March 26, 2017

Jeb Bush: Trump should 'stop saying things that aren't true'

GOP 2016 Bush(24) (1)

Jeb Bush has a little unsolicited advice for President Donald Trump, his former primary rival.

"He should stop saying things that aren't true, that are distractions from the task at hand," Bush told Miami Herald news partner WFOR-CBS 4 in an interview that aired Sunday on "Facing South Florida."

In his first in-depth local interview since dropping out of the presidential race more than a year ago, Bush offered a mixed assessment of Trump's first 60 or so days in office. He praised several of Trump's Cabinet secretaries, including Betsy DeVos for education, John Kelly for homeland security and Rex Tillerson for state.

"The president made some really good appointments," Bush said. "He's acted decisively on some areas I think are important, particularly on the regulatory side."

But Bush said Trump "hasn't shifted to being president in the way that people are used to, and I think that's the problem."

"He's a distraction in and of himself," Bush said. "He's got a lot of work to do, and some of these things -- the wiretapping and all of this stuff -- is a complete distraction that makes it harder to accomplish the things I know he wants to do."

Asked host Jim DeFede: Does that diminish the office of the president? "A little bit," said Bush, who said he hasn't spoken to Trump since the inauguration.

Reflecting on his failed presidential campaign, Bush said he didn't regret running but acknowledged his personality and style didn't work for the electorate.

"Reasoning, in this environment where people are angry, is hard, and I wasn't capable of giving them a sense that there is a better path," he said. "They wanted to have their anger remediated -- more than a five-point plan.... President Trump's great skill was to understand that."

Bush also said he learned "something unusual": "People customize their news to validate what they believe, and it makes them increasingly less tolerant of other people's views that rely on another set of facts," he said. "That is dangerous for our democracy."

He said his top concern for the country is restoring "some sense of what it is to be an American citizen again, and have it be a unifying theme."

While Bush wouldn't rule out another political run -- "I don't rule out anything" -- he sounded content to be a private citizen again in Coral Gables.

"I sleep at night at home more often than not, and I've got my life organized pretty nicely," he said. "My church, my gym, my golf course. My office is less than a mile from my home, and it's two stop signs away. You can't beat that, man."

Bush also shied away from handicapping the big 2018 Florida governor and U.S. Senate races, though he noted that Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson has "never been knocked off as a candidate for Senate."

"You gotta assume that incumbents have a certain advantage, if they've won two or three times," Bush said. "But on the other hand,t he person who's likely to run against him is also an incumbent -- so that'll be a good race for sure."

He was referring -- without mentioning him -- to Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Photo credit: Andrew Harnik, Associated Press

March 23, 2017

Corcoran blasts Constitution Commission's schedule for 'disenfranchising' legislative members

House Speaker Richard Corcoran on Thursday criticized Constitution Revision Commission chair Carlos Beruff for scheduling four public hearings in the middle of the legislative session, when five of his nine appointees, all legislators, are unavailable to attend.

 "When you have such a once-in-20-year august body, dealing with something of the highest impact -- which is our Constitution -- and you only have a limited number of members, 37, and immediately the first action is to disenfranchise one sixth, I don't think that is a good start,'' Corcoran told reporters on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Beruff announced four public hearing dates and sites for the 37-member panel charged with recommending revisions to the state constitution and placing them on the 2018 ballot.

The meetings will be held in Orlando on Wednesday, March 29, in Miami on Thursday, April 6, in Boca Raton on Friday, April 7 and in Pensacola on Wednesday April 12.

The House has committee meetings and or floor session scheduled for each of those days with the exception of Friday, April 7, and lawmakers would have to get an excused absence from House or Senate leadership to attend the public hearings in person.

Corcoran named to the commission Sens. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, and House Reps. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, Jeanette Nunez, R-Miami, and Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor.

The Constitution Revision Commission convened for the first time on Monday and immediately ran into trouble when Beruff was forced to delay a vote on the pending rules amid concern raised by several members. 

Update: Meredith Beatrice, external affairs director of the CRC, responded to Corcoran's comments late Thursday, noting that there will be more hearings scheduled for legislators to attend. 

"As a commission which meets just once every 20 years, commissioners have a responsibility to be accountable to the people of Florida and accomplish as much as we can in the short time we have,'' she said. "The work before this commission is incredibly important. We will be working with all commissioners on additional public hearings to ensure the best possible outcome for families in our state.

"It is very important commissioners participate and hear from the public. That is why we only released a few dates, more will be scheduled soon. Videos of the meetings will also be posted online."


March 22, 2017

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 " »

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.


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

March 20, 2017

Constitution Revision Commission opens but without rules

The state panel assigned to review the state Constitution got off to a rocky start Monday as the 37-member commission met for an organizational session in the Florida Senate chambers but delayed adopting rules after several members privately raised questions about whether the proposals diluted the public’s input in the process.

