November 21, 2014

U.S. Supreme Court denies stay in Bainter case

The U.S. Supreme Court won't keep secret documents used in Florida's redistricting case out of the public eye.

Gainesville political consultant Pat Bainter had asked the high court to keep the documents sealed while he appeals a Florida Supreme Court ruling mandating their release. But Justice Clarence Thomas denied the request Friday.

The documents will be made public on Dec. 1.

The emails and trial transcripts were part of a legal challenge to the Florida Legislature’s 2012 redistricting plan. In that case, Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis rejected the Congressional map and said Republican consultants like Bainter had engaged in a "secret, organized campaign" to create gerrymandered districts.

Several voters rights groups asked for the documents to be unsealed. But Bainter has been fighting to keep them private, arguing that their release would both reveal trade secrets and violate his first First Amendment rights.

FSU trustees praise Thrasher's response to shooting

In the same room where he was jeered and heckled by Florida State students as a candidate for university president, John Thrasher drew widespread praise Friday for being a reassuring presence in the aftermath of Thursday's shooting at the campus library.

Only 10 days on the job, Thrasher attended his first meeting of FSU's board of trustees Friday, a day after troubled gunman Myron May shot and wounded three students, one critically, before being shot and killed by university police. Thrasher has met numerous times with FSU students, attended a candlelight vigil and personally reopened Robert Manning Strozier Library Friday morning as 100 students waited to get inside to study for pre-holiday exams.

"I remember this room," Thrasher said at the Turnbull Conference Center in opening comments to the trustees who endured criticism for hiring a lawyer with a conservative record best known for a long career as a legislator, lobbyist and political insider. "The campus, in my opinion, is coming back together. We hurt. We all hurt for the folks that are there in the hospital."

FSU trustees watched a video of a Thursday night candlelight vigil in which students sang Amazing Grace and Thrasher told them: "We're stronger. We're more passionate and we care about each other." The video ended with the playing of the FSU song, Hymn to the Garnet and Gold.

On the Tallahassee campus, students' views of Thrasher are not so effusive. But in random interviews Friday, some said he improved his standing with the student body with his response to the shooting.

Thrasher said FSU football players will wear symbols of ribbons on their helmets for Saturday's nationally televised home game against Boston College. He said actor Burt Reynolds, who played football for the Seminoles, will throw down the spear at the end of pre-game ceremonies and FSU is asking the network to show the three-minute video of the candlelight vigil.

"Getting to back to business is an important thing," said Stefano Cavallaro, FSU's student government president and university trustee.

Trustee Ed Burr of Jacksonville, who chaired the presidential search committee, expressed the view that Thrasher's handling of the crisis vindicated their decision. "I doubt that 10 days into it we'd be tested on the credibility of our choice," Burr said, "but we were."


November 20, 2014

Florida Supreme Court grants 10-day stay for secret redistricting docs

The clock is running out on political consultant Pat Bainter.

The Florida Supreme Court has ordered the release of emails and trial transcripts used in the recent redistricting case -- documents Bainter considers private and has been battling to keep out of the public eye. 

Earlier this week, Bainter asked the court to keep the records sealed so he could appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

But Florida's high court is giving him just 10 days, according to an order issued Thursday. 

The order states that "no further stay will be granted."

"This court has unanimously concluded that the documents and testimony must be unsealed, and the public's right to view these materials that the trial court relied on in rendering its final judgment has been delayed long enough," Justice Barbara Pariente wrote in a concurring opinion.

That means unless a further stay is granted by the U.S. Supreme Court, the records will be unsealed at 3 p.m. on Dec. 1.

In her opinion, Pariente seemed doubtful that the nation's high court would take the case.

"I fail to see any federal question as a basis for obtaining certiorari review in the Supreme Court" she wrote, adding that she had granted the 10-day stay "only out of deference to the United States Supreme Court."

Is 50 the new zero in Orange County schools? Jeb Bush's claim faces PolitiFact's Truth-O-Meter

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said in a speech that we shouldn’t worry so much about students’ self-esteem when it comes to setting grades.

And he wagged his finger at Orange County, Florida.

