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

June 06, 2017

Mallea, Perez and Mayaudon will battle for Jose Felix Diaz's House seat

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@ByKristenMClark

Two Republicans and one Democrat qualified by a Tuesday deadline to run in a special election this year that will determine who will replace Miami Republican Jose Felix Diaz in the Florida House.

The primary contest between Republicans Jose Mallea and Daniel Anthony Perez will be held July 25. The winner of that race will face off against Democratic newcomer Gabriela Mayaudon in the special general election on Sept. 26.

Those are the same dates when a special election for the District 40 Senate seat will also be held. Sen. Frank Artilesresignation in April from that seat — after an offensive and racist tirade against two senators — created a game of dominoes in Miami politics. Diaz resigned his District 116 House seat last month to run for Artiles’ seat, which sparked the need for the additional special election.

More here on the candidates who qualified in the House District 116 race.

Photo credit: AP

Miami-Dade Republican: I'm 'not comfortable' with more K-12 funding without changing HB 7069

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@ByKristenMClark

Hialeah Republican Sen. René García told Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, in a letter today that he's "not comfortable supporting any compromise" on increasing K-12 funding for 2017-18 that does not also address a controversial education policy bill that awaits Gov. Rick Scott's approval.

García was one of three Senate Republicans to vote against HB 7069 when it narrowly passed the Senate on the final day of the 2017 regular session.

Lawmakers are returning to Tallahassee for a three-day special session starting Wednesday, one of the topics of which includes increasing money for K-12 public schools after Scott vetoed the Legislature's approved spending level as insufficient.

But HB 7069 -- although tied to the budget -- will not formally be up for discussion during the special session, which has drawn some unrest among senators who had expected Scott to veto it and now fear he won't. Scott has not committed to an opinion on the bill, but many lawmakers expect he'll sign it in trade for the Legislature approving his ask for additional economic development money.

García said in his letter he was grateful for the special session to "revisit several critical issues."

"While my career has reflected a passionate commitment to school choice and local autonomy, I find it difficult to support adjusting the Florida Education Finance Program while failing to address the erosion of Florida's commitment to public education that is contained in HB 7069," García said.

"Dramatic policy shifts such as broadening the scope of eligibility of Title I funds, as well as allowing charter schools to use local tax revenue for capital outlay projects should be discussed in conjunction with any proposed increases in per student funding," he added. "The public policy held within the FEFP and the set of policies passed within HB 7069 are inherently intertwined."

Negron's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Read García's full letter here.

Altamonte Republican Sen. David Simmons, the chairman of the K-12 education appropriations committee who also opposed HB 7069, has said he wants to "fix" the bill as early as this special session -- particularly to address challenges in implementing it that he says are too constraining on traditional public schools. However, HB 7069 is not formally part of the call for a special session and it would take a two-thirds vote of both chambers to add it to the agenda, which is incredibly unlikely.

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

May 22, 2017

Conservative group thanks senators, urges Scott approval of schools bill

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@ByKristenMClark

A national Hispanic conservative group is showing its gratitude to 18 Republican state lawmakers who were crucial to passing a controversial and charter-friendly K-12 public schools bill, in the hopes of building more support for Gov. Rick Scott to sign the legislation into law.

The LIBRE Initiative -- which is supported by the Koch Brothers -- is mailing out bilingual fliers this week to voters represented by the three House members and 15 senators. The group is letting residents know their senator supported HB 7069 and is urging the resident to ask Scott to approve it.

The Initiative and another Koch-affiliated group, Americans for Prosperity, are among the school choice proponents of HB 7069 that want to see it enacted -- in contrast to county school superintendents, almost all elected school boards, and parent groups and teachers unions that want the legislation vetoed.

"Right now, too many Florida students are trapped in failing schools that are not meeting their educational needs. This is why it is essential for Governor Scott to sign H.B. 7069 into law and empower students and parents with more options to choose schools that better serve their educational needs," Cesar Grajales, the LIBRE Initiative’s coalitions director, said in a statement. "We urge Gov. Scott to quickly sign this bill and remove unnecessary barriers so our students don’t have to remain stuck in schools that are failing to provide a quality education."

