Category Archives: Florida

Weapons Without Borders: Florida Lawmaker Seeks to Legalize Unlicensed Concealed Weapon Carry During Mandatory Evacuations (SB 290)

For the second consecutive year, Florida State Senator Jeff Brandes (R – St. Petersburg), has filed legislation that would legalize the unlicensed carrying of concealed weapons during a state of emergency, where the Governor or local authority has issued a mandatory evacuation order.

Senator Brandes was unable to be reached for comment on SB 290, but it’s clear that he is interested in advancing his constituents’ ability to protect themselves.

His empathy is commendable, but unfortunately misplaced.  Bad stuff doesn’t happen in Florida anymore.

Florida hasn’t been hit by a hurricane since 2005, so nobody worries about them anymore.  Overall violent crime in the state has gone down 60 percent since 1993, meaning that most people don’t even lock their doors.

The major effects of climate change are a century away – and in support of the recent legalization of gay marriage – Texas Governor Rick Perry and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie started courting Florida Governor Rick Scott for his affections at this month’s gubernatorial inauguration.

Life is good!

In other words, there is no conceivable reason to preemptively apply for and receive a concealed weapons license to protect oneself in the event that Florida falls victim to a natural disaster or manmade catastrophe.

Gun hating liberals and soy eaters would have you believe that this justifies getting rid of guns altogether.  Why have guns if the world is a totally non-chaotic and equally resource distributed place to live?

I’ll tell you why.  Because this is America, and you fucking can.

I tease.  But frankly, a gun in the hands of a properly trained and responsible individual can be fun.  There are few thrills like plinking leaves floating downstream, or blowing the balls off of the bear you drew on the mattress somebody left at the unofficial quarry “dump.”

Pumpkins gone rotten several months after Halloween deserve to die in the glory that only a 12 gauge with 00 buckshot can provide.  And when that deer looks at me funny, he’s coming home to feed my family for the next month.

Guns have a place in this country, but I think we all agree that it’s not in the hands of lunatics, criminals, and small children.

So maybe there is some common ground we can find with the organic cotton wearing pansies who buy their meat at Whole Foods, if they eat meat at all.  I mean, a lot of them wear spandex when they ride bikes, but one of them did jump my battery when it died after rocking out too long to Skynyrd at the boat ramp.

Apparently, if you are 21 years of age and not a felon (or other violent offender), you’re going to get your license.  The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) is responsible for issuing concealed weapons licenses.   If you meet those criteria, don’t suffer from mental or physical infirmaries that would prevent the safe operation of a weapon, and aren’t addicted to drugs, you’re probably golden.

You do have to demonstrate competence with a firearm – such as by having taken a hunter’s ed course – but I say that’s a fair enough requirement.  You’ve seen that yahoo at the shooting range that looks down the barrel to check the jam, or talks with a pistol like some folks talk with their hands.  Evidently, that guy’s daddy didn’t teach him to respect a firearm.  For my sake and yours, someone probably ought to before he waltzes into church with one strapped to his person.

At last count, nearly 1.4 million people have been issued concealed weapons licenses in Florida.  It costs up to $70, and you have to get fingerprinted and have a background check.  But it’s good for 7 years.

DACS gets 90 days to affirm or deny an application.  But even if an emergency did hit during that timeframe, there is another way.  According to s. 790.251, F.S., the “Preservation and Protection of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms in Motor Vehicles Act of 2008,” you can keep your gun and your ammunition locked up in your car.

Remember, the point of SB 290 was to expand your right to carry unlicensed only during times of mandatory evacuation.  Unless you’re walking away from that flood, you’re probably already covered.

I reached out to the Florida Sheriffs Association to get its take on the bill.  It hasn’t yet taken a position, but is “looking closely…to decide where we stand and what is in the best interest of public safety.”  If I were a betting lady, I’d hedge that the Association isn’t the bill’s biggest fan.  After all, SB 290 rather directly conflicts with s. 870.044, F.S., which states that when a sheriff has declared a local state of emergency as result of a clear and present danger to the public, the intentional possession of a firearm by a civilian in public is illegal.

This isn’t a call to arms against responsible gun ownership.  But as for the person who says, “hmmm…there’s a hurricane coming, the river’s flooding over, and frogs are falling from the sky…meh, I’m staying,” yeah, that person needs to be checked out.

We’re talking guns here, and foresight should count for something.

