Note: This blog's templates will be updated this afternoon to a responsive design bringing it in line with

At that time, we will also change to the Facebook commenting system. You will need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment.

February 19, 2018

Rick Scott's A+ NRA rating, and what it means now

As a candidate for re-election four years ago, Florida Gov. Rick Scott won an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association for his record on guns.

A 2014 mailer from NRA's national headquarters told Florida voters that "Scott will stop the gun control extremists from pushing their agenda to restrict your rights in Florida."

Only Scott "will protect your rights from the Obama/(Michael) Bloomberg gun control agenda," said the mailer, which featured a photo of a smiling Scott and a big "A+."

Scott NRA v2

That June, Scott signed five pro-gun bills into law  in what the NRA said was historic.

One bill fast-tracked applications for concealed weapons licenses; another, the so-called "Pop-Tart" bill, protected students from being punished if they fashioned pastry into fake guns, "to avoid traumatizing innocent children," the NRA's mailer said.

As governor, Scott earlier signed laws blocking cities and counties from passing more restrictive gun laws than the state and allowing people to carry firearms during emergencies such as hurricane evacuations.

Now he says he will lead "a real conversation" about school safety after the horror at Parkland, where a teenage former student with a troubled past and an AR-15-style assault rifle is charged with killing 14 students and three adults on Valentine's Day.

A group of determined students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who are going to Tallahassee this week, wants a very different  conversation. It's about guns and the NRA and the politicians who support the gun lobby and have benefited from it.

"These people who are being funded by the NRA are not going to be allowed to remain in office when midterm elections roll around," student Emma Gonzalez said on NBC's Meet the Press with Chuck Todd on Sunday. "They're going to be voted out of office."

With three weeks left in the 2018 session, Scott and his fellow Republicans in the Legislature have little time to respond to the Parkland tragedy.

And Scott, who may want to be Florida's next U.S. senator, is listed as an invited speaker at the NRA's annual meeting in Dallas in May, according to the NRA's website. It's an event the NRA says is "a must stop for candidates seeking the highest levels of elective office."

— With reporting by Lawrence Mower

February 18, 2018

Al Hoffman to Rick Scott: support an assault weapons ban or no endorsement -- and no money

Al Hoffman Florida TrendFor decades Florida real estate developer Al Hoffman has used his clout to elect conservative Republicans to office but the gun tragedy in Parkland has prompted him to add a new condition to that support: he refuses to back any candidate, including Republican Gov. Rick Scott, unless he actively works to pass a national ban on assault weapons. 

In a letter to Republican party donors on Saturday, Hoffman laid out his ultimatum which was first reported in the New York Times. He asked them to support the cause and, in an interview on CNN late Sunday afternoon, he said he was getting some response. 

"I have heard from a couple of them already and they are endorsing the concept totally and I am waiting to hear back from the others,'' he said. "But I believe we can achieve a movement consensus here and achieve our objective."

Hoffman, who was a leading fund-raiser for George W. Bush’s campaigns in 2000 and 2004, said he raised over $600 million in those years for conservative Republican issues. But, he said, the tragedy at Parkland hit home.

"I was so blown away,'' he told CNN. His development company, WCI, had a "very close affinity with Parkland,'' where they built thousands of homes, golf courses, clubs and retirement communities in the middle to upper middle class community.

"I watched as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School start construction, get finished, opened and dedicated,'' he said. "So I've developed a personal affinity with the students."

When he heard of the tragedy, he said, "I felt my heart just drop. I felt like I was holding my heart in my hands."

He said he realized then that his efforts trying to persuaded elected officials to support "better guns laws" wasn't working and it was time to organize a movement of political donors. 

To gun rights advocates, who say the problem is not what kind of weapon but who is using the weapon, he was dismissive. 

"That was a totally preventable catastrophe,'' he said. "That gun massacre could have been avoided. That gun would not have been sold to that kid if he had gone through a background check and the authorities had the ability to take that gun away and take him into custody for examination."

Scott told CNN last week that "everything is on the table" and he will "look at every way that we can make sure our kids are safe."

But Hoffman said he is not interpreting that as support for an assault weapons ban.

"I love Rick Scott. I want him to run for Senate,'' he said. "I believe he is the best Republican that we could vote into office and I'm going to ask him to support that principle of banning assault weapons. That's the litmus test.

"If he does, I would be glad to support him and continue to raise money for him. If he doesn't, in all good conscience I don't see how I could vote for him. That's just the way it is. I hope he changes his mind."

As for the National Rifle Association and its political clout, he said, "I don't care about the NRA.''

He said he is an owner of a concealed weapon and believes in the Second Amendment but, "the NRA is not my party."  

Photo credit: Florida Trend



Florida is afraid of its prison system. Senators have ideas to fix it but can they get them through the House?

