Note: This blog's templates will be updated this afternoon to a responsive design bringing it in line with MiamiHerald.com.

At that time, we will also change to the Facebook commenting system. You will need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment.

May 08, 2015

Democrat Martin O'Malley makes Miami pit stop for private fundraiser

@PatriciaMazzei

Martin O’Malley, a relative unknown in the 2016 Democratic presidential race, will likely remain that way for a while — by his own choosing.

O’Malley, the former Maryland governor who wants to mount an underdog challenge to juggernaut candidate Hillary Clinton, spent Friday morning in blue, voter-rich Miami — not with average voters, but at a private fundraiser.

He met behind closed doors at Perricone’s Marketplace & Café in Brickell with a robust crowd of suits assembled by former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, a 2008 Clinton supporter who now backs O’Malley, his friend from when O’Malley was Baltimore mayor.

O'Malley posed for photographs and made his pitch about bringing executive experience and urban agenda to the White House if he runs, according to several people in attendance. A Miami Herald reporter who showed up and was initially let into the fundraiser was kicked out before O'Malley's remarks. His campaign said he would not hold any public events or media interviews while in South Florida, though he has been accessible to reporters so far during his unofficial campaign.

Attendees described O'Malley as forceful, optimistic and eager to "stay in touch" with them. He asked people to raise their hands if they were better off than their parents. Most did. When he asked again if their children would be better off than them, most didn't.

O'Malley emphasized increasing wages, closing the inequality gap and revitalizing cities. He was "careful," however, when addressing the recent unrest in Baltimore, one attendee said. Another said O'Malley "distanced" himself from the riots that erupted after the death of Freddie Gray under police custody.

O'Malley has defended his tenure as mayor, which included enforcing "zero-tolerance" policies that lowered city crime but, critics say, fueled distrust between communities and the police. On Friday, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced a wide-ranging investigation into Baltimore's police department.

At one point Friday, O'Malley noted that Perricone's was struggling for business before downtown Miami's boom -- a compliment to Diaz, who was mayor at the time but faced criticism about over-development when he left office and the real-estate market went belly-up.

The breakfast was attended by a cadre of moderates-to-liberals from Miami's civic elite. Several people conceded they showed up more for Diaz than for O'Malley but said they left "intrigued" about how O'Malley would play against Clinton. Diaz had billed the event as a meet-and-greet rather than one requiring a political contribution to O'Malley's political action committee.

Here's a photo of the event posted to Twitter by radio-show host Fred Menachem and provided to the Herald as a courtesy. From left to right, the photo shows Menachem, O'Malley, Diaz and Menachem co-host Julio Avael.

20150508_085908

Police camera advocates to push for state funding in 2016

In the wake of nationwide protests over police violence in the past year — most recently in Baltimore — some lawmakers set out this session with the goal of increasing the number of Florida police officers wearing body cameras.

The fruits of their labor: A bill passed by the House and Senate will make some videos captured on camera exempt from public disclosure.

It’s a move some body camera supporters say will encourage more Florida police departments and sheriff’s offices to implement the technology, widely embraced by law enforcement agencies and their critics as a way to introduce more accountability and solid evidence. Open-government advocates aren’t convinced, saying all body camera video should be easily accessible to members of the public and press.

Still, the larger agenda for people like Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, is to put a camera on every officer in the state. Several agencies, including the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and Tampa Police Department have already started using cameras.

To get every officer wearing a camera will take time.

Jones’ attempt this year to equip every agency with cameras fell flat fast as lawmakers instead opted for language requiring that local agencies choosing to implement cameras set up clear policies for privacy, data retention and when the cameras should be worn and turned on. That bill passed the House unanimously but was never taken up by senators.

So Jones has started looking to next spring’s session, when he hopes to find a way for more police officers to wear the cameras, even if Florida can’t afford to equip every agency in the state.

“I would want to look at whether or not the state would entertain maybe allowing agencies to apply for some type of grant funding,” he said.

Police departments across the state have expressed interest in trying out the cameras, Jones said, but many want the state to help them fund pilot programs.

“I want to see what’s the possibility of letting some of  the agencies try it out,” he said. “I think it’s worth a shot."

Miami-Dade judge who told store owner 'Go f--- yourself' agrees to stiffer sanction

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami-Dade County Judge Jacqueline Schwartz has accepted a 30-day unpaid suspension and $10,000 fine as part of her punishment for cussing out a Coconut Grove convenience store owner last year.

Schwartz had earlier acquiesced to a public reprimand and apology letter, but the Florida Supreme Court opined last week she deserved a harsher sanction. The judge had told the Kwik Stop owner "Go f--- yourself" in a campaign sign dispute. She was also found to have interfered with a case file by writing notes on the margin that were only available to one of the parties to the lawsuit.

Schwartz's attorney had indicated after the state high court's ruling that she would follow the justices' recommendation.

Hillary Clinton's claim about GOPers and pathway to citizenship

During a visit to a school in Nevada, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton positioned herself as an uncompromising advocate for immigration -- and in the process, she took a shot at the Republican presidential field for not joining her.