"This morning, over 213 million Chinese students went to school and nobody debated whether academic expectations should be lowered in order to protect their students’ self esteem," he said in his keynote to the National Summit on Education Reform on Nov. 20, 2014. "Yet in Orange County, Fla., last week I read that debate actually did occur at a school board meeting. The school board voted to make it impossible for a student to receive a grade below 50. You get 50 out of 100 just for showing up and signing your name. This was done  -- and I quote here from a local official -- ‘so that the students do not lose all hope.’ "

Bush went on to cite statistics that showed students in Shanghai far outranking their peers in the United States in reading and math.

"An overriding concern for self-esteem instead of high expectations does not get you to No. 1," he said. "It gets you to No. 21."

So is 50 the new zero in Orange County schools? PolitiFact went in search of answers.

Obama's False claim about his position on executive order for immigration

resident Barack Obama is on the verge of announcing significant executive actions that could affect at least a portion of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants residing in the United States.

As is often the case these days, rumors and pieces of the plan have floated through the media for a couple weeks now, and Obama appears ready to announce the full details Thursday night in an address to the nation.

The decision to act unilaterally without going through Congress is not only controversial, but could it also be a change in direction for the Obama administration?

Obama doesn’t see it that way. The Democratic leader was asked about his immigration plan during his trip to Australia for the G20 Summit on Nov. 16.

Jim Avila of ABC asked, "In 2010, when asked by immigration reform advocates to stop deportations and act alone on providing legal status for the undocumented, you said, ‘I’m president, I’m not king. I can’t do these things just by myself.’ In 2013, you said, ‘I’m not the emperor of the United States. My job is to execute laws that are passed.’ Mr. President, what has changed since then?"

Obama replied: "Well, actually, my position hasn’t changed. When I was talking to the advocates, their interest was in me, through executive action, duplicating the legislation that was stalled in Congress. And getting a comprehensive deal of the sort that is in the Senate legislation, for example, does extend beyond my legal authorities. There are certain things I cannot do. There are certain limits to what falls within the realm of prosecutorial discretion in terms of how we apply existing immigration laws."

First, Obama is revising history. While at one point he used the "I am not a king" line to rebut those who asked why his administration wasn’t doing enough to address comprehensive reform, as you’ll see, he continued to use it when asked about other, more limited uses with his executive powers.

Second, taking any additional executive actions, no matter how limited, is still a reversal from his positions over the past few years.

Turn to Steve Contorno's fact-check from PolitiFact to read more.

Rep. Gaetz recalls Myron May, 'caring' classmate

State Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, knew Myron May, the man identified by police as the gunman in the FSU shootings, from their days working together in student government at Florida State.

May was a member of the Student Senate and Gaetz was president of the Insight political party on campus. The Insight party was focused on community outreach programs, and May got involved in the party’s community service committee.

“I knew him as a sensitive and service-oriented person,” Gaetz said. “You just have to wonder what happens in people’s lives that can lead to such depravity.”

May’s Facebook page noted that he was a member of Phi Beta Sigma, an African-American fraternity, where the identities of new pledges were kept secret until a public ceremony. Gaetz recalled May wore a shirt with the nickname “Sensitive Joe” across the back at a Sigma pledgeship ceremony.

“He was such a caring individual,” Gaetz said. “Of all the people I knew at Florida State, he would be at the bottom of my list of someone who would be aggressive in any way.”


Another South Florida government will have to hold 2015 budget do-over vote


Make that two local governments that will have to adopt their 2015 budgets and property-tax rates again — two months after the new fiscal year began — after bungling public notices in September.

The city of Miami Beach has been cited by a state agency for a mistake in a newspaper advertisement that underestimated how much revenue would come into an area of the city targeted for redevelopment. The Florida Department of Revenue also dinged Miami-Dade County this week for making its own advertising error.

Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales informed Mayor Philip Levine and city commissioners in a memo Thursday that a do-over of the Sept. 30 budget and tax-rate votes is needed — along with another public hearing — in the next two weeks. Morales asked for it all to take place Dec. 2.

“My prediction: It will last 30 seconds,” Levine told the Miami Herald on Thursday.

Like with the county, there will be no need to mail new tax notices to property owners, because the numbers listed in them were correct, according to Morales.

“Nothing is changing,” Morales told the Herald. “The only issue is that we accurately need to reflect the statutory requirement.”

More here.

Police say FSU gunman Myron May was 'struggling psychologically'

Myron May FSUMyron May, the 31-year-old Florida State University graduate who died in a hail of police fire early Friday, was "struggling psychologically" and "in a state of crisis," Tallahassee police said Thursday.

