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April 06, 2017

GOP group misleads in calling school program 'Islamic indoctrination'



The Volusia County Republican Party says that the federal government is promoting Islam to public school children.

"The United States Department of Education has introduced an Islamic indoctrination program for the public schools, called ‘Access Islam,’" states the mass email sent by the party April 2.

The email said that classroom instructions have students learning "the core duties of Muslims" and "what it means to proclaim faith or belief as a Muslim."

"The Education Department offers no similar learning material for Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism or any other major world religion. Just Islam," the email said.

This claim earns a failing grade, though.

Access Islam is a real program for school teachers looking to offer lesson plans on the religion of Islam. But to say it’s part of an "indoctrination program" delivered from the federal government isn’t accurate.

Here’s your tutorial on the facts from PolitiFact Florida.

Florida voters support Medicaid expansion, survey finds


via @dchangmiami

As the White House and House Republicans continue to discuss plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, a new survey of more than 7,000 registered voters in eight states, including Florida, finds growing public support for the health law’s Medicaid expansion option.

In four states that didn’t expand Medicaid — Florida, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia — more than six in 10 voters said they’d like their states to provide the extra coverage, according to the study conducted by the University of Marylandbetween November and January. Voters in the states that had expanded Medicaid — California, Maryland, New York and Ohio — also said they favored the measure.

In Florida, 67 percent of all voters surveyed favored Medicaid expansion compared to 64 percent nationally.

Keep reading here.

Question on Jeopardy about PolitiFact


via @amyhollyfield

On Wednesday night, the immensely popular game show Jeopardy featured a question about PolitiFact, the Tampa Bay Times' award-winning fact-checking website. The $1,000 question came up in the Double Jeopardy round. Category: TV Talk.

"The website politifact has a page called THISfact to check the experts who come on political talk shows."

Returning champion Abigail Myers, an education administrator from Brooklyn, N.Y., did not hestiate with the correct answer: "What is PunditFact?" "Yes," Alex Trebek responded.

PunditFact is dedicated to checking the accuracy of claims by pundits, columnists, bloggers, political analysts, the hosts and guests of talk shows, and other members of the media.

Watch the fun in real time, about 7 minutes into this video.

The Miami Herald is a partner in PolitiFact Florida.

Michelle Obama to speak in Orlando


via @rontimes

Former first lady Michelle Obama is scheduled to speak at a conference in Orlando later this month.

Mrs. Obama will have a “conversation” at a conference sponsored by the American Institute of Architects. A website for the group says Mrs. Obama will appear on April 27 at the Orange County Convention Center. No other details about the appearance was included on the site. The speech was first reported by the Washington Examiner.

The website says, “Michelle Robinson Obama served as First Lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017, transforming the position and becoming a role model, champion, and inspiration for women, families, and young people across America and around the world.”

Since leaving the White House on Jan. 20, Mrs. Obama and her husband, former President Barack Obama, have moved into a home in the Kalorama neighborhood in Washington. They have largely been out of the public eye. 

AP photo by Carolyn Kaster

Jeb Bush among those in mix to buy Marlins, report says


George W. Bush owned the Texas Rangers before he ever became U.S. president. Now his brother, Jeb, could be stepping up to the plate to buy his own Major League team — the Marlins.

He’s not the only one.

Retired New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is also showing interest in the club, according to Fox Business Network.

Marlins officials would neither confirm nor deny the reports.

“I have no comment,” said Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, who is in Washington to watch his team.

The former Florida governor expressed interest in ownership of the Marlins in 2013. But that was before team officials announced the franchise was for sale.

Keep reading here.

House approves "Stand Your Ground" shift, but it's different than the Senate

Momsdemand 040517


Criminal defendants in Florida who are charged with a wide array of violent acts — including murder, assault and domestic violence — could soon have an easier go at claiming they were justified to act in self-defense, legally stood their ground and don’t deserve to be prosecuted.

After failing to pass a single committee in the House last session, a controversial NRA-backed proposal that would shift the burden of proof to prosecutors during pretrial hearings for “Stand Your Ground” cases is on the verge of becoming law this spring.

Despite vehement objections from state attorneys, gun-control advocates and the entire Democratic caucus, the Republican-led Florida House on Wednesday passed SB 128 — on a 74-39 party-line vote — after representatives made changes from the version the Senate approved last month.

Floor debate lasted for nearly 90 minutes, as several Democrats spoke at length to warn of increased violence and other “irreversible and even deadly” consequences they say the legislation will cause.