Inmates at Wakulla CorrectionalLobbyist Barney Bishop stood up before a Senate committee Wednesday and wrote the direct mail campaign ad every legislator fears.

“You’re helping drug traffickers,” he said of the bill before the Senate Justice Appropriations Subcommittee that will give judges discretion when sentencing non-violent drug offenders to prison. “Do you know how much pot you’ve got to have to meet the trafficking minimum for this bill? You have to have 25 pounds. That’s 25 backpacks.”

It is exactly the kind of out-of-context rhetoric that worries lawmakers as they consider legislation aimed at shrinking something else that scares them: Florida’s expensive prison system. The idea behind the package of reforms is to slow the prison revolving door by diverting non-violent drug felons from prison to local jails, and treating those with mental illness and addiction while they are locked up. The savings from prisons is used to pay for the programs.

Similar reforms have been successfully adopted in dozens of other states, fueled by a rare coalition of conservative and liberal activists, yet Florida remains an outlier.

Several bills that make small but powerful changes to state law are inching towards passage in the Florida Senate with bi-partisan support and little fanfare but, as has been the case for years, progress is slow if not non-existent in the Florida House. House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O’Lakes is considering a run for governor and wants to avoid antagonizing the more conservative factions of his party. Story here. 

Florida is afraid of its prison system. Senators have ideas to fix it but can they get them through the House?

Inmates at Wakulla CorrectionalLobbyist Barney Bishop stood up before a Senate committee Wednesday and wrote the direct mail campaign ad every legislator fears.

“You’re helping drug traffickers,” he said of the bill before the Senate Justice Appropriations Subcommittee that will give judges discretion when sentencing non-violent drug offenders to prison. “Do you know how much pot you’ve got to have to meet the trafficking minimum for this bill? You have to have 25 pounds. That’s 25 backpacks.”

It is exactly the kind of out-of-context rhetoric that worries lawmakers as they consider legislation aimed at shrinking something else that scares them: Florida’s expensive prison system. The idea behind the package of reforms is to slow the prison revolving door by diverting non-violent drug felons from prison to local jails, and treating those with mental illness and addiction while they are locked up. The savings from prisons is used to pay for the programs.

Similar reforms have been successfully adopted in dozens of other states, fueled by a rare coalition of conservative and liberal activists, yet Florida remains an outlier.

Several bills that make small but powerful changes to state law are inching towards passage in the Florida Senate with bi-partisan support and little fanfare but, as has been the case for years, progress is slow if not non-existent in the Florida House. House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O’Lakes is considering a run for governor and wants to avoid antagonizing the more conservative factions of his party. Story here. 

Parkland students want to turn tragedy to traction and demand change for gun laws in Tallahassee

0073+Gun+Protest+Fed+Courthouse+Day+4+021718One hundred students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will travel to Tallahassee for a Wednesday march on the state Capitol in the first organized protest of their #NeverAgain movement.

Their demand: that Florida legislators use the remaining three weeks of the annual session to revise state mental health and gun laws to forestall a repeat of the Parkland school shooting that left 17 dead.

“It really needs to be recognized that they need to stop fighting each other and starting working together,’’ said Jaclyn Corin, 17, junior class president and a survivor of the shooting, who conceived the idea for the two-day trip. “This has to be the last school this happens to.”

The students and about 15 parent chaperones will travel to Tallahassee by bus on Tuesday in advance of small-group meetings with legislators that are planned for Wednesday, then return later that day. They leave following a Tuesday morning funeral of Carmen Schentrup, 16, who was killed when their former classmate, Nikolas Cruz, killed students and teachers with an AR-15 on Valentine’s Day. Story here. 

February 17, 2018

Legislators describe haunting visit to Parkland high school after massacre

Douglas High first responders Sun SentinelThe images haunt Wilton Simpson.

The state senator, developer and egg farmer from Trilby came to Building 12 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Thursday with a small entourage of legislators. They wanted to get a firsthand look at what happened when 17 students and faculty were gunned down by a former student at the school in Parkland.

“It could have been a killing field,” recalled Simpson, the Senate Republican leader in an interview with the Herald/Times. He recalled how detectives described the movements of killer Nikolas Cruz as he shot his way through the freshman building. 

Blood spattered the hallways, bullet holes pierced the walls. Books and papers were strewn everywhere. Textbooks sat open on the desks. And in the midst of it all were the bullet casings. Story here. 

Photo:  Medical personnel tended to shooting victims at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Wednesday, by John McCall Sun Sentinel

After visit to Parkland High, legislators say: ‘This building has to come down’

Douglas High Getty imagesStudents will never be returning to Building 12 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School again.

Florida legislators said Thursday they will provide the resources to help the Broward School District tear down Building 12, the site of the massacre that killed 17 students and teachers. They want to build a new classroom space and replace the site of the murders with a memorial to honor the victims and their families.

“This building has to come down,” Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, told the Miami Herald on Friday after visiting the school the day before. He said the horror was palpable. Story here. 

