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March 23, 2017

Miami Beach mayor, Airbnb launch dueling campaigns



Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Airbnb have launched dueling campaigns ahead of a Miami City Commission vote Thursday to enforce laws against short-term rentals in the city.

The home-sharing platform rolled out a television commercial Wednesday in the Miami market criticizing Levine and Miami counterpart Tomas Regalado for being "against middle class Miami families" by opposing short-term rentals in their cities. Regalado wants commissioners to vote Thursday to endorse the "vigorous" enforcement of a zoning opinion that says rentals for periods shorter than a month are illegal in residential neighborhoods.

On Thursday, Levine, whose city has aggressively fought Airbnb, responded.

As commissioners began their meeting before a chambers packed with Airbnb supporters, Levine personally paid to fly a banner plane knocking Airbnb. The mayor, who is mulling a run for governor, also floated a boat off Dinner key with a billboard accusing the company of being cozy with "Tallahassee,"a reference to state lawmakers.

“Airbnb’s model does not work for our community, or for many others across the country," Levin said in a statement issued by his political consultant, Christian Ulvert. "Sadly, they have chosen agitation and confrontation to express their views, attacking the virtues of local control and self-determination."

Airbnb says its service is good for tourism, and helps support middle class families who use the platform to rent out their homes to visitors.


Miami Republicans will have to make up their minds on health care today

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With a vote looming Thursday evening on House Republicans' healthcare bill, two of three Miami lawmakers whose districts have among the highest number of Affordable Care Act enrollees have yet to announce their support or opposition.

Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart have been undecided -- with Curbelo leaning "Yes" and Diaz-Balart leaning "No" -- since both voted for the American Health Care Act in different House committees.

Curbelo helped move the law out of the Ways and Means Committee before the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported that 14 million Americans would drop or lose their insurance coverage in 2018 under the law; Diaz-Balart helped break a tie to pass the legislation out of the Budget Committee, despite saying he had concerns with it.

The White House has been wooing Diaz-Balart and other ambivalent Republicans all week. Curbelo was among the group of moderates who met Wednesday night with House Speaker Paul Ryan. They reached no broad agreement.

The third Miami Republican, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, was the first Florida member of Congress to oppose the bill -- and she still does, she said Thursday.

"After studying the impact of this legislation on my constituents, I will vote no on this bill because it does not provide adequate solutions for the working poor, disabled, and elderly in South Florida," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "Too many of my constituents will be left paying more for coverage and many will be left without coverage at all. The cuts and changes to Medicaid will make it more difficult to effectively care for uninsured patients as well as individuals with high costs of coverage due to special needs or chronic diseases. Additionally, costs for seniors will increase significantly as insurance companies will charge older Americans exorbitantly high premiums and fees which many cannot afford."

Spokeswomen for Curbelo and Diaz-Balart said Thursday morning the lawmakers are in negotiation meetings over the bill all day.

This post has been updated.

Photo credit: Hector Gabino, el Nuevo Herald

Black caucus demands Rick Scott rescind order taking Orlando prosecutor off cop-killer case



Members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus on Thursday called for Gov. Rick Scott to change his mind and rescind an executive order that transfered the case of a man accused of killing a police officer in Orlando away from the local state attorney after she declared she would not seek the death penalty.

The order, signed by Scott last Thursday after State attorney Aramis Ayala publicly said she would not seek death for Markeith Loyd or any other accused murderer while she is in office, gives the Loyd case to Ocala-based State Attorney Brad King.

Since the order, Scott has faced pressure from all sides. Some, including lawmakers, have demanded he suspend Ayala from office. Others, among them a group of lawyers and former state Supreme Court justices, call Scott's decision an overreach.

"Gov. Scott's hasty response to State Attorney Ayala's announcement set a dangerous precedent and is a slap in the face of the voters who carried her into office," said Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Lauderhill, the chairman of the black caucus. "In this way, the order operated as little more than an unfettered and uninformed power grab by the governor's office over a difference of opinion."

Removing Ayala from the Loyd case was unprecedented, Thurston said. He contends that the state attorney is using her prosecutorial discretion in choosing not to seek the death penalty and that Scott has gone beyond what the Constitution and state law intend by removing her from the case for this reason.

Thurston noted that Scott did not intervene -- nor were there widespread calls for him to do so -- when Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle decided last week not to prosecute guards at Dade Correctional Institution who locked a schizophrenic inmate in a hot shower for two hours until he ultimately died.

