Monday, December 31, 2007

FLORIDA DIGEST December 31, 2007

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Get a free tow tonight and avoid a DUI arrest

By Juan Ortega
December 31, 2007

Drunk and can't drive home on New Year's Eve?

You and your car can get a free lift home on a tow truck by calling 800-AAA-HELP (222-4357). When the automated machine answers, dial 1, wait for an operator and say "Tow to Go."

More than 100 South Florida tow truck drivers have been participating in this year's "Tow to Go" program, meant to deter holiday revelers from driving while drunk. Tonight, the program, sponsored by the American Automobile Association and beer maker Anheuser-Busch, will hit its 10th nniversary. "It's good we keep them off the road," said Henry Michael Abdulahad, 44, manager of H.B. Fleet Services, a tow company in Deerfield Beach. "I have family and friends and the last thing I want them to do is to be hit by a drunk driver."

The program, which started in Sarasota, has been extended to all of Florida and metropolitan areas of Nashville, Tenn., Savannah, Ga., and Atlanta, said Mandy Llanes, an Anheuser-Busch spokesman in Miami. It is offered during holidays when revelers are prone to hit the booze, such as St. Patrick's Day, Llanes said. AAA has been accepting calls 24 hours a day since late November. The program stops after Jan. 1 and resumes during Super Bowl Weekend, which will be Feb. 1-4.

A vehicle tow, normally costing from $50 to more than $100, is offered free partly because of Anheuser-Busch's annual contribution of more than $50,000, Llanes said. Also, the program is open to everyone, not just AAA members. While companies aim to respond within 40 minutes, their arrival might take longer, especially tonight and Tuesday morning, they said.

Tow truck drivers in South Florida said demand has been lower than in past years but they expect tonight to be their busiest night. As usual, they said they're also willing to risk drunken passengers getting physically sick.

"Sometimes when people get into a truck, you offer them a barf bag," said Gene Ziobro, a fleet manager for AAA, in Pompano Beach. "That comes with the territory. You hope not, but it happens."

Juan Ortega can be reached at or 954-356-4701.


Safely ring in 2008, officials urging South Floridians

By Sofia Santana
December 31, 2007

From putting more officers on the roads to airing announcements on TV and radio, authorities across South Florida are taking steps to promote caution during the New Year's holiday.

Authorities typically report an increased number of alcohol-involved crashes during the last days of the year. Last New Year's holiday, from Dec. 30, 2006, to Jan. 1, 2007, crashes on Broward and Palm Beach County roads and highways claimed 10 lives. The deaths were from eight crashes and alcohol was ruled a factor or suspected in all but one of the wrecks, according to law enforcement reports.

This year the Florida Highway Patrol, in addition to assigning extra troopers to the roads, has assigned reserve and auxiliary troopers to patrol duties through the last half of this month.

"I've asked our troop commanders to ensure that all available personnel are assigned to either routine patrol duties or specific enforcement operations throughout both holiday periods, which includes all personnel normally assigned to administrative duties." FHP Director Col. John Czernis said.

Meanwhile, local police departments are stepping up their traffic enforcement operations with DUI checkpoints. Motorists can help by reporting drivers who appear to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs by dialing *FHP from their cell phones.

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2007 in review: the top stories in Broward County

By Robert Nolin
December 31, 2007

No hurricanes loomed on Broward's horizon in 2007, despite tempestuouspredictions. But it was a stormy year nonetheless. Deputies were killed inthe line of duty. Corruption, in Hollywood's City Hall and PoliceDepartment, was exposed. Official misconduct also led to the fall of SheriffKen Jenne, once considered a possible for the governor's mansion. The suddendeath of celebrity party girl Anna Nicole Smith sparked a media firestorm,and a mayor's comments about gay people ignited spirited skirmishes oversexuality. Here are some snapshots of the stories that snared our attentionover the year.

Tribe negotiates a controversial gambling pact with state, but also faces investigation of spending
The already prosperous Seminole Indian Tribe is poised to rake in moreprofits after Gov. Charlie Crist signed a 25-year agreement allowing it tooffer blackjack and Las Vegas-style slot machines at its seven Floridacasinos. In return, the Seminoles will share gambling proceeds with thestate, beginning with $100 million in the first year. The compact is beingchallenged in court, however, and the Seminoles are under federalinvestigation for how they spent gambling revenue. The action came as aSouth Florida Sun-Sentinel investigation revealed tribal leaders had spentmillions on themselves, their families and associates.

A tragic year for law enforcement officers
Deadly traffic stops, ambushes and accidents claimed the lives of sevenSouth Florida law enforcement officers in the past six months. BrowardSheriff's Sgt. Chris Reyka of Wellington was fatally shot outside a PompanoBeach drugstore; the case is still open. Another sheriff's deputy, PaulRein, was shot dead by a prisoner he was transporting, authorities said; adefendant is in custody. An assault rifle-wielding suspect shot fourMiami-Dade police officers during a traffic stop, killing Officer JoseSomohano. Palm Beach County Sheriff's Deputies Donta J. Manuel and JonathanD. Wallace were killed when struck by another deputy's car during a pursuitnear Pahokee, and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission OfficerMichelle Lawless died when she was pinned under an all-terrain vehicle inthe Everglades. Off-duty Palm Beach Sheriff's Deputy Timothy Crandall diedin a one-vehicle accident on a rural road. Broward Sheriff's Detective MauryHernandez, shot in the head during a traffic stop, survived, went home andis expected to recover.

