March 15, 2016

Secretary of State: Florida election had 'few minor issues' that were 'resolved quickly'



Florida's top elections official said the state's presidential primary election on Tuesday had a "few minor issues" but "those issues were resolved quickly and voters were not impacted."

"Overall, I think we had a very successful election," Secretary of State Ken Detzner told reporters in Tallahassee about a half-hour after the last polls closed in Florida.

Elections supervisors in Palm Beach, Orange and Duval counties reported some issues during the day, due to technical problems or voter confusion, Detzner said.

For instance, in Palm Beach County, Detzner said "some blogs" fueled unfounded rumors that GOP front-runner Donald Trump wasn't on the ballot.

Continue reading "Secretary of State: Florida election had 'few minor issues' that were 'resolved quickly'" »

February 29, 2016

National women's rights group backs Patrick Murphy in Florida's U.S. Senate race



U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy has picked up another significant national endorsement in his bid for Marco Rubio's U.S. Senate seat.

NARAL Pro-Choice America announced this morning that they are backing the Jupiter Democrat over his primary opponent, fellow U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando.

The endorsement is a big get for Murphy's campaign, because one of Grayson's major platforms is women's rights issues.

"Patrick Murphy has consistently fought to defend and expand Americans’ reproductive freedom and we are proud to stand with him in his race for U.S. Senate," Sasha Bruce, a senior vice president with NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement provided by Murphy's campaign.

Bruce called Murphy a "champion" and said he was "fearless in going up against the anti-choice majority in Congress and pushing back against the Republican-led smear campaign targeting Planned Parenthood and other health care providers."

Murphy said he'll be the fighter that he says Florida women need in the U.S. Senate.
"While my GOP opponents stand with Marco Rubio’s extreme opposition to ban all abortions with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest, I will never back down when it comes to protecting women's healthcare and the right to choose," Murphy said.

Grayson and Murphy are duking it out ahead of the August Democratic primary.

The endorsement from the national women's rights group comes a week after Politico Florida reported that Grayson, as a lawyer, represented a company in the mid-1990s that was accused of discriminating against a pregnant worker.

Five candidates are running in the Republican primary: U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach, U.S. Rep. David Jolly of Indian Shores, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami, Orlando businessman Todd Wilcox and Bradenton home-builder Carlos Beruff.

Photo credit: Walter Michot / Miami Herald

'Best & Brightest' teacher bonuses might be continued through budget language


As legislation to make permanent the "Best & Brightest" teacher bonus program remains in limbo this session, Florida House and Senate leaders are floating the possibility of a one-year extension by including the program -- once again -- in proviso language for the annual budget.

The controversial program predictably surfaced as a point of leverage between House and Senate education leaders this weekend as they started hashing out the 2016-17 budget.

The bonuses are a priority for House Republicans, but senators in both parties are especially reluctant to buy in to the idea.

By Sunday evening, lead education budget negotiators Rep. Erik Fresen and Sen. Don Gaetz had agreed on the largest budget issue: how to fund increases to K-12 schools and by how much.

But the rest of the education budget remains unresolved.

The House rejected the first and only offer from the Senate, which included -- among a host of issues -- a proposed compromise on funding for the "Best and Brightest" program. The bonuses award "highly effective" teachers who scored in the top 20 percent on their high school SAT/ACT exams.

The offer from Gaetz, a Niceville Republican, was a broad this-for-that exchange of several priority areas, which was presented as "all or nothing" to the House.

Under Gaetz's offer, the Senate would have supported the House's desire to include the teacher bonus plan in the budget implementing bill -- allowing it to continue for a second year. The Senate would have also supported $22.5 million in funding, half the amount the House wants.

Continue reading "'Best & Brightest' teacher bonuses might be continued through budget language" »

February 23, 2016

In email blast, Harry Reid campaigns for Patrick Murphy


Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, the top Democrat in the U.S. Senate, today began campaigning for Patrick Murphy in Florida's contentious U.S. Senate race and is doubling-down on his call for Murphy's Democratic opponent Alan Grayson to drop out.

Murphy and Grayson, both Florida congressmen, are competing in the August Democratic primary, and Reid has essentially endorsed Murphy. His political committee previously donated to Murphy and today Reid had this to say:

"We need strong leaders in the Senate -- middle class champions dedicated to working hard and getting things done. People like Patrick Murphy," Reid wrote in a campaign email sent out by Murphy's team this afternoon.