“Flipping the burden of proof will do nothing more than increase the carnage that has been inflicted on our communities,” Fort Lauderdale Democratic Rep. Bobby DuBose said.

Full story here.

Photo credit: More than a dozen volunteers with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America watch state House members debate proposed changes to Florida’s “stand your ground” law on April 5, 2017. The gun-control advocacy group opposes the legislation, SB 128. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times

Diverging from Senate, House passes narrower plan for religious expression in school



Lawmakers on either side of the Florida Capitol have different ideas on to what extent they should secure students’ and teachers’ rights to express religious beliefs in public schools — forcing the need for compromise before the Legislature can send a proposed law to the governor for his approval this spring.

A plan the Florida House approved Wednesday by a 114-3 vote fortifies basic rights to religious expression that are protected by the state and U.S. Constitutions. The Senate two weeks ago endorsed language that does that, too, but that also goes much further — by also requiring schools to give students a “limited public forum” to pray and otherwise express their beliefs at school assemblies and other school-sanctioned events.

The two proposals were originally identical, but a House committee quickly scaled back that chamber’s version to eliminate the more controversial elements that remain in the Senate-approved bill.

The House vote sends SB 436 back to the Senate — where senators can either make further changes or agree to the House language, which would then send the bill to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk to be signed into law. Senators could potentially take it up as early as Thursday, but it’s more likely to happen next week.

Full story here.

Photo credit: The Florida House. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

April 05, 2017

Senate advances Negron's water bill; Latvala says now Corcoran has 'a chance to deliver on his promises'

Latvala and BradleyAfter brokering and winning preliminary approval for a delicately-crafted compromise to alleviate the need to discharge polluted water from Lake Okeechobee, Sen. Jack Latvala on Wednesday directed his fire on sugar interests and the House. 

Although the sugar industry has not stated its direct objections, "they're not 100 percent on this," Latvala, R-Clearwater, told reporters Wednesday after the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the compromise language in SB 10.

"It's like Waca-mole,'' he told reporters. "It's a new issue every day, a new complaint, a new defense every day. They just really don't want to do anything differently."

The plan to alleviate the need to discharge polluted water from Lake Okeechobee by storing and treating more water to flow into the Florida Everglades and, ultimately to Florida Bay, won bi-partisan approval and drew three no votes. So will sugar mount the opposition to this in the House, Latvala was asked.

"We've got a House speaker who has made a big deal out of crushing special interests, reducing the influence of special interests in this process here,'' Latvala answered. "Now we have a chance to deliver on his promises."

U.S. Sugar officials have complained that the deadlines in the bill interfere with the schedule already set up between the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for Everglades restoration projects but Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, the author of the bill, said the Integrated Delivery Schedule is flexible.

That "is yet another excuse to not move forward with something that everyone agrees has to happen, which is additional storage," he said Wednesday.

He said the Corps and others have testified that the IDS "is not something that came from the mountaintop with Moses, on stone, it is a flexible document that is a reflection of political and financial realities, not just science.

"What the state is saying, what the Senate is saying, is we now have the financial and political will to get this done. The schedule should adopt to this reality and that is the new reality."

Photo: Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island

Here's what the bill does, according to the Senate press release: 

Continue reading "Senate advances Negron's water bill; Latvala says now Corcoran has 'a chance to deliver on his promises'" »

FPL drafted portions of bill that puts tough requirements on rooftop solar companies

Solar panelsThe parent company of Florida’s largest utility was so intent on influencing the implementation of a constitutional amendment expanding solar installation in Florida, it drafted legislation designed to create new requirements for homeowners and businesses that install rooftop solar and sent it to the legislator who was authoring the language.

The proposal, HB 1351 by Rep. Ray Rodrigues, which was passed Wednesday by the House Ways and Means Committee, contains sections that include verbatim language supplied by NextEra Energy, the parent company of Florida Power & Light.

The bill is intended to implement Amendment 4, the proposal approved by 73 percent of the voters on the August primary ballot, which prohibits tax assessors from increasing the taxable value of a home or business because of a solar installation. But, unlike a similar bill in the Senate, Rodrigues is using the bill to implement the amendment to also impose disclosure and paperwork requirements for companies that finance and install solar energy products on homes and businesses.

Florida’s utilities have largely remained silent on Amendment 4 but documents from the industry’s trade organization, the Edison Electric Institute, show it has conducted a nationwide campaign to raise concerns about the rooftop solar industry, including letters to Congress and state officials.

