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16 posts from April 11, 2013

April 11, 2013

Jay-Z raps Diaz-Balart, Ros-Lehtinen over rapping him, Beyonce for Cuba travel


In a new rap posted on his website, Rapper Ja-Z singled out Miami Republican Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen for questioning and then bashing a Cuba trip taken last week by him and his wife, Beyonce. (Background and links here)

The relevant lyrics from Jay-Z's "Open Letter" (listen here, read them here):

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MIA baggage-wrap firm loses 2 legal challenges


TrueStar USA, the incumbent company that lost its lucrative contract for wrapping baggage at Miami International Airport, foundered this week in two lawsuits against its rival, Safe Wrap.

On Thursday, a Miami-Dade judge denied TrueStar’s attempt to block Safe Wrap from entering into a contract with Miami-Dade County. On Tuesday, a federal judge dismissed a claim that Safe Wrap had engaged in civil racketeering using “Mafia-style tactics” to defame TrueStar.

The court setbacks come a week after TrueStar’s defeat at the hands of county commissioners, who selected Safe Wrap to encase travelers’ luggage in clingy plastic to prevent theft. Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who had recommended TrueStar, vetoed commissioners’ initial decision, which they later upheld.

TrueStar sued, arguing the commission violated county procurement rul

More here.

Miami Dolphins kick off referendum campaign


The Miami Dolphins officially launched their political campaign Thursday to persuade voters to approve a tax-subsidized renovation of Sun Life Stadium — even though the effort might be all for nought.

The May 14 referendum will take place only if Florida lawmakers pass Dolphins-backed legislation increasing a state sales-tax subsidy and allowing Miami-Dade County to raise its hotel-tax rate — prospects still in doubt in the tax-averse Legislature.

But the Dolphins couldn’t wait until the lawmaking session ends May 3 — a mere 11 days before the referendum — to kick off their political push.

On Thursday, the Dolphins announced their effort would be headed by businessman and longtime fundraiser Jorge Arrizurieta and lawyer H.T. Smith, both seasoned campaigners who can appeal to two key Miami-Dade constituencies: Hispanics and blacks. Smith is black, and Arrizurieta is Hispanic.

At a news conference held at the National Football League’s “Youth Education Town” center in Liberty City, Smith emphasized the Dolphins’ and the league’s contributions to community programs. The NFL created the center at Gwen Cherry Park when Miami hosted the 29th Super Bowl in 1995.

“The reason why I’m here today is because every time the Super Bowl comes to Miami, the NFL YET center gets $500,000,” Smith said.

More, with Marc Caputo, here.

State House remembers Enrique Ros

The Florida House took a moment out of its busy schedule Thursday to honor the memory of Enrique Ros.

Ros, a noted Cuba historian and anti-Castro militant, died late Wednesday from respiratory complications. He was 89.

"Mr. Ros was a vocal and highly respected leader within the exile community,"  Rep. Erik Fresen said. "Our hearts are with his family especially his daughter, our colleague, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen."

Senate passes bill to tighten oversight of assisted living facilities

The Senate passed a bill on Thursday that aims to tighten oversight of Florida's nearly 3,000 assisted living facilities passed  by a 38-0 vote. "It's a work that we've all put a lot of effort on,'' said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, sponsor of  HB 646.
  The bill was  prompted by a 2011 Miami Herald investigation that revealed years of abuse, neglect and even death of ALF residents, said Sobel, D-Hollywood.
 "Legislation failed in the 2012 session," Sobel said during the bill's second reading Wednesday. "We have a more targeted approach this year. We are attempting to better enforce existing regulations. I know this bill significantly improves the lives of over 80,000 residents in ALFs in Florida."

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Rodríguez pitches amendment to help 'Dreamers,' Schenck shoots it down

Rep. José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami, made a last-minute attempt to include undocumented students in a proposal that would enable more Florida college students to qualify for in-state tuition.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, R-Miami, applies to students who were born in the United States, but whose parents are undocumented immigrants. Historically, those students have had to pay the higher out-of-state tuition rates.

Rodríguez wanted to see the measure expanded to include so-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. His amendment would have given colleges and universities the choice to offer (and pay for) in-state tuition for Dreamers who obtained their schooing in Florida.

