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December 15, 2017

David Rivera wants federal judge who once questioned his manhood removed from FEC lawsuit

David rivera

@NewsbySmiley

Former Miami Congressman David Rivera wants a judge who once suggested in court that he act like a man removed from a federal lawsuit alleging that Rivera secretly funded a straw candidate to run against his Democratic nemesis five years ago.

Roy Kahn, an attorney representing Rivera in the case brought this summer by the Federal Election Commission, filed an affidavit Thursday arguing that U.S. District Judge Robert Scola proved himself biased against Rivera when he subtly questioned the ex-congressman's manhood during a 2014 sentencing hearing for Rivera's former girlfriend and alleged accomplice, Ana Sol Alliegro.

According to court and campaign finance documents, Rivera and Alliegro covertly steered at least $69,000 into the campaign of Justin Lamar Sternad, at the time running against Rivera foe Joe Garcia in the Democratic primary for the U.S. District 26 seat. Rivera and Alliegro hoped that bankrolling Sternad's otherwise feckless campaign would hurt Garcia ahead of his eventual general election fight with Rivera, who ultimately lost.

Sternad and Alliegro would go on to plead guilty after the Miami Herald revealed the scheme, which ran afoul of federal campaign laws. Rivera was never charged and has always denied any wrongdoing. Rivera, who is currently a 2018 candidate for Florida House District 105, now faces an FEC lawsuit that seeks to impose nearly a half-million dollars in penalties against him for campaign finance violations.

“Some people would call it chivalry, some people call it sexism — that the man should come forward and not let the woman do time on his behalf,” Scola said in 2014 before sentencing Alliegro to a one-year sentence split between six months she had already spent in jail and six months of house arrest.

Kahn said he doubts Scola, who also famously forced federal prosecutors to out Rivera as a target while overseeing Alliegro's case, will preside over the case "with an objective and open mind."

Rubio a 'yes' on GOP tax bill

Marco Rubio 3

via AP 

The 24-hour saga of Sen. Marco Rubio's tax vote is over.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio will vote for his party's $1.5 trillion tax bill. That gives a major boost to the prospects that GOP leaders will be able to push their prized measure through Congress next week.

The Florida lawmaker had said he'd oppose the legislation unless his colleagues made the per child tax credit more generous for low-income families.

On Friday, Republicans said the final legislation would do just that. Lawmakers said the bill would now let low-earners using the credit get up to $1,400 in IRS refunds if they owe little or no taxes. That's up from $1,100 in the earlier version.

Rubio tweeted that the change is "a solid step toward broader reforms which are both Pro-Growth and Pro-Worker."

Rubio spokeswoman Olivia Perez-Cubas said that meant he'd vote yes.

 

Rubio gets concessions on child tax credit

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via @learyreports

Washington tax writers say they have adjusted the sweeping legislation to improve the child tax credit, a demand of Sen. Marco Rubio.

Details have yet to emerge and Rubio's office says he will review the details.

The tax package would double the per-child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000. The bill originally made a portion of the credit — $1,100 — available to families even if they owe no income tax. Noem says that amount has been increased to $1,400. Rubio said he wanted the $1,100 figure increased, but he did not say by how much.

Low-income taxpayers would receive the money in the form of a tax refund, which is why it's called a "refundable" tax credit.

Background here.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Miami ends its red light camera program

Miami Safety Camera Locations Map_Main 120717

@NewsbySmiley

The days of wincing while driving through a Miami intersection on a yellow light will soon be over after city commissioners agreed Thursday to end their red light camera program early next year.

By a unanimous vote, Miami commissioners chose to cancel their 2010 contract with American Traffic Solutions to maintain and operate dozens of red light cameras around the city. The vote gives the company 60 days to wind down its lucrative operations in the city, and allows Mayor Francis Suarez and City Commissioner Joe Carollo to say they kept a campaign promise.

For drivers in the city, the cancellation of the contract means that their license tags will no longer be photographed and reported by cameras perched above intersections around the city, although cameras will still exist elsewhere in Miami-Dade County. Citations running $158 a pop will vanish along with the cameras, but anyone hit with one before the program ends should still expect to deal with it.

To read the rest, click here.

Democratic Senator calls out Republicans, including Carlos Curbelo, for supporting tax bill with Arctic drilling

Carlos Curbelo 3 (1)

@alextdaugherty 

Last week, a group of 12 House Republicans, including Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, signed a letter encouraging Republican leadership to pass a tax overhaul without a provision that would allow oil drilling in parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. 

But the provision was included in the Senate's tax bill, and is likely to stay when House and Senate negotiators finalize the bill on Friday. 

On Thursday, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy Committee called out the 12 Republicans for engaging in "pure posturing." 

"It is now clear that the letter from twelve House Republicans opposing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was pure posturing," Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell said. "If these Republicans want to stop their party from turning the refuge into an oilfield, they should vote no. Lip service won't protect the Arctic." 

