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February 22, 2017

Flores proposes college scholarship for 50 children of farm workers

Farm worker Miamii HeraldThe children of farm workers would be eligible for 50 full-tuition scholarships to Florida colleges and universities under a bill being proposed by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami.

The amendment to SB 2, the Senate's higher education reform bill which will be up for a vote Thursday in the Senate Appropriations Committee, authorizes children of migrant workers who meet the criteria of the award, including meeting the state's residency requirements, to receive the scholarship annually.

The scholarship would be administered by the Florida Department of Education and students would be required to have a 3.5 weighted grade point average, have at least a 90 percent attendance rate and complete at least 30 hours of community service.

Flores, who as a House member helped establish the First Generation Matching Grant program a decade ago, expects the annual cost will be about $1 million.

She said she came up with the idea to help students in agricultural communities throughout the state, including those in her new Senate district which include the farming communities Homestead and South Dade, after working with the Mexican American Council of Miami-Dade which has raised private funds for higher education scholarship and have had "incredible results" that have led to good student retention rates.

"This was an idea that came partly from some local groups and partly from this new consituency,'' Flores said. "This may be a group that has the academic capacity but doesn't have the financial capacity. I firmly believe the state should not deny them opportunity because of financial hurdles."

Students in all areas of the state of the state would be eligible, she said -- from those working in the sugar and vegetable farms in the Everglades Agricultural Area to those working in citrus groves north of Palm Beach County.

Trump, Scott remain GOP superstars in Florida, AIF poll shows

Trump (10)
via @adamsmithtimes

A newly released poll of Republican primary voters in Florida provides a healthy reminder to politicos inside the Tallahassee bubble that perceptions in the real world are very different from those in and around the Capitol. And to the legislative leaders mulling a run for governor, the Associated Industries of Florida poll should be humbling: You're a nobody outside Tally. 

What's it show? That among Republican primary voters, Rick Scott and Donald Trump are rock stars, with 81 percent of Republicans approving of both the president's and the governor's  job performance.

"Even with an endless, round the clock bombardment of negative coverage in the main stream media, the base remains unfazed in their approval of the President, giving him an 81% approval rating, with 56% strongly approving of the job he is doing as President. These numbers shouldn’t come as a surprise because A) these are primary voting Republicans and B) the President is only doing what he told the voters he would do," AIF's Ryan Tyson wrote of Trump, who enjoys a net 67 percent approval rating among Florida Republicans (81 percent approve and 14 percent disapprove).

"Similarly, the Governor is enjoying an identical sky high approval rating as the President but with 41% of those surveyed strongly approving of the job he is doing as Governor. In essence the Governor enters his second to last session with the highest marks from Republicans that we have tracked during his term."

Shocker. It seems flying from media market to TV market after market talking up your passion for creating jobs, is more effective than mocking the governor's conservative bona fides to a gaggle of reporters in Tallahassee every day.

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who is looking at running for governor in 2018, may be dominating the Tallahassee press corps coverage and taking shots at Scott day after day, but a mere 16 percent of Florida Republicans have a positive view of the Land O'Lakes Republican, and 24 percent have no opinion.

Continue reading "Trump, Scott remain GOP superstars in Florida, AIF poll shows" »

Senators endorse harsher penalties for criminal undocumented migrants



A controversial plan to impose more prison time on undocumented immigrants who commit severe violent crimes in Florida narrowly passed its second Senate committee on Wednesday, but it’s unlikely to advance much farther without buy-in from the House.

The measure (SB 120) has drawn a litany of criticism and questions about its constitutionality from Democratic lawmakers and immigrant advocate groups, because it would impose harsher penalties on undocumented immigrants than U.S. citizens or legal residents would otherwise face for the same offenses.

“What is it about their immigration status that makes the crime more heinous?” asked Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. “The fact that somebody is here without papers, how does that make the rape or the murder worse?”

“Because they should not be here, and they are now committing these crimes,” replied Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Elkton, who is sponsoring the proposal for the second year in a row. Last session, it wasn’t considered at all.

MORE: “Plan would treat undocumented migrants more harshly in criminal court”

Members of the Senate’s criminal and civil justice budget committee were divided along party lines, with Republicans advancing it on a 3-2 vote. The bill has only one other committee to clear in the Senate before it could reach the floor.