“The time is now to act to help students who received their education in Florida but must pay expensive out-of-state tuition,” Rodríguez said in a statement.

But House Rules Chairman Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill, wouldn't allow the amendment to be heard on the House floor Thursday, saying it was "not germane" to Nuñez's bill. Democrats were not given the opportunity to debate the point of order.

Before Schenck weighed in, Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando, asked Nuñez why she did not include undocumented students in the proposal. Nuñez said there was too much movement on the national level for the Florida legislature to craft lasting policy.

"We decided it would not be good policy to put the cart before the horse," she said.

The House will vote on the policy (sans amendment) Friday.

To make room for health care plan, House Republicans shrink state pay raises

House Republicans are shrinking a proposed pay raise for state workers -- the first one they’ve had in seven years -- to make room for future policy initiatives, such as a long-awaited health care plan that was unveiled Thursday.

Hours after Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, released details on the plan, Republicans approved a budget amendment that lowered a planned automatic, $1,400 across-the-board pay raise to $1,000. The other $400 would be doled out in merit raises, a distinction that should save the state about $40 million.

Appropriations Chair Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, filed the lower pay raise proposal on Tuesday -- after House Republicans had blocked time for next week to unveil Corcoran’s new health care proposal.

Asked several times on Thursday if this change was made to free up money for the Corcoran plan, McKeel responded with the vague answer that the change was made to free up millions for “further policy initiatives” and for any new proposals that might arise in budget conferences between the House and Senate.

“What’s happened here is (Republican leaders) had to find the money to pay for some program that they will later unveil today and at next week’s (Patient Protection and Affordable Act committee),” said Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. “Where they are taking it from? They’re taking it from state workers.”

After the vote, he stated: "Shame on them for taking the money out of the pockets of state workers to pay for another impractical idea," referring to Corcoran's plan.

Fasano joined the chamber’s 44 Democrats in opposing the lower pay raise.

“It doesn’t do any good for the public employees,” said Rep. Victor Torres, Jr., D-Orlando. “It takes away what you promised them.”

Because the raises don’t go into effect until November (the state’s fiscal year actually begins July 1), the $1,000 automatic raises will amount to about $666 next year.

But Republicans staunchly defended the lower pay, saying it was a prudent measure that shouldn’t be minimized.

“You know what I hear in this room right now?” Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven said. “The union bosses. They’re saying, ‘It ain’t enough.’ Let’s remember who we are representing. The necessity of the citizens over the necessity of government. It’s fair, it’s reasonable, and I will hold my head high when I explain it to my constituents.”

“Instead of joyously getting ourselves into position so we can do something for our employees, we’re nitpicking the approach,” said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala.”

McKeel said the pay of $1,000 will be an average of a 2.5 percent raise for employees, outpacing the anticipated rise in the Consumer Price Index of 2 percent.

“The notion that we’re taking something away is confounding,” McKeel said.

But given the recent cuts that state employees have received, the new raises amount to peanuts, said Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs.

“Last year we took $960 away from state workers,” Moskowitz said. “Now we’re going to give them $1,000. Divide that over a year and that’s 76 cents. And we’re celebrating that. I’d like to see you put that on your mailers when you run for office next year.”

Republicans approved another amendment that would tie 100 percent of $676 million for teacher raises to student performance. Previously, they had only planned to tie 50 percent of that money to performance. The other half would be distributed automatically.

Although Republican applauded it as holding strong to conservative principles that only those most deserving get raises, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, said he was troubled it might allow districts to hold on to the money and not distribute it. Even so, he said, “it’s a step in the right direction.”

Gov. Scott signs foster care bill to give kids more normal lives

Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday signed a bill on Thursday that will help children in the foster care system lead a more normal life.
 Surrounded by legislators, advocates, and dozens of kids who are either now or have been in foster care, the governor said that under this new law (SB 164), "foster parents who apply the reasonable and prudent parent standard will be able to give their foster children permission to join a soccer team, ride in the car with their best friend -- some of the things we all take for granted -- take a trip to the beach without state involvement.

 "As a father and now grandfather," Scott said, "I know how important it is for children to experience things outside of the home, develop relationships and learn skills that are imperitive for developing independence, like driving a car. Currently, only 3 percent of 18-year-old children who leave foster care do so with a driver's license, Scott said.

The idea, he said is to "let kids be kids."