Six of the 12 Republicans who signed the letter, including Curbelo, voted in favor of the initial tax bill before Thanksgiving.

Curbelo hasn't indicated that he will vote against the tax bill even though he opposes expanding oil drilling in Alaska's North Slope. He is also the co-founder of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, a group of Democratic and Republican lawmakers who are concerned about the impacts of climate change. 

"I don’t think there’s any one provision that would motivate me to deny tax relief for all of my constituents," Curbelo said this week.

Curbelo has been a vocal advocate for the tax overhaul, frequently appearing with Speaker Paul Ryan and touting the bill in Spanish. 

Senate: Special master's report will be out next week, when it's available to public - unknown

Senate spokesperson Katie Betta said Friday that the long-awaited report on the investigation of Sen. Jack Latvala is expected to the Senate president "some time next week." Pending a review by Senate lawyers, namely George Meros of the GrayRobinson law firm retained to advise the Senate, the report will then be made available to the public. 

Betta said she could not give a timeline on when the report will be public. Betta said one issue the attorneys are reviewing is what to redact from the report on the names of people who came forward as witnesses in the investigation. 

Senate legislative aide Rachel Perrin Rogers filed the formal complaint on Nov. 5 alleging that Latvala groped her, inappropriately touched her in a bar and subjected her to verbal sexual harassment over a period of four years. Her complaint launched the effort by the Senate to hire retired Judge Ronald V. Swanson to serve as the special master, review the allegations, subpoena witnesses to testify under oath and determine if there is probable cause to conclude that the allegations are truthful.

If probable cause is determined, the Senate Rule Committee will then conduct a hearing to determine if they are true. Under Senate rules, Latvala could be subject to an array of punishments from reprimand to removal from office. 

The Senate hired a separate law firm, Jackson Lewis, to conduct a different investigation into allegations from five unnamed individuals who came forward to Politico also alleging sexual harassment by Latvala. That investigation is "still ongoing,'' Betta said. The final report for that probe will go to the Office of Legislative Services, Betta said. 

 

December 14, 2017

Democratic poll: The GOP tax bill is unpopular among independents in swing Florida districts

Donald4 trump lnew cmg (1)

@alextdaugherty

As Republicans negotiate the final touches on a plan to overhaul the nation's tax system, with a few kinks along the way, Democrats say that the GOP tax plan will hurt the majority party at the ballot box if it passes.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a Washington-based organization tasked with electing Democrats to the House of Representatives, found that Democrats and independents living in competitive House districts do not support the GOP-led tax plan. 

The DCCC commissioned an 800 person poll among registered voters in 51 competitive House districts around the country, including Florida districts represented by Miami Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen along with Treasure Coast Republican Rep. Brian Mast and Orlando-area Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy. The 51 districts included 41 Republican-held seats and 10 Democratic-held seats. 

Independents oppose the tax plan 41 percent to 23 percent while Democrats oppose it 71 percent to 6 percent. Republicans favor the plan 53 percent to 12 percent.  

The poll was conducted by GBA Strategies, a Democratic polling operation based in Washington. The poll administered approximately 40 percent of its interviews by cell phone and has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points. 

After being surveyed, the DCCC said the generic congressional ballot shifts from a 4-point Democratic advantage to an 11-point advantage, an indication that voters in competitive districts are leaning towards Democrats. 

Democrats must win about two dozen seats to regain control of the House of Representatives in 2018, though that number may fluctuate due to retirements and resignations. Curbelo's seat is rated as a "toss-up" by multiple national prognosticators, while Ros-Lehtinen's seat is rated as "lean Democratic." 

Rubio to vote against GOP tax bill if child credit isn't expanded for low-income families

Marco Rubio 3

 

@alextdaugherty

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio told Senate Republican Leadership on Thursday that he intends to vote against the massive tax bill barreling through Congress if the child tax credit isn’t expanded, a potential major blow in President Donald Trump’s desire to pass a tax overhaul by Christmas.

If the bill isn’t changed and Rubio votes against the plan, there would be no room for additional Republican dissension as the GOP only holds 52 of 100 Senate seats. Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker already announced that he would vote against the plan due to concerns on the federal deficit, leaving Republicans with only 51 votes.

Vice President Mike Pence would break a tie if the GOP has 50 votes.

Rubio and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, proposed a change to make the child tax credit fully refundable as a way to help low-income families, but that plan was opposed by Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and GOP leadership and the measure failed.

Despite the failure of their proposed changed, Rubio and Lee voted for the initial tax bill that passed the Senate two weeks ago with 51 votes.

Rubio has made it clear he wants an expanded child tax credit for months, and President Donald Trump hinted at an expansion on Wednesday saying, “You'll hear the numbers very soon but they're even larger than anticipated.”