May was shot and killed by police after he returned to the library of his alma mater in the middle of the night and started shooting students and a library desk clerk. Police say he acted alone. 

“Mr. May had a written journal and videos where he expressed fears of being targeted and he wanted to bring attention to this issue of targeting,'' said Tallahassee Police Chief Michael DeLeo at a news conference 15 hours after the shootings.

"Preliminary review of these documents and videos demonstrate that Mr. May was in a state of crisis,” DeLeo said. His "sense of being" in the community "was not what people would say is normal status and he was searching for something.”

The initial investigation by Tallahassee police and the FSU police department concluded that May had attempted to enter the library just before 12:30 a.m. on Thursday morning but never got past the front desk. He shot Strozier employee Nathan Scott in the leg, and then headed outside where he was immediately confronted by police. 

What happened next is not clear, and police say is the timeline is still under investigation.

Photo: Myron May, FSU student ID

Continue reading "Police say FSU gunman Myron May was 'struggling psychologically' " »

Fact-checking immigration, including claims by Marco Rubio and Debbie Wasserman Schultz

President Barack Obama will speak to the nation about immigration on Thursday night, unveiling a plan to prevent deportations for broad swathes of people living in the United States illegally.

We don’t yet know the exact details of Obama’s plan, but preliminary news reports indicated the White House could shield roughly 4 million to 5 million people from the threat of deportation. If 11 million illegal immigrants are in the United States, as several estimates suggest, that would mean temporary legal status for roughly 35 to 45 percent.

While we’re waiting to hear concrete details of the actual plan, we thought it would be a good time to review some key fact-checks on immigration. We’ve selected 12 reports that shed light on Obama’s speech and the topic of immigration. (Browse all of our fact-checks on immigration including claims by Jeb Bush.)

Turn to Angie Drobnic Holan's report from PolitiFact.

John Thrasher's Mostly False claim about Koch donations

Long before John Thrasher became president of Florida State University on Nov. 10, students were expressing opposition to his appointment, many of them charging that Thrasher had ties to "special interests."

As the Republican former state senator begins his presidency, we decided to look back at a comment Thrasher made during a forum with FSU students and faculty on Sept. 15.

Thrasher became defensive when questioned about his ties to Charles and David Koch, the billionaire libertarian brothers who have spent freely on anti-regulation causes. At one point, a graduate student asked Thrasher about campaign contributions he had received from the brothers. The former lawmaker from St. Augustine denied receiving any.

"I don't have a relationship with the Koch brothers," Thrasher said. "You say I've got contributions from them? You go look at my contributions, I've never received any contributions from the Koch brothers."

Did Thrasher get any campaign contributions from the Koch brothers? Here’s the full story from Joshua Gillin at PolitiFact Florida.

AP: FSU gunman was lawyer, FSU graduate

Myron MayFrom the Associated Press: 

The gunman who shot three people at Florida State University's library early Thursday before being killed by police was a lawyer who graduated from the school, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press.

The official said the shooter was Myron May, who graduated from Florida State before attending Texas Tech University's law school. The official requested anonymity because he was not authorized to release the name.

May was fatally shot early Thursday after he shot three people at the Florida State library. Two are hospitalized and one has been released.

Abigail Taunton, who runs a foster home in the Florida Panhandle, told the AP that May had recently been staying at a guest house she owns. She said police interviewed her husband, David, after the shooting.

"He's just a boy our kids grew up with that we let stay in one of our guest houses for a while," she said. "He's moving back home from Texas and we were trying to help him get on his feet.

"It's horrifying."

Photo: Myron May, Facebook

Continue reading "AP: FSU gunman was lawyer, FSU graduate" »

Miami Rep. Diaz-Balart named chairman of House appropriations subcommittee


U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican from Miami, was named chairman of one of the subcommittees in the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which helps dictate federal spending.

Diaz-Balart will chair the Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations. In the current Congress, Diaz-Balart has served as vice chair for an appropriations financial services subcommittee, and has been a member of two other appropriations subcommittees.

The transportation subcommittee oversees spending for housing and transportation issues, including the Federal Maritime Commission, the National Transportation Safety Board and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.

In a statement Thursday, Diaz-Balart said:

“I am honored to have been chosen to chair the Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. I look forward to working with House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers and other committee members to best solve our nation’s transportation and housing issues. It is of utmost importance that we prioritize transportation initiatives that will improve our local communities, while also providing housing solutions for those most in need. I will work tirelessly to uphold the high standards established by former subcommittee chairmen, including the Honorable Tom Latham and our very own South Floridian, the Honorable Bill Lehman.”

