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January 24, 2018

FHP official retired in quota blunder, but drew pay for five more months

Mike Thomas, the former No. 2 official at the Florida Highway Patrol, announced his retirement effective last Sept. 1 after acknowledging his role in asking troopers to meet a two-tickets-per-hour quota for issuing tickets to drivers.

But in Florida, retiring and leaving the state payroll are two different things.

Thomas, a 31-year veteran of the patrol, was its deputy director and retired at the rank of lieutenant colonel. He earned so much paid leave that he remained on the public payroll through Monday, and that extended his departure date by five months.

“His last day in the office was September 1, but he did use his accrued leave time,” said Beth Frady, a spokeswoman for the state highway safety agency.

Thomas, a Navy veteran who began his long law enforcement career as a road trooper in Broward County in the 1980s, was forced to retire on Aug. 29.

The Times/Herald reported that Thomas wrote an email last May in which he told top aides “to encourage our members to maintain our 2.0 citations per hour ratio as we attempt to provide a safer driving environment for Floridians.”

Thomas called it a “goal,” not a quota, but he acknowledged a “grave error” and retired.

Ticket quotas are illegal. A second FHP official also was forced to retire and the agency changed its personnel policies to require that all new employees be reminded of that. The agency’s top official reaffirmed the quota ban to Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet, which oversees the state highway safety agency.

Thomas’ annual salary was $132,000 a year, so that five months of accrued time at his normal pay rate was worth about $55,000.

A starting state trooper is paid about $34,000 a year in most Florida counties.

The patrol has suffered from rampant turnover for a number of years and has lost more than half its workforce since 2010, the Times/Herald reported last year.

That in turn has led to a steep decline in the number of citations being written to motorists.

Officials say a big reason for turnover is that troopers’ starting salaries are so low. Troopers often leave after a few years for better-paying positions as county sheriff’s deputies.

The Legislature and Scott raised troopers by 5 percent last July, and Scott has proposed a 10 percent raise effective July 2018.

January 23, 2018

Former Sen. Latvala’s payment to a private eye causes conflict among prosecutors


In the midst of his sexual harassment scandal last year, former state Sen. Jack Latvala paid a private eye to find out if he was being spied on.

The $645 charge covered the inspection of his car, office and Tallahassee home for listening devices, Latvala said.

But the modest fee is raising questions weeks later because of who received it: Todd Chaires, an investigator who is married to one of Tallahassee’s top prosecutors who would be in line to oversee the criminal corruption case against Latvala.

Leon County State Attorney Jack Campbell said Tuesday that he was unaware about the payment when asked about it by the Times/Herald. But he said that it represented a conflict for Chaires’ wife, Deputy Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman. He said he would remove her from any potential case involving the Clearwater Republican.

Although the case has not advanced to the point where he’s assigned it to prosecutors, Campbell said there was a good chance Cappleman, who is one of four top prosecutors in his office, could have been involved.

But Campbell said the conflict wouldn’t prevent other prosecutors at the office from prosecuting Latvala.

“There’s no conflict,” Campbell said.

Latvala, 66, was at the pinnacle of his power as Senate budget chairman until allegations of sexual harassment, first reported by Politico, surfaced in November.

The Senate initiated two investigations, including hiring retired Judge Ronald Swanson to serve as special master. On Dec. 19, Swanson found probable cause that Latvala had violated Senate misconduct rules and sexually harassed a legislative aide.

Swanson also said that Latvala may have violated state corruption laws by seeking sexual intimacy with lobbyist Laura McLeod in exchange for legislative favors.

Since then, the Florida department of Law Enforcement has said the case is in a “review” status and has not advanced to a “full investigation.”
Investigators, led by the head of FDLE’s executive investigations team, Scott McInerney, have still not reached out to key players, including Latvala and McLeod, lawyers for both said Tuesday.

Around the time the harassment allegations surfaced, Latvala hired Chaires, a former Leon County Sheriff’s deputy, according to Latvala’s attorney, Steven R. Andrews.

Tallahassee was being shaken by news that private investigators, financed by unknown parties, were following and spying on politicians. Days before his harassment allegations surfaced, Politico broke a story that a private eye had photos of Latvala kissing a woman outside of a bar.

“I used Todd Chaires to do two things: No. 1, check my car, my office and my home for electronic listening devices after I was told how long I’d been followed by a private investigator myself,” Latvala said Tuesday. “And the second thing he did — and I’m not sure he even actually did it — but research some public records.”

Chaires, who owns Warrior Security Contractors, did not turn up any listening devices, he said.

Latvala added, “He was not hired, and did not on my dime follow anybody or do any of the kinds of things that were done to me.”

Andrews noted that the work was completed before any potential criminal charges had emerged. Chaires was paid the $645 — not even a full day’s work for a typical investigator — on Dec. 11, nine days before Latvala resigned.

