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November 17, 2015

The Hill: Ethics expert on Alan Grayson's hedge funds: 'I’ve never seen anything like this'

From The Hill, which published a story Tuesday about criticism of U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, and his controversial hedge funds:

A conservative group called the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust and a supporter of Grayson’s primary opponent, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.), have each lodged complaints with the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). They claim that Grayson has violated ethics rules by running the investment vehicle, which formerly bore his name.

The wealthy congressman maintains his dealings are above board, and there has been no official finding to the contrary. However, his managerial role with the funds, which have grown in value since Grayson was reelected to Congress three years ago, is seen as uncommon for a sitting lawmaker, experts say.

“He’s wading into uncharted waters, in terms of lack of precedent on this kind of thing,” said Kenneth Gross, the head of the political law practice at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and veteran congressional ethics expert. 

“I’ve never seen anything like this before with a member of Congress,” Gross added. “I’m not saying it’s never happened, but I’ve never heard of it.”

More here.

Pro-Ted Cruz super PAC jabs Marco Rubio over 'amnesty'

via @learyreports

A super PAC supporting Ted Cruz has a new ad highlighting Marco Rubio's role in the Gang of 8 immigration bill. It's the second ad from Courageous Conservatives PAC and comes as Rubio and Cruz have turned fire on each other. Last night, Rubio knocked Cruz for voting to put controls on the NSA data collection programs.

Ad script:

When Marco Rubio teamed up with John McCain, Chuck Schumer, Lindsey Graham and Bob Menendez to push his Gang of Eight Amnesty scheme, he said he wanted to secure the border. But then Rubio voted against every border security amendment Ted Cruz and Jeff Sessions proposed. Every one! It was part of the deal Rubio made with Obama -- no amendments, even on border security. Ted Cruz was only in the Senate a few weeks, but it was his leadership that stopped the Obama-Rubio Gang of Eight amnesty bill. Ted Cruz: Secure the border. No welfare for illegal aliens. No path to citizenship. Enforce, improve and strengthen current laws. Marco Rubio betrayed our trust, failed us and he’s done nothing since coming to Washington but push for amnesty. Ted Cruz for President. Now. Before it’s too late.


--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Democrats successfully maneuver to kill 'Stand Your Ground' changes in Florida House



A plan to strengthen Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law during the 2016 legislative session died an early death in the state House on Tuesday, after a subcommittee rejected the legislation on a deadlocked vote.

House Criminal Justice Subcommittee Chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, and Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, joined with the panel’s four Democrats to oppose a bill by Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, that would have given defendants who claim self-defense more protection from prosecution.

House Bill 169 would have required prosecutors to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" -- during a procedural hearing before trial -- why a defendant's self-defense claim isn't valid.

In contrast, Florida courts, culminating in a Florida Supreme Court ruling in July, had previously ruled that the defendant had the burden of proving why they shouldn't be prosecuted because they acted in self-defense.

Trujillo, a former assistant state attorney in Miami-Dade County, said he supports the way "Stand Your Ground" operates now, and the burden should remain on the defendant who claims self-defense.

"If you’re alleging something, you have to prove it," Trujillo said.

Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, was absent for the vote, resulting in the 6-6 tie.

The surprise result was preceded by two late-filed amendments from Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, which he said he proposed as "an insurance policy" with the ultimate intent to kill the bill in committee. Both amendments passed by a 6-5 vote; Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, was absent for those, along with Latvala.

Continue reading "Democrats successfully maneuver to kill 'Stand Your Ground' changes in Florida House" »

Panel OKs expanding medical marijuana plan to 20 growers


Patients who have been given a year to live could soon be allowed to use marijuana to ease their pain.

A Florida House panel on Tuesday okayed legislation that would expand an existing, small medical marijuana program and a law allowing terminal patients to try experimental drugs. Now, with two doctors’ approval, a patient can buy marijuana from a licensed grower in the state.

“Cannabis should be the first option for patients, rather than the last resort,” said Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, speaking on behalf of Cathy Jordan, a Parrish resident who has suffered from ALS for 29 years. “No one should have to go through what I did to get their medication.”

Jordan, the president of the Florida Cannabis Action Network, has a letter from the state attorney’s office in Manatee County that allows her to grow marijuana that has been prescribed to her.

But before okaying the bill (HB 307) by a 9-4 vote, the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee tacked on new language that would quadruple the number of licensed marijuana growers in the state from five to 20.

The Florida Department of Health is expected to announce five licensed growers for cannabis that is low in high-inducing THC in the coming weeks. Encouraged by a group of black farmers that met with the Florida Legislative Black Caucus early this month, Rep. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, pushed the amendment, which eliminates strict requirements for potential growers.

