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March 18, 2015

Gray Zone radio hosts help Miami-Dade commissioner raise money

@doug_hanks

The hosts behind the raucous "Gray Zone" political radio show are among the headliners at a fund-raiser this week for Miami-Dade Commissioner Esteban "Steve" Bovo

Marcos Lapciuc, one of four "Gray Zone" hosts and a founder of the show, is holding the Thursday evening fundraiser at the home he shares with his wife, Tiffany, on tony Pinetree Drive in Miami Beach. The invitation lists his three compatriots on the morning show as fellow hosts: Julio Avael, Henry Crespo, and Fred Menachem

"The reason why the hosts are supporting Bovo at the event is because it's at Marcos' house," said Menachem, who also serves as the show's executive producer. "We're a team."

The reality turned out to be more complicated. Contacted by Naked Politics, Crespo, chairman of the Democratic Black Caucus of Florida, said he wasn't aware his name was on the host list for Bovo, a Republican. Crespo said he's now off the event roster. "I don't even know the guy," Crespo said of Bovo. Bovoinvite

Bovo is the first county commissioner to form a campaign committee for the 2016 cycle, though Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez launched a political committee in January to start fundraising for his reelection. 

Bovo is seen as a potential mayoral candidate in 2020, when term limits would prevent Gimenez, a fellow Republican, from running again if he wins a second full term in '16.

Naked Politics asked Bovo: "Is it fair to say you are thinking of running for mayor in 2020?" He replied:

"It is fair to say that I want to be an effective public servant and it's fair to say that I'm running for reelection to the County Commission in 2016. What others speculate is flattering and their prerogative." 

Gray Zone airs daily on 880 The Biz, an AM station that sells time to the show. Launched in 2013, the show has gained a niche following among Miami-Dade politicos, and broken some news in recent months.

 Gimenez revealed his brief flirtation with exiting the Republican Party on a Gray Zone interview, and Raquel Regalado first confirmed she was eyeing a 2016 run against Gimenez on the program. 

The Gray Zone hosts' political activities aren't a secret. Crespo is an active Democrat, Menachem was a political director for then-mayor Alex Penelas, once a rising star in the Democratic Party. Lapciuc, a Republican, is a regular contributor to commission races and is the former board chairman for the county panel that oversees the Jackson hospital system.

The invitation for the event lists 25 hosts, including the four Gray Zone personalities. Among the electeds on the line-up: Hialeah City Councilman Luis Gonzalez, Miami-Dade School Board member Susie Castillo, Hialeah Gardens Mayor Yioset de la Cruz, and Miami City Commissioner Willy Gort.

House okays allowing victims to record crimes as evidence

Florida law makes it illegal to record a conversation without notifying everyone involved.

In December, this law led the state Supreme Court to overturn the conviction of Richard McDade, who had been found guilty in Lee County of sexual battery of a child younger than 12, among other things.

The appeals court had said that the most compelling evidence was a recording the alleged victim, his stepdaughter, had made without his knowing.

A bill passed by the Florida House on Wednesday seeks to change things.

The measure (H.B. 7001) by Reps. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, and Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, would grant an exception for cases just like McDade’s.

It would allow a person to record without notifying someone who “is committing, or has committed an unlawful sexual act or an unlawful act of physical force or violence against the person.”

The bill passed the House by a vote of 115-1, with only Rep. Joseph Geller, D-Aventura, dissenting because, he said, the bill is overly broad.

A Senate companion (S.B. 542) has passed its first committee but has not yet been put on the calendar by Judiciary Committee chair Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami.

Florida House votes to scale back testing in schools

Seeking to ease the pressure on schoolchildren — and quell the growing backlash from parents — the Florida House voted unanimously Wednesday to scale back testing in public schools.

The proposal (HB 7069) eliminates an 11th-grade English test and a requirement that local school districts create tests in every subject not covered by the new Florida Standards Assessment.

It also allows the school year to begin as early as August 10.

"The purpose of this is for us to be able to continue our improvement," said House Education Committee Chairwoman Marlene O’Toole, R-Lady Lake.

The House declined, however, to suspend school grades during the transition to new standards and assessments, as superintendents, teachers and parents had requested.

Lawmakers also rejected a proposal supported by parents that would have given all students the option to take pencil-and-paper tests.

"We had an opportunity to do more and we failed to do that," said Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville.

The state Senate is also considering a plan to scale back testing (SB 616), though it contains significant differences.

For one, the Senate version limits the amount of time students can spend on state-mandated tests. It also allows school districts to use this year's FSA scores for diagnostic purposes only in light of widespread technical problems.

Testing has been a hot-button issue in recent months, with parents across the state saying Florida’s testing program puts too much stress on students.

The outcry has only grown louder since software problems and an alleged cyber attack plagued this month’s roll out of the new web-based Florida Standards Assessments.

Sen. Sachs urges stronger texting and driving ban

Decrying the state’s current ban as difficult to enforce and ineffective, Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, Wednesday emphasized her desire to allow police to pull over drivers for texting and driving.

The state’s existing ban is a secondary offense, meaning officers can only issue a texting and driving ticket after pulling the driver over for something else, like speeding or running a red light.

“It has not worked,” Sachs said. “Secondary enforcement of this ban has not been effective at stopping the loss of lives.”

Sachs’ proposal (S.B. 246) would change that, she said.

It would allow police to pull people over if they see them texting or surfing the Web while driving. It would also double texting fines in school zones.

Currently, 44 states, including Florida since 2013, ban texting and driving. But just a handful treat it as a secondary offense.

White House tries to make nice with Miami congressman who was denied Air Force One seat

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo met last week with a White House aide who tried to smooth things over after Curbelo was snubbed from flying on Air Force One with President Obama last month.

Curbelo had asked to fly with Obama to a town hall-style event on immigration held Feb. 25 at Florida International University, which is in Curbelo's Westchester-to-Key West district. He was told there was no room on the plane, though White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest later said he didn't know why Curbelo had been turned down.

The snub didn't sit well with Curbelo, a moderate Republican in his first term who could potentially find common ground with the president on immigration, transportation and free trade (though Curbelo disagrees with Obama on U.S.-Cuba policy, for example). White House office liaison Don Sisson reached out to Curbelo two days after the incident to set up a meeting.

Curbelo said Wednesday he appreciated the outreach.

"While my disagreements with this White House are vast and sharp, I owe it to the people of South Florida to seek ways in which we can work together to improve the quality of life for my community and strengthen the nation," he said in a statement to the Miami Herald. "Government dysfunction and gridlock is not working for the American people."

Barbara Bush now wants Jeb to run for president, asks supporters for money

via @learyreports

Remember back when Barbara Bush was stepping all over son Jeb's presidential dreams? She's come around and is now lending her stature to his fundraising machine. An email from her circulating today begins:

Subject: I changed my mind!

When the idea of Jeb running for President first came up, I was hesitant. You may have heard about that. When you see the pounding candidates take these days, what mother wouldn't be?

But our problems are so profound that America needs a leader who can renew the promise of this great nation.

Which is why today I’m starting the Run Jeb Run fund.

Florida Senate approves March 15 primary date; Scott will sign into law

The Florida Senate on Wednesday signed off on a plan to make March 15 the date of the 2016 presidential primary.

The proposal (HB 7035) would put Florida in line Republican Party rules -- and enable the state to award all of its delegates to the winner of the GOP primary.

If Florida holds its primary election on March 1, as current law dictates, it would have to allocate its delegates proportionally. As a result, Florida would yield less influence in determining the Republican nominee for president.

"It makes Florida meaningful in the presidential primary elections," Republican Sen. Garrett Richter said of his proposal.

The bill won the unanimous support of the House last week, and passed 39-0 in the Senate.

Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday afternoon that he planned to sign the bill "as soon as it gets to my desk."

Some Democrats on Wednesday alleged the proposal was only meant to help possible Republican candidates -- namely former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. (The Democratic Party awards delegates on a proportional basis regardless of the state's primary date.)

But Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said the bill would help the Democratic nominee, too.

"When you look back, when Hillary Clinton and then Sen. [Barack] Obama were running, they essentially boycotted the state of Florida," Gardiner said. "They came here and raised money, but they didn't participate in the election."

 

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

Senate poised to approve concealed carry law

Following pointed questions from a small handful of Democrat opponents, Florida senators Wednesday set themselves up to consider concealed carry legislation, likely in the chamber’s session next Tuesday

The bill (S.B. 290) by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, would decriminalize carrying a concealed weapon while evacuating an emergency. A similar bill did not pass last year.

“My bill simply allows people who are lawful gun owners who are fleeing for their lives to not be considered felons for following the law if they happen to have a firearm on their person,” Brandes said.

Some Democrats, including Sen. Geraldine Thompson of Orlando and Sen. Eleanor Sobel of Hollywood, raised concerns that the proposed legislation could cause problems with looters or lead to uncertainty during a time of emergency.

“In an emergency situation, we need less chaos,” Sobel said, “not more.”

The bill seems on track to pass the full Senate. Not only do Republicans have a solid majority, but in its three committee stops, the bill won votes from as many Democrats as opposed it. A similar bill in the House has been okayed by its two committees.

Broward Sen. Chris Smith seeks Gov. Scott's help for project

Gov. Rick Scott regularly holds one-on-one meetings with members of the Legislature, and they're usually Republicans. But Scott has agreed to meet Wednesday with Democratic Sen. Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, who wants to head off potential Scott opposition to his plan to secure state money for a project to increase the number of African-American police officers in Florida.

"I want to deal with him on the front end," Smith said.

Smith is sponsoring a bill (SB 772) that would place a Northeast Florida police training academy under the direction of historically black Edward Waters College in Jacksonville. He said he has the Republican Senate leadership's support for a $1 million appropriation for the project. The president of Edward Waters College, Nat Glover, was elected sheriff of Duval County in 1995 -- the first elected black sheriff in Florida in more than 100 years.

Smith and other black legislators have criticized Scott for not hiring more African-Americans in his administration and not appointing more minority candidates to judgeships in Florida.

Smith was active in mobilizing black voters to vote for Charlie Crist in the 2014 race for governor, and he was quoted last October in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel as saying: "I get more motivation from people wanting to get rid of Rick Scott than people wanting to vote for Charlie Crist."