Andrews said he was not aware that Chaires was married to the deputy assistant state attorney.

“He was retained well before Judge Swanson’s report came out and well before we had any knowledge there would be a referral for a criminal investigation,’’ Andrews said. “Had we known, we would not have wanted to establish any perception of conflict.”

Chaires said he was hired by Latvala to “just do a little look around the house, make sure everything’s secure.”

For Campbell, it’s the second case in a year involving Chaires that had a conflict.

Chaires is under investigation for “exploitation of the elderly,” according to an order from Gov. Rick Scott, who allowed the case to be taken from Campbell and turned over to prosecutors in nearby Suwannee County in May. The charge, with deals with defrauding the elderly, could merit a first-degree felony under Florida law.

The status of that case is unknown. State Attorney Jeff Seigmeister did not return a call for comment.

Chaires’ lawyer, Eric Abrahamsen, said Chaires has offered to provide information in the case to resolve it.

Criminal defense lawyers told the Times that Campbell did the right thing in removing Cappleman, who is also a candidate for judge, from a potential Latvala case. Although Latvala’s attorneys could try to move the case to another state attorney’s jurisdiction, it’s unlikely to be successful.

“In a small town, everybody knows everybody.” said former Pinellas-Pasco Chief Assistant State Attorney Bill Loughery. “There has to be something to really sink your teeth into to be a conflict.”

Times/Herald staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed.

House pitches $100 increase in per-student K-12 funding

image from
Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr. SCOTT KEELER | Times

The long slog of passing a state budget has begun, and Tuesday the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee made the first move to shape next year’s school funding by proposing $100 more per student statewide.

Gov. Rick Scott has suggested a similar increase, relying on increased property values to fund the boost. But the House would instead adjust the pool of properties that are taxed to include the value of new construction.

"This continues the House's commitment to reducing taxes," said Sen. Manny Diaz,  Jr., R-Hialeah.

Tomorrow, the parallel Senate committee is expected to discuss its budget, and both will eventually have to be passed by each chamber and then negotiated before reaching the governor's desk — meaning nearly everything is subject to change.

Last year, the legislature had to meet in a special session to settle education funding, something lawmakers are now hoping to avoid.

Tuesday's House committee also passed a bill that would eliminate the requirement that the 300 lowest-performing schools use their extra state funding to add an extra hour of reading instruction per day.

This could lead to a fight in the Senate where the provision has been fought for and well-regarded.

Senate moves along Hope Scholarships, changes to charter contracts and more

image from
Sen. Bill Galvano SCOTT KEELER | Times

The Senate Education Committee passed several controversial bills Monday evening, including the Hope Scholarships bill (SB1172), which would grant money to students who are victims of bullying, assault, robbery and other types of violence to allow them to move to another public or private school.


The bill is a top priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, and the House version passed through that chamber in the first week of session. The Senate bill has an added a provision that would have school administrators investigate whether bullying allegations are substantiated before the student would be offered the voucher.

The bill passed by a vote along party lines, and Democratic senators expressed doubts that this measure would solve the root cause of the bullying or ensure that a student who is moved wouldn't then be targeted in their new school.

Two mothers, both leaders in a grassroots advocacy group called Common Ground, also spoke against the bill.

"Frankly, we're just not falling for this one," said Marie-Claire Leman, a stay-at-home mom who lives in Tallahassee. "We don't believe that it's about bullying. We believe it's a thinly-veiled attempt to expand the source of funding for vouchers and to further privatize education."

Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, the bill's sponsor, said there are existing measures to help schools deal with bullies but this bill gives families options so a student isn't "trapped" in a place where they struggle to focus.

"As so often happens in the legislative process, you address one side of the equation and everybody piles onto the other side of the equation,” he said. “To put all the emphasis on one side, saying you don’t want to give restitution to victims, instead we want to give stiffer penalties to the offender, it doesn’t work that way. You have to have both sides.”

The committee also passed SB1434, a bill that started out as a measure to provide funding for school mental health programs but has since expanded to become an expansive package. Among the new issues it addresses is preventing "personal enrichment" in charter funding, after reports emerged of some charters fraudulently billing publicly funded schools to make a profit.

The bill would also make substantial changes to the Schools of Hope program, including: granting vouchers so students in low-performing district schools could move to private ones, removing the cap of low-performing schools that can get turnaround funding, allowing charters to take over the buildings of closed district schools and creating a "franchise" system for excelling principals to oversee more than one campus.

"I happened to like the bill a lot more when it was dealing simply with mental health assistance," said Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Lauderhill, who voted against it.

