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February 08, 2017

Trump wants cops to turn over 'bad' undocumented immigrants

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President Donald Trump said Wednesday he wants local cops to do exactly what Miami-Dade County police say they would like to avoid: work much more closely with federal immigration authorities.

Speaking to a conference of police chiefs in Washington, Trump urged cops to turn over “bad” immigrants who are in the country illegally to the Department of Homeland Security. That’s home to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which oversees deportations.

Trump told police they could tell Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly — the former head of the U.S. Southern Command in Doral — “who the illegal immigrant gang members are.”

“You know the illegals. You know them by their first name. You know them by their nicknames,” Trump said. “You’re in the neighborhoods: You know the bad ones, you know the good ones. I want you to turn in the bad ones.”

Miami-Dade police have no qualms about alerting immigration to violent criminals they have arrested. But the definition of “bad” is hazy, and local cops still have lingering questions over how far the administration may push them to cooperate.

“It’s clear that they haven’t established any policies yet,” said Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Pérez, who attended the Major Cities Chiefs Association and Major County Sheriff’s Association conference where Trump spoke. “It’s still too soon.”

More here.

Photo credit: Evan Vucci, Associated Press

Florida declines to send infrastructure wish-list to Trump administration


Forty-nine states and U.S. territories submitted a wish list of road, transportation and pipe projects to the Trump administration Wednesday. One of the few holdouts? Florida.

The National Governors Association said it sent governors' list of 428 "shovel-ready" infrastructure projects to the Executive Office of the President and the White House National Trade Council. The submission, which the NGA says it won't make public, comes after the administration asked for help after offering its own list of projects to the association. Some projects on that initial list, such as the I-395 highway interchange in Miami, had already been funded. The initial list was compiled by a consultant.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott didn't contribute to the NGA's additions. Spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said Wednesday that, instead, Scott "will be working directly with the administration."

McClatchy Washington correspondent Lindsay Wise contributed.

Will $100 million for citrus tree compensation be the biggest member-project ask?

Canker 1997Florida homeowners who lost their beloved citrus trees to the failed canker eradication program 17 years ago could be compensated this year under a $100 million budget request being filed this week by a Miami lawmaker.

Rep. Jose Felix Diaz wants the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) to make good on four court rulings ordering the state to pay more than 114,000 homeowners in Broward, Palm Beach, Lee and Orange counties whose citrus trees were cut down between 2000 and 2006 to curb the spread of citrus canker.

State agriculture inspectors deployed crews with chainsaws to chop down 577,253 orange, grapefruit and key lime trees throughout the state — even if the trees showed no signs of infection.

Outraged property owners representing counties with 94 percent of the lost trees joined five class action lawsuits to seek compensation. In four of the cases, the court ordered the state to pay more than $100 million in judgments, attorneys fees and interest. The fifth case, involving Miami-Dade residents who lost 40 percent of the healthy trees removed in Florida, is still pending.

The budget request filed by Diaz — and a similar one expected to be filed in the Senate by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami — is likely the largest member project to be filed this session in the House. Under new House rules, every budget request made by individual members must be filed and voted on as a separate bill.

Diaz, who chairs the powerful House Commerce Committee, said it is time the state compensate Floridians “whose property was illegally taken through no fault of their own.”

“Anyone who was in Florida for the citrus canker scare knows of someone who had their property taken away and who never received a dime for it,” he told the Herald/Times. “There are tens of thousands of Floridians who were stripped of their citrus trees and are still wondering why the state has not made them whole.” Story here. 

Florida House votes to kill Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida


State Rep. Paul Renner, R-Jacksonville, talks to reporters after his bill to kill Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida easily passed a House Committee.


The Florida House took a stunning first step towards killing the state’s primary tourism marketing agency and the state's chief economic development agency.

By an overwhelming vote, a Florida House committee voted to eliminate Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, despite testimony from dozens of businesses and economic development groups from around the state that warned them not to.

The 10-5 vote is a blow to Gov. Rick Scott who just a day earlier lashed out at the House for even considering the idea which he said would hurt Florida’s economic momentum and result in few jobs.

