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November 24, 2015

GOP Rep. Fred Costello proposes bill to open Florida to third-party solar generation

Solar 111315State Rep. Fred Costello is having his Ormond Beach home fitted with solar panels. He has invested in a company that is seeking a patent on new energy generation technology. He considers himself an energy wonk.

So when the former mayor filed a bill last week to open the state’s energy market to solar energy competition — by allowing homeowners and businesses to lease their rooftops to companies that generate solar power and sell it back to the grid — it seemed like the logical thing for a free-market Republican to pursue.

“I believe in innovation and competition because that’s how we get better,” said Costello, a dentist by trade. The current system imposes hurdles to competition and hurdles to innovation, he said. “That’s not what the free market is all about.”

But Costello’s idea is disruptive, and uncharacteristic for Republicans in recent years.

If it succeeds, it would create a crack in the powerful utility monopoly in Florida that allows only regulated power companies to distribute energy to others. For the first time, it would allow homeowners and businesses that generate 2 megawatts of power to generate and sell energy to their neighbors, and sell any excess energy produced back to the grid.

With fewer new demands on electric companies, the state’s utility giants would have less need to build expensive nuclear power plants or natural gas fired generators. “And that would be a good thing,’’ Costello said.

But the bill, HB 687, also would put into law much of what a proposed constitutional amendment being pushed by Floridians for Solar Choice would do. The coalition of renewable energy advocates, tea party and environmental groups pursued the solar choice amendment after years of trying and failing to get legislators to support opening the solar market to competition. Story here. 

Photo: From left, Joseph Molina, Martin Cabrera and Luis Vergara of Cutler Bay Solar Solutions install solar panels at a home in South Miami-Dade County on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015 AL DIAZ


Miami mayor endorses Scott's $250M proposed reform for Enterprise Florida



Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado is among the latest in a string of local and county officials across Florida who have signed a fill-in-the-blank press release from Gov. Rick Scott's office, backing his plan for $250 million in economic incentives to better attract jobs and businesses to Florida.

Scott sent letters to all Florida mayors earlier this month -- and later, also local and county council and commission members -- asking them to support his proposal to reform Enterprise Florida with the new "Florida Enterprise Fund."

Scott's plan is expected to face some resistance among his fellow Republicans in the Senate. The $250 million request triples the $85 million he requested this year for Enterprise Florida -- which lawmakers sliced in half in the current budget.

In announcing his support of Scott's plan, Regalado cited Enterprise Florida's role in "creating jobs in our community, such as HBO Latin America, LAN Airlines and Univision Network."

"These reforms will continue to diversify our local economy, empower our small businesses and create even more great jobs," Regalado said, reciting a canned quote provided by Scott's office.

Regalado, like Scott, is a Republican.

The most high-profile Democratic mayor to endorse Scott's pitch is Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn, who announced his support last week.

Others in South Florida who have backed Scott's $250 million funding request include Miami Commission Chairman Wifredo Gort, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, North Miami Beach Mayor George Vallejo and Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez (whom Scott's office two weeks ago originally misidentified as Miami's mayor before issuing a correct version of the press release).

Photo credit: Hector Gabino / El Nuevo Herald

Miami for-profit college owner goes to prison, had ties to U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings


Miami for-profit college operator Alejandro Amor had a 54-foot yacht, a $2 million waterfront home, and his own private plane.

Now he’s headed to prison.

On Tuesday, a Miami federal jury convicted Amor of 12 counts of theft of government money, and one count of conspiracy. He will be sentenced on Feb. 3.

Before being raided by the FBI in 2012, prosecutors say FastTrain admitted roughly 1,300 students who didn’t have high school diplomas — using fraud to make the government think the students were eligible for financial aid.

In return, FastTrain received $6,560,000 in Pell grants and student loans for those students. For-profit colleges are known for aggressive recruiting, but FastTrain turned it up a notch. Ex-employees told investigators that Amor boosted enrollments by hiring former strippers as recruiters, some of whom wore “short skirts and stiletto heels” to work.

Amor allegedly told one employee to “hire some hot mommas” and “hire the sluttiest girls he could find.”

