Sunday, February 03, 2008

FLORIDA DIGEST February 3, 2008

**IF YOU CAN'T ACCESS THE FULL ARTICLE, CONTACT US AT and we'll be happy to send the full article.


From Nadine Smith - Equality Florida

The day we expected has finally arrived.

A few hours ago, the Florida Department of Elections officially certifiedthe deceptive "marriage protection amendment" to be on the November ballot.

Disappointing? Yes. Surprising? No.

After 4 years of signature gathering, the only surprise is how narrowly theyreached the deadline.

Those pushing this onto the ballot hope to strip away rights from allunmarried Floridians by stoking anti-gay sentiments. Some of them aremotivated by a desire to impose their particular religious beliefs on peoplethrough the Constitution. Others see this as tactic to help far rightcandidates in the November Presidential election. What this isn't about is"gay marriage".

Two state laws and a court decision already block access to marriage for gaycouples in Florida. Now, this amendment would close the door to civil unionsand any meaningful domestic partnership benefits for all unmarriedFloridians - gay and straight.

Beyond the legal obstacles to taking care of our loved ones, this amendmentis intended to deliver a dangerous symbolic blow by denigrating the lives ofgay Floridians. It is the singling out, the idea that the majority shouldvote on the rights and the humanity of fellow citizens that makes today'snews a particular and personal insult. And it is why in the wake of theseamendment battles across the country, we consistently see an increase inanti-gay hate crimes.

I hope we give ourselves just a moment to grieve that this has been forcedupon us. To feel the hurt , sadness and anger that are appropriate ways tofeel in the wake of this news.

Knowing, intellectually, that we must face this challenge is one thing.Having it finally arrive in all its ugly spitefulness is another. It wasdifficult not to hold onto a glimmer of hope Florida would avoid this fightespecially as the far right struggled to meet the deadline.

But now is the time to take a deep breath and allow that false hope totransform into the deep resolve to DO THE WORK that will DEFEAT thismeasure.

And we can DEFEAT it. Opposition to the amendment is broad, diverse andgrowing everyday. We stand with the NAACP, Florida Alliance for RetiredAmericans, Florida Consumer Alliance, Planned Parenthood, and more than 200other civil rights, union, campus, faith, senior and social justiceorganizations who are part of the Fairness for All Families Coalitionworking to DEFEAT this amendment.

Polling shows we are within striking distance of beating this amendment ifwe are willing to do the work. Talk to your circle of influence, stepoutside your comfort zones and engage the people in your neighborhoods andthe places where you shop.

Our job is to bring this message to millions of voters in Florida who areunaware and ill-informed about this measure. And experience has shown us ourconversations matter. On Jan 29th, Equality Florida members were part of theFairness for All Families Primary Day of Action that drew more than 500volunteers out to talk to voters at polling places across the state.

Seasoned activist and first-time volunteers reported back with excitementhow often a quick conversation had persuaded someone to vote NO on theamendment.

Click on the photo to see a great video that captures the energy of thatamazing day.
In November, your friends, family and co-workers will go to the polls anddecide whether our families will be denied adequate protections, whetheressential benefits can be stripped away and whether anti-gay politicalattacks are a good investment for the far right.

It is time for all of us to do something. Here's a good place to start: Signthe Pledge to Vote No and personally recruit 5 of your friends to dolikewise. If everyone on this list did that today we would have nearly halfa million more supporters by Monday.

We can't allow the people in our lives to go to the polls in November andmake decisions about us without ensuring they hear the truth about thisamendment and the harm it would inflict.

Working together we can DEFEAT this amendment.

Nadine Smith
Executive Director - Equality Florida



Activists on both sides of gay marriage ban prepare to woo voters

By Juan Ortega
February 3, 2008

South Florida voters called to help decide in November whether to embed thestate's legal ban against gay marriage in Florida's constitution will soonface a barrage of campaigning by both sides, activists from the opposingcamps vowed Saturday.

"We don't discuss strategy, but we're going to have a full-blown campaignjust like any other group," said John Stemberger, an Orlando lawyer andchairman of Florida4Marriage, an activist group backing the gay marriageban.

"People now understand that it's game on," said Stephen Gaskill, a gayactivist and spokesman for Florida Red and Blue, a Miami-based group thatopposes the proposal.

On Friday, the state's Division of Elections announced that Florida4Marriagehad gathered enough signatures to place an anti-gay-marriage proposal on theNovember ballot, setting the stage for a heated cultural and grassrootspolitical battle.

Though Florida already has a law banning same-sex marriage, Florida4Marriagewants to enshrine it in the state constitution, arguing that such a measurewould be more immune to legal challenge. Its amendment would define marriagein Florida exclusively as between "only one man and one woman."

"No other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantialequivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized," the amendment languagesays.

The group's goal aroused both praise and dismay.