The Constitution Revision Committee, which is convened every 20 years and given the power to put proposals directly on the 2018 November ballot, met for just over an hour and reviewed the state ethics laws that apply. But a proposal to have the commission adopt rules drafted by the commission staff in advance of the meeting was indefinitely postponed until after public hearings begin next week in Orange County.

Under the proposal, Chairman Carlos Beruff would be given the power to send a proposal back to a committee after it has been amended in another committee — a tool used to effectively kill proposals — and it will take a two-thirds vote of the full commission to reverse these rulings.

“I am personally looking forward to advancing policies that will help make the future of our state even stronger than it already is,” said Beruff, the Manatee County businessman appointed to chair the commission by Gov. Rick Scott.

Beruff said the draft rules “create an unprecedented level of transparency and increase public input from Florida citizens” but to give members more time for input they would not be voting Monday on the rules.

As happened in 1998, when the commission was last convened, the group will be divided into committees, and those committees will have the power to adopt and amend proposals. But under the draft rules distributed to members last Thursday, Beruff would be given sole discretion over what proposals will be referred to which committee and and proposed amendment to the constitution could not be amended by the full commission.

“Everyone is not going to agree, not just on our rules but on everything before this commission,’’ Beruff told the commission. “But we will debate and we will reach a conclusion that is best for Florida citizens.”

He said they will conduct a separate meeting to vote on the rules some time in the future, likely in Tallahassee, but offered no details. Until then, he said he considers “everything is open meetings and open records as far as I’m concerned rules or no rules,’’ he said, noting that they are launching a web site and will post “everything on the web site immediately.”

Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, asked the commission to amend its proposed rules to bring them into line with existing law regarding open meetings and public records, including a requirement that “public records shall be open to personal inspection and copying at reasonable times,” instead of allowing records to use a new standard not in law and to require meetings be open when two or more members meet to discuss business.

“We should note that the higher standard under Article I applies to every collegial body in Florida except the Florida legislature, and we strongly urge the CRC to adopt the Article I standard rather than the weaker legislative standard,” Petersen wrote in a letter to Beruff on Monday.

Arthenia Joyner, former Senate Democratic leader who was appointed to the commission by Florida Supreme Court Justice Jorge Labarga. said she objects to the proposed rules because they give Beruff “ultimate power.” 

“There's too many strong, intelligent people in here to have somebody try to exercise absolute control,’’ she said.

She said she will recommend that Beruff appoint a committee “to work on the rules because it’s obvious that the vast majority of the people here did not like what was proposed.”

Former Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, appointed to the commission by Senate President Joe Negron, said he would have voted against the rules and strongly objected to a provision that would have allowed members to cast a vote by being present only by teleconference, and not in person.

Roberto Martinez, a Miami lawyer who was appointed to the commission by Labarga, said he served on the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission and several state boards which prohibited members from discussing business outside of the sunshine and “it did not” interfere in their ability to conduct business.

“I’m so used to it, it’s in my DNA,’’ he said.

Tim Cerio, former general counsel to Scott and a member of the commission, defended the proposed rules as more transparent that the process used in 1998, which imposed no limits on commissioners meeting to discuss proposals and required only that meetings be noticed.

“What we’re doing is going beyond that,’’ he said.

There are other significant departures from the rules adopted by the 1998 Constitution Revision Commission, which succeeded in passing eight of the nine proposals it put before voters. Many on that commission, which included a bipartisan blend of members, attribute the carefully-crafted rules of the commission for helping bring consensus and strengthen the proposals that won voter support.

“It puts the responsibility on the committees and the committees have more power to pass stuff and kill stuff,’’ Cerio said.

One important rule that has been proposed to be carried over from 1998 is the requirement that in order for a measure to be put on the November ballot, it must receive a super majority of 22 votes from commission members. 

Each of the presiding officers who appointed members of the commission made brief remarks at the Monday meeting. Scott, who appointed Beruff and 14 members of the commission called it a “distinct opportunity” and “everyone will have fun.”  Labarga said the commission “has awesome power” and his three appointments were made to “bring a balanced perspective” and an understanding of “the importance of separation of powers.”

Negron, R-Stuart, who appointed nine members, said his request to them is “just to recognize that our entire system of government is founded on the supremacy of the individual” and that all power derives from the people.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, called the group a “statewide all-star team” and he encouraged the members to “encourage dissent” and have “robust debate.”

If they succeed at that, they will “get to fix what still exists in Florida: some serious injustices,’’ he said. When asked to elaborate, Corcoran said he was referring to “great injustices robbing children -- sticking them in failure factories” by putting them in schools that “take that a child’s dignity and hope away.”