When it came to high school diplomas, FastTrain took advantage of lax federal rules that are vulnerable to abuse. A college that wants to enroll non-eligible students can accept diplomas from a “diploma mill” school — and there is no federal or state of Florida list that identifies known diploma mills.

Some accreditors allow their colleges to simply take a student’s word that they finished high school. The student signs an “attestation” that they have a diploma, and no further verification is done.

More here.

Hillary Clinton rally to be held Dec. 2 in Orlando


Hillary Clinton will campaign in Central Florida next week as part of her fundraising swing through the state.

The Democrat plans to hold a "grassroots organizing event" Dec. 2 in Orlando. She has scheduled fundraisers Dec. 1-2 in Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa, Miami and Miami Beach.

Her last Florida event was in October in Davie.

An earlier version of this post listed the wrong date for the event. It's Dec. 2, not Dec. 1.

New Miami Beach commissioners sworn in, call for unity across the dais



After an election in Miami Beach that grew divisive between supporters and critics of Mayor Philip Levine, the reelected mayor and three new commissioners were sworn in Monday.

Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, Ricky Arriola and John Elizabeth Alemán officially joined the City Commission in a ceremony at a packed City Hall. All spoke of putting the campaign behind them getting to the business of governing.

They will get started at their first meeting Dec. 9. The political newcomers come on board as the city tackles major big-ticket projects, including a half-billion dollar renovation to the Miami Beach Convention Center and a five-year, $400-$500 million flooding mitigation plan to build pumps and raise roads to combat sea level rise.

More here

Donald Trump expands Florida campaign team


Donald Trump has made four hires to his Florida presidential team, the campaign announced Tuesday.

Joining the operation are Jennifer R. Locetta as deputy state director, Ken Mayo as director of field operations, John Ross Pughe as southeast regional field director and Craig Bachler as director of coalitions.

They will work under state director Karen Giorno and campaign co-chairs Joe Gruters and Susie Wiles, whom Trump hired last month. He's scheduled a rally for Saturday in Sarasota. 

"I have created thousands of jobs and own some of the most iconic assets in the state," Trump said in a statement, which also touted his lead in Florida GOP primary polls. "I love the people of Florida and I am proud to have such overwhelming support and a great staff in place. I look forward to visiting often and working with my team to share my vision to Make America Great Again."

Here's a little background on each of the hires, per the campaign:

Continue reading "Donald Trump expands Florida campaign team" »

Activists plan Dec. 7 antiabortion rally at Florida Capitol


An antiabortion group is planning a rally at the Florida Capitol next month to demand that Gov. Rick Scott end state Medicaid contracts with Planned Parenthood.

The rally at 1 p.m. Dec. 7 is part of a campaign being run by the Florida Family Policy Council that has called out the governor for not taking a harsh enough stance against Planned Parenthood in response to videos of the organization's fetal tissue donation programs that have sirred outrage among conservatives.

"In both his gubernatorial campaigns, Rick Scott campaigned that if elected he would be a pro-life Governor," the Council's President John Stemberger said in a written statement. "We would now like him to take action like a pro-life Governor. The pro-life and pro-family community that supported the governor in the last two election must have their voices heard on the urgency of this matter, and we hope this rally will finally force the governor to listen.”

The group plans to bus activists up to Tallahassee from Orlando and Miami.

But the governor's office does not intend to cancel the contracts, which require the state to pay out a small amount to match federal Medicaid funds. In total, they cost the state $45,000.

Asked last month if the governor had any interest in or plans to stop the matching funds, Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz replied, simply, "No."

Schutz said this week that the governor hasn't changed his stance.

Scott has taken a harsh stance against Planned Parenthood since July, when the videos first went viral online. He ordered investigations of the state's Planned Parenthood clinics, and his office was involved in sanctions ordered by AHCA.

A lawsuit is ongoing over allegations that Planned Parenthood in Florida performed unlicensed procedures.

Francis Suarez sworn into office, makes case for 'New Miami'


Sounding as much a 2017 mayoral candidate as a reelected city commissioner, Francis Suarez laid out his vision Tuesday for a "New Miami" after being sworn in for his second and final four-year term representing the neighborhoods of Flagami, Coral Way and Shenandoah.

