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

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@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.

November 20, 2015

NRA attacks Miami Rep. Trujillo for 'betrayal' of gun owners' rights

From The News Service of Florida:

Gun-rights advocates are targeting a Miami lawmaker after a bill to broaden the state's controversial "stand your ground" law was scuttled at the Capitol. The National Rifle Association and Unified Sportsmen of Florida emailed its members Thursday calling the actions by House Criminal Justice Chairman Carlos Trujillo an "orchestrated" betrayal of "law-abiding gun owners," as the measure died on a 6-6 vote two days earlier.

Trujillo and Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, joined four Democrats in opposing the measure, which proposed to shift the burden of proof to the state in cases involving the "stand your ground" law. Under the 2005 law, people can use deadly force and do not have a duty to retreat if they think it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm.

"It is important to recognize and remember the committee members who were loyal to the Constitution and your right of self-defense --- as well it is the betrayers," said the email from Marion Hammer, an influential lobbyist for both groups.

Hammer told The News Service of Florida she was "shocked" by the vote, but declined further comment, saying her email blast --- with "Betrayal" in its subject line --- spoke for itself. The tie vote came after Democrats were able to attach a pair of amendments to the bill that stripped some enforcement powers from the proposal.

Continue reading "NRA attacks Miami Rep. Trujillo for 'betrayal' of gun owners' rights" »

November 19, 2015

Double whammy: Dade Medical College may have broken state, federal laws

@MrMikeVasquez

Dade Medical College’s Oct. 30 closure was sudden and messy — and it also may have violated state and federal law.

Under Florida law, for-profit colleges that close must provide the state oversight agency a “teach out” plan for students to finish up their degree program at another school. The federal government also requires a teach out plan before a college shuts its doors.

In Dade Medical’s case, that didn’t happen. College owner Ernesto Perez simply closed up shop and left roughly 2,000 students in limbo.

On Thursday, a prominent for-profit college attorney called for Perez to be prosecuted for how the closure happened.

“It is a crime in the state of Florida to close a school improperly,” said Bob Harris, a Tallahassee attorney who represents multiple for-profit colleges. Harris’ public comments came during a meeting of Florida’s for-profit oversight agency, the Commission for Independent Education.

“This commission can go to the attorney general’s office, or a local state attorney’s office, provide them the documents to show that the owners of the school did not properly close the school,” Harris told CIE board members. “Those are criminal acts in the state of Florida.”

Florida law states it is a second-degree misdemeanor for “an owner, director or administrator who fails to notify the commission at least 30 days prior to the institution’s closure, or who fails to organize the orderly closure of the institution and the trainout of the students.”

More here.

November 18, 2015

Dade Medical College files bankruptcy-like petition in court

@MrMikeVasquez

Dade Medical College has filed a court petition to sell its assets — setting in motion a process that could lead to paying some of the money owed to creditors and ex-employees.

It’s the equivalent of a bankruptcy filing, but in state court

Students who attended the school may qualify for some money as well, though students who file a claim will likely end up in the back of the line, getting paid only after secured creditors, government agencies and ex-employees who are owed back wages.

Roughly 2,000 students were displaced by Dade Medical’s sudden closure on Oct. 30 — many left tens of thousands of dollars in debt, with college credits that won’t transfer to traditional colleges.

Additionally, there are students who graduated or dropped out before the closure and who say the college deceived them about the accreditation of its programs, or failed to deliver the quality of education that it promised.

A recent Miami Herald investigation, Higher-Ed Hustle, highlighted how Florida lawmakers have strongly encouraged the growth of for-profit colleges. The Legislature has weakened academic standards, allowed for-profits to access additional state money and stifled the growth of competing public community colleges, which charge much lower tuition.

More here