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April 28, 2017

Black lawmakers, Democrats irate after senator says slavery memorial would 'celebrate defeat'

Stand Your Ground (3)@ByKristenMClark

House Democrats and members of the legislative black caucus are offended and irate after a conservative Senate committee chairman said Friday the reason he didn’t hear a bill to create the first slavery memorial in Florida was because he didn’t want to “celebrate defeat.”

“I would rather celebrate overcoming the heartbreak of slavery. I wouldn’t want to build a memorial to child abuse; I wouldn’t want to build a memorial to sexual abuse,” Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley told the Herald/Times for a story that was published online midday Friday. “I have a discomfort about memorializing slavery. ... I would like to take it in a more positive direction than a memorial to slavery.”

His comments came as the House voted unanimously that day — with roaring applause — to build the Florida Slavery Memorial near the Capitol in Tallahassee. Despite the House support, the proposal stalled in the Senate because Baxley had what another senator described as a “philosophical objection” to the concept.

Baxley — the chairman of the Senate Government Oversight & Accountability Committee who is known for his conservative positions and supporting symbols of the Confederacy — never scheduled a hearing because he said a memorial recognizing slavery would be too negative.

“It was very perplexing to say the least but can easily be taken as an insult,” Rep. Kionne McGhee, a black Democrat from Miami and the sponsor of the slavery memorial bill (HB 27), said of Baxley’s explanation. “His verbiage — if I were to read it as is — without an immediate clarification, it is borderline racism.”

Full story here.

Photo credit: Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala. AP

As the Democratic Party urges a no vote, Democratic senators get behind FPL fracking bill

Fracking AP (1)A crack has emerged over fracking in Florida Democratic Party.

As the Florida Senate gave preliminary approval Friday to a bill sought by Florida Power & Light to allow the company to expand its rate base by charging customers for investments in natural gas fracking operations in other states, the Florida Democratic Party was blasting the measure on its website and urging people to sign up “and tell the Florida Legislature to OPPOSE SB 1238.”

“Republicans in the Senate want Florida families to pay for FP&L’s disastrous and harmful oil exploration methods,” warned the party in a post after the measure passed 9-3 by the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday.

SB 1238, has been opposed by residential and commercial utility customers, and remains stalled in the Florida House but, in the Senate, both Republican and Democratic senators have voted for the measure in committee and are expected to approve it when it comes up for a final vote as early as Monday. The bill was debated on second reading Friday.

Among the supporters of the bill are both Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami and incoming Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth, even though

Democrats voting for the bill in committee with Braynon and Clemens were Sens. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, and Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee. Montford had voted for the measure in a previous committee but changed his vote in the Rules Committee Tuesday and joined Republican Sens. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg and Tom Lee of Thonotosassa in opposing it.

Clemens called the comments on the party website “party politics.”

“I don’t really have any comment on what the Democratic Party is doing,” he said with a laugh.

The measure is a top priority of FPL because it will allow the company to overturn a Florida Supreme Court ruling last year that found the Public Service Commission exceeded its authority when it gave FPL permission to charge customers up to $500 million for expenses incurred in investing in an Oklahoma-based fracking company in 2015. Although the company predicted the project would save customers millions in fuel costs, it resulted in a loss of $5.6 million in the first year.

The bill drew opposition from the Florida Retail Federation, the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, the AARP, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups. FPL is the only utility in the state that would be eligible to charge customers for the practice now but Duke Energy could also be eligible if it increases its dependence on natural gas in the future. Both companies were among the largest contributors to legislative political campaigns in the 2016 cycle.

During debate on the measure Friday, Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, said that a preliminary analysis he obtained shows that regardless of how much money the project saves customers, it will allow FPL to make an estimated $100 million a year in profit.

Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, responded that state regulators at the Public Service Commission won’t allow the project to continue unless it demonstrates a savings for customers.

“It’s a long-term investment,” he said. “This would allow the utility to diversify their inventory, their stream of natural gas.”

