September 18, 2017

As state Senate election nears, Diaz, Taddeo debate 'lessons learned' from Hurricane Irma

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@ByKristenMClark

The impacts and recovery efforts that followed Hurricane Irma have presented fresh fodder for political debate between the two main candidates who are seeking voters’ support in a bitter battle that will be decided next week for an open state Senate seat in Miami-Dade County.

On WPLG Local 10 News’ “This Week in South Florida” on Sunday, Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz and Democrat Annette Taddeo sparred about the “lessons learned” from the storm.

They also used the 10-minute televised debate to trade attacks over which of them caters more to special interest groups and industries that came to the forefront during and after the hurricane, such as utilities and nursing home care.

“What we have learned is that industry has a great impact at the [Public Service Commission], at the Legislature. They have killed certain legislation so it could have prevented the lives that we lost at the nursing home,” Taddeo said on the Sunday morning show, referencing the eight elderly people who died last week in a Broward County facility that lacked air conditioning after the hurricane.

Whether it was the elder care industry or utilities, like Florida Power & Light, Taddeo said: “We need to make sure we have representatives that represent us — not the special interests. And that’s not what we have right now; we have had this problem in Florida for decades.”

Diaz — who’s served in the Florida House for seven years — countered that “it’s unfortunate that my opponent would try to paint me off as someone who’s beholden to special interests.”

“The only special interest that matters to me is the people of my community. Nobody’s worked harder during and after this storm than me,” Diaz said.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, left, and Democrat Annette Taddeo, right, debate during Sunday’s episode of “This Week in South Florida” on WPLG Local 10 News in Miami. Diaz and Taddeo are candidates for the open Senate District 40 seat in Miami-Dade County. [WPLG]

Bonuses based on teacher test scores violate civil rights, lawsuit alleges

Dept of Education

A state program that awards bonuses to top-rated teachers based on their own SAT and ACT scores from high school violates federal and state civil rights laws against employment discrimination, argues a potential class-action lawsuit filed this week by Florida’s largest teachers union and seven classroom teachers from South Florida.

The Best and Brightest program — first enacted in 2015 and now in its third year — continues to be envisioned by Florida House Republicans as an innovative means to recruit and retain the best teachers in the state’s public schools.

But it’s been a subject of ongoing controversy because the program relies on teachers’ own test scores — sometimes decades old and unavailable — which has no proven correlation to teacher effectiveness.

The Florida Education Association is now asking a federal judge to step in and declare the program illegal and discriminatory against teachers who are older and who are non-white.

The FEA first made the accusation two years ago through a complaint to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — an avenue the union said Friday it had to exhaust before it was recently given federal authorization to file a lawsuit.

“The SAT/ACT score requirement has an illegal disparate impact on teachers based on their age and on teachers based on their black and Hispanic race,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys, John Davis and Kent Spriggs, argued in the 58-page lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee. “The SAT/ACT score requirement is not required by business necessity and is not related to job performance.”

Full story here.

Photo credit: Florida Department of Education [Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times]

August 25, 2017

Trump nominates Trujillo to United Nations post

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@PatriciaMazzei

Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Trujillo has been tapped to serve in the United Nations, the White House announced Friday.

President Donald Trump intends to nominate Trujillo to the role of representative to the UN general assembly. The position would make the powerful Florida House budget chief one of UN Ambassador Nikki Haley’s four deputies.

Trujillo, an attorney, would take Haley’s place in meetings and assemblies when she’s unavailable. He would also get the title of “ambassador.”

His nomination has been in the works for months. Trujillo was an early Trump supporter. He missed a budget committee hearing in April amid rumors he was in Washington, interviewing for a possible ambassadorship to Argentina or Panama. He was later said to be under consideration for an appointment to the Organization of American States.

More here.

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, el Nuevo Herald 

July 12, 2017

In Miami senate race, mailer says Donald Trump endorsed Jose Felix Diaz -- but read the fine print

Diaz Trump mail

Diaz mailingone

@amysherman1

A mailer in a Miami senate race says that Donald Trump has only backed one of the candidates, but voters will have to read the fine print to figure out when Trump supported state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz.

