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June 07, 2017

South Florida rain interferes with lawmakers traveling to Tallahassee



South Florida's torrential rains and stormy weather were bad enough to affect attendance at the Florida Legislature's special session nearly 500 miles away in Tallahassee, as some lawmakers found it challenging to make it here because of cancelled or delayed flights.

Hialeah Republican Sen. René García, for instance, had his flight from Miami delayed -- causing him to miss today entirely.

After their flight on Tuesday night was cancelled because of bad weather, Democratic Sens. Gary Farmer, of Lighthouse Point, and Perry Thurston, of Fort Lauderdale, jumped in a car and drove all night to make it Tallahassee.

They arrived in town at 5:15 this morning, they said. (Thurston said he did the bulk of the driving, joking that Farmer drove about 30 minutes of the 7- to 8-hour drive from Broward County.)

Some South Florida House members also had to find a workaround to get to the Capitol.

House budget chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, said Tuesday night a flight that was supposed to carry him and a couple other Dade lawmakers was cancelled -- which would force them to find an alternate flight or, if necessary, drive. They made it, though, arriving in time for when the House began session at 12:30 p.m.

-- Mary Ellen Klas contributed.

Photo credit: A car tries to make its way through the flooded street to the gas station at Sawgrass Mills mall on Wednesday, June 7, 2017. Bryan Cereijo / Miami Herald

Gov. Scott to attend White House infrastructure event with Trump

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - With the special session under way in Tallahassee, Gov. Rick Scott will be at the White House Thursday for a "listening session" on infrastructure with President Donald Trump.

He will join a number of governors and state, local and private sector leaders "who are interested in working together to improve our nation’s infrastructure," a White House spokesman says.

Scott has made repeated trips to Washington for events with Trump or meetings with administration officials.

His office confirmed he will attend, and the meeting lands as a three-day special session is under way in Tallahassee.

Also participating in the White House event is Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Leon County Commissioner Bryan Desloge.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Gov. Rick Scott: "The United States must stop doing business with Venezuela"



In a new op-ed, Florida Gov. Rick Scott encouraged United States companies to stop conducting business with Venezuela and its embattled President Nicolás Maduro, without mentioning his position on Goldman Sachs' recent purchase of Venezuelan oil bonds. 

"The United States must stop doing business with Venezuela immediately," Scott wrote. 

He then compared the Maduro regime to Cuba while criticizing Barack Obama's move to open up relations during the final stretch of his administration. 

"The turmoil in Venezuela is eerily similar to events that have plagued the island nation of Cuba for decades. When President Obama moved to normalize relations with the Castro dictatorship many argued that the new relationship would be the beginning of a better life for the Cuban people. Yet two and half years later, repression is growing and the brutal crackdown of the peaceful opposition movement is most alarming." 

Earlier Wednesday, Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen criticized Goldman Sachs' purchase of Venezuelan bonds for a cut rate price on the U.S. House floor. 

Read the full text of the op-ed below: 

U.S. Must Take Stand Against Cuba and Venezuela

By Governor Rick Scott

In recent months, we have seen Venezuela slip into complete chaos. Under the brutal and oppressive dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro, we have seen things go from bad to worse. Food and medicine shortages, violence on the streets and economic uncertainty.

We've also seen companies like General Motors, Bridgestone and General Mills scale back their operations in Venezuela. Recently, United Airlines also joined in this effort by announcing it will suspend flights to Venezuela next month.

It's no wonder that these companies are pulling out of a country engulfed in violent political protests and economic chaos.

Venezuelans endure long lines to purchase basic necessities all while Maduro's dictatorship blames companies for the country’s shortages. The Maduro regime continues to mismanage the country's oil resources, has produced a swollen inflation rate and dismal exchange rate, leaving the Venezuelan people to deal with hardship and corruption.

This is not acceptable and we should not stand for these injustices to the Venezuelan people. The United States must stop doing business with Venezuela immediately.

The turmoil in Venezuela is eerily similar to events that have plagued the island nation of Cuba for decades. When President Obama moved to normalize relations with the Castro dictatorship many argued that the new relationship would be the beginning of a better life for the Cuban people. Yet two and half years later, repression is growing and the brutal crackdown of the peaceful opposition movement is most alarming.

