Swindle is fighting his dismissal and has a hearing scheduled for Wednesday before the Public Employees Relations Commission.

As part of his defense, Swindle sought testimony from nine lawmakers who have been ticketed by law enforcement officers: Sens. John Thrasher, Joe Negron, Charlie Dean and Jeff Clemens; and Reps. James Grant, Keith Perry, Seth McKeel, Alan Williams and Ed Hooper.

Hearing officer Gregg Riley Morton sided with attorneys for the Legislature, who argued that lawmakers are entitled to a legislative privilege that exempts them from being forced to testify about their legislative duties. Morton also questioned how the lawmakers' testimony would be "relevant" to the circumstances in Swindle's case.

Swindle claimed he caught McBurney driving 87 mph in a 70 mph zone on Interstate 10 in Madison as the lawmaker and his wife drove to a one-day organizational session in November in Tallahassee. McBurney insisted his cruise control was set at 75 mph.

An internal report by the FHP found that Swindle decided he would "be nice ... and stroke him" by issuing a warning for speeding and a $10 uniform traffic citation for lack of proof of insurance. Investigators concluded Swindle violated agency rules by falsely citing McBurney for no proof of insurance, when he did.

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Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill Tuesday that will keep in place a tax on northern Everglades farmers and put it toward an $880 million, long-term water-quality improvement plan for the River of Grass.

"The Everglades are very important to our state, very important to our country and the world. It's a national, international treasure. We have to make sure that we increase the flow of water and the quality of the water," Scott said at Florida Atlantic University.

The law will maintain an existing tax on farmers until the mid 2030s, although it calls for the tax rate to decrease starting in the mid 2020s. The money will be used for water quality restoration projects that are part of an $880 million plan that was negotiated between Scott and the federal government.

The law also calls for spending $32 million a year for the next 10 years to build marshes that remove phosphorus before the nutrient flows into the Everglades.

"This is not what I would have expected from this governor, but to his credit, he stepped up," said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida.

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Forty-two years ago Tuesday, Marco Rubio was born in Miami.

As young as he is, Rubio's been in politics for nearly two decades, working on the Bob Dole campaign as a law student at the University of Miami, running for and winning a seat on the West Miami City Commission then jumping into the state Legislature, where he became the first Cuban-American House speaker in 2006. In 2010 he vaulted to the national stage by defeating Charlie Crist for a U.S. Senate seat.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus tweeted, "Happy Birthday to my law school buddy, @marcorubio!"

Information from Times Washington bureau chief Alex Leary and the Associated Press was used in this report.

Subpoenas quashed for nine legislators in Florida trooper firing case 05/28/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 28, 2013 7:34pm]
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