May 06, 2013

Federal appeals court upholds ruling striking down Florida law banning hiring of firms with Cuba ties

@PatriciaMazzei

A federal appeals court on Monday upheld a ruling that struck down a Florida law prohibiting the state and local governments from hiring companies with business ties to Cuba. The ruling continues to block the 2012 law from taking effect.

The law “conflicts directly with the extensive and highly calibrated federal regime of sanctions against Cuba promulgated by the legislative and executive branches over almost fifty years,” 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stanley Marcus wrote on behalf of a three-judge panel in the unanimous opinion.

The judges ruled in favor of Odebrecht USA, the Coral Gables firm that had challenged the law approved by a near-unanimous majority of state legislators and signed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott. The Florida Department of Transportation had appealed the preliminary injunction issued last year by U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore, who opined the legislation interfered with the federal government’s power to set foreign policy.

The appeals court, Marcus wrote, had “little difficulty” in affirming Moore’s ruling. Signaling their eventual position, the three clearly skeptical appeals judges pointedly questioned FDOT’s lawyer at a hearing in March.

Odebrecht USA, a subsidiary of the Brazilian engineering and construction giant, sued over the law, which would prohibit any Florida or local government agencies from awarding contracts worth at least $1 million to U.S. firms whose foreign-owned parent companies or subsidiaries work in Cuba or Syria. An affiliate of Odebrecht USA’s Brazilian parent company is significantly expanding the Cuban Port of Mariel.

More here.

May 05, 2013

Why Dolphins owner Stephen Ross — not Speaker Will Weatherford — owns stadium deal death

@MarcACaputo

Success has many fathers in the Florida Legislature. The Miami Dolphins-stadium deal is an orphan.

And it will probably stay that way, ironically, thanks to the man who wanted it most: Stephen Ross, the Dolphins owner.

When the plan to use up to $380 million in taxpayer money to subsidize stadium upgrades died on Friday, Ross sent out a threatening-sounding statement that bashed House Speaker Will Weatherford, essentially accused him of lying and stopped just short of promising to campaign against him.

“I am certain this decision will follow Speaker Weatherford for many years to come,” Ross said in a statement.

“I will look to play an important role in fixing the dysfunction in Tallahassee and will continue to work to create good jobs in Miami Dade and throughout South Florida.”

Just before the statement came out, I asked Weatherford what his reaction would be if Ross or his supporters threatened to spend money against him.

“Oh, wow,” Weatherford said in a voice that sounded anything but surprised or worried. “Good for them.”

Are you scared?

“No,” Weatherford smiled.

Continue reading "Why Dolphins owner Stephen Ross — not Speaker Will Weatherford — owns stadium deal death" »

April 26, 2013

Commission won't drop Rep. Nuñez's attorney's fees in dismissed ethics case

 While the State Ethics Commission dismissed an ethics complaint against Rep. Jeannette Nuñez, a Miami Republican, last month, she can't pass her attorney's fees to the complainant, the panel decided on Friday.
    On March 13th, the Commission found no probable cause to believe that Nuñez had misused her position to mail a legislatively-funded newsletter to voters who were not her constituents in newly established District 119, in apparent violation of House policy, before the 2012 election Aug. 14th.
    But the Ethics Commission followed a recommendation by staff to reject a petition by Nuñez's attorney, Juan-Carlos Planas, to dismiss attorney's fees and costs the representative incurred in the case.
 

Continue reading "Commission won't drop Rep. Nuñez's attorney's fees in dismissed ethics case" »

April 15, 2013

Senate committee calls for a Baker Act study instead of expanding nurse practitioner role

The state's nurse practitioners were hopeful that a Senate vote on Monday would bring them one step closer to what they see as a crucial need in Florida's mental health care system: having the authority to initiate involuntary examinations under the Baker Act. Instead, what the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee passed was the formation of a "work group" to figure out how to improve the 41-year-old Florida Mental Health Act before giving other groups the ability to commit a patient who could hurt themselves or others.

The committee passed an amendment to Senate Bill 110 by 8-0, requiring that a group be established to determine the revisions necessary to improve the "efficiency and effeciveness" of the Baker Act and file a report by Jan. 1, 2014.

Continue reading "Senate committee calls for a Baker Act study instead of expanding nurse practitioner role" »

April 10, 2013

Rep. Daphne Campbell to press: Nevermind

To speed up the political process, Miami Rep. Daphne Campbell called a press conference Wednesday afternoon to highlight a bill she's sponsoring that expands the authority of nurse practitioners and physician assistants to order the involuntary committment of a patient who could hurt themselves or others under the state's Baker Act.

Under current law, a physician, police officer and counselor can commit someone who might be mentall ill, but not nurse practitioners, who have additional training and education, Campbell said.

 "A police officer on the street can Baker Act a patient and not a nurse practitioner, who has two licenses?" said the Democratic legislator, who is a registered nurse but not a nurse practitioner. "They're well, well educated."

Continue reading "Rep. Daphne Campbell to press: Nevermind" »

Dolphins stadium renovation deal: the fine print

@PatriciaMazzei

We read the 81-page proposed agreement between Miami-Dade County and the Miami Dolphins so you don't have to (though hopefully county commissioners will, even though the documents were not publicly available until late, late Tuesday night. The board meets at noon Wednesday).

Here is the agreement. Here is the proposed May 14 referendum asking voters' permission to raise mainland Miami-Dade hotel taxes to fund the Sun Life Stadium renovation.

Here's some of the fine print that did not make it into our story tonight, in no particular order:

--The prime sponsor of the legislation is Commissioner Barbara Jordan, whose district includes the Miami Gardens stadium. Co-sponsors: Commissioners Bruno Barreiro and Jose "Pepe" Diaz.

--The nearly $4.8 million the Dolphins must pay Miami-Dade up front to cover the referendum is non-refundable -- even if the election gets cancelled, as would occur if Florida lawmakers fail to approve Dolphins-backed legislation before the end of the legislative session May 3.

--The proposed referendum language, in an apparent appeal to as many football fans as possible, mentions that the 1987 stadium is home to both the Dolphins and the University of Miami Hurricanes.

--The Dolphins must secure the privately funded portion of the at least $350 million renovation before the county puts in its share (75 percent of the hotel taxes raised by hiking the rate to 7 percent from 6 percent, beginning at $7.5 million in year one of the 26-year payments).

Continue reading "Dolphins stadium renovation deal: the fine print" »

April 09, 2013

Wage theft bill narrowly passes House Committee, exempts Miami-Dade, Broward

A bill that would outlaw new “wage theft” ordinances—similar to the one in Miami-Dade County—narrowly passed the Local & Federal Affairs Committee in the House on Tuesday.

The bill, HB 1125, is the latest in a multiyear attempt by the business lobby to outlaw local laws that govern the act of “wage theft,” or employers refusing to pay employees. The push has failed in previous years, and a judge upheld Miami-Dade’s program last year.

This year, the business lobby is hoping a less aggressive approach will work. HB 1125 would grandfather in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, while outlawing other counties from passing new “wage theft” ordinances.

Miami-Dade County created a program in 2010 to address wage theft, launching an administrative process that helps employees recover lost wages from their employers. The program has recovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages since it was created via ordinance in 2010. The Florida Retail Federation filed a lawsuit to challenge Miami-Dade’s program, but it was dismissed by a judge last year.

In Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the bill would leave the ordinances intact. Any counties looking to enact wage theft ordinances in the future—including Alachua County—would be banned from doing so in the future.

The bill would force victims of wage theft to take their case to civil court, after giving their employer a “demand letter,” allowing them 15 days to pay the disputed amount. Courts could only award “economic damages,” and awards for punitive damages or repayment for attorneys fees would be prohibited. The bill also reduces the statute of limitations for wage theft claims from two years to one year.

Continue reading "Wage theft bill narrowly passes House Committee, exempts Miami-Dade, Broward" »

April 03, 2013

Miami Gardens Democrat not so sure about Dolphins stadium proposal

A new sign of Democratic opposition to the Miami Dolphins’ stadium bill is coming from close to home—Rep. Sharon Pritchett, D-Miami Gardens. Pritchett represents the very constituents who live next to the Dolphins’ stadium, where a proposed $390 million upgrade is expected to bring new jobs to the community.

She has concerns about the bill. She voted for HB 165 in committee Wednesday, but due to a limited “structured debate” process, was not able to voice her concerns. 

The Herald/Times reviewed a copy of Pritchett’s prepared statement, in which the freshman Representative points out the fact that tax dollars would be going to a privately owned venture instead of “hospitals, schools and law enforcement.” Pritchett believes the Dolphins should pay back any tax revenue they get, with interest.

Even though her logic (pro-government, anti-“corporate-welfare”) is safely liberal, Pritchett is one of only two Democrats to publicly announce opposition to the stadium bill. Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, voted against HB 165 last month. 

Using rhetoric that bordered on left-leaning, Rep. Carlos Trujillo, a Miami Republican, admonished Democrats and Republicans on the committee for supporting the bill:

“When we decide we can’t expand Medicaid, when we can’t expand services to victims of domestic violence, when we can’t expand services to the (physically) disabled,” he said, “I hope you take comfort in the fact that you sent $385 million of your taxpayers’ dollars to a for-profit, billion-dollar corporation.”