Suarez, first elected as Miami's District 4 commissioner in 2009, was re-elected without opposition in 2011 and again this fall. His wife, Gloria, administered the oath of office Tuesday during a noon ceremony at City Hall, and then Suarez spoke about what he sees as a changing city.

"I'm entering my last term as commissioner with a tremendous amount of energy, enthusiasm and some well-earned grey hairs," he said to an audience that included Congressman Carlos Curbelo, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Suarez's father, County Commissioner Xavier Suarez. "One of the unique provisions of this office is being able to see into the future. What I see is a new Miami."

Reading a prepared speech from a teleprompter, Suarez spoke about stemming Miami's brain-drain, addressing a widening income gap, creating more affordable housing and reducing crime. He said he wants to do more to spur the tech industry, and continue to push for greater mass transit options. He name-dropped Senator Marco Rubio -- while drinking from a glass of water -- and filmmaker Billy Corben, whom Suarez credits for his recent use of the city nickname Ourami.

Many expect Suarez, 38, will campaign soon for the office of mayor, with Tomás Regalado forced to leave office in 2017 due to term limits. Suarez made no mention of those expectations, but said he will continue to push to make that office a "strong," executive mayor, "so that the mayor's position is accountable to the people of the city of Miami."

Suarez believes that Miami voters are looking to a new vision embodied by younger, new-minded candidates, and plans to meet expectations.

"I will continue to be creative and forward-thinking on policies and projects," he said. "In order to create this new Miami, we must be united and we must be bold."

A protester was kicked at a Donald Trump rally. It wasn't the first time that happened.

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A protester who interrupted Donald Trump at a rally in Birmingham, Alabama, on Saturday after yelling, "Black lives matter!" fell to the floor and was kicked and punched by attendees, according to video recorded by CNN. "Maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing," Trump told Fox News the next day.

The incident -- followed by Trump's comment -- quickly made news. But it wasn't the first time a Trump rally had gotten violent.

Protesters disrupted a Trump rally in the Miami suburb of Doral last month on three occasions. “The fourth group, I'll say, 'Get the hell out of here!'" Trump promised. One of the protesters had already been dragged out and kicked by a rally attendee.

Video recorded by WTVJ-NBC 6 showed the attendee grabbing Florida International University student Ariel Rojas by his shirt collar, then kicking him when Rojas was on the ground. Trump's campaign stressed the man was not a staffer or employee at Trump National Doral. But the campaign didn't condemn the attendee's actions, either.

Rojas later told reporters in an Oct. 26 conference call organized by the pro-immigration reform group America's Voice that the rally was his first event with a group called Students Working for Equal Rights in Miami. The standing-room only rally, he said, didn't help protect protesters.

"There's very little safety in there, especially if you're in the middle of the crowd," Rojas said, adding that he wasn't injured. "To me, the most important part is maintaining a level head, not engaging. Just be nice."

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff

Oscar Ray Bolin, Jr. asks Florida Supreme Court to stay execution


A death-row inmate facing execution in January for a murder in Pasco County 30 years ago is asking the Florida Supreme Court for a stay in the case and to grant a hearing so his attorneys can argue "newly discovered evidence," which a circuit court recently rejected.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed the death warrant for Oscar Ray Bolin, Jr., last month, scheduling his execution for Jan. 7.

Bolin killed three women in the Tampa Bay area in 1986. He was sentenced to death for two of them and is serving a life sentence on the third. The scheduled execution is for the murder of Teri Lynn Matthews, whom he abducted from the Land O' Lakes Post Office in the early morning hours of Dec. 5, 1986.

In a motion to the Supreme Court filed late Monday, Bolin's attorneys argue they have new evidence that needs to be heard, including that an Ohio inmate "confessed to having committed the murder." Download Filed_11-23-2015_Motion_Briefing_Schedule

A circuit court last month denied Bolin's request for an evidentiary hearing on the matter, reasoning that the "confession was not evidence of a magnitude that it would probably produce an acquittal or a sentence other than death if admitted at a retrial."

