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May 17, 2017

Miami-Dade delegation hosts Richard Corcoran at a 'thank you' reception at FIU

Corcoran and Dade delegation@MaryEllenKlas

As pressure is mounting for Gov. Rick Scott to veto a sweeping education bill pushed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran that was sold to legislators as a take-it or leave-it budget deal last week, Corcoran will be honored at breakfast reception at Florida International University. 

The breakfast event "thanking Speaker Richard Corcoran for his support this Session" will be from 9:30 to 11 a.m. in Diaz Balart hall on the Maidique campus at FIU.

Corcoran, a Land O'Lakes Republican, has made it his top priority to pass the bill, HB 7069, which includes controversial incentives for charter schools, $234 million in bonuses for top teachers and principals, and a plan to force taxpayer-funded school districts to subsidize capital projects for for-profit charter school operators. The bill was negotiated in secret in the session's final days and, because it was a budget bill, it could not be amended, included provisions previously rejected by lawmakers, and was narrowly approved by the Senate.  

Although Scott has remained silent about his intentions, Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvahlo joined with other superintendents and urged the governor to veto the measure and the $23.7 billion in base funding in the budget to K-12 public schools. He said the failure of the Legislature to fund public schools, while leaving $3 billion in reserves, was a "man-made crisis" "that challenges the values of the state of Florida."




May 16, 2017

Confidential documents show money in Florida's medical marijuana industry

Florida Election Marijuana


As differences over pot shop restrictions burned a medical marijuana bill to ashes in Tallahassee, one of Florida’s largest legal cannabis operators courted millions of dollars from new investors and touted a lucrative plan to open dozens of storefronts around the state.

A private equity firm’s confidential pitch deck obtained by the Miami Herald shows that only days ago Surterra Florida was seeking investors to buy a $10 million minority stake while also arguing against limits on the number of retail outlets any licensed operator can open. Some potential investors were lured with projections that show Surterra grossing $138 million in sales by 2021 thanks largely to the operation of 55 retail outlets — nearly four times the cap desired by the Florida Senate.

The numbers may not be exact, as both Surterra and The Costera Group warned that neither company verified or authorized the projections. But the sensitive documents shed rare light on an industry shrouded in secrecy and show how much money is riding on how — and whether — the state regulates the number of medical marijuana retail outlets following the passage of Amendment 2.

To read more click here.

Superintendents unite around call for HB 7069, K-12 budget veto


Florida's school district superintendents are speaking in one voice now against HB 7069 and the Legislature's approved K-12 public schools spending for next year.

The association representing the superintendents is joining a chorus of calls on Gov. Rick Scott to veto HB 7069, as almost all of the state's school boards and a slew of other groups are doing.

The superintendents also want Scott to reject $23.7 billion in primary funding for K-12 schools, over opposition to the Legislature's approved increase of only 0.34 percent in spending per student.

“Florida superintendents cannot support HB 7069 or the budget due to the negative impact on public education,” said Escambia County schools Superintendent Malcolm Thomas, the president of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. “The budget fails to meet the basic funding needs of Florida’s nearly 2.8 million public education students, and despite some good education policy in HB 7069 the overall damage to public education far outweighs the good. With a united voice, we call upon the Governor to veto HB 7069 and the FEFP in support of Florida public education.”

Here's the letter from the superintendent's association.

Rubio offers another cautious reaction to another Trump controversy

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Marco Rubio the candidate repeatedly pledged to challenge Donald Trump but as another controversy swirls in Washington, Rubio is again taking a cautious path.

Rubio declined last night to comment on the news Trump gave highly classified information to Russians visiting the White House. He said little Tuesday morning. "I have very specific questions and hope they will be answered at some point today," Rubio told a CNN reporter.

That response may be prudent for a figure who sits on the Intelligence Committee, but it also fits a pattern of how Rubio has chosen to deal with Trump -- an approach that clashes with his campaign vows. “The prospect of a Trump presidency is also worrisome to me in many ways," Rubio said in announcing he'd seek another Senate term. He said he would “encourage (Trump) in the right direction, but if it’s necessary, stand up to him.”

The Senate, Rubio noted, can serve as a "check and balance on the excesses of the president.”

When Trump sacked FBI Director James Comey, Rubio was also slow to respond and then provided a measured response that said it was within Trump's authority, even as Rubio found no fault with Comey.

Rubio drew widespread attention for raising concerns about Trump picking Rex Tillerson for the State Department but then voted for Tillerson. Rubio has since then criticized some State Department decisions.

