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May 05, 2016

Florida Supreme Court will consider 24-hour abortion waiting period case


The Florida Supreme Court agreed Thursday to hear a case challenging a state law that requires women to see a doctor and wait 24 hours before having an abortion.

Five of seven justices agreed to consider overturning a lower court's decision that the law should be enforced while a pending lawsuit over the constitutionality of the law moves forward.

Gov. Rick Scott signed the waiting period into law last year, prompting the American Civil Liberties Union and Gainesville-based abortion clinic Bread and Roses Women's Health Center to sue the state. The law, they say, violates strict privacy protections in the Florida Constitution.

The law went into effect for about a day last July before a Tallahassee judge issued an injunction blocking its implementation. That was lifted in February by the 1st District Court of Appeals.

The Florida Supreme Court halted it again on April 22.

Oral arguments have not yet been set by the Supreme Court, but they will not take place for at least two months, according to the justices' order.

In deciding to hear the case, the justices broke on familiar ideological lines with Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and justices Barbara ParienteFred LewisPeggy Quince and James Perry voting to accept jurisdiction. Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston dissented.

Hillary Clinton to speak at Fort Lauderdale gala for Trayvon Martin Foundation

DEM 2016 Clinton


Hillary Clinton will speak later this month at a Fort Lauderdale gala for the Trayvon Martin Foundation, created to honor the Miami Gardens 17-year-old who was shot dead in 2012 in Sanford.

The likely Democratic presidential nominee will keynote the May 21 gala for the third annual Circle of Mothers conference, which offers assistance to women who have lost a child.

The group was created by Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon's mother, who along with other mothers of children killed by gun violence have frequently joined Clinton on the campaign trail.

A $1,500 minimum donation to the foundation is required to attend the dinner. The three-day conference will be held at the Embassy Suites at 1100 SE 17th St.

Clinton came to South Florida last month to fundraise. She won the state's March 15 Democratic primary in a rout.

Hialeah mayor pays $4K ethics fine in pennies and nickels


via @kikeflor

Handing over 145 boxes full of of pennies and nickels, Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez has paid a $4,000 fine by the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust for publicly lying about his businesses dealings with a convicted jeweler.

Hernandez paid the fine in coins Wednesday at a bank in downtown Miami where the county has an account. The money was to be transferred to the ethics commission to fulfill an agreement negotiated in early April.

“We met our promise to pay, just like we tried to do from the beginning,” Hernandez told el Nuevo Herald. “I hope this puts an end to this political circus that they started.”

Ethic Commission Director Joseph Centorino rejected Hernandez’s first attempt to pay with the coins in November. For Centorino, it was an insult that in the end embarrassed Hialeah residents.

On Thursday, Centorino issued a statement saying that although the commission had originally refused to accept buckets of coins from Hernandez in payment, the mayor was ultimately forced to do the counting and boxing of the coins himself.

The 140 boxes of pennies, totaling $3,500, and five boxes of nickels totaling $500, were deposited at the City National Bank on Flagler Street.

More here.

Miami Mayor, wife lead trade mission to Buenos Aires


Update: Commissioner Gort's chief of staff, Frank Castaneda, said Thursday that the commissioner is paying his own way.

Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, his wife, City Manager Daniel Alfonso and City Commissioner Wifredo "Willy" Gort are spending the week in Buenos Aires, where the Argentine American Chamber of Commerce is hosting a trade mission.

The officials have been in Argentina since at least Monday and will remain in the country throughout the week, according to their schedules. An itinerary and description of the trip provided by the mayor's office shows the trade mission includes visits with Argentinian tourism minister Gustavo Santos, German Coto (the developer planning the Epic 2 on the Miami River) and Buenos Aires' new mayor. Starting Wednesday evening with a cocktail reception, the Miami officials will participate in a chamber seminar and networking session that culminates with a dinner gala at La Rural, where Regalado is the keynote speaker.

