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Toast to the Bay/Dump into the Bay: Jeff Brandes and Barbara Banno

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Toast to the Bay: Jeff Brandes

Hats are off to Jeff Brandes this week for what will likely end in victory after two Legislative sessions of battling. A measure aimed at protecting property rights in Florida finally garnered consensus from pro-property rights lawmakers and law enforcement officials.

A civil forfeiture measure pushed by Brandes both this year and last sailed through a House Committee hearing Thursday after an amendment was approved bringing law enforcement group’s to the table in support.

The bill, as amended, requires almost all incidents of property seizures by law enforcement to occur when there’s an arrest involved. Current law allows officers to seize property based solely on assumptions and does not require conviction of a crime or even charges.

The bill also would require law enforcement officials to pay a $1,000 filing fee to kick off forfeiture proceedings. Without that process, agencies would only be able to store seized property, not use it, sell it or spend it.

Agencies would also be required to post a $1,500 bond payable to the property claimant should the forfeiture proceedings be unsuccessful. That means the claimant receives his or her property back in addition to the $1,500. That money is intended to help claimants recover costs associated with recovering their property.

The bill also shifts the burden of proof from a claimant to law enforcement. Under current civil forfeiture laws the actual property is the subject of the suit, not the owner. Therefore it is the owner’s responsibility to claim the property was or would have been used for legal purposes or was obtained through legal purposes. Under the proposed bill law enforcement must instead prove the property should be forfeited.

It would also increase reporting requirements and provide for penalties if agencies do not comply. This provision gives greater oversight for future changes to the law.

This is a huge win for Brandes who called the compromise “miraculous.” During previous conversations between the sides, law enforcement officials were reluctant to budge on the civil forfeiture language. The law provides a lucrative tool for agencies to recoup revenue from non-taxpayer sources.

Under the compromise they can still do so, but Brandes wins the fight to provide more protection to property owners and reduce the number of cases involving questionable seizures.

Dump into the Bay: Barbara Banno

In terms of weekly dumps into the bay, Banno certainly doesn’t top the list. In a lot of ways she even deserves a toast. She’s running a competitive campaign against a fairly popular incumbent and genuinely giving him a run for his money. That’s nothing to ignore.

But this week something happened in her campaign that could set her back. Her opponent, Sam Henderson, released his Stonewall Democrats questionnaire that led to the group’s valuable endorsement.

In and of itself that’s not a very big deal. However, Banno previously called on Henderson to release the questionnaire implying that it would show she should have received the group’s endorsement or, at the very least, a co-endorsement.

While Henderson’s questionnaire is at times more succinct than Banno’s and lacks personal anecdotes tied to Banno’s status as an openly gay woman, the answers within it are just as substanative.

Both candidates tout marriage equality, express outrage over continued sanctioning of LGBT discrimination at the state level and promise to be continued to furthering efforts to achieve equality for all residents.

In Banno’s call for Henderson to release the questionnaire she called the endorsement “tainted” based on “politics and behind the scenes relationships.” While his questionnaire may not show a clear winner or loser in who should or should not have gotten an endorsement, it does show he had nothing to hide with the endorsement.

Her call also fails to take into consideration that the endorsement process merely begins with a questionnaire. Other factors including a candidate’s past experience, interaction with the group and a one-on-one interview are also taken into consideration when making an endorsement.

With less than three weeks until the March 15th election, every little misstep could make a difference in this race, especially because it’s competitive. Banno issued a compelling case when she called for Henderson’s questionnaire. Initially it made him look like he was lacking transparency. But by releasing it, the outcome is, at the very least, mitigated and, at the worst, turned on its head for Banno.

While it almost seems unfair to list Banno as this week’s dump, the turn of events seems more likely to hurt her in the final weeks of campaigning than Henderson.

So, maybe Banno’s dump is more of a dip this week.

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Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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