Those targeted by the mailers are: House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O'Lakes, and Reps. Manny Diaz Jr. of Hialeah and Michael Bileca of Miami; and Senate President Joe Negron of Stuart and Sens. Dennis Baxley of Ocala, Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers, Rob Bradley of Fleming Island, Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, Anitere Flores of Miami (shown above), Bill Galvano of Bradenton, Tom Lee of Thonotosassa, Debbie Mayfield of Vero Beach, Kathleen Passidomo of Naples, Keith Perry of Gainesville, Wilton Simpson of Trilby, Kelli Stargel of Lakeland, Greg Steube of Sarasota and Dana Young of Tampa.

Corcoran, Diaz and Bileca shepherded HB 7069 through the House, one of the chamber's top priorities of session. The 15 senators listed represent most of the 20 Republican senators whose votes were vital in ensuring HB 7069 passed.

It was approved on a 20-18 vote in the Senate, so one more opposing vote would have killed it. (Flores was the only Miami-Dade County senator to support it.)

The LIBRE Initiative's latest direct-mail campaign comes two weeks ago after the group sent out mailers hailing five select Republicans -- Negron, Corcoran, Diaz, Bileca and Clearwater Rep. Chris Latvala -- who were key to pushing through the school choice measure in the final days of session.

May 18, 2017

In Liberty City, Richard Corcoran lauds rogue Democrat for supporting 'Schools of Hope'

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@ByKristenMClark

Miami Democratic Rep. Roy Hardemon had an unlikely and influential ally showering him with praise in his legislative district Wednesday: House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

“[Hardemon] doesn’t care who’s got power. He doesn’t care what the status quo is. He doesn’t care whether he gets elected,” Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, said in brief remarks on stage for the groundbreaking of the Liberty Square redevelopment project, with Hardemon at his side.

Hardemon, a freshman lawmaker, secured himself in Corcoran’s good graces last week, when he broke from the House Democratic caucus to support a controversial $419 million K-12 public schools bill that Corcoran and House Republicans unveiled and successfully pushed through in the final days of session.

Hardemon was the only Democrat in either the House or Senate to vote in favor of HB 7069.

“He doesn’t fear. What he cares about is his community,” Corcoran said, before touting a key provision of HB 7069 that’s meant to help neighborhoods like Liberty City.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, left, R-Land O’Lakes, sits with Rep. Roy Hardemon, D-Miami, while they attend the groundbreaking ceremony to for the Liberty Square Rising project in Liberty City on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. Matias J. Ocner / For the Miami Herald

May 08, 2017

Lawmakers will decide major K-12 policy, spending today -- and rest of 2017-18 budget

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@ByKristenMClark

A swift outcry of condemnation came over the weekend from many parents, teachers and school administrators who want the Florida Legislature to reject a $419 million, 278-page K-12 public schools bill — which was decided behind closed doors, which lawmakers cannot change and which they’ll have had only about 72 hours to review when they vote Monday.

House and Senate members will decide the fate of HB 7069 as part of several up-or-down votes on a 2017-18 budget package. The Legislature extended its annual session until 11:59 p.m. Monday with the intent of passing an $82.4 billion spending plan, its single constitutional obligation.

MORE: “All eyes on the Florida budget as lawmakers return to state Capitol for one final act”

Public education advocates, like the Florida PTA and other groups, and superintendents — including Miami-Dade County Public Schools chief Alberto Carvalho — aim to convince their elected representatives to vote “no.” Such an outcome is unlikely but not unprecedented, and it would potentially call the entire budget into question because of the major dollars attached.

“I’ve spoken to so many senators — both parties — who are opposed to so many portions of that bill,” Broward County Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, said. “The question is: Will they have the fortitude to vote no?”

More here.

Photo credit: Carl Juste / Miami Herald

May 07, 2017

'Monday’s vote is about more than recess,' disappointed parents say of education budget bill

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@ByKristenMClark

Passionate parents, like Kate Asturias of Miami and Angela Browning of Orlando, have been fighting for years to get guaranteed daily recess for their children and the more than 1.2 million other kids in Florida’s public elementary schools.