But, he said, Scott should not have stepped into either case, allowing prosecutors to make the decision for themselves.

The governor has broad authority in the Constitution to move cases away from state attorneys if he believes justice would best be served by doing so, though it is most often used to avoid conflicts of interest. Ayala asked a judge to intervene in a court filing earlier this week.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Scott said he stands by his decision to reassign the case against Loyd.

"Markeith Loyd is accused of executing Lt. Debra Clayton, a brave law enforcement hero who was on the ground fighting for her life, and murdering his pregnant ex-girlfriend Sade Dixon. Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy Norman Lewis was also killed while actively searching for Loyd," spokeswoman Kerri Wyland said. "As Governor Scott has continued to say, these families deserve a state attorney who will aggressively prosecute Loyd to the fullest extent of the law and justice must be served."

State Rep. Sean Shaw, D-Tampa, said there is another element of concern here: The long racially-tied history of Florida's death penalty.

No white person has been executed in Florida for killing a black person.

And research has shown that race of the defendent and race of the victim both play critical roles in the outcome of a death penalty case here.

Ayala, who was elected in November, is the first African-American state attorney elected in the state's history.

"Clearly all the data and all the studies show that the death penalty is applied with racial bias, particularly in Florida," Shaw said. "This is still the case and has always been the case, and by standing against the death penalty, State Attorney Ayala is standing with communities of color."

Photo: Members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, led by Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Lauderhill, call on Gov. Rick Scott to rescind an executive order removing the Orange-Osceola state attorney from a case after she said she would not seek the death penalty. (Michael Auslen, Times/Herald)

City officials urge legislators to halt the FPL transmission bill being 'bulldozed' through

FPL transmission linesOfficials from several Miami-Dade communities impacted by an 88-mile transmission line sought by Florida Power & Light through the county’s most affluent and environmentally sensitive areas pleaded with a Senate committee Wednesday not to approve legislation to allow the company to build the line without considering local development rules.

The bill, SB 1048 by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, would overturn an April 2016 ruling by a three-judge panel of the Third District Court of Appeal that said the governor and Cabinet failed to consider Miami-Dade County’s environmental rules when they signed off on allowing FPL to string a transmission line through Everglades marshes and fragile wetlands.

Despite their appeals, the Senate Community Affairs Committee passed the bill with only one no vote — that of Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, whose district includes the entire corridor of the transmission line along U.S. 1 from Cutler Bay, through Pinecrest, South Miami and Coral Gables to a substation in Coconut Grove.

“For constituents and local elected leaders who have been very involved in trying to make sure our community is protected from environmental impacts, economic impacts, public safety concerns, this bill confirms our worst fears about how laws are made in Tallahassee,” Rodriguez said. “The sense is that the bigger the checkbook, the easier it is to get laws written.” Story here. 

Scramble for healthcare votes suddenly puts Cuba policy in play

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@PatriciaMazzei @ngameztorres

The showdown in Congress over House Republicans’ healthcare bill might have nothing to do with Raúl Castro — if it weren’t for Miami.

Thursday’s planned vote on the American Health Care Act is so razor tight that House GOP leaders and the White House are leaning hard on every single shaky Republican for their support. One of them: Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, whose foremost want is to overturn the Obama administration’s Cuba opening — and who has recently taken it upon himself to outline a possible Cuba policy for the Trump administration.

Perhaps Diaz-Balart and the White House would engage in a little old-fashioned horse trading — a “Yes” vote on healthcare for swift action on Cuba?

The New York Times reported Wednesday that Diaz-Balart wanted assurances from White House officials that President Donald Trump would keep his campaign promise to take a harder Cuba line. There was no explicit discussion about trading a healthcare vote for a Cuba promise, The Times said after initially reporting otherwise.

“I wish that they would’ve given me a commitment on something, but that is just made up,” Diaz-Balart told McClatchy, the Miami Herald’s parent company, on Wednesday.

He added that he’s still undecided on the healthcare bill, mostly based on concerns about insurance coverage and premium costs for older Americans.

“I am very concerned that particularly that population is not being dealt with yet in a way that is giving me a lot of comfort,” he said.

Politically, he noted, it’s better not to be a hard “Yes” or “No”: “Once I do that, then I’m out of the loop.”

More here.

Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, el Nuevo Herald

March 22, 2017

Miami-Dade-backed legislation cracking down on 'rogue' condo associations advances

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A plan from Miami-Dade lawmakers to penalize fraud and abuse in condominium associations earned unanimous initial approval in House and Senate committees this week.

The bills, most notably, impose new criminal penalties for falsifying association documents, committing fraud in association elections and refusing to turn over administrative records, among other reforms.

"A lot of these reforms are a long time coming," said Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami, who is sponsoring the Senate bill (SB 1682) with Sen. René García, R-Hialeah. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 8-0 to advance their bill Wednesday.

More here.

Photo credit: Hundreds of Miami-Dade County condominium owners marched in protest in the city of Doral on April 16, 2016. Roberto Koltun / el Nuevo Herald

Constitution Commission announces hearings in Orlando, Miami, Boca Raton and Pensacola

From a release:

Constitution Commission Chairman Carlos Beruff today announced the first four scheduled stops on the statewide “Floridians Speak, We Listen” tour being hosted by the 2017-2018 Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC).  The Commission will be at the University of Central Florida (UCF) in Orange County on Wednesday, March 29 from 5-8 p.m.; Florida International University (FIU) in Miami-Dade County on Thursday, April 6 from 5-8 p.m.; Florida Atlantic University (FAU) in Palm Beach County on Friday, April 7 from 9 a.m.-noon; and the University of West Florida (UWF) in Escambia County on Wednesday, April 12 from 4-7 p.m. (central time).

Chairman Carlos Beruff, said, “When Governor Rick Scott appointed me as Chair of this Commission, my first order of business was to ensure Floridians are actively involved in this historic and important process. I am proud to announce our 'Floridians Speak, We Listen' tour, where we will get input from Florida families on the issues that matter to them. This historic process gives Florida voters an opportunity to change the framework of our government and I encourage all interested Floridians to attend a public hearing and make their voices heard.”

Confirmed public hearing dates, times and locations are provided below. Additional tour stops will be announced soon.

Continue reading "Constitution Commission announces hearings in Orlando, Miami, Boca Raton and Pensacola " »

Republicans accused of advancing 'union-busting' proposal with little chance at becoming law



Florida’s public-sector labor unions — which represent thousands of workers ranging from school teachers to public utility linemen — would have to convince their members to pay up or else risk being shut down, under a controversial plan by House Republicans that is now headed to the floor despite little chance at becoming law.

HB 11 is a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, but it drew resounding backlash from Democrats and labor leaders who say the measure is nothing more than a politically motivated attempt to bust up unions.

It passed the Government Accountability Committee on a 14-8, party-line vote Wednesday, its second of only two committee stops.

Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, argues his proposal is about “transparency and democracy” because it would ensure labor unions serving government workers are accountable to and financially supported by at least a majority of the workers the union is supposed to represent.

“I think that’s a good thing to be responsive,” Plakon said, adding: “Public-sector unions should have to operate in a transparent fashion, under democratic majority-rule. ... This empowers members of the bargaining unit and it also pushes the unions to have to respect their members by asking for dues.”

But Florida is a right-to-work state, so employees cannot be forced to join or pay dues to a union. Union leaders say Plakon’s proposal contradicts that state law, and it would essentially force labor organizations to continuously “campaign” for enough dues-paying members — or risk being shut down.

“I think it’s very clear that this bill is about politics, not about policy,” Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, said. “This bill is about union-busting, plain and simple.”

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

White House angles for Diaz-Balart's vote on health care

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In a story Wednesday about the White House leaning on House Republicans to back the GOP healthcare bill, The New York Times reported that Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart used the hot political moment to reiterate that President Donald Trump promised to undo the Obama administration's Cuba policy.

For other House members, the health bill has been an opportunity to deal. As part of the discussions, Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, Republican of Florida, made it clear to White House officials that he wanted assurances that the president would hold to his pledge to consider reversing President Barack Obama’s opening with Cuba, the White House official said. Mr. Diaz-Balart backed the measure in the Budget Committee last week, although the official said there had been no explicit discussion of trading his vote for a promise on Cuba.

(An earlier version of the story incorrectly said Trump had pledged to Diaz-Balart he'd reverse the Obama policy in return for his vote.)

Diaz-Balart has made no secret that he's brought up Cuba every time he's had a chance to speak to top White House personnel. He was particularly friendly during the transition with Vice President Mike Pence. But a source told the Miami Herald on Wednesday that the Trump administration has yet to make any assurances or commitments on Cuba.