 

Follow me on Twitter at Patience Burke@TameTheGorilla.

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U.S. Sugar, King Ranch, and Some Elected Officials Walk Into a Bar (Guest Opinion)

The following was not drafted by TameTheGorilla.  It is a guest opinion from Phil Buchanan of Pine Island, FL – pseudo-retired attorney and civic leader.  For context, first is an email excerpt describing his inability to get certain press coverage.  This is followed by his proposed Letter to the Editor. He can be contacted at coolcherokee@comcast.net for more information.  (Apologies for formatting issues.)

 

Email Re: Pine Island is the Next Victim of US Sugar/King Ranch Corruption
The Pine Island Eagle chose not to publish this item. The only way we have to get out the    word is email, Facebook, etc., so please forward this message to everybody you know.
The News-Press has also avoided publishing information on this corruption or even the King Ranch purchases on Pine Island. Even the extensive King Ranch involvement in the election/appointment/re-election of two county commissioners was largely ignored.
US Sugar/King Ranch refer to our local state legislator Matt Calwell as “our boy.”  I’m told they now intend to place him on the Lee County Commission. If Hamman is also re-elected, they would then own at least three of the five Lee County Commissioners, and the Pine Island Plan, environmental protection, and sustainable growth polices will be history in Lee County. That situation, if it occurs, will have been made possible by the cowardice of the media and apathy of the voters.
Please get involved. Stand up to the corruption.
Proposed Letter to Editor
Pine Island is the next victim of US Sugar/King Ranch corruption
US Sugar and King Ranch have paid tens of thousands of dollars in bribes to Governor Scott and other state and local officials, and in return have been rewarded with legislation and appointments worth untold millions of dollars. They claim it’s all legal because the money was routed through the Republican Party instead of going directly to the officials (like that actually makes a difference!). One newspaper said this “looks fishy.” Gee, you think! Bribery is bribery (even if it’s legal under Florida statutes!).
The victims of this corruption thus far have been the taxpayers, Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah (who was driven from office by a sleazy million dollar television blitz led by US Sugar), as well as the Everglades, the quality of our water, and the quality of life of numerous Florida communities. In the past few years, King Ranch has bought large tracts of land in Hendry, Martin, and Palm Beach Counties, and is using their enormous power and influence (including legalized bribery) to do away with local zoning and other land use controls. Now, they are also after Pine Island.
King Ranch has within the past two years purchased some 18 properties on Pine Island, a total of about 340 acres for some $4 million—all palm farms except one mangrove area near the Calusa Land Trust Dobbs Preserve (they will probably use those mangroves as “mitigation” for wetlands development). The palm farms are all in Bokeelia, include the former Soaring Eagle properties, and are located on Stringfellow Rd, Harbor Drive, Howard Rd, Quail Trail, and Pembroke Rd. King Ranch has overnight become the second largest commercial enterprise on Pine Island (second only to PalmCo). They also, true to form, immediately hired a local “developer-oriented” attorney to get rid of the Pine Island Land Use Plan. That attorney’s effort last year (aided by the County Attorney’s Office) to quietly eliminate the 910 rule failed, but no one thinks they have given up.
The corruption clearly extends into Lee County. Governor Scott, just after returning from an all-expenses paid ($20,000 or so to kill a deer) hunting trip to the King Ranch Hunting Lodge in Texas, appointed King Ranch Vice-President Mitch Hutchcraft to the South Florida Water Management District. He also appointed Brian Hamman to the Lee County Commission, and Hamman in turn also appointed Hutchcraft to the Lee County Local Planning Agency. Our legislative representative Matt Caldwell also took one of those hunting trips to King Ranch, and then sponsored legislation that saved US Sugar and King Ranch millions of dollars in Everglade’s pollution cleanup costs (which has to be made up by taxpayers). Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker got his position when US Sugar/King Ranch eliminated Ray Judah, and US Sugar and King Ranch are of course strongly supporting with money and influence the re-election of Commissioner Brian Hamman. Huge sums of PAC money are flying in every direction and extremely difficult to trace. Numerous and powerful foxes are in the Lee County hen house, which bodes ill for us chickens on Pine Island.
Pine Island is a beautiful coastal rural subtropical paradise, but unfortunately it’s located in the most corrupt state in the United States, and we are set up for some very bad times. You should expect to see well-financed misinformation campaigns, legal actions in the courts, and political shenanigans accompanied by grandiose development proposals—perhaps even including another bridge to the mainland and annexation by Cape Coral.
Follow me on Twitter at Patience Burke@TameTheGorilla.    
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SB 1714 – What a Buzz Kill

Like when your mom volunteered to chaperone your senior year class trip, SB 1714 is a real downer for the Florida craft beer industry.

