March 11, 2013

Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez to visit Congress

@PatriciaMazzei

Yoani Sánchez, the dissident Cuban blogger who since last month has been on an international tour after being granted a passport, will meet with U.S. senators and representatives on March 19, Sen. Bill Nelson's office announced Monday.

Nelson, of Florida, and Miami Rep. Joe Garcia, both Democrats, invited Sánchez to visit. She plans to spend a couple of days in Washington D.C., and she is scheduled to stop in Miami in April.

"I look forward to this meeting and her unique view of the realities of life in Cuba," Nelson said in a statement.

Read the full statement after the jump.

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February 28, 2013

Sen. Bill Nelson: dock lawmakers' pay if fed workers get furloughed

@MarcACaputo

From a press release:

TAMPA – U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) will announce here tomorrow that he and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) are filing legislation aimed at having members of Congress’ paychecks docked the same percentage as any federal worker furloughed as a result of sequestration.

“No one should get paid for inaction,” Nelson said today.  “And Congress clearly hasn’t done the job to avert the sequester.

“Everyone expects us to work together and find a common ground,” the Florida Democrat added.  “But too many in Washington keep fighting for their own political side.”

Said McCaskill: “The federal workforce is looking at furloughs that would result in a sizeable pay cut—and there’s absolutely no reason members of Congress should exempt themselves.  We can and should reach a balanced compromise to replace these damaging across-the-board cuts, but until we do, this is an obvious step to hold Congress accountable for the job we need to get done.”

An announcement is set for Friday morning - the same day steep across-the-board federal budget cuts are to go into effect, absent a deficit reduction deal in Congress by midnight tonight.

The cuts are a result of the so-called sequester measure Congress passed during tense debt-ceiling negotiations in 2011.  Talks to avert the spending cuts have failed so far.  Democrats offered a plan that includes targeted spending cuts with some new revenues, but Republicans are insisting upon a deal without tax increases.

The Senate late this afternoon rejected rival proposals to stop the sequester, all but ensuring the automatic spending cuts will begin tomorrow.  Furloughs aren’t expected to start until at least mid-April.

Nelson plans to announce he’s filing legislation with McCaskill a day after he talked to the powerful Senate Appropriations chairwoman Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who recently took to the Senate floor to talk about the devastating effect a furlough, or layoff of federal workers would have on the economy.  During a speech Tuesday she declared:

“If the workers are going to be cut 20 percent then I think Congress members’ pay should be cut by 20 percent.  I look forward to moving on that legislation in the coming weeks, but I hope it doesn’t come to that.”

February 25, 2013

Poll: 7 in 10 back FL medical-marijuana plan, could affect governor’s race

@MarcACaputo

As many as seven in 10 Florida voters support a state constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana – more than enough to ensure passage and possibly affect the governor’s race — according to a new poll from a group trying to put the measure on the 2104 ballot.

Medical pot’s sky-high approval cuts across party and demographic lines, with Republican support the lowest at a still-strong 56 percent, the poll conducted for People United for Medical Marijuana, or PUFMM, shows.

The outsized support of Democrats and independents brings overall backing of the amendment to 70 percent; with only 24 percent opposed, according to the poll obtained by The Miami Herald.

Regionally, voters from the Miami and Orlando areas, among the most socially liberal in the state, want medical marijuana the most.

Continue reading "Poll: 7 in 10 back FL medical-marijuana plan, could affect governor’s race" »

January 28, 2013

Florida's other Senator, Bill Nelson, lauds 'principles' of Marco Rubio, Gang of 8's immigration plan

By @MarcACaputo

Sounds like senior Florida Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat, likes what Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is doing with immigration:

“I support the principles of a bipartisan group of senators seeking immigration reform and U.S. border security.  We simply cannot deport 11 million people.  That would be unreasonable.  It would ruin our economy.  But anyone who is here must follow the rules, pay taxes, learn English and go to the end of the line.  If they do that, they should have a shot at citizenship.  And those who are unwilling to do that, they should be sent home.   We also need to make sure that children who through no fault of their own know no other country but ours can stay here to go to college or serve in the military.  The bottom line is: we’re talking about fairness."

Story here on the plan so far.

January 22, 2013

Bill Nelson didn't catch an Everglades python, but team with county commissioner and state rep did

Python1

Miami-Dade Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz spent Saturday dressed in camouflage gear, riding an air boat and hunting for pythons in the Everglades. And someone on his team actually caught one.

Diaz and Miami Republican state Rep. Frank Artiles, taller and also clad in camouflage, and Florida Wildlife Commissioner Ron Bergeron posed for a photo with the python as part of the 2013 Python Challenge -- while the python was still alive, Diaz said. Artiles and Diaz are both U.S. Marine veterans. 

"The python was caught by the team that had gotten to the island just before us," Diaz said. "I had one that I kind saw the tail end of it, and I tried to grab to get it, but it went into the water."

He estimated the photographed specimen -- caught by a wrangler known as "Python Dave" -- measured around 10 feet. Diaz called it "very aggressive" because it snapped at them a few times. (He also said he had an encounter with a gator who growled at him.)

"It's not an easy thing to do," he concluded from his python-hunting trip. "You gotta really be careful."

Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, took part in the python hunt last week, and brought reporters along, but returned empty-handed. That was before the weather cooled, which usually prompts pythons to leave the water and sun themselves.

As of Monday, 27 Burmese pythons had been caught as part of the challenge, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

photo courtesy of the office of Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz

January 17, 2013

Bill Nelson doesn't get his python. But he sure bagged the news media

IMG_0605Bill Nelson didn’t kill any pythons in the Everglades.

But Florida’s senior senator bagged something bigger Thursday: the rapt attention of the news media.

