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May 03, 2016

'A fire burning' to keep expanding school choice policies in Florida, Hialeah lawmakers says

IMG_8111

@ByKristenMClark

The Legislature's approval of a massive education bill and other innovative policies this spring has reinvigorated the "school choice" movement in Florida, a key Miami-Dade lawmaker said Tuesday.

In the past few years, "there was a complacency," state Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, said. "What I heard from my colleagues was, 'so much has been done, we have to see what works.' I’m saying, 'we don't have time for that.' 

"I was pleasantly surprised this session," he added. "The stars aligned and we were able to push some things through... a lot of revolutionary things."

And Floridians can expect that wave of policies to continue in upcoming legislative sessions, said Diaz -- who's in line to be the next chairman of either the House Education Committee or the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee under incoming speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes.

"It's clearly awoken," Diaz said of the push for school choice. "There is a political will you see in the incoming leadership; there is a fire burning. We’re headed in that direction and they’ll be a charge led from the top."

Diaz's remarks came during a luncheon in downtown Miami on Tuesday about the benefits of school choice in Florida. The discussion was sponsored by the James Madison Institute -- a Tallahassee-based free market think tank, which supports school choice policies.

Continue reading "'A fire burning' to keep expanding school choice policies in Florida, Hialeah lawmakers says" »

California Seethin': Gov. Scott's trip brings blast of bad press

First the video at the Gainesville Starbucks that went viral. Now this.

Gov. Rick Scott sure has a knack for attracting publicity to Florida. But it's the worst kind.

Columnist Tim Grobaty of the Long Beach Press Telegram labels Scott's job-poaching journey to Los Angeles this week as that of a "full-blown stalker."

Just getting warmed up, he goes on to describe Florida as "utterly uninhabitable" during the summer months, "with the humidity surpassing the state's median IQ."

Not exactly the kind of stuff you find in the talking points for promoting economic development in Florida.

He also writes of mosquitoes the size of SPAM cans and sinkholes that swallow entire neighborhoods, and says Florida leads or nearly leads the nation in hjust about every negative category, beginning with "health care fraud." Read the column here.

Donald Trump, the best thing that's happened to fútbol ads

Colombia Copa America Trophy(2)

@PatriciaMazzei

Oh, yes, Latin American soccer is having fun with this U.S. presidential election.

First it was Mexican network TV Azteca that invoked Donald Trump last fall to ramp up excitement for a U.S.-Mexico clash. Fox Soccer Channel followed suit.

Now, a month from kickoff of the Copa América Centenario tournament, Argentina's TyC Sports has debuted a fútbol spot of its own invoking The Donald as motivation for the South American country's top-ranked national team -- and its fans.

This year's special Copa América, celebrating the continental tournament's centennial, will be held in the U.S.

Cue border-wall talk.

Or as the Argentine ad concludes: "La verdad lo mejor que pueden hacer es no dejarnos entrar." The truth is the best thing they can do is not let us in.

Argentina plays its first Copa América match against archrival Chile in Santa Clara, California, on June 6 -- the day before the California primary.

Photo credit: Fernando Vergara, Associated Press

Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld is in Cuba, and a Miami congresswoman is not happy about it

Cuba Chanel

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen knows a thing or two about how to troll on Twitter.

Her account, @RosLehtinen, has spent the past couple of weeks periodically posting about French fashion house Chanel, which plans to hold a runway show Tuesday night in Havana.

Ros-Lehtinen's particular target: designer Karl Lagerfeld, the German haute couture powerhouse heading Chanel's line, "inspired" by Cuba. The congresswoman used the opportunity to highlight repression against Cuba's Ladies in White dissidents.

A sample of her tweets:

Ros-Lehtinen is a vocal opponent of President Obama's reestablished diplomatic relations with the Castro regime. That puts her at odds with Miami Cuban-American superstar musicians Emilio and Gloria Estefan, who told New York Magazine they back the new policy and are happy to see Chanel on the island.

Photo credit: Ramon Espinosa, Associated Press

Florida GOP to pick final presidential convention delegates

@PatriciaMazzei

The Republican Party of Florida will select the remaining 15 of its 99 presidential nominating delegates next week in Tampa.

Party honchos will meet May 13-14 at the DoubleTree Hotel in Tampa for their quarterly meeting. At 12:30 p.m. May 14, a Saturday, the RPOF executive board will name its delegates, who will join the ones picked in recent weeks for each congressional district by Republican Executive Committees in each Florida county. That process drew ire from supporters of front-runner Donald Trump, who said they were left out of many of the slots, particularly in South Florida.

