February 28, 2017

Roads named for celebrities are OK, but not laws named to honor the people who inspired them

Picture00 CommemorationNW13

@ByKristenMClark

Mayra Capote was a 15-year-old freshman at Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High School when she and two other students were killed in a car accident in September 1999 as they rushed back to school from an open-campus lunch break.

In the weeks afterward, Miami-Dade public schools changed district policy to prevent students from leaving school grounds during the lunch hour. And in the nearly 18 years since, Hialeah Republican Sen. René García has tried several times to prevent future tragedies statewide by seeking a Florida law affecting all public high schools.

With his most recent attempt this year, García sought to name the proposed law directly in honor of Mayra.

But her name was abruptly deleted from the bill last week — at the request of Senate President Joe Negron.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Mayra Capote, 15, and two high school students died in a car accident in 1999 while coming back to school from an open-lunch break. Hialeah Republican Sen. René García this year wanted to name a proposed state law after the younger Mayra, but the 15-year-old’s name was taken out of his bill at Senate President Joe Negron’s request. (Herald file photo)

February 09, 2017

February 08, 2017

To thwart fear of retaliation, Legislature looks to shield murder witnesses

Stafford_witnessbill 0208@ByKristenMClark

Someone — a child, a mother, a brother — is killed. Witnesses are too afraid to speak up. A murderer goes free.

In many of Florida’s vulnerable neighborhoods, talking to police could be a life-or-death decision for those who witness violent crime. Their reluctance to cooperate makes it difficult for law enforcement and prosecutors to seek justice.

State lawmakers want to change that culture by affording murder witnesses protection and shielding their identities in public records for two years after the crime.

“Let’s stop this no-snitch mentality,” said Rep. Cynthia Stafford, a Miami Democrat who’s sponsoring HB 111 this year. “Someone knows what happened but no one is coming forward because they’re afraid. Witness intimidation, retaliation — all of these are issues and concerns that people have about helping law enforcement help us.”

More here.

Photo credit: State Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami, speaks before the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee about her "witness protection" bill. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

January 31, 2017

Senate Democratic leader from Miami Gardens recounts his 'reality' with gun violence

Braynon2 apday 0131 kmc

@ByKristenMClark

With controversial gun legislation again proposed for Florida lawmakers to consider this spring, Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon told reporters Tuesday that the Legislature needs to do a better job of understanding the true reality of gun violence -- as opposed to referencing hypothetical, Hollywood-inspired examples.

And he speaks from experience.

RELATED: "These are the gun law changes Florida lawmakers could take up in 2017"

"My reality is a little different from their’s," the Miami Gardens Democrat said, referring to his fellow legislators. "How many people have been in a club that got shot up? I can raise my hand and say that I have."

More here.

Photo credit: Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

January 27, 2017

Florida House education chairman: Better civics lessons needed in schools

Bileca Diaz JMI_2 012617

@ByKristenMClark

Florida lawmakers could propose some changes this year in how public schools educate students about American government, history and the democratic system.

Miami Republican Rep. Michael Bileca, the House Education Committee chairman, says the issue is "near and dear" to him, and his primary goal is to streamline civics education so it runs from elementary school through college.

"It's a conversation you'll hear a lot in the House," he said while speaking at a luncheon at the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee on Thursday.

No specific policy has been presented yet, but Bileca said: "It's something that we're really looking at -- our civics, our history -- all the way from K-12 to our college system, on how do we really inculcate a sense of civic understanding, appreciation for our institutions and what a republic stands for and have a fully informed and fully educated citizenry that's able to participate in the democratic process."

Florida already requires civics classes for middle- and high-schoolers.

High school students need three credits in social studies in order to graduate. Those include mandatory courses in U.S. and world history, economics and U.S. government.

And in order to advance to high school, students in middle school need to complete "at least a one-semester civics education course that includes the roles and responsibilities of federal, state, and local governments; the structures and functions of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government; and the meaning and significance of historic documents, such as the Articles of Confederation, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution of the United States." That requirement was enacted just a few years ago.

But Bileca said he's looking for more "continuity of the importance of civics and understanding of history" across all grades.

"Something to look at there is the focus on history and civics and the foundational documents -- the Declaration of Independence, understanding the Constitution, the importance of separation of powers," he said. "These are good, basic frameworks and pillars of democracy that we want our kids by college and high school to be able to critically think about. ... Right now we're asking them to critically think about these systems of government that they know nothing about."

Photo credit: Miami Republican and Florida House education committee chairman Michael Bileca -- joined by state Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah -- speaks during a luncheon at the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, Fla. on Jan. 26, 2017, in honor of National School Choice Week. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

January 26, 2017

2017 is chance 'for us to really blow open school choice opportunities,' GOP lawmakers say

Bileca Diaz JMI 012617

@ByKristenMClark

Ardent school choice supporters who are in charge of K-12 education policy and spending in the Florida House say 2017 is their year and they don't aim to waste it.

