July 05, 2017

Miami Senate race a hard-edged referendum on Donald Trump

State-senate-gop

@martindvassolo

The Republican primary for a Miami state Senate seat — the first local partisan election since last November — has become a referendum on President Donald Trump.

Two self-described Trump loyalists — a former state senator with a taste for Twitter tussles and an attorney who loathes regulation — have channeled Trump in a hard-edged race against a rival who appears to be their polar opposite: A state representative beloved by Tallahassee Republicans with serious financial backing and a more complicated, and more personal, relationship to the president.

The attorney, Lorenzo Palomares, was the first to invoke Trump in the Senate District 40 race, noting his early support for Trump’s candidacy. But it’s the well-known former senator, Alex Diaz de la Portilla, who’s most prominently tried to position himself as Trump’s heir among Republicans with whom the president remains quite popular.

Then there’s Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the best-funded candidate in the race and a one-time contestant on Trump’s “The Apprentice” reality TV show. Soon after entering the campaign, he drew scorn from both the left and right after deleting from his Twitter account a photo of himself with Trump at an inauguration party, citing “aggressive trolling” from enemies. Diaz de la Portilla and Palomares pointed to the deletion as proof Diaz isn’t a true Trump supporter.

“He’s part of the establishment,” said Palomares, 63, who served as an unofficial Trump surrogate on Spanish-language TV. “He was one of the hundreds of Republicans that never supported Trump. It was only when he became president that they all jumped on the bandwagon.”

Palomares is divorced with two adult daughters and five grandchildren.

Diaz, 37, who is married with two young sons, has tried to distance himself from the hostility, pointing to his four House election victories over the past six years as a sign he could defeat a Democrat in the competitive Senate seat.

“I feel like I have a winning formula,” said Diaz, who represents part of the Senate district in House District 116 and works as a government law attorney. “If you look at my endorsements, the business groups, the conservative groups have endorsed me and not my opponents.”

The three Cuban Americans are vying to represent a largely Hispanic swath of Southwest Miami-Dade County in a special July 25 primary election, which was scheduled following the resignation of former Sen. Frank Artiles, a Republican who left office in April after using racial slurs in conversation with black lawmakers. The Miami Herald also revealed that he had hired a former Hooters “calendar girl” and a Playboy model as political consultants.

Democrats, who hold only 15 of 40 state Senate seats, see an opportunity to seize back control of the district, which they lost last November when Artiles defeated former Sen. Dwight Bullard. The Democratic contenders are former Rep. Ana Rivas Logan and businesswoman Annette Taddeo; the general election will take place Sept. 26.

Read more here.

June 08, 2017

Sarah Palin's falsely linked Florida House photo with her Facebook rant on climate accord

PalinFLHousefacebook

@amysherman1

It’s clear that Sarah Palin hates the Paris climate agreement.

What’s unclear is why she used a photo of Florida lawmakers to make her point in a Facebook meme.

"Don’t be fooled! The Paris climate accord is a scam," stated the headline at the top of Palin’s Facebook post June 6, 2017. (By June 7, the Facebook meme was no longer available but PolitiFact had taken a screenshot of her post, which had been shared at least 8,000 times.)

Beneath the headline is a photo of an unidentified group of mostly men cheering. The Facebook post doesn’t identify the people in the photo, but they are Florida House members at the state Capitol in Tallahassee.

Beneath the photo Palin shared is text that says: "They pretend it’s about fixing our environment ... But it’s really about stealing billions from the American people and giving it to foreign countries, governments and lobbyists!"

The Facebook meme, posted after President Donald Trump pulled out of the agreement, could leave the impression that the people in the photo are rejoicing using the agreement to steal billions from Americans.

That's not the case.

PolitiFact fact-checked Palin’s photo as part of our effort to debunk fake news on Facebook. Our efforts to reach a spokesperson for Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, were unsuccessful. (Palin’s post was previously debunked by other news outlets including the Miami Herald, a partner along with the Tampa Bay Times in PolitiFact Florida, and Politico.)

