March 24, 2015

Florida Senate votes to oppose U.S.-Cuba relations

Cuba

In an emotional speech Tuesday, Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, asked her fellow senators to oppose President Obama’s recent decision to open up diplomatic relations with Cuba.

All but one agreed.

The measure, which also discourages the federal government from allowing a Cuban consulate in Florida, is largely symbolic. But it was important for the Cuban-American members of the state Senate, Flores said.

"A lot of my friends and colleagues have asked why we care so deeply," she said on the Senate Floor.

Flores told the story of how her mother had fled the island nation as a girl. 

She spoke about the "hundreds of thousands [who] sit in prison every day for having the gall to stand up and say something." And she showed photographs of the Ladies in White, the wives and family members of imprisoned Cuban dissidents who hold regular protests in Havana.

"They are spit upon, they are beat up, they are harassed," Flores said.

Flores said the Obama administration's decision to ease travel restrictions to Cuba would allow American visitors to "have it all," while Cuban residents would continue to suffer.

"I know you've seen the pictures of the beautiful beaches were the tourists can go," she said. "No one who is a Cuban citizen can go to those places."

Her call was echoed by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican who said members of his family had been imprisoned and killed for speaking out against the government.

Diaz de la Portilla said the new Cuba policy would "do nothing but ensure that the [Castro] regime stays in power."

"To think that by spending American cash, so Americans can by Cuban cigars and Cuban rum and stay at hotels on stolen land, that these two obstinate octogenarian dictators and their cronies are going to change anything is naive at best," he said.

Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, urged his colleagues to "send a message to this administration that we understand the plight and the problems [Cubans] are facing, and that we must continue to put the pressure on the Castro regime to open up and be transparent."

The measure passed on a voice vote, with Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, saying he was proud to stand with the members of the Miami-Dade Legislative Delegation.

Only one senator opposed the proposal.

Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa Democrat, said she understood the Cuban-American senators' "passion and pain." But she defended the Obama administration's "historic steps to chart a new course" in Cuba.

"I know in my heart that there was no malice intended by the promulgation of this policy by the Obama administration, and I know that his moving this forward is an effort to bring freedom to the Cuban nation," Joyner said.

A similar proposal, sponsored by Republican Reps. Manny Diaz Jr. and Jeanette Núñez, is ready for a vote on the House floor.

So far, the House version has yet to win the support of a single Democrat. But Núñez hopes that will change.

"This is not a partisan debate for us," she said. "We're not going to denigrate the president. We're going to keep it to the policy."

March 02, 2015

Miami-Dade lawmakers seek to protect Jackson, public schools

Flores2Miami-Dade’s team of state lawmakers will return to Tallahassee next week with something they’ve been lacking in recent years: clout.

That could help the state’s largest legislative delegation accomplish its goals in 2015.

The delegation’s top priorities include shielding Jackson Health System from crippling budget cuts, helping the Miami-Dade school district avoid a $40 million tax collection shortfall, and securing funding for Florida International University and Miami Dade College.

Democrats and Republicans will also team up to increase funding for child welfare providers, and to eliminate a five-year waiting period that applies to lawfully residing immigrant children seeking subsidized health insurance (HB 829/SB 294).

"We’re focusing on issues like funding our institutions and ensuring our residents have affordable property insurance," said Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican who serves as delegation chair. "Those are not partisan issues. Those are South Florida issues."

The 60-day legislative session starts Tuesday.

Read more here.

December 04, 2014

Rick Scott ally blasts Miami GOP lawmakers for ‘malicious lobbying’ in bid dispute

@MarcACaputo

A $40 million Tri-Rail bid dispute is going off the political rails.

A top Broward Republican insider, William R. Scherer, is accusing three Miami-Dade GOP lawmakers of improper lobbying in the matter. One of the lawmakers said the comments from Scherer, a major backer of Gov. Rick Scott, are "ludicrous."

The case involves two construction firms, MCM of Miami and Gulf Building of Fort Lauderdale. After losing the bid, MCM enlisted the help of Sen. Anitere Flores and representatives Jeanette Nunez and Manny Diaz. Jr., who then voiced their concerns in a letter to Tri-Rail’s board, the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (background here).

Scherer then penned this letter today that blasted his fellow Republicans. Normally, a back-and-forth like this would be limited to the original blog post. But this scorcher deserves its own post:

“My firm represents Gulf Building LLC, the winning bidder in the above referenced RFP. We have been provided with a copy of your letter of December 1, 2014 to the SFRTA board members. Attached hereto is a copy of our letter to Mr. Munilla of MCM advising him that we are going to be seeking damages against MCM and him for defamation per se toward

“Your letter now implicates each of you in a conspiracy to defame Gulf Building. Your actions are clearly as lobbyists for MCM in an effort to support MCM’s bid. You have made defamatory statements against Gulf Building that you could possibly not have verified for their truthfulness before sending your letter. This malicious lobbying behavior in the guise of your elected official capacity makes you personally liable as co-conspirators.

