August 19, 2017

Should Capitol's Confederate monument be removed? Scott won't say.

Capitol confederate monument@ByKristenMClark

Florida’s Republican governor won’t take a position on what should be done with a monument that honors slain Confederate soldiers on the state Capitol grounds, even as a growing number of elected leaders around the country take steps to remove such monuments after last weekend’s violent white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Va.

Rather than lead on the issue, Rick Scott is deferring to state lawmakers and has remained silent on whether such monuments in Florida — and particularly the one at the Capitol — should be taken down.

After Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democratic candidate for governor, on Wednesday called on Scott to remove the Capitol monument, Scott’s office would only acknowledge they had “received” that request.

His office on Thursday pointed to general remarks Scott had made two days earlier about how federal, state and local officials ought to “review” what should be done with Confederate monuments. “We need to go through a process where everyone comes together and has a legitimate conversation, then we go forward,” Scott had said.

But Scott, through his spokesmen, has repeatedly declined to answer questions from the Herald/Times this week — including again on Friday — about what direction he wants elected officials in Florida to take: Whether monuments celebrating the Confederacy, such as the one at the Capitol, should be removed or kept, and why.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times

June 07, 2017

South Florida rain interferes with lawmakers traveling to Tallahassee

SawgrassFlooding_001_MHD_BC

@ByKristenMClark

South Florida's torrential rains and stormy weather were bad enough to affect attendance at the Florida Legislature's special session nearly 500 miles away in Tallahassee, as some lawmakers found it challenging to make it here because of cancelled or delayed flights.

Hialeah Republican Sen. René García, for instance, had his flight from Miami delayed -- causing him to miss today entirely.

After their flight on Tuesday night was cancelled because of bad weather, Democratic Sens. Gary Farmer, of Lighthouse Point, and Perry Thurston, of Fort Lauderdale, jumped in a car and drove all night to make it Tallahassee.

They arrived in town at 5:15 this morning, they said. (Thurston said he did the bulk of the driving, joking that Farmer drove about 30 minutes of the 7- to 8-hour drive from Broward County.)

Some South Florida House members also had to find a workaround to get to the Capitol.

House budget chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, said Tuesday night a flight that was supposed to carry him and a couple other Dade lawmakers was cancelled -- which would force them to find an alternate flight or, if necessary, drive. They made it, though, arriving in time for when the House began session at 12:30 p.m.

-- Mary Ellen Klas contributed.

Photo credit: A car tries to make its way through the flooded street to the gas station at Sawgrass Mills mall on Wednesday, June 7, 2017. Bryan Cereijo / Miami Herald

June 06, 2017

Legislative Black Caucus chairman endorses Gillum for governor

Gillum 050917

@ByKristenMClark

The chairman of the 28-member Florida Legislative Black Caucus is endorsing Tallahassee's Democratic Mayor Andrew Gillum to be the state's next governor, Gillum's campaign announced Tuesday.

"We can trust Mayor Gillum to be a fierce advocate for our community on so many issues -- from addressing climate change, to ensuring healthcare is accessible to the most medically-needy in our state, to protecting public education from for-profit charter schools and their friends in the Legislature," Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, said in a statement provided by Gillum's campaign.

Gillum, 37, is the only candidate for governor who is African-American. He would be Florida's first black governor if elected and is the second African American to make a serious bid for the job, following Daryl Jones who lost a primary in 2002.

It's unclear how much sway Thurston's support might hold for Gillum among minority voters. Thurston, a former Broward state representative who is now a state senator, is not well-known statewide outside of having run unsuccessfully for attorney general a few years ago.

By comparison, one of Gillum's Democratic primary opponents scored a big endorsement last month that could matter significantly more. Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham announced she had the formal support of civil rights icon and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, with whom she served during her one two-year term in Congress that ended in January.

Photo credit: Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times

May 05, 2017

Senate OK’s school voucher expansion; House still to sign off

@ByKristenMClark

With reluctance by several Democrats, senators on Friday morning endorsed significant expansions to two of Florida’s premiere voucher-like programs for education that help children with disabilities pay for alternative learning options and help poor children to afford private school.

Senators approved HB 15 by a 27-11 vote, with four Democrats joining Republicans in support. The House has to vote again this afternoon to approve the same language as the Senate, so that the bill can go to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk.

The bill’s passage would mark another session victory for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.

Corcoran opened the 2017 session by prioritizing, in particular, growing the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, which is facilitated almost entirely by a single organization that is led by an influential and wealthy school choice advocate. The controversial scholarship aids low-income, mostly minority families by giving dollar-for-dollar tax breaks to businesses that donate money, which then pays for private school scholarships.

HB 15 calls for raising the award amounts so that families can stay in the program when their children advance to high school, where private education is more expensive.

Several Democratic senators said they didn’t want to “divert” more dollars to the tax credits — dollars they argue could otherwise go to improving K-12 public schools — and they struggled with voting “no” because they do support the Gardiner Scholarship to help children with disabilities.