Diaz-Balart's spokeswoman, Katrina Valdés, said in an email Wednesday to the Herald and the Tampa Bay Times that, on health care, the congressman "is still reviewing the recent changes to the bill and continues to negotiate with House Leadership about multiple aspects of the bill, including how the legislation handles older, low income constituents."

A vote is planned for Thursday.

--with Alex Leary

Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, el Nuevo Herald

Rubio remains noncomittal on GOP healthcare bill

via @learyreports

Sen. Marco Rubio declined on Wednesday to take a position on the GOP's Obamacare replacement bill, saying it is a "work in progress."

"By the time I give you a statement now, that bill could change in the next 12 hours and then I'm on record of supporting something that changed," Rubio said on Jacksonville radio station WOKV.

He's right that the bill could change before the end of the day as Speaker Paul Ryan, President Trump and others are trying to rally enough votes. "They've got their own drama going on over there," Rubio said of the House.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

PolitiFact Florida: Is the Center for Immigration Studies a hate group?

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@amysherman1 @politifactfl

The term "hate group" usually brings to mind groups like the Ku Klux Klan, which has targeted African-Americans for centuries, or Neo-Nazi groups that admire Adolf Hitler.

Not think tanks that focus on immigration.

Yet the Southern Poverty Law Center recently included the Center for Immigration Studies on its annual list of hate groups.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, the Center for Immigration Studies’ executive director, Mark Krikorian, argued that the label is misplaced and intended to suppress their viewpoint.

"The wickedness of the SPLC's blacklist lies in the fact that it conflates groups that really do preach hatred, such as the Ku Klux Klan and Nation of Islam, with ones that simply do not share the SPLC's political preferences," he wrote.

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s designation hasn’t gone unnoticed. In January, House Republicans in the Florida Legislature invited Krikorian to speak about refugees. House Democrats walked out of the hearing in protest.

PolitiFact has quoted Krikorian or other officials at his center in multiple articles about immigration. After reading Krikorian’s editorial -- in which he said the Southern Poverty Law Center’s complaints were trivial -- we decided to review the evidence for ourselves.

We found the case against the center is based on some of its associations rather than its current work.

But we want readers to review the evidence for themselves. Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

Acosta fields questions on Epstein sex case at Senate hearing

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Alex Acosta, President Donald' Trump's labor secretary nominee, got questions Wednesday at his Senate confirmation hearing about the sordid underage sex-ring case involving Palm Beach billionaire Jeffrey Epstein.

As U.S. attorney in Miami, Acosta -- now dean of Florida International University's law school -- signed off on a plea agreement that attorneys for Epstein's victims called a "sweetheart" deal.

Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democratic member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions committee, asked Acosta if he approved the deal despite opposition from prosecutors in his office.

Acosta called his office's involvement unusual, given that Epstein was charged by state prosecutors following a grand jury's recommendation.

"We deemed it necessary to become involved, and we early on had discussions within the office," Epstein said. "We decided...that Mr. Epstein should plead guilty to two years, register as a sexual offender and concede liability so the victims could get restitution. If that were done, the federal interest would be satisfied and we would defer to the state."

Acosta's office drafted a 53-page indictment that was never used. Declining to discuss specifics of the case, Acosta called it "pretty typical" to write up an indictment that "often does not consider the strength of the underlying case."

"'These are all the places we can go,'" Acosta said, describing a draft indictment. "Yet at the end of the day, based on the evidence, professionals within the prosecutor's office decide that a plea that guarantees that someone goes to jail, that guarantees that someone register generally, and that guarantees other outcomes, is a good thing."

Kaine asked again: Did his staff agree with cutting the deal?

"It was a broadly held decision, yes," Acosta said.

Acosta was introduced Wednesday by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, both Cuban-American Republicans like Acosta. If confirmed, Acosta would be the only Hispanic on Trump's Cabinet.

Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, asked Acosta about his time heading the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division -- particularly his foray into an Ohio voting-rights case days before the 2004 presidential election. Acosta sent an unsolicited letter to a judge siding with Republicans who challenged the eligibility of thousands of African-American voters.

"I want to ask you if you regret the decision to send that letter in 2004," Murray asked.

Acosta argued the letter was misinterpreted: "We were not taking a position on what was being done in Ohio specifically," he said. Murray called his response "a very legal answer" and pressed him again.