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Norm Braman lobbies up, says he's "optimistic" that troubled Dolphins stadium deal will die

@MarcACaputo Gov.

The Miami Dolphins today officially launch their political campaign to get May 14 voter approval for tax-subsidized stadium renovations.

But there’s a good chance the effort could all be for naught.

Top Republican sources in the GOP Legislature, which needs to sign off on the plan, say it’s anywhere from “struggling” to “limping” to “dead.” Bill backers dispute this.

But there's another indication it’s in trouble: the chief opponent to the stadium plan, South Florida car deal Norm Braman, said he he’s focusing his efforts on killing the plan in the Legislature instead of kickstarting a voter-persuasion campaign to rival the Dolphins.

"Why spend all those resources and time when it might be a waste?" Braman asked rhetorically.

Braman has spoken personally with lawmakers and has hired a lobbyist, Patrick Bell.

“I’m optimistic it won't pass,” Braman said. “I have great respect for the leadership in Tallahassee, far more respect than I have for the leaders in Miami-Dade.”

Hialeah Republican Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, a bill sponsor, said he's feeling confident about the chances for the legislation. He said an overwhelming majority of representatives who sit on the House Appropriations  committee, the legislation's next stop, back the bill.

"I have 22 votes in favor out of 26 in the appropriations committee!! And have plenty of time!!" Gonzalez said in a text message.

But Braman said Republican lawmakers and Democrats alike probably won’t sign on to the “corporate welfare for a billionaire,” a reference to Steven Ross, the owner of the Dolphins. Braman, too, is a billionaire (albeit, Ross is likely wealthier) and Ross’s right hand man, Dolphins CEO Mike Dee, has attacked Braman for having taken some tax incentives for economic and infrastructure development.

“Norman Braman is frankly irrelevant to this conversation,” Dee said March 27.

He’s wrong.

Braman isn’t irrelevant. Still, he acknowledges that the Dolphins have hired loads of top-notch lobbying talent, namely Ron Book, and that until session’s end May 3, there are no guarantees.

“I don’t know all the whys and the wherefores of Tallahassee and the power of Ron Book,” Braman said. “But this is a bad deal.”

Dee also got this wrong Twitter yesterday: “It's official: the voters of Miami-Dade will have the final say on this unprecedented agreement to modernize the stadium.”

Dee was caught up in the excitement of the Miami-Dade Commission’s vote to put the measure on the ballot. But voters will only “have the final say” on the deal if the Legislature approves it. And top sources say that’s not happening.

Since it was introduced in the House and Senate, the legislation has taken different paths in each chamber – a problem because both bodies need to pass identical legislation before Gov. Rick Scott signs it. And in the last House committee, it fell a few votes shy of being killed. The Miami-Dade Republican and Democratic parties have been critical of the plan and many members of the Miami-Dade delegation oppose it, including future House Speaker Jose Oliva.

“It’s dead,” one top Republican source said.

“It’s limping,” said Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami.

Gov. Rick Scott prefers Negron Medicaid expansion alternative over Corcoran's

Gov. Rick Scott said he continues to back Senate plan that would allow Florida to draw down $55 billion in federal funds over the House proposal unveiled today, which doesn't qualify for the federal dollars.

The House plan would allow disabled adults and parents to purchase bare-bones policies using a $2,000 annual state subsidy. But it is Sen. Joe Negron's plan, which draws down federal dollars to provide low-cost insurance to all Floridians who meet income standards, that has Scott's support.

Scott announced his support for Medicaid expansion in February, saying the state should draw down the federal dollars in order to reduce the number of uninsured.

The governor released the following statement:

"Our challenge in healthcare is to best protect both the uninsured and the taxpayers in our state as we work to lower cost, expand access, and improve the quality of healthcare. The Legislature now has two different plans before them regarding the future of our healthcare system.

The House’s plan will cost Florida taxpayers on top of what they are already taxed under the President’s new healthcare law. This would be a double-hit to state taxpayers. The Senate’s plan will provide healthcare services to thousands of uninsured Floridians while the program is 100 percent federally funded.

As it stands today, the Senate’s plan is in line with what I said I would support because it protects both state taxpayers and the uninsured in our state. I look forward to continuing to work with both the House and the Senate as they discuss ways we can improve our healthcare system.”