By putting the two programs in a single bill, House Republicans linked the expansion of the Gardiner Scholarship to that of the tax-credit awards — meaning lawmakers could not expand one voucher program without the other.

“The Gardiner Scholarship program is a fantastic program, so I want desperately to be able to support this bill because of those provisions ... but I am philosophically opposed to corporate tax vouchers and diverting money away from our general funds, which could be used to improve our public school system,” Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, said.

Proponents of the bill defended against the criticism of the tax credit scholarships.

“If we want to keep from failing our children, we have got to support this program and we have got to support these children who have no hope without it,” Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young said.

Democrats Daphne Campbell of Miami Shores, Bill Montford of Tallahassee, Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg and Linda Stewart of Orlando broke with the rest of their caucus and voted “yes.”

April 27, 2017

Two activists from women's marches will compete in Broward house race

ACTIVISTS a epf

@amysherman1

President Donald Trump’s election has given wave to a new group of Democratic activists who are interested in channeling their anger into running for office.

And in Broward, two of those activists appear poised to battle each other.

Two Fort Lauderdale residents who organized women’s marches protesting Trump’s inauguration will face off in a Democratic primary in Broward in 2018.

Emma Collum, director of Women’s March Florida who organized Floridians marching in Washington D.C., said she will file next week for House District 93, a seat now held by Republican George Moraitis who is term limited. Collum is a lawyer.

Stephanie Myers, who organized the Jan. 21 rally at downtown Miami’s Bayfront Park, filed to run on April 24. Myers works in public relations supporting a medical practice.

Both Collum and Myers live in Fort Lauderdale, but outside the district and said they will move to the district. Neither has run for public office in the past.

Collum said she doesn’t think it will be awkward to have two activists from women’s marches compete for the same seat.

“I think it's really exciting that so many people are excited to get out there and be active in our community, she said. “At the end, people need to get to know the candidates and make a heartfelt decision which one is going to the candidate to make what has been a predominantly Republican district into a Democratic one.”

Emily's List, the national group that backs pro-choice women running for office, has heard from more than 12,000 women who are interested in running in 2018, spokeswoman Alexandra De Luca said. That's a major increase compared to the 2016 cycle when Emily's List heard from less than 1,000 women. De Luca said competition between female candidates is a positive sign.

"The fact that we have so many women across the country raising their hand and coming forward -- 12,000 -- is a good problem to have," she said. "It's encouraging to have a dialogue among Democrats around issues that are important to women and families."

Two other Democrats filed earlier this year: Jonathon May, Nova Southeastern University director of student affairs and an Oakland Park resident and John McDonald, a freelance journalist and precinct committee man who lives in  Pompano Beach. McDonald ran for House District 6 in 2010.

No Republicans have filed but Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca, a longtime district resident, said he is strongly considering a bid.

The district is one of the main targets for Broward Democrats in 2018. Voter registration numbers show about 36 percent are Republicans, 35 percent Democrats and 29 percent independents. Hillary Clinton narrowly lost the district.

This post has been corrected to reflect McDonald's previous race. Photo of Jody Finver, in the foreground, of Coconut Grove takes pictures during an organizing meeting of anti-Trump activists last Sunday at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. 



 

April 12, 2017

Broward Democrat: 'We’re creating a segregated system' with 'schools of hope' (VIDEO)

@ByKristenMClark

Florida Democrats aren’t easing up on their criticism of House Republicans’ “schools of hope” plan to spend $200 million on attracting new charter schools to Florida that would serve students who currently attend perpetually failing traditional schools.

Democrats say the Republican proposal short-changes struggling neighborhood schools, which have tried to improve but are hamstrung by limitations — imposed by the Legislature — that charter schools don’t face.

“We’re creating a segregated system that will not fix the issue but will create deeper issues — pitting charter schools against our traditional public school system,” said Broward County Rep. Shevrin Jones, the top Democrat on the House Education Committee.

MORE: “Are ‘schools of hope’ the solution to perpetually failing public schools?”

Charter schools are publicly funded but privately managed public schools.

A few hours before the “schools of hope” legislation would be taken up on the House floor later Wednesday, Jones — joined by Democratic gubernatorial candidate and current Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum — convened a press conference to reiterate Democrats’ concerns with HB 5105.

Full story here.

April 06, 2017

Diverging from Senate, House passes narrower plan for religious expression in school

OT_402078_KEEL_6_flgov

@ByKristenMClark

Lawmakers on either side of the Florida Capitol have different ideas on to what extent they should secure students’ and teachers’ rights to express religious beliefs in public schools — forcing the need for compromise before the Legislature can send a proposed law to the governor for his approval this spring.

A plan the Florida House approved Wednesday by a 114-3 vote fortifies basic rights to religious expression that are protected by the state and U.S. Constitutions. The Senate two weeks ago endorsed language that does that, too, but that also goes much further — by also requiring schools to give students a “limited public forum” to pray and otherwise express their beliefs at school assemblies and other school-sanctioned events.