He added in reference to Grayson: "What we DON'T need is a disgraceful hedge fund manager masquerading as a 'progressive.'"

Grayson has been under fire -- and is the subject of a congressional ethics investigation -- for his management of hedge funds that were previously based in the Cayman Islands.

Reid two weeks ago issued a statement from his Senate office calling on Grayson to end his bid for Marco Rubio's Senate seat. In the Murphy campaign's email blast today, Reid repeated his statement and urged Murphy supporters to sign an online petition calling on Grayson to drop out of the race.

Grayson's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

February 19, 2016

Bloomberg reports Alan Grayson's family "profited from 'pariah state' gold mine"

U.S. Senate candidate and current U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, has made headlines this past week because of mounting controversy and criticism over a once-offshore hedge fund he has managed.

Bloomberg Politics is out today with a new report, this time about investments Grayson's children made. The news organization reports Grayson's children previously invested in -- and profited from -- a company that operates a mine in Eritrea, an African country that is accused of using slave labor.

From Bloomberg Politics:

Representative Alan Grayson holds an unusual position as a member of the U.S. Congress, an active investor and manager of a hedge fund.

Now that the wealthy Florida Democrat is running for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio, his investments are becoming a more prominent liability.

Last year, Grayson, who was first elected to Congress in 2008, made a passionate speech denouncing trade with dictatorships or countries that employ forced labor.

But weeks earlier, his family cashed in a long-held investment in a mining company that derives its revenue almost entirely from Eritrea, an east African country labeled "a pariah state" by Human Rights Watch in part for its system of forced labor in service of a government that hasn’t held an election since 1991. Grayson said he wasn’t aware of the 2013 report criticizing the company.

The Democratic leader in the Senate, Harry Reid of Nevada, has already called on Grayson to drop out of the race, charging that he used his role as a member of Congress to promote his own hedge fund and saying he appeared to have "no moral compass." 

Grayson, 57, is running against fellow Florida Democratic Representative Patrick Murphy, with a primary set for Aug. 30. On Sunday, Murphy also said Grayson should close his hedge fund and even resign if allegations made in the New York Times and the Tampa Bay Times were proved true that his roles as a member of Congress and hedge fund manager had become intertwined. Grayson has denied using his office for personal gain.

Asked last week about the investment in Nevsun Resources Ltd., Grayson says he wasn’t aware of concerns expressed by human rights groups about Nevsun’s mining operations in Eritrea before the stock was sold last year.

Full story here.

UPDATE: 9:55 a.m.

Murphy's campaign released a statement this morning calling on Grayson to donate to charity the profits his family made off its investments in Nevsun.

"Hedge fund manager Alan Grayson profited off of a company accused of using slave labor on a massive scale, and then sponsored legislation condemning those same practices. That kind of shameless hypocrisy is exactly what Floridians hate about Washington," Murphy campaign manager Josh Wolf said. "If Congressman Grayson still knows how to do the right thing, he should donate to charity every penny of his profit from the suffering of innocent people." 

Bloomberg Politics reported that Grayson said he "didn’t know" and "couldn’t have known" about this specific investment.

"If I had known, then I would have divested," Grayson told Bloomberg Politics. "I did actually divest, but I didn’t know when I divested, nor would I have any reason to know that, given the fact that literally thousands of different investments are involved, given the fact that nobody brought it to my attention until I’m in the midst of a competitive campaign."

February 18, 2016

Gaetz: Diaz de la Portilla 'stifled will of Senate' on open carry, 'promised and then reneged' on compromise

Florida Legislature(2)


State Sen. Don Gaetz said in a lengthy statement this evening that Miami Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla "stretched" his authority as Judiciary Committee chairman and "stifled the will of the Senate to cast an up or down vote" on Gaetz's proposal to let people openly carry handguns in Florida.

Gaetz, a conservative Republican from Niceville, also accused Diaz de la Portilla of lying about his intentions to find a compromise on the highly controversial measure.

"I’m deeply disappointed," Gaetz said. "It is perfectly proper to vote against a bill. It reflects poorly on any chairman to fear the debate.

"The Judiciary Committee chairman promised and then reneged on a commitment to meet with me and other pro-Second Amendment legislators to try to negotiate differences in good faith," Gaetz added.

The more-moderate Diaz de la Portilla made it official Tuesday that he would not hear Gaetz's bill this session -- killing it as he has two other gun bills this year that sought to expand how and where more than 1.5 million people with concealed-weapons licenses in Florida can carry handguns.