Rep. Diaz-Balart scores transportation, housing budget chairmanship

From a press release

WASHINGTON – Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) released the following statement after the House Republican Steering Committee approved his appointment as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations in the 114th Congress.

“I am honored to have been chosen to chair the Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development. I look forward to working with House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers and other committee members to best solve our nation’s transportation and housing issues. It is of utmost importance that we prioritize transportation initiatives that will improve our local communities, while also providing housing solutions for those most in need. I will work tirelessly to uphold the high standards established by former Subcommittee Chairmen, including the Honorable Tom Latham and our very own South Floridian, the Honorable Bill Lehman.

“I would like to thank Chairman Rogers for this opportunity and am grateful for his continued friendship and leadership.”

Student says newly-check library books saved him from gunman's bullets

Jason Derfuss was in the Strozier Library Wednesday night checking out a stack of books.

When the gunman aimed and fired at Derfuss five feet away, the bullet missed the FSU senior and lodged inside his backpack and in the books

He never knew what happened -- until three hours later.

Among the books was Great Medieval Thoughts by the 14th Century English dissident and philosopher, John Wyclif. Among his achievements, Wyclif was among the first to translate the Scriptures into Middle English. 

Derfuss concludes it was devine intervention that saved him Wednesday. He described it with pictures on a public post on his Facebook page:

"Earlier tonight there was a shooting at FSU, right as I was leaving Strozier. I didn't know this at the time, but the Shooter targeted me first. The shot I heard behind me I did not feel, nor did it hit me at all. He was about 5 feet from me, but he hit my books.

"Books one minute earlier I had checked out of the library, books that should not have stopped the bullet. But they did. I learned this about 3 hours after it happened, I never thought to check my bag. I assumed I wasn't a target, I assumed I was fine.

"The truth is I was almost killed tonight and God intervened. I know conceptually He can do all things, but to physically witness the impossible and to be surrounded by such grace is indescribable. To God be the glory, forever and ever, Amen."

Lone gunman shot, killed after injuring three at crowded FSU library


A gunman shattered the calm of a crowded Florida State University library early Thursday morning, wounding three people, one critically, before he was shot and killed by campus police, authorities said.


The gunman, who has not been identified, walked inside the entrance to FSU’s Strozier Library about 12:30 a.m. and opened fire, Tallahassee Police Department spokesman David Northway told reporters at the scene.


Three victims were all students. Hospital officials say one of the students is in critical condition, the other is fair. A third student was “grazed” by a bullet, treated and released at the scene, Northway said. Their names have not been released.


FSU campus police confronted the gunman just outside the library building and ordered him to drop his weapon, Northway said. The gunman ignored the command and fired at least one shot at police officers. FSU police then shot and killed him.


FSU President John Thrasher said in a statement that the shooting was an “isolated incident” and Northway said police “have no other indications to show there is a threat at this time.” More here. 


November 19, 2014

Scott's low-key second inaugural: no ball, just BBQs

Gov. Rick Scott's second inauguration will be a decidedly low-key affair with a statewide "Jobs Jamboree" tour starting Dec. 1. There are no plans for an inaugural ball or parade in Tallahassee, but instead Scott will attend a series of informal barbecues hosted by Florida businesses in Tampa, Miami, Fort Myers, Orlando, Jacksonville and Pensacola during December. Details on specific events will be announced later.

The day of Scott's inauguration, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, will include traditional events such as an inaugural prayer breakfast followed by the official swearing-in ceremony outside the Old Capitol and a "small" evening reception at the Governor's Mansion. First Lady Ann Scott will host a ceremony honoring military service members and their families in Tallahassee on Jan. 6.

In a statement, Scott said: "We are focused on three things – jobs, jobs and jobs ...We know not every Floridian can come to Tallahassee, so we want to host events across Florida to highlight our economic growth and send a signal to the world that Florida is competing to become the global center for job creation.” 

All inaugural activities will be paid for by contributions to the Republican Party of Florida. The inaugural chairs are Brian and Kathryn Ballard, Darlene and Jerry Jordan, Fred and Autumn Karlinsky and Bill and Lys Rubin. Ballard, Karlinsky and Rubin are all prominent Tallahassee lobbyists. Darlene Jordan, a Palm Beach resident, was finance chair of Scott's re-election campaign.