According to the mayor's office, Regalado's wife, Ana Cristina Carrodeguas, is participating in the trip as she "has been cultivating and building relationships with the consular corps of Miami and is currently working pro-Bono as a liaison of the Mayor' International Council and the Sister Cities program" of the city.

The chamber is paying for the trip, and will be reported as a gift, according to the mayor's office. Alfonso told a reporter last week that he's paying his own way. Gort's office could not be reached late Wednesday.

Miami-Dade city has so many unpaid bills that it faces a shutdown


via Michael Sallah and @jayhweaver

In March, the lights were turned off for several hours at Opa-locka City Hall after the bill didn’t get paid.

The next month, the cell phone service used by police detectives was cut off for days because the city didn’t make the payments.

Two weeks ago, the medical benefits of city workers were abruptly canceled when the city failed to pay the premium.

Eight months after elected leaders were warned their city was close to financial collapse, Miami-Dade County leaders have asked the state to declare a financial emergency and consider taking over the troubled city’s entire operations.

With Opa-locka struggling to pay basic costs — including gas for police cars — Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez urged the governor’s office for the second time in as many months to place the city of 16,000 people under its control.

“We believe the city’s financial condition continues to deteriorate,” Gimenez and County Commissioner Barbara Jordan wrote in a letter on May 3 to the governor’s inspector general. “If the state does not take immediate action, there could be a shutdown of city government.”

With no formal recovery plan in place by Opa-locka leaders, top county officials say they do not believe the city is capable of saving itself from insolvency. Already, Miami-Dade police have been put on notice that they will be mobilized to provide police services if municipal operations cease.

More here.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidates in Florida bicker over Donald Trump

via @learyreports

Donald Trump has landed in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary.

Today, Patrick Murphy’s campaign attacked rival Alan Grayson, saying he’s made disparaging remarks about women a la Trump. That brought a swift response from Grayson’s campaign, which notes Murphy’s family construction business has built Trump properties in Florida.

“Donald Trump and Alan Grayson have more in common than one may think – and it’s nothing the supposedly progressive Grayson would be proud of,” read a Murphy release. ‘Although Grayson has embraced the title of the ‘Trump of the left,’ when it comes to women, both have a record of outright disrespect.”

It cites several examples include Grayson calling a lobbyist a “K Street whore” and asserting his helped a company “discriminate against a pregnant worker, waging a 5-year legal battle where he aggressively subpoenaed records from the woman's gynecologist, her credit card records, day care records of her daughter, and personal photographs.”

Minutes later, Grayson fired back with this release:

“No other politician in Florida – Democrat or Republican – has gained more financially than Patrick Murphy and his family has from doing business with Donald Trump. Patrick’s construction company still brags about its work to deliver Trump Royale and Trump Hollywood. Thanks in part to those deals, Patrick sits on millions of dollars in company stock that his daddy gave him, and Donald has parlayed those and other real estate deals into a Republican presidential nomination. So it’s fitting that these business partners are teaming up once again to push destructive conservative policies in Washington. Democrats know that none of us can afford more of the Trump-Murphy partnership.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Death penalty on trial as FL Supreme Court weighs Hurst impacts

With the future of capital punishment in Florida in question, the state Supreme Court heard conflicting arguments Thursday on whether a death row inmate's sentence should be reduced to life without parole.

Hanging in the balance are the lives of 389 other death row inmates, as justices decide whether a U.S. Supreme Court ruling must not be applied retroactively, commuting those death sentences to life.

The nation's highest court ruled Jan. 12 in the case of Timothy Lee Hurst that Florida's death sentencing system was unconstitutional under the Sixth Amendment because it gave too little weight to a jury and too much weight to a trial judge. As part of that decision, the court ordered the Florida Supreme Court to review Hurst's death sentence, and oral arguments on that issue took place Thursday.

More here.

Bill Nelson: It's 'premature' to talk about VP rumors; Bernie should drop out


OT_362012_KEEL_NELSON_1Sen. Bill Nelson has been among the names tossed around for a possible Hillary Clinton vice presidential pick.

