May 04, 2016

Miami Rep. Frank Artiles 'won't be bullied,' might sue over attack ads

OT_402078_KEEL_9_flgov__2__8col

@ByKristenMClark

As part of an ongoing direct-mail campaign to highlight what it deems as unethical behavior by Florida elected officials, the independent advocacy organization FloridaStrong has gone after several Republican Miami-Dade legislators in recent months.

But one is now fighting back.

State Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, says he plans to sue FloridaStrong because the group's organizers refuse to correct claims they made in a mailer that went out to Artiles' constituents recently and which his attorney said depicts Artiles "in an unfavorable light."

(View the mailer here.)

Artiles, a three-term House member, is currently campaigning for a seat in the Florida Senate, where he wants to represent District 40, which includes part of central Miami-Dade County. He faces current Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, and independent Mario Jimenez in that contest.

"My reputation is very important to me and I will not allow any organization or person to defame, slander and libel me because they think nobody’s going to fight back," Artiles told the Herald/Times. "I truly believe these organizations -- which are funded nationally through special interests -- that if you don't stand up or correct them, you're acquiescing to their bullying. I won’t be bullied by some political hacks."

FloridaStrong's most recent mailer against Artiles alleges that he is a "property appraiser by trade," "voted to raise property taxes on Florida families by $427 million," "received thousands in campaign contributions from the insurance industry" and "voted to privatize Citizens Property Insurance and protect insurance industry profits."

But, in a letter dated April 21, a Tallahassee attorney for Artiles said the claims aren't true. Emmett "Bucky" Mitchell offered point-by-point rebuttals and accused FloridaStrong of making "false statements ... that should be corrected." Or else.

(Read the full letter here.)

Continue reading "Miami Rep. Frank Artiles 'won't be bullied,' might sue over attack ads" »

May 01, 2016

Daniel Horton says it's 'best decision' to drop Senate bid, seek House seat in Keys instead

Horton@ByKristenMClark

After talking with his primary opponent and Democratic Party officials in recent weeks, Democrat Daniel Horton said Sunday he is dropping his bid for a competitive Senate seat in South Florida and is turning his ambitions to a state House seat.

Horton announced his bid for state Senate less than a month ago.

The 30-year-old FIU law school graduate aimed to challenge Democrat Andrew Korge in the August primary for the District 39 Senate seat, which represents parts of Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. The winner of that contest would have faced state Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, who's seeking re-election.

Flores and Korge had already been embroiled in a bitter race when Horton jumped in the fray.

But in a press release Sunday afternoon, Korge said Horton was bowing out of that contest and planning to, instead, challenge incumbent state Rep. Holly Raschein for the District 120 House seat.

In an interview with the Herald/Times, Horton confirmed his decision to switch legislative races.

"At the end of the day, I figure this is the best decision for the people that live in District 39, I think it's the best decision for the Democratic Party, and I think it's the best decision for myself," Horton said.

Continue reading "Daniel Horton says it's 'best decision' to drop Senate bid, seek House seat in Keys instead" »

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 01, 2016

Former state Rep. Phillip Brutus announces bid for Florida Senate

@ByKristenMClark

Former North Miami state Rep. Phillip Brutus is making another go at returning to the Florida Capitol.

He's running in a crowded Democratic primary for the new District 38 Senate seat. The coastal district includes parts of northeastern Miami-Dade County -- including Aventura and Miami Beach -- areas currently represented by longtime Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Hollywood.

Brutus, who filed in the race in February, officially announced his campaign today.

"We need to send a senator with an intimate knowledge of the Legislative process, good rapport with other legislators and a commitment to improving the lives of District 38 citizens and businesses," Brutus said in a statement.

Margolis -- a former state Senate president who has represented Miami-Dade County in the Legislature for much of the past four decades -- is seeking re-election to the chamber in the new District 38.

Brutus served in the state House from 2000 to 2006 and has been a lawyer in Miami-Dade County for nearly 30 years. He also is a longtime weekly news show host on WLQY 1320 AM.

