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March 22, 2017

Miami-Dade-backed legislation cracking down on 'rogue' condo associations advances

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A plan from Miami-Dade lawmakers to penalize fraud and abuse in condominium associations earned unanimous initial approval in House and Senate committees this week.

The bills, most notably, impose new criminal penalties for falsifying association documents, committing fraud in association elections and refusing to turn over administrative records, among other reforms.

"A lot of these reforms are a long time coming," said Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami, who is sponsoring the Senate bill (SB 1682) with Sen. René García, R-Hialeah. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 8-0 to advance their bill Wednesday.

MORE: "Miami-Dade lawmakers want criminal penalties for fraud and abuse by condo directors"

García said some condo associations have "gone a little rogue; it's gotten out of control."

"There are hundreds of people living in condos who don't feel they have a voice," he said. "We, as elected members, represent a constituency and these board members also represent a constituency. There should be accountability measures in place to ensure they take care of the monies of the association and the residents of the association."

The Florida Bar opposes the provisions creating new criminal penalties, fearing it could be a "major disincentive" to volunteers who serve on condo boards, attorney William Sklar said.

Rodríguez said the criminal penalties are a necessity, though, because "people think there are violations already when there are not in existing law."

"Criminal penalties allow local law enforcement to do what they’re willing to do -- which is, if an election is stolen, to get involved," Rodríguez said.

A similar House bill -- HB 1237, from Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami -- got unanimous approval from the Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee on Tuesday. Both bills each have two more committee hearings before they could reach the floor.

Many of the proposed reforms stem from recommendations in a Miami-Dade grand jury report, which came after el Nuevo Herald and Univision 23 published a series of investigative stories one year ago on condo abuses in South Florida — revealing electoral fraud, falsification of signatures, conflicts of interest, embezzlement and cases of fraudulent bidding. The series also exposed the lack of enforcement by authorities, from local police departments who refused to investigate allegations of fraud, to widespread negligence at the state agency in charge of enforcing condo laws and regulations and investigating complaints.

El Nuevo Herald reporter Brenda Medina and Univision 23 reporter Erika Carrillo contributed to this report.

Photo credit: Hundreds of Miami-Dade County condominium owners marched in protest in the city of Doral on April 16, 2016. Roberto Koltun / el Nuevo Herald

Constitution Commission announces hearings in Orlando, Miami, Boca Raton and Pensacola

From a release:

Constitution Commission Chairman Carlos Beruff today announced the first four scheduled stops on the statewide “Floridians Speak, We Listen” tour being hosted by the 2017-2018 Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC).  The Commission will be at the University of Central Florida (UCF) in Orange County on Wednesday, March 29 from 5-8 p.m.; Florida International University (FIU) in Miami-Dade County on Thursday, April 6 from 5-8 p.m.; Florida Atlantic University (FAU) in Palm Beach County on Friday, April 7 from 9 a.m.-noon; and the University of West Florida (UWF) in Escambia County on Wednesday, April 12 from 4-7 p.m. (central time).

Chairman Carlos Beruff, said, “When Governor Rick Scott appointed me as Chair of this Commission, my first order of business was to ensure Floridians are actively involved in this historic and important process. I am proud to announce our 'Floridians Speak, We Listen' tour, where we will get input from Florida families on the issues that matter to them. This historic process gives Florida voters an opportunity to change the framework of our government and I encourage all interested Floridians to attend a public hearing and make their voices heard.”

Confirmed public hearing dates, times and locations are provided below. Additional tour stops will be announced soon.

Continue reading "Constitution Commission announces hearings in Orlando, Miami, Boca Raton and Pensacola " »

Republicans accused of advancing 'union-busting' proposal with little chance at becoming law



Florida’s public-sector labor unions — which represent thousands of workers ranging from school teachers to public utility linemen — would have to convince their members to pay up or else risk being shut down, under a controversial plan by House Republicans that is now headed to the floor despite little chance at becoming law.