"It's a wonderful foundation that we've created in Florida" for school choice, House education committee chairman Michael Bileca, R-Miami, said Thursday. "That foundation, we can't take for granted; that foundation is an envy of the rest of the country, where they point to us. It's incumbent upon us to understand and appreciate this platform but not be satisfied with it -- not be satisfied with incremental opportunities for our kids but really be focused on transformational opportunities."

House Pre-K-12 education budget chairman Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, agreed: "What you're seeing right now is an opportunity for us to really blow open some of those school choice opportunities, blow open some of those opportunities that may be outside the box that everyone is always trying to block."

Bileca and Diaz were both featured speakers Thursday at a luncheon in honor of National School Choice Week put on by the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, a public policy research organization that advocates for school choice education policies.

Diaz joked that it's not often he gets to speak to such an amenable crowd, since school choice remains such a polarizing issue in Florida. And he predicted "large opposition" ahead for future changes Florida House Republicans want to implement under the leadership of Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O'Lakes Republican who himself is a passionate supporter of school choice.

"It always bothers somebody in the status quo and they always want to protect it and give you excuses why you can't do it," Diaz said. "But guess what? Those excuses are always about the institutions and the organizations and never about the kids and never about freedom and never about opportunity."

Continue reading "2017 is chance 'for us to really blow open school choice opportunities,' GOP lawmakers say" »

December 16, 2016

Bill Nelson: Stephen Bittel 'would bring a lot to the Florida Democratic Party'

Nelson_bill 121616

@ByKristenMClark

Florida's top Democratic elected official says he's a fan of Stephen Bittel as a future leader in the Florida Democratic Party but his praise stops short of a formal endorsement.

Talking with reporters in Tallahassee on Friday, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson was delicate in how he answered questions about the future of the state Democratic Party -- the fate of which rests on the outcome of a special Miami-Dade party election on Tuesday.

"I'm trying to keep a low profile and let the party process work its will, because the minute that I stick my head out then people are going to say I'm trying to influence the election," Nelson told reporters. "I can tell you that Stephen Bittel is a personal friend and he would bring a lot to the Florida Democratic Party."

Bittel, a Coconut Grove developer, and former Cutler Bay state Sen. Dwight Bullard are competing for the position of Miami-Dade County Democratic Party committeeman. The special election on Dec. 20 comes after Bret Berlin stepped down earlier this month four days after being re-elected, making way for Bittel. The winner of the Bittel-Bullard contest will likely become the next state party chairman.

MORE: "With Florida Democratic Party in balance, lowly Miami-Dade race goes national"

Nelson praised outgoing state party chairwoman Allison Tant for having done "a remarkable job" leading the party and raising money while facing a Republican governor and Republican-controlled Legislature.

"It's very hard under those circumstances for the chair of the party to raise the money, and yet she has still done an exceptional job in the face of huge huge odds," Nelson said. "Going forward, I see that Stephen Bittel is someone that I know personally who could continue that excellent job."

"And beyond that, I better not get into it," Nelson said, declining any comment on Bullard.

Nelson also wouldn't touch on the political maneuvering that's made the way for Bittel to have a shot at Miami-Dade Democratic committeeman.

"I can only repeat to you what I know is happening," he said. "There is now a race for the state committeeman position in Miami-Dade County, and in order to be eligible for running for state party chair under state party rules, you have to be either a party chair, a vice chair or state committeeman or woman to run. That's my comment on that. I just don't know how that election is going."

December 14, 2016

Former prosecutor will challenge Campbell for Miami-Dade Senate district

Pizzo2@ByKristenMClark

Democrat Jason Pizzo says he hopes he'll be "pleasantly surprised" by the work of new state Sen. Daphne Campbell, who took office barely five weeks ago.

But for now, Pizzo is so concerned by the election of the Miami Shores Democrat and former state representative that he's already ramping up plans to run against her again in two years.

Pizzo, a 40-year-old former Miami-Dade prosecutor who unsuccessfully ran against Campbell for an open state Senate seat this year, plans to file paperwork on Wednesday in Tallahassee to launch his 2018 candidacy -- giving him 20 months to take on Campbell, or any other challengers who might arise.

"Unfortunately, the outcome in November was the election of a senator who doesn't and will not and cannot represent our district the way it should be represented, the way it should represent everyone's families -- including mine," Pizzo told the Herald/Times.

Pizzo cited Campbell's recent legislative record in the Florida House where he said she didn't advocate for women's rights for abortion, efforts to halt climate change or proposals to reduce gun violence in vulnerable communities, including Liberty City and parts of Overtown, both of which are in Senate District 38.

"There are so many critical, absolutely critical issues pending right now that will affect everyone's life -- their life, their health, their education, the climate," Pizzo said. "Within the same district, we have kids killing kids, we have climate change occurring and so everyone's interest is for the best, most professional, most ethical representation in the state Senate, and I continue to believe I'm that person."

Continue reading "Former prosecutor will challenge Campbell for Miami-Dade Senate district" »

December 02, 2016

Nine Democrats to compete for Miami-Dade Democratic Party chair

Bullard_cropAP

@amysherman1

Sen. Dwight Bullard won’t run for chair again of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party but still plans to run for Florida Democratic Party chair.