February 16, 2018

Florida Carry wants lawmakers to allow guns in classrooms

Florida Carry, a statewide group that advocates for the rights of gun owners, wants the Florida Legislature to eliminate "gun-free zones" across the state and allow teachers who have concealed weapons licenses to carry guns in classrooms.

Reacting to the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland that killed 17 students and faculty, the group sent a letter Friday to House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron.

"Despite the repeated failure of so-called 'gun free zones,' the Florida Legislature has taken no steps over the past seven years to protect our children," wrote Eric Friday, Florida Carry's general counsel, in a letter that was released to news outlets.  "While the responsibility for Wednesday's events rests solely with the actions of the evil person who committed this act, it is the Legislature that has enabled such tragedies to occur."

As relatives and friends organized the first funerals for the victims of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, the organization called on the Legislature to pass emergency legislation creating gun free zones for law-abiding concealed carry licensees and to appropriate $1 million to county sheriffs and school boards to implement a safety program.

"Evil will not respect gun-free zones," Friday wrote.

Firearms are not allowed on school grounds in Florida. The Senate Judiciary Committee next Tuesday is scheduled to take up a bill (SB 1236) that would allow teachers who hold concealed weapons licenses to have firearms in school. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala.

The Judiciary panel is chaired by Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, a vocal supporter of Second Amendment rights.

Other Republicans on the panel include Sens. Lizbeth Benacquisto, Rob Bradley, Anitere Flores, Rene Garcia and Debbie Mayfield. The Democrats are Randolph Bracy, Audrey Gibson, Bobby Powell and Perry Thurston.

Florida Carry has long advocated a "campus carry" law, or allowing licensees to carry concealed weapons on college and university campuses. But legislation that would allow it has repeatedly been blocked by the state Senate amid opposition from university presidents and police chiefs.

The group also helped to create a controversial legislative proposal that would require the state to issue concealed weapons licenses to applicants even in cases where information is missing from applications because of a lack of cooperation by other states.

That change is included in a Senate bill (SB 740) that Senate Appropriations Chairman Bradley, R-Fleming Island, refused to consider at a Thursday hearing. The House version (HB 553) is ready for a floor vote by the full House next week.

February 15, 2018

A rattled Florida Legislature concedes it should do more to address mental health after Parkland school shooting

SCOTT KEELER | Times Senate President Joe Negron and Senator Rob Bradley talk to reporters during the last week of the 2017 Florida Legislative session.

@mahoneysthename @elizabethrkoh

In the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting, Florida lawmakers vowed to push harder on an issue they acknowledged they had failed: mental health in schools.

Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on PreK-12 Education, filed a mental health pilot program in schools early this year, which sets aside $40 million to connect students to community programs for mental health treatment and trains teachers to identify students who are "at risk of having mental illness."

Yet when asked about her own bill in its current form, she was blunt: "It's not enough."

Money is scarce for the students who need it most, she said, like those who deal with abuse or drug addiction in their homes. "They all bring it to school … which is the only place that they have that's safe. Well, not anymore."

Passidomo said she had originally asked for $180 million for mental health resources in schools, but settled on $40 million as a starting point.

Although Republican lawmakers hesitated to discuss restricting certain weapons or high-capacity magazines, many were more eager to advocate for beefing up mental health services.

High-ranking Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, suggested doubling Passidomo's $40 million mental health allowance, plus adding $60 million to up school security and add more armed officers.

"We need to pay more attention to mental health screening, training and treatment,'' Galvano told the Times/Herald as he boarded a charter flight to Parkland with other lawmakers.

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said that he's spoken to other senators who are ready to put more money behind Passidomo's proposals.
He, along with other prominent Republicans including Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, and Gov. Rick Scott, also said there needs to be a way to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

State law currently calls for background checks to review if a buyer has been deemed "mentally defective" or committed to a mental institution. The Parkland shooter — 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz — received treatment from a mental health clinic for about a year until last fall but purchased his weapon legally, authorities said.

The state has struggled for years with funding mental health initiatives, said Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-Treasure Island. She sponsored a successful bill in 2016 which erected more centers for mental health and substance abuse treatment and restructured how patients can access them, though state funding was slashed last year by more than 40 percent.

"We're not even close on what we should do with mental health," Peters said.

Supporters of increased funding have said Florida ranks last among the 50 states in funding mental health, though the ranking does not account for Medicaid funds which the state administers differently from others.

But Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, countered that the state funds mental health services to those on Medicaid and invests additional millions in various community mental health programs.

"But that requires that an individual would seek help themselves or someone else identifies that they need help and calls someone," added Brodeur, who chairs the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee.

Sen. René García, R-Hialeah, has focused on programs to address mental illnesses and substance abuse, but said Wednesday's shooting showed that the problem is bigger than mental health. He is writing a letter to Negron asking for a "task force" including advocates from several related fields to come up with solutions.