The child tax credit reduces some families' tax bill for every child they have under the age of 17.

Rubio has repeatedly said he would vote against a tax plan that does not sufficiently benefit the middle class, though he has previously stopped short of threatening to vote against the final plan due to the child tax credit until now.

Read more here.

Court tosses lawsuit over whether Scott or his successor appoints new justices

Florida supreme court.1_12061496_8colThe Florida Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit over whether Gov. Rick Scott or his successor has the power to appoint three new justices to the Florida Supreme Court saying that action is not "ripe" because the appointments have not yet been made.

In a majority opinion, in which Chief Justice Jorge Labarga joined the three conservatives on the court, Justice Charles Canady, Ricky Polston and Alan Lawson, the court held that the "writ of quo warranto," the method used by the litigants, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida, was inappropriate.

"Until some action is taken by the Governor, the matter the League seeks to have resolved is not ripe, and this Court lacks jurisdiction to determine whether quo warranto relief is warranted,'' the majority ruled.

But the decision was blasted by Justice R. Fred Lewis, who warned that the court may not have invited a "constitutional crisis" and created a dangerous precedent when the majority required "that that illegal and unconstitutional conduct which produces disarray must have already occurred to allow judicial action."

"Under the majority view, elected politicians can announce their intentions and plan to engage in all types of illegal and harmful conduct but no relief is available until the illegal and harmful act has already inflicted its damage,'' he wrote. "Magnificent trees cut, pristine waters fouled, and unthinkable harm inflicted upon our citizens, which may not be prevented when the actor plans and even announces his intentions. Today, we have a new test. The writ is only available when the illegal act is taken and harm is actually inflicted—at times even irreparable harm."

Lewis was explicit that the court was creating a new precedent that has the potential to harm future generations.

"I fundamentally disagree with depriving the citizens of Florida of their ability to challenge inappropriate action by a state official simply based on this unfounded limitation,'' he said. Today’s decision - 16 - allows state officials, such as Governor Scott, to circumvent this extraordinary writ at the convenience of the office holder based on a ripeness challenge that does not, in my view, have any legal justification."

Agreeing with the result, but not the reasoning, was Justices Peggy Quince and Barbara Pariente. Quince wrote the opinion and Pariente concurred, arguing that both the majority opinion and Lewis confuse the issue because they under court precedent in a previous case involving a Scott appointment to the court, the court has shown "we have the authority to act prior to the Governor’s making an appointment that is contrary to law."

Quince wrote that "while I agree with the majority that it is not appropriate for us to rule on the petition at this time, I do not agree that it would only become appropriate to do so after Governor Scott has consummated an appointment."

Quince, however, noted that Scott's lawyers conceded in their oral arguments that he may not have the authority to make the appointment.

Dan Nordby told the court that “the Governor’s term concludes at the end of the day on [the first] Monday” in January, “the same day that the Justices’ terms end" and if the justices do not leave before the end of their terms and “if the new governor’s term has begun, then the new governor would have the authority to make the appointment.”

Quince noted that this is what voters concluded when they rejected a 2014 amendment to the state Constitution to clarify the law and give the appointment power to the outgoing governor. Lewis also noted in his dissent that he disagreed with this interpretation as well.

The Florida branch of the League of Women Voters and the government watchdog group Common Cause filed a petition with the Supreme Court in June saying Scott's successor should make the appointments.

Age limits are forcing three justices to retire on the day Scott leaves office in January 2019 because of term limits. Scott has said he plans to name their replacements that same morning.

Reinstate TPS and grant it to Venezuelans, Miami commissioners urge Trump

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@NewsbySmiley

The federal government should reinstate special deportation protections for more than 300,000 Haitians and Central Americans living in the U.S. and extend those same privileges to Venezuelans, Miami's mayor and city commissioners said Thursday.

By a unanimous vote, city commissioners urged Congress and President Donald Trump to extend Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, for Haitians, Salvadorans, Hondurans and Nicaraguans living in the country.

The designation allows nationals from countries facing civil strife or major natural disasters who are already in the United States to temporarily remain and work here. But President Donald Trump has repeatedly pledged to impose tighter immigration controls, with many of his supporters saying the program has been abused and needs a permanent fix.

Haitians learned last month that they'll lose TPS in July of 2019, at which point they will return to whatever immigration status they previously held, leaving them facing possible detention and deportation if they stay in the country illegally. Nicaraguans will lose TPS in January 2019. Hondurans' status expires in July. Salvadorans have until March.

Venezuelans, whose country is mired in turmoil and economic collapse, aren't afforded TPS protections.

"This is a city of immigrants. We are immigrants, or the product of immigrants," said Mayor Francis Suarez, who was born in the U.S. but born to parents who fled Cuba. "I've always felt a sense of injustice of the unequal treatment of immigrants in this country and certainly in this city."