The bill as amended would seriously restrict the ability of Florida’s breweries to sell their wares directly to consumers.  In many cases, it would increase the cost of doing business by requiring breweries to sell their bottled concoctions to a beer distributor before buying it back at a marked up cost.  Only then could the breweries sell it in-house.

While not technically a fee, Senator Jack Latvala (R- Clearwater) equated it to “paying protection to Vinnie in New York.”  Bill sponsor, Senator Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) admitted in the Senate Community Affairs committee that craft breweries aren’t paying this cost now, which means this bill represents a brand new fee on Florida’s businesses.

Senator Stargel asserts vulnerability of her preferred three-tier system: manufacturer, distributor, and vendor.  If breweries are allowed to sell directly to consumers, the argument goes, what’ll come of the other tiers!?  It’s essential, she continues, for government to step in and regulate the way these companies do business.

Gone would be the days of driving to Tampa for my (Cigar City) Jai Alai, Gainesville for my (Swamp Head) Stump Knocker, and Tallahassee for my (Proof) Robust Porter.  I guess I’ll have to settle for the convenience and gas efficiency of my corner ABC store.

Senator Stargel – climate change champion!

Although, using Stargel’s logic, one has to wonder if homebrewers might at some point find themselves on the radar.  Homebrewing is an increasingly popular hobby, and one can’t deny the risk that it poses to the three tiers.  If people are making and drinking their own beer, the entire framework of the tiers may very well collapse.

Given this imminent danger, I was curious to know whether this three-tier logic applied elsewhere in Florida.  I reached out to the Florida Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services, and was informed that Florida farmers are not required to pay an additional fee or tax to sell their products directly to the consumer.

It sounds like Publix needs better lobbyists.

But regardless of that threat, it would be surprising if Governor Scott gives Stargel his stamp of approval.  The Governor has been very consistent in his opposition to any new fees and taxes on Florida’s businesses.

You might recall last session when Governor Scott vetoed HB 265, which would have increased the fee for purchasing a wildflower license plate by $10.  Heck, one of the Administration’s primary goals this year has been to return $500 million in fees and taxes back to the “Florida families and job creators.”

SB 1714 reeks of cumbersome regulation and poorly veiled attempts to monopolize the burgeoning craft beer industry of Florida.  If a companion bill makes it through the House, that alone should beckon the Governor’s veto.

 

Follow me on Twitter at Patience Burke@TameTheGorilla.

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There’s a Bridge for Sale in Tallahassee

I’ve got a brilliant idea to make some money.  There’s this Jewish neighborhood down the street from me, and I think it’s the perfect place to put a pork BBQ joint.  Or better yet, I’m thinking of opening up a University of Florida paraphernalia shop on Stadium Drive.  I’m gonna’ be rich.  Any takers?

Last Sunday, members of the Tallahassee community met at the corner of Crump and Miccosukee Roads to discuss their collective outrage over a proposed gas station located just across the street from the Crump trailhead parking lot of the Miccosukee Greenway.  Residents in attendance expressed concern about changes the gas station could make to the area.  They worried over the possibility of increased traffic, groundwater contamination, light pollution, etc.

Several of the more heavily engaged citizens sat as a panel and facilitated the bulk of this discussion by taking questions from the audience and by offering their own opinions on the situation.  These “community organizers” – if you’ll forgive my tongue in cheek, dry sense of humor – focused on one point, perhaps more than others.  The lack of economic sustainability.

A large 20-pump gas station, equipped with a car wash, doesn’t seem like an economically viable business venture on the rural corner of Crump and Miccosukee, they argued.  What happens to the site if this thing goes belly up?  The panel asserted that the amount of vehicular traffic passing the location amounts to approximately 15% of what the Florida Department of Transportation standards suggest as necessary to support this business.

Which brings me back to my original question…  Any venture capitalists out there want to fund my University of Florida sweatshirt and bumper sticker store?