The sort of delegates picked at the RPOF level are people like state Rep. José Oliva of Miami Lakes, a likely future speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

Here's the meeting's public schedule:

Continue reading "Florida GOP to pick final presidential convention delegates " »

State receives just one letter supporting retreat from anti-discrimination rules for LGBT foster children

@MichaelAuslen

When the state first proposed to backtrack from new rules banning discrimination and controversial conversion therapies for LGBT foster children in group homes, the response from Florida’s gay-rights groups was loud.

Equality Florida — which lobbies for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights — sent out an alert: “PROTECTIONS FOR FLORIDA’S LGBTQ FOSTER KIDS ARE UNDER ATTACK!”

The result: More than 50 people appeared at a public hearing to protest the change, and 700 submitted a written comment to the Department of Children and Families opposing it.

“I am not gay but I do not feel that anyone should be able to treat gay children and teens any differently than straight children and teens,” wrote Claudia Gattshall of Tampa. “I am appalled.”

“After all your attempts to hinder gay rights, especially this current attempt to allow bullying of foster children, I’ve decided we will no longer vacation in your state until you stop this nonsense,” wrote Paul Cotter of Pascoag, R.I., who said he and his husband usually vacation in Ft. Lauderdale every year.

Equality Florida sent more than 500 form letters on behalf of people — so many emails with the exact same message that they got caught in DCF’s spam filter.

And 10 Democratic members of Congress weighed in, as well.

Continue reading "State receives just one letter supporting retreat from anti-discrimination rules for LGBT foster children" »

87% of Florida Hispanics view Donald Trump negatively, poll says

via @adamsmithtimes

Even though a whopping 42 percent of Florida voters have a "very unfavorable" view of Hillary Clinton and more see her image negatively than positively, the likely Democratic presidential nominee today easily beats either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz in Florida, according to the latest tracking poll by the Republican-leaning Associated Industries of Florida. Get this: Among Hispanics (about 14 percent of the electorate and this polling sample), Trump is viewed negatively by 87!!!! percent.

Here's the whole memo from AIF's political guru:

Continue reading "87% of Florida Hispanics view Donald Trump negatively, poll says" »

Poll: Donald Trump would drive Miami Cubans away from GOP

@PatriciaMazzei 

Donald Trump is the catalyst who could force a decisive break between Miami-Dade County’s influential Cuban-American voters and the Republican Party, a new poll has found.

Local Cuban Americans dislike Trump so much — and are increasingly so accepting of renewed U.S.-Cuba ties pushed by Democratic President Barack Obama — that Trump’slikely presidential nomination might accentuate the voters’ political shift away from the GOP, according to the survey shared with the Miami Herald and conducted by Dario Moreno, a Coral Gables pollster and a Florida International University associate politics professor.

Thirty-seven percent of respondents supported Trump, a number that is still higher than the 31 percent who backed Clinton — but also “the lowest in history that any potential Republican candidate polls among this traditionally loyal demographic,” according to Moreno. He added that the results put likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton within “striking distance” of winning over the influential voting demographic. Trump won the March 15 Florida GOP primary in a rout.

“We’ve been seeing demographic changes in this community since 2004,” Moreno said, as younger voters of Cuban descent, and recent Cuban immigrants, have increasingly identified as Democrats or independents. “With Trump, the real danger is that he’s going to accelerate this realignment in Miami.”

Moreno is a Republican who has polled for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, though this poll was not conducted on either politician's behalf.

The pollster acknowledged his own bias against the Republican presidential front-runner: “I can’t vote for Trump,” Moreno said. “I’m not going to vote for Hillary, but I’m not going to vote for Trump.”

More here.

Three ex-Florida chief justices urge life without parole over death

Three former chief justices of the Florida Supreme Court and a group of legal scholars and death penalty opponents want the state's highest court to overturn hundreds of death sentences in Florida.

Former chief justices Harry Lee Anstead, Rosemary Barkett and Gerald Kogan issued a friend-of-the-court brief in the pending case of Timothy Lee Hurst, a death row inmate from Pensacola whose precedent-setting case resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court declaring Florida's death row sentencing system unconstitutional. Justices will hear oral arguments Thursday on Hurst's petition to have his death sentence reduced to life without parole for first-degree murder.

The former justices write that "a straightforward application" of Florida's death penalty law should now be interpreted to mean that "persons previously sentenced to death for a capital felony prior to the decision in Hurst v. Florida are entitled to have their death sentences replaced by sentences replaced by sentences of life without parole." If the court agrees with that argument, all 390 inmates currently awaiting death for capital crimes would spend the rest of their lives in state prison.