But a similar measure in the Florida House — where some members also have constitutional concerns — hasn’t been taken up at all yet, and it’s not a priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.

More here.

The Florida House stopped changes to Stand Your Ground last session. Not so this year.

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An NRA-backed proposal to shift the burden of proof in Stand Your Ground cases appears to be on the fast-track for approval in the Florida House, echoing similar recent endorsements in the Senate — and with the same vehement opposition from state prosecutors and gun-control advocates.

After the proposal abruptly failed on a deadlocked vote in the same Florida House committee last session, members of the Republican-heavy Criminal Justice Subcommittee voted 9-4, along party lines, on Wednesday to advance the legislation (HB 245). It faces only one more committee hearing before it could reach the floor.

An identical measure in the Florida Senate (SB 128) quickly cleared its two committees — despite similar concerns raised — and became the first bill from either chamber that was sent to the floor for the 2017 session, which begins March 7.

Through the legislation, conservative Republicans want to require state attorneys to prove in a preliminary hearing and beyond a reasonable doubt — a trial-level standard — why a criminal defendant should not get immunity from prosecution under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. That law allows individuals to use deadly force in self-defense — with no obligation to retreat or flee.

MORE: “Bill seeks to shift burden of proof in Stand Your Ground cases”

Current judicial practice is to have criminal defendants prove at a pre-trial hearing why they deserve the immunity.

The Florida Supreme Court held up this procedure in a 2015 ruling, but advocates for the bill — including the gun lobby and Florida’s public defenders — say it is unfair to defendants and contradicts what the Legislature wanted in enacting Stand Your Ground 12 years ago.

“This levels the playing field between the government and the citizen,” said Bob Dillinger, the public defender in Pinellas and Pasco counties, who spoke on behalf of the Florida Public Defender Association.

More here.

Photo credit: NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer shakes hands with Palatka Republican Rep. Bobby Payne after a House Criminal Justice Subcommittee hearing about proposed changes to Stand Your Ground on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. Payne is sponsoring the House bill. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

GOP web ad compares Bill Nelson to Elizabeth Warren

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - In what may be the first campaign ad against Sen. Bill Nelson, Republicans today debuted a Facebook spot that asserts the Florida Democrat is not much different than liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

The NRSC said the ad will target people who “lean conservative” and independents statewide; it would not reveal how much money is behind the ad. Nelson is up for re-election in 2018.

The selection of Warren illustrates her rise on the national stage and she may have supplanted Nancy Pelosi as the bête noire of the right. The NRSC says it used Congressional Quarterly to compare voting records and has launched ads against a number of other Democrats from GOP-leaning states.

The liberal tag is a common attack line for Nelson’s opponents and so far he’s been able to wave it off.

"I'm a political moderate," he told the Tampa Bay Times ahead of his 2012 election. "In the mainstream of American politics and the mainstream of Florida politics."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Visit Florida's breakup with Pitbull almost complete


Miami music superstar Pitbull (Luis Santana/Tampa Bay Times)


It definitely wasn’t an apology.

But when new Visit Florida leader Ken Lawson stood before a Florida Senate committee earlier this week there was a strong acknowledgement that the highly controversial (and for the longest time secret) $1 million contract with Pitbull to promote state beaches will never happen again on his watch.

“A great Floridian who’s made his way,” Lawson said of Miami music start Pitbull. “But anytime we use a celebrity or any person, we need to make sure it fits the brand.”

Lawson said in the future any use of celebrities would have to “fit our program” and require “commonsense.”

Pitbull’s deal called for him to promote Florida in his “Sexy Beaches” music video and on social media. In addition, the Visit Florida website included a section dedicated to “Pitbull’s Sexy Beaches Finder” (which has since been removed from the site).

While Pitbull cannot be blamed for the entire political fight over Visit Florida, his deal has become the fuse that helped ignite the debate.

After addressing the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee, Lawson refused to go further into the Pitbull controversy saying he’s not focusing on what happened in the past and just wants to move forward. He said he’s promising lawmakers programs that better “fit the brand” and an agency that is more accountable overall. He said he’s already forced the agency to put its contracts online and set new rules for dealing with vendors to make sure there is no appearance of wrongdoing.