HB 11 is a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, but it drew resounding backlash from Democrats and labor leaders who say the measure is nothing more than a politically motivated attempt to bust up unions.

It passed the Government Accountability Committee on a 14-8, party-line vote Wednesday, its second of only two committee stops.

Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, argues his proposal is about “transparency and democracy” because it would ensure labor unions serving government workers are accountable to and financially supported by at least a majority of the workers the union is supposed to represent.

“I think that’s a good thing to be responsive,” Plakon said, adding: “Public-sector unions should have to operate in a transparent fashion, under democratic majority-rule. ... This empowers members of the bargaining unit and it also pushes the unions to have to respect their members by asking for dues.”

But Florida is a right-to-work state, so employees cannot be forced to join or pay dues to a union. Union leaders say Plakon’s proposal contradicts that state law, and it would essentially force labor organizations to continuously “campaign” for enough dues-paying members — or risk being shut down.

“I think it’s very clear that this bill is about politics, not about policy,” Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, said. “This bill is about union-busting, plain and simple.”

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

White House angles for Diaz-Balart's vote on health care

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In a story Wednesday about the White House leaning on House Republicans to back the GOP healthcare bill, The New York Times reported that Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart used the hot political moment to reiterate that President Donald Trump promised to undo the Obama administration's Cuba policy.

For other House members, the health bill has been an opportunity to deal. As part of the discussions, Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, Republican of Florida, made it clear to White House officials that he wanted assurances that the president would hold to his pledge to consider reversing President Barack Obama’s opening with Cuba, the White House official said. Mr. Diaz-Balart backed the measure in the Budget Committee last week, although the official said there had been no explicit discussion of trading his vote for a promise on Cuba.

(An earlier version of the story incorrectly said Trump had pledged to Diaz-Balart he'd reverse the Obama policy in return for his vote.)

Diaz-Balart has made no secret that he's brought up Cuba every time he's had a chance to speak to top White House personnel. He was particularly friendly during the transition with Vice President Mike Pence. But a source told the Miami Herald on Wednesday that the Trump administration has yet to make any assurances or commitments on Cuba.

Diaz-Balart's spokeswoman, Katrina Valdés, said in an email Wednesday to the Herald and the Tampa Bay Times that, on health care, the congressman "is still reviewing the recent changes to the bill and continues to negotiate with House Leadership about multiple aspects of the bill, including how the legislation handles older, low income constituents."

A vote is planned for Thursday.

--with Alex Leary

Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, el Nuevo Herald

Rubio remains noncomittal on GOP healthcare bill

via @learyreports

Sen. Marco Rubio declined on Wednesday to take a position on the GOP's Obamacare replacement bill, saying it is a "work in progress."

"By the time I give you a statement now, that bill could change in the next 12 hours and then I'm on record of supporting something that changed," Rubio said on Jacksonville radio station WOKV.

He's right that the bill could change before the end of the day as Speaker Paul Ryan, President Trump and others are trying to rally enough votes. "They've got their own drama going on over there," Rubio said of the House.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

PolitiFact Florida: Is the Center for Immigration Studies a hate group?

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@amysherman1 @politifactfl

The term "hate group" usually brings to mind groups like the Ku Klux Klan, which has targeted African-Americans for centuries, or Neo-Nazi groups that admire Adolf Hitler.

Not think tanks that focus on immigration.

Yet the Southern Poverty Law Center recently included the Center for Immigration Studies on its annual list of hate groups.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, the Center for Immigration Studies’ executive director, Mark Krikorian, argued that the label is misplaced and intended to suppress their viewpoint.

"The wickedness of the SPLC's blacklist lies in the fact that it conflates groups that really do preach hatred, such as the Ku Klux Klan and Nation of Islam, with ones that simply do not share the SPLC's political preferences," he wrote.

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s designation hasn’t gone unnoticed. In January, House Republicans in the Florida Legislature invited Krikorian to speak about refugees. House Democrats walked out of the hearing in protest.