It appears that Trump supported Diaz in his previous bids for state house years before Trump's successful bid for president.

"Only one candidate in Senate District 40 has been endorsed twice by Donald Trump," states one side of the mailer, showing a photo of Trump and Diaz smiling together giving the thumbs up sign. 

The other side of the mailer states "Jose Felix Diaz supports Donald Trump" and shows a photo of Diaz, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. The mailer displays a note written by Trump on an invoice: "Jose -- Good Luck -- we are all proud of you -- you will win!" 

If you read the fine print of the invoice, it shows a date of June 2012. State campaign finance records show that Trump donated $500 to Diaz's house race in July 2012 (as well as an earlier race in March 2009.)

Note that the mailer doesn't say President Donald Trump but only says Donald Trump -- another sign that as president, Trump isn't supporting any candidates in the Miami senate race.

The White House didn't want to weigh in on this mailer, but it would be unusual for a president to endorse in a state legislative race even though Diaz and Trump know each other.

Diaz was once a contestant on Trump's "The Apprentice" reality show. Also, Diaz was interviewed as a potential Miami U.S. attorney candidate for Trump's administration. Earlier in the race, Diaz deleted a twitter photo of himself with President Trump after he was aggressively trolled online.  

Diaz faces former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and attorney Lorenzo Palomares-Starbuck in the special July 25 Republican primary election to replace State Sen. Frank Artiles. If Diaz wins, Democrats will emphasize his ties to Trump in the Democratic-leaning Senate District 40. 

Diaz could not be immediately reached to answer questions about when Trump supported him and if he officially endorsed him when he gave him money in state house races.

 

July 10, 2017

Miami senate district forum will be skipped by at least one major Republican candidate

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@amysherman1

Former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, one of the Republican rivals in the race to replace Sen. Frank Artiles, will not appear at a candidate forum at Miami Dade College's Kendall campus Wednesday night.

"I spend my time with my voters not with elites," he told the Miami Herald in a text confirming that he won't attend.

State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz said he will try to attend part of the forum, but it is scheduled the same evening when he will appear at a Univision event about the condo reform bill that he shepherded through this session along with a few other Miami-Dade lawmakers. 

Diaz and Portilla didn't appear at a forum June 1 due to scheduling conflicts. The forums provide the rare opportunity for voters to hear multiple candidates at once before the July 25 primary in District 40.

Republican Lorenzo Palomares, a lawyer, will attend the forum along with Democrats Annette Taddeo, a frequent candidate and owner of a translation business, and former state Rep. Ana Rivas Logan

The format is not a debate -- the candidates will be asked the same set of questions. Generally, the candidates are not going to be given the opportunity to rebut each other unless a candidate attacks another candidate.

Likely topics include the health care legislation, gun safety, restoring felons' voting rights, the environment, and public education. The forum will be moderated by WLRN morning anchor Luis Hernandez

The event is sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Additional event partners include the Miami Herald, ACLU Florida, Women’s Fund Miami-Dade, YWCA, Kendall Federation of Homeowners, Engage Miami and National Council of Jewish Women Kendall.

Partners have submitted questions in advance but the public can also submit questions on written cards at the forum. 

The forum will be held at MDC’s Kendall Campus, Room 6120, 1011 SW 104 St.

Miami Herald photo from left to right: Lorenzo Palomares, Ana Rivas Logan, Steve Smith, Christian "He-Man" Schlaerth, and Annette Taddeo participate in a Florida Senate District 40 Forum at the Second Baptist Church in Richmond Heights on Thursday, June 1, 2017. 

 

 

 

July 05, 2017

Talk of fixing HB 7069 ‘way too premature,’ Hialeah lawmaker says

Florida Legislature (12)

@ByKristenMClark

Although a major school reform bill was signed into law last month amid heavy criticism and calls that it be fixed immediately, an influential lawmaker from Miami-Dade County indicates that issue won’t be a priority on the Legislature’s agenda for 2018.

“It’s way too premature,” said Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., who helms the House’s pre-K-12 education budget committee. “Making adjustments going forward — we first have to see what happens instead of jumping the gun.”

