January 15, 2015

Looser Cuba travel, trade restrictions to take effect Friday


New rules that will make it easier to travel to Cuba - and bring back Cuban cigars - will go into effect Friday, less than a month after President Barack Obama announced plans to restore long-severed diplomatic ties with the communist-led island.

The new Treasury and Commerce Department regulations -- to be published Friday in the Federal Register -- include making it easier to travel to Cuba and raising the limits on how much money can be sent to Cuba.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest called the changes a “significant step forward” in carrying out Obama’s new policy.

“These changes will immediately enable the American people to provide more resources to empower the Cuban population to become less dependent upon the state-driven economy, and help facilitate our growing relationship with the Cuban people,” Earnest said in a statement.

The new regulations are here and here.

The changes will mean that travelers who meet certain categories will no longer need to apply for a license to travel to Cuba. The categories include family visits, official U.S. or foreign governments, journalistic, professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; private foundations or research or educational institutes; export, import, or transmission of information.

More here.

Republicans set 2016 convention for July 18-21 in Cleveland

From Cleveland.com ... 

Republicans have booked their date with Cleveland.

The party's 2016 convention will start Monday, July 18, the Republican National Committee announced Wednesday from its winter meetings in San Diego.

The four-day event will end with a presidential nominee Thursday, July 21.

"I'm pleased to announce the 2016 Republican National Convention will kick off on July 18," RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in an emailed statement.  "A convention in July is a historic success for our party and future nominee.


January 14, 2015

Blind trust law comes under fire before appeals court

Did the Florida Legislature violate the state’s financial disclosure law when it allowed public officials to shield their assets in a blind trust?

Lawyers for Attorney General Pam Bondi and Gov. Rick Scott say the answer is no, and they made that argument Wednesday before the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee.

The reason: the state’s Sunshine Amendment to the constitution allows lawmakers to write the rules that govern what constitute “full and public” disclosure of financial assets, even if it means shielding some assets from public view, they argued.

But lawyers for Jim Apthorp, the former chief of staff to the late Gov. Reubin Askew, disagreed.

"The Sunshine Amendment starts off with the words, 'A public office is a public trust,' " said Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, a former Democratic state representative who helped pass the amendment. "We may not have a blind trust which conceals, not reveals, what the financial interests are of a public official.”

The debate is at the core of the lawsuit brought by Apthorp, asking the court to overturn a portion of the 2013 ethics law, which allows public officials to to create a blind trust in lieu of revealing their assets on a financial disclosure form.

Apthorp initially asked the Florida Supreme Court to ban Secretary of State Ken Detzner from accepting the qualifying papers of any candidate using a blind trust. The court asked a trial court to decide the case, and in July Leon County Circuit Court Judge James Cooper ruled that the law was constitutional. Apthorp appealed.

Continue reading "Blind trust law comes under fire before appeals court" »

Are Democrats recruiting Annette Taddeo to run for Congress again?

National Democrats may once again encourage Annette Taddeo to run for Congress in South Florida.

According to The Hill, Taddeo was spotted in Washington this week meeting with the Democratic Congressional Committee, which is looking for candidates to challenge Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo in 2016.

Taddeo was in D.C. Tuesday and Wednesday meeting with Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Ben Ray Luján (N.M.), DCCC Recruitment Chairman Denny Heck (Wash.), Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), a House Democratic official told The Hill. 

While Taddeo was in town, she also met with several other Florida Democratic lawmakers, including Reps. Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel and Kathy Castor, as she weighs a congressional bid. 

Taddeo is a former lieutenant governor candidate -- she ran last year with Charlie Crist -- who lost to Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in 2008. She also ran unsuccessfully for Miami-Dade County Commission in 2010.

National Republicans pounced on the nugget of news, sending reporters an email titled, "Back to the Future IV Starring Annette Taddeo."

"Annette Taddeo's track record of running for a multitude of different offices demonstrates that she is motivated solely by her blind political ambition," National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Chris Pack said in a statement.

Taddeo told the Miami Herald last year that she would make up her mind early in 2015 about whether to run for office again -- and whether to run for Congress or some other position, such as county mayor.