Anstead, Barkett and Kogan were all appointed by Democratic governors and were widely considered to be liberals on the seven-member court.

In their brief, the justices were joined by Sandy D'Alemberte, a former American Bar Association president, FSU president and state legislator; Martha Barnett, a retired senior partner of the Holland & Knight law firm; Henry (Hank) Coxe, a Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer and former president of the Florida Bar; the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; Florida Capital Resource Center; and Florida Center for Capital Representation at the FIU College of Law in Miami.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, on behalf of Florida's 20 million residents, has taken the position that executions in Florida should continue.

May 02, 2016

Agency defends closing transition center because Broward sheriff's won't transport offenders

In the continuing saga over the Florida Department of Corrections' decision to close down a Pompano Beach inmate transition center in Broward County on May 15, the agency is directing blame at the Broward County Sheriff for contributing to the crisis. 

Their statement is based on a January letter in which the Broward County sheriff declared that beginning Feb. 1 it would "no longer absorb" the cost of transporting former inmates -- more than 500 a year -- who were violating their probation from the FDC's Lauderdale Lakes to jail. Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones responded, saying that was a violation of state law and "contrary to public safety and your statutory duty. " When Broward didn't change course, FDC started looking around for a new location to handle more than 5600 offenders on probation in the county. 

FDC now says it found its solution in Pompano Beach -- in the state building that now houses 172 inmates at the successful Bridges of America transition program.

Judging by the chain of emails and documents obtained by the Herald/Times, by deciding to close the Pompano Bridges of America transition center and using it to house the agency's consolidated probation office, FDC dealt with one problem by creating another. It dealt with the Broward Sheriff's Office by sending a conflicting message on its commitment to inmate re-entry programs. 

Bridges of America held a second press conference in two weeks Monday to keep the pressure on FDC to reverse its decision. This time, Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, the chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, blasted the department for misleading him about the need to transfer the budget for the Bridges' program - which is run in from a state building where it pays no rent -- from the institutions budget to the programs budget, because he believed it might be less likely closed to make room for other programs. 

"This past session, I was afraid for this program,'' he said. But he said he was told by FDC staff "there was no need" to transfer the program to a different part of the budget. "I was lied to," he said.

Dominic Calabro of TaxWatch chided the agency for closing a program that saves taxpayer money by reducing recidivism. 

And Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, the incoming chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told the Herald/Times that while he has not spoken with Bridges of America CEO Lori Constatino-Brown about the issue, and hasn't "made a decision to try to help her yet."

But, Latvala said, "if the Legislature makes a decision that we're going to fund re-entry programs, they ought to be funded. In this particular case, the Legislature made a decision." 

There are lots of unanswered questions here and, judging by the answers from FDC, things just keep getting murkier.

It's clear the agency knew it was going to have a problem with its probation offices in January, when it was warned that the Broward sheriff wouldn't transport probation violators to jail. Did it ask the Legislature for help in finding a new facility or did it plan all along to target Bridges and use it as an opportunity to close down the facility of the private provider? Is there another private provider lining up to take the business or will FDC reduce the re-entry efforts? 

The agency has been unable to provide any evidence that it is not going to decrease the net number of re-entry positions with the closing of Bridges. When asked, FDC offers no explanation for how it will be replacing the 172 lost positions with additional positions at other facilities. 

Here's a timeline of what we know to date:

Continue reading "Agency defends closing transition center because Broward sheriff's won't transport offenders" »

Broward Democratic chair applying to be Bernie Sanders delegate

Broward Democratic Party Chair Cynthia Busch is applying to be a Bernie Sanders delegate although Hillary Clinton swept the county and state.

Clinton won 72.5 percent of the Democratic vote in Broward while Sanders won 26.5 percent in Broward. Statewide, Clinton won 64-33.

Busch, who grew up in Vermont and now lives in Plantation, stayed neutral during the Florida primary but has been a long-time fan of Sanders.

"I have been an admirer of Bernie Sanders since I was in high school," she said, referring to his start in politics as mayor. "For me this is more a personal thing. I want to go vote for him -- not that I have particular ax to grind with Hillary Clinton."

Busch said that she will support the party's nominee but that Democrats can learn from Sanders' campaign.

"He demonstrated something really important within the Democratic party: we should be able to broaden our donor base to small donors to counteract money that came through the corporate donor base," she said.

Any registered Democratic voters in Congressional districts 20, 21, 22 and 23 are eligible to vote for delegates. Early voting will be held Thursday and the vote will conclude on Saturday. (Here are the voting locations.)