Voting rights for felons will be on Florida's November ballot

For the first time in Florida history, voters will decide whether to grant the right to vote to an estimated 1.5 million convicted felons.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced Tuesday that the proposal gained the required 766,000 valid signatures to get on the November ballot.The state elections web site showed 799,278 valid signatures.

It will appear as Amendment 4 on the statewide ballot in a midterm election that also will feature elections for U.S. Senate, governor, all three Cabinet races, seats in Congress, the Legislature and other ballot initiatives.

Tuesday’s announcement represents a major political victory for the Clearwater-based Floridians for a Fair Democracy, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), all of which spearheaded the ballot initiative.

The proposal would extend voting rights to most convicted felons without a formal hearing process. It would not apply to people convicted of murder or sex crimes.

If 60 percent of voters support the initiative, it will be added to the Florida Constitution.

Florida is one of three states that permanently strips convicted felons of their civil rights, including the right to vote, run for public office and serve on a jury.

Under current law, felons must wait for at least five years to apply for the restoration of civil rights. The state Commission on Offender Review has a backlog of thousands of clemency applications.

Will Donna Shalala run for Congress? She's not saying.


@NewsbySmiley and @doug_hanks

With just about every Democrat in Miami raising their hand to run for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's seat in Congress, one big rumored name is for now staying mum.

Donna Shalala, former University of Miami president and Clinton Foundation head, has been floated recently as a potential candidate for the coastal Miami district, which Democrats are eager to flip from red to blue in November. As the Miami Herald noted Friday, a firm has been polling her name in Florida's 27th Congressional district, which covers eastern Miami-Dade from Miami Beach down into Homestead and stretches west into Kendall.

Shalala did not respond to a voice mail and text message Monday evening (but she liked a reporter's tweet about the poll.)



Politico Florida reported Tuesday morning that Shalala "might be eyeing a bid" for Ros-Lehtinen's seat.

Shalala, who turns 77 next month, would instantly change the dynamics of the race should she run. A political consultant for a different candidate in the race said Monday evening that her candidacy would be a "game-changer."

Shalala enters with a proven fundraising track record, having overseen a fundraising campaign at the university that topped $3 billion. She also served for roughly two years as the unpaid head of the Clinton Foundation, before leaving in 2017 to return as a tenured professor to the University of Miami, where she has an endowed chair.

Her time at the helm of the university was widely celebrated when she stepped down in 2015.

She isn't flawless. Her 14-year tenure at the University of Miami included an athletics department scandal involving former University of Miami booster Nevin Shapiro. Also under her watch, the university sold 88 acres of rare pine rockland to a developer planning to build a Walmart, which riled environmentalists.

Still, she's held prominent positions, having also served as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services under Bill Clinton. (Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in the district by nearly 20 points). And she's friendly with the retiring Ros-Lehtinen, who once called her "one of the most profound educational leaders of her generation."

She is also the closest thing to a household name among any of the dozen declared candidates on either side.

Right now, Mary Barzee Flores, Matt Haggman, Michael Hepburn, Mark Anthony Person, State Rep. David Richardson, State Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, Miami Commissioner Ken Russell are candidates in the Democratic primary. On the Republican side, Ariadna Balaguer, Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro and Angie Chirino are candidates.

We'll update this post when more information becomes available.

January 22, 2018

Miami Republican says Senate-brokered promises for Dreamers 'aren't good enough'

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen


Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen issued a rebuke to her own party and a significant amount of Democrats on Monday, voting against a short-term spending bill agreed to by Senate leaders because it didn't include a legislative remedy for Dreamers, a group of nearly 800,000 undocumented young immigrants who could face deportation in March in Congress fails to act. 

“I’ve heard these promises once and again that we will find a permanent legislative remedy for Dreamers but a promise ain’t good enough any longer so that is why I voted no on the CR (Continuing Resolution)," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement.

The congresswoman also mirrored the arguments of Democrats who voted against the bill, saying that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's promise to debate and vote on a solution for Dreamers, which will likely face opposition from conservative Republicans, isn't the same as concocting a deal. 

"We have been duped and strung around enough so Dreamers can’t rely on broken promises any longer," Ros-Lehtinen said. "I will vote to approve a budget once we fulfill our pledge to these young people who know no other home but the U.S.”

Her comments were similar to New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, one of 16 Senate Democrats to vote against the deal, which funds the government through Feb. 8. 

"Nothing in this legislation gives me any confidence that in three weeks Congress won’t end up exactly where we are today," Menendez said to CNN. 

Ros-Lehtinen's No vote differed from the majority of Senate Democrats, where moderates like Florida Sen. Bill Nelson praised McConnell's commitment to debate and vote as enough of a concession to reopen the government after it shut down on Friday night. 

"Now we have a path forward in which we can work a bipartisan solution that will take care of the Dreamers,” Nelson said. “I think the American people are going to be cheering that this occurred.”