PolitiFact has quoted Krikorian or other officials at his center in multiple articles about immigration. After reading Krikorian’s editorial -- in which he said the Southern Poverty Law Center’s complaints were trivial -- we decided to review the evidence for ourselves.

We found the case against the center is based on some of its associations rather than its current work.

But we want readers to review the evidence for themselves. Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

Acosta fields questions on Epstein sex case at Senate hearing

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Alex Acosta, President Donald' Trump's labor secretary nominee, got questions Wednesday at his Senate confirmation hearing about the sordid underage sex-ring case involving Palm Beach billionaire Jeffrey Epstein.

As U.S. attorney in Miami, Acosta -- now dean of Florida International University's law school -- signed off on a plea agreement that attorneys for Epstein's victims called a "sweetheart" deal.

Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democratic member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions committee, asked Acosta if he approved the deal despite opposition from prosecutors in his office.

Acosta called his office's involvement unusual, given that Epstein was charged by state prosecutors following a grand jury's recommendation.

"We deemed it necessary to become involved, and we early on had discussions within the office," Epstein said. "We decided...that Mr. Epstein should plead guilty to two years, register as a sexual offender and concede liability so the victims could get restitution. If that were done, the federal interest would be satisfied and we would defer to the state."

Acosta's office drafted a 53-page indictment that was never used. Declining to discuss specifics of the case, Acosta called it "pretty typical" to write up an indictment that "often does not consider the strength of the underlying case."

"'These are all the places we can go,'" Acosta said, describing a draft indictment. "Yet at the end of the day, based on the evidence, professionals within the prosecutor's office decide that a plea that guarantees that someone goes to jail, that guarantees that someone register generally, and that guarantees other outcomes, is a good thing."

Kaine asked again: Did his staff agree with cutting the deal?

"It was a broadly held decision, yes," Acosta said.

Acosta was introduced Wednesday by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, both Cuban-American Republicans like Acosta. If confirmed, Acosta would be the only Hispanic on Trump's Cabinet.

Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, asked Acosta about his time heading the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division -- particularly his foray into an Ohio voting-rights case days before the 2004 presidential election. Acosta sent an unsolicited letter to a judge siding with Republicans who challenged the eligibility of thousands of African-American voters.

"I want to ask you if you regret the decision to send that letter in 2004," Murray asked.

Acosta argued the letter was misinterpreted: "We were not taking a position on what was being done in Ohio specifically," he said. Murray called his response "a very legal answer" and pressed him again.

"As an attorney to the Department of Justice, sometimes you have to do things that are unpopular but are legally correct," Acosta said. "The letter is legally correct. I wish the letter was not interpreted the way it's interpreted."

"As secretary of labor, I want to know if you will bow to political pressure -- which I have seen, under this Trump administration, a tremendous amount of political pressure," Murray said.

"I have prosecuted UBS, the international bank, and as a result of that prosecution, they changed Swiss law," Acosta said. "I've prosecuted major drug cartels for 200,000 kilos -- the heads of the Cali cartel -- for 200,000 kilos of cocaine. I have been in public service the better part of my professional career, and I've seen pressure, and I don't for a second believe that senior officials would or should bow to inappropriate pressure."

"We work for the president. He is our boss," Acosta added. But, citing the confirmation hearing of former Bush Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, he concluded: "We all will ultimately follow his direction -- unless we feel we can't. And if we can't, we resign." 

Photo credit: Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press 

Conservatives press Nelson on Gorsuch vote for Supreme Court

via @learyreports

A conservative group is dropping new mailers in Florida today to keep up pressure on Sen. Bill Nelson to support Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court.

This is the second direct mail piece from Concerned Veterans for America, and it makes a patriotic appeal, asking if Nelson will "protect the freedoms you fought to defend."

"Each piece of mail directs citizens to call a CVA switchboard where they are informed about Neil Gorsuch’s record and then patched through to Senator Nelson’s office," the group said. It is also targeting Democratic senators in Indiana, North Dakota, West Virginia, Missouri, Colorado, Maine and Montana.