The two moms trekked to Tallahassee on Friday, for the countless time, hoping to see lawmakers finally make that happen. They left disappointed once again.

The favored proposal of “recess moms” and dads that unanimously passed the Senate a month ago (SB 78) wasn’t brought to the floor by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, before Friday’s session deadline — despite parents’ numerous emails and phone calls urging him to take up the bill, which had the votes to pass easily.

Instead, Corcoran prolonged a conclusion to the recess proposal by lumping it — with a never-before-seen exemption parents didn’t ask for — into a 278-page education budget bill released Friday evening, three days before lawmakers will vote Monday on an annual budget package they can’t change.

Filled with disappointment and anger, parents vented their frustration in social media groups this weekend — and some now have a message for their lawmakers: Don’t vote “yes” on this bill just so Florida’s kids can be assured recess.

More here.

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald

May 04, 2017

A possible explanation for why the House hasn't heard school recess

SP_409499_KEEL_2_FLGOV@ByKristenMClark

Because Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, hasn't brought the Senate-approved recess bill to the House floor (and there are no indications of that changing), the fate of that proposal now rests almost entirely on negotiations between the House and Senate over a massive education policy bill that must be resolved by the end of Friday.

Although session extended until Monday, that extra time applies only to the budget and "conforming" policy bills linked to that. All other run-of-the-mill policy bills -- such as the one mandating 20 minutes of daily recess in elementary schools -- die when floor sessions end Friday, the original scheduled end of session.

To keep recess in the conversation, Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores included it in a 72-page rewrite of another education bill that was published late Wednesday and could be heard on the Senate floor Thursday.

MORE: "Short on time, lawmakers seek to cram in new education policies — from testing to recess"

But why is school recess -- a measure overwhelmingly wanted by parents and one that could easily pass the House if brought to the floor -- up for negotiation in the first place?

Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., the House Pre-K-12 education budget chairman, offered one possible explanation Wednesday.

"That's a good question. We got to this point in session, and it's still up in the air, but as the speaker, I believe, said it’s still in play," Diaz said, adding: "We didn’t take that up, but if you look at it holistically, why didn’t they [the Senate] take up the single-policy education bills that we sent over?"

"We didn’t take up recess? I’ll shoot back and say, 'why didn’t you take up the schools of [hope]?' That’s the same for both sides," he added. "I’d have love to have been passing these individual policies, so it was clear and transparent. We sent them over but they’re not being picked up."

Corcoran previously has declined interview requests from the Herald/Times to discuss the recess bill, and he hasn't publicly explained why he won't take up the Senate bill as parents have pleaded with him to do through now more than a thousand emails and many dozen phone calls. Corcoran, a couple weeks ago, said there was still time to address recess, but he made no guarantees it would be heard.

Photo credit: Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

Will Senate reach bipartisan compromise on testing reforms, education policy?

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@ByKristenMClark

With two days left for lawmakers to enact policy this session, two Republican senators late Wednesday released what’s essentially a brand-new bill that salvages a myriad of stalled education proposals, while also preserving one of the Legislature’s top K-12 priorities: Reforms addressing excessive standardized testing in Florida public schools.

Sens. Anitere Flores, of Miami, and Kelli Stargel, of Lakeland, filed their 72-page amendment at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday to rewrite a House-approved education bill that had been just 17 pages in length.

Their new version of HB 549 also, notably, keeps in play for negotiation a parent-demanded proposal that mandates daily recess in Florida’s public elementary schools. The Senate approved the idea in early April, but House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, ignored parents' pleas to bring the standalone measure to the floor, even though it has the votes to easily pass.

HB 549 was one of two bills House members envisioned could be a vehicle for testing reforms — and various unresolved education policies — before session ends. It passed the House last Friday, 117-1, but Flores’ and Stargel’s amendment creates a bill much broader than the House considered.

More here.

Photo credit: AP