"It's just more than one issue," he said. "We have to take a holistic approach and we all have to give. It can't just be the NRA, just be anti-gun folks, it can't be the school-hardening folks where they want to put more (school security), we have to all have this conversation. However uncomfortable and hard it may be, we can't allow this to happen anymore."

NRA-backed South Florida lawmakers say gun control laws won’t prevent mass shootings

Marco Rubio 3


As Democrats called Thursday for restricting access to weapons after the worst high school shooting in American history, two South Florida Republicans, Senator Marco Rubio, who received millions of dollars in political help from the National Rifle Association, and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, the single largest recipient of direct NRA campaign cash among Floridians in the House of Representatives since 1998, said gun control legislation won’t stop mass shootings.

Rubio’s voice trembled with emotion during a 30-minute interview with the Miami Herald in which he argued that legislation to limit access to semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 or laws to make it tougher to purchase firearms legally wouldn’t have prevented the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

“It is unfair to argue that there’s nothing we can do other than be more careful,” Rubio said. “It’s also unfair to argue that the reason why people are suffering today is because there’s some great law out there that if we had just passed it, it wouldn’t have happened. It’s not accurate. Both of those things are wrong.”

Rubio, who earned an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association during his 2016 reelection campaign and who ranks among the top 20 members of Congress in money received — $3.3 million — from gun-rights interest groups in either direct or indirect campaign help, said Wednesday’s shooting touched on multiple areas of public policy, including firearms, mental health funding, school safety and law enforcement oversight. A bill that affects one area of public policy doesn’t prevent the next mass shooter from successfully plotting an attack, Rubio said.

“I’m not saying that these can’t be balanced out, but these public policy issues are more complex that what is often reported,” Rubio said. “There’s a rationale beyond just the NRA why some of these things meet resistance.”

Arizona Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego, a former Marine who used a version of the AR-15 when he served in the Iraq War, said Rubio’s response to the shooting was no different than anything else he’s heard from Republicans.

“When you have people like Marco Rubio, who has had several killings in his state by people using these types of weapons, and he consistently asks for prayers and does nothing, its symptomatic of what is going on with the Republican Party,” Gallego said. “Marco Rubio and the Republican Party are in the pockets of the NRA and they’ll never do anything. They’ll just talk a game and think everyone forgets.”

Rubio said groups like the NRA support him and run crucial television ads during heated campaigns because he supports gun rights.

“I think there’s two reasons why they would do it,” Rubio said. “One, they didn’t like my opponent, and two I’m a supporter of the Second Amendment and I remain a supporter of the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment is not the cause of this. The cause of this is individuals who happen to abuse that liberty and that constitutional right for the purposes of conducting these atrocities.”

Read more here.

Rubio votes against bipartisan immigration bill; Nelson votes for it


via @learyreports

Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson were on opposite sides of a bipartisan immigration bill that died Thursday afternoon amid a veto threat from the White House.

Rubio, who helped write the 2013 bipartisan immigration overhaul, voted against the bill, while earlier indicated he could be supportive. Nelson voted for the measure.

It would have provided 1.8 million Dreamers a chance for citizenship plus budgeted $25 billion for a border wall.

The bill was crafted by moderate Republicans and Democrats billing themselves as the "Common Sense Coalition." They described the proposal as having the most bipartisan support in the Senate, but it came under fire from the White House and the Department of Homeland Security.

The vote was 54-45, six votes short of the 60 needed to advance.

The moderates' measure does not alter a lottery that distributes about 55,000 visas annually to people from diverse countries. Trump has proposed ending it and redistributing its visas to other immigrants.

The group spent weeks trying to craft a middle ground on the thorny immigration issue.

The defeat casts serious doubt about a solution for the Dreamer issue.

February 14, 2018

Under Florida House proposal, going to the store could mean funding school vouchers

Gabriella Angotti-Jones | Times

Most people don't consider walking into a corner store and buying a gallon of milk to be a controversial action. But under a new proposal in the Florida House, part of that sales tax could pay for school vouchers that have been a flash point between lawmakers and activists.

The proposal, only a small piece of a larger tax package passed through the Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday, would open up sales tax revenue to finance two of the state's major voucher programs that allow low-income students and those with disabilities to attend private schools on the state's dime.

If it succeeds, this would be a big first for a specific education program to draw money from consumer-directed sales tax — which has previously been off-limits for earmarks. The sales tax is largely directed to the state's general fund, which pays for everything from roads to public schools. the sales tax is the state's largest funding source. It produced $24.6 billion in 2016.

"These are mostly poor minority students who are struggling academically and ... they're looking for a lifeboat for a better education," said Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, the chair of Ways and Means.  "There is a demand that far exceeds what the SFOs (scholarship-funding organizations) have been able to access."