Voters will elect six or seven delegates per district based on the proportional results for Clinton and Sanders during the March 15 primary.

Here are the delegate candidates for Sanders and here are the delegate candidates for Clinton.

In the several months leading up to the March Florida primary, Sanders didn't come to Broward at all while Clinton's last public visit to Broward was when she spoke at Broward College in October. 

 

Dueling governors Rick Scott, Jerry Brown battle on jobs, climate

Gov. Rick Scott was in California looking for jobs Monday, and criticizing the Golden State for its high taxes and labor costs.

Here's the flier Scott was handing out at a conference in Beverly Hills.

His west coast counterpart, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, fired back with equal measure, ridiculing Scott for "silly political stunts" and urging him to get serious about climate change.

Here's Brown's letter to Scott.

The full story is here.

 

Starbucks heckler vs Rick Scott led PolitiFact Florida in April 2016

Starbucksspat

When Gov. Rick Scott walked into a Starbucks in Gainesville, he got an unexpected jolt when a customer attacked his record on spending for health care and Planned Parenthood.

Scott fired back by defending his jobs record.

The exchange, in which heckler Cara Jennings called Scott an "a------" drew more than 2.3 million hits on YouTube, made national news and led our fact-checks in April.

Other statements that drew in readers were by Republican frontrunner Donald Trump and his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski; U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, who is running for U.S. Senate; and Democratic presidential candidate.

Here’s a look at PolitiFact Florida’s most clicked fact-checks in April counting down to the most popular.

 

FPL estimates cost of cleaning up salt water plume headed for aquifer: $50 million, paid by customers

by @JenStaletovich

At a rare state Senate field hearing, Florida Power & Light defended its operation of the troubled cooling canal system at Turkey Point and its plans to contain the spread of an underground salt water plume.

For the first time, the utility also put a price tag on its ongoing clean-up efforts at the nuclear power plant on southern Biscayne Bay — an estimated $50 million this year alone.

FPL’s vice president of governmental affairs, Mike Sole, told a standing-room-only crowd at the Friday afternoon meeting in Homestead that the bill for that work would likely be passed along to customers.

The hearing, requested by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, who is facing a tough race for the district that includes the sprawling plant, came amid increased scrutiny of the canals after a series of lawsuits and studies showing the super salty canals have leaked both east into Biscayne Bay and west toward underground drinking water supplies.

The utility has also been criticized for ignoring its own reports and acting too slowly to control the worsening plume.

In recent years, the salt front has advanced at about 600 feet per year in the region, Lee Hefty, chief of Miami-Dade County’s division of Environmental Resources Management told lawmakers. Story here. 

 

Carlos Beruff wants to visit every Florida county by end of May

@MichaelAuslen

Carlos Beruff has a big goal for his first three months as a candidate: Visit all 67 counties in Florida.

He's on his way -- with 39 counties done, according to a tracker on his website called "Road to 67," and just less than a month to hit the remaining 28.

He's already hit up the state's major population centers, leaving mostly smaller counties still to go, including Hernando and Monroe. The largest county he hasn't visited is Brevard.

Beruff is hardly the only candidate making stops across the state. All five Republican contenders have been showing up at Republican clubs and other events around the state.

Beruff, a Bradenton homebuilder, is running against U.S. Reps. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach and David Jolly of Indian Shores, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami and Orlando defense contractor Todd Wilcox in the Aug. 30 Senate primary to replace Marco Rubio.

Uber touts support of city mayors in final lobbying push for Miami-Dade County bill

@doug_hanks

Uber letter

As it faces a showdown vote before the Miami-Dade County Commission, Uber is touting its backing by city officials.

Uber is sending a letter signed by 14 city officials, including the mayors of Miami Beach, Doral and Coral Gables, urging county commissioners to vote yes on a pro-Uber bill on Tuesday. 

"As elected leaders from cities across Miami-Dade, we believe that ridesharing services like Uber are a win-win for our community. Ridesharing expands access to safe, reliable rides and better connects individuals to the public transit system; provides a valuable transportation option to tourists from around the country and world who have come to expect it; and creates economic opportunity for thousands of our residents," read the start of the letter sent to county commissioners.

The letter included the names of some high-profile municipal officials, including Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner and Doral Mayor Luigi Boria. Notably absent: Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert, who has already offered an on-camera endorsement of Uber in a television spot the company is airing in support of Tuesday's vote. 