According to a Herald/Times analysis, FPL gave $10 million to legislative campaigns and political committees since the start of the 2016 election cycle and prior the start of the 2017 session, with about a third going to Democrats. The party relies heavily on utility and sugar industry money.

Food and Water Watch, a non-partisan advocacy group that opposes all fracking-related legislation, chastised Florida Democrats.

“As far as we’re concerned the fact that the Florida Democratic Party is publicly claiming to be against this pro-fracking bill while it’s members are not delivering on the floor is deeply hypocritical,” said Jackie Fillson, spokesperson for the group.

“SB 1238 is a pro-fracking bill that shifts the burden of paying for future fracking endeavors outside of Florida from the company onto the customers. If passed, this bill in effect supports fracking but it also supports paying the rich on the backs of the poor.”

Here's our list of FPL contributions to political committees in 2017:

Continue reading "As the Democratic Party urges a no vote, Democratic senators get behind FPL fracking bill" »

House overhauls medical marijuana plan, but the bill still isn't final

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State lawmakers are inching closer to an agreement on medical marijuana after more than 70 percent of voters declared they wanted to allow patients with debilitating conditions to use the drug.

On Friday, the Florida House made sweeping changes to their legislation (HB 1397), addressing concerns raised by activists that bill initially proposed by Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, made it too difficult for doctors to recommend cannabis to patients and limited access.

“We have listened and we have worked hard to create a patient-centered process,” Rodrigues said. “We believe this bill makes it easier for patients to obtain their medical marijuana.”

Among the changes: 

* Patients who complain of chronic pain can be recommended cannabis, but only if it is linked to another debilitating condition. This is in line with Senate proposals but a major step for the House.

* Marijuana dispensaries can sell edibles and products that can be “vaped.” The bill still bans smoking.

* Eliminating a requirement that patients have a three-month relationship with a doctor before they can recommend marijuana. As well, patients would have to visit the doctor once every seven months to remain in the statewide database of qualified patients, up from 90 days.

* Training requirements for doctors have been reduced to two hours, which is expected to remove barriers to doctors.

Some components remain largely unchanged, including the structure of handing out licenses to companies that will act as grower, processor and dispensary. While one black farmer would be licensed immediately under the House bill, others would not be allowed into the market until 150,000 patients are registered to use marijuana, and those would come from the nurseries denied from an older, more limited cannabis program in 2015.

However, the House and Senate are still in negotiations over their language. Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, who sponsored the Senate’s medical marijuana legislation (SB 406), said the House’s changes are a “reflection of those discussions.”

“I look at it as a very positive development and a good faith step in our direction,” he said. “We’re going in their direction, too.”

Some House members appear concerned about the legislation ahead of a vote that will likely take place next Tuesday.

Several Democrats asked pointed questions about the licensing structure and prohibition on smoking marijuana. 

At their caucus meeting earlier Friday, the common belief was that the House bill still didn’t go far enough to ensure patient access.

As well, at least one conservative Republican who supported the more restrictive language proposed earlier in the spring voted against the changes, saying she was worried it opened up the marketplace too much and citing a general skepticism about medical marijuana, “if there is such a thing.”

“This is a huge expansion of what conditions will be eligible and what physicians will write that prescription,” Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, said. “We’ve already seen the pill mill prescription debacle in this state. You thought that was bad? Wait until you see the big toe pain epidemic."

Welcome to Camp Tallahassee's Superlatives 2017: Who's going to be most likely...?

SuperlativeAs the Florida House was engaged in deep discussion Friday over things like whether to give more power to law enforcement to crack down illegal immigration, two freshmen House members were circulating a little survey in search of a colleagues "most likely to fall asleep," or the "best dressed" or the "life of the party."

Patterned after the popular summer camp and high school practice, Rep. Alex Miller, R-Sarasota, and Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, circulated the "2017 member superlatives" aimed at deciding which of the 120 members of the House should be given important designations.

"The Women’s Caucus is pleased to request your anonymous responses to the 2017 member superlatives,'' they wrote. "Please drop off at Rep Alex Miller or Rep Jackie Toledo’s office on the 14th floor (or in person). All 120 members of the House are included. Please submit responses by 5 pm on Monday May 1st."

