March 24, 2017

Tallahassee's youngest lobbyist is a Miami teen who wants to ban texting while driving

TEXTING WHILE DRIVING a epf
via @KyraGurney

At 17, Mark Merwitzer might be Florida’s youngest lobbyist.

The Miami high school junior is on a mission to keep drivers from texting behind the wheel and he says he won’t stop until it’s a state law.

Over the past year, the teen has met with youth councils, county officials and state legislators to argue that texting behind the wheel should be a primary offense — meaning police can pull drivers over just for using their phones, instead of issuing a ticket only if they are stopped for another infraction. With the help of Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, Merwitzer has championed a bill that has so far cleared several hurdles. Similar efforts in past years have struggled to advance, but on Wednesday the bill got unanimous support from the Senate transportation committee.

“I’m personally very tired of seeing people’s lives thrown away because of texting while driving,” said Merwitzer, who does not yet have his driver’s license, but said he sees motorists on their phones all the time on Miami highways.

More here.

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell, Miami Herald staff

March 22, 2017

Miami-Dade-backed legislation cracking down on 'rogue' condo associations advances

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@ByKristenMClark

A plan from Miami-Dade lawmakers to penalize fraud and abuse in condominium associations earned unanimous initial approval in House and Senate committees this week.

The bills, most notably, impose new criminal penalties for falsifying association documents, committing fraud in association elections and refusing to turn over administrative records, among other reforms.

"A lot of these reforms are a long time coming," said Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami, who is sponsoring the Senate bill (SB 1682) with Sen. René García, R-Hialeah. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 8-0 to advance their bill Wednesday.

More here.

Photo credit: Hundreds of Miami-Dade County condominium owners marched in protest in the city of Doral on April 16, 2016. Roberto Koltun / el Nuevo Herald

White House angles for Diaz-Balart's vote on health care

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@PatriciaMazzei

In a story Wednesday about the White House leaning on House Republicans to back the GOP healthcare bill, The New York Times reported that Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart used the hot political moment to reiterate that President Donald Trump promised to undo the Obama administration's Cuba policy.

For other House members, the health bill has been an opportunity to deal. As part of the discussions, Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, Republican of Florida, made it clear to White House officials that he wanted assurances that the president would hold to his pledge to consider reversing President Barack Obama’s opening with Cuba, the White House official said. Mr. Diaz-Balart backed the measure in the Budget Committee last week, although the official said there had been no explicit discussion of trading his vote for a promise on Cuba.

(An earlier version of the story incorrectly said Trump had pledged to Diaz-Balart he'd reverse the Obama policy in return for his vote.)

Diaz-Balart has made no secret that he's brought up Cuba every time he's had a chance to speak to top White House personnel. He was particularly friendly during the transition with Vice President Mike Pence. But a source told the Miami Herald on Wednesday that the Trump administration has yet to make any assurances or commitments on Cuba.

Diaz-Balart's spokeswoman, Katrina Valdés, said in an email Wednesday to the Herald and the Tampa Bay Times that, on health care, the congressman "is still reviewing the recent changes to the bill and continues to negotiate with House Leadership about multiple aspects of the bill, including how the legislation handles older, low income constituents."

A vote is planned for Thursday.


--with Alex Leary

Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, el Nuevo Herald

March 21, 2017

PolitiFact Florida: Fact-checking Miami Beach mayor's claim about Airbnb

Plevinedias_CPJ

@amysherman1

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine went on a Facebook rant against Airbnb after a conservative publication criticized city officials for supporting fines against the short-term rental company.

Airbnb posted the article by Sunshine State News on social media. Levine, a potential Democratic candidate for governor in 2018, fired back in the comments.

Levine wrote that Miami Beach commissioners aren’t the only opponents of Airbnb, which allows property owners to rent out houses and apartments, or a bedroom, to visitors across the world. The city generally bans short-term rentals except in limited multi-family areas.

He said officials in New York, San Francisco and Miami also don’t support Airbnb. Why?

“Because it destroys neighborhoods, buildings, decreases real estate values and increases costs for workforce housing!!!!!” he wrote in a March 2 Facebook comment.

We decided to tackle two of Levine’s attacks: that Airbnb decreases real estate values and increases costs for workforce housing. Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

 
 

Levine has already put $2M into likely bid for Florida governor

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via @adamsmithtimes

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine says he has not committed to running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2018 and has has no time table for deciding except probably "before the end of the year." He is travelling the state meeting with people and discussing a possible campaign and issues facing the state.

"I'm out talking to the customers. Before you launch a product or think about launching a product, you should talk to the customers," said Levine, who began his career advising cruise ship passengers about port activities and ultimately created a cruise industry media company generating $400 million in annual revenue.

Levine is paying for his listening tour through his political committee, All About Florida, which he said is relying one "one schmuck" for funding: Philip Levine, who is worth "north of $100 million."  He has put $2 million into that committee so far and said if he decides to run for governor he is "100 percent" open to funding the campaign himself, much like current Gov. Rick Scott.

"I've been successful in Florida, started from nothing, and any business opportunity I've ever had and for an opportunity in life, I believe you should put skin in the game," Levine said. "Before you ask other folks to put money into something, if you have it you should put a few bucks of your own into it. At the same token, I'm open to the idea of self-funding the campaign if I decide to run."