Nelson, facing re-election next year, has not said how he'll vote on Gorsuch.

UPDATE: The Republican National Commitee is also using a Facebook ad.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Jeb Bush joins board of Boca Raton communications-tower firm


Jeb Bush has joined the board of directors of Vertical Bridge, a communications-tower company based in Boca Raton.

In a statement released by the company, the former Florida governor and 2016 presidential hopeful praised Vertical Bridge's growth "and the smart capital deployment" of its parent Company, Digital Bridge.

"I have long been a strong proponent of the role that improved telecommunications infrastructure can and should play in enhancing our quality of life in so many diverse ways," Bush said. "I look forward to contributing to the continued progress at Vertical Bridge."

The company, which is three years old, says it's the largest private owner and manager of telecommunications assets in the country. It's looking to Bush's expertise as the federal government moves to expand infrastructure for an integrated communications network for first responders, said Marc Ganzi, Vertical Bridge's executive chairman and co-founder.

"Public safety is going to be a big growth area," Ganzi said. "Having a public servant like the governor on our board -- who understands public safety, first responders and public agencies -- that was the real, strategic push for why we brought him in."

Ganzi's relationship with the Bush family dates back decades. (Ganzi even interned in then-President George H.W. Bush's White House.) Jeb Bush also sits on the board Dock Square Capital LLC, a Miami-based merchant back whose affiliate, Dock Square Communications LP, is investing in Vertical Bridge now that Bush is one of its directors.\

This post has been updated to correct Ganzi's title.

Photo credit: Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press

Latvala: Corcoran 'just wrong' for House vote on Enterprise Florida

One by one, Republican lawmakers delivered dreary news at the Florida Chamber of Commerce's "Capitol Days" Tuesday in Tallahassee. On issue after issue, pro-business bills are stalled, from curbing growing abuses in property insurance claims to changing the workers' comp system. Business is battling a lawyer-friendly bill to require courts to add interest payments in cases won by plaintiffs.

"Trial lawyers are on the march," Steve Knopik, CEO of the Bealls clothing retailer, told Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, who didn't argue. "It feels like we're just getting trampled on."

The news didn't improve when Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, described a legislative response to court-ordered workers' comp rate hikes as "a reasonably okay bill."

Interest groups like the Chamber sometimes create doom-and-gloom scenarios to rally members or raise money, but this session looks bleak for business. Despite overwhelming Republican majorities in both chambers, key Senate committees include trial bar-friendly Republicans. Senate President Joe Negron wants to abolish a decades-old tax break for the insurance industry. Some Republicans want to repeal no-fault auto insurance that could drive up accident lawsuits and legal costs. Under Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, who like Negron is a lawyer, the House has dismantled most statewide economic development programs.

That brought denunciations from Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who said it's "just wrong" for Corcoran to force House members to go on record on such a controversial issue when it has no chance of passage because a similar JL bill isn't teed up in the Senate.

"We made all those House members, including my son (Rep. Chris Latvala), who I love very much, take a very tough vote because the speaker made them, even though he knew there was not a bill to match up to in the Senate, and that's just wrong," Latvala told Chamber members. "That's putting personal ambition before the body that you are the presiding officer of."

Latvala said it's the first time in his 15-year Senate career that business has to "play defense." He blamed term limits -- championed by Republicans three decades ago -- for a system in which most lawmakers want to be career politicians and have no business experience. "We have a constant stream of people who get elected who were aides in the legislative process," Latvala said. "They've never run a business. They've never had those responsibilities."

"Capitol Days" continues Wednesday in the capital with a panel discussion that asks: "Is Florida closed for business?"

Senators poised for first major medical marijuana hearing



Florida's new medical marijuana market will start to take shape today as a panel of senators workshops five proposals to put the voter-approved constitutional amendment legalizing the drug into place.