Gay marriage is "something [opponents] feel so strongly about that they wantto impose their beliefs on other people," said Rand Hoch, president of PalmBeach County Human Rights Council.

"Florida's voters are not stupid people. This makes no sense at all."

"I'll listen to what they all have to say," said Barbara Ritzer, of CoconutCreek, who has been married to her husband for 47 years. "I think it's goodfor the people to have debates."

Indeed, the rival camps in the coming months do expect head-on debates, likeone planned Thursday at the Tower Club in Fort Lauderdale, where speakersfor and against the proposed amendment will be heard.

Such debates will also consider whether the measure, which needs the yesvotes of 60 percent of the Floridians casting ballots on Nov. 4 to beenacted, would deny rights to unmarried heterosexual couples, in addition togays and lesbians, depriving them of sharing benefits such as healthinsurance.

"This is not only a gay marriage issue. There are so many unmarried seniorswho are in relationships and will be affected," Gaskill said.

Stemberger said that claim was "utter nonsense."

Tony Plakas, who used to run Compass, the Gay and Lesbian Community Centerof the Palm Beaches, said if the amendment is defeated, Florida politicianswould be less prone to criticize such same-sex unions. That's because they'dhave clear proof of how tolerant the state's voters are, he said.

"Florida is this kind of coy state," he said.

"We never know. Is it going to go blue or is it going to go red?"

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll in November 2006 said 77 percent oflikely Republican primary voters in Florida opposed making same-sex marriagelegal, while 19 percent answered yes. No polls asking Democrats the samequestion was available. Since the landmark Massachusetts Supreme Courtruling in 2004 legalizing gay marriages there, 23 states have moved to addbans on same-sex marriage in their constitutions, joining Alaska, Nebraskaand Nevada, which already had them.

In 2006, Arizona became the only state where voters defeated a same-sexmarriage ban. Several states, including California, Connecticut, NewHampshire and New Jersey, permit legal unions that offer the same rights asmarriage.

Gaskill said volunteers will continue trying to recruit Floridians to opposethe amendment, as they did outside South Florida polling sites during lastTuesday's presidential primary and referendum on property tax changes. Theygot 2,000 people to pledge to vote against the measure, Gaskill said.

He said his organization has also raised about $2 million for its campaignwar chest.

Stemberger acknowledged his organization, with just over $500,000 incampaign funds, wasn't as flush as Florida Red and Blue. But that's not aproblem, he said, since he thinks plenty of people already support the antigay marriage amendment.

"This issue resonates with every demographic," Stemberger added.

Jessica Lozack, 31, of Massachusetts, who was vacationing Saturday in FortLauderdale with her legal spouse, Leah Lozack, said Florida voters shouldbrace themselves as the November election approaches.

"There's going to be a lot of protesting against gay marriage - and a lot ofsupport rallies," she predicted, recalling the political ambience thatroiled her home state four years ago.

Staff Writer Jerome Burdi and Staff Researcher William Lucey contributed tothis report.

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


Miami Herald

Sex offenders living under bridge told to get out

Posted on Sun, Feb. 03, 2008

Convicted sex offenders who have called the area under the Julia TuttleCauseway bridge home got a rude awakening early Saturday morning.

They were visited by state Department of Correction parole officers at 5a.m. The message, delivered in writing, was clear: The residents have until9 a.m. Monday to vacate the bridge, which spans Biscayne Bay, linking Miamito Miami Beach.

The move to rid the bridge of the men marks yet another strange chapter in along-running saga that has drawn national media attention and began in 2006when a handful of convicted sex offenders began sleeping under the bridgebecause a city of Miami residency ordinance left them unable to findhousing.

The ordinance does not allow convicted sex offenders to live within 2,500feet of a school. The state requirement is only 1,000 feet.

The state Department of Corrections, charged with supervising offendersafter their release, said no offenders were ever assigned to sleep under theJulia Tuttle bridge. The department simply OK'd the location becauseoffenders said it was just about impossible to find a place to live withinthe ordinance's restrictions.

more . . . . .


Miami Herald

Struggles of former foster child chronicled in new memoir

Posted on Sun, Feb. 03, 2008

At the tender age of 22, Ashley Rhodes-Courter is living a pretty fantasticlife. She's attractive, well-spoken and college-educated, with dotingparents and a newly published memoir that's generating national buzz.

But how she got there is the real story, vividly chronicled in a book thatrecounts her journey from neglected, abused orphan stuck in Florida'soverburdened foster care system, to articulate, respected activist who hascommanded the attention of judges, members of Congress and even thepresident of the United States.

For Rhodes-Courter, writing the book - called "Three Little Words" - was anintense journey into the dark corners of her childhood, the events of whichwere pieced together from her wispy memories and some 80,000 pages ofdocuments generated by the court and state child welfare workers as theyshuffled her through 14 different foster homes in nine years.