Here's what they're looking for: 

Best debater; Best closer; Best policy wonk;Most likely to fall asleep; Most likely to put members to sleep; Most likely to promise free lunch & extra recess; Most likely to be on a reality TV show; Most likely to be late for committee;Teacher’s pet; Most Helpful; Best Office; Best dressed – male; Best dressed – female; Mr. Congeniality;  Ms. Congeniality; Funniest member; Life of the party;  Most likely to not know names; Most likely to moonlight as an Uber driver; Favorite new male freshman; and, of course, Favorite new female freshman.  Download 2017 Superlatives

Meanwhile, it was a busy day in the Florida Capitol. House and Senate budget conference committees met briefly to negotiated details to the $83 billion budget, but spent no time publicly discussing or debating the details. The Florida House passed a bill to create a slavery memorial at the state Capitol complex (HB 27) and the House agreed to seal criminal records from the public eye but didn't discuss it (HB 118.) 

At NRA, Gov. Rick Scott bashes Sen. Bill Nelson -- his potential 2018 rival



In his speech to the National Rifle Association, Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott bashed Democrat U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson for his position on U.S. Supreme Court appointments.

Scott may run against Nelson in 2018.

Scott criticized Nelson for not backing Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee with “sterling credentials”  who was confirmed.

"Look at the votes on this Supreme Court nominee and you can see that there are a number of senators who did not represent their states. These senators need to be retired. Unfortunately one of my Florida senators -- Bill Nelson -- has beared far to the left. He voted for Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and he just voted against Neil Gorsuch,” Scott told the NRA crowd in Atlanta. “I will leave you with this. You all have done great and important work but there is no rest for the weary. There is no time to relax. The opponents of freedom and liberty are constantly on the move. But fortunately for America today the defenders of freedom and liberty are stronger but we have to keep fighting to keep it that way.”

Scott’s speech followed President Donald Trump who gave Scott a welcome shout out. Scott also praised Trump for being a “strong supporter of our military and our veterans and he is going to cut our taxes.”

In 2012, the NRA attacked Nelson for voting in favor of Sotomayor. Nelson easily won his 2012 race against U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, but Scott will be a far better financed and formidable opponent.

Scott spoke to the NRA about a week before the end of the Florida legislative session. Nearly all of the bills to expand gun rights this session have died.

File photo of Gov. Rick Scott. 

Senator's 'discomfort about memorializing slavery' could block House-approved state monument



A proposal to create the first slavery memorial in Florida unanimously passed the state House on Friday with roaring applause — but its prospects in the Senate are uncertain after one committee chairman stalled the legislation over a “philosophical objection” to the concept.

Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley — the chairman of the Senate Government Oversight & Accountability Committee who is known for his conservative positions — never scheduled a hearing to consider the Senate’s version of a bill calling for a Florida Slavery Memorial near the Capitol in Tallahassee.

Because of that, the fate of HB 27 now hinges on a rare procedural override that President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, could try to execute.

House members Friday overwhelmingly embraced the idea for a slavery memorial, proposed in that chamber by Miami Democratic Rep. Kionne McGhee.

“I am literally — and many of us in this room, we are literally 7,923 weeks out of slavery,” McGhee, who is black, said on the House floor before the vote. “As we gather here at this defining moment in this Capitol ... this is perhaps one of the most joyous moments in my life to know that the journeys that my forefathers went through were not lost.”

More here.

Photo credit: Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

Jack Latvala: Budget 'driven strictly by the guy that wants transparency'



Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala, the Senate Appropriations chairman, told reporters Friday that in his 15 years in the Florida Senate he's "never seen" a budget negotiated like the one lawmakers are crafting for 2017-18. 

And he cast blame on one person: House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes -- although not mentioning him directly by name.

Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, insisted first on hashing out -- in private -- trades on significant policy priorities they want accomplished this year before they would agree to let public budget conference committee meetings begin yesterday. (Session is scheduled to end May 5.)