The Senate Health Policy committee, chaired by Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young, will consider issues related to the five proposed bills and hear public comment, the first step toward passing legislation and the first time members of the public will hear what key senators think about how medical marijuana should be implemented.

Voters approved Amendment 2, which opened up the state to medical cannabis, with 71 percent support. By the end of their regular session, the House and Senate are expected to pass a more detailed plan.

But they're dissatisfied with how the Legislature has progressed, according to a Fabrizio, Lee & Associates poll first reported by Politico on Tuesday. It showed that more than half of Amendment 2 supporters though the Legislature was moving too slowly and 40 percent of all voters disapproved of the job they are doing to implement the voters' will.

When the Health Policy Committee convenes this afternoon, here are the proposals they will discuss. They will likely be consolidated into a new bill, which the panel is expected to consider at a later date.

* SB 406 by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island: Maintains the current system of requiring businesses to both grow and sell cannabis but expands the number of businesses by five when the state has 250,000 patients, 350,000 patients, 400,000 patients and every 100,000 thereafter. It allows edibles but not smoking and lets people buy a 90-day supply. 

* SB 614 by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg: A largely open market of growers, dispensaries, labs and delivery companies with no cap on the number of businesses involved, though it limits retail shops to no more than 1 per 25,000 residents. It allows smoking and edibles and lets people buy a 90-day supply of cannabis.

* SB 1388 by Sen. Frank Artiles, R-Miami: Largely modeled after SB 406, this proposal requires independent labs do testing, allows smoking and lets people buy a 45-day supply.

* SB 1666 by Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens: This plan would maintain the current system but would require 10 new licenses be awarded by October and allow four more for every 25,000 patients. It maintains a provision of existing law allowing only nurseries that have been in business for 30 years to become growers. It allows edibles but not smoking and lets people buy 90-day supplies, including some non-residents of Florida.

* SB 1758 by Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring: This maintains the existing market, including the 30-year requirement for nurseries, and allows three new licenses be awarded for every 250,000 patients. It allows edibles but not smoking and lets patients have a 45-day supply, including non-residents.

There are lots of questions on the table as the Senate committee meets. Want to follow along? Stream online at the Florida Channel at 1 p.m., or follow @MichaelAuslen and @SunBizGriffin.

Photo: Associated Press

March 21, 2017

PolitiFact Florida: Fact-checking Miami Beach mayor's claim about Airbnb



Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine went on a Facebook rant against Airbnb after a conservative publication criticized city officials for supporting fines against the short-term rental company.

Airbnb posted the article by Sunshine State News on social media. Levine, a potential Democratic candidate for governor in 2018, fired back in the comments.

Levine wrote that Miami Beach commissioners aren’t the only opponents of Airbnb, which allows property owners to rent out houses and apartments, or a bedroom, to visitors across the world. The city generally bans short-term rentals except in limited multi-family areas.

He said officials in New York, San Francisco and Miami also don’t support Airbnb. Why?

“Because it destroys neighborhoods, buildings, decreases real estate values and increases costs for workforce housing!!!!!” he wrote in a March 2 Facebook comment.

We decided to tackle two of Levine’s attacks: that Airbnb decreases real estate values and increases costs for workforce housing. Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.


Rick Scott's spokeswoman calls Richard Corcoran 'hypocritical'

Gov. Rick Scott's chief spokeswoman, Jackie Schutz, called out House Speaker Richard Corcoran Tuesday for being "very hypocritical" in his efforts to abolish Enterprise Florida as the state's taxpayer-funded program to attract jobs to the state.

JackieSchutz (at left in photo) asked the Times/Herald if she could comment in response to a story about an unusual coincidence in which Corcoran's law firm, Broad & Cassel, has earned more than $235,000 doing legal work for Enterprise Florida and two related corporations over the past three years. Corcoran, who has called Enterprise Florida an "absolute cesspool," had no role in any of the legal work and said he was not aware that his firm did work for Enterprise Florida. (The previous reporting is here).