But State Rep. Paul Renner, R-Jacksonville, said he wasn’t deterred at all from pushing his legislation. He said economic incentives are inherently unfair because it is essentially the government picking some companies for incentives over others.

“For me, this issue is an easy issue,” Renner said. “It’s not hard to stand on principle.”

The bill still has a long way to go, with more committee stops in the House and a Florida Senate that appears far away from backing a plan to kill both agencies. State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, has questioned both Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida spending, but said he wants to “recast” those agencies, not eliminate them like the House.

Brandes is the chairman of a Senate budget writing committee with jurisdiction over both agencies. He held a hearing earlier on Wednesday that questioned the return on investment Florida gets from Enterprise Florida and how much more the taxpayers are funding Enterprise Florida compared to private business. The agency is supposed to be a 50-50 split.

To thwart fear of retaliation, Legislature looks to shield murder witnesses

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Someone — a child, a mother, a brother — is killed. Witnesses are too afraid to speak up. A murderer goes free.

In many of Florida’s vulnerable neighborhoods, talking to police could be a life-or-death decision for those who witness violent crime. Their reluctance to cooperate makes it difficult for law enforcement and prosecutors to seek justice.

State lawmakers want to change that culture by affording murder witnesses protection and shielding their identities in public records for two years after the crime.

“Let’s stop this no-snitch mentality,” said Rep. Cynthia Stafford, a Miami Democrat who’s sponsoring HB 111 this year. “Someone knows what happened but no one is coming forward because they’re afraid. Witness intimidation, retaliation — all of these are issues and concerns that people have about helping law enforcement help us.”

More here.

Photo credit: State Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami, speaks before the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee about her "witness protection" bill. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to speak to Broward Democrats



New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will keynote the Broward Democratic Party's annual fundraising dinner.

The event, which the Broward Democrats recently renamed the "Obama-Roosevelt Dinner," is March 4 at the Hyatt Pier 66 in Fort Lauderdale.

“Mayor De Blasio has distinguished himself as a voice of the people. His message of inclusion and acceptance of all Americans is what we need as a nation of diversity in these troubling times. America is the melting pot of the world, and nowhere is that more true than in Broward County and New York City. Mayor De Blasio is a rising leader in the Democratic Party, and it will be a great honor to welcome him to beautiful Broward,” said Cynthia Busch, chair of the Broward Democratic Party.

Broward has about 600,000 registered Democrats -- the highest number in Florida.

Check out de Blasio's Truth-O-Meter record from PolitiFact New York including a claim he made about Trump and sanctuary cities.



Uber bill easily clears first hurdle in Legislature


17093487__1__17199009_8colWith just one "no" vote in its first committee, legislation that would stop local governments from regulating companies like Uber and Lyft appears to be a on a fast track to passage by the Florida House.

The bill (HB 221) by Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, sets insurance and background check requirements for ridesharing companies that use smartphone apps to connect users with drivers. More significantly, it tells local governments they cannot set their own conflicting regulations.

A House transportation subcommittee passed it on a 14-1 vote Wednesday. Just one more committee -- the Government Accountability Committee -- will weigh in before the full chamber takes a vote. A similar bill in the Senate (SB 340) by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, has not yet had its first hearing, though it is expected to in the coming weeks.

Uber and Lyft are the subject of years of debate in the state Capitol. Though the House passed legislation similar to HB 221 last year, the state Senate stood in the way. But new Senate President Joe Negron appears more supportive of the legislation.

Sprowls said his legislation will provide uniformity in regulation statewide, ending situations where neighboring communities have different laws on the books. Hillsborough County, for example, has long taken a harder line on Uber and Lyft than Pinellas County, putting drivers under different sets of rules whenever they cross the Howard Frankland Bridge.

The lone dissenter Wednesday was Miami Gardens Democrat Rep. Barbara Watson, who said she worries about high prices during peak times -- she called it "price gouging" -- and accessibility for disabled riders.

Photo: Associated Press

Rick Scott's top priorities under seige today in Legislature



Undeterred by an unusual tonguelashing from Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida Legislature today continued a two front war on his biggest priorities: job creation programs and tourism marketing.