After Scott signed Bolin's death warrant, Bolin appealed his case once more to the Sixth Circuit Court, and on Friday, the court denied Bolin's motion for rehearing and a request to vacate the death sentence. 

Bolin was convicted of abducting Matthews and then bludgeoning her with a wooden club, spraying her with a water hose and loading her into a truck to dispose of her body. She was found wrapped in the sheet on the side of the road in Pasco County later that day with severe head injuries and stab wounds in her neck and body.

Bolin previously appealed his case to federal court but his petition was denied in 2013, and the 11th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals also denied to review the case.

Bolin has been convicted of two other murders in Hillsborough County. He is currently sentenced to death for the 1986 murder of Stephanie Collins and is serving a life sentence for the 1986 murder of Natalie Holley.

Redistricting challengers abandon Senate maps that do not cross Tampa Bay

Screen shot 2015-11-24 at 10.32.10 AMIn an effort to "narrow the issues for trial," the challengers to the Senate's redistricting efforts on Tuesday withdrew two maps that contained a black majority district that do not cross Tampa Bay and made two changes in North Florida.

The challengers, a coalition of individuals and voting groups led by the League of Women Voters, had argued that the Legislature should have updated its voting data to include the primaries of 2012 and 2014 which would have helped to show the strength of black voting performance in the districts.

They presented the Legislature with a map that was based on the primary data, but it was rejected by the House and Senate as inaccurate and incomplete. 

David King, the lead lawyer for the group, and his legal team have concluded that the argument is not worth the fight as they prepare for a trial before Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds Dec. 14-18.

He wrote in the motion filed Monday hat "although there is a likelihood that the Hillsborough-only district would retain African Americans’ ability to elect candidates of choice, Plaintiffs will rely only on their alternative version of District 19 that crosses Tampa Bay in CPS-3a, CPS-3b, CPS-4a, and CPS-4b, in order to narrow the issues for trial and ensure that African Americans retain their ability to elect candidates of choice.'' 

The withdrawn maps are CPS-2a and CPS-2b (see above.) King also submitted a corrected version of CPS-3b, which is the same map submitted to the Legislature and the court last week," except that Districts 1 and 2 have been replaced to exactly match the versions of Districts 1 and 2 in the other Alternative Remedial Senate Plans,'' he wrote.

Regardless of the configuration of Tampa Bay, all of the maps produced by the plaintiffs include 20 districts in which the majority voted for Republican Mitt Romney for president in 2012 and 20 districts in which the majority voted for Democrat Barack Obama. There is no guarantee that those districts will perform that way in Senate races but all the proposed maps pose a threat to the GOP's 26-14 majority in the Senate, which was elected with the now-invalidated map of 2012. 

This post has been updated to include that the maps withdrawn did not cross Tampa Bay. 

Broward circuit judge charged with ethics violations


A Broward County circuit court judge is accused of multiple ethics violations, because he allegedly offered advice to an assistant public defender last spring and engaged in subsequent "inappropriate conduct" in reaction to that accusation.

The Florida Supreme Court announced this morning the Judicial Qualifications Commission's decision to bring formal charges against Judge John Patrick ContiniDownload Filed_11-23-2015_Notice_Formal_Charges

After learning of Contini's email to the public defender in March, the state attorney's office sought Contini's removal from the related case because they said his advice to the defendant's counsel negated his impartiality.

The state attorney's office appealed to the Fourth District Court of Appeals to have Contini removed, and a stay was placed on hundreds of Contini's criminal cases -- freezing their progress and leaving defendants in jail because Contini couldn't hear their cases.

Contini initially refused to step away. Then, in August, Contini asked for and was granted a transfer to the family court division, following a blow-up over his dispute with the state attorney's office, according to a report by the Sun-Sentinel.

The commission wrote that after Contini first appeared before the JQC's investigative panel, "(he) again breeched the judicial canons by exhibiting discourteous, impatient and undignified conduct" during court discussions of the state attorney's appeal.

For example, the commission said he repeatedly referred to attorneys handling the appeal as "idiots" and their work as "fraudulent," and he also called the Attorney General's position in the case as "a lie from the pit of hell."

