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15 posts from February 27, 2014

February 27, 2014

Rep. Jose Felix Diaz named among rising conservative stars


 For the second year in a row, a state lawmaker from Florida has been named one of 10 rising conservative stars under 40.

This year, American Conservative Union is recognizing Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, of Miami.

Diaz will be honored at the Conservative Political Action Conference, which begins on March 6 in Washington, D.C.

"Being selected for this honor is an amazing opportunity to showcase that conservative solutions advanced by Republican members of the Florida legislature can serve as a model to address our country's very real issues," he said.

Last year's rising stars included Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford.

The Wesley Chapel Republican used the platform to oppose a federal expansion of Medicaid.

"Here's the bottom line: It's time for the states to take a stand," Weatherford told the crowd of conservative activists.

Diaz will have the opportunity to speak on March 8. He plans to talk about diversity and the Republican Party, he said.

"It's a huge platform," he said. "I will talk a little bit about who I am, where I come from, and how I see Hispanics playing a role in the future of the party."

While the list of all 10 honorees has not yet been released, Diaz said he would not be surprised to see another Floridian make the final cut.

"There are a lot of talented people in this state," he said.

The list of speakers also include New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida; and Donald Trump.

Tampa lawmaker tackles issue of driver suspensions

Tackling a priority of House Speaker Will Weatherford, Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, filed legislation Thursday to address the rampant suspension of driver licenses in Florida, in many cases for non-driving related infractions such as a drug conviction or non-payment of child support.

"Many Floridians cannot drive to work and afford to pay the mountain of fines associated with a suspended or revoked driver license," Young said. "For these individuals, losing a driver license creates a barrier to staying employed and providing for their families."

A report by the Legislature's research arm, OPPAGA, noted that more than 685,000 Florida drivers had their licenses suspended for the 12-month period that ended last June. Data from the state motor vehicle agency showed that Miami-Dade, the most expensive place to live in Florida, had 137,000 suspended drivers last year. and that nearly three times as many of them were black as were white. Most of the remaining drivers were Hispanic.

Young's bill, HB 1181, would prohibit judges from suspending for a first offense of failure to appear in court on a worthless check charge, and give a judge discretion to issue a suspension on subsequent bad-check offenses and for misdemeanor theft charges.

Her bill would reduce from two years to one year the suspension for a drug-related conviction, while allowing the drug treatment and rehabilitation option so the driver can gain reinstatement after six months. A driver who owes support could avoid suspension by beginning to pay the obligation by an income deduction plan, and would allow for consideration of unusual circumstances, such as a driver being on unemployment compensation or incapable of self-support.


Rick Scott, Marco Rubio talk Venezuela at El Arepazo 2 in Doral


From a press release for a noon event in Doral at 3900 N.W. 79 Ave:

The leaders of the Miami-Venex Democratic Unity Rountable cordially invites the news media to an eventwith Governor Rick Scott of Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who will present a message of faith and hope to the people of Venezuela in their fight for sovereignty, liberty and democracy. 


Senate releases bill to revamp school grading formula

The Senate Education Committee on Thursday filed a key bill that will allow lawmakers to tweak the controversial school grading formula.

SPB 7060 is pretty much identical to state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart's proposal for revamping the A-F grading system.

Stewart has suggested simplifing the formula by removing bonus points and the so-called triggers that automatically cause a school grade to drop. She also wants to remove some graduation rates and college readiness measures from the formula used to evaluate high schools.

On Thursday, Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg called Stewart's plan a "starting point" for a larger discussion.

Legg, R-Trinity, said he spent the week talking to superintendents about the formula. He plans to address some of their lingering concerns on Tuesday, when the proposed bill comes before the Senate Education Committee.

Among the issues lawmakers will tackle: making sure the formula is fair to English-language learners and that it adequately addresses student growth.

Some superintendents, including Nikolai Vitti in Duval County, have also warned against oversimplifying the formula used to grade high schools. "The high school experience should be more than state assessments, but clear metrics linked to life after high school," Vitti wrote in a letter to the State Board of Education earlier this month.

Legg said he will consider that point, too.

"It's that balancing act of having a simplistic, easy-to-understand accountability system, but at the same time, ensuring that it measures the things we want it to measure," he said. 

The Education Committee chairman would also like to see language addressing testing for special-needs students. The issue has been a hot topic in Tallahassee after the mother of a brain-damaged Orlando boy had to convince the Orange County School Board her son could not take the state assessments. The boy died this month.

The school grading formula has come under fire in recent months for being overly complicated and essentially meaningless to parents. Grassroots parent groups, along with the statewide teachers union, have called for a moratorium on the grading program.

Any tweaks to the formula would require legislative action.

Senate President Don Gaetz, however, doesn't want lawmakers meddling in school grades. 

"I don't think that the legislature should develop a formula for school grades," he told the Herald/Times last week. "That's why we have a Board of Education. That's why we have an education commissioner. They've taken a great deal of input."

Gaetz said Stewart had done a good job of "cleaning out the underbrush of a school grading system that had too much legislative involvement."

"I support the commissioner in the proposal that she's developed," he said. "I would hope that the legislature would not try to superimpose our judgement on what the Board of Education has done. I would hope that we would ratify what the Board of Education has proposed."