“Also, your communications are in violation of the cone of silence and are in violation of Florida’s laws related to improper communications in a public bidding process. Your violation of these laws will also be pursued as part of the damages claims against you and MCM for conspiracy to defame.”

“Withdraw your letters immediately. Govern yourself accordingly.”

Said Diaz in a written statement: "That letter is ludicrous. I'm not lobbying for anyone. I don't even know any of the parties involved but I strongly believe the board should guard taxpayer dollars."

Regardless of who's right, this crazy train is sure to make Friday's Tri-Rail meeting into a wreck.

Download Scherer letter 1

Download Lawmaker letter

September 10, 2014

As feds draw closer, David Rivera's confidante to be sentenced today

@MarcACaputo

The federal investigation into former congressman David Rivera takes another major step today when his close friend and political ally is scheduled to be formally sentenced for her role in allegedly helping him break campaign finance laws.

Ana Alliegro last month made a surprise admission of guilt in open court and named Rivera as the mastermind of the 2012 scheme to steer more than $81,000 to a political unknown to help fund fliers and other items to campaign against the Republican’s rival, current U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia.

“Those fliers were designed by Ana Alliegro [and] David Rivera,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Mulvihill said in court, implicitly citing prior statements Alliegro had made to prosecutors.

Before that disclosure in court, Rivera had denied wrongdoing and falsely claimed he was never under investigation. Rivera couldn’t be reached.

Court records and testimony indicate that Alliegro has told authorities that Rivera not only set the conspiracy in motion, but he also helped her flee the United States to Nicaragua when she was supposed to cooperate with prosecutors instead.

Alliegro in March was informally extradited to the United States and has been in jail ever since. Now that she’s cooperating, Alliegro could be sentenced to just six more months in jail, or even house arrest.

Alliegro is the second conviction in the case. Her co-conspirator, no-name former Democratic candidate Justin Lamar Sternad, pleaded guilty in 2013 for accepting the illegal campaign contributions and making false statements about them when he ran as a Democrat in the 2012 primary against Garcia and others.

Garcia won that race and went on to wallop the scandal-plagued Rivera in the general election. In this election, however, federal investigators are now examining whether Garcia's former top consultant and chief of staff, Jeffrey Garcia (no relation to the congressman) helped prop up yet another ringer candidate two years before in what appears to be a pre-cursor to Sternad's case.

Rep. Garcia has denied wrongdoing, said he'd cooperate with prosecutors and no witnesses have said he's culpable -- a stark contrast to Rivera's case in which two campaign vendors told The Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald that the Republican was involved in the 2012 campaign-finance scheme from the start. Based on the Herald reports, the FBI began examining the case.

With the two convictions and what appears to be a wealth of evidence and testimony against Rivera, Miami’s political and legal worlds have been abuzz with word of Rivera’s imminent indictment.

But Rivera, who has survived a prior federal investigation and a separate state investigation into his finances, has avoided indictments in the past. A Tallahassee judge, however, recently sided with state ethics commission prosecutors and found that he broke state ethics laws over how he managed campaign and taxpayer money as a state legislator.

Rivera is appealing. The ethics commission has yet to rule on the case.

But voters have rendered their verdict.

Rivera tried to mount a comeback to run against Garcia this year. But the one-time political power broker, nagged by scandal and his repeated misstatements reported in the press, came in fourth place in a five-way GOP primary on Aug. 26.

Rivera received just 2,209 votes – which is 647 less than the no-name Sternad received just two years before when his campaign was propped up by illegal money.

August 15, 2014

At Florida International University, Miami-Dade lawmakers are graduation mainstays

@MrMikeVasquez

No, that wasn’t an official meeting of the Miami-Dade legislative delegation at FIU earlier this month — it was just graduation ceremonies. But there certainly were a lot of lawmakers there.

Spread out over the first week of August were five FIU summer commencement ceremonies — with four of them featuring local lawmakers as the commencement speaker. Local state Sen. Anitere Flores was the first to deliver a speech, followed by state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz later that day, and state Reps. Jeanette Nuñez and Erik Fresen the following day.

These are the same lawmakers who make funding decisions regarding FIU every year. Asked if the university was trying to cozy up to lawmakers, FIU spokeswoman Madeline Baro said the legislators actually gave really good speeches, and “we have a great relationship with the Dade Delegation.”

Flores, who is both an FIU grad and previously worked for the university, told graduates that her mom was part of FIU’s first graduating class. She expressed hope that one of the graduates in attendance might discover the cure for cancer, or be the one “that figures out how for it to not to take an hour to get from Kendall to downtown.”

--MICHAEL VASQUEZ

July 15, 2014

Former Florida House candidate sues to get back on the ballot

Miami Beach publicist Laura Rivero Levey isn’t giving up her bid for the Florida House just yet.

The Republican was disqualified from the District 113 race earlier this month, after a check she submitted to the Department of State bounced.

Without any other opposition, incumbent Rep. David Richardson, a Miami Beach Democrat, was automatically re-elected.

