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May 13, 2016

White House praises Marco Rubio on Zika


From White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest's briefing with reporters Friday:

QUESTION: ... yesterday. And on Zika -- I know you mentioned that the funding is not that -- on the current legislation that's making its way through right now.
Does the president expect to pass these pieces of legislation if they reach his desk? And are you championing about the effort by the Florida Senators Rubio and Nelson to give -- fully fund at $1.9 billion?
EARNEST: Yeah. Well, we certainly welcome the bipartisan support that our Zika proposal has received, including from Senator Rubio.
I think this reflects the degree to which, for all of our policy differences with Senator Rubio, when it comes to looking out for the public health and well being of the American people, there shouldn't be a partisan difference.
And I think Senator Rubio and Senator Nelson both understand the consequences for mothers and babies in Florida, of not doing everything possible to fight Zika.

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The Miamians on the White House state dinner guest list


President Obama will host a state dinner Friday for Nordic countries, and South Florida's represented on the guest list.

Per the White House, the invitees include:

Dr. Eduardo Padron, President, Miami Dade College & Chair, White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for Hispanics (with Mr. Camilo Padron)

Mrs. Tracy Mourning, Founder & Board Member, Mourning Family Foundation (with Mr. Alonzo Mourning, III)

Ms. Adrienne Arsht, Founding Chairman, Foundation for the Adrienne Arsht Performing Arts Center (with Mr. Anthony Podesta)

Mr. Marcelo Claure, President & Chief Executive Officer, Sprint Corporation (with Ms. Jordan Claure)

Mr. Andrew Jay Weinstein, Founder, The Weinstein Law Firm (with Mrs. Anne Weinstein)

What 3 U.S. Senate candidates say on the campaign trail about transgender rights


Transgender-bathroom access has entered the political mainstream of 2016.

First, North Carolina passed a law requiring people to use restrooms based on the sex in their birth certificate. The U.S. Justice Department called it discriminatory. The state sued the feds. The feds sued the state.

Then, the Obama administration directed public schools to allow transgender students to use restroom facilities corresponding to their gender identity.

What this means: Candidates on the November ballot are getting questions about transgender rights. And not just presidential candidates.

At least three Republicans running for U.S. Senate in Florida have been asked about the issue on the trail, with people present recording their answers.

Here's Carlos Beruff of Sarasota telling the Brevard County Republican Party earlier this week that boys should go to boys' restrooms and girls should go to girls' restrooms. "Call me discriminatory or something," he said, dismissing the topic as less important than others facing the country. (The video, apparently shot surreptitiously, is sideways.)


Here's Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami telling a Charlotte County radio show that the Obama administration's actions regarding South Carolina are "just an example of how Obama and his administration have truly eroded everything that made this country unique and special in the world."


And here's Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach at an Orlando town hall Saturday, who tied the issue to concerns about big government:

"That same government that habitually fails at its core functions thinks that it should set the elementary school bathroom policies for all of our local schools. They need to butt out of local issues and focus on the things that are of national concern that the federal government is supposed to do. Then they would actually have a chance to maybe get some of this stuff right."

Listen to the audio: 

DeSantis audio

This post has been updated, including its headline, to include DeSantis.

Carlos Beruff supports term limits but draws ire from pro-limit group still


Republican U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Beruff has already said he would only serve a maximum of two 6-year terms if he were to win the seat this year. But that is not good enough for a national group advocating term limits for members of Congress.

U.S. Term Limits officials confronted Beruff at a speech in Brevard County on Wednesday night and asked him to sign their pledge to co-sponsor and vote for a bill to bar Senators from serving more than two 6-year terms and House member from serving more than three 2-year terms.

Beruff refused. He told U.S. Term Limits executive director Nick Tomboulides that he supports the Senate limits, but thinks House members should get at least 10 years.

“I don’t think six years is quite enough,” Beruff said.

Tomboulides responded saying founding fathers like Benjamin Franklin proposed 3 years. But Beruff didn’t budge. That had Tomboulides on Thursday sending out a blast email to the group’s supporters declaring that Beruff “punts on term limits pledge.”

“I twice asked Beruff to sign the U.S. Term Limits Pledge,” Tomboulides writes in the email. “He refused.”

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Impact of Pfizer decision to stop selling death penalty drugs unclear in Florida


If Florida again begins executions, the state may find itself in a tough situation.

