TIME Florida

Florida Lawmakers OK New Voting Map for Congress

(TALLAHASSEE, Fla.) — The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature on Monday swiftly approved new maps that will alter several of the state’s congressional districts after a judge ruled the current districts were illegally drawn to benefit the GOP.

The changes would alter seven of the state’s 27 congressional districts, but it’s not certain if the revised map will change the makeup of Florida’s congressional delegation. Republicans currently hold a 17-10 edge.

The vote was largely along partisan lines as Democrats complained that the new map still doesn’t reflect that Florida is a battleground state with a divided electorate. The Senate passed the measure 25-12 with the House following by a 71-38 vote.

“What we’ve done is really just window dressing,” said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth.

Legislators held a three-day special session to fix the congressional map after Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled that two districts were drawn illegally. Lewis gave legislators until Aug. 15 to draw a new map.

Republicans who led the effort to draw the new map contended that the changes should pass muster with the judge.

“It’s an excellent map that should comply with the judge’s order,” said Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes and chairman of the committee that came up with the revised districts.

Even with new districts in place, it’s not clear when they will be implemented. Lewis must still decide whether to call a special election for later this year. Legislative leaders have said they plan to oppose any effort to call one.

Voters in 2010 passed the “Fair Districts” amendment that says legislators cannot draw up districts to favor incumbents or a political party, a practice known as “gerrymandering.” A coalition of groups, including the League of Women Voters, contended that the GOP consultants used a “shadow” process to draw districts that benefited Republicans.

Lewis agreed there was enough evidence to show that consultants helped make a “mockery” of the process and ruled that two districts were invalid. The two districts flagged by Lewis are a sprawling district that stretches from Jacksonville to Orlando and is held by U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown, a Democrat, and a central Florida district held by U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, a Republican.

The new map alters those two districts, but also changes the boundaries for five other districts located in north and central Florida.

Senate Democrats offered their own alternate map that changed just three districts, but it was voted down on a 25-12 vote. Republicans contended that the Democratic map was unconstitutional because it lowered the number of black voters in Brown’s district. The federal Voting Rights Act bars states from diluting the voting strength of minorities.

MONEY Fast Food

WATCH: McDonald’s is Promising Even Faster Food

About 800 Florida McDonald's restaurants are guaranteeing a one-minute drive-thru experience or you'll get free food.

MONEY Shopping

WATCH: Shop This Weekend and Escape the Sales Tax

Several states are suspending sales taxes to encourage shoppers to hit the stores.

TIME animals

Webcam Captures 100 Endangered Baby Turtles Hatching in Florida

The baby loggerhead sea turtles emerged on Friday night

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An endangered species just got a slight population boom. A live webcam in the Florida Keys captured the hatching of approximately 100 baby loggerhead sea turtles on Monday.

It is the first high-definition video to capture a sea turtle hatch, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The national service and Florida’s state service of the same name have undergone a string of efforts to ensure the proliferation of the turtles, which have been listed as a threatened species since 1978.

“It’s so important here in the Keys to protect these nests and these turtles,” said Harry Appel, president of the Save-a-Turtle organization based in Florida. “They’ve been around for millions, maybe hundreds of millions, of years.”

The baby turtles emerged on Friday night and, guided by dim moonlight, made their way to the nearby Atlantic Ocean, where they will spend their days.

TIME republicans

Governor Rick Scott Shows What a Real Scandal Looks Like

Rick Scott, Will Weayherford
Gov. Rick Scott, left, and house speaker Will Weatherford speak at a news conference after session on Thursday, May 1, 2014, in Tallahassee, Fla. Steve Cannon—AP

The Florida governor has been questioned about his investment in a natural gas company and his aide's involvement in a rail project.

A few months ago, I wrote about an epidemic of fake Republican scandals that Democrats were hyping for 2014, starting with a nothingburger of a whatever-gate involving Florida Governor Rick Scott. My point was that political scandals rarely get traction, and shouldn’t get traction, without a semi-plausible link to significant public policies. Let me put it a different way: Damaging scandals look more like the two latest messes involving Governor Scott.

The first involves Scott’s support for a controversial Miami-to-Orlando rail project known as All Aboard Florida, when the company pushing it had financial ties to his chief of staff. The second involves Scott’s support for a controversial natural gas pipeline to North Florida, when he owned a stake in the company building it. You probably haven’t heard about these messes, because they’re pretty obscure. They’re also mini-messes, especially for Scott, who was once CEO of a hospital chain that paid a record $1.7 billion fine for fraud committed on his watch.

What could turn these messes into scandals is their potential link to public policies—in particular, to lame and unpopular policies that could look even worse if Scott’s probable opponent, Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist, can frame them as corrupt policies. There’s nothing inherently wrong with government support for a train linking Miami and Orlando—though my pal Carl Hiaasen is not an All Aboard Florida fan—but it looks pretty sketchy after Governor Scott (at the urging of his conflicted chief of staff) rejected $2.4 billion in federal money for a high-speed rail project that would have eventually linked Miami, Orlando and Tampa. Similarly, there’s a case to be made for a natural gas pipeline to Florida, but it’s hard to square with Scott’s support for utilities waging an outrageous war to prevent homeowners from going solar in the Sunshine State.