He said if the commission only accomplishes reversing the Florida Supreme Court’s 2006 ruling on Bush v. Holmes, “it will be a wonderful success.” That ruling said the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program, which allowed students in failing schools to obtain taxpayer-financed vouchers to attend private schools, violated a provision in the state constitution that requires a “uniform” system of public schools for all students. end print trim

Beruff said he hopes to have at least two rounds of public hearings around the state and possibly a third after they put together the proposed amendments to the ballot.  

The commission has scheduled a public hearing in Orange County for March 29, in Miami Dade County on April 6 and in Palm Beach County on April 7 -- all days the Legislature is in session, posing a conflict for several of the legislators on the panel.


First Amendment Foundation raises concerns about Constitution commission's 'lesser' openness standards

Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, is asking the the Constitution Revision Commission to amend its proposed rules to bring the commission into line with existing law regarding open meetings and public records.

The 37-member commission, which meets today for the first time in an organizational session, has drafted rules that depart from the existing Sunshine law, which is intended to apply to public officials -- including appointed boards and commissions.

"Given the gravity and importance of the work of the Commission and its impact on citizens across the state, we would expect the CRC to hold itself to the highest standards of transparency, allowing all Floridians to oversee the work of the Commission and hold it accountable for its actions,'' Peterson wrote in a letter to commission chair Carlos BeruffDownload Response to CRC Proposed Rule

Specifically, she said: 

"Rule 1.23, Public Records, states, “All records of the Commission shall be accessible to the public unless otherwise exempted by law.” (Emphasis added.) The rules of the previous CRC used the phrase “open to the public,” which comports with the statement of public policy found in s. 119.01(1), F.S. and s. 11.0431, F.S., stating that “public records shall be open to personal inspection and copying at reasonable times . . .” We respectfully suggest Rule 1.23 be amended to follow the standard articulated in Florida statutes.

"In addition, we have concerns regarding Rule 1.24 relating to meetings of the CRC. Specifically, Rule 1.24 adopts the legislative standard under Article III, s. 4(e) that states that meetings between three or more CRC members at which Commission business is discussed must be open. This is a lesser standard than that found in Article I, s. 24(b) requiring that meetings between two or more members of a collegial body be opened and noticed to the public. We should note that the higher standard under Article I applies to every collegial body in Florida except the Florida legislature, and we strongly urge the CRC to adopt the Article I standard rather than the weaker legislative standard."

(The First Amendment Foundation is a non-profit advocate of open government and open records. The Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times are members.)

This was initially posted at 12:15 p.m. and we sought the comment of the CRC staff. At 9:23 p.m., Chairman Beruff issued the following comment: 

“Transparency is of the utmost importance to the Commission and all meetings will be noticed and open to the public. I look forward to working with the Commissioners to adopt rules which reflect the importance of transparency and ensure total public access and involvement throughout this process.”​ 

Constitution commission proposes key changes to rules that steer more power to Carlos Beruff

Carlos Beruff Miami HeraldFlorida's unique quest to update its state Constitution begins today as the 37-member commission meets for an organizational session the Florida Senate chambers.

The group, dominated by Republicans, will meet briefly for two hours, review its proposed rules and go over the state's ethics and Sunshine laws.

The draft rules, however, are already stoking some debate. They allow Carlos Beruff, the Manatee County businessman who was selected to be chairman of the commission by Gov. Rick Scott, to consolidate his power over the group by giving him sole discretion of what expenses will be reimbursed and to use his committee referrals to kill proposals that have been amended by members.

The commission will be divided into committees and committees will have the power to adopt and amend proposals but there are other significant departures from the rules adopted by the 1998 Constitution Revision Commission, which succeeded in passing 8 of the 9 proposals it put before voters. Many on that commission, which included a bi-partisan blend of members, attribute the carefully-crafted rules of the commission for helping bring consensus and strengthen the proposals that won voter support.

According to draft rules 2.14 and 4.5, Beruff will have the power to refer proposals that have been amended back to committees -- where they can be killed with an unfavorable vote. It will take a two-thirds vote of the full commission to reverse his ruling.

Another change is in rule 1.23, which says that CRC records will be “accessible” to the public and strikes the word "open" from the 1998 rules.  Why the change?  Is “accessible” meant to mean something different than “open?”

What will be the budget and who will pay for it? Will outside groups be allowed to finance campaigns related to the proposals advocated by the commission? Will coordination between outside groups and commission members be reported? Will they be allowed?

There is no indication as to how much money will be allocated to pay for the expenses of commission members but that is being determined by the governor's office, the House speaker and Senate president, said Meredith Beatrice, spokesperson from the commission.

She said the rule regarding reimbursement of commission expenses was rewritten to "enhance clarity. The intent is still the same." 

"The chairman is committed to empowering the commissioners at the committee level so they can do their job," Beatrice said. 