"As an attorney to the Department of Justice, sometimes you have to do things that are unpopular but are legally correct," Acosta said. "The letter is legally correct. I wish the letter was not interpreted the way it's interpreted."

"As secretary of labor, I want to know if you will bow to political pressure -- which I have seen, under this Trump administration, a tremendous amount of political pressure," Murray said.

"I have prosecuted UBS, the international bank, and as a result of that prosecution, they changed Swiss law," Acosta said. "I've prosecuted major drug cartels for 200,000 kilos -- the heads of the Cali cartel -- for 200,000 kilos of cocaine. I have been in public service the better part of my professional career, and I've seen pressure, and I don't for a second believe that senior officials would or should bow to inappropriate pressure."

"We work for the president. He is our boss," Acosta added. But, citing the confirmation hearing of former Bush Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, he concluded: "We all will ultimately follow his direction -- unless we feel we can't. And if we can't, we resign." 

Photo credit: Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press 

Conservatives press Nelson on Gorsuch vote for Supreme Court

via @learyreports

A conservative group is dropping new mailers in Florida today to keep up pressure on Sen. Bill Nelson to support Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court.

This is the second direct mail piece from Concerned Veterans for America, and it makes a patriotic appeal, asking if Nelson will "protect the freedoms you fought to defend."

"Each piece of mail directs citizens to call a CVA switchboard where they are informed about Neil Gorsuch’s record and then patched through to Senator Nelson’s office," the group said. It is also targeting Democratic senators in Indiana, North Dakota, West Virginia, Missouri, Colorado, Maine and Montana.

Nelson, facing re-election next year, has not said how he'll vote on Gorsuch.

UPDATE: The Republican National Commitee is also using a Facebook ad.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Jeb Bush joins board of Boca Raton communications-tower firm


Jeb Bush has joined the board of directors of Vertical Bridge, a communications-tower company based in Boca Raton.

In a statement released by the company, the former Florida governor and 2016 presidential hopeful praised Vertical Bridge's growth "and the smart capital deployment" of its parent Company, Digital Bridge.

"I have long been a strong proponent of the role that improved telecommunications infrastructure can and should play in enhancing our quality of life in so many diverse ways," Bush said. "I look forward to contributing to the continued progress at Vertical Bridge."

The company, which is three years old, says it's the largest private owner and manager of telecommunications assets in the country. It's looking to Bush's expertise as the federal government moves to expand infrastructure for an integrated communications network for first responders, said Marc Ganzi, Vertical Bridge's executive chairman and co-founder.

"Public safety is going to be a big growth area," Ganzi said. "Having a public servant like the governor on our board -- who understands public safety, first responders and public agencies -- that was the real, strategic push for why we brought him in."

Ganzi's relationship with the Bush family dates back decades. (Ganzi even interned in then-President George H.W. Bush's White House.) Jeb Bush also sits on the board Dock Square Capital LLC, a Miami-based merchant back whose affiliate, Dock Square Communications LP, is investing in Vertical Bridge now that Bush is one of its directors.\

This post has been updated to correct Ganzi's title.

Photo credit: Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press

Latvala: Corcoran 'just wrong' for House vote on Enterprise Florida

One by one, Republican lawmakers delivered dreary news at the Florida Chamber of Commerce's "Capitol Days" Tuesday in Tallahassee. On issue after issue, pro-business bills are stalled, from curbing growing abuses in property insurance claims to changing the workers' comp system. Business is battling a lawyer-friendly bill to require courts to add interest payments in cases won by plaintiffs.

"Trial lawyers are on the march," Steve Knopik, CEO of the Bealls clothing retailer, told Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, who didn't argue. "It feels like we're just getting trampled on."

The news didn't improve when Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, described a legislative response to court-ordered workers' comp rate hikes as "a reasonably okay bill."

Interest groups like the Chamber sometimes create doom-and-gloom scenarios to rally members or raise money, but this session looks bleak for business. Despite overwhelming Republican majorities in both chambers, key Senate committees include trial bar-friendly Republicans. Senate President Joe Negron wants to abolish a decades-old tax break for the insurance industry. Some Republicans want to repeal no-fault auto insurance that could drive up accident lawsuits and legal costs. Under Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, who like Negron is a lawyer, the House has dismantled most statewide economic development programs.

That brought denunciations from Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who said it's "just wrong" for Corcoran to force House members to go on record on such a controversial issue when it has no chance of passage because a similar JL bill isn't teed up in the Senate.