The idea makes some sense: A long-serving, respected senator, late in his career, popular in Florida, which has 29 electoral votes (though with Donald Trump as the likely Repubican nominee, recent polls suggest that may not be a factor).

But Nelson isn't saying whether he's being considered.

"Well, I'm not going to comment on that," he said. "It's too premature."

Nelson, a Democrat who was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2000, is up for re-election in 2018. It's widely believed that Republican Gov. Rick Scott, whose term ends that year, will launch a well-funded challenge. Scott's name is also in the vice presidential zeitgeist.

"I've heard that, and I'm prepared," Nelson said. "You might want to check the polls on the favorability rating of those of us who are privileged to hold public office in Florida."

A PPP poll released in March showed similar approval ratings for the two men -- 38 percent for Scott and 40 percent for Nelson -- but Scott has a much higher disapproval (48 percent) than Nelson (32 percent).

In addition to his own career prospects, reporters asked Nelson about the presidential race Thursday in Tallahassee.

He's confident Clinton will win Florida, even if Trump gains some popularity.

However, he said, it's time for Sen. Bernie Sanders to stop running against the Democratic frontrunner.

"Bernie has made his point now, and it's time for the Democrats to unite, and Bernie ought to stand down," he said.

Photo: Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times

Add one more name to Donald Trump's potential VP list: Pam Bondi



The chatter among Florida politicians since Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has been less about Trump possibly naming Gov. Rick Scott his running mate and more about another potential pick: Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Bondi's name hasn't made it on the many speculative lists of Trump No. 2's. But if Trump is looking for someone on the ticket to help shore up Florida support, perhaps she should be included.

Consider: Unlike Scott, Bondi endorsed Trump ahead (just barely) of the Florida primary. Unlike Scott, she's obviously comfortable on television. Unlike Scott, she has a years-long personal friendship with Trump.

Scott has the higher office and is much better known (if not very popular). He has also said, as recently as Wednesday night on CNN, that he's not interested in running with Trump.

For his part, Trump has insisted he wants to run with a seasoned politician who can help the celebrity businessman navigate Washington and legislative politics. As an attorney general and former prosecutor, Bondi wouldn't bring any of that experience, though she has had to work with state lawmakers in Tallahassee.

Bondi also seems to have more friends than Trump among Florida's Republican establishment. But she also upset many of those folks when she backed Trump, especially because his foundation had given her political committee a $25,000 donation when she ran for re-election -- and her office later didn't investigate claims against Trump University.

Cue more chatter.

UPDATE: Bondi's Tampa-based political consultant, Adam Goodman, went on Fox News on Thursday suggesting her as a VP choice.

Photo credit: Gerald Herbert, Associated Press

An earlier version of this post misstated the dollar amount of the donation from Trump's foundation to Bondi's campaign.

Donald Trump's backers, unlike candidate, believe in climate change

via @jenstaletovich

Backers of a President Donald Trump, who once called climate change a “con job,” may beg to differ with their leader.

According to a new survey by Yale University, 56 percent of Trump’s supporters believe climate change is happening, although they also believe nature is behind the planet’s rising seas and melting ice caps, not greenhouse gases generated by humans.

The survey, completed in March before contenders Ted Cruz and John Kasich suspended their campaigns, was conducted to assess voters’ stance on climate change and gauge how the country should respond. Democrats typically supported action. No surprise. But Republican voters had some less predictable responses. Take their view of renewable energy. A majority of Trump backers — 70 percent — favor putting more money into research.

Trump, who fought a three-year battle to stop a wind farm within sight of his Scottish golf resort and last year told a 12-year-old girl in New Hampshire that windmills “kill a lot of birds,” not so much. While Trump said in January he was joking about blaming the Chinese for fabricating the concept of climate change, he still argued it is a “a very expensive form of tax.”

For more, read here.

The first step from Miami Beach's mayor toward a run for Florida governor?


Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine positioned himself Thursday as a leading Democratic voice against Florida Gov. Rick Scott, in what is perhaps the most concrete sign yet that Levine might seek the state's highest political office in 2018.

Levine unveiled a radio ad touting his city's planned vote for a living wage. Here's the twist: The ad is airing in California, the state Scott just visited in an attempt to recruit companies to Florida. Democrats are pushing the wage issue as a key difference with Republicans in upcoming elections.

"This is Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and I want the people of California to know that Miami Beach is about to vote on an historic measure: a living wage for all its residents, one that allows them to not only work here, but live here," Levine says in the ad, which his office says is airing in the (expensive) markets of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento. The spot says it's pad for by Levine himself.

Levine has scheduled an afternoon news conference in Miami Beach to discuss the ad and "to comment on Governor Rick Scott's visit to Miami and address his latest trip to California where he took aim at minimum wage policies."

During his trip, Scott criticized California's high taxes and labor costs, prompting a backlash from his counterpart, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, and a slew of tough press in the Golden State.

Levine announced Wednesday that he plans to test a 2005 Florida law that bars cities from setting their own minimum wages. He wants Miami Beach to require a minimum of $10.31 an hour in 2017, with a dollar increase per year until it reaches $13.31 in 2020. Florida's current rate is $8.05 an hour.

Scott is term-limited in 2018, and Levine, who is independently wealthy, has been testing the waters to run as a Democrat. He became the first Miami-Dade County elected official to travel to Cuba in March, in a trip that featured all the political trappings of a man set on running for higher office.

Whether he does might depend on this year's presidential race: Levine is friends with likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who could reward Levine's fundraising and campaigning on her behalf with a spot in her administration if she gets elected.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott: I won't be Donald Trump's VP

via @learyreports

Gov. Rick Scott predicted Wednesday that Donald Trump would “have a big win both in Florida and in the United States,” while saying he is not interested in serving as Trump’s vice president.

“This election is about one thing. It’s about jobs,” Scott said on CNN. ”Donald Trump is a business person. He has created jobs. He’s going to focus on building jobs. And he’s running against a career politician that has never, ever created a job.”

Scott said Trump’s task is “no different than my election in 2010, where I focused on jobs and I won against a sitting attorney general and a sitting CFO.”

Asked by host Erin Burnett about the VP position, Scott said, “I’m going to stay in this job and finish this job.” If Trump calls? “I’m going to pass. I will do everything I can to make sure he wins.”

Scott was then asked if he had reservations about a candidate who would bring up a National Enquirer story about Ted Cruz’s father.

“Erin, you know we’re not going to agree on - I’m not going to agree with any candidate and how they present the issue. Here’s the way I look at it: We have a choice. If people like the way Washington is going, they should vote for Hillary Clinton. If you want to change, you get somebody to focus on jobs, then you should vote for Donald Trump.”

Though Scott did not endorse Trump until the day after the March 15 Florida primary, he signaled support in January.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Backed by Democrats, Doral councilwoman launches bid for mayor


via @MoniqueOMadan

Doral Councilwoman Sandra Ruiz is running for Doral mayor.

Ruiz released the news Thursday via the the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, even though local elections are nonpartisan. She will be running against incumbent Luigi Boria and former longtime mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez

"Although these races are nonpartisan, the candidates are not," said Juan Cuba, the party's executive director.

Doral has about 19,000 registered voters. About 30 percent of those voters are registered Democrats, according to the Miami-Dade County elections department. Twenty-four percent of voters are Republican; 45 percent of Doral voters don't have a party affiliation. 

Ruiz was not available for comment Thursday morning.

The councilwoman first served on the council in 2003 until 2010. She was reelected in 2012. This is her first time running for mayor.

This is not the first time the Miami-Dade Democratic Party has backed up a local political candidate. In 2013, they supported Homestead Mayor Jeff Porter and Miami Beach Commissioner Micky Steinberg. In 2014, the party backed-up South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard and County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava.