"The events of this case have been broadcast in the local and regional news media, further amplifying the negative effect of your actions," the commission wrote.

The JQC said his actions "constitute inappropriate conduct" in violation of five canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Contini has 20 days to offer a written answer to the charges.

Jeb Bush's misleading claim about Barack Obama not hosting Republican senators for dinner until 2013

During a campaign stop in Atlantic, Iowa, on Nov. 11, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush told a very detailed and specific story to underscore Democratic President Barack Obama’s alleged unwillingness to work with Republicans in the U.S. Senate.

Here's what he said:

"The story I tell all the time is about a Republican senator that was invited by the White House to have dinner with the president. And so he’s going up the rickety elevator to go up to the residence, the second floor, and the eager aide to President Obama says with great excitement, ‘Senator, you’re the first Republican he’s had dinner with in the residence since he’s been president.’ And that’s the fifth year."

Obama is so unwilling to work with Senate Republicans, Bush alleges, that he didn't even invite one to dine at the White House until his fifth year in office. But is it true? Did Obama really wait until 2013 to host a Republican for dinner at the White House?

See what Jason Noble of PolitiFact Iowa found.

Marco Rubio tells dad's story in TV ad airing in early states


To introduce himself to Republican voters in New Hampshire and Iowa, Marco Rubio chose the story he told about his late dad in April, when he launched his 2016 presidential candidacy at Miami's Freedom Tower.

"My father was grateful for the work he had, but that was not the life he wanted for his children," says the minute-long spot, titled "Bartender."

Left unsaid is that Rubio's father, Mario, was a Cuban immigrant.

"My father stood behind a small, portable bar in the back of a room for all those years so that I could stand behind this podium in this room," Rubio says, in his signature line concluding campaign speeches. "That journey from behind that bar to behind this podium -- that's the essence of the American Dream."

The ad will start airing Thursday in New Hampshire and next week in Iowa, according to the Rubio campaign. Rubio's first national ad, focusing on foreign policy, also began airing this week.


Fact-checking Hillary Clinton's claims about Iran nuclear deal and Libya

If it weren’t for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, there likely wouldn’t yet be an Iran nuclear deal, according to the former Secretary of State.

While her Republican rivals who oppose the Iran deal might use that line against her, Clinton has touted progress with Iran as one of the hallmarks of her tenure at the State Department.

"I spent 18 months putting together the sanctions against Iran so that we could force them to the negotiating table," she said at the MSNBC Democratic forum Nov. 6.

She’s said this line a few times throughout her campaign, so we decided to dig into it. See what Lauren Carroll of PolitiFact found.

We also fact-checked this claim by Clinton: "The Libyan people have voted twice in free and fair elections for the kind of leadership they want." Turn to Louis Jacobson's fact-check from PolitiFact.

November 23, 2015

A look back at Marco Rubio's FIU teaching record

via @adamsmithtimes

Marco Rubio has brushed off criticism about missing U.S. Senate votes to run for president and careless use of state GOP credit cards and political committees when he was a Florida legislative leader.

But even in an often overlooked part of Rubio’s professional life — academia — public records show a familiar pattern for the presidential contender: basic expectations for the job unmet or ignored, dubious accountability and oversight, and job opportunities that would be highly unlikely for anyone without his political stature.

Rubio took an unadvertised $69,000 part-time teaching job at Florida International University in Miami as he left the state legislature due to term limits. Even after he became a U.S. Senator and started traveling the country as a national GOP star and prospective presidential candidate, he continued teaching Mondays and Fridays at FIU until April, earning $23,448 last year in addition to his $174,000 salary as a U.S. Senator.

Students and teaching colleagues raved about Rubio’s work in the classroom and the excitement of having a prominent Florida politician, and later a sitting U.S. Senator and prospective presidential candidate, teaching them.

More here.

Yet another complaint filed against pro-Marco Rubio 'dark money' group

via @learyreports

The political nonprofit running ads supporting Marco Rubio has become a magnet for election law complaints, the latest coming Monday with a group citing a lack of disclosure.