He added that he didn't think using sales tax for school vouchers would open the floodgates for different causes.

"Are people going to come out of the woodwork? They'll have to make their case," Renner said. "This is a compelling case to help those that have educational needs."

Currently, the state has a few programs allow businesses to get tax credits on their sales tax for creating jobs or contributing to the state's agricultural sector. However, this would be the first time businesses could essentially earmark their sales tax for a specific purpose rather than going to the state's general bank account.

The House's proposal would allow businesses to opt-in to this program and cap scholarship funding at $154 million, allowing the wait-lists of the existing Gardiner and Florida Tax Credit Scholarships to substantially shrink. Those dollars would go straight to the organizations administering the scholarships, rather than to state's general revenue.

Democrats condemned the measure as a "giveaway" and a way for the state to inch its way into taking away a piece of the state's most important funding source from traditional public schools.

Rep. Joseph Abruzzo of Boynton Beach, the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, asked repeatedly to have this piece separated from the rest of the tax package, which both parties had cooperated to draft. Those amendments failed.

"The truth of the matter is ... this is not just for the poorest of the poorest of the poor anymore," he said. "It started out just a corporate tax scholarship, we're moving into fees and now in this bill we have gone into the unbelievable realm of sales tax. That is just wrong."

Even Rep. Margaret Good — who was elected just Tuesday night to represent Sarasota in a victory for Democrats in a typical Republican stronghold — spoke at a press conference opposing this bill shortly before she was sworn in.

"Over the last five months I have knocked on a lot of doors and talked to a lot of voters in Sarasota who are really concerned about our public education system," she said.

Funding for school vouchers has exploded in the years since they were created. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program began as a $50 million project in 2001, and will give out close to $700 million in the 2017-2018 school year, according to the Department of Education.

‘I said a little prayer’— Florida lawmakers react to Broward school shooting

Bill Nelson


Democrats representing Broward County and South Florida seethed Wednesday over congressional inaction on firearms, hours after a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland left 17 people dead. It was the second time in just over a year that Florida’s second-most populous county experienced a major mass shooting.

But while Democrats demanded action, Republicans generally avoided calling for legislative change, at least in the immediate aftermath.

“I said a little prayer, for all of them, then the next thought that popped into my head was, do we have to go through this again?” Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said. “Look how many of these mass shootings have occurred and we say enough is enough and then nothing is done. Here in the Senate we cannot even get Senator [Dianne] Feinstein’s bill that would prohibit people on the terrorist watch list from buying a gun.”

Rep. Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat who represents Parkland in Washington, choked up during an interview as he waited for a flight home. He said he spoke at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School just a few weeks ago.

“I have a picture of an adorable six year old who was killed at Sandy Hook whose father gave me that picture so I can remember every day why were working so hard to try to reduce gun violence,” Deutch said. “Everyone cares about safe communities. I shouldn’t need a mass shooting in my district to give me legitimacy to talk about why we need to prevent more mass shootings but I guess that’s the sad reality.”

Florida state Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Democrat who represents northern Broward County in Tallahassee, said “This country and its elected leaders collectively have failed our children.”

Read more here.

Judge quashes final subpoenas in Visit Florida lawsuit, signaling loss for Corcoran

C. Pat Roberts stands in the courtroom where a hearing was held Friday in his lawsuit involving the Florida House. Emily L. Mahoney | TIMES

It's a case that has centered around one central question: How much power does the Florida House have to investigate private citizens?

It's not unlimited, according to a ruling from a state judge Wednesday that quashed the final two outstanding subpoenas from the House's investigation of TV executive C. Pat Roberts. His company, MAT Media, had contracted with the state's tourism arm to produce shows featuring celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse to promote Florida as a culinary hot-spot.

The House has been investigating whether Roberts made exorbitant profits on these contracts at the expense of taxpayers, and the final documents sought were Roberts' tax returns as well as his business ledgers and journals.

A federal judge had previously ruled that the state Legislature was well within its powers to issue and enforce subpoenas. But the state judge disagreed when it came to scope.

"Requiring production of the records would be approval of the very sort of governmental intrusion prohibited by ... Florida's Right of Privacy," wrote Circuit Judge Karen Gievers.  She had reviewed these documents and found they were not "germane or pertinent" to the House's investigation.

The ruling is a loss for Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, who had signed the House's first-ever subpoenas on the floor of the House in a show of its investigative powers.

Roberts's lawyers had argued Corcoran was using this investigation for political gain in a year he is assumed to be running for governor. They submitted a copy of an ad he posted online that depicted him boasting to his family about his work to expose a $1 million contract that Visit Florida made with the rapper Pitbull.

"(The) Corcoran Family Super Bowl ad ... does provide a valid concern to MAT Media and Mr. Roberts about whether Speaker Corcoran and the other House members and staff would remember they are not above the law."

Adam Komisar, one of Robert's lawyers, said Roberts "has not had a chance to review the entire ruling with his attorneys, but he is pleased with the outcome."