RELATED: "Lawmakers — privately — cut $200M deal to help kids in failing schools"

"I haven't seen it to the extent that we've seen it this year of deciding so many issues as a part of the budget process," Latvala said. "I've never seen that before."

"But that's driven strictly by the guy that wants transparency from the other end down there," Latvala added, in a clear reference to Corcoran. "He's the one that said, 'to get this, we need need to do this. To do that, we need to do that.' And all the President did was try to respond, to try to get an agreement so we can have our committees do their work and try to get out of here on time."

Corcoran spokesman Fred Piccolo declined to comment. Corcoran promised "unprecedented openness" and transparency during his time as speaker; however, the budget process appears to be unfolding much the same as it has in previous years.

MORE: "Did House Speaker retaliate against members who supported Visit Florida funding? Jack Latvala says yes"

Latvala also warned Friday that given Gov. Rick Scott's opposition to the budget, there "absolutely" is a chance lawmakers will be back in special session either attempting to override or dealing with a vetoed budget. 

"I'm saying that the governor is very concerned about a number of the decisions that the presiding officers agreed to on spending. That's his prerogative and he gets the last look at the budget,'' he said.

-- Staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed

Photo credit: Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, with Senate Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. AP

Trump signs order on drilling, prompting backlash in Florida


via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - President Trump this morning signed an executive order that could open up more oil drilling, setting up a confrontation with Florida politicians.

The “America First Offshore Energy Strategy” calls for a review of drilling in the outer continental shelf. President Obama before leaving office put into place restrictions that closed off areas in the Arctic and Atlantic as well as the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.

"It’s a great day for America workers, unleashing American energy and clearing the way for thousands and thousands of high-paying American energy jobs," Trump said. "Our country is blessed with incredible natural resources, including abundant offshore oil and natural gas reserves."

Sen. Bill Nelson Thursday filed a bill to block the move but with a Republican majority in both chambers that effort may falter. Still, any changes under Trump could take years to implement.

Florida opposition emerged immediately.

"Florida's coasts and oceans are home to stunning wildlife, beautiful beaches and support a robust tourism economy, all things that stand to lose from offshore drilling,” said Jennifer Rubiello, state director of Environment Florida. “The President’s action opens the door to expanded drilling into our public waters, including the Eastern Gulf of Mexico – a move that goes against the values a majority of Floridians share: that our oceans and beaches should be preserved, not sold off to the highest bidder.”


Will Democrats hold and block the homestead amendment? Clemens: 'it blows the entire session up'

Jeff Clemens TBTWith the absence of Sen. Dorothy Hukill and the resignation of Sen. Frank Artiles, the 15 Democrats in the Florida Senate now have the power to block any vote that requires a three-fifths vote of the 40-member chamber. Enter the debate over putting an expanded homestead exemption on the November 2018 ballot. 

Will Democrats hold? "We're evaluating whether or not to do that or not,'' said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, the Senate's incoming Democratic leader. 

He added: "It blows the entire session up. Because this is a trade with [House Speaker Richard] Corcoran,'' he said. "So if we take that step the budget stops and the session stops so that's what we're evaluating."

As evidence this is a policy trade for the budget resolution, the Florida Senate added the bill to the Senate Rules Committee agenda, amended it and passed it out on Friday.  The full Senate will take it up on Monday. 

Sen. Jose Javier Rodriquez, D-Miami, who voted for a version of the homestead amendment in committee, said he expects "if Democrats take a position it holds,'' adding that leadership is deciding whether or not to do it. 

He added, however, that the impact is not monolithic because in districts with lower valued homestead property the impact on local revenues is greatest and the number of properties helped the fewest. 

"In my district, I have the opposite problem -- a booming real estate market and a lot of families who have been in their homes a long time and a lot of working class, single family areas where the volatility of the real estate market has a big impact,'' Rodriguez said. "In some areas, it is a measure of protection that you would want and in other areas that are already hard hit and are running out of tax base, it is a tax shift.