While only 16 of 47 Senate Democrats voted against the bill, the majority of House Democrats did vote against the bill. Five other House Republicans also voted against the bill with Ros-Lehtinen because they typically disapprove of spending bills without spending cuts attached. 

Ros-Lehtinen is not running for reelection in 2018, though she represents the most Democratic-leaning district in the country currently held by a Republican. She is a frequent critic of President Donald Trump and has signed on to multiple legislative solutions for Dreamers before an Obama-era executive order rescinded by Trump expires. 

Bill Nelson votes to reopen the federal government without an immigration deal



Senator Bill Nelson was under pressure after voting to reopen the federal government on Monday, three days after he voted to shut it down.

Gov. Rick Scott, his likely 2018 opponent, said Nelson’s vote to shut down the government “didn’t make any sense.”

Some Democrats weren’t happy either, arguing that moderates like Nelson surrendered to Republicans and reopened the government without a deal to protect nearly 800,000 undocumented young immigrants known as Dreamers from deportation.

But Nelson was unfazed.

After negotiating a deal to reopen the federal government for three weeks, Nelson was unable to contain a wide smile while explaining that a deal he helped broker was the best possible compromise to get federal employees back to work while getting Republicans to commit to a vote on the status of Dreamers.

“Before this agreement they (Dreamers) had no assurance for protection and we were not getting any help from the White House, we weren't getting any help from the House and we really weren't getting any help from the Republican leadership in the Senate. But now we have a path forward in which we can work a bipartisan solution that will take care of the Dreamers,” Nelson said. “I think the American people are going to be cheering that this occurred.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not commit to a deal or compromise for Dreamers on Monday, something that many Democrats previously said was a condition for reopening the government after it shut down on Friday night, though he did commit to debate and vote on the issue.

“So long as the government remains open it would be my intention to take up legislation here in the Senate that would address DACA, border security and related issues as well as disaster relief, defense funding, healthcare and other important matters,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

Read more here.

Curbelo says Senate deal to reopen government has enough assurances for Dreamers

Curbelo (1)


Carlos Curbelo was in a lonely position last week. 

The Miami Republican was the only House Republican running for reelection in 2018 to vote against a short-term spending bill to keep the government open over concerns that it did not contain a solution for nearly 800,000 undocumented young immigrants known as Dreamers who could face deportation in March in Congress doesn't act. 

But Curbelo is now on board after Senate moderates from both parties agreed to reopen the government, at least until Feb. 8, if Republicans hold a debate and vote on a Dreamer solution. 

"So long as the government remains open it would be my intention to take up legislation here in the Senate that would address DACA, border security and related issues as well as disaster relief, defense funding, healthcare and other important matters," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor.

"Today’s statement by the Majority Leader (Mitch McConnell) was significant because Leadership has made a very public commitment the process will move forward in the coming weeks," Curbelo spokesperson Joanna Rodriguez said. "That said, if Feb. 8 comes around and that commitment has not been upheld, the Congressman is prepared to reconsider his support." 

The federal government shut down on Friday night after Senate Democrats didn't go along with the spending proposal passed by the House. 

Curbelo also voted against short-term spending bills late last year because a solution for Dreamers was not imminent. 

"If I get maybe a time-certain commitment from leadership that there will be a vote, maybe I would think about saying 'Okay, that's good enough,'" Curbelo said in December. 

Monday's deal met that time-certain commitment criteria, according to Curbelo's office. 

The Republican National Committee stressed that lawmakers who switched their vote did not get a deal today for Dreamers despite McConnell's intention to take up legislation. 

"Thankfully, Democrats came to their senses and realized that a temper tantrum would never lead to a real bipartisan fix for DACA,"  RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement.

"It's worth noting that the only votes that changed from No to Yes were Democrat votes," McDaniel's statement said, which was issued three minutes before Curbelo's (Republican) vote switch was finalized. 

Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was the only Republican who voted against the spending bill passed by the House today amid concerns over Dreamers, breaking with Curbelo on the issue. 

Florida confirms 'inadvertent' release of Kansas voters' information

Efforts to detect voter fraud led to the exposure of private voter data from nearly 1,000 Kansas residents this year by the state of Florida, which released information including partial Social Security numbers to a woman who had filed a public records request.

The Associated Press reports that the incident is raising more questions about the Interstate Crosscheck System, which was designed in Kansas to detect double voting or people who register to vote in more than one state, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

The Crosscheck system, set up in 2005 by former Kansas Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh, has been criticized in the past for concerns about security and identifying false matches.

In response to the data exposure, Florida election officials offered a year of free fraud detection and protection services to those affected by the data release.

This is at least the third time since 2015 that Gov. Rick Scott’s administration has inadvertently released confidential personal data of private citizens.