Pharmaceutical company Pfizer on Friday announced it would no longer sell its drugs for use in executions, the New York Times reported. That, the Times wrote, means there are no remaining FDA-approved sources of lethal injection drugs in the country.

Yet it is unclear how Florida might be affected.

A series of three injections are used for executions in the death chamber at Florida State Prison: Midazolam hydrochloride, which sedates the inmate; vecuronium bromide, which paralyzes; and potassium chlloride, which stops the heart.

The source of those chemicals, however, is protected under state law. Asked Friday how Pfizer's decision may affect Florida, Department of Corrections spokesman McKinley Lewis could not confirm whether or not the state receives lethal injection drugs from the company.

"The Florida Department of Corrections does not disclose the identities of our drug suppliers," Lewis said, citing state laws that block the release of information identifying "any person prescribing, preparing, compounding, dispensing, or administering a lethal injection" or that "would jeopardize a person’s safety."

Pfizer was not immediately available for comment Friday afternoon.

Right now, executions are effectively on hold in Florida while the state Supreme Court decides how to implement the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Hurst vs. Florida. That decision threw out the state's death sentencing rules but did not make clear whether the 390 people currently on death row should still be executed.

Lawyers for some inmates have argued that those old cases should be converted to life sentences. In the meantime, the Florida Supreme Court already blocked two executions ordered by Gov. Rick Scott from going forward.

However, the sentencing rules have since been re-written by the state Legislature, and the state's first death sentences under the new law could be forthcoming.

If executions do resume, the state will need access to lethal injection drugs. All executions in Florida are done by lethal injection, unless an inmate requests the electric chair.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz challenger Tim Canova raises $1 million

Tim Canova says he has raised $1 million in his Democratic primary battle against U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a sign that she faces her first election battle in more than two decades for the South Florida seat.

Canova’s campaign announced hitting that milestone on Friday.

His campaign said that he had raised $1,017,632.57 since starting about four months ago. The average contribution was $18.55, and 98 percent were from donors who gave less than $200, according to his campaign.

“We are proud that our campaign is powered by average people like teachers, nurses, small business owners, union members, students, and seniors,” Canova said in a press release. “We truly are a grassroots movement that will restore a voice in our democracy to everyday people and demand accountability from our leaders.”

Wasserman Schultz remains ahead of Canova, a Nova Southeastern University law professor, in fundraising. She raised $1.8 million through March — her campaign won’t reveal how much she has raised since that time. Their next campaign reports are due to the Federal Election Commission July 15.

Canova’s surprisingly strong fundraising for a first-time candidate has forced Wasserman Schultz to campaign more in earnest than she has in past reelection cycles, when she easily swatted away long-shot Republican candidates in the liberal district that stretches from her Weston home into Miami-Dade.

Wasserman Schultz last faced a true election battle in 1992, when she ran in a Democratic primary for the state House and won. She easily won her first congressional race in 2004, facing only a Republican opponent. In 2011, President Barack Obama tapped her as Democratic National Committee chair.

More here.

Report: 'Dark money' groups in Florida have more than doubled since 2010

Dark Money GroupsPolitical groups that have formed new “dark money” organizations in Florida to shield political spending from public view include nursing home operators, marijuana promoters, Tea Party affiliates, former Congressman Allen West and a host of secretive groups, according to a new analysis from MapLight, a non-partisan research organization.

The Florida data, obtained by the Herald/Times, reveals that the number of tax-exempt political players has more than doubled, to 155 from 67, since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling on Citizens United. Together, these politically potent nonprofits raised more than $13 million in Florida from unidentified sources in their last reported tax year.

The numbers track the national trend that shows that 60 percent of all politically active social welfare organizations were created after the Citizens United ruling allowed corporations, labor unions, and individuals to shield their political spending by using the IRS’s 501(c)(4) tax code, the MapLight report found.

This undisclosed political spending is known as “dark money” and it has become an increasingly powerful force in state and national elections along with super PACs, because they can raise unlimited amounts of cash from corporations and wealthy individuals.

But, unlike super PACs, the nonprofit groups do not have to disclose their contributors or detail their political expenditures. A summary of the report is found on the website Dark Money Watch. 

To qualify for the exemption from disclosing political spending, the groups must certify that they are a nonprofit, operate with a social welfare purpose and vow not to spend more than 49 percent of their activity influencing voters. Since 1939, the IRS has granted tax-exempt status to 3,867 politically active nonprofits in the U.S., but 2,316 of them were formed in the six years following Citizens United, the MapLight analysis found.

