Takeaways from Tallahassee

Seeking justice for puppies


TALLAHASSEE – After a puppy was beaten to death in Volusia County earlier this year, the fight to give animal abusers harsher penalties is gaining momentum at the state Capitol.

And if passed, those who are convicted could be banned from owning or contacting animals.

It all began in April when neighbors heard a racket coming from inside a Ponce Inlet home, where Travis Archer, the owner of Ponce, a black 9-month-old Labrador retriever, lived.

Upon entering the home, police found the dog dead in the backyard. According to a Daytona Beach News-Journal report, Archer said the dog “tore up his house” and that he had hit it several times to discipline it.

Rep. Tom Leek is looking for harsher punishment for animal abusers.

Travis was charged with animal cruelty, which means he technically could face up to five years in prison if convicted. But because he has no prior convictions, there is no mandated prison time under the current law.

The case sparked outrage locally, prompting animal rights advocates to push for more severe sanctions that would make it more likely for animal abusers to serve time behind bars. This week the push for that began at the state level with a bill (HB 473) filed by Rep. Tom Leek(R-Ormond Beach).

While the proposal, called “Ponce’s Law,” would make it more likely for those convicted of animal abuse to serve time, it still does not guarantee it. It will all depend on the person’s criminal background and a judge’s discretion. Under the bill, judges would be allowed to use their discretion to determine whether someone found guilty of these crimes should be banned from owning or coming in contact with an animal.

It’s hard to imagine banning a convicted animal abuser from a dog park, but that could be the result.

“The horrific event that took place in Ponce Inlet will remain a somber reminder of the evil inflicted upon animals across our state,” Leek said in a statement.

The effort is being spearheaded by Ponce Inlet’s Chief of Police Frank Fabrizio, the ASPCA, the Halifax Humane Society in Volusia County and Debbie Darino, who launched a “Justice for Ponce” petition proposing an amendment to current state animal cruelty laws. The petition garnered nearly 75,000 signatures.

Darino is also the founder of a closed Facebook page, Justice for Ponce. If the posts on Facebook are any indication, people should expect colorful banners with Ponce’s face and the hashtag #DogsLivesMatter to pop up as the measure moves ahead.

In other news from Tallahasse, Gov. Rick Scott didn’t debut a state budget last week as he usually does at the annual Associated Press Legislative Session planning session. But he did release some details, such as $1.7 billion in requested environmental funding, including $355 million for the Everglades, $100 million for beach restoration, and $50 million for state parks. He also wants $50 million for repairs to the dike at Lake Okeechobee. And he’ll build in $10 million for additional Department of Children and Families abuse investigators and $198 million for statewide adoption subsidies.

Meanwhile, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala told the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists it was going to be a very tough budget year for a whole host of spending categories. The Clearwater Republican said his fellow Senators should think twice before filing spending requests if they’ve been vetoed before in the last three years. Lawmakers also shouldn’t try tucking projects in university funding, as that is where “suspicious stuff” has been found, he added. Funding toward Hurricane Irma repairs or storm-hardening projects will fare much better, he advised.

In the wake of a sex scandal that rattled the state Capitol involving Sen. Jeff Clemens and his extramarital affair with a lobbyist, Sen. President Joe Negron defended the process in which sexual harassment complaints are reported in the Senate. He spoke at last week’s AP Day. While Negron reiterated there is “zero tolerance” for misconduct or sexual harassment in the Senate and that he has seen very “respectful treatment” among staff members, a recent policy change in the Senate came under fire. The policy adjustment sought to change how sexual harassment is reported in the chamber and some scrutinized it because it would have made it harder to file complaints.

Trial lawyer, outspoken medical marijuana advocate and potential gubernatorial candidate John Morgan played agent provocateur on Twitter last week. In a rapid series of tweets fired at each of the major gubernatorial candidates, Morgan sought their public comment on their individual stance on the legalization of marijuana. They garnered a bit of engagement, allowing Morgan to draw attention to himself as he probed a gubernatorial field that now boasts four Democrats and two Republicans.

The main backer of a proposed constitutional amendment that would automatically restore some felons’ voting rights after they complete their sentences says his group now has collected over 750,000 signatures. Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, also said he’s confident the amendment will have a million signatures by year’s end. The Division of Elections website showed over 300,000 signatures for citizen ballot initiative known as “The Voting Restoration Amendment.” Initiatives need 766,200 valid signatures for ballot placement.


Peter Schorsh Peter Schorsch is the president of Extensive Enterprises and publisher of SaintPetersBlog.com, Flori-daPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. His column appears cour-tesy of FloridaPolitics.com.


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