More often than not, things are what they appear to be.  Mr. William G. Brown, the gentleman who purchased the site of the proposed gas station, is most likely a very savvy businessman.  A savvy businessman who would not spend the $70,000 he spent purchasing the property – and however much it would cost to construct a gas station – without believing that he would get a good return on his investment.

In the case of the proposed gas station, this means that Mr. Brown needs additional passersby from somewhere, in order to keep the business afloat.  If the community organizers are correct in their assertions, those numbers aren’t there today.

However, a quick look at the Leon County Property Appraiser website shows that there are thousands of nearby, undeveloped acres owned by entities with vague and nondescript names such as Powerhouse, Inc., CNL Tallahassee, and TOE2, Inc.  Mr. Brown himself owns about a hundred acres just south of the proposed site.*

Maybe this was just a bad business decision.  But if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you.

 

*(Note: property records reflect a Mr. Brown and a Mr. Brown, Sr., but both are listed as having the same address.)

Follow me on Twitter at Patience Burke@TameTheGorilla.

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Florida’s Legislative Payload is Too Big for its Own Good.

Appeared in Tallahassee Democrat under title “Huge Workload Makes for Bad Legislation.”

Florida’s Legislature is bursting at the seams.  In 2011 and again in 2012, members of the Florida Senate and House of Representatives filed more than 2,000 pieces of legislation.  Last year’s session was relatively light, with only 1,898 bills being filed. 

Florida’s legislative session is just 60 days long.  Common sense dictates that no Senator or Representative could get through the 900-1,000+ bills filed in his or her chamber well enough to understand, much less vote on them.  It is true that many bills get filed early and that not every bill makes it through the committee process.  But remember that most members are juggling fulltime jobs, in addition to their legislative responsibilities.  Despite the assistance of hard working and very talented legislative staff, Florida’s legislative workload is larger than our elected officials can handle.

That puts us all at risk.  The legislature is where our laws get made, the laws by which we agree to live as a society.  The process needs to be deliberate and thoughtful.  But with those numbers, it’s impossible to meet that mark.

Working over capacity makes us vulnerable.  Legislation is hard to write and hard to analyze.  Drafting errors can have major consequences.  For example, I’m not entirely sure whether the computer I’m using to type this column is legal.  That’s because in last year’s legislative session, a broadly written slot machine bill may accidentally have made computers illegal in Florida.  Smart phones, too.

But that was an accident.  Unfortunately, the fast paced, high volume nature of the Florida legislature also makes it susceptible to exploitation.  Unscrupulous interests, wise to how things operate can manipulate the situation by offering seemingly harmless, innocuous sounding language that gets put into bills.  This is risky business.  You may as well be inviting Bernie Madoff to a cocktail hour for eager new investors.

To be clear, I’m not pessimistic about lobbyists as a class.  Not everyone plays that game.  But there are good people in this world, and there are bad people.  And when bad people get into positions of power…  Besides, no one hires a lobbyist without a reason.  They are expensive.  And some intentionally downplay the significance of their proposed language, which should be a red flag to anyone paying attention.

Which again, is my point – you can’t find a leak when it’s raining.

The rushing torrent of session makes legislative review a hard lift.  This reality puts members in a tough spot.  There must be an inherent pressure to vote yea or nay, regardless of whether or not that official possesses a sufficient understanding of the legislation.  Frankly, I’d rather see members abstain from voting altogether than see them vote on bills about which they cannot possibly have had the time to adequately consider.

I suspect many members often end up triaging to focus on the bills they find most important.  It’s an open question what they base their votes on the rest of the time.  Mind you, Florida isn’t alone on this.  Other states do it, too – not to mention Congress.  (You may recall the recent passage of that massive omnibus spending bill that came just days after the final text was released.  Did congressional members actually read that? Yeah, right.)

But just because everyone does something, doesn’t make it right.  We all know this.  If we identify a problem, we have an obligation to fix it.  This is particularly the case when dealing with something as sacred as the laws that govern our society.

Perhaps bills should be work-shopped longer prior to filing.  Maybe the total number of amendments and bills filed needs to be made more restrictive.  Review could be made easier by preventing multiple companion and placeholder bills.  There are lots of ways the system could be improved.  Reform just needs to be made a priority.

Follow me on Twitter at Patience Burke@TameTheGorilla.

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Something’s got to give. (Development in Florida)

For better or for worse, the Sunshine state is known for its rapid and unfettered development. This style of growth has brought Florida a lot of economic prosperity, but also many later-realized external costs that have come in the form of environmental restoration. New houses on virgin soil may come cheap, but rehabbing an antiquated stormwater management system or wastewater treatment plant does not.