"This is where I differ with everybody on the Republican side," Clinton said during the May 5, 2015, event. "Make no mistake: Not a single Republican candidate, announced or potential, is clearly and consistently supporting a path to citizenship. Not one. When they talk about legal status, that is code for second-class status."

We wondered whether Clinton was correct. So we took a look closer look at where the GOP field stands on the issue including former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

See what Louis Jacobson of PolitiFact found.

May 07, 2015

Mickey, meet the Senate Democrats

SV Disney Event Reminder(1)
In the lead-up to a special session with the budget on the table, Senate Democrats will head to Disney World to court donors.

The annual trip to Disney is May 15-17 and gives ample opportunities for influence peddlers to have face time with members of the caucus. In an email to donors, Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, said 12 of the 14 members would be in attendance.

And the Florida Democratic Party will bring in contributions before senators come back to Tallahassee to settle the budget.

Jeb Bush says poverty rate higher now than in the 1970s

When asked about the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who died following an April 12 arrest in Baltimore, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush turned the subject to poverty.

"We need as a nation to have a conversation about why is it we are creating these big pockets of poverty where people are completely dependent, they can’t live a life of independence," Bush told reporters at the North Carolina GOP headquarters May 1. "And have a meaningful discussion about it -- not saying we need more money. We've had a war on poverty since the 1960s where we've spent trillions of dollars, and there are more poor people today as a percentage of our population than the 1970s."

Are there more poor people today as a percentage of our population than the 1970s? By the official measure, yes, but experts also rely on a different calculation that changes the results. 

Turn to PolitiFact Florida to read our fact-check.

Gov. Rick Scott seeks immediate action in healthcare lawsuit

ScottGov. Rick Scott took another jab at the Obama Administration Thursday, asking the court to take immediate action in his lawsuit against federal healthcare officials.

The lawsuit, filed last week in federal court, alleges that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is trying to coerce Florida into expanding Medicaid by threatening to end a $2.2 billion program that helps hospitals pay for uncompensated care.

The Republican governor now wants a court-ordered injunction to stop federal health officials from tying the two programs.

"Unless this unconstitutional coercion is redressed, it will have immediate and devastating consequences for Florida, its healthcare providers, and its residents," Scott's attorneys wrote Thursday.

HHS has long maintained that Medicaid expansion is a state decision.

The agency says it is willing to work with Florida to address uncompensated care, regardless of the state's Medicaid expansion status. But top federal health officials have also said they want Florida to expand health insurance coverage, which would reduce the need for the so-called Low Income Pool, or LIP.

Florida has yet to learn if LIP will be renewed next year. The program is scheduled to end on June 30 unless the federal government approves a proposed successor program.

If no deal is reached, Jackson Health System in Miami and Tampa General could face $200 million and $86 million in cuts, respectively.

Scott made an appeal for the money to HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell on Wednesday, but left Washington empty handed. The agency later published a statement saying the Florida proposal fell short of the federal guidelines for funding uncompensated care pools, and that Florida seemed to be asking for too much money.

WMUR poll: Jeb Bush ahead in New Hampshire

@PatriciaMazzei

Another day, another poll in the early days of the 2016 presidential campaign. This one is good for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who according to the survey is ahead of the Republican pack in New Hampshire, which holds the first primary.

The WMUR Granite State poll shows Bush drawing 15 percent of likely GOP primary voters who responded to the poll, followed by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio at 12 percent, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at 11 percent and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul at 10 percent. The survey's error margin is 3.7 percentage points, which means the crowded candidate field remains tight.

"Bush, Rubio, Walker, and Paul seem to be separating themselves slightly from the rest of the field but this is likely due to press attention rather than any real campaign work," said Andrew Smith, Director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

Sixty percent of respondents hold a favorable opinion of Rubio, the best-liked candidate so far. That number is 51 percent for Paul and 50 percent for Walker. On the flip side, 34 percent have an unfavorable opinion of Bush.

Not much outside pressure to expand special session beyond budget

Special interest groups whose issues weren’t resolved before the Legislature’s regular session ended abruptly they’ll secure a spot on the agenda for the June special session. 

The budget will be the focus of the session scheduled for June 1-20, but House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner can agree to put any legislation they want on the table. That could include any number of issues left unresolved in the regular session.

Yet with the budget up in the air and a major rift between the House and Senate over health care funding, many groups aren’t pushing to put legislation they support into the proclamation that will set the parameters for a session.

“Nothing significant on energy policy is going to happen in the Florida Legislature because of the influence of the utilities,” said Susan Glickman, Florida director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “We wouldn’t be pushing something in the special session.”

The National Rifle Association is looking to next year to renew its push to allow concealed weapons to be carried on college campuses.

Advocates for low-THC cannabis are hopeful they can garner attention during a special session but are relying on their supporters within the Legislature, not trying to drum up public outcry.

“We’re relying on the advocates that have been advocates for this all along,” said Ryan Wiggins, a communications consultant who’s been involved in pushing legislation to speed up the legalization of the drug, called Charlotte's Web. “For the most part it’s up to the discretion of the speaker and the president.”

But staff for Gardiner say leadership hasn’t had any requests for legislation other than the budget to be on the agenda.

“The president hasn’t received any official correspondence asking for specific bills to be added to the call,” said Gardiner spokeswoman Katie Betta.