But his overall reluctance to challenge the administration is drawing increasing attention.

Last summer, when the FBI disclosed it was investigating Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server, Rubio said:

“The FBI concluded what many Americans have known for quite some time, which is that Hillary Clinton’s conduct as Secretary of State and her mishandling of classified information was disgraceful and unbecoming of someone who aspires to the presidency. There is simply no excuse for Hillary Clinton's decision to set up a home-cooked email system which left sensitive and classified national security information vulnerable to theft and exploitation by America’s enemies. Her actions were grossly negligent, damaged national security and put lives at risk. Hillary Clinton's actions have sent the worst message to the millions of hard-working federal employees who hold security clearances and are expected to go to great lengths to secure sensitive government information and abide by the rules. They don't take their oaths lightly, and we shouldn't expect any less of their leaders."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Aaron P. Bernstein, Getty Images

Diaz: 'Aggressive trolling' prompted deletion of Twitter selfie with Trump


State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz said he deleted a Twitter photo of himself with President Donald Trump after an "aggressive trolling campaign" gave him grief about it online.

Following his entry into the race to replace former state Sen. Frank Artiles, Diaz said people he presumed to be from his opponents' campaigns "seized upon an old tweet and began an aggressive trolling campaign aimed at provocation and distraction."

"I deleted the vehicle they were trolling, which was a picture from the Presidential Inauguration and now they are, again, trying to create a story where there is none," Diaz said in a statement to the Miami Herald.

The deletion only got Diaz more trolling from local liberal activists, as reported by Politico Florida and the Miami New Times. Diaz faces former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and attorney Lorenzo Palomares-Starbuck in the special July 25 primary election. If Diaz wins, expect Democrats to try to tie him to Trump in Democratic-leaning Senate District 40. Diaz was interviewed as the Trump administration's potential pick to serve as Miami U.S. attorney.

The Jan. 19 tweet read: "Just ran into the first guy who ever fired me. The next president of the United States @realDonald Trump #Apprentice #POTUS #ElPresidente."

Diaz, a one-time contestant on "The Apprentice" reality show, attended the inauguration along with state Rep. Carlos Trujillo. Both are Miami Republicans.

"My being on NBC's The Apprentice is public knowledge and something that I do not shy away from," Diaz said Tuesday. "I am running for the Senate based on my record of service and the good laws that I have passed by way of protecting kids, protecting seniors and investing in Miami-Dade County's most important institutions."

Does Daisy Baez live in the Florida House district she represents?


State Rep. Daisy Baez doesn’t appear to live in the House district she represents, a possible violation of the Florida Constitution that could haunt her Florida Senate candidacy.

Her residence continues to be a prim Coral Gables house with a stack of her old campaign yard signs leaning against one of the porch walls. On Monday evening, Baez wasn’t inside — but her two rescue dogs, Oso and Coco, were. So was her campaign team, working around the kitchen table. Baez was expected back a couple of hours later.

The home is in House District 112. Baez, a Democrat, represents House District 114, whose boundaries begin about half a mile away. Florida requires lawmakers to live and vote in the districts they represent by Election Day. For Baez, a freshman, that was Nov. 8 of last year.

Six days earlier, on Nov. 2, Baez changed her voter-registration address to a Coral Gables apartment within the District 114 boundaries, election records show.

“I have two residences,” Baez told the Miami Herald in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Baez said she rents an apartment on Anderson Road, about a mile and a half away from her three-bedroom, two-bathroom house on Malaga Avenue where she claimed a homestead exemption on her 2016 property taxes, according to county records. Asked if the apartment was vacant or occupied, Baez cleared her throat several times, sounded uncomfortable and wouldn’t respond.

“I have kept this home, and I have a rental,” she said. “I am renovating this house to put it on the market.”

Baez then ended the interview, saying she needed to consult with her campaign team before speaking further.

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times

Rubio's book income appears to dry up

Veterans Affairs
via @learyreports

Book royalties appear to have dried up for Sen. Marco Rubio. His latest financial disclosure does not show any payments, ending a lucrative run.

Last year Rubio reported earning $102,500 in royalties for 2015. Overall, he’s earned more than $1 million, primarily off his 2012 memoir, "An American Son."

His office did not respond Tuesday morning to a question why he had no book income for 2016. Rubio was a presidential candidate through March.

Rubio’s new report shows Rubio earned $7,314 for teaching at Florida International University in 2016. His wife, Jeanette, also has income but the Senate report only indicates it is more than $1,000.