"We made all those House members, including my son (Rep. Chris Latvala), who I love very much, take a very tough vote because the speaker made them, even though he knew there was not a bill to match up to in the Senate, and that's just wrong," Latvala told Chamber members. "That's putting personal ambition before the body that you are the presiding officer of."

Latvala said it's the first time in his 15-year Senate career that business has to "play defense." He blamed term limits -- championed by Republicans three decades ago -- for a system in which most lawmakers want to be career politicians and have no business experience. "We have a constant stream of people who get elected who were aides in the legislative process," Latvala said. "They've never run a business. They've never had those responsibilities."

"Capitol Days" continues Wednesday in the capital with a panel discussion that asks: "Is Florida closed for business?"

Senators poised for first major medical marijuana hearing



Florida's new medical marijuana market will start to take shape today as a panel of senators workshops five proposals to put the voter-approved constitutional amendment legalizing the drug into place.

The Senate Health Policy committee, chaired by Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young, will consider issues related to the five proposed bills and hear public comment, the first step toward passing legislation and the first time members of the public will hear what key senators think about how medical marijuana should be implemented.

Voters approved Amendment 2, which opened up the state to medical cannabis, with 71 percent support. By the end of their regular session, the House and Senate are expected to pass a more detailed plan.

But they're dissatisfied with how the Legislature has progressed, according to a Fabrizio, Lee & Associates poll first reported by Politico on Tuesday. It showed that more than half of Amendment 2 supporters though the Legislature was moving too slowly and 40 percent of all voters disapproved of the job they are doing to implement the voters' will.

When the Health Policy Committee convenes this afternoon, here are the proposals they will discuss. They will likely be consolidated into a new bill, which the panel is expected to consider at a later date.

* SB 406 by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island: Maintains the current system of requiring businesses to both grow and sell cannabis but expands the number of businesses by five when the state has 250,000 patients, 350,000 patients, 400,000 patients and every 100,000 thereafter. It allows edibles but not smoking and lets people buy a 90-day supply. 

* SB 614 by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg: A largely open market of growers, dispensaries, labs and delivery companies with no cap on the number of businesses involved, though it limits retail shops to no more than 1 per 25,000 residents. It allows smoking and edibles and lets people buy a 90-day supply of cannabis.

* SB 1388 by Sen. Frank Artiles, R-Miami: Largely modeled after SB 406, this proposal requires independent labs do testing, allows smoking and lets people buy a 45-day supply.

* SB 1666 by Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens: This plan would maintain the current system but would require 10 new licenses be awarded by October and allow four more for every 25,000 patients. It maintains a provision of existing law allowing only nurseries that have been in business for 30 years to become growers. It allows edibles but not smoking and lets people buy 90-day supplies, including some non-residents of Florida.

* SB 1758 by Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring: This maintains the existing market, including the 30-year requirement for nurseries, and allows three new licenses be awarded for every 250,000 patients. It allows edibles but not smoking and lets patients have a 45-day supply, including non-residents.

There are lots of questions on the table as the Senate committee meets. Want to follow along? Stream online at the Florida Channel at 1 p.m., or follow @MichaelAuslen and @SunBizGriffin.

Photo: Associated Press

March 21, 2017

PolitiFact Florida: Fact-checking Miami Beach mayor's claim about Airbnb



Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine went on a Facebook rant against Airbnb after a conservative publication criticized city officials for supporting fines against the short-term rental company.

Airbnb posted the article by Sunshine State News on social media. Levine, a potential Democratic candidate for governor in 2018, fired back in the comments.

Levine wrote that Miami Beach commissioners aren’t the only opponents of Airbnb, which allows property owners to rent out houses and apartments, or a bedroom, to visitors across the world. The city generally bans short-term rentals except in limited multi-family areas.

He said officials in New York, San Francisco and Miami also don’t support Airbnb. Why?

“Because it destroys neighborhoods, buildings, decreases real estate values and increases costs for workforce housing!!!!!” he wrote in a March 2 Facebook comment.

We decided to tackle two of Levine’s attacks: that Airbnb decreases real estate values and increases costs for workforce housing. Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.


Rick Scott's spokeswoman calls Richard Corcoran 'hypocritical'

Gov. Rick Scott's chief spokeswoman, Jackie Schutz, called out House Speaker Richard Corcoran Tuesday for being "very hypocritical" in his efforts to abolish Enterprise Florida as the state's taxpayer-funded program to attract jobs to the state.