Beatrice said that a process is also being established for lobbyists who attempt to influence the commission to register.

One important rule that has been carried over from 1998 is the requirement that in order for a measure to be put on the November ballot, it must receive a supermajority of 22 votes from commission members.

Other changes include allowing members to attend meetings via teleconference, giving Beruff the power to determine if amendments offered by members to change proposals are germane. Rules can be waived by two-thirds vote of those present and voting -- which includes people present only by teleconference.

Here are the proposed rules in the committee packet.

Here is the strike-through of the 1998 rules that was used to develop this draft.  Download CRC draft Rules 16 Mar 2017

Photo: Carlo Beruff

March 17, 2017

Constitution Revision Commission quietly gears up for its first session on Monday

Carlos Beruff Miami HeraldThe 37-members of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission are getting word by phone that they should arrive in Tallahassee Monday for the first meeting of the powerful board that will decide what changes to recommend to voters in 2018. 

The group is scheduled to meet Monday between 2 and 4 p.m. in the Florida Senate chamber to go over ethics and adopt the group's rules. It will then launch a series of public hearings around the state, said the group's chairman Carlos Beruff. 

The outstanding question is what will the rules be? Word is they are using the rules adopted by the 1998 CRC as a starting point. Members of that commission credit the rules -- which established effective procedures for building consensus in the political diverse group -- as contributing to the successful passage of the recommended amendments by voters in 1998.

Another question: will the practices of the notoriously open-records averse governor rub off on the commission and Beruff? At least one member of the commission is an expert on the state's Sunshine laws and the governor's views. Senate President Joe Negron's appointee, Martin County Clerk of Court Carolyn Timmann, served briefly as Scott's director of open government.

The Florida Senate will host the group, as it did 20 years ago, and staff has spent the week updating the electronic voting board to include the names of the 37 commissioners. Beruff has hired Meredith Beatrice, the spokesperson for the Florida Secretary of State, to be the commission's public information officer and the Florida Senate has also assisted by helping to establish a web site,, which now is pretty spartan. 

Jeff Woodburn, Gov. Rick Scott’s former policy director, will serve as the executive director for the commission.

Photo: Carlos Beruff, Miami Herald

March 16, 2017

American Bridge launches ads against Carlos Curbelo, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen about Trump and Russia



The liberal group American Bridge is targeting two Miami GOP members of Congress -- Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen -- related to President Donald Trump's ties to Russia.

The digital ads lead viewers to a website which encourages voters to contact members of Congress to ask them to demand a special prosecutor to investigate Trump. Similar digital ads nationwide target 27 Republicans who won districts that Hillary Clinton won in November. The ads will air in Florida and other states for a week and coincide with the March 20th House Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia's role in the United States' presidential election.

Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen have made some past written statements showing support for an investigation.

Ros-Lehtinen responded in a written statement about whether she supports an investigation:

"The Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russian activities, which includes Russian interference in our elections, began before the current administration took office and is ongoing. As a member of the Intelligence Committee, I'm committed to helping ensure a truly bipartisan and complete investigation is conducted. It is important that, when completed, our Intelligence Committee’s Russia report become public so that the American people can fully comprehend the desperate and dangerous attempts of Russia to influence our political institutions." 

It is clear that Putin’s regime has sought to undermine our nation’s interest and I have led the push for sanctions on human rights violators by leading the effort to ensure the Sergei Magnitsky Act became law. I’ve also called for sanctions against those who poisoned my friend, Vladimir Kara-Muza, and those who murdered Boris Nemtsov. I have also cosponsored legislation which calls for the full implementation of sanctions against those in Russia who are harmful to democracy, human rights, and our nation’s interests.”

Curbelo's office responded in a written statement:

“It’s sickening that extreme liberal operatives would resort to their tried and failed tactic of lying to the people of South Florida. The Congressman has been a vocal critic of Putin and his thugs the entirety of his time in Congress. Most recently, he has consistently supported the ongoing bipartisan congressional investigations in both the House and the Senate, and called for their scope to include any and all possible contacts between campaign and government officials and the Russian government or its intelligence services. Once the investigations are complete, Congressman Curbelo will demand that anyone and everyone in our government who may have violated the law is held fully accountable.”

Democrats have targeted Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen because they are Miami-Dade Republicans who represent left-leaning districts. But both are tough targets for Democrats in 2018 because they easily won re-election in November and have been willing to break with party ranks at times and criticize members of their own party. Earlier this week, Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen led the GOP criticism of the white nationalist tweet by U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa

Curbelo has been a GOP leader talking about climate change while Ros-Lehtinen has said she won't support the GOP health care plan -- although she wants Obamacare repealed.

This post has been updated to include statements from Ros-Lehtinen and Curbelo.