In 2013, Kansas sent a list of 945 potential double registrants to Florida over an unsecured email account. The list of voters in the two states who shared first and last names and a date of birth also included partial Social Security numbers. In September, the Florida Department of State released the list in response to an open records request filed by Anita Parsa, a resident of Mission Hills, Kansas.

Parsa said she didn’t ask for any data but was trying to determine why Florida decided to leave the Crosscheck program.

When she saw the unsecured email, “I was floored,” said Parsa, who began working with the advocacy group Indivisible Chicago after filing the request.

Kansas Director of Elections Bryan Caskey said the email violates existing policies. He said the Kansas database of nearly 100 million records is secure and has never been breached.

While acknowledging that Kansas should not have sent the data via an unsecured email he said, “I also am adamant that Florida had no business turning that over to any third party,” Caskey said.

In a statement released Friday, Florida officials called the release “inadvertent” and said the state will contact people affected by the release. It is also offering a free one-year membership to the Lifelock program out of “an abundance of caution.”

“At this time, the department has no reason to believe individuals’ information has been misused,” the release said.

Bills are pending in the Florida Legislature this session that would add Florida to another information-sharing program known as ERIC, or Electronic Registration Information Center. County election supervisors say the program would enable Florida to track incidents in which voters are registered in more than one state.

January 20, 2018

Busy South Florida weekend for Democratic gubernatorial candidates



It's January. Which means Florida's Democratic gubernatorial candidates really want to visit balmy South Florida.

Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham is in Doral today serving up draughts at M.I.A. Beer Company during on of her campaign's "work days" -- a throwback to the blue-collar events her father, former Governor Bob Graham, used to hold.

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine (he lives here, but whatever) will appear at Las Fiestas de la Calle Miami, a two-day Puerto Rican festival at Bayfront Park, to talk about his "commitment to Puerto Rican families."

And on Sunday, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is visiting the 93d Street Missionary Baptist Church in the morning and then heading at 11 a.m. to the Women's March at Mana Wynwood Convention Center.

The three candidates are heading into town on the heels of a visit by Winter Park businessman Chris King, who was in South Florida last week on an "affordable living tour."

On the Republican side, Ron DeSantis has scheduled a campaign kickoff Jan. 29 in Boca Raton.

Photo: Gwen Graham helps brew a batch of beer at M.I.A. Brewery in Doral. Courtesy Twitter 

January 19, 2018

Bill Nelson votes against short-term spending bill without immigration deal



Sen. Bill Nelson voted against a short-term spending bill to keep the government running on Friday as the Florida Democrat balked at a proposal that did not include a solution for nearly 800,000 undocumented young immigrants who could face deportation in March if Congress fails to act.

As of 10:40 pm the Senate vote was still open and not finalized.

Nelson remained undecided on his vote for over 24 hours after the House of Representatives passed a short-term spending bill on Thursday night. Nelson’s office said on Thursday he would wait to see what the House passed before making a decision, but then the Florida Democrat did not make his vote public until giving his thumbs down on the Senate floor just before 10:30 pm.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell needed Democratic support to keep the government open because a spending bill requires 60 votes in the 100-member Senate, and Republicans control only 51 seats.

Nelson, the only statewide elected Democrat from Florida, faced pressure from immigration activists to join the more liberal wing of his party to vote against a short-term spending bill without a solution for Dreamers.

Nelson is one of 10 Democrats up for reelection in 2018 in states won by President Donald Trump in 2016. Some of the red state Democratic senators like West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin backed the short-term spending bill while others like Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey did not.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio voted in favor of the bill along with most Senate Republicans. He blamed Senate Democrats for voting to shut down the government.

“At a time when we face so much chaos in our politics, the only thing worse than a short-term spending deal is a government shutdown. I too support border security, dealing with DACA, increasing defense spending and disaster relief for Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico,” Rubio said in a statement shortly before the vote. “We should keep the government open while we continue to work on these issues.”

Two Miami Republicans in the House of Representatives, Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, also voted against the spending bill after arguing that it is irresponsible to keep stalling on the Dreamer issue.

Federal court confirms Florida House’s power to enforce subpoena in Visit Florida case

Pat RobertsA judge in the U.S. District Court in Tallahassee denied a preliminary injunction to TV executive C. Patrick (Pat) Roberts on Friday, reaffirming the Florida House's powers to enforce the subpoenas it issued last week as part of its investigation into Visit Florida's tourism contracts.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, was not physically in the courtroom. But his presence weighed heavy on the proceedings as Judge Mark Walker, an Obama appointee, discussed how "some could use the word … 'bully'" to describe the House's actions in issuing the subpoenas, which had a "thousand-pound gorilla aspect" when issued against a single private citizen.