Howard Gunn, Jr., president of the Florida Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, has said that the five-nursery limit and requirement that nurseries be in business for at least 30 years before being licensed by the Department of Health has “systematically excluded the black farmer.”

“I believe if we don’t remove these barriers to entry, we are creating a monopoly for five dispensing organizations,” Bracy said Tuesday. “I believe it creates a competitive disadvantage, and I believe it negates free-market principles.”

Lawmakers passed the amendment after the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, gave a thumbs-up, apparently encouraging a group of committee members to vote yes.

Still, despite bipartisan support, some members already started to raise questions about the larger number of nurseries that would be allowed to grow marijuana if the bill passes.

“We’ve got a train wreck here,” said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who voted against the bill. “We’ve got confusion. Here’s an amendment that turned it upside down at the last minute.”

A similar proposal will be considered this afternoon in the Senate Health Policy committee.

More Marco Rubio fliers hit Miami mailboxes, to recruit volunteers


Two fliers from Marco Rubio's presidential campaign have hit Miami mailboxes in the past week, urging supporters to sign up to volunteer for the Republican U.S. senator (though he doesn't yet have a Florida campaign office).

One is personalized to list the recipient's street so the person can "make sure" it "is Marco Rubio country!" The other one boasts Rubio "received an A rating from the NRA, acquired a 100% pro-life voting record, stopped Charlie Crist's liberal agenda and proposed the largest tax cut in Florida history."

It's not Rubio's first round of mail in his home state.

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Florida GOP lawmakers push immigration proposals


Decrying a federal government that “refuses to enforce our immigration laws,” a group of state lawmakers Tuesday unrolled a series of bills aimed at stemming the flow of undocumented immigrants to Florida.

Here’s what they propose:

* Prohibit so-called “sanctuary cities,” local governments that slow down or opt not to carry out orders from federal immigration officials to detain or deport suspected undocumented immigrants. State Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, said he believes Miami-Dade County to have a sanctuary policy. The legislation (HB 675) allows the attorney general to sue public officials and local governments that enact sanctuary policies, possibly fining them up to $5,000 per day.

* Ramp up criminal penalties against undocumented immigrants. A bill (HB 9, SB 118) would make it a first-degree felony — punishable by up to 30 years in state prison — for someone who has been ordered deported to be in the state of Florida. Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Elkton, said that he intends to change the legislation moving forward, however, to only target violent criminals who are undocumented immigrants. They would face harsher penalties for any crime they commit, and they would face a first-degree felony if they return to Florida.

* Change how welfare benefits are calculated for families that include an undocumented immigrant. Legislation (SB 750, HB 563) would count the entire salary — rather than just a part of it — of a low-income undocumented immigrant against his or her family’s benefits.

“All these bills we shouldn’t be doing,” said Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach. “We have other things to worry about or we should be worried about: health care or education, but because we have that federal government that isn’t doing what they should do, we have to act.”

The legislation is being sponsored by a collection of Republican representatives and senators who say they will together push through three bills: Bean, Metz, Hutson, and Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, and Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami.

Because immigration enforcement is the responsibility of the federal government, state lawmakers say there isn’t much they can do.

“I love the idea of a wall,” Bean said. “A wall would be a good start.”

But until there is greater enforcement on the border, they said, their legislation will allow Florida to take action against undocumented immigrants and state and local programs that are friendly toward them.

The enhanced criminal penalties bill has its first hearing Wednesday in a House committee.

Hillary Clinton lines up Florida support


Hillary Clinton has lined up more than 150 people elected officials and community leaders in Florida to promote her 2016 presidential candidacy.

Her campaign said late Monday it has launched a “Florida Leadership Council” to organize events and volunteers ahead of the March 15 state primary. The group includes U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, the only Democrat elected statewide, and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, a longtime Clinton friend.

“When it comes to Florida’s cities, and the challenges they face, Hillary Clinton is the best candidate equipped to tackle and move them forward,” Levine said in a statement. “Clinton gets it, and will make a fundamental difference for every city in America.”

Clinton’s state support includes Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant as well as every Florida Democratic member of Congress except Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, and Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee. Her father, former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, is on Clinton’s list.

So are eight state senators and 28 state representatives, and the mayors of Tampa and Orlando and, in South Florida, of North Miami, Palmetto Bay, Pinecrest, Hallandale Beach, Weston and Wilton Manors. Clinton’s team also includes county commissioners, school board members, city council members, former elected officials, activists and fundraisers.