It’s all coming at a time that the Florida House is proposing a dramatic decrease in funding for Visit Florida, partly due to the controversies around the Pitbull deal and others. Initially the House proposed a new law that would completely eliminate Visit Florida and the $78 million of funding the state gave it this year. But on Tuesday, the State Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, amended that proposal and agreed to let Visit Florida continue, but at only $25 million - a nearly 70 percent reduction that Lawson warned would result in lost revenue to the state.

State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, said the whole controversy over Pitbull reminds him of when Florida took a lot of criticism back in the 1970s when the Florida Citrus Commission used ultra conservative singer Anita Bryant to promote Florida orange juice. Bryant was an outspoken critic of gay rights who fought Miami’s anti-discrimination laws. At the time, that provoked a lot of criticism of the state nationwide and a boycott of Florida orange juice.

“And now we’ve got an element criticizing using Pitbull because he wasn’t family oriented enough,” Latvala said after Lawson’s presentation. “There is always going to be Monday morning quarterbacks. There’s always going to be people who want to use issues like this to get political points on a daily basis. And it’s our job to battle through that and try to do what is best for the state as a whole.”

Latvala, who is chairman of the Senate budget writing committee, pointed out that audits have shown that for every $1 the state has invested in Visit Florida, it gets $3.20 back in tax revenues. If the state doesn’t spend the money, it will create a hole in the state budget, he warned.

State Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, said she welcomed Lawson’s determination to make Visit Florida more transparent. She said if the Pitbull contract had not been hidden, there likely would have been a lot less controversy around the deal. Instead of just having to defend the contract, Visit Florida was put in a position to explain why it wasn’t sharing details of the deal.

“A healthy dose of transparency is what we need,” Young said after hearing Lawson’s presentation.

What's Rubio doing in Europe?

Trump Secretary of State(2)
via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- As lawmakers are home facing often hostile crowds at town halls, Sen. Marco Rubio is somewhere overseas right now on what his office calls an “official oversight trip” whose mission includes discussing “Russian aggression in Europe.”

On Monday, Rubio’s office said he would “attend multiple bilateral meetings with heads of state and senior government officials in Germany and France, two countries with upcoming elections who are facing concerns about Russian interference.”

A member of the Foreign Relations, Intel and Appropriations committees, Rubio was also to discuss “U.S./E.U. relationship, NATO operations, counter-ISIS activities, foreign assistance programs.”

But beyond that broad outline, Rubio’s office has not provided any detail about the visit, including specifically where his he’ll be, who he’ll meet with and who he is traveling with, besides his wife, Jeanette.

Several request for additional information have gone unanswered. “As soon as I have additional details I will be happy to share them with you,” a spokesman told the Tampa Bay Times in an email Tuesday morning.

Rubio left on Sunday. His has not used Twitter of Facebook since then.

Could Rubio be traveling with Sen. Richard Burr, chairman of the Intelligence Committee?

Burr’s office won’t say either when we contacted. Burr is not in North Carolina, according to news reports, which do not say where he is other than out of state.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Alex Brandon, Associated Press

House hands Rick Scott defeat on jobs programs, tourism


TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott suffered another political setback with the Legislature.

Over the last two weeks he has toured the state, recorded campaign-style automated phone calls and penned a sharply worded letter in newspapers statewide to pressure fellow Republicans in the Florida House to back off of a bill that would eliminate the state agency that has been at the center of his job creation efforts.

It didn't work.

On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee responded with a rejection of the Republican governor's agenda. It voted 18-12 to kill Enterprise Florida and decimate Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing agency that Scott credits with helping the state set tourism records for six straight years. Seventeen of the 20 Republicans on the committee voted for the bill.

"It all comes down to: Is this the purpose of government?" said House budget chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami.

Trujillo said with all of the other state needs, the government should not be taking money from taxpayers and giving it to companies to create jobs.

His comments hit at the crux of a raging philosophical debate that has consumed state government over the past four weeks. On one side, chamber of commerce Republicans like Scott see tax incentives for companies and government marketing as critical to growing the economy. On the other side, tea party-infused groups see both programs as corporate welfare that benefits only a few companies.

Full Story Here

Death penalty fix likely ready for floor votes at start of session


Legislation that lawmakers hope will restore normalcy to Florida’s death penalty is on track to land on Gov. Rick Scott’s desk at the start of their upcoming session.