"This amendment is designed for a district like mine but to apply it across the whole state maybe doesn't make sense,'' he said. "It's a tax shift in my district but it's hard not to sympathize with homeowners where the real estate is booming and they are stuck."

 Photo: Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth

Did House Speaker retaliate against members who supported Visit Florida funding? Jack Latvala says yes



State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said he's convinced most rank-and-file members in the House never wanted to see Visit Florida slashed so dramatically.

But Latvala told reporters on Friday that House members were forced by "one guy" to vote with him or face political retaliation. Latvala didn't mention House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, by name, but it was clear who he was referencing.

"This is not a decision that was made by the rank-and-file members in the House," Latvala said. "This was made by one guy. And you know, there were a lot of brave souls that voted against the decision that were made on Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida and they've paid the price. And I know that because I've got bills sponsored with some of them that quit moving when they made that vote."

Latvala would not cite a specific example when asked by the Times/Herald.

House spokesman Fred Piccolo rejected Latvala's claim.

"Our office would be delighted to look into any specific example the Senator would like to provide," Piccolo said. "As a matter of policy, the speaker has always said that the only thing expected of every member of the Florida House is that you vote your principles.  As everyone knows, legislation doesn't move for a myriad of reasons. Retaliation or punishment is not one of them in the Florida House."

The House initially proposed eliminating all funding for Visit Florida, an agency Gov. Rick Scott has asked for $100 million for to market the state as a vacation destination. But Latvala said after blow back from people back home worried about lost tourism, the House inched the funding up to $25 million. That is still dramatically off the $76 million that the Senate first proposed.

Earlier on Friday, Visit Florida CEO Ken Lawson made a futile attempt to convince Senate and House budget negotiators to give his agency the $100 million it needs. He said cutting back would be disastrous for Florida tourism because so many other states are competing for the same tourists to visit their states.

"We need you to fund Visit Florida," Lawson said. "We've got to fight the competition coming after us."

But Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said after Lawson's speech the number is not likely to change. That part of the budget has already been agreed to by Senate President Joe Negron and Corcoran and there is little chance the number will increase at all.


Cuts get more severe for Rick Scott's top priority



The cuts to Gov. Rick Scott's primary job creation agency is even deeper than first thought.

The Florida Legislature rolled out new budget details Friday that would not only reject the Governor's request for $85 million for job incentives to lure businesses to Florida, but also cut the agency that promotes Florida as a business destination and organizes international job training missions like the one Scott was on earlier this week in Argentina.

Originally House and Senate leaders said they'd cut Enterprise Florida's incentives and give them just a base operations budget of around $23 million like it had this year.

But this morning, when House and Senate budget negotiators met, it slashed Enterprise Florida's funding to just $16 million.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said the agency would have its base operations - around $8.4 million last year, but it was unclear if the agency will have funding to do the international programs.

"We're still working on that," Brandes said.

 Scott on Thursday met with 10 Senators and held a press conference with reporters where he ripped legislators for proposing cuts to Enterprise Florida, which he says is critical to job creation in Florida.

"I feel like this Legislature is turning their backs on their constituents," Scott said. "I can tell you — I travel the state — people care about jobs."

Mayors, commissioners urge 'no' votes on homestead exemption

Mayors and commissioners in Tampa Bay are pressing their local senators to oppose a far-reaching proposal to increase Florida's homestead exemption from $50,000 to $75,000.

"I think we'll be fine, otherwise we wouldn't bring it up," Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said Friday.

The Senate maneuvered the bill in place for a floor vote after bypassing the Appropriations Committee and the Finance & Tax Committee -- even though the proposal has an updated fiscal impact of an estimated $644 million on local governments.

Lobbying by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman helped convince Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, to oppose the bill, a linchpin in budget negotiations between the Senate and House and a top priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes.

"It would be devastating to the Tampa Bay area," Rouson said Friday morning after talking with the two mayors, Pinellas Commissioners Janet Long and Ken Welch and Hillsborough Commissioner Les Miller. Rouson said he believed dire warnings that the higher exemption would result in a sharp decline in public services, including police and fire protection.