"We are coequal branches and I would respectfully suggest to the Florida Legislature, just as I am cautious about overextending my jurisdiction, my colleagues in the other branch should similarly comport themselves," Walker said.

Roberts was seeking the injunction to prevent what he viewed as "imminent danger" of being severely punished by the House —the state Constitution allows it to impose up to $1,000 in fines and 90 days in jail per day Roberts is deemed in contempt —for not handing over the business contracts and tax records requested by the House. As executive of MAT Media, LLC, Roberts was granted multi-million dollar contracts in 2012 by Visit Florida, the state's tourism arm, to produce shows that featured celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse and promoted the state as a fishing destination.

He has maintained that many of the documents contain "trade secrets" or nondisclosure agreements with other companies.

The House has been investigating if Roberts raked in big profits from the deal at the taxpayers' expense, after the Naples Daily News found that Roberts had been gifted a $175,000 boat from one of the program's sponsors and kept all advertising and sponsorship revenue.

Despite the ruling, Roberts's lawyer, Tim Jansen, said outside the courthouse that it was a "victory for Mr. Roberts and for every citizen in the state of Florida."

"Only in their response to our lawsuit for an injunction did they finally concede that they will give meaningful opportunity to be heard on these subpoenas," Jansen said. "Otherwise Mr. Roberts would've been incarcerated, we believe, immediately at 5:01 or as soon as session could've been put into place by the Speaker."

Because the House has never exercised its authority to issue subpoenas before, there is no defined way for Roberts to argue against them.

But during the hearing, Adam Tanenbaum, the House's lawyer, said they would continue to negotiate with Roberts about which documents the House had a right to obtain and which would be considered public record, and would allow two state lawsuits related to the subpoenas play out.

Rubio calls out Puerto Rico’s governor and tampers statehood push

Governor Ricardo Roselló0183 JAI (2)


Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is learning what happens when you challenge Marco Rubio.

In December, Rosselló called out Rubio by name because he was unhappy with the Republican tax bill and said he would campaign against those who “turned their backs” on the U.S. territory.

Now, the Florida Republican who is often regarded as Puerto Rico’s most important advocate in Washington, is throwing cold water on Puerto Rican statehood and is urging Rosselló, a Democrat who won election in 2016, to spend more time governing in San Juan than campaigning in Florida. Rubio’s comments in Puerto Rico’s largest newspaper are a blow to Rosselló’s hopes for Congress to act on statehood, his party’s most important policy issue.

“If I were the governor of a state or territory that does not have power, I would spend more time [there] than in Orlando,” Rubio said to El Nuevo Día. “Sometimes, when people feel criticized and under pressure, they look for someone to blame, because they did not achieve this or that. I do not think it is smart to turn the Puerto Rican issue into a partisan issue.”

Rubio’s comments come after Rosselló was in Washington last week to announce a Puerto Rican “shadow delegation” of two U.S. senators and five U.S. House members who demand to be seated in Congress. Puerto Rico’s “shadow delegation” is attempting to gain statehood through a similar plan successfully adopted by Tennessee in the late 1700s and copied by other states like Alaska.

Rosselló’s shadow delegation was a 2016 campaign promise, but the effort is getting more attention after Puerto Rico’s power grid was destroyed by Hurricane Maria and thousands on the island are still without power months later.

“Certainly the hurricane has had an influence,” said Pedro Rosselló, Ricardo Rosselló’s father and the governor of Puerto Rico from 1993 to 2001, in an interview with the Miami Herald.

Pedro Rosselló said the hurricane and the federal government’s slower response compared to disaster recovery efforts in Florida and Texas has raised the profile of the statehood issue.

“Stateside, U.S. citizens recognize that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, natural born,” Rosselló said. “That wasn’t so before [Hurricane Maria]. Before, our polling shows that about 25 percent recognize that fact, after that it’s up in the 85 percent level. That’s a direct result of the hurricane.”

But while Rubio hasn’t changed his longtime position supporting statehood, a public admission that there aren’t 60 votes for statehood in the U.S. Senate is a blow to Ricardo Rosselló’s pro-statehood New Progressive Party.

Read more here.

Scott's pro-DREAMers op-ed brings blasts from Democrats

Gov. Rick Scott is not a candidate for the U.S. Senate -- not yet -- but Democrats aren’t waiting for the formality of an announcement to cast him as an opportunist rewriting his own record in an election year.

Scott has repeatedly drawn fire for shifting positions on education, the environment and offshore oil drilling. The latest case in point is immigration.

Democrats on Friday pounced on Scott’s latest op-ed in USA Today in which he called for a compassionate approach to the treatment of young immigrants known as DREAMers, while still supporting President Donald J. Trump’s stricter border controls.