The effort is part of their 2016 "Municipal Victory Project," where they hope to elect Democrats into local office statewide.


Photo credit: Giorgio Viera, el Nuevo Herald

For Miami Republicans in Congress, a struggle to accept Donald Trump as nominee


In the only county Donald Trump lost in the Florida primary, three Republican members of Congress are having trouble accepting him as their party's presidential nominee.

Two of them have said they won't for him.

Miami Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen all endorsed Jeb Bush early in the campaign. As a group, they later backed Marco Rubio

What to do now that Trump is the last Republican standing?

Curbelo, a freshman in a swing district who last year posited that Trump might be a ringer for Democrat Hillary Clinton, said he won't support either political party's presidential pick. Clinton is still fending off challenger Bernie Sanders.

"My position has not changed," Curbelo told the Miami Herald in an email Wednesday. "I have no plans of supporting either of the presumptive nominees."

Ros-Lehtinen, the dean of the trio, has said much the same. Though her office did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday, the day after Ted Cruz dropped out of the race, she told Spanish-language news network NTN24 two weeks ago she was holding out hope for a contested GOP convention.

"I don't plan to vote for Donald Trump," she said. "I don't feel in my heart that I could support him. But I can't support Hillary Clinton."


More here.

Photo caption: Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart are pictured at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which they visited last month.

Photo credit: Courtesy Rep. Carlos Curbelo's office. 

May 04, 2016

Miami Rep. Frank Artiles 'won't be bullied,' might sue over attack ads



As part of an ongoing direct-mail campaign to highlight what it deems as unethical behavior by Florida elected officials, the independent advocacy organization FloridaStrong has gone after several Republican Miami-Dade legislators in recent months.

But one is now fighting back.

State Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, says he plans to sue FloridaStrong because the group's organizers refuse to correct claims they made in a mailer that went out to Artiles' constituents recently and which his attorney said depicts Artiles "in an unfavorable light."

(View the mailer here.)

Artiles, a three-term House member, is currently campaigning for a seat in the Florida Senate, where he wants to represent District 40, which includes part of central Miami-Dade County. He faces current Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, and independent Mario Jimenez in that contest.

"My reputation is very important to me and I will not allow any organization or person to defame, slander and libel me because they think nobody’s going to fight back," Artiles told the Herald/Times. "I truly believe these organizations -- which are funded nationally through special interests -- that if you don't stand up or correct them, you're acquiescing to their bullying. I won’t be bullied by some political hacks."

FloridaStrong's most recent mailer against Artiles alleges that he is a "property appraiser by trade," "voted to raise property taxes on Florida families by $427 million," "received thousands in campaign contributions from the insurance industry" and "voted to privatize Citizens Property Insurance and protect insurance industry profits."

But, in a letter dated April 21, a Tallahassee attorney for Artiles said the claims aren't true. Emmett "Bucky" Mitchell offered point-by-point rebuttals and accused FloridaStrong of making "false statements ... that should be corrected." Or else.

(Read the full letter here.)

Continue reading "Miami Rep. Frank Artiles 'won't be bullied,' might sue over attack ads" »

Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush make cameos in Hillary Clinton video against Donald Trump


Likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign wasted no time to take on presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, posting a video online Wednesday using the words for Trump's former rivals against him.

That includes Miamians Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, who -- especially in Bush's case -- did plenty of Trump-bashing while they were on the campaign trail. Trump's final opponents, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, dropped out Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.

Bush gets the kicker at the end of the spot.

Marco Rubio travels to Middle East


U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is visiting the Middle East, his office said Wednesday, highlighting meetings the Florida Republican has held over the past three days in Qatar and Iraq.

Rubio is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He's staying in the region for the rest of the week.

"During my meetings with officials in Qatar, I thanked them for remaining a key U.S. partner in the region. I was also able to visit with U.S. military servicemembers, including Floridians," Rubio said in a statement.