UPDATE: The Senate Rules Committee passed the bill on a 9-2 vote Friday over the united opposition of counties, cities, special districts and a statewide fire chiefs association, setting the stage for a Senate floor vote. Two Democrats, Sens. Bill Montford of Tallahassee and Lauren Book of Plantation, joined seven Republicans in voting for the bill. Two other Democrats voted no and Republican Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater was absent. The bill was amended to reduce the potential revenue loss to about 30 small rural counties that are at or near the highest property tax rates they can levy.

Previous: A higher homestead exemption? Good for homeowners, bad for counties

The loss of two members of the Senate Republican Caucus adds some suspense to the issue. The GOP has 23 votes in the Senate, with Sen. Dorothy Hukill absent and former Sen. Frank Artiles having resigned a week ago. As a proposed constitutional amendment, the homestead exemption increase needs 24 votes to get on the 2018 general election ballot. 

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, supports the higher homestead exemption, which is sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, is viewed by counties and cities as a long-time ally. Even if all 23 Republicans vote yes on the Senate floor, one Democrat would have to vote yes for the proposal to pass. Rouson reiterated Friday that his position won't change: He's opposed.

State revenue experts have estimated that passage of the bill would result in a loss of $795 million in annual property tax revenue to counties, cities and special districts. The proposal (HJR 7105) cleared the House on Wednesday on an 81-35 vote.

Read the latest Senate staff analysis of the bill here.

Mike Fernandez sends warning: 'arrogant' legislators who Miami support casino expansion 'will not be ignored'

Mike Fernandez@MaryEllenKlas

In an email drafted last night from his I-phone, Miami health care company founder Mike Fernandez sent a strongly-worded letter to Sen. Bill Galvano and Rep. Jose Felix Diaz Wednesday night blasting their decision to "dump casino expansion efforts on the South Florida community." He loaded it with a warning.

"The arrogance of those in public office and who set their priorities ahead of the needs and desires of their constituents, will not be ignored,'' he wrote. "Be assured that the efforts to be led by South Florida's leading social and business leaders will make their weight be felt.'' 

Fernandez, chairman of MBF Partners, a health care company that has run state medical managed care contracts, is one of the most prolific Republican donors in the state. He cited this Miami Herald story and added his voice to that of Armando Codina, the Miami developer and community leader who told the Miami Herald in an interview on Tuesday that the decision by House and Senate gambling negotiators to back a Miami casino was short-sighted. 

"They are voting for something without any understanding of the impact and without any idea of where the money is going to go. It's a crime being perpetrated on the City of Miami."

Fernandez noted contradictions too.

"Once again it is cynical to see those elected officials who proclaim their devotion to faith based initiatives, contradict themselves when simultaneously supporting the expansion of programs that erode the God-like values which are the foundation of our Nation and State,'' he wrote. 


Here is the full letter he shared with the Miami Herald: 

Continue reading "Mike Fernandez sends warning: 'arrogant' legislators who Miami support casino expansion 'will not be ignored'" »

'Schools of hope' compromise hatched -- in secret

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Lawmakers secretly struck a tentative compromise Thursday on one of the most consequential education reforms of the 2017 session — a $200 million program to help students who attend perpetually failing K-12 public schools in Florida.

Specifics of the proposed deal were not released, as some of it was still being finalized, House and Senate pre-K-12 education budget chairmen said late Thursday. But the general description of the agreement was enough to earn initial support from some House Democrats, who had — until very recently — staunchly opposed the concept.

“We’re happy they listened to us and a lot of the ideas we had in committee,” said Broward County Rep. Shevrin Jones, the top Democrat on the House Education Committee, who helped negotiate the compromise on the Democrats’ behalf. “We’re happy with the direction they’re going in.”

That direction, Jones said, involves the House seeking middle ground with what school superintendents have asked for and with the Senate’s more blended proposal: Provide more financial aid and other resources to failing traditional public schools first, before implementing more drastic options, such as inviting competition from new charter schools.

More here.