In addressing a nationwide audience, Scott largely blamed Congress, and not his fellow Republicans or Trump, for the failure of the federal government to resolve the status of DREAMers.

"I’ve long been an outspoken opponent of illegal immigration and I remain so," Scott wrote under the byline of an “opinion contributor” to USA Today. "But I refuse to watch these children be punished for the actions of their parents." Read Scott’s article here.

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton led the charge, saying it’s obvious that Scott sees political gain in recasting himself as a moderate on immigration.

“The governor cannot hide from his record,” Deutch said, “and he can’t pick and choose when to demonize immigrants and when to pretend to be their savior.”

Deutch said that as a private hospital executive, Scott supported policies to discourage hiring Hispanics. As a first-time candidate in 2010, Deutch said, Scott favored tougher “Arizona-style” immigration restrictions to appease tea party supporters.

Deutch said the Scott administration’s unsuccessful efforts to purge the voter rolls of suspected non-citizens in 2012 had the effect of targeting Hispanics more than other groups. A federal judge ruled that the effort was illegal and it ended.

“Governor Scott being a DREAMer champion is fake news,” said Cristian Avila of an immigrant organization, Mi Familia Vota. Avila, 27, is a Phoenix resident who has been politically active in Florida and is one of about 800,000 people in the program known as DACA, for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

The coordinated attack on Scott’s record was organized by For Our Future, a liberal Super PAC backed by four major labor unions and the wealthy environmentalist Tom Steyer.

The conference call provided a small flavor of the intensity of criticism Scott will face if, as is widely expected, he challenges three-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

State Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, the House Democratic leader, joined in the criticism, and Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, said that when the DREAM Act came before Congress in 2010, Scott strongly opposed it but is now a supporter.

“Actions speak louder than words,” Farmer said. “So far, Rick Scott’s actions have shown nothing but contempt for DREAMers and their families.”

Andrew Gillum proposes corporate tax hike for more education funding

Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Emily L. Mahoney | Times

Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who is running for governor, made the unusual move of proposing an tax increase while on the campaign trail Friday.


Gillum said if elected, he would increase Florida's corporate tax rate to 7.75 percent, up from the current 5.5 percent. That increase would generate $1 billion in increased annual revenue, he said, which he said he would use to boost education funding.

"Miami was shortlisted as we're competing in this contest (for Amazon's new headquarters)," Gillum said. "What is Amazon looking for? ... Not only do we want a friendly environment for businesses to call home, but we also want to have an environment where they're guaranteed a workforce that is prepared."

That billion would allow the state to impose a minimum teacher salary of $50,000, allocate $100 million to construction of public schools and expand early childhood education programs and vocational training.

Florida's corporate tax was the brainchild of Democratic Governor Reubin Askew in the 1970s. The state has no income tax.

Eliminating corporate taxes was a big campaign promise of Gov. Rick Scott, which he has not completely fulfilled. He has, however, raised the threshold for taxable corporate income.

Levine releases DACA ad, en Español



Philip Levine continues to spend early and to go hard after Hispanic voters as he runs for the Democratic nomination for Florida's governor.

On Friday, the ex-Miami Beach mayor's political committee, All About Florida, released another Spanish-language commercial, this one hammering President Donald Trump over DACA as a fight over the protection of Dreamers threatens to contribute to a federal government shutdown.

The committee is spending $100,000 and running the ad for 10 days on Spanish-language networks across the state, according to political consultant Christian Ulvert. Levine's campaign and committee have spent more than $2 million on commercials and media buys ahead of the August primary.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, and Winter Park businessman Chris King are also running for the Democratic nomination.

January 18, 2018

Where Miami lawmakers stand on a spending bill without an immigration compromise

Frederica Wilson 2


The federal government will shut down at 11:59 p.m. Friday unless the House and Senate pass a short-term spending bill.

The two U.S. senators from Florida and the five U.S. representatives from Miami-Dade County are divided on the spending bill, which faces opposition from conservative House Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate.

Keep in mind that the calculus can change quickly if an immigration compromise to protect Dreamers — undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children — is imminent.

Here’s where the Miami-Dade delegation stands on the short-term spending bill as of Thursday afternoon:

Sen. Marco Rubio (R): Rubio said on Monday “you can’t shut the government down over DACA,” and is likely to support a short-term spending bill. He voted in favor of a short-term spending bill in December.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D): Nelson is undecided, and is waiting to see how the House votes before deciding his vote. The Florida Democrat is facing pressure from immigration activists to vote against a short-term spending bill. He voted in favor of a short-term spending bill in December.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R): Curbelo will vote no unless a DACA solution is imminent. He voted against the short-term spending bill in December due to DACA.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R): Ros-Lehtinen will vote no unless a DACA solution is imminent. She also voted against the December spending bill due to DACA.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R): Diaz-Balart will vote in favor of the bill. “Shutting down the government, which among other things puts the lives of our troops in danger, would be detrimental and must be avoided,” Diaz-Balart said.