There is a lot of value in learning from the past, from not repeating the same mistakes. However, when it comes to development in Florida, I’m not convinced that is going to happen. Too many refer back to the development “boom” as a goal. But it can’t be a goal. That level and style of development was nothing other than an artificial bubble, perched precariously on the tip of a wand, ready to burst at the first strong breeze. We can’t go back to what wasn’t a reality in the first place. So much of the recession we’re recovering from came from the dependence on a false economy, of which that unchecked development was a part.

There are real and serious environmental concerns at stake in this next phase of Florida’s history, but a great deal of economic ones, as well. Let’s talk about that – the dollars and cents of it.

Florida is still swimming in a sea of foreclosed properties. Many unfortunate homeowners still find themselves underwater on their houses. If we kick start building in a vein similar to how we left off, what happens to all of those people? What happens to Florida’s economy when the consumer opts for the cheaper, newer home and the existing relics of the last decade of building sit empty or “unsellable”? I worry greatly about the economic consequence of flooding the market in this way.

And please don’t take this to be an opposition piece to the construction industry. I know folks in that line of work – talented and very smart individuals upon whom our society relies for way more than it knows. The question may be, “If we don’t start building structures again, what would come of this mainstay of our economy?”

Infrastructure. We need it so desperately. We are in great demand for an overhaul to aging infrastructure in this state and in our country. Why not redirect that skill set to something that would serve so well the citizens of this state? Proper infrastructure benefits everyone, individuals and businesses alike.

If we fail to take this approach, and instead start development off where we left it, we will be falling behind before we even begin. There are desires to literally pick up where we left off, to start building homes directly adjacent to the ones we had to stop building in 2009. In many cases, there wasn’t sufficient infrastructure there in the first place, and it isn’t there now. Why would we continue to overtax our stormwater systems, wastewater treatment plants, roadways, etc. when it is only going to cost us more in the long run?

Just look at numeric nutrient criteria. Parties both for and against have fought heated battles over this issue for years now. The predicted financial implications of the criteria set by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection have ranged from hundreds of millions to billions of dollars. In reality, no one really knows how much it will cost to bring all necessary facilities and sources into compliance over years of implementation. It is a moving target. BUT, had we considered the environmental impacts of development – agriculture and industry, as well – before we broke ground and issued building permits, most can at least agree that it would have cost us all a whole lot less. Prevention is always cheaper.

Unfortunately, the foresight and long-term planning that can get us to a more sustainable place, where costs are predetermined and not externalized for some unknown future generation to pay, is not taking place.

This isn’t a dig on government – let’s make that clear right now. I know personally and have a lot of respect for individuals who are making the best of the tools and realities they have to protect and restore our environment, all the while making sure they do not impede economic growth.

Instead, it’s a dig at all of us. We do too much finger pointing and not enough solution making. This is a responsibility that lies with all of us – what do we want?

I consider myself an avid environmentalist – yes, I use cloth diapers on my baby. But you know what? I bought those cloth diapers at Target and on Amazon, not exactly your mom and pop establishments. Let me not cast the first stone…

We have to have an honest conversation with ourselves about the Florida we would like to see, and then have that same conversation with each other. I have my own opinion on things, but there are plenty of other people out there who would disagree. And that’s ok. They have the right to. That’s the point. We are sharing these resources and our future, but to do so effectively requires that we actually talk to and not past one another.

I don’t mean to make this sound easy. There are real difficulties such a property right issues, regulatory concerns, agreeable standards of living, all of which amount to verifiable obstacles. But they are only obstacles. They are not absolutes.

To make change, we’ll have to make compromises. Something’s got to give. But change is most painful at the start. It gets easier after that. We just need to come together to figure out where we want to head because as of yet, there is no clear destination.

Earlier this month, the Washington Post ran an interview with former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. In that interview, Gates spoke of “Congressional paralysis” that leads to “mindless” actions being taken. That sort of behavior isn’t limited to Congress – we’re all susceptible.

The best time for change is always “now.” Before central Florida runs out of its remaining six percent of groundwater and Florida’s suffering citrus groves get turned into more houses and strip malls, we need a NEW normal in Florida.

Follow me on Twitter at Patience Burke@TameTheGorilla.

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