Photo credit: Altamonte Springs Republican Sen. David Simmons and Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. -- the Senate and House pre-K-12 education budget chairmen -- talk with reporters after a budget conference committee meeting on April 27, 2017. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau.

House considers letting elected officials have secret meetings


The Florida Constitution and the state’s famed Sunshine Law give residents the right to know about and observe meetings held by the elected officials who represent them and make decisions on their behalf.

But a bill going to the state House floor on Friday would effectively thwart significant aspects of that constitutional guarantee and potentially render it meaningless by allowing local elected officials — from city and county commissioners to school board members — to meet behind closed doors and discuss public matters in secret.

The proposed law (HB 843) from Naples Republican Rep. Byron Donalds would exempt from open meetings requirements any gatherings between two members of a local, county or state agency board or commission. Those officials wouldn’t have to give any notice about their meeting and they wouldn’t have to keep any records of what they discuss. (The exemption would apply to boards or commissions with at least five members.)

Donalds argues that the Sunshine Law needs to be more practical in letting local elected officials conduct public business.

RELATED: “House votes to make secret the applicants for top college, university posts”

“If we’re going to be honest with ourselves and have a balance between proper governance and transparency, it is incumbent on local officials to be able to talk with each other so they come up with the best solutions possible,” said Donalds, whose wife, Erika, is an elected school board member in Collier County.

“This is where we have to be adults about this,” Donalds added. “Not every conversation is ready for public consumption.”

More here.

Watered-down deregulation of trauma care on tap in Florida House

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The Florida House is expected to pass watered-down legislation meant to increase the number of trauma centers in the state on Friday.

Trauma centers, which handle the worst, most time-sensitive injuries like gunshot wounds and violent car crashes, are limited under state law based on the need in each part of the state. State Rep. Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, had proposed to get rid of limits statewide.

But following criticism -- including from two doctors who treated Pulse nightclub shooting victims -- the legislation (HB 1077) was narrowed. Instead, the House on Friday will vote to take the power of determining how many centers each community needs away from the Department of Health and give it to the Legislature.

The reason: Supporters say there are parts of the state where there aren't enough trauma centers, including the Jacksonville region.

"To me, this is an access issue," said Rep. Travis Cummings, R-Orange Park, whose district includes Orange Park Hospital, a privately owned facility whose trauma center was shut down after a judge ruled the health department should not have allowed it to open.

Safety net hospitals and trauma doctors say the number of trauma centers should be limited to allow them to have the most experience possible.

The more frequently doctors do something, they say, the better they get at it.

"What happens if you or I is involved in a motor vehicle crash and we get taken to a hospital that doesn't have the experience?" one such doctor, Michael Cheatham of the Orlando Regional Medical Center, said. "Our survival will drop because we're not receiving the care that we need."

Similar legislation has not moved in the Senate.

Trumbull's bill would set the maximum number of trauma centers in each region of the state based on population. Under the bill, Under the bill, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties would need four trauma centers between them and Broward should have two.

"This is creating much more structure within the trauma statute," Trumbull said.

Photo by Scott Keeler | Tampa Bay Times

April 27, 2017

Two activists from women's marches will compete in Broward house race



President Donald Trump’s election has given wave to a new group of Democratic activists who are interested in channeling their anger into running for office.

And in Broward, two of those activists appear poised to battle each other.

Two Fort Lauderdale residents who organized women’s marches protesting Trump’s inauguration will face off in a Democratic primary in Broward in 2018.

Emma Collum, director of Women’s March Florida who organized Floridians marching in Washington D.C., said she will file next week for House District 93, a seat now held by Republican George Moraitis who is term limited. Collum is a lawyer.

Stephanie Myers, who organized the Jan. 21 rally at downtown Miami’s Bayfront Park, filed to run on April 24. Myers works in public relations supporting a medical practice.

Both Collum and Myers live in Fort Lauderdale, but outside the district and said they will move to the district. Neither has run for public office in the past.

Collum said she doesn’t think it will be awkward to have two activists from women’s marches compete for the same seat.