But for the House, the fight is not over.

"It was a terrible decision," Corcoran said in a statement. "Of course the Legislature absolutely has the right to investigate all spending of taxpayer money. We will appeal this ruling and fully expect to win."

Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, who will succeed Corcoran as speaker, said he too will continue this investigation. 

During a hearing last Friday, Paul Phipps, former chief marketing officer for Visit Florida, testified that MAT Media made money from its contract with the state, as well as ads it sold to other taxpayer-funded entities like cities' tourism agencies and from charging $10,000 annual licensing fees to the state to use its copyrighted content.

MAT Media also benefited from at least two years' worth of state tax rebates designed to encourage film companies to shoot shows and movies in Florida. Records from the Florida Office of Film and Entertainment show that Roberts made $400,000 in a yearly salary for at least two years of the show's production.

The House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee has proposed a bill that would curtail state contractors' profits at 15 percent, likely a result of this case.

Shooting hits painfully close for Moskowitz, who graduated from the high school 19 years ago

Jared-moskowitz-Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a 1999 graduate of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, said the shooting is painfully close to home. His children go to school in Parkland, the school is blocks from his home, and he represented the district first as a city commissioner and now as a legislator. 

"I'm going to know these children, their teachers, their parents,'' said Moskowitz, a Democrat from Coral Springs, as he boarded a plane back home on Wednesday. "Their lives are forever changed, families are broken and shattered and the kids who walked out alive won't be the same.
"Even though it's local, the scene around the country is all too familiar to me,'' he said. "It's unimaginable to go to a place everyday and think that it's safe and then have some loser to come in and take that away.
Moskowitz noted that the mass shooting, following the shooting at the Fort Lauderdale airport a year ago, and the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando in June 2016, has now left Florida Gov. Rick Scott with an unfortunate legacy. 
"Through no fault of his own, the governor has more experience with this than any governor currently serving,'' he said. 
After boarding the plane, he tweeted:
 Hell is waiting for this shooter. But that’s not good enough. Nothing can replace the loss of a child. For one kid to take them away from their life and parents is beyond our comprehension. This country and its elected leaders collectively have failed our children. I am on my way

— Jared Moskowitz (@JaredEMoskowitz) February 14, 2018

Delirious Democrats see 'blue wave' in Margaret Good's big victory

IMG_0294Democrats in Tallahassee were delirious with joy Wednesday as they welcomed Margaret Good, who handily won a special House election Tuesday in Sarasota, a county Donald Trump carried in 2016.

Good, who received loud standing ovations at a House Democratic Caucus meeting, literally overnight became a national symbol of what Democrats hope will be a "blue wave," an unstoppable anti-Trump, anti-Republican tsunami in 2018.

Good got 52 percent of the vote in a three-way race in defeating James Buchanan, the son of a popular local congressman, and a Libertarian candidate.

"This should put all Republicans on notice that it could be a very difficult year, if you're an incumbent, to survive," said Rep. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, chairman of the Republican Party of Sarasota and an enthusiastic supporter of the President. "Even relatively safe seats could be in play in 2018."

Democrats knocked on thousands of doors and flooded the district with volunteers, money and celebrity endorsements such as former Vice President Joe Biden, in a key county in the nation's biggest swing state in a year when the political stakes are very high, with a U.S. Senate seat, the governorship, three Cabinet seats, 27 seats in Congress and most of the Legislature all up for grabs.

Gruters complimented Good for running a strong race, but he said she got plenty of outside help that she won't have in a general election race in the fall when precious political resources have to be spread more widely.

"I think we can recover, and I think we'll win the seat back in November," Gruters predicted. He said five potential GOP candidates were texting him Wednesday.

"We'll see about that," Good told the Times/Herald. "People are fed up with what is happening up here. They want real representation. They want strong public education. They want environmental protections. They want people really talking about health care."

Earlier Wednesday, House Democrats voiced outrage when Republicans rewrote a tax-cut bill to include a major expansion of private school vouchers paid for by corporate tax credits, a major policy shift that Democrats said hasn't been properly vetted in policy committees.

The House Democratic whip, Rep. Joe Abruzzo of Palm Beach County, said Republicans are aggressively pushing radical policies because they know a "wave" is coming in November that could also bring Florida a Democratic governor.

"It's in push mode, to get through as much of their policy that they can prior to possibly having Democrats in control," Abruzzo said.

Good will replace former Republican Rep. Alex Miller, who resigned last fall. She's the 41st Democrat in a 117-member House, with three vacant seats yet to be filled in special elections.

Photo: House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, left, and the incoming leader, Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami, welcomed Margaret Good to the state Capitol Wednesday.

February 13, 2018

In testy debate, Corcoran, Gillum clash on immigration


image from
Andrew Gillum, left, and Richard Corcoran, right, with debate moderators Troy Kinsey of BayNews 9 and Gary Fineout of AP.