The liberal American Democracy Legal Fund writes to the FEC: “Because Conservative Solutions’ television advertisements expressly advocate for the election of Senator Rubio, they are independent expenditures. Senator Rubio has said that he has nothing to do with Conservative Solutions, which, if true, indicates Conservative Solutions’ advertisements were ‘not made in cooperation, consultation, or concert with, or at the request or suggestion of’ Senator Rubio or his campaign. As such, Conservative Solutions should have been filing independent-expenditure reports with the Commission.”

Read the complaint here.

American Democracy Legal Fund, which was started by Hillary Clinton ally David Brock, and some campaign finance watchdog groups have previously filed complaints with the FEC and Justice Department over the “dark money” group supporting Rubio. Conservative Solutions Project has raised at least $16 million. A similarly named PAC, which does have to disclose donors, has raised about as much.

Jeff Sadosky, a spokesman for Conservative Solutions Project, said: "It is clear that DC’s left-wing elites are incredibly afraid that a positive conservative message focused on solutions will put additional pressure on the Obama Administration and Congress to enact conservative policies that will actually address badly needed reforms.  As it has for the past two years, Conservative Solutions Project remains focused on one thing…advocating for a conservative agenda that will solve some of the most serious issues American families are facing."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

The political advice Columba Bush says she gave her husband


The question for Columba Bush at a small gathering of Republican women in Miami came with evident concern and affection -- and in Spanish -- from longtime friend and fundraiser Remedios Diaz-Oliver: How can people outside of Florida get to know the Jeb Bush they know here in his hometown?

"I decided from the beginning, from when he started out in politics, not to give him any advice," Columba Bush said, also speaking Spanish. Politics are separate from her role as his wife, she emphasized.

But she said she had offered the former Florida governor one suggestion for his presidential campaign: to look beyond the loyal political team that worked for him in Tallahassee.

"The advice I gave Jeb was to find a new team that was at the national level," Bush said. "That's my personal opinion. He did very well in Florida, and the people he worked with did perfectly well. He could keep the same team but add more people to it."

Jeb Bush did, in fact, bring in some national players to his presidential operation when he launched his candidacy in June. His campaign is still struggling to get traction in early primary states, however, and it has had to tighten its belt and move staff around as Bush's poll numbers have slipped. Bush recently sought an image consultant who has coached the candidate on his TV debate skills. 

Continue reading "The political advice Columba Bush says she gave her husband" »

Gov. Scott calls for no new staff at Florida hospitals


Gov. Rick Scott is asking for no new staff to address reports of violence and abuse in the state’s mental hospitals.

In his annual budget request to the state Legislature, released Monday, the governor doesn’t provide for any new workers in the state hospitals where one employee can supervise as many as 15 mentally ill people.

It’s an issue that has recently been in the public eye after an investigation by the Tampa Bay Times and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune highlighted deaths and neglect in the hospitals. The reporting showed an increase in violence corresponding with more than $100 million in budget cuts over the last five years.

In the budget request, Scott addresses safety, as well as overcrowding and limited capacity at the hospitals, which include “forensic” patients who have been deemed unfit to stand trial for a crime or unable to be incarcerated in a state prison, as well as people who have been civilly committed.

But staffing — which the Times and Herald-Tribune reporting found to be central to the problem and which some state lawmakers have called to increase — is not part of it.

Continue reading "Gov. Scott calls for no new staff at Florida hospitals" »

Dona'd Trump's Pants on Fire claim about blacks killing whites

A day after a black activist was kicked and punched by voters at a Donald Trump rally in Alabama, Trump tweeted an image packed with racially loaded and incorrect murder statistics.

The image shows a masked, dark-skinned man with a handgun and a set of points, ostensibly about deaths in 2015:

  • "Blacks killed by whites -- 2%"

  • "Blacks killed by police -- 1%"

  • "Whites killed by police -- 3%"

  • "Whites killed by whites -- 16%"

  • "Whites killed by blacks -- 81%"

  • "Blacks killed by blacks -- 97%’

The image cites the "Crime Statistics Bureau - San Francisco"

See what Jon Greenberg of PolitiFact found.