The bill passed 10-7 Wednesday with 'No' votes from seven Republicans, and could have died in committee without united support from Democrats across the state. Pritchett and others on the committee have been lobbied quite hard by the Dolphins, as the team tries to gather up support for up to $90 million in tax breaks from the state and a new local hotel tax to raise even more. 

 Here’s Pritchett’s prepared statement on the bill: 

Continue reading "Miami Gardens Democrat not so sure about Dolphins stadium proposal" »

March 21, 2013

Federal appeals judges in Miami question Florida's controversial law on Cuba, Syria

@PatriciaMazzei

A panel of skeptical federal appeals judges meeting in Miami Thursday sharply questioned a Florida law prohibiting the state and local governments from hiring companies with business ties to Cuba.

Several questions from the three-judge panel centered on whether the law would conflict with the federal government’s power to set foreign policy. Last year, U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore blocked the law from taking effect, ruling in favor of Odebrecht USA, the Coral Gables-based subsidiary of the Brazilian engineering and construction conglomerate. The state appealed.

On Thursday, 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stanley Marcus asked Gregory Costas, an attorney for the Florida Department of Transportation, if the law would ban companies permitted under federal law to do some business with Cuba — such as providing agricultural equipment or medical supplies — from obtaining government contracts in Florida.

“That would be doing business with Cuba,” Costas responded.

“Isn’t that a square collision with the federal regime?” Marcus said.

Odebrecht sued FDOT over the law, approved by a near-unanimous majority of state legislators and signed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott. It would prohibit state and local government agencies from awarding contracts worth at least $1 million to U.S. firms whose foreign-owned parent companies or subsidiaries work in Cuba or Syria. An affiliate of Odebrecht USA’s parent company is heading a major expansion of the Cuban Port of Mariel.

Continue reading "Federal appeals judges in Miami question Florida's controversial law on Cuba, Syria" »

March 16, 2013

Remembering Larcenia

@MarcACaputo -- Statements on the death of former Miami state Sen. Larcenia Bullard.

Gov. Rick Scott:

“Today, Florida lost a strong leader. Ann and I join all Floridians as we mourn the passing of Senator Larcenia Bullard. She represented the families of South Florida with passion and integrity. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those close to her and the rest of Florida as we honor a woman who put her constituents first. We remain grateful to Senator Bullard for her service to this great state and pray that her family can find peace during this difficult time.”

Senate President Don Gaetz:

Today our dear friend and former colleague, Senator Larcenia Bullard, died in Miami.  Although she had faced many serious challenges to herhealth in recent months, Senator Bullard was on the floor with us -- cheerful and proud -- as her son, Dwight, began his first Senate session just two weeks ago.

Larcenia Bullard had the biggest heart in the Senate.  A proud Democrat, she was never an uncompromising partisan.  A political pioneer among African-Americans, her passion for fairness and justice extended to all people.  Every hard fight in committee or tough debate on the Senate floor always ended with her warmly embracing those with whom she disagreed and assuring them of her love.  Every senator with whom she served can share stories of her compassion and good humor.

The Bullards are an institution in South Florida.  Loving their community and its people, they are fiercely loved and supported in return. The Senate shares the grief of the Bullard family and extends our prayers to Representative Ed Bullard, Senator Dwight Bullard, and all of those who mourn Larcenia.  Every senator and staff member who served alongside Senator Bullard knows that something very good and kind is lost from our lives today.

Secretary Brown will keep us informed of funeral arrangements when they have been finalized.

Senate Democratic leader Chris Smith:

“I am incredibly saddened with the news of Senator Bullard’s passing. She was not only a mentor to me, but a woman many loved for her outspoken ways and selfless devotion to the people she represented.

“Even when ill, Senator Bullard remained determined to serve those who elected her - those whose faith she carried and protected.

“On the Senate Floor, she spoke of things that gave inspiration to many; she never shied away from controversial issues. And she never shied away from standing up for issues she believed were right.

“After being term-limited, she returned to the Senate just one week ago.  Ever the free spirit, she danced for the Senate’s very own version of the ‘Harlem Shake’ in a way only Larcenia could!

“As our hearts and prayers go out to her son, Senator Dwight Bullard, and her husband, former Representative Ed Bullard – ever at her side – this we know…she is still dancing in heaven.”

Senate Republican leader Lizbeth Benacquisto:

"It is with great sadness that the Senate family learned today of the passing of former Senator Larcenia Bullard. The Senate was truly blessed in abundance by Senator Bullard. She was the light of any room she walked into and her laughter and stories could capture the moment like no other. She was a friend to all and a passionate advocate for her community. She leaves behind a strong legacy of caring, compassion, and dedication. To honor her memory, let us spread her joy and kindness wherever we may go, for she would delight in that. Our thoughts and prayers are with her devoted husband, her beloved children, and her precious grandchildren."