Said Schutz: "It's hypocritical for him to attack EFI when they're helping out small businesses, but in turn it's OK for his company to help EFI. It just seems very hypocritical."

UPDATE: Corcoran's spokesman, Fred Piccolo, said: "Pay to play is exactly the kind of corruption Speaker Corcoran is leading the charge to fight. It is clear she didn't read the article because what it said was that Speaker Corcoran is a principled leader who can clearly never be bought politically or professionally."

Scott's fight with Corcoran will continue Wednesday when he travels to Pinellas County for another jobs roundtable with local business owners to rally support for Enterprise Florida.

The county's six House members were evenly split when the House voted on March 10 to abolish Enterprise Florida. Joining Corcoran in voting to kill the agency were Republisans Larry Ahern, Chris Latvala and Chris Sprowls. Voting to keep Enterprise Florida were Republican Kathleen Peters and Democrats Ben Diamond and Wengay Newton. 

Cubans favor better U.S. relations, poll finds

From the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON -- A rare poll of Cuban public opinion has found that most of the island's citizens approve of normal relations with the United States and large majorities want more tourists to visit and the expansion of private business ownership.

In a poll of 840 people taken in Cuba late last year by the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago, 55 percent said that normal relations with the U.S. would be mostly good for the country.

"I'd love for the two peoples to be even closer," Rebecca Tamayo, an 80-year-old retired museum worker, said Monday in Havana. "If there were better relations, more products would be entering the country. There'd be more opportunity to buy things."

Among Cubans aged 18-29, approval of closer relations with the U.S. rose to 70 percent. An overwhelming eight of 10 respondents said they believed tourism to Cuba should be expanded.

President Donald Trump has pledged to reverse former President Barack Obama's 2 1/2-year-old opening with Cuba, which restored full diplomatic relations and allowed a dramatic expansion of U.S. travel to the island. Trump has said little about the matter since taking office, but his administration says it is conducting a full review of Cuba policy with an eye toward possible changes.

More here.

Photo credit: Desmond Boylan, AP file

Critics: Bill to implement solar tax breaks has become a vehicle for solar barriers

Solar panelsA bill moving through the Florida House to implement the August ballot initiative by giving tax breaks to businesses that install solar energy panels is under fire for doing what the utility industry could not do this election cycle - impose impediments to rooftop solar installation.

The bill, HB 1351 by Rep. Ray Rodrigues, was passed unanimously by the House Energy and Utilities Subcommittee Tuesday but only after several legislators expressed reservations and members of the solar industry warned that a long list of “consumer protections” in the bill will actually serve to keep legitimate companies from doing business in Florida.

In addition to authorizing language that prohibits tax assessors from increasing the taxable value of a home or business because of a solar installation, Rodrigues added language he said he modeled off an Arizona law that he says will provide consumer safeguards against “bad actors” in the solar industry.

He acknowledged that there are no problems with solar industry installations today in Florida but, because removing the tax barriers will result in “an uptick” in new solar expansion, “the time to do it is now rather than waiting until consumers are taken advantage of.”

Under the bill, any company that installs rooftop solar would be required to file more than 20 financial disclosures relating to their business practices, calculate a customers’ energy savings based on future, not past, energy rates, follow new codes and standards and face new imposes penalties for violations.

In addition, the Florida Public Service Commission would have new power to impose new rules related to solar safety and performance, in addition to those already in place under state and federal law.

But members of the solar industry told the committee that safety requirements are already in place, and the Solar Energy Industry Association already requires its members to adhere to best practices and disclosures intended to weed out bad actors and benefit consumers.

“This goes way too far,’’ said Jeff Sharkey, lobbyist for Tesla, Solar City and the Energy Freedom Coalition of America. “At the end of the day, these are going to be confusing to consumers, potentially provide obstacles, and make it a little more difficult to purchase and install these energy saving devices on their homes.”