 The fight of the century? It was more like the hype of the century.

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum staged their highly-promoted debate over illegal immigration in Tallahassee on Tuesday night.

Gillum, 38, is an announced Democratic candidate for governor and would be the first African-American to hold the state's highest office. Corcoran, 52, is a Republican state lawmaker from Land O'Lakes who's expected to run and who challenged Gillum to a faceoff three weeks ago.

Corcoran repeatedly called illegal immigrants a threat to public safety, and Gillum accused Corcoran of exploiting the issue in a TV ad to stir racial and ethnic divisions, and demanded Corcoran take the ad off the air.

"Richard's Corcoran's Florida? I don't want my kids to grow up in it," Gillum said in his closing statement. "We're bigger than that. We're better than that."

In his closing, Corcoran knocked on a wooden lectern to suggest a police officer knocking on a door and telling parents that a child has been killed by an illegal immigrant.

"A completely and utterly needless and unnecessary death. Nobody should experience that," Corcoran said.

Throughout the debate, Corcoran defended his support for a law that banned so-called sanctuary cities. But after passing the House, the bill (HB 9) quickly stalled in the Senate.

Their 45-minute debate, live-streamed on the candidates' Facebook pages, took place in a sterile TV studio in Tallahassee with no live broadcast and no studio audience.

Both men stuck to talking points and played to base supporters. Their encounter touched on Jim Crow laws, Trayvon Martin, and Japanese internment camps and deaths of multiple women in cases involving undocumented immigrants.

It was a theatrical warm-up act for a pair of ambitious politicians who have never run for statewide office. It drew a crowd of two dozen reporters and gave both men what they crave the most: free media coverage.

Corcoran and Gillum don't have very much in common, but they are mired deep in political obscurity. A recent poll by the University of North Florida found that 78 percent of voters have not heard of Corcoran and 81 percent have not heard of Gillum.

Gillum repeatedly criticized Corcoran's TV ad that shows a teenage girl stalked and shot by a hoodie-wearing male attacker. Corcoran did not respond and instead accused Gillum of refusing to take a position on a "sanctuary state" bill in the House.

The debate was mostly about a Corcoran priority, HB 9, that sought to prohibit so-called "sanctuary cities" in Florida that refuse requests by federal authorities to detain undocumented immigrants who otherwise would be released.

After passing the House, the bill headed to a disinterested Senate, where two Miami-area Republicans, both Hispanics, blocked a committee vote.

Gillum called America a nation of immigrants and noted that Corcoran himself was born in Toronto where his father worked for the U.S. State Department).

"I don't have anything against Canadians, by the way," Gillum said.

"I'm not an immigrant. I'm a natural born American citizen," replied Corcoran, whose parents were World War II veterans. "To say I'm an immigrant is you playing politics and using perjoratives in the worst possible way."

They battled over words. Corcoran chided Gillum for using the term "undocumented immigrants" and said they should be called "illegal aliens."

"Illegals is not a noun," Gillum shot back, accusing Corcoran of trying to "dehumanize" immigrants.

— With reporting by Elizabeth Koh and Emily L. Mahoney

Nelson wants a 'simple' immigration solution: DACA and border funding

Bill Nelson


The U.S. Senate is supposed to debate and vote on immigration legislation this week as nearly 690,000 immigrants could face deportation next month if Congress doesn't act. 

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Senate floor was empty, devoid of senators from either party trying to debate and propose various amendments that could save DACA recipients from potential deportation. 
But Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said Tuesday a group of moderate senators led by Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins and West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin will offer a "simple" immigration solution that can get 60 votes in the U.S. Senate.
"I'm very optimistic," Nelson said. "I think that now that the process has started, when we get to what will be our amendment, which is a simple amendment, it takes care of the DACA kids, it takes care of the parents and then on the other side it takes care of the president with a wall that is, of course, many things other than concrete and steel. I think we'll get 60 votes for that, I'm very optimistic." 
Nelson pointed out that giving President Donald Trump about $25 billion for border security doesn't necessarily mean money for a physical wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.  
"A wall is many things, it's electronics, it's UAVs, it's natural boundaries, etcetera," Nelson said. 
He also said that proposals to deal with the so-called “chain migration” system that lets newly documented immigrants line family members up to attain legal status and the diversity visa lottery are not included in the amendment that moderates plan to offer.
"That is not within the simple amendment. It's being discussed and it will be offered in a version but I think the version that has the chance for the 60 votes is what I described," Nelson said, adding that Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake's plan to clear a backlog of people currently waiting for visas by using visas currently doled out in the diversity lottery won't get enough Republican support. 
"I don't think there's any way you get 60 votes for that," Nelson said. "I voted for comprehensive immigration but you're not going to get 11 Republicans even if you had all 49 Democrats." 
Nelson also said the group of moderate Senators hasn't engaged in discussions with House leaders about their amendment getting enough support in the more conservative lower chamber if it passes the Senate.
"We're trying to get 60 votes to get there with Senate," Nelson said. "You've got to get to first base before you can get to second base." 
A group of Senate conservatives are also expected introduce an amendment that mirrors Trump's preferred immigration framework. The framework includes a path to citizenship for 1.8 million DACA-eligible immigrants in exchange for funding a wall, ending "chain-migration" and limiting the number of visas available to legal immigrants. Trump's framework is not expected to receive 60 votes in the Senate. 

