As Hurricane Dorian first aimed at and then veered away from Florida, Democrats in the state Senate and Republicans in the state House both cancelled fundraising events scheduled for the Labor Day long weekend – but the Senate Republicans didn’t.
The events, out-of-state party weekends at major tourist destinations, show how big-time and professional fundraising for Florida’s GOP-dominated state Legislature has become. In such events, the political parties seek to bring their legislators and candidates together with big donors and the lobbyists who steer major corporate contributions.
The Senate Republican fundraiser was a planned weekend of events at the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament in New York.
It went ahead as planned, although Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, left early and came home after a Saturday dinner, according to spokeswoman Sarah Bascom.
She didn’t provide information on how many senators attended.
The cancelled Democratic Senate fundraiser was a series of events on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in and around Louisville.
The House Republicans cancelled two events, according to a spokeswoman for House Majority, the GOP fundraising committee for state House campaigns.
One, planned for the Florida State University-Boise State football game Saturday in Jacksonville, was cancelled after the game was moved to Tallahassee because of the hurricane.
The other was a series of events in the Napa Valley wine-growing region of California set for this weekend.
Galvano is chairman of the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which supports Republican state Senate campaigns. It raised $5.1 million from Jan. 1-June 30.
The Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, headed by Senate Democratic leader Gary Farmer of Ft. Lauderdale, raised $479,923 in that period.
Expediting restoring voting rights
Two Florida state attorneys, Hillsborough’s Andrew Warren and Miami-Dade’s Katherine Fernandez Rundle, have announced plans to set up expedited court proceedings to allow restoration of voting rights to former felons under Amendment 4 passed by voters last year.
Neither is off the ground yet, but the Miami program is further along than that Warren’s.
Still, Warren said in an interview, “We’re optimistic we can have the program up and running by the end of the year.”
Oct. 5, 2020 is the deadline to register to vote in the Nov. 3, 2020 general election. The Hillsborough ballot re include a couple of high-profile congressional and state legislative races along with the presidency.
Both programs would involve a “rocket docket” for former felons who still owe court fees and costs.
Amendment 4 gave people convicted of felonies the right to vote after they’ve completed their sentences, but a law passed by the Legislature said that included paying restitution, fines, fees and costs.
Restitution and fines can’t be waived because they’re part of the sentence, according to Rundle’s office.
But if an individual owes only court fees and costs, those can be removed from the sentence or converted to community service, allowing that person to register to vote, according to the state attorneys.
That matters, Warren said, because, “Florida has more ways to stack fines and fees on people than almost any state in the country. It burdens people who come through the system, who can least afford it.”
They typically include court costs, fees for a public defender, costs of prosecution and more. In Hillsborough County, Warren said, only about 3 percent of such costs are ever collected.
He said his office anticipated the issue before the amendment passed and has been working on the project for several months.
The hard part, he said, is lack of any database showing what people owe. “Once we get a handle on that we can go back and establish a legal framework.”
Miami-Dade has already announced how its program will work, but Warren said, “We haven’t gotten to that level of specificity yet.”
Asked whether local judges will go along with the program, he said, “We’ve had prelim conversations with the chief judge and we’re confident that working with the chief judge and courts administrative office we’ll be able to implement a process.”
Warren said based on statewide estimates, there could be up to 150,000 affected individuals in Hillsborough.
Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg is also working on starting a similar program, according to the Florida Rights Coalition.
Buchanan keeps distance from Trump on Endangered Species Act
Distancing himself from Donald Trump on a key environmental issue, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, announced last week he has urged the Trump administration to cancel its plans to weaken the Endangered Species Act.
Buchanan’s Democratic opponent for the District 16 Congressional seat, state Rep. Margaret Good of Sarasota, quickly issued a statement opposing the announced changes as well.
Both cited the effect of the act on preserving iconic Florida wildlife species threatened with extinction.
In addition, Good said environmental preservation is vital to Florida’s tourism-based economy.
District 16 covers Hillsborough county roughly south of Riverview and Bloomingdale.