On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee gave a bill requiring jurors to vote unanimously for a sentence of death its approval on a 17-1 vote, clearing it for passage by the full chamber. A similar Senate bill is expected to pass the Rules Committee this afternoon.

“The goal of the bill is to have a working death penalty statute and allow victims and families throughout our state to continue to have justice,” House sponsor Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, said. IMG_6532

The legislation (SB 280 and HB 527) was necessitated after a Florida Supreme Court ruling last fall that declared the state’s death sentencing laws unconstitutional because they allowed juries to sentence someone to death without unanimous consent.

Since then, trial court judges were postponing death cases or prohibiting capital punishment. However, a Monday ruling from the Supreme Court suggested some death cases could continue with unanimous jury votes and new jury instructions.

That the bills are ready for floor votes this early before the legislative session's start on March 7 indicates leadership in the House and Senate is making the death penalty fix a priority. Scott is likely to sign the legislation given his support of the death penalty in the past.

The lone dissenter in Tuesday’s House committee vote was Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura, who said he regretted supporting legislation last year to raise the death verdict vote from a simple majority to a 10-2 supermajority. He voted down the bill because of a moral opposition to the death penalty, he said.

“It’s just never right for us to take human life,” Geller said. “I don’t say that for concern of the people who’ve taken those lives … I say it out of consideration of all the rest of us. Because when the people of the state of Florida take an action, I’m one of those people.”

With lawmakers considering the death penalty this week, churches and other anti-death penalty advocates are making their case in the state Capitol.

Darlene Farah, whose daughter Shelby was murdered in Jacksonville in 2013, is among those pushing for the state to halt executions permanently. She joined with churches Tuesday to advocate for a full moratorium on executions.

Farah forgave her daughter’s killer, James Rhodes, she said. And the only thing that has come from repeated death trials is more stress that has forced her family to relive Shelby’s killing.

“James Rhodes didn’t tear my family apart,” she said. “The state attorney’s office is what tore my family apart.”

Photo: Herman Lindsey, one of 26 exonerated off Florida's death row, speaks to state lawmakers in opposition to the death penalty Tuesday in Tallahassee. (Michael Auslen | Times/Herald)

February 21, 2017

On Fox News, Miami-Dade mayor says of sanctuary change: “I did a lot less than you thought I did”


Before a national television audience, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez minimized reversing county policy for extending the detentions of county inmates sought for deportation by federal authorities.

During a brief appearance on a Fox News Town Hall in Ponte Vedra on immigration under President Donald Trump, Gimenez defended his controversial directive to undo a 2013 county policy and begin accepting all detention requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He highlighted a requirement in the 2013 policy that Miami-Dade only honor some detention requests if ICE agreed to pay for the extra jail time.

“I did a lot less than you thought I did,” Gimenez said during an interview with Fox host Martha MacCallum, referring to what the mayor said he tells supporters and detractors of his Jan. 26 order. “We were requesting reimbursement from the federal government for detainer requests. What I did is I said we no longer need to have that voucher from the federal government saying they’re going to pay us for our costs for detaining these people of interest to Immigration. That’s all we did.”

Read more here

Daily recess requirement advances in Florida Senate

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Parent-driven efforts to require daily recess in Florida’s public elementary schools cleared a key milestone on Tuesday: An actual hearing — plus a favorable vote — in a state Senate committee.

Although similar legislation last year earned near-unanimous approval in the House, senators never had the chance to formally consider the issue, because one committee chairman refused to take up the bill.

Not this year.

The 7-0 vote by the Senate Education Committee gives the recess legislation (SB 78) a more viable path in the upcoming session, which begins March 7.

More here.

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald

PolitiFact: Do most mass shootings happen in gun free zones?

FLL Airportpeoplerunning


In the wake of mass shootings at the Pulse night club in Orlando and at the Fort Lauderdale airport, Florida lawmakers are expected to act on a series of bills to expand where people can carry their guns.

The bills would allow concealed-carry permit holders to carry their guns in places such as airports, schools, college campuses, police stations and polling places. Florida leads the nation in conceal-carry permits with more than 1.7 million permits.

Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran supports expanding the list of where permit holders can carry their guns, possibly as a way to avert future attacks. (So does President Donald Trump, who promised to get rid of gun-free zones in schools and military bases.)