At best, the places were crowded, the foster parents harried. In one, sheand other kids were beaten, yanked by the hair and deprived of food. Shelater sued the state of Florida and the abusive foster parents, winning anout-of-court settlement that helped pay for college.

Part of her research involved revisiting some of the places and interviewingformer foster parents. Most of them had been a blur to her at the time. Thatprocess, she said, helped "give me my past back." There were heroes, too,like the court-appointed volunteer guardian who became her tenaciousadvocate.

more . . . . .


Florida vote shaped choices for Super Tuesday voters
Voters here set up choices for primary season's biggest day

Washington Bureau Chief
February 3, 2008

Florida voters have set the stage for the climax of the presidentialprimary campaign.

Twenty-four other states are preparing to vote in the biggest round ofprimaries and caucuses in history - a campaign blitz known as SuperTuesday - that will go a long way toward deciding the Republican andDemocratic nominees for president.

In almost all states - Florida and Michigan Democrats are exceptions -primary votes and caucus results translate into delegates who will formallyselect the nominees at national conventions this summer.

More than 40 percent of delegates to each convention are at stake onTuesday. That's why the candidates are racing across the country seeking themagic number needed to secure the nominations. The final selection could beclose.

Political observers in the biggest Super Tuesday states say the Floridaprimaries shaped their choices by prompting Republican Rudy Giuliani towithdraw, establishing John McCain as the Republican front-runner and givingmomentum to Democrat Hillary Clinton. Democrat John Edwards, a cash-strappedcandidate who finished a distant third in Florida, withdrew the next day.

more . . . . .


Tax amendment's unknowns shouldn't put schools at a loss

Michael Mayo
News Columnist
February 3, 2008

There's a lot I don't understand about the property tax amendment thatFlorida voters approved 64-36 percent last week.

Like how did Gov. Charlie Crist go around promoting it as a tax cut whilepreparing a state budget that forces school districts to raise the theirportion of local property taxes? Is this going to be the same type of emptyshell game that occurred last year with hurricane insurance "relief"?

And what happens if you buy a house next week counting on the portability ofSave Our Homes benefits and then a court declares the new systemunconstitutional? Will you get grandfathered into the new system? Or willyou have to cough up thousands more than you figured in annual taxes?

And how is this going to jumpstart the real estate market anyway?

Portability might give people a chance to move, but they're going to have tosell their current homes, too. That means there'll be a lot more inventoryadded to an already glutted market. Every potential buyer from theportability group will also be a seller.

To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, all we know about the amendment is thatthere's plenty we don't know.

more . . . . .


Not so fast, Hillary

January 31, 2008

ISSUE: Boycott doesn't stop Hillary.

It was bad enough Florida Democrats got dissed by the national committee,which essentially said Florida's primary vote is meaningless because thestate party abided by a decision to hold an early primary.

Now add to that the spectacle of Hillary Clinton hypocritically trying touse Florida to her advantage moments after the polls closed Tuesday evening.

Remember, Florida was punished by the Democratic National Committee, andthus no delegates were at stake in the primary. The South FloridaSun-Sentinel, and many others, criticized the DNC action, but the candidatesagreed to go along with the decision. Worse, they also signed on to a vowagainst campaigning in Florida.

So, while the Democratic presidential candidates were more than happy totake your campaign contributions, they pledged to not campaign here.

They never came here to express their views.

more . . . . .



Referendum message: Voters want tax relief
Some relief is better than no relief at all.

Posted on Sun, Feb. 03, 2008

That was the resounding message from Florida voters last week when they saidYes by an overwhelming 2-1 vote to amend the state Constitution for modestproperty-tax relief.

Voters know that the amendment won't fix the unfairness of Florida'sproperty taxes. They know that Amendment 1 will worsen the system'sinequities. They know, too, that the amendment faces legal challenges and,ultimately, may be tossed out as unconstitutional.

No matter. They still said Yes, and meant it.

Voters could not have known that passage of the amendment would have achilling effect on the tax plans of legislative leaders and members of theTaxation and Budget Commission. The commission, which convenes once every 20years, has been meeting for almost a year to consider reforms and majorchanges in Florida's tax structure.

Making up budget shortfall

Given the unequivocal message from voters, some legislative leaders now saythey would be reluctant to tackle tax reform in the upcoming session andwill focus on making up a $2 billion budget shortfall. Even commissionChairman Allan G. Bense said he viewed passage of the amendment as a strongstatement from voters and, consequently, will not propose any more changesto Save Our Homes (SOH), which caps property taxes at 3 percent annually.

Amendment 1 makes it harder to correct SOH's inequities, he said, because itwould be near-impossible to get voters to approve getting rid of SOH.

more . . . . .


[Send your comments about articles to]

No comments: