February 11, 2015

Tampa Rep. Janet Cruz in line for leadership post

The 38-member House Democratic Caucus will hold a special meeting next week to elect Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, as its next leader, succeeding Rep. Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach, who will hold the post through 2016.

Pafford said Wednesday he called the session for next Wednesday afternoon in the Democrats' office suite on the third floor of the Capitol. Cruz sent a letter to House clerk Bob Ward on Feb. 2, declaring her candidacy, as required by House rules. No one else has declared their candidacy, Pafford said.

Cruz's ascension to the minority leader's post appears to be on a much smoother trajectory than the last couple of contests. Pafford was chosen by his fellow Democrats in 2013 after months of turmoil in which Rep. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg lost the support of caucus members in a dispute over control of the caucus' fund-raising apparatus.

Cruz, 58, is an optician, a fourth generation Tampa resident and mother of four children who was first elected to the House in a special election in 2010. Her duties will include recruiting Democratic House candidates in the next cycle in 2016, in a presidential election year when Democrats' political fortunes are generally brighter in Florida.

The Democratic caucus is expected to soon welcome back its 39th member following the expected re-election of Rep. Reggie Fullwood, D-Jacksonville, in a special election next week.


Police body camera bill under fire for privacy concerns

As police and sheriff's departments across the state, including in Pasco County, consider requiring their officers to wear body cameras while on duty, a bill to regulate how the technology is rolled out is taking flak for failing to address privacy concerns.

The bill (H.B. 57) by Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, would require agencies to outline and implement policies for storing video footage, training officers and weighing civilian privacy when starting body camera programs. It passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee unanimously Wednesday.

It's a far cry from Jones's original proposal, which would have required every on-duty officer in the state to wear a body camera. That bill was scrapped and rewritten after the same subcommittee raised concerns in January.

But despite its vague language, legislators and advocates alike have raised concerns about civilian and officer privacy, which is not addressed in the legislation.

"Our concern is that if the camera is on, and it's required to be on through the entire shift, that it will capture video and audio in roll calls, in the hallways, on a lunch break, just as you're going thru the day," said Gary Bradford, a lobbyist for the Florida Police Benevolent Association. "We think those conversations are private."

Police body cameras have become part of the conversation surrounding police brutality, especially since the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y., last year. This year, more than a dozen state legislatures are considering the implementation or regulation of the devices, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Subcommittee members who unanimously approved the bill did so with the expectation that those privacy concerns would be addressed. Jones said they "definitely" would.

The initial plan to mandate body cameras in all Florida law enforcement agencies was scrapped after the same subcommittee members raised questions last month about cost, data storage and privacy, which persists as a key question on the bill moving forward.

Negotiations continue for LIP hospital funding

@kmcgrory @mikevansickler

The state continued its negotiations with the federal government on Wednesday in an effort to preserve funding for hospitals that treat large numbers of poor and uninsured patients.

Florida had previously relied on a pot of money known as the Low Income Pool, or LIP. But the $2.2 billion program is scheduled to expire later this year, under an agreement between the state and federal government.

On Tuesday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, said it "will not extend Florida's Low Income Pool in its current form beyond June 30," according to a statement issued by the agency.

But that doesn't mean the talks are off.

CMS said it would work with the state "to develop payment approaches for Florida’s Medicaid beneficiaries to ensure adequacy, equity, accountability and sustainability for Florida’s Medicaid funding."

In other words, the federal government may be willing to approve a more sustainable funding system.

"We have not heard anything from them saying the LIP funding is going to go away in its entirety," said Justin Senior, the Medicaid director for the state Agency for Health Care Administration.

Senior said there were already several "areas of agreement" between the state and federal government.

"We're working with them," he added. "We have a good relationship."

If the LIP funding were to disappear altogether, it would blow a $1.3 billion hole in Florida's budget. Gov. Rick Scott's recommended budget assumes all of the funding will come through.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said Tuesday's announcement from CMS had sent Florida lawmakers "back to the drawing board."

"We actually have already begun to organize some meetings with staff and key members in the process to try to determine what are our range of options because it's a problem we have to solve," he said Wednesday.

Those options, according to Lee, might include finding savings in the state budget or tapping into the $1 billion surplus.

"Whether it's by the name of LIP or some other name, a program might still exist," Lee said. "But we're going to have to work with CMS to modify our current operating mode so they can cooperate with us."

Both Florida senators back Obama war authorization against ISIS


President Obama formally asked Congress Wednesday to authorize the use of military force against the Islamic State, a group also known as ISIS or ISIL. Though U.S. airstrikes have gone after the group since last summer, congressional approval would bolster the administration's legal war authority.

Both Florida senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio, support Obama's request. 

"Any group barbaric enough to behead and burn innocent people and bring about the death of a humanitarian worker deserves to be crushed," Nelson said in a statement Wednesday morning, referring to the recently confirmed death of Kayla Mueller of Arizona.

Nelson is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who last year filed legislation that would have authorized airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. He noted Wednesday that Obama's request has some similarities to Nelson's proposal. Obama didn't rule out ground troops, though he said they would be used in "limited circumstances." His request would expire in three years.

Rubio said on the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon that he would back even broader authorization, without limiting the president's time frame or tactics, which the senator said would be unwise given changing ground conditions. Rubio has burnished his foreign-policy credentials in the Senate, a likely campaign plank for him if he ends up running for president.

"There is a simple authorization Obama should ask for. One sentence: We authorize the president to defeat ISIL. Period," Rubio said. More than once, he noted authorization would also extend to the next president.

Rubio called it "good news" that Obama had asked Congress for approval, though he said it was belated. "I wish we had taken this group on earlier," he said.

Miami District 2 candidates reap nearly $150K in January


Candidates for Miami's District 2 commission seat turned in their campaign reports for the month of January on Tuesday, and it looks like fundraising efforts are amping up with nine months to go before the election.

There are six candidates running for the District 2 seat held by term-limited Commissioner Marc Sarnoff: Rosa Maria Palomino, Teresa Sarnoff (the commissioner's wife), Mike Simpson, Seth Sklarey, Grace Solares, and Lorry Woods. But only two -- Sarnoff and Solares -- have had any success raking in campaign cash. Sarnoff brought in $83,000 in only nine days. And Solares raised $45,000 in January, bringing her total up to $57,680.

Since only Solares and Sarnoff raised substantial sums, we'll only look at their reports. The candidates' major contributors (exluding previous donations to soft money accounts) are:

        Melo Group -- The Argentinian developers often credited for sparking Miami's latest development boom gave a combined $20,000 to Sarnoff's campaign through maximum $1,000 checks cut by the family and their various corporations. Melo Group is currently among a group of developers seeking an up-zoning to a chunk of Miami's Omni neighborhood, which lies in Marc Sarnoff's district.

        Milam's Markets -- South Florida's Milam family gave a total of $12,000 to Sarnoff. They own grocery and liquor stores in Coconut Grove.

        Shahab Karmely -- The New York-based developer and founder of KAR Properties also gave $12,000 to Sarnoff through bundled contributions. Shahab has dropped more than $100 million on land throughout Miami.

        Other significant Sarnoff donors include developer Terra Group, which gave $6,000; restaurateur Steve Perricone, who gave $5,000; Florida East Coast Realty's Hollo family, who gave $5,000; and the Sarnoff-affiliated law firm Solowsky & Allen, which gave $4,000

        All American Containers -- The Miami-based shipping company and its leaders gave $9,000 to Grace Solares' campaign. The company is owned by Remedios Diaz-Oliver, a nationally prominent and politically connected businesswoman who in the 90s pleaded guilty, along with her husband, Fausto, in a federal tax evasion case.

        Gus Machado -- The Cuban-born car dealer gave Solares $5,000 through his dealerships.

        Aabad Melwani -- The man who holds the lease to the Rickenbacker Marina -- for now -- gave Grace Solares $4,000 through various accounts. He previously donated $3,000 to her campaign. Melwani has been locked in a lawsuit with the city of Miami for 18 months over issues pertaining to its lease and an upcoming bid solicitation by the city for its marina space.

        Stephen Kneapler -- The conntected former owner of Monty's Raw Bar and his wife gave Solares $4,000. Kneapler and Commissioner Marc Sarnoff have sparred publicly.

Republicans, Democrats already jostling over FL-26


Miami's perennial swing congressional district is in the sights of both political parties, 21 months before U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo -- who was elected for the first time three months ago -- faces reelection.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has included Florida's 26th district, which extends from Westchester to Key West, on its list of "One-Term Wonders" (so is Tampa-area Republican Rep. David Jolly). The party has created a website listing 15 GOP freshmen, including Curbelo, Democrats intend to target next year, when a presidential electorate tends to bring more liberal-leaning voters to the polls. Curbelo hasn't drawn an opponent yet.

But that has mattered little to the National Republican Congressional Committee, which last month jumped at the chance to poke Annette Taddeo, the former Florida lieutenant governor candidate who was spotted meeting with DCCC recruiters in Washington D.C. "Back to the Future IV," the party called it.

Taddeo told the Miami Herald on Wednesday that she's still in "very serious conversations" with the DCCC.

"Haven't made a decision yet," she said. "I can tell you I'm not running for [Miami-Dade County] mayor."

Taddeo said she will be back in D.C. next week for a Democratic National Committee event.

Donald Trump boosts profile in Miami-Dade politics


Update: Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced Wednesday he would recuse himself from administration talks with Donald Trump on taking over the Crandon golf course. Read the memo by clicking here: Mayor's memo]

Miami-Dade County may have a new political heavyweight: Donald Trump.

The billionaire developer, TV star and local hotelier suddenly looms large in Miami-Dade government. On Tuesday, the first 2016 campaign report for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez had Trump contributing a $15,000 check, making him one of the Republican's biggest new supporters. That same day, news broke that Trump's staff was in talks with the Gimenez administration to take over the county's Crandon Park golf course, one of the best in South Florida. Trump would manage the public course in exchange for spending $10 million on improvements.

Trump already has a large business presence in Miami-Dade, and has pursued county land in the past.

Trump sold his name to condo and hotel projects throughout South Florida. In 2012, he bought one of the county's largest hotels, the Doral Golf Resort, and folded it under the Trump brand after an extensive renovation. The mayor's son, Carlos Gimenez Jr. is Trump's registered lobbyist in Doral, representing the mogul related to the pro golf tournament held each year at the resort's Blue Monster golf course and for Trump's Miss Universe Pageant. (County records don't show any lobbyists registered for Trump for Miami-Dade matters.)

Also in 2012,  the star of NBC's The Apprentice  was pursuing a movie studio on county land next to the Homestead air base. That idea for the Trump World Studio was championed by Gimenez challenger Joe Martinez in the 2012 mayoral race. It never advanced beyond the proposal stage. 

Trump's name didn't pop up as a contributor the 2014 election cycle for the County Commission, when four incumbents faced challengers. He also wasn't on the list of Gimenez donors from his 2011 or 2012 campaigns for mayor. 

But Trump seems ready to cast himself as a player in Miami-Dade government. Trump representative Ed Russo suggested there was altruism in the mogul's pursuit of the county-owned Crandon, a lush, waterfront course in the middle of one of South Florida's ritziest neighborhoods.

"It's one of those legacy things he wants to leave for MIami-Dade County," Russo said. "I'm not sure how Mr. Trump plans to ever make his investment back. But it's something he feels strongly about. He loves Miami-Dade and he loves South Florida."  

February 10, 2015

Carlos Gimenez posts impressive $500K fund-raising total for January


The Carlos Gimenez raised big bucks from large donors in January, reporting a $502,000 haul Tuesday for the Miami-Dade mayor's first month fund-raising for his 2016 reelection effort.

Finance chair Ralph Garcia-Toledo said the mayor has been making fund-raising calls himself, away from County Hall to comply with rules separating political actions from campaign activities. "He makes them from an undisclosed location," Garcia-Toledo said. 

Among the notables on the donor list for Gimenez's political action committee: Donald Trump, who gave $15,000. News also broke Tuesday that Trump is pursuing a management contract for Miami-Dade's Crandon golf course, one of the most popular in South Florida. 

Read the fund-raising story here. And the Trump story here

Did Jeb Bush's emails release Floridians' sensitive information?

via @learyreports

A blog called the Verge today had a report with a sexy headline: "Jeb Bush just dumped emails, home addresses, and social security numbers of Florida residents online." And under that it read: "Florida man strikes again."

It noted that Jeb Bush's massive email dump, made available on a website Tuesday, contained sensitive material, and cited a couple examples, with the implication Bush recklessly released the info.

That's not quite true. In May 2014, a lawyer for Bush, Raquel Rodriguez, wrote a letter to the state explicitly asking that the state, which bears the burden, redact any information first.

"We hope these emails will be available permanently to the public, provided the records are first reviewed by state officials in accordance with Florida Statute to ensure information exempt from public disclosure is redacted before release, including social security numbers of Florida citizens who contacted Governor Bush for assistance; personal identifying information related to victims of crime or abuse; confidential law enforcement intelligence; and other information made confidential or exempt by applicable law."

Others who riffed on the Verge report suggested the mere disclosure of email addresses was a sin. Anyone who emailed Bush (or Charlie Crist or Rick Scott) is creating a public record.

Bush got beat to his own email. Weeks ago, the liberal American Bridge and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting made the emails available online. News organizations includng the Tampa Bay Times, combed through them, some publishing the email addresses and names of people who wrote to Bush.

Does Bush bear some responsibility?

Wrote the Verge: "At minimum, it shows a serious ignorance of the volume of sensitive information in the records and a carelessness about their disclosure — not a good look for someone who called himself the first 'eGovernor,' let alone a man who may want to sit in the White House."

Bush spokesman Kristy Campbell tells the Times that two emails flagged by Verge were redacted, and the Bush camp is looking for others.

Sidenote: Rodriguez' May 2014 letter is a strong sign of how early Bush was planning what looks like a presidential run.

Uber, Lyft sued in Miami federal court


Paralyzed by how to regulate Uber and Lyft, Miami-Dade County has for more than half a year essentially allowed the illegal ride-for-hire services to exist — under the continued threat of fines and car impoundings — while politicians figure out their next move.

Three taxicab companies and four chauffeur-permit owners have taken matters into their own hands and sued Lyft and Uber, asking a Miami federal court to prohibit the ride-for-hire companies from operating and force them to pay damages for hurting their business.

“We believe in the free-market system. We believe in competition,” said Ralph Patino, the attorney who filed the class-action lawsuit late last month, said at a news conference Tuesday. But, he added: “They have to abide by laws just like all of us.”

In separate statements, competitors Uber and Lyft said they would fight in court, as they have when they have been sued across the globe for similar reasons. A Lyft spokesman called the complaint “without merit.”

Lyft and Uber let passengers hail rides using their cellphones, from independent drivers using their own cars. Cabbies and limo chauffeurs must obtain, among other things, permits and car inspections from the county. Taxi drivers must also own or, more commonly, lease, a medallion — a coveted permit that, up to now, has been worth hundreds of thousands of dollars because there’s a fixed number of them.

More here.