Top lawmakers tout new parenting program


At their first joint press conference since becoming the state's top lawmakers, Republican Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli touted a new parenting program that started in Brevard County.

The program, It's Time to be a Parent Again, puts on seminars meant to help parents discipline their children. Featured speakers at the seminars include prison inmates and the state attorney, who leads a discussion on parental rights.

"The sheriff or the chief of police shouldn't be the chief law enforcement officer in your child's life," Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey said.

The purpose of the news conference, Ivey said, was to announce that the program would soon be expanding into Polk, Osceloa and Seminole counties. It has already served more than 2,000 parents in Brevard, he added.

Gardiner and Crisafulli, who both represent parts of Brevard County, said virtually nothing during the press conference.

"An opportunity to empower parents is important," Crisafulli told reporters after the event.

But one thing was made clear: Central Florida, and Brevard County in particular, is going to get a lot of legislative love over the next two years.

HHS secretary: Florida will be crucial to 2015 health care enrollment

Florida will play a crucial role in national efforts to sign people up for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said Monday during an appearance at Florida International University.

“Florida actually has a very large uninsured population and so it’s a place where many of the people we're trying to reach are. In addition, though, Florida led the nation in terms of those enrolling in the federal marketplace last year,” Burwell said during a panel discussion with local healthcare advocates and nonprofit groups at FIU’s College of Law in West Miami-Dade.

Nearly a million Floridians signed up for coverage in 2014. Enrollment for 2015 coverage began Saturday.

HHS is planning radio and TV ads in South Florida and around the country to raise awareness about enrollment, especially among Hispanics, Burwell added.

More than 100,000 people submitted an application using or on the first day of enrollment, according to HHS. Figures were not available for Florida alone.

More here from Nicholas Nehamas. 

South Florida Dems to Obama: Venezuelans should be part of executive action on immigration


Two South Florida Democratic members of Congress have penned a letter to President Obama asking him to specifically include Venezuelans in his planned executive action on immigration.

U.S. Reps. Joe Garcia of Miami and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, wrote in the letter Tuesday that Obama should provide "administrative relief protections for thousands of Venezuelans who have fled Venezuela and are fearful of returning."

"Political and economic conditions in Venezuela have been declining for years, but now the Venezuelan people are facing a government that would rather repress and demonize its own citizens than engage in dialogue to address the serious problems facing the country," they said.

Any action could apply to Venezuelans who arrived in the U.S. before December 2011, the cutoff date for the Senate immigration-reform bill yet to be taken up by the House of Representatives, the letter says. Or Obama could authorize "delayed enforced departure," a protection similar to the one granted to people with Temporary Protected Status, or TPS.

"Their inclusion in administrative relief falls in line with the purpose of such action which should be to provide relief from deportation to those who have established lives and families in the U.S. and whose deportations would rip apart communities."

South Florida is home to the largest number of Venezuelans outside of the South American country -- including a large contingent in Wasserman Schultz's hometown, which is known as Westonzuela. Garcia, who lost reelection earlier this month to Republican Carlos Curbelo, has filed legislation to give Venezuelans special immigration status, but it has gone nowhere.

November 18, 2014

Advertising error means budget redo for Miami-Dade


Miami-Dade County government thought it had finished with its 2015 budget in September, after two months of rewriting, six town-hall style meetings and two public hearings that culminated with votes from county commissioners.

Not so fast.

A state agency is forcing the county to adopt its property-tax rate and budget again, nearly two months after the start of the Oct. 1 fiscal year.

The reason: Miami-Dade messed up a single number in a newspaper advertisement in mid-September detailing its proposed taxes. As a result, the county is making plans to hold a new budget vote — public hearing and all — in the next few weeks, perhaps on Dec. 4.

The numbers commissioners relied on to vote were correct, according to the county. So were the notices mailed to taxpayers about their 2015 bills, so they won’t be sent again.

But the Florida Department of Revenue, which polices local government tax notices, found that Miami-Dade incorrectly advertised the total amount of property-tax revenue it expects to collect in 2015. That inaccuracy misled the public, according to the state, so the county must rectify its actions within 15 days. Otherwise, Florida could withold tax revenues from Miami-Dade.

“Your taxing authority must correct these errors immediately,” the revenue department wrote Monday in a letter to the county.

More here.