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D): Wilson voted against the December spending bill along with the majority of House Democrats. She’s pledged not to support any immigration compromise that includes funding for a border wall. “I do not plan to vote for the continuing resolution unless it includes measures to protect Dreamers and TPS holders; critical funding for CHIP and community health centers; and additional disaster recovery funding for Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Texas, Florida, and states impacted by wildfires.”

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D): Wasserman Schultz opposes the short-term spending bill due to concerns over DACA and funding for community health centers. “We remain mired in this unbreakable habit” of passing short-term spending bills, she said Thursday.

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran asks DHS to investigate St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, Andrew Gillum

image from
Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran SCOTT KEELER | Times

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen asking the federal government to investigate St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum for what he called illegal “sanctuary city” policies in their cities.

Both mayors are Democrats, and Gillum has announced his candidacy for the governor’s race that Corcoran may yet join. But even in the world of Florida politics, Corcoran’s letter represented a bold step.

His letter was not signed by any other official, and Kerri Wyland of the Governor's Press Office confirmed that Gov. Rick Scott had not spoken to Corcoran about the letter.

Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, made immigration a centerpiece issue of the 2018 session when he streamlined passage of HB9 last week, a bill that would ban sanctuary cities and penalize elected officials that vote for related policies. He mentions the bill in his letter, adding the House is “now waiting on the Florida Senate to act.”

Corcoran’s letter came after Nielsen spoke to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, saying her department had asked federal prosecutors to look into filing criminal charges against city officials in sanctuary cities.

That night, Corcoran tweeted a news story about Nielsen’s comments, saying she “can start with investigating @AndrewGillum and @Kriseman, who have been advocates for illegal sanctuary policies and amnesty. If you won’t follow the law, you don’t belong in office!”

He mimicked similar language in the formal letter he sent the same day.

“It is clear to many in our state that this problem is only growing, and the Department of Homeland Security should investigate these two elected officials immediately,” it read.

The letter then referred to a statement Kriseman wrote in February, responding to President Donald Trump’s executive order to cut federal funding from cities and counties that “willfully violate federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States.”

“I have no hesitation in declaring St. Petersburg a sanctuary from harmful federal immigration laws,” Kriseman wrote at the time. “We will not expend resources to help enforce such laws, nor will our police officers stop, question or arrest an individual solely on the basis that they may have unlawfully entered the United States.”

But Ben Kirby, spokesman for Kriseman, said St. Petersburg can’t technically be a sanctuary city because of the fact it doesn’t have its own jail and uses one run by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.

“What the mayor has said consistently is that he wants to work hard to ensure St. Pete is a welcoming and inclusive and lawful city … he encourages Speaker Corcoran to focus on the same for our entire state,” Kirby said. “There’s plenty of time for Republican primary politics after session.”

There is technically no legal definition of a “sanctuary city,” but a common element in the debate is the practice of local jails calling U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents about detainees they suspect to be undocumented and often holding them for a short period until ICE arrives.

As of Wednesday, Pinellas County was one of 17 Florida counties to make an agreement with ICE to cooperate in its jails via a legal workaround that avoids the sheriffs taking on extra liability.

Geoff Burgan, spokesman for Gillum, also said Tallahassee is not technically a sanctuary city and the letter is only the speaker playing politics.

“No matter how much Richard Corcoran tries, Donald Trump and Sean Hannity have already endorsed Ron DeSantis,” he said. “Tallahassee’s police officers are not ICE agents but if Corcoran wants to suddenly expand the federal government in Florida that’s his prerogative.”

Two women running for Congress in Miami make Time Magazine cover



Two Democrats running for competitive congressional seats in Miami are getting some exposure on the cover of Time Magazine, one of President Donald Trump's favorite platforms. 

Democrats Mary Barzee Flores and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell feature on Time's latest cover in a story highlighting the hundreds of women nationwide who decided to run for office after Trump's victory in 2016.

Barzee Flores is one of a host of Democrats seeking to replace retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, while Mucarsel-Powell is Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo's only serious challenger. 

Barzee Flores is mounting her first campaign for elected office. The former federal judge nominee works as a lawyer in Miami. Mucarsel-Powell is in her second campaign, she ran a closer than expected race against well-funded Republican state Sen. Anitere Flores in 2016. 

Both Barzee Flores and Mucarsel-Powell are endorsed by EMILY's list, which provides money and operational support to progressive, pro-abortion rights female candidates nationwide.

Saturday is the one year anniversary of Trump's inauguration and hundreds of women's marches are planned around the country this weekend.