With a Florida Wildlife commissioner who goes by "Alligator Ron" Bergeron and snake hunters — including one wrangler called "Python Dave" — Nelson and a team of biologists and naturalists roamed the River of Grass to raise awareness about the invasive snakes that are gobbling up the creatures of the Everglades.

The wildlife commission has launched a “Python Challenge” cash-prize contest, which began last Saturday, to get more people to kill more of the snakes.

"These pythons eat everything in the Everglades: bobcats, deer, even alligator and maybe endangered Florida panther," Nelson said.

"These snakes are dangerous. There was a child killed in Central Florida by one of these kept as pets," he said. "The pythons don’t belong here."

But Nelson does.

The Everglades is a piece of Florida history and a place for threatened and endangered species. And Nelson, the only statewide elected Florida Democrat, has been a threatened political species since he first won his Senate seat in 2000.

Continue reading "Bill Nelson doesn't get his python. But he sure bagged the news media" »

January 16, 2013

Bill Nelson, Everglades Foundation lament Ken Salazar's departure

Though his boss has yet to visit the Everglades, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was a regular visitor who made restoring the River of Grass one of the Obama administration's top environmental priorities.

Salazar on Wednesday became the latest Cabinet member to step down for the president's second term. The Everglades Foundation, an influential advocacy group based in Palmetto Bay, and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, praised the former Colorado senator's role in reviving Everglades restoration.

Salazar, who visited Florida at least 10 times during his four-year term, championed efforts to ban the import of Burmese python and create a new Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Area north of Lake Okeechobee. Federal spending on the Everglades ramped up dramatically during the Obama administration, with $1.5 billion directed toward restoration programs. He supported adding more bridging along Tamiami Trail. Interior, working with the Environmental Protection Agency, also negotiated a landmark expansion of Florida's pollution clean-up efforts.

Eric Eikenberg, chief executive of the Everglades Foundation, said Salazar's departure in March meant "the loss one of the nation’s true friends of America’s Everglades.”

Nelson said the Interior secretary, a rancher who typically showed up in cowboy boots and hat, would be missed.

“Ken Salazar is my personal friend, and he’s much more,'' Nelson said in a statement. "He’s been a good friend to Florida and will always be a friend of the Everglades.''

--CURTIS MORGAN

January 10, 2013

Bill Nelson, Wasserman Schultz could get embarrassed in Dem party chair race

Democratic National Committee Chairmwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has the ear and the loyalty of president Barack Obama, and loads of influence among Democrats in Washington and across the country. Democratic activists in her home state of Florida, however, are poised to deliver an embarrassing snub to Wasserman Schultz with the heated race to lead the state Democratic party.

The congresswoman from Weston recruited longtime friend Allison Tant of Tallahassee to run for chairwoman of the Florida Democratic party, and in recent weeks has aggressively lobbied elected officials and party activists to get behind her anointed choice to lead the Democratic party in America’s biggest battleground state.

But it looks increasingly likely that those activists may ignore the entreaties by Wasserman Schultz and Sen. Bill Nelson and instead elect Tampa activist Alan Clendenin to succeed outgoing party chairman Rod Smith.  A tally of announced support compiled Wednesday night by Leon county Democratic activist Jon showed Clendenin with 390 votes, 68.4 percent of what's needed to win, and Tant with 183, or 32 percent of what's needed.

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December 21, 2012

Jon Hammar, jailed ex-Marine from Miami, released from Mexican prison

Jon Hammar, the former Marine from Palmetto Bay who had been detained at a Mexican prison since August, has been freed.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the family's congresswoman, relayed the news late Friday night. Hammar's mother, Olivia, also issued a statement to the press about her son's release.

"The only expression that captures how we feel today is that 'our cup runneth over,'" the family said. It thanked Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Sens. Bill Nelson (a Democrat) and Marco Rubio (a Republican), and Rep. Mike Thompson, a California Democrat, for assisting in Hammar's case. Thompson represents the California district where Hammar, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, spent some time in a residential facility for veterans, being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.

In her own statement, Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, thanked "the American people" and her congressional colleagues for pushing for Hammar's release. "I am overcome with joy knowing that Jon will be spending Christmas with his parents, family and friends," she said.

Read their full statements after the jump.

Continue reading "Jon Hammar, jailed ex-Marine from Miami, released from Mexican prison" »

UPDATED Former U.S. Marine from Miami to be released from Mexican prison

Jon Hammar, the Marine veteran from South Florida detained for months in a Mexican border prison for bringing his great-grandfather’s shotgun into the country, is expected to be released Friday in what his mother calls a “Christmas miracle.’’

His mother, Olivia, said she and her husband were awoken with a 2:30 a.m. phone call from Hammar’s defense attorney sharing the good news. Hammar’s father, Jon, quickly found a flight to Texas.

“We made it from our house in Palmetto Bay to the airport in 11 minutes,” she told The Miami Herald. “This is our Christmas miracle.”

The elder Hammar will wait for his son, who has been held since August in a prison in Matamoros, Mexico, across the border in Brownsville, Texas. They will likely remain there for a few days, Olivia Hammar said, because her son is interested in getting back the 1972 Winnebago motor home — and some nine surfboards he was transporting — from Mexican authorities.

“It will be closure for him,” she said.

Hammar was arrested Aug. 13 when he and a fellow Marine veteran, who were headed to Costa Rica to surf, tried to cross into Mexico. Hammar had been told by U.S. authorities he could declare a six-decades-old .410 bore Sears & Roebuck shotgun at the border. The firearm is suitable for shooting rabbits and birds.

But Mexican authorities dismissed Hammar’s U.S. registration papers for the disassembled relic. Prosecutors charged him with a serious crime: possession of a weapon restricted for use to Mexico’s armed forces.

More here.