In 2014, he campaigned to return to the state House but lost in the primary against Democratic incumbent and current state Rep. Barbara Watson, D-Miami Gardens. He also previously ran unsuccessfully for County Commission, Florida Senate and Congress since 2006.

Three other Democrats have also filed to run in the August primary for District 38, including current state Rep. Daphne Campbell, Anis Blemur, and Don Festge.

No Republicans have filed to run. The district is heavily Democratic.

Mail fraud in South Florida Senate race? Andrew Korge thinks so — and accuses Anitere Flores

@ByKristenMClark

A Democrat running for a state Senate seat in South Florida alleges someone has -- perhaps illegally -- sent out fraudulent campaign letters to his donors, and Andrew Korge believes his Republican opponent, current state Sen. Anitere Flores, or her supporters are responsible.

Flores, R-Miami, denies the allegations, but Korge said "whether it’s her or her people, it’s irrelevant to me."

Korge and Flores are running for a hotly contested Senate seat that spans western and southern Miami-Dade County and Monroe County, including the Florida Keys.

Thanks to the recent redistricting of the state's 40 Senate seats, several Senate candidates have had to re-file their campaigns with the Florida Department of State to run for the correct newly renumbered district.

As part of that switch, candidates are required to notify their past donors and give them the opportunity to get a refund, because the money won't be used for the race it was intended for.

Korge said his campaign sent out such letters after he switched to run against Flores for the new District 39 seat, but he became alarmed when he started to receive response forms that were vastly different than the ones he sent out.

The suspicious letters -- copies of which Korge provided to the Herald/Times -- purport to be from Korge's campaign and are vaguely worded to suggest that Korge isn't running for Senate anymore at all.

They include no identifying marks nor a campaign disclaimer, so it's not possible to know from where they originated or who is responsible for sending them.

But Korge alleges it was Flores or her political backers.

"I think we all know who did this. I only have one opponent here. This is the type of corruption that people are sick of and a big part of what we’re running for," Korge said. "Do I have definitive proof that she did it? No, but I have common sense."

Flores told a Herald/Times reporter "no way, no how" was she involved with sending out the suspicious letters.

"Why in the universe would I spend any resources on doing something that you just told me he’s legally required to do?" she said.

Continue reading "Mail fraud in South Florida Senate race? Andrew Korge thinks so — and accuses Anitere Flores" »

March 09, 2016

Law that helps Miami-Dade schools by fixing tax collection shortfalls heads to Gov. Scott

@ByKristenMClark and @cveiga

A proposed law that cleared the Florida Legislature on Wednesday should give local government entities -- such as Miami-Dade Public Schools -- faster access to their tax revenue and the ability to more accurately plan their annual budgets.

Officials with the Miami-Dade school district have, for years, complained that lengthy delays in tax collection short-change public schools by millions of dollars in funding.

And they finally have a solution that's a step away from becoming law.

HB 499 unanimously passed both the House and Senate on Wednesday and now awaits Republican Gov. Rick Scott's signature.

The measure -- led by Republicans Sen. Anitere Flores, of Miami, and Rep. Bryan Avila, of Hialeah -- reforms statewide the process for resolving property tax disputes, which are heard by county Value Adjustment Boards.

It puts limits on when property owners' appeals need to be resolved, and it requires the boards to complete all appeals and certify property values with the county appraiser no later than June 1.

Flores said the provisions "speed up and modernize that process, so hopefully entities such as our school system and our public school students will receive the money they deserve in a timely matter."

Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and other district officials traveled to Tallahassee at least twice this session to testify in favor of the bill when it was vetted by legislative committees.

"We're finally going to have legislative protection that will ensure equity in funding for Miami-Dade's children," Carvalho said Wednesday in Miami.

Carvalho and school board chairwoman Perla Tabares Hantman both said they were "appreciative" of Avila, Flores and the rest of the Miami-Dade delegation for navigating the bill through the legislative process. 

"This was a very big priority for the board," Hantman said. 

The district's fight over property tax appeals has been years-long and contentious.