HB 7069 took effect Saturday, prompting myriad changes in statewide education policy — many favorable to charter schools seeking less restrictions to their expansion in Florida.

Among the most controversial of those changes is a new “Schools of Hope” program to help the state’s worst-performing schools by, in part, providing incentives for new charter schools to directly compete with them.

It’s that part of the bill that some senators — led by Republican David Simmons of Altamonte Springs — have argued needs to be revised. They say, as written, the new law forces failing schools to either shut down after getting two “D” or “F” grades or hand themselves over to privately managed charters, with both options leaving the schools’ teachers out of work.

Diaz — who helped craft HB 7069 and shepherd it through the Legislature — contends such critics are misreading the new law and they need to be patient while the Florida Department of Education drafts rules this summer that better clarify how the “Schools of Hope” program will be implemented.

More here.

Photo credit: AP 

July 03, 2017

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez to fundraise for Jose Felix Diaz's senate race

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@amysherman1

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez is the special guest at a fundraiser for Rep. Jose Felix Diaz's state senate campaign at the Biltmore Hotel July 18th.

Diaz is running in the July 25th primary for the special election in District 40 created by the resignation of Sen. Frank Artiles

Diaz will face attorney Lorenzo Palomares and former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla in the Republican primary.

June 28, 2017

Condo law reforms sought by Miami-Dade lawmakers signed into law

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via @BrendaMedinar of El Nuevo Herald

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has approved state condominium law reforms that seek to punish voter fraud and theft in condo associations, clarify the definition of conflicts of interest and promote transparency.

Amendments to chapter 718 of the state law will take effect on July 1.

“I am very happy that we have finally achieved some of what is needed to stop fraud and abuse toward condominium owners,” said Maritza Escobar, owner of a condo unit in Hialeah Gardens. “In the future we have to make more changes to stop the abuse from management companies and boards.”

The reforms were presented in Tallahassee as a signature bill by the bipartisan Dade Delegation during the legislative session that ended in May. It was sponsored by Rep. José Félix Díaz and Senators José Javier Rodríguez and René García, and unanimously approved by the state House and Senate.

“That [the governor] signed the law is a victory and one that does not always happen,” said Díaz, whose district encompasses the Fontainebleau neighborhood in west Miami-Dade.

Díaz, who is vying for a Senate seat, said the delegation’s action and community engagement were key to the reforms getting passed.

“There are so many people in this county who have so many problems and do not raise their voices,” he said. “This is an example of when the government responds to the advice and suggestions of the public.”

The bill came a year after the publication of the “Condo Nightmares” series by el Nuevo Herald and Univisión 23. The investigation highlighted cases of electoral fraud, forged signatures on ballots, conflicts of interests, misappropriation of funds and rigged bids.

Full story here.

Photo credit: C.M. GUERRERO / El Nuevo Herald

June 15, 2017

Baez lists home for sale after residency questioned

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@PatriciaMazzei

State Rep. Daisy Baez listed her Coral Gables home for sale Wednesday, about a month after her compliance with a Florida constitutional requirement that she live in her district was called into question.

Realtor.com shows Baez's three-bedroom, two-bathroom Malaga Avenue house for sale for $695,000. The property is in House District 112 -- which is a problem for the freshman Democratic lawmaker because she represents District 114 and was supposed to have lived there by Election Day last November.

When the Miami Herald first reported in May that Baez was apparently still living on Malaga Avenue, Baez said she kept two residences: the house and a rental in District 114. That address was an occupied apartment owned by a pair of her campaign donors. Baez's friends later said she was renting another property in the district and planning to move out of Malaga Avenue. A "For Rent" sign went up on her yard.

Baez, who dropped out of a Florida Senate race after news of her residency problem broke, was hit with an ethics complaint over the issue earlier this month.

"I currently live in the district I represent and right now my focus is on the special session and my continued efforts to push for more responsibility and transparency when handling our tax dollars, to protect our public schools and the environment and to bring better paying jobs to the district," Baez said in a statement to the Herald at the time.

June 07, 2017

South Florida rain interferes with lawmakers traveling to Tallahassee

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@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