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

May 24, 2017

At town hall meeting, Miami-Dade Schools urge parents to oppose HB 7069

Town hall photo web

@KyraGurney

Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho had a dire message for parents and teachers at a town hall meeting Tuesday night: If Gov. Rick Scott approves the state budget and a controversial education bill, the school district faces serious financial trouble.

"This is a man-made crisis," Carvalho said, speaking to a packed auditorium at John A. Ferguson Senior High in West Kendall. "If something doesn't change, a crisis it will be."

The town hall at Ferguson High was the third of six meetings organized by the school district this week to urge teachers and parents to contact the governor and ask him to veto a mammoth education bill (HB 7069) and the line-item in the budget for per-pupil education spending.

The $82.4 billion budget passed by the Florida Legislature earlier this month increases school funding by 0.34 percent or $24.49 per student, which Carvalho and other Florida superintendents say is not enough to meet public education needs. At the town hall meeting, Carvalho told residents that after the district's mandatory contribution to the Florida retirement system, the increase amounts to just 50 cents for each of the district's nearly 350,000 students. 

"What can you get for 50 cents these days? Can anybody tell me, please?" Carvalho asked the audience at Ferguson High.

The Miami-Dade school district is also concerned that a provision in HB 7069 — which would compel districts to share millions of dollars in local tax revenue earmarked for capital projects with charter schools — would force Miami-Dade to put maintenance projects on hold and impact the district's credit rating, Carvalho said.

Many in the audience said they shared the school district's concerns and planned to contact the governor. Maria Prospero, the mother of a student at Olympia Heights Elementary School, said she had decided to attend the town hall meeting "for my daughter's rights." Prospero said she was concerned that her daughter's school could lose after-school activities and language programs if the district doesn't get enough state funding. She said she planned to share information about the budget with her friends on Facebook and send an e-mail to Scott. 

Meanwhile, supporters of the education bill are organizing their own events to urge the governor to sign HB 7069 into law. They have planned three rallies this week at the same locations as the school district's town hall meetings. A pro-HB 7069 rally will be held at Miami Senior High School on Thursday at 5 p.m. before the school district's 6 p.m. town hall meeting. Supporters of the bill are also holding a rally on Friday at 3 p.m. outside the School Board Administration Building downtown. A school district sponsored town hall will be held at that location at 4 p.m.  

November 10, 2016

Anitere Flores named to Florida Senate leadership post

Ap_flores2@ByKristenMClark

Newly re-elected Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores has been named the Florida Senate's President Pro Tempore for the 2017 session.

Incoming Florida Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, announced Flores' appointment as his No. 2 on Thursday, heralding Flores as a "loyal friend and trusted ally."

"The role of Senate President Pro Tempore is a significant position of trust and authority," Negron said in a statement, adding that Flores has "longstanding relationships with many new and returning senators. She has a proven ability to work in a bipartisan manner without compromising her own unwavering principles. I have complete confidence in her ability to represent the Senate in this important leadership position."

Flores was re-elected to the Senate on Tuesday with 54 percent of the vote after a competitive battle with Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell for the newly redrawn District 39. The district includes portions of Miami-Dade County and all of Monroe County. Flores has been in the Florida Senate since 2010.

Flores' appointment will become effective Nov. 22, when the Senate convenes in Organization Session. The President Pro Tempore is formally nominated and elected by the full Senate during the Organization Session.

Flores joins a growing list of Miami lawmakers who will hold influential positions in Tallahassee next session. On Wednesday, several Miami-Dade County representatives were also named to the leadership team in the Florida House under incoming Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes.

Photo credit: AP

June 24, 2016

April 18, 2016

Joe Negron begins statewide university tour with contrasting visits at FSU, FAMU

Negrontouratfsu_041816

@ByKristenMClark

The disparities between Tallahassee's two public state universities were on sharp display on Monday, during the first day of Joe Negron's whirlwind four-day tour of the State University System.