“I have known Hillary for decades, dating back to her time with the Children’s Defense Fund,” U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach said in a statement. “In this capacity, I came to know her as a smart and driven advocate, whose thoughtfulness and deliberation helped to advance justice and the rule of law in a time when African Americans and women struggled daily to attain the freedom and equality enshrined in our constitution.”

Here's the full list:

Continue reading "Hillary Clinton lines up Florida support" »

November 16, 2015

Marco Rubio jabs Ted Cruz over NSA surveillance

via @learyreports

Marco Rubio took a shot at Ted Cruz on Monday night, saying his rival worked to "weaken" surveillance programs now back in focus given the attacks in Paris.

The salvo, which Rubio's campaign quickly put on YouTube, comes after Cruz spent several days last week casting Rubio as soft on immigration. Rubio was speaking at the Wall Street Journal's CEO Council in Washington.

His campaign pointed to a vote on the USA Freedom Act in June. It allows for data collection but phone companies maintain it, not the NSA.

"Does Senator Rubio think Senators [Tim] Scott, [Kelly] Ayotte, and [Chuck] Grassley also 'voted to weaken the U.S. intelligence programs?' " asked Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler, referring to Republicans from the three early primary states of South Carolina, New Hampshire and Iowa. 


--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Miami-Dade schools superintendent Alberto Carvalho may get a raise, promises to donate his salary


Speculation about the future of Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho may help him land a raise.

But Carvalho insists he’s not leaving before his contract is up in 2020, and on Monday he offered a bold promise: that he’d donate his salary back to the school district in his last year of service.

“I want that to be my gift to the community -- one year’s worth of salary,” he said, noting the end of his contract will mark 30 years of service with the school district. 


Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times called Carvalho a top contender to lead that city’s school system, the second largest in the country. That prompted Miami-Dade school board chairwoman Perla Tabares Hantman to ask Carvalho at a committee meeting Monday whether the 2014 Superintendent of the Year was contemplating the offer.

Carvalho, once again, said no.

“I love this community. I love what we’re doing,” he said. “I cannot see myself doing my work with anybody else.”

But the latest speculation about Carvalho’s future was enough for Hantman to recommend opening up the superintendent’s contract for renegotiation. In response, the board lavished Carvalho with praise for his work -- Marta Perez Wurtz described him as being as close to perfect as possible -- and multiple members suggested he’s due for a raise.

“There is a price you pay for not having someone like you. So with that, I would like to say that we have to address you. We have not given you a raise,” said board member Lubby Navarro.

Carvalho’s base salary is $318,000, according to his contract. That’s less than his predecessor, who made $345,000. Carvalho, who became superintendent in 2008, said he wants to keep it that way.

He also said he has already given back the equivalent of one year of his salary through a variety of ways, like allowing vacation time to expire, donating speaking fees and sticking with the same SUV his predecessor drove.

“It is the fair thing to do,” he said.

Hantman said she plans on bringing an agenda item to discuss the superintendent’s contract to the board’s December meeting.

Another for-profit college chain in trouble: EDMC to pay $95M


The nation’s second-largest for-profit college company, Education Management Corp., will pay more than $95 million to settle multiple lawsuits alleging the company broke federal law in how it paid its recruiters.

The settlement deal, announced by the U.S. Department of Justice on Monday, also includes loan forgiveness for some students who enrolled at EDMC schools. The company, which did not acknowledge any wrongdoing, operates the Art Institutes, Argosy University, Brown Mackie College and South University.

There are seven Florida campuses: Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Sarasota, Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville. A spokesman for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said that Florida students would receive $6.5 million in loan forgiveness.

In a Washington news conference carried on C-SPAN, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch called the settlement a “historic step forward in our collective and ongoing fight against fraudulent and abusive practices in the for-profit education industry.”

But Lynch acknowledged that the $95 million payout would have been higher if not for EDMC’s current financial problems. The gigantic company has been closing campuses and laying off hundreds of employees — a dramatic fall from a few years ago, when it counted Goldman Sachs as one of its owners, and was trading at $18 a share on the NASDAQ stock exchange.

“An important part of this settlement was factoring in the company’s ability to pay,” Lynch said. “So it does not reflect the total amount of federal funds that we believe were fraudulently obtained.”

Pittsburgh-based EDMC still enrolls more than 100,000 students, and still gets about 90 percent of its revenue from taxpayer-funded financial aid programs such as Pell grants and federal student loans, Lynch said. Over the years, EDMC received billions of dollars in Pell grants and loans — a U.S. Senate Committee found EDMC received $1.8 billion in federal funds in a single year, 2010.

“That’s all of our money, all of us, as taxpayers,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Monday.

More here.