The district audited the local value adjustment board, refused to pay a $1.5 million bill to the property appraiser and threatened to sue over the issue. United Teachers of Dade, the local union, did sue -- but a judge dismissed the complaint.

Carvalho said the district will now pay close attention to how the bill is implemented in Miami-Dade.

"Everything is in place to solve the problem. With every law that's passed in Tallahassee, it is about the execution. And fidelity as far as execution will be key," Carvalho said.

February 16, 2016

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

Capture

@ByKristenMClark

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" »

December 15, 2015

Every Miami-Dade GOP lawmaker endorses Carlos Lopez-Cantera

@MichaelAuslen

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera on Tuesday announced endorsements from more than a dozen South Florida Republican lawmakers.

The Miami Republican is running in the primary to replace Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate.

Included in Tuesday's list of endorsements is every Republican in the state Legislature who represents some portion of Miami-Dade. Here's the full list:

Sens. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami; Anitere Flores, R-Miami; and Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah. Reps. Frank Artiles, R-Miami; Bryan Avila, R-Hialeah; Michael Bileca, R-Miami; Jose Diaz, R-Miami; Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah; Erik Fresen, R-Miami; George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale; Jeanette Nuñez, R-Miami; Jose Oliva, R-Hialeah; Holly Raschein, R- Key Largo; and Carlos Trujillo, R-Doral.

December 06, 2015

Baptist Health, a Miami-Dade success story, benefits from tax exemption

via @dchangmiami

Baptist Health South Florida is a Miami-Dade success story.

Founded with a single hospital on Kendall Drive in 1960, it has grown into the region’s dominant healthcare system. Its seven hospitals and dozens of clinics from Coral Springs to the Upper Keys serve thousands daily and employ more people than any other local business, consistently ranking among the area’s best in customer satisfaction and quality of care.

Baptist Health is also raking in the money. The healthcare giant earned a net income of $344 million in 2014 and has amassed financial reserves of about $3 billion. It charges some of the highest rates on average among Miami-Dade hospitals, according to state data, and pays its top executives and star physicians million-dollar salaries.

And each year Baptist Health benefits from its status as a not-for-profit corporation exempted from paying income, property and sales taxes — a perk valued at about $150 million in 2014.

In return, Baptist Health — like all nonprofit hospitals — is required by the Internal Revenue Service to offer extra programs called “community benefits” to promote health. Most often, that has meant providing free or reduced-price healthcare for the uninsured and for those with Medicaid.

Last year, Baptist Health’s community benefits totaled $317 million, according to CEO Brian Keeley.

“We give more than anybody in town,” he said.

But while Baptist Health gives generously to free clinics and other healthcare efforts, its vast network is unavailable to many low- and middle-income South Florida residents who buy plans on the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchange, known as Obamacare, and to those who are on Medicaid.

More here.

November 30, 2015

Are Florida lawmakers ready to tackle for-profit college abuses?

@MrMikeVasquez 

After a year of repeated for-profit college scandals — including the recent closure of Dade Medical College — Florida lawmakers are poised to consider new, tougher rules governing the schools.

The change follows several years in which lawmakers loosened standards and opened up more public money to for-profits. For the moment, the buzz is about greater consumer protections at the schools, which rely heavily on taxpayer money but receive little government oversight.

For-profit colleges enroll nearly one in five Florida college students — close to 300,000 students in total.

Though lawmakers are talking about stronger regulations, the proposals so far aren’t as aggressive as what some other states have done to protect students. And some Florida lawmakers may be hesitant to take any action whatsoever against an industry that donates generously to political campaigns, and has many powerful friends.

That’s particularly true in the conservative House. Two House lawmakers who chair important education-related committees were previously honored as “legislator of the year” by the for-profit college industry.

The 2016 legislative session starts on Jan. 12. Committee meetings have already begun.

One for-profit college bill that’s being debated would shut down schools with student loan default rates over 40 percent — resulting in the closure of a handful of beauty schools and barber colleges. It easily passed its first Senate committee stop in mid-November.

Other proposals are directly linked to the fallout from the Oct. 30 closure of Dade Medical College.

More here.