Continue reading "Critics: Bill to implement solar tax breaks has become a vehicle for solar barriers" »

Lawmakers continue to target immigrant 'sanctuary' policies as House bill advances



The Florida House has put a target on cities and counties that have “sanctuary” policies protecting undocumented immigrants picked up by police.

Legislation (HB 697) requiring local officials do away with those policies or risk fines and removal from office is moving fast in the chamber. The bill would require police detain people for 48 hours — at local taxpayer expense — if they receive a request to do so from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And it would let victims or their families sue elected officials if a crime is committed by an undocumented immigrant in a community where sanctuary laws are in effect.

“With porous borders and a lack of internal enforcement, if we simply say that if you can get here you can stay here and we don’t care about the legal distinctions, we’re going to have more and more people coming here illegally and fewer and fewer coming here through the legal immigration system,” bill sponsor Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, said.

The House subcommittee on local, federal and veterans affairs passed his bill on a party line vote Tuesday with nine Republicans in favor, five Democrats opposed. Rep. Mike Miller, R-Winter Park, was not in the room to vote.

The bill must still clear the House Judiciary Committee, and its Senate companion has not yet been put on the agenda for its first hearing.

Not one Republican debated in favor of the bill Tuesday, other than its sponsor, and none of the 27 members of the public and lobbyists who spoke at the meeting expressed support.

Democrats raised concerns that the bill is unconstitutional, immoral and said it was a policy indicative of “Donald Trump’s America” that targets immigrants. What’s more, they said, it advances a stereotype that immigrants are more likely to commit crimes, when studies show the opposite is true.

Rep. Daisy Baez, D-Coral Gables, an Army veteran and hospital executive who immigrated to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic at age 12 urged her House colleagues to vote against the bill because immigrants are “the spine of this nation.”

“I achieved the American Dream, I suppose, and if you think this story is unique and beautiful and one of achievement, I have to tell you it’s not. It’s every immigrant’s story,” she said, adding that, “I have never felt as vilified as I have now.”

But Democrats also rebuked one member of the public, Gail Marie Perry of Plantation, who told the subcommittee that “This is one step toward Nazism in the United States.”

Republicans beat down a series of amendments offered by Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, to gut components of the bill.

Smith's amendments would have: 
* Required a warrant from a judge before police have to detain someone at ICE’s request.
* Exempted state colleges and universities, where undocumented “DREAMers” are afforded in-state tuition, from the bill.
* Given witnesses and victims of crimes additional protection.
* Funded the detention requirements.
* Cut language allowing the governor to remove local officials from office if they vote against ending sanctuary policies.

Photo: Protester Joan Wynne, center, chants anti-Trump and anti-Gimenez slogans in downtown Miami on Jan. 31 during a protest over Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez's controversial order assuring the Trump administration that Miami-Dade is not functioning as a sanctuary city for illegal immigrants. (AP)

Latino group pushes Curbelo, Diaz-Balart to vote against GOP health plan


A liberal Latino group has become the latest organization to release ads to pressure Miami Republicans to oppose the House plan to replace the Affordable Care Act.

NCLR Action Fund -- as in the National Council of La Raza -- issued a "call to action" Tuesday asking lawmakers in key districts to vote against the American Health Care Act on Thursday. Among the targeted legislators: Miami Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart.

"The Affordable Care Act has provided over 4 million Latinos health insurance and millions more have gained greater access to quality health care," NCLRAF's political director, Rafael Collazo, said in a statement. "Latino voters want their federal officials to protect those gains. Voting for the AHCA would be an immense setback for Latinos."

The organization plans radio and digital ads in seven districts with significant Latino populations. The other five districts are represented by Will Hurd of Texas, Mike Coffman of Colorado, Jeff Denham of California, David Valadao of California and Darrell Issa of California.

Levine has already put $2M into likely bid for Florida governor

via @adamsmithtimes

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine says he has not committed to running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2018 and has has no time table for deciding except probably "before the end of the year." He is travelling the state meeting with people and discussing a possible campaign and issues facing the state.