Diaz de la Portilla said this evening that Gaetz was "disingenuous" with his criticism, because Gaetz himself is a committee chairman and former Senate president who understands the prerogative chairmen have.

"Senator Gaetz knows that committees chairs can’t possibly agenda every bill that is referred to their committee," Diaz de la Portilla said.

Gaetz acknowledged that Diaz de la Portilla is "technically within his rights as a chairman not to hear the bill."

Gaetz added: "I have faced the same question as Senator Diaz de la Portilla: Should I kill a bill that a majority of legislators want to debate, and perhaps pass, just because of my own personal preferences? In fact, I have faced that question on matters important to Senator Diaz de la Portilla and his constituents. The difference is I did not stretch my authority to stifle the will of the Senate to cast an up or down vote.

"Put simply, Senator Diaz de la Portilla used his power as a committee chairman to deny senators and the public the opportunity even to discuss the issue of open carry and vote for or against the bill," Gaetz said.

Current Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, has supported Diaz de la Portilla's decision, though. Gardiner left it to Diaz de la Portilla to decide whether the open-carry bill and other contentious gun proposals would be heard, and he has been consistent in empowering other committee chairmen with that discretion, also.

Diaz de la Portilla said he and Gaetz "spoke briefly on the floor once" about open carry "and maybe on another occasion before that." He said Gaetz did not address his frustrations with him directly.

Gaetz said he believes his open-carry bill could have passed the full Senate "with the constructive amendments recommended by The Florida Police Chiefs Association."

But that's another point of disagreement between the senators.

The police chiefs' provisions -- which included requiring openly carried weapons to be holstered -- were added to the House version, which was sponsored by Gaetz's son, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach. (That bill passed the Republican-heavy House earlier this month.)

However, the Florida Sheriffs Association offered amendments of their own, which were rejected in the House and which Don Gaetz said he would have not wanted considered in the Senate.

The sheriffs' proposal would have gutted the bill. It wouldn't have allowed open carry but would have solely addressed a problem that the National Rifle Association said was its motive for seeking an open-carry law: the prosecution of people who inadvertently display concealed weapons.

Diaz de la Portilla said Thursday the sheriffs' proposal was "the only solution or compromise that I felt was workable."

"I did rack my brain trying to find a workable solution on the issue of open carry, but at the end of the day, it’s such lousy public policy and so dangerous for the state of Florida," he said. "You can’t fix something that is such terrible public policy."

Emphasizing Floridians' Second Amendment rights, Gaetz said his bill "would have allowed only those persons lawfully able to carry handguns to do so without concealment, without brandishing them, without violating private property rights and without allowing weapons in any place where they are now prohibited."

Diaz de la Portilla has said previously, though, he worried about "unintended consequences" of the legislation.

"Some things are such bad ideas that there’s no fixing them," he said Thursday. "Unfortunately, that’s the case with Senator Gaetz’s bad bill."

Photo credit: AP

Florida Senate confirms 10 agency heads appointed by Gov. Rick Scott


Without any debate or comment, Florida senators easily confirmed nearly a dozen agency heads this morning, endorsing appointments made by Republican Gov. Rick Scott and giving the executives job security going forward.

The Senate declined to confirm all 10 of them last year, so if they weren't confirmed this session, they'd be out of their jobs.

Those confirmed by the Senate Thursday were:

-- Julie Jones, Department of Corrections secretary

-- Mike Carroll, Department of Children and Families secretary

-- Barbara Palmer, Agency for Persons with Disabilities director

-- Sam Verghese, Department of Elder Affairs secretary

-- Christina Daly, Department of Juvenile Justice secretary

-- Rick Swearingen, Florida Department of Law Enforcement commissioner

-- Chad Poppell, Department of Management Services secretary

-- Ken Detzner, Secretary of State

-- Liz Dudek, Agency for Health Care Administration secretary

-- Ken Lawson, Department of Business and Professional Regulation secretary

The Senate voted, 35-0, to confirm them en masse; senators could record "no" votes on individual appointees with the chamber secretary.

All but Swearingen serve at Scott's pleasure. Swearingen serves at the pleasure of Scott and the Florida Cabinet.

Absent from the list of today's confirmations is Florida Surgeon General Dr. John Armstrong, who narrowly cleared his first committee this week and potentially faces more tough vetting before another, before the full Senate could consider his appointment.

Also this morning, the Senate confirmed 25 Scott appointees to governing boards overseeing Florida's state colleges and public universities, seven people to state boards, and another 70 people Scott appointed to local and regional boards and committees.