With Carlos Curbelo in Congress, Rick Scott gets to pick his Miami-Dade school board replacement


Miami Republican Carlos Curbelo was sworn into Congress last week -- which means Florida Gov. Rick Scott now has to choose someone to finish Curbelo's term on the Miami-Dade County school board.

There is no shortage of interest. Nine people so far have said they would like to be appointed, Scott's office said Wednesday in response to an inquiry from the Miami Herald.

One name in particular has resonated in local Republican circles: Lubby Navarro, who works in the school district's office of intergovernmental affairs.

Navarro's name has been whispered as a Curbelo replacement since he was elected Nov. 4. When asked about the possibility on Nov. 5, she was vague about her intentions. By Nov. 12 she had sent the governor a cover letter and résumé.

In addition to her existing ties to the school district, Navarro is a former state Capitol and County Hall aide, an elected Redland zoning council member and a longtime volunteer for the Miami-Dade Republican Party. Though school board seats are nonpartisan, Scott has usually filled seats with fellow members of the GOP.

The heir-apparent treatment of Navarro behind closed doors has bothered some Republicans, who privately gripe that they feel other qualified candidates may not get a fair shot as a result.

Rounding out the list of applicants are:

  • Carolina Blanco, a teacher and elected West Kendall zoning councilwoman (and the daughter of former GOP congressional candidate Lorenzo Palomares-Starbuck);
  • Renier Diaz de la Portilla, an attorney and former school board member for a different district who most recently lost a judicial race last year (and whose brother is Republican state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla);
  • Daniel Diaz Leyva, an attorney who lost a state House race last year;
  • Duysevi Miyar, a teacher who lost a school board race last year to Chairwoman Perla Tabares Hantman;
  • Eugenio Perez, a teacher who lost a 2012 House race to Rep. Michael Bileca;
  • Libby Perez, a small-business owner who lost a 2012 House race to Rep. Jeanette Nuñez and a 2010 school board race to Curbelo;
  • Anay Abraham de Naranjo, an educational consultant, and
  • Ira Jay Paul, a retired teacher who applied for a school board vacancy in 2001.

--with Marc Caputo

S. Fla. Republican lawmakers join Democrats in opposing Homeland Security funding bill because of immigration amendments

Three South Florida Republicans — Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and freshman Rep. Carlos Curbelo — sided with Democrats Wednesday in opposing a bill that would overturn President Barack Obama’s key immigration policies and expose hundreds of thousands of younger immigrants to expulsion from the U.S.

The 236-191 vote came on a broad bill that would provide $39.7 billion to finance the Homeland Security Department through the rest of the budget year, legislation that lawmakers of both parties said was sorely needed to pay for counterterrorism, cybersecurity and other priorities at a moment when the Paris terror attacks have underscored dire threats.

The bill faces a tough fight in the Senate. But, even if it passes, the president has threated to veto it.

Said Curbelo in a statement: “I am troubled with the [Obama] administration’s use of executive action on immigration ... However, it is my firm belief that Congress should address the issue of overhauling our nation’s immigration laws through separate bills, rather than attaching these amendments to the critical Homeland Security Appropriations bill.”

He added: “[Obama] has repeatedly used the immigration issue to play political games. We should be better.”

[Curbelo is scheduled to appear on Fox’s ‘On the Record w/ Greta Van Susteren’ at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday to talk about his vote]

South Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Rep. Frederica Wison each voted against the measure.

Democrats accused Republicans of putting that money at risk by attaching veto-bait amendments on immigration, and some Republicans voiced the same concern. But House GOP leaders and most of their rank and file accused Obama in turn of reckless and unconstitutional actions onimmigration that had to be answered.

“This executive overreach is an affront to the rule of law and to the Constitution itself,” said House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. “The people made clear that they wanted more accountability from this president, and by our votes here today we will heed their will and we will keep our oath to protect and defend the Constitution.”


Alex Sink: Cabinet officials ought to tell the truth about FDLE's Bailey

Alex SinkFormer Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink sent a message to her successors on the state Cabinet on Wednesday, admonishing them for allowing the governor to unilaterally make the decision to replace the head of the state's law enforcement agency which under the Florida Constitution they, as a group, oversee. 