Bullard will run for county party vice chair against activist Rubin Young

On Tuesday, about 200 members of the county party who represent their precincts will gather to elect a chair, vice chair and other leaders. (Here is the full roster of who is running.)

The outcome has ramifications for the state’s party leadership. The county party will also elect a state committeeman and committee woman and those two individuals will get to vote on the Florida Democratic Party chair in January. Across the state, the committeemen and women vote according to a formula based on the number of registered Democrats in the county which means that Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach carry considerable weight.

Here’s a look at the candidates running for positions in Miami-Dade:

State committeeman:

  • Bret Berlin: A business consultant, Berlin has served as the chair for 12 years and is former Miami-Dade chairman and supported Hillary Clinton during the primary. He says he hasn’t seen the DEC membership this low. “It's disappointing so few people are engaged -- it means we have to do much better job as a party to regain trust miami dade electorate and rebuild this party.”

(Any voting member can nominate himself or herself from the floor so it is possible he will face a competitor.)

State committeewoman:

  • Francesca Menes: She lost a race for state house in 2016 and is running for a state house race in 2018.
  • Annette Taddeo Goldstein: She has lost multiple races, most recently for Congress to former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia. Taddeo Goldstein has been mentioned as a potential state party chair candidate but didn’t respond to the Herald this week about whether she will definitely run. She is currently vice chair of the Florida Democratic Party and a past chair of the Miami-Dade party.
  • Elizabeth Judd: A retired AFSCME union business agent, Judd is a longtime DEC member.
  • Bess McElroy: A retired city of Miami personnel administrator, she unsuccessfully ran for state house twice. In the past she has served as vice chair and was the interim chair a few times.

The other two candidates are Mae Christian, Elizabeth Rodriguez and Elizabeth Washington-Wells who are also running for chair.

The other candidates for chair are:

  • Dr. Leonarda Duran: She is president of the Miami-Dade Democratic Hispanic Caucus and works as a therapist/life coach.
  • Tony Diaz: He runs an ad agency and is running for Miami City Commission in 2017.
  • Millie Herrera: She is a former appointee of President Barack Obama to the U.S. Department of Labor and a former chair of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida. She owns a public relations firm.
  • Rafael Velasquez: He lost a race for state house in 2002. Velasquez, a real estate broker, said he was on the national finance committee for Clinton.
  • Juan Cuba: He resigned as director of the Miami-Dade Democrats after the Nov. 8th election.
  • Fred Frost: Former president of the South Florida AFL-CIO and works for CWA International Union.
  • Ernesto Fernandez

This post has been updated to reflect additional candidates who signed up to run or switched races.

November 30, 2016

New House education chairman who opposed school recess plan 'will take a look' at it in 2017

Bileca_flhouse@ByKristenMClark

After being one of only two Florida House members to oppose it last session, Miami Republican Rep. Michael Bileca said he's open to considering a renewed effort to mandate recess time at Florida's public elementary schools.

But he indicated the proposal could still face some potentially tough scrutiny in 2017.

"I will take a look at it," Bileca told the Herald/Times. "The areas I had difficulty with were not changed (last session), so we'll need to see what's changed."

Although he's only one vote in the 120-member House, Bileca's opinion matters greatly because, as chairman of the Education Committee for the upcoming term, he has the power to influence the outcome of a wide range of education policy matters -- including this popular, parent-driven proposal.

Among Bileca's powers as chairman is deciding which bills are taken up by his committee. Failing to get a hearing is a frequent way bills die in session -- and it's how the recess measure stalled last spring in the Senate.

MORE: "Florida will again consider mandatory recess"

In filing a bill on Tuesday, Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, got the ball rolling to revive the Legislature's recess debate for next session. Rep. Rene Plasencia, the Orlando Republican who advocated for the issue last spring, is drafting the House companion.

"I know one of the things for me last year that I didn't like was it was tied to discipline," Bileca said, referencing a provision in last session's bill that read: "Free-play recess may not be withheld for academic or punititive reasons."

Bileca said he "expected modifications" in the proposal before it was brought to the House floor for a final vote but the bill was never altered.

Bileca and now-House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, were the only "no" votes when the measure passed the House, 112-2, in February. Corcoran's office did not respond to emails seeking comment this week about whether he would support a school recess proposal in the upcoming session.

While Plasencia's bill is still being drafted, the version Flores filed omits the line that concerned Bileca. It also doesn't include language affording recess time to sixth-graders who are enrolled at schools with at least one other elementary school grade, as last session's bill did.

In speaking with the Herald/Times, Bileca indicated the recess proposal could face a high bar as far as his support is concerned.

He noted that Florida already mandates physical education time, "a requirement that a lot of other states don't have." And he said: "My big focus for next session is going to be: Where are there areas we've over-regulated from the state level?"

One of the reasons the recess measure died last session in the Senate was because that chamber's education policy chairman at the time firmly believed it was a local issue that didn't "merit a Tallahassee solution."

Photo credit: State Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, during the 2015 session. myfloridahouse.gov