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Jon Durr, Miami Herald

Club for Growth kicks off ads urging Ros-Lehtinen to oppose 'Ryancare'

@PatriciaMazzei

The conservative Club for Growth wants Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to hold firm on her opposition to the House GOP healthcare plan.

The group has kicked off a TV and digital ad campaign asking Ros-Lehtinen to vote no. She has already said she will -- but not for the reasons endorsed by the Club for Growth. Ros-Lehtinen says the bill would hurt too many people in her district insured under the Affordable Care Act. The Club considers the legislation, backed by Speaker Paul Ryan, not conservative enough.

“The RyanCare bill fails to keep President Trump’s promises of interstate competition and health insurance deregulation,” Club for Growth President David McIntosh said in a statement. “Republicans promised a bill that would stop Obamacare’s taxes and mandates, and replace them with free-market reforms that will increase health insurance competition and drive down costs. RyanCare fails on those counts and that’s why the Club is letting millions of constituents know that their Representative should reject RyanCare.”

The $500,000 ad campaign will target Ros-Lehtinen and nine other Republican lawmakers: Leonard Lance of New Jersey, Tom MacArthur of New Jersey, John Katko of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Rob Wittman of Virginia, Peter King of New York, Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, Darrell Issa of California and Don Bacon of Nebraska.

 

March 20, 2017

New batch of digital ads pressure Curbelo, Ros-Lehtinen to back GOP health plan

@PatriciaMazzei

Ahead of this week's expected House vote on the Republican healthcare plan, a political group linked to Speaker Paul Ryan is putting out a new batch of digital ads meant to nudge two South Florida members of Congress to vote in favor.

Starting Monday, American Action Network's web campaign will target 29 Republican lawmakers, including Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo, both of Miami, whose Democratic-leaning districts have among the highest number of Obamacare enrollees in the country.

"Tell Congress it's time for better health care," the display ads say. There will also be video ads.

Ros-Lehtinen has said she won't vote for the American Health Care Act as written because it would leave too many people uninsured. Curbelo, who voted for it in committee, late last week expressed some concerns and said he would work with Ryan and other House leaders to improve the legislation. American Action Network had already backed Curbelo with TV ads to bolster his position.

A vote is planned for Thursday,

March 14, 2017

UPDATED Miami Republicans remain conspicuously silent on CBO analysis of GOP healthcare plan

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@PatriciaMazzei @learyreports

Miami's three Republican lawmakers in Congress have said nothing about the GOP's plan to replace the Affordable Care Act since the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office concluded Monday that some 14 million people would drop or lose insurance coverage in 2018.

The legislation is the biggest policy proposal in the House right now. And the districts represented by Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen have among the highest number of Obamacare enrollees in the country. Yet none of the legislators' offices responded Tuesday afternoon to requests for comment.

UPDATE: Ros-Lehtinen has now said she opposes the replacement plan. And a spokeswoman for Diaz-Balart said he is still reviewing the legislation and CBO report. "He has concerns about the legislation, and is looking into those," Katrina Valdes said in an email.

Only Curbelo has had to cast a vote on the proposal so far, last week on the House Ways and Means committee. He then defended his support for the law -- and on Monday, a group linked to House Speaker Paul Ryan started airing TV ads on Curbelo's behalf in Miami.

A slew of Florida lawmakers have issued statements or answered questions about the proposal. Democrats are universally opposed:

Continue reading "UPDATED Miami Republicans remain conspicuously silent on CBO analysis of GOP healthcare plan" »

Republican group airs TV ad for Acosta ahead of hearing

 

@PatriciaMazzei

With the Senate planning to hold a hearing next week for Alex Acosta, President Donald Trump's labor secretary nominee, a Republican group has started airing a TV ad in Washington to push Acosta's confirmation

America Rising Squared's spot, titled "Confirm Acosta," notes Acosta is the son of Cuban immigrants, the first in his family to attend college and a Harvard Law School graduate -- and that he was appointed to the Justice Department by former President George W. Bush.

"As a prosecutor, he brought down drug lords, radical Islamic terrorists and corrupt lobbyists," the ad says, showing off headlines about the Jose Padilla and Jack Abramoff cases prosecuted by Acosta's office when he was U.S. attorney in Miami.

The ad, which was launched Monday and first reported by Bloomberg, is part of a six-figure TV and digital campaign. Acosta's hearing is scheduled for March 22.

 

March 13, 2017

Former state Senate candidate Michael Góngora running for his old Miami Beach commission seat

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@joeflech

Former Miami Beach commissioner and mayoral candidate Michael Góngora, who also came in third last year during the Democratic primary for state Senate District 38, wants back in City Hall.

The condo attorney served as commissioner for a year in the mid-2000s following a special election and then a full term from 2009 to 2013 before losing the 2013 mayoral election to Philip Levine. Now, with Commissioner Joy Malakoff withdrawing her bid for reelection following a physical injury, Góngora has his sights set for his old seat on the dais.

Góngora's entry marks another development in what looks to be an interesting election year in the Beach. With Levine seriously mulling a run for governor, Commissioner Michael Grieco and former state legislator Dan Gelber will square off for mayor. 

And there's still plenty of time for other folks to throw their hats in. The city's qualifying period isn't until the first week of September. The election is Nov. 7.

Read more.