But Levey says the bank is responsible for the mishap — and the bank accepts the blame. Levey is suing Secretary of State Ken Detzner to have her candidacy reinstated.

"I hope I get back on the ballot," she told the Herald/Times. "It wouldn’t be fair to my constituents if they were not given a choice."

Read more here.

July 14, 2014

Court: Diaz de la Portilla not in contempt in divorce and dog dispute

From the News Service of Florida:

In a dispute that stemmed from what judges called a "spat" over family dogs in a divorce, a state appeals court Monday said former state lawmaker Alex Diaz de la Portilla should not be held in criminal contempt in the long-running case.

A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal issued a 16-page ruling in the case, which involved Diaz de la Portilla's failure to turn over one of two dogs in 2011 to his now-former wife, Claudia Davant. The former lawmaker was held in criminal contempt for failing to appear at court proceedings. But the appeals court found that a "key missing element" in the case was whether Diaz de la Portilla was notified that he was required to attend court proceedings but failed to do so without an excuse.

"Here, no question exists that Diaz de la Portilla had been ordered to appear in the trial court; but nothing shows that he was notified personally of the trial court’s order and, if so, his reasons for not appearing, which creates a due process problem,'' said the appeals-court ruling, written by Judge Scott Makar and joined by judges Brad Thomas and Stephanie Ray.

Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican, served in the Senate from 2000 to 2010, after six years in the House. His former wife is a longtime lobbyist. The appeals court ruling said the former spouse reached a settlement agreement in December 2011 that included Diaz de la Portilla receiving both dogs.

April 03, 2014

Senate panel approves MDX shakeup

A local agency that defied opponents by setting new tolls for Miami-Dade County’s busy Dolphin Expressway is caught in the crosshairs of the Florida Legislature.

Two South Florida lawmakers want to reshape the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, better known as MDX, and require the county commission to sign off on toll hikes.

The Senate version (SB 772) won the approval of the Senate Transportation Committee in a tense 6-4 vote Thursday.

“We’re trying to bring some control to these toll increases,” said Sen. René García, the Hialeah Republican sponsoring the bill along with Republican Rep. Jeanette Nuñez of Miami.

But in seeking more expressway control, the bills filed by García and Nuñez have caused the agency to delay road projects, said MDX’s executive director, Javier Rodriguez. MDX has held off on bidding a Dolphin Expressway road-widening project, and it’s waiting to see the fate of the bill before seeking $560 million in bonds for new projects throughout the county.

On Monday, Rodriguez also informed the state that the agency might not be able to make an annual $25 million payment to Florida for construction on the interchange between the Dolphin and Palmetto if the agency’s bonding was disrupted.

Read more here.

March 13, 2014

South Florida mayors visit Tallahassee to sign tri-county compact

Compact


Spotted in Tallahassee: Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief and Palm Beach County Vice Mayor Paulette Burdick.

The three elected officials were in the Florida Capitol on Thursday to sign a tri-county "legislative priority compact." The document states their intent to work together on state legislation with regional importance. 

Gimenez pointed out that the three counties have clout in Tallahassee.

"Sometimes, we felt that what happens here in Tallahassee is that we are divided and conquered," he said. "If we actually stuck together, we would have a tremendous block and the ability to bring the things that we need in our counties -- in our region -- to the people that we represent."

Rep. Mark Pafford, a West Palm Beach Democrat, agreed.

"We do have a wonderful opportunity to work together," he said. "We can leverage a tremendous amount of voting in the entire Legislature."

This year's priorities include regional transportation projects; increasing the available number film industry tax credits; making sure enterprise zones are reauthorized; and funding for coastal flooding, beach restoration and the Everglades.

The compact represents the first time the three counties have joined forces in Tallahassee (formally at least) since 2003, when they worked collaboratively to created the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority.

 

March 11, 2014

State House candidates raise big bucks in February

If campaign finance reports are any indication, at least two Florida House races are heating up.

State Rep. Erik Fresen, who is running for reelection in House District 114, raised $93,240 in February, state elections records show. His top contributors included charter school companies, education consultants, South Florida businesses, the state manufacturers association and the safety net hospitals political committee.

All told, Fresen has raised $260,239 for his reelection campaign.

"Given how much my opponent raised out of the gate, I figured I would maintain my competitive advantage," Fresen said.

Democrat Daisy Baez took in nearly $50,000 in the three months after she announced her candidacy. 

Her February numbers were more modest. Her total haul for the month, $8,506, included $1,000 contributions from the Lucida Treatment Center in California and Coral Gables art gallerist Sergio Cernuda.

Still, Baez's $81,445 total campaign war chest is nothing to sneeze at.

A third candidate, Republican Amory Bodin, has not raised any money.

The candidates in the competitive District 112 race also had a busy February.

Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat, raised $24,500, state records show. So far, he has collected $117,976 for his campaign.

Republican candidate Daniel Diaz Leyva, meanwhile, picked up $10,622 in contributions last month, increasing his total to $141,762.