Jenne toppled
Corruption on a higher scale cost the career and freedom of Ken Jenne,former sheriff and longtime political powerhouse. A onetime prosecutor,state legislator and potential candidate for governor, Jenne admittedaccepting more than $151,625 in improper payments, income and other benefitsfrom Sheriff's Office contractors. He is serving a year and a day in afederal minimum-security camp in the rural hills of western Virginia. "Ifeel hollow," Jenne said at sentencing.

Celebrity's death starts media blitz and bizarre court saga
The drug overdose death at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood of AnnaNicole Smith, Playboy playmate, B-grade actress and millionaire heiress,attracted a blizzard of not-always-welcome media. It also generated abizarre maelstrom of legal subplots about where she should be buried, whofathered her infant daughter and who should inherit her Bahamas home.
Broward Circuit Judge Larry Seidlin, ruling on the issue of Smith's remainsgained national notoriety for sobbing on the bench. Once angling tocapitalize on his fame with a TV show, he later resigned while underinvestigation for unrelated improprieties.

Hollywood government tarnished
State and federal investigators were busy in Hollywood this year. CityCommissioner Keith Wasserstrom was found guilty of two counts of officialmisconduct for failing to disclose his interest in an $18 million sludgecontract the city awarded. His sentence could range from probation to 10years. Already serving lengthy prison terms are four police officers caughtin an FBI sting. The officers, who had believed they were working for themob, pleaded guilty to conspiring to possess and distribute heroin. Theyreceived sentences ranging from nine to 14 years. Chief James Scarberry, whowasn't charged in the case, resigned.

Mayor Naugle's comments anger gays
"I don't use the word gay. I use the word homosexual. Most of them aren'tday. They're unhappy." With those words Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugletouched off a ferocious debate about gays, tourism, AIDS and library books.
Naugle's comments came as the city considered installing a $250,000self-cleaning robotoilet that the mayor said would curb "homosexualactivity." He was also against moving the adults-only Stonewall Library'sgay and lesbian collection into a city building. His actions infuriated gaysand inspired supporters. For weeks the city roiled with rallies, bannerplanes, signs and sidewalk confrontations. County commissioners, chafing ata loss of gay tourist dollars because of Naugle's views, removed him fromthe Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Two terror cases have South Florida ties
Federal prosecutors had split success in convicting alleged terroristsaccused of grand, near-delusional schemes. Former Broward County residentJose Padilla, originally charged with plotting to detonate a "dirty"radioactive bomb, was convicted along with two others, including a formerSunrise computer programmer, of sending money and supplies to radicalIslamic groups. He is awaiting sentencing. Federal prosecutors were lesseffective against the so-called Liberty City Seven, charged with conspiringto blow up buildings. The case ended with a hung jury and one acquittal.


Miami Herald

First, always make it easier to vote

Posted on Mon, Dec. 31, 2007

When it comes to elections, the first principle in a democracy should be to encourage, not discourage, voting. This basic rule sometimes seems to elude Florida lawmakers and elections officials. The principle was certainly missing last spring when the Legislature approved a handful of new election rules under review by the U.S. Justice Department. If Justice follows the spirit of the law, it will reject these provisions on the grounds that they make it harder, not easier, to vote here.
Questions on changes

Because of past discrimination in five counties, the federal government must approve any changes in the state's election laws before they can be applied.
Justice's questions on the changes are:

. Why does the state want to eliminate two of the nine forms of photo dentification -- a buyers' club card and employee badges -- that voters can use when voting?

. Why reduce to two days from three the time that voters have to prove their dentity if they vote by provisional ballot?

. What would be the impact of imposing fines on groups that hold voter-registration drives?

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Miami Herald

First, always make it easier to vote

Posted on Mon, Dec. 31, 2007

When it comes to elections, the first principle in a democracy should be toencourage, not discourage, voting. This basic rule sometimes seems to eludeFlorida lawmakers and elections officials. The principle was certainlymissing last spring when the Legislature approved a handful of new electionrules under review by the U.S. Justice Department. If Justice follows thespirit of the law, it will reject these provisions on the grounds that theymake it harder, not easier, to vote here.
Questions on changes

Because of past discrimination in five counties, the federal government mustapprove any changes in the state's election laws before they can be applied.
Justice's questions on the changes are:

. Why does the state want to eliminate two of the nine forms of photoidentification -- a buyers' club card and employee badges -- that voters canuse when voting?

. Why reduce to two days from three the time that voters have to prove theiridentity if they vote by provisional ballot?

. What would be the impact of imposing fines on groups that holdvoter-registration drives?