Potential new or expanded cities continue to vex Miami-Dade County Commission


More than 100 people filed into Miami-Dade County Hall on Thursday to voice their enthusiasm or indignation — there was little middle ground — on the possibility that their neighborhoods could become a city or join an existing one.

A vote on the specific communities’ future wasn’t even on the agenda.

But few questions in local government stir more passion than cityhood. And so, with county commissioners holding a special meeting to decide how to grapple with the issue in general, activists on all sides came out in full force.

“Everybody is afraid,” said Milena Connelly, who lives in Northeast Miami-Dade.

They didn’t get much clarity from the commission, which struggled once again with how to proceed.

More here.

President Obama, First Lady are Miami-bound March 7

From the White House:

“On Friday, March 7th, the President and the First Lady will travel to the Miami area for an event on expanding opportunity for the middle class. Further details about the President and First Lady’s travel to Florida will be made available in the coming days.”

Rubio reveals Venezuela sanctions, blasts Clinton's "democracy" remarks

@MarcACaputo @PatriciaMazzei

The United States should condemn Venezuela’s government for violently suppressing protests and it should slap individual sanctions on mid- and top-level officials associated with the regime in Caracas, according to a U.S. Senate resolution detailed Thursday by Florida’s Marco Rubio.

Rubio also accused former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — a Democrat whom the Republican might run against for president in 2016 — of espousing a “muddled position” on Venezuelan democracy during a speech she gave Wednesday night at the University of Miami, Rubio’s law school alma mater and near his family home.

Rubio’s criticisms of Clinton, though, were secondary to the resolution he’s sponsoring with New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, on which Rubio sits.

Continue reading "Rubio reveals Venezuela sanctions, blasts Clinton's "democracy" remarks" »

Another Miami member of Congress speaks about Venezuela on House floor


On Thursday, it was Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart's turn to support protesters on the streets of Venezuela from the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Miami Republican said the U.S. should demand that the Organization of American States convene a special meeting. Panama made that request earlier this week. The meeting was called but then put off.

"I urge the international community to aggressively express their commitment to the basic freedoms that are under assault in Venezuela," Diaz-Balart said.

Earlier this week, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, both Republicans, also used their floor time to draw attention to the Venezuelan unrest.


Montford bill seeks three-year transition to new standards, tests

For months, school superintendents have been asking the state to slow down the transition to new standards, statewide exams and accountability measures.

On Thursday, the CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents (a.k.a. Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee) put that request into a formal legislative proposal.

The bill, SB 1368, seeks to ease Florida school districts into the new accountability system.

There's a lot going on. Districts must fully transition to the new education benchmarks known as the Florida Standards by next year. The state Department of Education expects to introduce new, computer-based state tests at that time, too. (The exams have yet to be selected.)

What's more, the department is in the middle of rolling out a new performance-pay program for teachers.

Many educators worry they won't be prepared to teach and test the new standards by next year. And superintendents are concerned they won't have accesss to the technology needed for computer-based testing.


Montford's proposal would push the timeline back by three years. It would suspend the controversial school grading system until 2017-18, though schoolwide student performance data would still be reported publicly. 

The bill would also modify the teacher evaluation system during the transition. 

"The proposed legislation establishes a transition accountability system," Montford wrote in a statement. "It ensures that all of the elements are in place –- standards, assessments, instructional materials, technology, and a fair teacher evaluation system -- before high stakes are imposed on students, teachers and schools."

Montford contends that the move is necessary to restore trust in the education accountaility system.

"Unless public confidence is restored, the entire system is at risk and we could forfeit the gains we have made in increased student performance," he said.

The sponsor in the lower chamber will be Rep. Joe Saunders, an Orlando Democrat.

The measure will likely have the support of the statewide teachers union, the state PTA and grassroots parent groups, all of which have been calling upon state education officials to slow down. Groups that oppose the new benchmarks, like Florida Parents Against Common Core, have also expressed support for a three-year delay.

Winning over Senate President Don Gaetz will be more of a challenge. 

Gaetz opposes a temporary suspension of school grades. 

"I don't mean to be flip about it, but I would be in favor of suspending measuring academic achivement when we take down the scoreboards on the football fields in Florida and we take down the scoreboards in the basketball gyms," he told the Herald/Times last week. "And since we're not going to do that, since we think it is important enough to keep track of who has made a first down ... I think it's at least as important to keep track of how well students are doing, what's working and what's not working in terms of teaching strategies, and why and how and when we would adjust those strategies to make sure children do better." 

Rep. Frederica Wilson and Miami-Dade schools chief Alberto Carvalho join President Barack Obama for 'My Brothers Keeper' announcement

Joining the President Barack Obama at the White House Thursday afternoon for his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative on Thursday afternoon will be Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson, D-Miami, Mami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and Dr. Theron Clark, administrator 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project, a program founded 21 years ago by the congresswoman to mentor at-risk boys in Miami-Dade schools.

Obama is calling on America’s businesses, philanthropists and government leaders to join forces to put young men of color on a path toward successful lives. Foundations were to announce pledges to spend at least $200 million over five years to promote that goal as Obama launches his new initiative.

“['My Brother’s Keeper' initiative] is a step in the right direction toward improving the outcomes for young men of color,” said Wilson in a statement.

"I have seen, firsthand, that providing structure, discipline and role models can make a difference in the lives of young men of color and improve their odds of getting an education to become productive citizens," she added.

Read the full story here