State Sen Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, kicked off the action by holding a hearing that outlined how taxpayers are shouldering more of the load in funding the state's business recruitment agency, Enterprise Florida, despite claims that the private sector is a partner. While taxpayers spent $25 million to fund Enterprise Florida, the private sector put up just $4.8 million. That's less than 20 percent of Enterprise Florida’s funding coming from the private sector.

But Brandes’ committee was just a tame sample of what was expected to be a much harsher critique of Enterprise Florida later. The Florida House later today is expected to take up a bill that would eliminate Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida completely.

Scott has been fuming about the Legislature’s opposition to a pair of agencies he says are key to Florida’s economic turnaround since 2010. On Tuesday Scott held a 15 minute venting session with reporters that questioned the Legislature's motives and warned that they were on the cusp of greatly damaging the state's economic momentum.

“Why in gods green earth would anybody think we should go back to that,” Scott said of 2010 when the state’s unemployment rate was in double digits.

Scott proposed a budget last week that calls for $85 million for Enterprise Florida to give tax incentives to companies to relocate and grow in Florida. He's also called for continuing record funding - $76 million - for Visit Florida.

The assault on those programs has provoked a response from both supporters and opponents of both agencies. More than 50 local economic development groups from around the state were planning to pack hearing rooms in Tallahassee to stress the key role incentives play in small and medium sized companies relocating to Florida.

The Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce is among those who issued a “call to action” to its members to pressure the House to back off their efforts to gut both agencies.

But on the flip side, the Americans for Prosperity of Florida was also planning to pack the room in support of ending government incentives to businesses of all sorts.

House Republicans (and some in the Senate) have criticized both Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida. House Speaker Richard Corcoran said both programs are forms of “corporate welfare” because they divert tax dollars to private businesses.

“There won't be any incentives in the budget,” Corcoran said last week.

Both Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida have faced major upheavals over the last 12 months. Both agencies have pushed out their highly paid CEOs and have been warned by Scott to clean up their finances and their overall transparency. 

Enterprise Florida was faulted by auditors for overspending on office space, management and travel expenses plus for lacking proper financial controls. Visit Florida meanwhile has come under fire for some spending more than $5 millions to advertise the state on a race car, with a British soccer team and in a music video with pop star Pitbull.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz staffer under investigation, report says

A staffer for U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, is under a criminal investigation for equipment and data theft, according to Politico.

Imran Awan has worked for various members of the House of Representatives since 2004. Multiple relatives of Awan who have also worked for House members are also part of the investigation. Efforts to reach Awan were unsuccessful.

A spokesman for Wasserman Schultz, David Damron, didn't respond to questions about Awan but sent a statement to the Miami Herald:

"At this time we are continuing to gather information from House officials, and will determine the best approach to move forward once we have received a thorough review. We are consulting House counsel to ensure that due process is afforded to her employees before any action is taken.”

A spokeswoman for U.S. Capital Police, Eva Malecki, sent a statement to the Miami Herald: "At the request of Members of Congress, the United States Capitol Police are investigating the actions of House IT support staff. No Members are being investigated. No arrests have been made. We have no further comment on the ongoing investigation at this time."

Read the Politico report here.

Who'll pay for Japanese prime minister's visit to Mar-a-Lago?

  Japan Trump Inauguration
via @anitakumar01

WASHINGTON -- The visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the Trump-family-owned Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, this weekend is fraught with ethical problems.

Will U.S. taxpayers pay for Abe? Will Abe stay for free? Will Abe pay Trump, who will give the money to the U.S. Treasury?

“I’m hoping the White House will clarify the arrangement, but every financial scenario I can think of compromises the office and presents a significant conflict of interest that every other modern president has taken pains to prevent,” said John Wonderlich, executive editor of the Sunlight Foundation, which pushes for government openness.

The White House referred questions about who is paying to the State Department, which referred questions to the Japanese government. Several Japanese officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“The lack of transparency about the arrangements is also troubling,” said Norman Eisen, who served as a White House ethics lawyer under President Barack Obama. “Most fundamentally, this demonstrates that Mr. Trump’s unresolved business conflicts are going to hang over almost everything he does. . . . This news provides one more reason that Mr. Trump should’ve made a clean break with his businesses instead of hanging on to his ownership interests.”

More here.

Photo credit: Koji Sasahara, AP