“Dark money undermines our democracy by depriving voters the ability to know who's influencing their elected officials,” said Daniel G. Newman, president of MapLight who formed the nonprofit to track political spending. Story and top 10 list here. 

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Politico posts Seminole Tribe's financial details, so Tribe drops its attempt to seal deposition

After waiting three days and drawing a lawsuit from the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Politico of Florida on Friday published profit details from the transcript of Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen, prompting the Tribe to declare its request for an emergency hearing "moot." 

"Because the Court can no longer afford the Tribe meaningful relief, the Tribe hereby withdraws its Emergency Motion for Protective Order, and responds in opposition to POLITICO’s Motion to Intervene,'' wrote the Michael Moody on behalf of the tribe.  Download Tribe withdraws motion.

Politico, the online news site, obtained Allen's transcript on Tuesday as part of a public records request of depositions in the pending case before the U.S. District Court's Northern Florida division, but it chose not to write about the information or to make the document public.

On Wednesday, the tribe sought an emergency hearing to force Politico to seal a copy of a deposition given by Allen until it could redact the annual gaming revenue that was released by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation as part of a public records request. The tribe argued that the information was a trade secret and the state had informally agreed to withhold the information from the public record. 

Politico's lawyers, and Florida public records advocates, argued the tribe's request -- and the state's alleged consent -- was an unconstitutional prior restraint of a public document and Politico asked to intervene in the pending case. 

The tribe sued the State of Florida last October for allegedly breaching its gambling compact and for failing to negotiate in good faith. Allen was deposed as part of the lawsuit last month and, the tribe argues, the state agreed not to release the transcripts of any depositions without prior review from the tribe.

On Friday morning, Politico published a report quoting Allen saying that the tribe “generated $2.2 billion in gaming revenues” in 2014 and noted that Allen had previously been quoted as citing that revenue number in the past. 

Those revenue figures were consistent with the numbers used by state economists when assessing the impact of proposed gaming legislation last session and were consistent with projections from a Spectrum Gaming analysis sought by the Florida Legislature in 2013. 

The tribe's argued that the court should seal the document so that it can release a redacted copy of the transcript, arguing that it is a protected trade secret. 

Barbara Petersen, attorney and president for the First Amendment Foundation, told the Herald/Times there is no exemption in this case for a trade secret.

"The Seminole Tribe has no authority to assert a trade secrets exemption,'' she said. "It's a public record in the hands of DBPR."

"It's troubling when the state is willing to negotiate into private negotiations over the public's rights of access to information,'' said Mark R. Caramanica, lawyer for Politico in an interview with the Herald/Times. 


Joe Biden: 'What's the news' in saying I'd be the best president?


It's probably one of the most common questions Vice President Joe Biden gets from reporters lately: With how the presidential primary races have shaken out, is he at peace with not running for president this year?

The Democrat got that question again in Orlando on Thursday while speaking briefly with state and regional reporters, as he visited a soul-food restaurant and campaigned for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy.

Biden commented on recent headlines from national media, which were based on a remark Biden made earlier this week to "Good Morning America" co-host Robin Roberts. He told Roberts: "I would have been the best president."

"Why the hell would you run if you didn't think you're the best candidate? What's the news in that?" he said. "It doesn't mean that other candidates aren't really good, but it was the right decision for me and my family."

Emphasizing again that he has "no regrets," he said his decision to not run "had nothing to do with the other candidates. I really mean that."

When asked about Donald Trump specifically, Biden avoided an opportunity to openly criticize the GOP front-runner and, instead joked: "I have trouble figuring out the Democratic Party let alone the Republican Party."

Watch his full remarks above.

Candidates lining up for District 4 after Miami Commissioner says he'll run for mayor


Now that Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez has made clear he will run for mayor in 2017 -- a decision that if followed-through will eventually require him to resign from his commission seat -- look for more candidates to announce bids to become his successor in representing the city's fourth district.

On Friday, Monolo Reyes officially declared his interest in the District 4 seat. The announcement is hardly a surprise, given that Reyes kept his campaign account open following Suarez's aborted bid in 2013 to run for mayor. Reyes, a perennial commission candidate, ran against Suarez in 2009 and lost in a run-off election.

He joins Ralph Rosado as a candidate.

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