Rubio earns $174,000 as a senator.

He lists a Citibank checking account worth between $50,000 and $100,000; a money market account valued at $15,001-$50,000; and savings up to $15,000, as well as stock and college saving plans.

Rubio reported a 2015 mortgage between $500,001 and $1 million from Professional Bank in Coral Gables.

Sen. Bill Nelson reported $50,000 in retirement income from the state of Florida and an IRA distribution of $23,000.

Nelson has various mutual funds and plots of undeveloped land in Brevard County worth between $250,001 and $500,000 and $1,000,001 and $5 million.

He has mortgages on homes in Virginia and Florida. He also has a home equity line of credit up to $100,000.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Susan Walsh, Associated Press

Pam Bondi raises $80K in political committee



A long-dormant political committee run by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is suddenly active again.

The Republican has raised over $82,000 since the start of April in Justice For All, a political committee that she uses to pay for political activities. That is more money than Bondi raised in all of 2015 and 2016 combined in that committee.

Bondi cannot seek re-election for attorney general because of term limits. Both of the previous two attorneys general in Florida (Charlie Crist and Bill McCollum) have run for governor, but Bondi has already declared she is not running for governor in 2018.

Her latest donations include $14,500 from the Florida Phosphate Council on April 21 and $10,000 on May 1 from the Recording Industry Association of America, the RIAA.

Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this report.

PHOTO CREDIT: Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (Zack Wittman/Tampa Bay Times)

'If the elections were held tomorrow, the president wouldn't help the ticket'


Al Cardenas has a few concerns about President Donald Trump's long-term effect on the Republican Party.

Cardenas, the former head of the American Conservative Union and of the Republican Party of Florida, told McClatchy's "Beyond the Bubble" podcast this week that voters are starting to form lasting "impressions" of Trump while the president's White House is in disarray.

 "If the elections were held tomorrow, the president wouldn't help the ticket, either in the House or in the Senate," Cardenas lamented.

He criticized Trump for firing FBI Director James Comey while the feds are investigating Russian meddling into the election.

"To remove the FBI director who's in the middle of it all, suddenly -- it's just not good optics," Cardenas said. "I have to believe that the majority of the public did not think that this was a good idea."

Join our political reporters from around the country and listen to the episode here: 

Abortion bills die in Florida's Capitol for the first time in eight years



Lawmakers left Tallahassee last week without accomplishing an agenda item that has been at the forefront for years: They passed no legislation restricting abortions or targeting abortion clinics.

It’s the first time in eight regular sessions of the Legislature — since 2010 — that abortion bills haven’t passed.

A bill (HB 19) that would have allowed women to sue their doctors within 10 years of an abortion if they develop an injury or “emotional distress” cleared a few House committees but never moved in the Senate. Lawmakers also passed over a bill (HB 203) banning abortion at 20 weeks after fertilization.

“Most bills don’t make it all the way through the process,” explained Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee where HB 19 stalled in the House. “You have to address issues that have to be addressed as well as issues that can be addressed and appear to be moving in the other chamber. … You’ve got to prioritize based on what can get done.”

Because HB 19 never had a single hearing the Florida Senate, which would be required to sign on for it to become law, it wouldn't have made sense to take up valuable committee time continue hearing it in the House, Sprowls said.

Legislation (HB 969) that would have guaranteed a state contract for the Florida Pregnancy Care Network, a chain of clinics that advocates against abortion and whose board includes a former House member and a one-time candidate for state representative, passed the House but stalled in the Senate.

The bills’ failure is a rare victory for abortion-rights organizations like Planned Parenthood, which in recent years have had to fend off efforts to defund non-abortion services, a mandatory 24-hour waiting period and even an outright ban on abortion. In most cases (except the total ban), bills have passed just to be blocked by judges.

Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, credits grassroots activism for killing the bills.

“Ever since the election and Women’s Marches in January, Planned Parenthood has seen huge spikes on our volunteers and supporters,” she said. “As a Planned Parenthood advocate and somebody who’s seen an increase in support for Planned Parenthood, I believe it was a factor."

However, it's worth noting that Republican leadership in the Legislature generally doesn't support Planned Parenthood and has for years pushed back against them, including proposing budget language in 2016 that would have stripped funding for non-abortion services from them.

Sprowls has voted against the group's position repeatedly while in office, as have other members of House leadership.

Photo: Planned Parenthood supporters in Tampa this February. (Sara DiNatale, Times)