Tampa lawyer announces Senate run against Dana Young

@MichaelAuslen

Tampa lawyer Bob Buesing, a Democrat, filed Monday to run for the Florida Senate from a northern and western Hillsborough County seat.

In doing so, he’ll be running against Dana Young, the Republican leader of the Florida House, who announced a Senate bid after lawmakers re-drew the district lines, creating that seat.

Buesing, 62, who sits on the boards of child advocacy groups like Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County and the YMCA, has never before run for public office. But, he said, from experience lobbying for those groups in Tallahassee, he believes state lawmakers are focusing on the wrong things.

“I’ve reached the conclusion that we have the wrong people in the seats,” Buesing said. “They are in sort of an alternative reality that’s not the reality of most of the people in Hillsborough County.”

Specifically, he said the state should emphasize early childhood education and health care as a way to keep prison populations and Medicaid payments low in future decades.

“We’re doing it the expensive way,” he said. “We’re allowing these problems to fester and grow and down the road we’ve got an expensive mess on our hands.”

The district Buesing and Young are running in — District 18 — is nearly evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. It could be among the most expensive in the state this election cycle.

With all 40 Senate seats up for in this election and new district maps, Republicans’ strong majority in the chamber could be at stake.

May 01, 2016

Daniel Horton says it's 'best decision' to drop Senate bid, seek House seat in Keys instead

Horton@ByKristenMClark

After talking with his primary opponent and Democratic Party officials in recent weeks, Democrat Daniel Horton said Sunday he is dropping his bid for a competitive Senate seat in South Florida and is turning his ambitions to a state House seat.

Horton announced his bid for state Senate less than a month ago.

The 30-year-old FIU law school graduate aimed to challenge Democrat Andrew Korge in the August primary for the District 39 Senate seat, which represents parts of Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. The winner of that contest would have faced state Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, who's seeking re-election.

Flores and Korge had already been embroiled in a bitter race when Horton jumped in the fray.

But in a press release Sunday afternoon, Korge said Horton was bowing out of that contest and planning to, instead, challenge incumbent state Rep. Holly Raschein for the District 120 House seat.

In an interview with the Herald/Times, Horton confirmed his decision to switch legislative races.

"At the end of the day, I figure this is the best decision for the people that live in District 39, I think it's the best decision for the Democratic Party, and I think it's the best decision for myself," Horton said.

Continue reading "Daniel Horton says it's 'best decision' to drop Senate bid, seek House seat in Keys instead" »

Florida politicians spotted at White House Correspondents Dinner

@PatriciaMazzei

WASHINGTON -- Florida was in the house Saturday night at the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, where President Obama and comedian Larry Wilmore roasted politicians and the press.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott worked the room before and during the speech, dropping by the Washington Post's pre-dinner reception and eventually taking a seat at the Washington Hilton ballroom for the meal. He was invited by the Washington Examiner, Scott told the Miami Herald.

Also making the rounds were U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, who also attended a Friday night bash ahead of the dinner, according to Page Six.

And near the center aisle of the dinner sat Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, a Democrat who was listed in the program as a representative of SiriusXM, the satellite radio network that earlier this year hired him to host a show. He was mulling whether to return to Miami early enough Sunday to catch the Miami Heat's afternoon playoff game. 

April 30, 2016

Responding to congressional HIV questions, state points to website

@MichaelAuslen

Interim state Surgeon General Celeste Philip on Friday responded to a letter from 11 members of Congress demanding an explanation of how Florida changed its count of new HIV cases.

The members of Congress, which include Republicans and Democrats from across the state, wrote to Gov. Rick Scott earlier this week asking about why the Florida Department of Health revised the number of new infections reported in 2014 from 6,147 to 4,613.

That 25-percent change was much larger than adjustments made in recent years, a Tampa Bay Times analysis found. It was made as the state faced criticism for a spike in HIV cases, particularly in South Florida, which led the nation for new infections.

Philip directed the members of Congress to the HIV Data Center, a website launched Thursday that explains the basics of a process known as "de-duplication." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she wrote, comb through data reported from every state and try to identify possible duplicate cases, but the states are ultimately responsible for ensuring their case numbers are accurate.

She also said she is "happy to sit down and more closely explore the data with you at any time."

However, Philip did not provide details requested by the members of Congress about how the Department of Health's process for removing duplicate cases has changed, or specifics about how each infection was reclassified or removed.

The Times has been asking for this information since March and has not received an answer either.

A spike in reported HIV cases was among the reasons Surgeon General John Armstrong was not confirmed by the Florida Senate earlier this year. In the aftermath of Times reporting on the state's revised data, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, called for a federal investigation.