"I'm out talking to the customers. Before you launch a product or think about launching a product, you should talk to the customers," said Levine, who began his career advising cruise ship passengers about port activities and ultimately created a cruise industry media company generating $400 million in annual revenue.

Levine is paying for his listening tour through his political committee, All About Florida, which he said is relying one "one schmuck" for funding: Philip Levine, who is worth "north of $100 million."  He has put $2 million into that committee so far and said if he decides to run for governor he is "100 percent" open to funding the campaign himself, much like current Gov. Rick Scott.

"I've been successful in Florida, started from nothing, and any business opportunity I've ever had and for an opportunity in life, I believe you should put skin in the game," Levine said. "Before you ask other folks to put money into something, if you have it you should put a few bucks of your own into it. At the same token, I'm open to the idea of self-funding the campaign if I decide to run."

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Jon Durr, Miami Herald

South Florida cares about climate change more than many other places


The New York Times has created an interesting set of maps, using data from Yale University researchers, about how much people in congressional districts across the country care about climate change -- and South Florida consistently sticks out as a place where the issue is important.

A majority of South Florida adults think global warming will harm people in the U.S. -- and harm them, personally, as can be seen on the maps to the left. Note how South Florida sticks out in the personal harm map compared to the rest of the Eastern Seaboard.

Researchers also found a split within Florida, with South Florida more concerned about global warming than their North Florida counterparts.

According to the Times:

In Florida, the effects of climate change, including sunny-day flooding, are being felt across the state. But the state shows a distinct north-south split in the level of concern over global warming, and it is not a simple Democrat-versus-Republican distinction, said State Representative Kristin D. Jacobs, a Democrat.

A third map shows that South Floridians talk about climate change relatively frequently, compared to the rest of the country:

But aside from Southeast Florida, which has put so much effort into making discussion of climate change a priority, much of the rest of the Atlantic Coast is less likely to engage in climate discussions, despite recent increases in tidal flooding.

Florida Senate passes redistricting push back: Court told us what to do, so now we'll tell it what to do

RedistrictOldNewAfter four years of bitter legal battles over Florida redistricting, Republicans in the Florida Senate Tuesday passed a bill that makes new demands on the court in future map wars, and sets new standards about which maps take effect and when.

The bill, SB 352 by Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Elkton, passed the Senate 24-14, on a party line vote. It locks maps in place on qualifying day and requires that if a map is challenged 71 days before the primary election, the existing map in force will be the one that applies for the election. If the court orders revised the boundaries after that, the new boundaries will take effect in the next election cycle.

Those changes essentially codify the ruling of Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis in 2015, but the bill also trods new legal ground by also "encouraging" the court to act as if it were a legislative body. Before resolving a redistricting dispute, the Senate bill wants the court to conduct public hearings, record and maintain public records and accept public submissions of draft maps.

"The courts are now passing law,'' Hutson explained. "All I'm doing is what they encouraged us to do. There are things the public should know, how they're coming to these conclusions so we know where their heads are at."

The proposal is a response to the legal wrangling that snagged the Florida Senate and embarrassed its leaders in the last election cycle. After voters approved the Fair Districts gerrymandering standards in 2010, courts struck down congressional and Senate district maps approved by the Legislature and the grounds that the maps violated the Fair District provisions that prohibited favoring incumbents or political parties. 

During debate on the bill last week, Hutson defended that changes as necessary to ensure transparency in the redistricting process and provide certainty for voters and elections supervisors. But Democrats argued that the bill appeared to be intended as retribution against the judicial branch.

Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, offered an amendment to remove the section of the bill that imposes the new legislative standards on the court, saying "it also just doesn't work. I don't know what a court would do with this kind of language." 

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, argued against the amendment, saying the changes were needed to stop what he considered the "arrogance" of the courts, which ordered lawmakers to keep a record of the redistricting deliberations in order to establish whether they were adhering to the provision that prevents them from "intentionally" favoring incumbents or parties.

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