“I think it's really exciting that so many people are excited to get out there and be active in our community, she said. “At the end, people need to get to know the candidates and make a heartfelt decision which one is going to the candidate to make what has been a predominantly Republican district into a Democratic one.”

Emily's List, the national group that backs pro-choice women running for office, has heard from more than 12,000 women who are interested in running in 2018, spokeswoman Alexandra De Luca said. That's a major increase compared to the 2016 cycle when Emily's List heard from less than 1,000 women. De Luca said competition between female candidates is a positive sign.

"The fact that we have so many women across the country raising their hand and coming forward -- 12,000 -- is a good problem to have," she said. "It's encouraging to have a dialogue among Democrats around issues that are important to women and families."

Two other Democrats filed earlier this year: Jonathon May, Nova Southeastern University director of student affairs and an Oakland Park resident and John McDonald, a freelance journalist and precinct committee man who lives in  Pompano Beach. McDonald ran for House District 6 in 2010.

No Republicans have filed but Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca, a longtime district resident, said he is strongly considering a bid.

The district is one of the main targets for Broward Democrats in 2018. Voter registration numbers show about 36 percent are Republicans, 35 percent Democrats and 29 percent independents. Hillary Clinton narrowly lost the district.

This post has been corrected to reflect McDonald's previous race. Photo of Jody Finver, in the foreground, of Coconut Grove takes pictures during an organizing meeting of anti-Trump activists last Sunday at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. 


Senate confirms Miami's Alex Acosta as labor secretary


via @elizabethrkoh

The Senate voted to confirm Alexander Acosta as labor secretary Thursday, elevating the Florida law school dean and former U.S. attorney for Florida’s southern district to fill one of the last of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet-level vacancies.

The 60-38 vote largely fell along party lines, though eight Democrats – including Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana and Catherine Cortez-Masto of Nevada – voted in favor of his confirmation. One independent, Sen. Angus King of Vermont, also voted for Acosta’s confirmation.

Acosta, a Miami native, is the only Hispanic to join Trump’s Cabinet.

“Acosta’s leadership at the Labor Department will serve as a much-needed change from what we saw under the previous administration,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

That’s what bothers critics about Acosta, currently the dean at Florida International University’s law school. He drew the ire of labor unions during his confirmation process and faced controversy over a deal his office approved while he was Miami’s U.S. attorney.

Keep reading here.

Awaiting Trump executive order, Bill Nelson files bill to block more oil drilling


via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - In a pre-emptive strike, Sen. Bill Nelson and other Democrats today filed legislation to block the Trump administration from opening up additional areas to offshore drilling.

“Drilling near Florida’s coast poses a direct threat to Florida’s environment and multi-billion-dollar, tourism-driven economy,” Nelson said in a statement.

The action comes a day before President Trump is expected to sign an executive order calling for a review of drilling. Nelson says that would require the Interior Department to alter the current five-year oil and gas leasing plan that took effect earlier this year and expires in 2022. That plan prohibits oil and gas drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico or off the Atlantic Coast.

The new legislation would prohibit changes to the current plan. Nelson had previously filed legislation to extend the ban to 2027.

Dwight Bullard won't run for Artiles' seat in Miami-Dade



Former state Sen. Dwight Bullard said Thursday he won't run for Sen. Frank Artiles' seat in Miami-Dade.

"After much thought and personal reflection, I have decided at this time not to run for this office," said Bullard, a Democrat who said he will focus on his role as political director for the New Florida Majority.

Gov. Rick Scott hasn't set a date for a special election yet and a spokeswoman didn't indicate his timeline Thursday. Artiles resigned earlier this month after using racist and sexist language toward African-American senators. 

In addition to our earlier list of individuals who said they will or might run, political consultant Christian Ulvert said he will run and State Rep. Daisy Baez said she is very likely to run and will decide this weekend. Both Ulvert and Baez are Democrats.

District 40 in southwest Miami-Dade is a heavily Hispanic district that leans left but it is expected to be a competitive race.

- with Mary Ellen Klas