The two proposals were originally identical, but a House committee quickly scaled back that chamber’s version to eliminate the more controversial elements that remain in the Senate-approved bill.

The House vote sends SB 436 back to the Senate — where senators can either make further changes or agree to the House language, which would then send the bill to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk to be signed into law. Senators could potentially take it up as early as Thursday, but it’s more likely to happen next week.

Full story here.

Photo credit: The Florida House. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

March 29, 2017

'Best & Brightest' expansion ready for full House vote

@ByKristenMClark

A bill to expand the controversial "Best & Brightest" teacher bonus program is ready for a full House vote, after clearing the 30-member Appropriations Committee this afternoon on a party-line vote.

HB 7069 was fast-tracked to the floor in the past three weeks, with only two committee hearings. It's unclear how fast the House will take up the bill; it could be as early as next week.

The expansion proposal allows more "highly effective" teachers and — for the first time — principals to qualify for an annual bonus. Instead of only using on the teachers' SAT or ACT scores from high school, teachers could qualify next year by also using graduate school entrance exam scores, like the GRE or the LSAT.

MORE: "Another budget showdown looms over ‘Best & Brightest’ teacher bonuses"

The number of educators who would be eligible for the money would increase greatly. Pre-K-12 Education budget chairman Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, said he doesn’t yet have an estimate for how many might be eligible, but he told the Appropriations Committee funding it at $214 million -- as the House proposes to do -- is intended to keep the awards at around $10,000 per person.

With those figures, that would be enough to cover bonuses for potentially more than 21,000 teachers and principals statewide.

In 2015-16, about 5,300 teachers qualified and received $8,248 each. This school year, nearly 7,200 teachers qualified and each got $6,816. (There are about 188,300 certified teachers statewide.)

Democrats on the Appropriations Committee said they still don’t like the premise of rewarding teachers based on assessment scores and they want the Legislature to use the additional funding to instead find a way to raise the salaries of all teachers.

“We just need to give our teachers raises and stop beating around the bush in how we do it,” said Broward County Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park.

Diaz blasted the Democrats’ opposition. “Here’s a bill that puts $200 million into teacher’s pockets and we’re saying ‘no,’” he said. 

November 23, 2016

Broward lawmaker healing after spinal cord injury left him unable to walk

IMG_5915

@ByKristenMClark

In early October, Shevrin Jones abruptly lost the ability to walk.

The affable 33-year-old state representative from Broward County ruptured part of his lower spinal cord during an accident at the gym, causing a nerve injury that his doctors told him should have left him paralyzed.

After emergency surgery, a follow-up procedure and rigorous physical therapy, Jones not only walked again far sooner than expected — seven weeks later, he walks now with assistance only from a cane.

“I thought there was a point I’d never walk again,” Jones said. “Through my faith, my determination and by the grace of God, I’m much better.”

Jones is still recuperating, not yet cleared by his surgeon to travel. Reluctantly, he had to miss the Legislature’s organizational session on Tuesday for the 2016-18 term. It will be his third in the Florida House representing West Park and surrounding areas that stretch from parts of Miramar and Pembroke Pines to Hollywood and Hallandale Beach.

But Jones — known for his passionate and infectiously friendly personality — is determined to return to his legislative duties as soon as possible, so much so his friends in the Legislature have to remind him to focus on recovery first.

“I’m like, ‘Shev, just rest,’ ” laughed state Rep. Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale, who said Jones is still “constantly thinking” about his work waiting for him in Tallahassee.

Read more here.

Photo credit: Gregory Reed Photography

November 21, 2016

Oscar Braynon, Lauren Book named Florida Senate Democrats' top leaders

SP_407425_KEEL_11_FLGOV

@ByKristenMClark

A longtime legislator from Miami Gardens will lead the Democrats of the Florida Senate for the next two years.

Sen. Oscar Braynon’s ascension to Senate minority leader was made official Monday evening in advance of Tuesday’s organizational session for the 2016-18 Legislature. He’s now in charge of a 15-member Democratic caucus, of which 11 are newly elected senators.

“I’m happy to be taking on that role,” Braynon said. “We’re going to have a bunch of blank slates when it comes to what happens in the Senate. There’s a lot of potential there.”

One of those newcomers is freshman Broward County Sen. Lauren Book, whom the Democratic caucus also unanimously elected as Braynon’s No. 2 in the role of Senate Democratic leader pro tempore.

Book, of Plantation, is a prominent advocate for victims of childhood sexual abuse and the founder and CEO of Aventura-based Lauren’s Kids. She is also the daughter of powerful Tallahassee lobbyist Ron Book, whom she called “her best friend, rock and mentor.”

Although the Republican majority in the Senate will drive the agenda, Braynon said his goal as minority leader is to continue pushing for Democratic priorities, such as equal pay for women and raising the minimum wage, protecting the environment, improving access to health care and strengthening public education.

Read more.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times