Negron, the incoming Florida Senate president, wants to assess the needs of each of Florida's 12 public universities and look for ways to boost higher education funding, resources and facilities -- a top priority for the Stuart Republican who is due to take over the Legislature's upper chamber in November.

As history has shown and as Negron's tour highlighted, the needs of both Florida State University and Florida A&M University are vastly different.

At FSU, Negron and the four other senators who joined him in Tallahassee heard from several star students: Dual majors, Bright Futures scholars, doctoral standouts. None of whom said they or their classmates worried about paying for college or feared having to drop out because they couldn't afford it.

FSU President John Thrasher and university administrators ended the visit, set in a polished, modern-style conference room, by laying out a request for $113 million in capital aid that they want from the state to finish off three signature projects.

Barely a mile away at FAMU -- one of the state's historically black colleges and universities -- senators were taken on a 45-minute walking tour that included an example of a decades-old classroom they want to upgrade that sits just down the hall from a new computer lab, of which administrators say they are in dire need of more.

President Elmira Magnum emphasized that many of her university's students come from households that earn $40,000 or less. Her request for lawmakers: Expand need-based funding and open grant and scholarship programs to include summer enrollment, which can help students graduate faster while saving money. She also asked for more funding for faculty salaries and to modernize dorms and other aging facilities.

The FAMU students who spoke to the senators -- a mix of both scholars and more average students -- were in full agreement: The main reason their peers don't finish at FAMU is because they can't afford it. Several said they have to work, sometimes full-time, in order to pay for school or to help their families at home.

Environmental services sophomore Demarcus Robinson said he might have to go back his home in Atlanta to complete school, because he has an outstanding balance for this semester and doesn't know how he'd pay for next year.

The contrast between the two universities resonated with the senators.

Continue reading "Joe Negron begins statewide university tour with contrasting visits at FSU, FAMU" »

April 14, 2016

Gov. Rick Scott must act on 21 bills today, including 'school choice' measure

@ByKristenMClark

Republican Gov. Rick Scott faces a deadline today on 21 bills that the Legislature passed during the 2016 session. Among them: A far-reaching education bill that includes several new policies intended to advance "school choice" in Florida public education.

HB 7029 was the product of more than a dozen different bills that lawmakers negotiated up through the final hours of session on March 11.

Most notably, it creates a framework for allowing open enrollment in public schools statewide -- giving students the ability to attend any school in the state so long as there is space available. If Scott signs the bill, that part of the new law would take effect in 2017-18; the remaining provisions would take effect this summer.

The bill would also let high school athletes have immediate eligibility when transferring schools, subject charter schools to more accountability and a new formula for receiving capital dollars, and codify performance funding formulas for Florida's 12 public universities and 28 state colleges -- among various other new policy changes. (Here's a full rundown of the bill's provisions.)

Also poised for Scott's action today are the session's major transportation package and proposed new laws affecting health care policy and Citizens Insurance.

With any bill, Scott has the option to sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature.

He has vetoed only one bill so far this year: one that called for a referendum to create a utility board in Gainesville.

After today, Scott will have just three bills left to act on of the 272 that lawmakers passed during the 2016 session. Two require his action by Saturday and the final one -- a controversial bill reforming alimony and child custody arrangements -- is due for action by Tuesday.

April 08, 2016

Like this year, 2018 legislative session will start in January

OT_400854_KEEL_4_FLGOV

@ByKristenMClark

Florida's legislative session will get an early start in 2018, just like this year.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill today that moves the 2018 session's start to Jan. 9.

The Florida Constitution allows the Legislature to start session early in even-numbered years. Otherwise, session begins on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March. (The 2017 session will start March 7.)

Lawmakers were divided in moving the session date up for 2018. SB 7076 passed the Senate by a 27-11 vote and the House by a 89-28 vote.

During Senate debate, some senators questioned the cost and need for having an earlier session. Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, responded at the time: "When you’re on spring break with your kids this year, you’ll understand the significance of it."

Scott also signed 16 other bills into law today, including one that helps the families of law enforcement and first responders who are killed on the job.