"Most of these mass shootings take place in arenas where you're not allowed to have a concealed weapons permit," he told CBS4 Miami’s Jim DeFede on Feb. 12. (By "arenas" Corcoran seemed to be referring to places in general, not sports arenas.)

Corcoran argued that people who commit mass shootings say they chose certain areas because they "knew nobody had guns." That raises an interesting question, but it’s separate from the focus of this fact-check: whether most mass shootings happen in places where concealed carry permits don’t apply, or "gun-free zones."  

Corcoran was citing research from a pro-gun advocate who reached that conclusion. But anti-gun advocates have argued that the data isn’t so clear cut; they see other patterns in the statistical evidence. Overall, the evidence remains murky and depends on how researchers define "gun-free" or "mass shooting."  

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

Senate advances bill to ask Florida voters to tell Miami-Dade to elect its sheriff

Frank ArtillesVoters across Florida would be asked to decide if Miami Dade County should have an elected sheriff under a proposed 2018 constitutional amendment that passed the Senate Community Affairs on Tuesday.

The bill, SJR 134 by Sen. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, would ask voters to require Miami-Dade to convert the county's appointed sheriff to an elected post.

In 1996, Miami-Dade voters updated the county charter to provide for an executive mayor system that included giving the mayor the ability to appoint a county manager who hired department heads, including the police director, making Miami-Dade the only one of the state’s 67 counties not to have a sheriff on the ballot. 

In January 2007, Miami-Dade changed to a strong mayor system, giving the mayor direct oversight over county operations including the appointment of a police director and other department heads. 

For Artiles, a Miami Republican who has considered seeking county office in the past, the current arrangement is devoid of the proper checks and balances needed for a local government. He noted that the Florida Sheriff’s Association supports the proposal.

“This is a no-brainer,” he said. “The sheriff’s association was very clear: 66 out of 67 counties have an elected sheriff. This is the most viable alternative to get this passed.”

But the proposal is opposed by Miami-Dade County, which argues that if county voters want an elected sheriff, they should be able to make the decision themselves, not get permission from voters from Pensacola to Key West.

“We oppose the entire state deciding for Miami-Dade County,” said Jess McCarty, Miami-Dade County lobbyist, noting that if Miami-Dade voters voted against it, the rest of the state could impose something on it. “I would ask you to see if you would want this for your community?”

Artilles countered that while McCarty was “a great guy. He works for the mayor.”

John Rivera, president of both the Miami-Dade and Florida Police Benevolent Association, said his organization also supports the bill. The police union has been a long-time foe of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and supported his opponent in the 2016 election, Raquel Regalado.

After narrowly missing an outright win in the August primary, Gimenez became the first incumbent mayor forced into a November runoff since the strong mayor system was implemented.

“Sometimes there are bills that hit the hornets’ nest,” Rivera told the committee. He said the current system violates the principle of separation of powers, noting that in 2012 the former mayor dismantled the office of public corruption to interfere with an investigation into fraudulent absentee ballots.

“We need some separation of power, otherwise you have absolute power, absolute corruption,” he said.

He noted that Gimenez submitted a qualifying check that was dated 2015 instead of 2016 and the supervisor of elections, whom Gimenez also appoints, allowed the Gimenez campaign to replace the check.

Regalado filed suit just days before the election but failed to disqualify Gimenez’s candidacy.

Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, who voted against the bill, said that asking 66 counties to decide the fate of another county was neither a “good solution nor a good precedent.”

“Whether we need an elective sheriff or not should be up to Miami-Dade,” he said. “I don’t think a very, very blunt instrument going statewide is the way to resolve this.”


Miami-Dade mayor to take part in Fox News town hall on immigration

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Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez is in Jacksonville Tuesday to participate in a televised Fox News town hall on immigration.

Gimenez is one of a handful of listed "newsmakers" at the event, including White House Senior Adviser Stephen Miller and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach. Immigration attorneys, law enforcement and an academic will also be on hand.

The mayor gained national attention after directing local jails to fulfill federal immigration detention requests of Miami-Dade inmates following President Trump's executive order threatening to cut funding from cities and counties that didn't fully comply with the feds.

The detention requests are voluntary and non-binding, but Gimenez -- and later, a majority of the county commission -- feared being labeled a "sanctuary" would risk funding for big-ticket public-transportation projects.