The FBI is investigating a state-affiliated Chinese institute targeted by Marco Rubio



The top FBI official said his agency is investigating the Confucius Institutes, a Chinese government-affiliated institution operating at Miami Dade College that has been criticized and canceled at some American universities over concerns about propaganda and censorship. 

"We do share concerns about the Confucius Institutes, we've been watching that development for a while," FBI director Chris Wray said during a Senate Intelligence Committee briefing on Tuesday. "It's just one of many tools that they take advantage of. We have seen some decrease recently in their own enthusiasm and commitment to that particular program but it is something we're watching warily and in certain instances have developed appropriate investigative steps." 

Wray was responding to questions from Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who sent a letter last week to Miami Dade College and three other Florida colleges along with Broward County’s Cypress Bay High School urging them to disassociate themselves from the Confucius Institutes. 

"It is my view that they are complicit in these efforts to covertly influence public opinion and to teach half-truths designed to present Chinese history, government or official policy in the most favorable light," Rubio said to Wray. "Do you share concerns about Confucius Institutes as a tool of that whole of society effort and as a way to exploit the sort of naive view among some in the academic circles about what the purpose of the institutes could be?" 

In November, Miami Dade College president Eduardo Padrón referred to the institute as “a treasure in our community.” The college praised the program as “a relentless driver of positive social change through the expansion of community education and enrichment services in Chinese language and culture.” 

Rubio's comments came during an open hearing with top intelligence officials to discuss world wide threats. Rubio used his line of questioning to ask about Chinese infiltration of the U.S. academic community. 

"We have intensive studies going on throughout the intelligence community relative A to Z on what China is doing," Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said. 

The Confucius Institutes are also viewed by detractors as a quiet way for the Communist Chinese government to spread its influence across the world through classes over which it holds tight editorial controls that are written into its contracts with host universities. In addition to Miami Dade College, there are also programs at the University of South Florida, the University of West Florida and the University of North Florida. 

The University of West Florida said it would not renew its contract with the Confucius Institutes after Rubio sent his letter last week. 

This post was updated to include the University of West Florida's decision not to renew the Confucius Institutes' contract. 

NOAA climate and hurricane research slashed in Trump budget



President Donald Trump wants to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal agency responsible for hurricane tracking and research. 

Trump's 2019 budget proposal was released Monday and it includes a 37 percent cut to NOAA climate research and a six percent cut to the National Weather Service compared to the 2017 budget that became law last year. 

Climate research funding would be cut from $158 million in 2017 to $98 million in 2019 while ocean, coastal and Great Lakes research would be cut from $192 million in 2017 to $93 million in 2019, according to a comparison by the Ocean Conservancy. 

“Today’s budget proposal from the Administration is certainly not reflective of the direction our federal government should take," Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo said in a statement. "From significant reductions to agencies needed to protect our environment and combat the threats of climate change and sea level rise, to cuts to Community Block Grants that assist in disaster recovery, this budget abandons progress already made on many programs that enjoy bipartisan support." 

Trump's budget proposal isn't likely to become law and is mostly a signal of the administration's priorities. Congress has control of the government funding process and it's unlikely that a majority of members will support drastic spending cuts to multiple federal agencies, including NOAA. 

The largest proposed NOAA cuts occur in research while national environmental satellite, data and information services also receives a 25 percent cut, $2.2 billion to $1.6 billion, from 2017 to 2019. One area of the agency, the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, gets 1.9 percent funding increase under Trump's proposal. 

“President Trump proposes over $1 billion in cuts at NOAA, including a $273 million slash to grants and programs that support practical solutions to on-the-water challenges in states and local communities," Ocean Conservancy  Associate Director of Government Relations Addie Haughey said in a statement. "From coastal towns facing clear and dire needs for preparedness and repair after a devastating hurricane season, to fishermen whose livelihoods are threatened by changing fish stocks, this administration is turning a blind eye to our coastal economies. Despite pledging during the State of the Union to stand with victims of the 2017 storm season, President Trump’s proposal fails to honor his commitment to rebuild and prepare for future storms."

The 2018 hurricane season begins in June and federal agencies, including NOAA, are still completing disaster recovery efforts in Florida, Puerto Rico and Texas after three major hurricanes made landfall on U.S. soil in 2017.