Florida’s utility industry worked unsuccessfully to pass Amendment 1 on the November ballot, which would have allowed regulators to impose fees and barriers to rooftop solar installation. Story here. 

On Jan. 18, Rodrigues accepted a $15,000 contribution to his political committee from Florida Power & Light, and $2,000 from Tampa Electric. Five days later, on Jan. 23, he sent an email asking a lawyer in the House bill drafting office to analyze NextEra’s proposal and compare it to the Arizona bill he was considering using as a model for his “consumer protection language.”

“I received the following document as a suggestion on the consumer disclosure for the Solar Amendment. Can you compare this to the Arizona bill that we sent and let me know the differences?” he wrote to staff attorney Yvonne Gsteiger.

Gsteiger responded that the NextEra draft “establishes extensive requirements before a solar electric equipment [SEE] can be installed. This could be a huge barrier to selling SEEs.”

On Feb. 24, Rodrigues filed his original bill primarily modeled after an Arizona law that was pushed by the utility industry in that state. He said the consumer safeguards are needed to protect against “bad actors” in the solar industry.

On March 21, when his bill came up for its first hearing before the House Energy & Utilities Subcommittee, Rodrigues filed an amendment that included NextEra’s language verbatim in eight different sections.  Download RE_ Feedback on Consumer Disclosure for Solar A... (1) Download Chapter 501 Electricity Consumers Solar Energ (1)


This wasn’t the first time FPL or its parent company provided documents to legislators advancing positions the company supported.

Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, acknowledged Tuesday that he received “talking points” he used when he presented his bill to senators. The bill, SB 1248, would overturn a Florida Supreme Court ruling last year that said that Florida regulators exceeded their authority when they allowed FPL to become the first utility in the nation to be allowed to charge its customers, not its shareholders, for speculative investment in fracking operations.

The Word document, titled “Gas Reserves Talking Points” and obtained by the Energy and Policy Institute, was sent to Bean’s personal email address by FPL lobbyist John Holley on Feb. 28. The document was authored by FPL’s Vice President of State Legislative Affairs Daniel Martell. Download Gas Reserves Talking Points V5 saf  Download FW FWD Gas Reserves Talking Points V5 saf docx

“Here you go. I would love to catch up if you have any questions, comments, concerns,” Holley wrote. “Thank you so much Aaron!!”

The two pages of talking points defend FPL’s “innovative approach” to natural gas exploration as a hedge against price spikes, how the practice of drilling for gas “removes the middle man,” and how “the proposed legislation will allow customers to reap the economic and price stability benefit of a robust gas production market.”

Bean said Tuesday he was asked to sponsor the bill by Senate “leadership” but declined to identify the senator, he said, at the senator’s request. He defended the practice of accepting talking points from lobbyists.

“It happens all the time. We get information from lobbyists every day,” he said. “It’s not unusual for a lobbyist to send talking points.” Read more here.

Behind the scenes, Rubio and others try to push Trump White House on Cuba

via @ngameztorres

Two months after the Trump administration announced a total review of U.S. policy toward Cuba, several controversial proposals are being circulated at the White House with no clear front-runner on the issue.

But Sen. Marco Rubio says he has spoken with President Donald Trump three times about Cuba.

“We’ve been walking through all these issues with the president and his team, figuring out the right steps to take and when,” Rubio told el Nuevo Herald.

“I am confident that President Trump will treat Cuba like the dictatorship it is and that our policy going forward will reflect the fact that it is not in the national interest of the United States for us to be doing business with the Cuban military,” he added.

The Miami Republican of Cuban descent declined to say whether the president had made any commitments to him on Cuba policies. But a Rubio spokesman told el Nuevo Herald that the senator and his staff “have been working behind the scenes” on Cuba policy.

The Cuban government has taken notice of Rubio's rising voice in U.S. policy toward Latin America, and the state-run Granma newspaper recently criticized his efforts to have the Organization of American States condemn Venezuela's human rights record.

But the Granma article carefully avoided insulting Trump. And the Raúl Castro government, in a rare show of restraint, has said little about the Trump administration as it waits for the ongoing review of overall U.S. policies toward the island.

Spokespersons for the White House and the State Department have said that the National Security Council (NSC) has the lead in the multi-agency review. Several knowledgeable sources have said that Jill St. John, a low-level NSC staffer, is coordinating the work. The White House did not immediately reply to el Nuevo Herald questions about St. John.

More here.

Photo credit: Rainier Ehrhardt, Associated Press