JackieSchutz (at left in photo) asked the Times/Herald if she could comment in response to a story about an unusual coincidence in which Corcoran's law firm, Broad & Cassel, has earned more than $235,000 doing legal work for Enterprise Florida and two related corporations over the past three years. Corcoran, who has called Enterprise Florida an "absolute cesspool," had no role in any of the legal work and said he was not aware that his firm did work for Enterprise Florida. (The previous reporting is here).

Said Schutz: "It's hypocritical for him to attack EFI when they're helping out small businesses, but in turn it's OK for his company to help EFI. It just seems very hypocritical."

UPDATE: Corcoran's spokesman, Fred Piccolo, said: "Pay to play is exactly the kind of corruption Speaker Corcoran is leading the charge to fight. It is clear she didn't read the article because what it said was that Speaker Corcoran is a principled leader who can clearly never be bought politically or professionally."

Scott's fight with Corcoran will continue Wednesday when he travels to Pinellas County for another jobs roundtable with local business owners to rally support for Enterprise Florida.

The county's six House members were evenly split when the House voted on March 10 to abolish Enterprise Florida. Joining Corcoran in voting to kill the agency were Republisans Larry Ahern, Chris Latvala and Chris Sprowls. Voting to keep Enterprise Florida were Republican Kathleen Peters and Democrats Ben Diamond and Wengay Newton. 

Cubans favor better U.S. relations, poll finds

From the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON -- A rare poll of Cuban public opinion has found that most of the island's citizens approve of normal relations with the United States and large majorities want more tourists to visit and the expansion of private business ownership.

In a poll of 840 people taken in Cuba late last year by the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago, 55 percent said that normal relations with the U.S. would be mostly good for the country.

"I'd love for the two peoples to be even closer," Rebecca Tamayo, an 80-year-old retired museum worker, said Monday in Havana. "If there were better relations, more products would be entering the country. There'd be more opportunity to buy things."

Among Cubans aged 18-29, approval of closer relations with the U.S. rose to 70 percent. An overwhelming eight of 10 respondents said they believed tourism to Cuba should be expanded.

President Donald Trump has pledged to reverse former President Barack Obama's 2 1/2-year-old opening with Cuba, which restored full diplomatic relations and allowed a dramatic expansion of U.S. travel to the island. Trump has said little about the matter since taking office, but his administration says it is conducting a full review of Cuba policy with an eye toward possible changes.

More here.

Photo credit: Desmond Boylan, AP file

Critics: Bill to implement solar tax breaks has become a vehicle for solar barriers

Solar panelsA bill moving through the Florida House to implement the August ballot initiative by giving tax breaks to businesses that install solar energy panels is under fire for doing what the utility industry could not do this election cycle - impose impediments to rooftop solar installation.

The bill, HB 1351 by Rep. Ray Rodrigues, was passed unanimously by the House Energy and Utilities Subcommittee Tuesday but only after several legislators expressed reservations and members of the solar industry warned that a long list of “consumer protections” in the bill will actually serve to keep legitimate companies from doing business in Florida.

In addition to authorizing language that prohibits tax assessors from increasing the taxable value of a home or business because of a solar installation, Rodrigues added language he said he modeled off an Arizona law that he says will provide consumer safeguards against “bad actors” in the solar industry.

He acknowledged that there are no problems with solar industry installations today in Florida but, because removing the tax barriers will result in “an uptick” in new solar expansion, “the time to do it is now rather than waiting until consumers are taken advantage of.”

Under the bill, any company that installs rooftop solar would be required to file more than 20 financial disclosures relating to their business practices, calculate a customers’ energy savings based on future, not past, energy rates, follow new codes and standards and face new imposes penalties for violations.

In addition, the Florida Public Service Commission would have new power to impose new rules related to solar safety and performance, in addition to those already in place under state and federal law.

But members of the solar industry told the committee that safety requirements are already in place, and the Solar Energy Industry Association already requires its members to adhere to best practices and disclosures intended to weed out bad actors and benefit consumers.

“This goes way too far,’’ said Jeff Sharkey, lobbyist for Tesla, Solar City and the Energy Freedom Coalition of America. “At the end of the day, these are going to be confusing to consumers, potentially provide obstacles, and make it a little more difficult to purchase and install these energy saving devices on their homes.”

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