"The thing I’m most distressed about is, in order to terminate the head of a Cabinet agency, you need the governor or one other person -- or you need three votes,'' Sink told the Herald/Times, referring to the surprise ouster by Gov. Rick Scott of Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey.

"It looks like the governor on his own decided he was going to fire Jerry Bailey but you can’t do it that way,'' said Sink, a Democrat who oversaw FDLE for four years as a member of the Cabinet and lost to Scott in a bid for governor in 2010. "The three Cabinet officers are independently elected and they need to start standing up and take responsibility for it. One of them had to agree to it."

Continue reading "Alex Sink: Cabinet officials ought to tell the truth about FDLE's Bailey" »

Gov. Rick Scott to help celebrate Pitbull's birthday

Pitbull, a.k.a. Mr. 305, turns 34 tomorrow.

That isn't the kind of news we would normally report here on Naked Politics. But the rapper will be celebrating with some people who frequently make our blog: Gov. Rick Scott, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, state Rep. Erik Fresen and Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado.

The elected officials will join Pitbull around 11 a.m. at the Sports Leadership and Management Academy, a charter school in Miami. Pitbull helped open the academy, and is expected to announce plans for expansion, according to a press release.

Pitbull, Scott, Lopez-Cantera and Fresen have been in the same room before. They took a photograph together in October at a Republican fundraiser in Coral Gables.




Florida taxes second-most regressive in US

Florida's tax system poses a larger burden on poorer residents than almost any other state, according to a report released Wednesday by policy researchers at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. 

In its "Who Pays?" report, ITEP found Florida's to be the second-most regressive tax system, after the state of Washington. 

A regressive tax system does not necessarily mean higher taxes but, rather, a large gap between the percentage of income paid in taxes by the rich and poor. 

The top 1 percent of income earners in Florida pay less than 2 percent of their annual income in taxes, according to the report. The bottom 20 percent of income earners pay 12 percent, more than six times as much.

Common among the most regressive tax policies highlighted in the report are low or nonexistent state income taxes. 

ITEP is affiliated with liberal tax lobbying group Citizens for Tax Justice. 

Here's the full list of the most regressive state tax systems: 

  1. Washington 
  2. Florida 
  3. Texas 
  4. South Dakota 
  5. Illinois 
  6. Pennsylvania 
  7. Tennessee 
  8. Arizona 
  9. Kansas 
  10. Indiana

And the least regressive:

  1. California
  2. Delaware
  3. District of Columbia
  4. Minnesota
  5. Montana


Putnam steps up criticism of Scott on FDLE ouster

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam stepped up his criticism Wednesday of the way Gov. Rick Scott's office handled the recent ouster of former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey. Putnam said it was mishandled and that law enforcement officials around the state knew first-hand of his "frustration."

Putnam also said for the first time Wednesday that what his office was told about FDLE staff changes is not what happened -- dropping a hint that his office might have been misled by Scott's office on the true intentions at the state's top law enforcement agency.

"We were given a heads-up on a staff level that there was an interest in making changes going into the second term, including at FDLE," Putnam told the Times/Herald. "Period. That's all that was conveyed to me." Florida's Sunshine Law prohibits Putnam and the governor or another Cabinet member from discussing public business in private.

Like many others, Putnam said he was surprised to learn later that on the morning of Dec. 16, Bailey was ordered to "retire or resign" by Scott's general counsel, Pete Antonacci, who gave Bailey no specific reason for the action. Putnam emphasized that Scott has the right to change personnel in a second term but that he was upset with the way Bailey was treated.

"One would certainly expect that someone who had served as long and as well as Jerry Bailey would have been given more consideration," Putnam said. "The manner in which it was handled was not known to me and not at all how it should have been handled."

Putnam and the other two Cabinet members are, like Scott, Republicans who carefully avoid any appearance of publicly criticizing Scott's decisions, even though at various times, all three have disapproved of actions by the executive branch. Putnam's criticism is more significant because he is seen as a leading candidate for governor in 2018 when Scott's term expires.

In what sounded like a reference to Scott's new cadre of top advisers, led by chief of staff Melissa Sellers, Putnam said he hoped that the "new officials in the new administration will be mindful of appearances" in dealing with state employees on personnel matters.