SB 7012 -- sponsored by Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, and Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers -- provides the deceased individual's monthly salary to their beneficiaries for their lifetime.

The expanded benefit applies to law enforcement officers, firefighters, corrections officers, emergency medical technicians, paramedics and probation officers. The benefit takes effect July 1 and retroactively applies to eligible individuals who were killed in the line of duty on or after July 1, 2013.

"This legislation will ensure that these brave Floridians have the peace of mind knowing that their family will have financial support if the unthinkable were to ever happen," Scott said in a statement today.

Here were all of the new laws Scott approved today. He still has 26 bills pending on his desk from the 2016 session.

Continue reading "Like this year, 2018 legislative session will start in January" »

March 24, 2016

Gov. Rick Scott signs 34 bills, including body cameras, slungshots & dental carve-out

@ByKristenMClark and @MichaelAuslen

Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed 34 bills into law today, including one requiring law enforcement agencies to adopt policies and training protocols for using officer-worn body cameras and another that makes it legal again for Floridians to carry concealed slungshots.

Scott also signed legislation carving out dental services from Medicaid managed care plans. It's a change supporters say will lower costs and better mirror the private insurance market, where medical coverage and dental coverage are generally provided by different insurers.

Currently, Medicaid recipients' dental coverage is from the same provider as their medical.

The bill requires a study by the Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability to assess the idea before it goes into effect, allowing lawmakers to come back to the table and change course if need be. In his letter approving the legislation, Scott issued a stern warning to lawmakers:

"While I am giving my approval to this bill today," he wrote, "if the results of the study do not demonstrate better quality dental care at reduced costs than the net benefits provided under Statewide Medicaid Managed Care today, I expect the 2017 Legislature to amend the statute immediately to protect Medicaid recipients and the services they receive through Statewide Medicaid Managed Care."

Meanwhile, the body-camera legislation (HB 93) sailed through the Legislature this session, garnering unanimous approval from both chambers. The new law doesn't require agencies to use body cameras but will ensure that those that do have proper procedures in place.

As of October, 18 police agencies in Florida — including Miami and Miami Beach — used body cameras. Another 10, such as Tampa police, were operating pilot programs.

“This bill gives us that opportunity to go further to make sure that we are providing transparency to our citizens but also give accountability to our law enforcement,” Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, said after the legislation passed the House earlier this month.

The bill dealing with slungshots (HB 4009) lifts a ban on the manufacturing or sales of the weapon and allows individuals to carry it concealed without a permit. A slungshot -- which is a weight attached to a cord or strap -- was originally a maritime tool that later became a weapon used by gangs in the 19th century.

Other bills Scott signed today deal with various criminal justice issues, agriculture, education and public records exemptions, among other topics.

Here is the full list of new laws:

Continue reading "Gov. Rick Scott signs 34 bills, including body cameras, slungshots & dental carve-out" »

March 03, 2016

Florida Senate supports starting 2018 legislative session in January

@ByKristenMClark

Florida senators voted Thursday to start the 2018 legislative session two months early -- in January, as they did this year.

Senators did not debate the measure prior to approving it by a 27-11 vote.

But they had a short discussion Wednesday when Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, questioned the cost of and need for having an earlier session.

"When you’re on spring break with your kids this year, you’ll understand the significance of it," Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said, cracking a smile.

Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, also noted another benefit of an earlier session. He jokingly inquired about the "average temperature during a regular session."

The House has yet to sign off on moving the start date for the 2018 session.

The Florida Constitution allows the Legislature to start session early in even-numbered years. Otherwise, session begins on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March.

Four Republicans and seven Democrats in the Senate opposed having an earlier start in 2018.

They were: Republicans Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers, Jeff Brandes of St. Betersburg, Denise Grimsley of Sebring, and Jack Latvala of Clearwater, and Democrats Dwight Bullard of Cutler Bay, Jeremy Ring of Margate, Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, Eleanor Sobel of Hollywood, Darren Soto of Orlando, and Clemens and Braynon.