. What are the merits of Florida's ''no match'' law that requiresinformation on a voter-registration application to match either a driver'slicense or Social Security numbers kept by the state and federalgovernments.

In the case of the ''no match'' law, civil-rights groups filed a federallawsuit challenging its constitutionality. The ''no match'' law overlooksclerical errors -- a common mistake in government bureaucracies -- thatcreate discrepancies in ID numbers.

So far, Florida elections officials have removed the names of more than14,000 people whose applications to vote were rejected because of suchdiscrepancies. Thousands are from Broward and Miami-Dade counties. As partof the lawsuit, a federal judge this month ordered the state to stopenforcing the ''no match'' law until this is resolved. Last week, a federalappeals court in Atlanta blocked Florida's request to lift the injunction.

The right call

There is no doubt for those 14,000-plus rejected voters that the ''nomatch'' law prevents rather than enables voting. They will have their day atthe polls, however, because the injunction requires the state to restoretheir names to voting rosters in time for Florida's Jan. 29 presidentialprimary.

Because the Justice Department has until Jan. 25 to rule on the questionableprovisions, Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning rightly advised stateelection supervisors to ignore them for early-primary voting to avoidconfusion. Fair enough. But let Justice make the right call so that Floridavoters will never be subjected to these rules.


Florida Today

Political storms cast dark clouds: Taxes, insurance battles still loom

December 31, 2007

In 2007 there was a new governor and no hurricanes, but storms nonetheless over property taxes and homeowners insurance.

There were four special sessions of the Legislature, in addition to the 60-day regular session that passed a $72 billion state spending plan.

It only took five months for that to unravel, as the ongoing downturn in the real estate market necessitated a billion-dollar trim to cover falling tax revenue. Projections got worse at the end of the year, and another billion is expected to be cut from spending in the May budget.

Gov. Charlie Crist's new administration and the year began with a January special session to fix property insurance. At the end of the year, with a blooming crisis in state investments and property taxes still a hot topic as an election year kicks off, insurance still is a top concern of many Floridians.

For insurance companies in Florida, 2007 represented a strong bottom line. Year-end reports show private insurers expect a profit of $3.4 billion for insuring Florida homes this year.

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St. Petersburg Times

Crist earns mixed marks: Tough insurance and tax issues detract from his progress in his first year in office.

By STEVE BOUSQUET, Tallahassee Bureau Chief
Published December 31, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Charlie Crist's schedule these days reads like a candidate running for office. Photo-ops with suburban families. Automated phone calls to voters. Fundraising parties aimed at raising millions.

But this campaign isn't for re-election. It's the runup to the Jan. 29 vote on a property tax plan, and it comes after a politically successful inaugural year for the populist governor.

The St. Petersburg Republican had spent the past year governing Florida with a centrist brand of politics that has won high approval ratings, appreciation from Democratic allies and growing unease among conservative Republicans.

His first-year successes included a crackdown on probation violators, a streamlined system for felons to regain civil rights and a switch from touch screen voting to paper ballots. He launched a search for new energy sources to combat global warming and promoted quicker access to government records.

Crist, 51, who began his political career in 1992 as a state senator, appears content to settle for incremental progress. After his first year, he has no complaints.

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Orlando Sentinel,0,6617168.story?track=rss

Film on 2000 election generates buzz: 'Recount' revisits the political battle that thrust Florida voters into the national spotlight.

Mark Hollis
December 30, 2007

In Hollywood circles, it's known as "The Black List."

But for Danny Strong, a television actor-turned-screenwriter, it might be a golden ticket to fame.

The list is a compilation of hot movie scripts that certain film executives consider their unofficial forecast of Oscar-caliber flicks.

Near the top of the secretive 2007 list of 130 film scripts, according to The New York Times, is Recount. The film, written by Strong, is about the 2000 election battle in Florida that for six emotional weeks thrust Palm Beach County voters into the national political spotlight.

Production of the movie finished only a few days ago, and Recount is now targeted to premiere in the spring amid the run-up to the 2008 election.

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Lakeland Ledger

CAPITAL PUNISHMENT: Legal Challenges Halt Executions

N.Y. Times Regional Newspapers
Published: Monday, December 31, 2007

The state did not execute any death-row inmates this year for the first time in 25 years, the result of legal and ethical challenges to lethal injection that have temporarily halted executions nationwide.

Florida was under a moratorium for the first six months of the year, after the botched execution of Angel Diaz in 2006 triggered a state commission's review of the lethal injection process.

Gov. Charlie Crist signed a death warrant in July, but the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the execution as part of a national de facto moratorium while it considers the appeals of two Kentucky inmates who are challenging the same lethal three-drug combination of drugs used in Florida.

Experts say the nation's attitudes have shifted away from using the death penalty, leading to the increased scrutiny of the lethal injection process. But support remains higher in Florida, which is expected to begin executions again once the Supreme Court rules on the matter.

There is little chance the nation's highest court will put an end to the death penalty altogether when it decides the Kentucky case next year. And the Florida Supreme Court has already ruled this year that the state's updated lethal injection protocol is constitutional, and not cruel and unusual punishment.

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