Among those local confirmations was Scott's former general counsel Pete Antonacci, whom Scott named executive director of the South Florida Water Management District.

February 17, 2016

Rep. Fresen's school capital funding reform bill ready for Florida House floor


After more debate, a contentious plan to reform how traditional public schools and charter schools get money for capital costs -- and how they can use those dollars -- is on its way to the Florida House floor for consideration.

The House Education Committee advanced the proposal by Miami Republican Rep. Erik Fresen on Wednesday morning by a 13-4 vote. Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, joined Republicans in support, while the rest of the panel's Democrats opposed it.

It was the second and final hearing for Fresen's proposal since it was amended onto a related education bill last week by the House Appropriations Committee.

Fresen's proposal (in HB 873) is two-fold. Primarily, it calls for reining in school districts' spending on capital costs, by holding all available revenues -- including locally raised dollars -- to a state cap on what it costs to build the space for each student. Fresen has presented data showing what he calls excessive cost-overruns by districts in the past 10 years, findings that superintendents argue are too simplistic.

"If, at whatever point, the locals are not dealing with that, we need to create a system where that doesn’t happen anymore," Fresen said.

The more controversial part of the proposal would force districts to share some of their local tax revenue with charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately managed.

Fresen said his goal is equitable funding for charter schools and he's offering "a formula that’s blind to politics."

Continue reading "Rep. Fresen's school capital funding reform bill ready for Florida House floor" »

February 16, 2016

Alberto Carvalho, Miami-Dade school board members advocate for district priorities in Tallahassee



Six Miami-Dade County School Board members and district Superintendent Alberto Carvalho are in Tallahassee today, meeting with local lawmakers and testifying on some bills that had hearings before legislative committees.

Carvalho also met with Republican Gov. Rick Scott this afternoon, which Carvalho said earlier today would be a routine affair that's "just one more opportunity to re-state our priorities."

He said those include equity in funding (including capital dollars), the state's education accountability system and an emphasis on students learning the English language, among other topics.

Funding for school districts' capital dollars has been a controversial and prominent topic recently. Lawmakers in both chambers are set to begin negotiations this week on the next state budget, where they'll compromise on how much in capital dollars school districts and privately managed charter schools should get. This comes as lawmakers are considering a proposal spearheaded by Miami Republican Rep. Erik Fresen that would require school districts to give to charter schools some of their state funding for maintenance and repairs.

Carvalho told the Herald/Times that changing the funding formula for school districts and how they use local and state tax dollars "could be rather devastating to the financial stability of our district long-term," and in the short term, he said, it could be "rather impactful or catastrophic in terms of our maintenance needs and everyday construction renovation needs."

Continue reading "Alberto Carvalho, Miami-Dade school board members advocate for district priorities in Tallahassee" »

Florida League of Women Voters, with guest U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, to speak against lawmakers' plan for a state charter authorizer


The Florida League of Women Voters announced today that Florida Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson will join the group at a press conference Wednesday where members of the league will discuss what they describe as an "egregious constitutional amendment" proposed by Republican state lawmakers that would set up a statewide charter school district.

In a revised press release, the league later clarified that Nelson "will speak in support of the league's hard work registering voters, as well as efforts at fairness during reapportionment and Amendment 1 issues," while league President Pamela Goodman and "educational organizations" will focus their comments on the charter school issue.

The event begins at 11:30 a.m. on the steps of the Old Capitol in downtown Tallahassee.

Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, and Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, have proposed creating a statewide board that would "authorize, operate, control, and supervise" charter schools across Florida.

The House is expected to vote on its version (HJR 759) this week, while the Senate version (SJR 976) has stalled in committee. (Stargel's bill was supposed to be heard in late January by the Senate Pre-K-12 Education Committee, but was temporarily postponed and hasn't been scheduled for consideration again since.)

Diaz has said the bill wouldn't remove local school boards' power to authorize charter schools, but public school officials fear it would because private entities aiming to set up charter schools could circumvent local board approval by submitting applications directly to the state.

The Legislature 10 years ago tried to create a state-authorizing body for charter schools but it was struck down in the courts. Diaz's and Stargel's bills would send to voters a constitutional amendment to codify the charter school authorizer in the Florida Constitution.

Constitutional amendments must be approved by three-fifths of both the House and Senate: 72 members in the House and 24 in the Senate. Then, the proposal must get 60-percent approval from voters in order to change the Constitution.