Asking questions about an opponent’s record can be good politics, but answering them can be even better politics. It’s one thing to ask why Scott rejected federal money for a shovel-ready high-speed train that promised 27,000 jobs and enjoyed strong support from Florida’s business community; it’s another thing to suggest that Scott was clearing the way for his crony’s speculative slow-speed train. It’s one thing to ask why the Sunshine State is intentionally skipping a nationwide solar revolution that is reducing carbon emissions while saving ratepayers money; it’s another thing to suggest that Scott has a personal interest in pushing gas instead.

Scott will have a dramatic financial advantage in the fall, and it’s not clear whether voters will accept Crist’s latest political change of clothes, especially in what’s shaping up as a Republican year. But Scott is unpopular—he’s still best known as the Medicare fraud guy—and so are his policies. The challenge for Democrats is to link the personal to the political. Real scandals can do that.

 

TIME Environment

The 5 Worst Invasive Species in the Florida Everglades

A most wanted list for alien pests in the Sunshine State

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As I write in a cover story in TIME this week, invasive species are a growing threat around the U.S. And there’s no place quite as thoroughly invaded as Florida:

“We are ground zero for the impacts of invasive species,” says Doria Gordon, director of conservation science for the Florida chapter of the Nature Conservancy (TNC) . “And our invaders are very good at finding new habitats.”

Often those habitats are in or around the Everglades, that vast “river of grass” that covers much of South Florida. Half of the original Everglades has been developed for farming or housing, and the sprawling wetland has been carved up by more than 1,400 miles (2,250 km) of canals and levees that divert water for South Florida’s 5.8 million people. That mix of suburbs and wilderness makes the Everglades an invasive free-for-all.

But which invasive species pose the biggest threats to the Everglades? Check out the video above

 

TIME Environment

How to Catch a Python, in Five (Sort of) Easy Steps

The inelegant art of hunting an invasive snake

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“Fear is a natural reaction.” That’s what the dangerous-animal expert Jeff Fobb told me stood in the backyard of his house in Homestead, Florida, waiting to tangle with a Burmese python. Fobb was right—even though Burmese pythons don’t really pose a threat to human beings, there’s something about the way a snake slithers, the way the muscles under the sheen of its scales ripple, that seems to strike a bell in the human amgydala. Almost as scary: the fact that there may be tens of thousands of invasive pythons slithering around the state of Florida.

But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to catch a python—provided you can find it. Here’s how:

TIME Environment

The Volunteer Army Hunting Florida’s Invasive Pythons

Finding an invasive python in the wild is difficult, which is why you need a volunteer army

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As I write in TIME’s cover story this week, Burmese pythons invaded Florida years ago, and they’ve thrived in the warm tropical climate. There may be tens of thousands of pythons slithering around south Florida, but the truth is that no one really knows. That’s because when they don’t want to be found—which is most of the time—Burmese pythons are all but impossible to locate. At a 2013 state-sponsored hunt, nearly 1,600 participants found and captured just 68 pythons. “For every one snake you’ll find, you can walk by at least 99 without seeing them,” says Michael Dorcas, a snake expert at Davidson College.

But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Just ask experts like Jeff Fobb, a dangerous-animal specialist with Miami Dade County Fire Rescue department. Fobb helps train volunteers for the Python Patrol, an initiative begun by the Nature Conservancy and now run by the state of Florida. Training as many people as possible improves the chances of actually capturing a python when one is found. But it’s not always easy, as this video shows.

To see the full cover story click here: Invasive Species Coming to a Habitat Near You

TIME beauty

Miss Florida Just Lost Her Crown Because of a Voting Error

Beauty queen dethroned due to "error in the tabulation process"

Elizabeth Fechtel was crowned Miss Florida on June 21, but enjoyed her title for only a few days before it was revoked Friday due to the discovery of an “error in the tabulation process.

First runner-up Victoria Cowen was given the crown instead after an independent audit and review of the ballots revealed that she had actually earned the highest score, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

The pageant coordinators did not cite any specific details about the error in their official statement. The family was told that “in the last 15 seconds of the time allotted to vote, [one judge] drew lines to reverse his first vote,” mother Dixie Fechtel wrote in an email to the Times.

[Tampa Bay Times]

TIME Accident

Florida Man Killed in ‘Horrifying’ Wood Chipper Accident

Cleanup of the scene lasted well into the night

Authorities in Florida say a tree service worker died on Monday after he accidentally fell into a wood chipper.

“You hear about this stuff in the movies, but then all of the sudden it happens right outside your door step,” Joseph Horta, a nearby resident, told CBS Miami. “All the sudden I hear all these sirens and I look outside and I see some piles of blood. It was horrifying.”

The victim, whose name is being withheld until his family is notified, fell into the teeth of the machine and his body was pulled completely through. Cleanup on the street reportedly lasted well into the evening.

“This isn’t something you see every day,” Davie Police Capt. Dale Engle said. “It’s not something you can just go home and forget about.”

There were 11 wood chipper deaths between 2000 and 2013, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

[CBS Miami]

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