Fox will air the town hall, moderated by Martha MacCallum, at 7 p.m.

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, Miami Herald

'You are not the enemy of the American people,' Ros-Lehtinen tells Miami media

Economic Impact of Immigrants 0140 JAI

No reporter asked Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on Tuesday morning about President Donald Trump's tweet last week blasting the news media as "the enemy of the American people."

But Ros-Lehtinen chose to kick off her first public appearance of the congressional recess by addressing the president's comments anyway.

"To the members of the press, I want to say thank you," Ros-Lehtinen said. "You are not the enemy of the American people."

The row of reporters lined in the wall in front of her at downtown Miami's Venture Hive, an entrepreneurship accelerator, remained silent. Ros-Lehtinen continued.

"You have a central role in our republic," said the congresswoman, who was born in Cuba. "We thank you for it -- even when you criticize public officials."

At the White House later, Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked if the president would consider revising his characterization of democracy's Fourth Estate.

"Certain outlets have gone out of their way to not be completely accurate and fair in their coverage," Spicer said. "He has a deep respect for the First Amendment, for the role of the press."

Photo credit: Jose I. Iglesias, el Nuevo Herald

Miami lawmakers on Trump deportations: ‘You’re going to catch a lot of good people’


Two Miami Republicans in Congress immediately questioned on Tuesday the Trump administration’s new policy exposing nearly all immigrants in the country illegally to deportation.

U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen were speaking at an event highlighting the contribution of immigrants to Miami’s fledgling tech industry when the Department of Homeland Security announced its rules expanding the categories of people prioritized for removal — a reversal from the Obama administration, which had focused on deporting criminals.

“I worry that when you cast a wide net, you’re going to catch some criminals — but you’re going to catch a lot of good people who don’t have papers but they have not committed violent crimes,” said Ros-Lehtinen, who was born in Cuba. “This is a community that has been immigrant-friendly.”

Curbelo agreed, saying there is “broad consensus” to deport “people who are here with the goal of doing us harm.”

“I’d like to encourage the administration to keep the focus on deporting dangerous criminals,” said Curbelo, the son of Cuban immigrants. “Also, I would encourage the administration to try to keep families together as much as possible.”

The congressman did thank President Trump for not pushing to undo the protections offered to people brought into the country illegally as children by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

More here.

Photo credit: Jose I. Iglesias, el Nuevo Herald

'We choose life,' say churches calling to stop executions


IMG_6530As state lawmakers prepare to pass legislation requiring juries vote unanimously to sentence convicted murderers to death, a coalition of churches has a different idea: Abolish the death penalty entirely.

Members of the Florida Council of Churches and representatives from the AME and Catholic denominations on Tuesday called on lawmakers to pass a moratorium on executions, citing high cost of death penalty appeals, the possibility of wrongful convictions and the impact on victims' families being forced to relive their loved one's murder repeatedly in court.

"Even if we pass unanimous juries, we still haven't solved the economic issues and we still haven't solved the fact that familiesk eep being dragged through this trauma over and over again," said Rev. Russell Meyer, a Lutheran pastor from Tampa and executive director of the Florida Council of Churches.

What's more, they say, there is a moral problem with the state killing people -- even the most depraved criminals.

"The church has come today on the issue of life and death," said AME Rev. James Golden. "We choose life."

The religious groups are meeting with lawmakers to urge them to pass a moratorium. Lawmakers will consider death penalty legislation today and Wednesday, and activists plan to speak up in those hearings

So will Darlene Farah, a Jacksonville mother whose daughter Shelby was murdered in 2013. Farah has been urging the court not to give a death sentence to her daughter's killer, who she says she has worked to forgive.

"I know what it feels like to have a child taken away from you," Farah said. "The mother of the person who committed the murder is going to have her chld taken away from her."

Photo: Darlene Farah, whose daughter Shelby was murdered in 2013, calls for an end to the death penalty surrounded by church leaders in the state Capitol on Tuesday. (Michael Auslen | Times/Herald)

Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida picks Perez in DNC race

DNC Future Forum Arizona

A few days before the Democratic National Committee is slated to pick its next chairman, one group of Florida Democrats has made an endorsement in the race.

The Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida announced Tuesday it has endorsed Tom Perez for chair. Perez, the only Hispanic in the running, was secretary of labor under former President Barack Obama. He's also a former assistant U.S. attorney general for civil rights.

"Tom's perspective and powerful life story will be assets in the fight ahead, standing up to the Trump Administration and expanding our party's big tent," Democratic Hispanic Caucus John A. Ramos said in a statement. "In our experience, our party can only succeed when the stakeholders involved are as diverse as possible. Tom will create an inclusive DNC and speak to everyone who shares our values of opportunity to get our party winning in Florida and across the country."

Earlier this month, the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida endorsed one of Perez's rivals, Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, calling him a "clear and passionate voice for all people."

The DNC election will take place Saturday in Atlanta. Caucuses don't have a vote.

Photo credit: David Wallace, The Arizona Republic via Associated Press

Should food stamps be used to buy soda and candy? No, says a Tampa Bay lawmaker

Should people who qualify for food stamps be allowed to buy candy and soda with them? A newly-elected Tampa Bay legislator says no, and he's pushing to change state law to prevent it.

MassulloRepublican Rep. Ralph Massullo of Lecanto is one of 24 GOP freshmen in the state House and represents parts of Hernando and Citrus counties on the North Suncoast. He's also a dermatologist who says that something has to be done about the rising rates of obesity in the U.S., especially among children.

"The fact that we're allowing junk food as the most common purchased item leads to non-nutritional states and disease," Massullo said in a Herald/Times interview. "I don't want the government to get into the nitty-gritty of our lives, but I also don't want government making us sick."

By 2030, he said, quoting a projection he had seen, almost 60 percent of the population in the state of Florida will be obese, which will be at a staggering cost to the state.

Massullo filed House Bill 593, which would add soft drinks and candy to the list of items banned under the EBT cards issued through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, along with alcohol, gambling, slot machines, commercial bingo and adult entertainment.

Asked about banning food stamp purchases of other foods with low nutritional value such as potato chips, pastries or sugar-laden cereals, Massullo said: "I draw the line with sodas and candy. Those are the two most common things." He added

Three freshmen, Reps. Randy Fine, Jason Fischer and Don Hahnfeldt, have signed on as co-sponsors. No Senate companion bill has yet surfaced. The House bill will get its first hearing Thursday in a House subcommittee chaired by Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart.

Read Massullo's two-page bill here.

Similar legislation has been filed in other states, but usually draws strong lobbying opposition from the food and beverage industries. The New York Times last month reported on data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that it said showed food stamp recipients spend 5 cents of every dollar on soda. The report quoted a nutritionist who said it's "pretty shocking" to see taxpayer money in effect subsidizing the soft-drink industry.


Advocates for gun safety set to take on Republican-led Florida Legislature today

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Steve Frappier was one of the lucky ones in baggage claim at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Jan. 6.

As a gunman abruptly opened fire that afternoon, killing five and wounding six, Frappier escaped injury when a bullet miraculously struck the laptop in his backpack instead of him.

Frappier, a former Coconut Grove resident who moved to Atlanta last summer, is taking that life-changing experience and turning it into advocacy.

He has joined Everytown for Gun Safety and other national gun-control organizations in calling on Florida lawmakers to oppose a slew of NRA-backed measures this spring that would make it easier for conceal-carry permit-holders to have guns in public places.

Among those measures is one that now hits close to home for Frappier: Allowing concealed guns in airport terminals.

Some conservative lawmakers argue the Fort Lauderdale airport tragedy might have had a different outcome or might have ended sooner with fewer casualties had concealed-weapons permit-holders been legally allowed to carry their guns in baggage claim.

The shooting lasted less than 90 seconds.

“That type of legislation actually feels like the survivors are being blamed — as if we should have been able to have been armed and done something about it,” Frappier said.

Frappier’s story is one of many that advocates from Everytown and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America hope will resonate with lawmakers as the two groups host a lobby day at the Florida Capitol on Tuesday.

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Photo credit: A bullet was lodged in Steve Frappier’s laptop after suspected shooter Esteban Santiago opened fire in baggage claim at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Jan. 6. Frappier has become a gun-safety advocate and is speaking out against proposals in the Florida Legislature that would allow the open-carrying of guns and allow guns in airports and other areas that are currently “gun-free zones.” (c/o Facebook)