"Iraq remains in a precarious political situation that threatens to further destabilize the country and the broader region, and disrupt efforts to destroy ISIS," he added. "I stressed to Iraqi officials my grave concerns about ‎the ongoing sectarian rivalries and political turmoil that are taking the focus off of ISIS and threaten not only Iraq's stability but that of the entire world."

Rubio's agenda included sit-downs with the U.S. ambassadors to Qatar and Iraq, as well as with diplomatic officials from both countries and U.S. military personnel.

The Miami-Dade voter-fraud case that went nowhere

IMG_SCOTT_FRAUDE1.JPG_2_1_SE161IUG_L27491589 (1)


It seemed like the rare, slam-dunk case of voter fraud.

Two men stood accused of unlawfully handling four other people’s mail-in ballots in the 2013 Homestead mayoral election, filling at least one of them for precisely the candidates the voter didn’t want to vote for. Miami-Dade County investigators had a palm print and fingerprints, phone records, and suspicious stories from the defendants.

What they didn’t count on: lack of cooperation from the voters who were victims of the purported fraud — even though the voters themselves were the ones who initially alerted authorities they had been duped.

At the first trial, the witnesses changed their original testimony. At the second, one of the witnesses testified she didn’t remember the day the incident took place altogether.

And so, James Brady and Samuel Jean, the two campaign workers charged with voter fraud in 2014, didn’t go to jail. Brady, 33, of Florida City, wasn’t convicted: Prosecutors dropped the third-degree felony and misdemeanor charges against him in February after one of the key witnesses, voter Betty Brockington, said at his trial that “she did not remember what had happened on the day in question,” according to a Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office memo closing the investigation.

“I’m glad it’s over,” said Brady, who says he’s been focused on ministry, youth coaching and his family. “I’m not mad at anyone. I think the state did their job. I just wish it hadn’t taken so long. When you have something over your head like that, it’s kind of hard to focus.”

More here.

Florida agency's misleading attack on California's minimum wage

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is not on board with the minimum wage increase in the sunny, oceanside state — of California.

As Scott toured the West Coast for the second time attempting to attract businesses, Enterprise Florida (the state’s public-private economic development arm) ran radio ads in San Francisco and Los Angeles attacking California’s $15 wage and trumpeting Florida’s superior job prospects.

"Seven hundred thousand. That’s how many California jobs will be lost thanks to the politicians raising the minimum wage," the ad says, as the Miami Herald reports. "Ready to leave California? Go to Florida instead — no state income tax, and Gov. Scott has cut regulations. Now Florida is adding 1 million jobs, not losing them."

California Gov. Jerry Brown didn’t take this lying down, penning a letter welcoming Scott back to California, "a state that in the last year has added more jobs than Florida and Texas combined," and not-so-subtly suggested Scott worry about more pressing matters back home.

"Rick, a fact you’d like to ignore: California is the 7th largest economic power in the world. We’re competing with nations like Brazil and France, not states like Florida," Brown wrote on May 2. "If you’re truly serious about Florida’s economic well-being, it’s time to stop the silly political stunts and start doing something about climate change – two words you won’t even let state officials say. The threat is real and so too will be the devastating impacts."

Here, we’ll look at Scott’s claim that California will lose almost as many jobs as Florida will gain.

See what Linda Qiu of PolitiFact Florida found.

FDLE arrests man for hacking state, county election sites

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has arrested an Estero man after he allegedly hacked the state Division of Elections web site and the Lee County elections web site.

The agency said Wednesday that David Levin, 31, owned of Vanguard Cybersecurity, was charged with three counts of unauthorized access to a computer, computer system, or electronic device. That's a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

FDLE said Levin gained access to the state web site on Jan. 4 and Jan. 31 and to the Lee elections site on Dec. 19, 2015. Agents executed a search warrant at Levin's home on Feb. 8 and recovered computers and "other evidence" that he used to access the two systems. Levin turned himself in and was taken to the Lee County jail in Fort Myers, where he was being held Wednesday on $15,000 bond.