This was the wrong move. A message must be sent to both the Maduro and Castro regimes and their gangs of thugs that the United States will not tolerate their continued aggressions.

Organizations like the Ladies in White and UNPACU are the constant targets of the Castro regime's violent rage. The anticipated "emerging private sector" (cuentapropistas) has actually decreased and tens of thousands of Cubans have attempted to flee the enslaved island in numbers not seen since 1994. In Venezuela, the Castro dictatorship continues to pull the strings, aiding the Maduro government's bloodbath against the heroic Venezuelan people.

Moreover, the Obama-Castro deal failed to prioritize America's interests. It purposely did not contemplate the certified claims of American citizens whose properties were stolen by Castro's regime; it allowed Cuba's trafficking of 240 tons of missile technology and other heavy weaponry with North Korea, and those responsible for it, to get away without consequence; it allowed companies to put American workers at a competitive disadvantage through deals with Cuba's state-owned entities, which employ forced and exploitative labor practices that are contrary to international norms; it ignored judicial claims of American victims of terrorism by Castro's regime and the cries for justice from American families whose killers are being harbored by Castro's regime. To add insult to injury, President Obama even commuted the life sentence of a Cuban spy that was convicted of conspiracy in the murder of three American citizens.

The approach for the new United States-Cuba policy should be a substantive shift. The current direction has proven to provide the Cuban military and state security the resources that will enable them to transfer power from one family member to another. The new course must be focused on doing our part so that the Cuban people may regain their right to self-determination.

Today, I am encouraging President Trump to take a stand against these brutal dictatorships. President Trump and his Administration have the opportunity to set a new course. One that recognizes that the Cuban and Venezuelan people deserve to be free, and prioritizes human rights, democracy, security and the rule of law. This new course should serve as a beacon of hope for those brave activists in Cuba and Venezuela by making it clear that, if you are a Castro or Maduro government official involved in the violation of human rights, you will be prohibited from obtaining any immigrant or non-immigrant visa to the United States. I'm convinced that this new direction will better serve U.S. interests, generate genuine economic prosperity and help the Cuban and Venezuelan people achieve their long-awaited freedom.

In effort to keep schools funded, Senate overrides veto of K-12 spending

Florida Legislature (22)


Wanting to ensure Florida’s 4,200 K-12 public schools can “keep the lights on and keep the doors open” after June 30, the Florida Senate took the unusual step on Wednesday of voting to override a veto by Gov. Rick Scott.

Not because the senators particularly like the spending level they approved last month.

They just don’t have high hopes they’ll reach compromise with the House during a special session this week on how to pay for at least $215 million in additional funding Scott asked the Legislature to approve.

“In consultation with [President Joe Negron, R-Stuart] and other Senate leaders, we think it’s really important that we give the public confidence that our public schools will be open,” Senate budget chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said on the floor.

He added that the Senate doesn’t want “to be responsible ... for getting into a situation where we leave town and we do not have funding in place” for schools.

But the procedural votes by the Senate — which came with little opposition — will have little practical impact.

The House has no intention of following the Senate’s lead and restoring the K-12 funding Scott vetoed even as a temporary safeguard, Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, told reporters.

“They want to go back and play hide the ball with the voters,” Corcoran said. “So they’re saying, ‘OK, we’re going to try to look like the good guys in that we didn’t veto K-12 educational funding, and so we’re going to do the veto override.’ ”

Corcoran accuses the Senate of seeking “a massive tax increase” by proposing to pay for the extra K-12 funding in part through property taxes from new construction. He said the Senate’s override was an attempt to “mask” that goal, and he dismissed the potential of the special session collapsing.

“I think we’ll absolutely get to a point when the better judgment of all will prevail and the funding for K-12 education will happen — and it will happen without a massive tax increase,” Corcoran said.

Full details here.

Photo credit: AP

Rubio: If Trump has interfered with Russia investigation, 'American people deserve to know'

via @learyreports

Sen. Marco Rubio at Wednesday's Intelligence Committe hearing:

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Senate Republican fundraiser in California set for Monday and Tuesday could be a problem

Senate FundraiserWith the Senate insisting that any budget agreement follow the 72-hour cooling off period, the Florida House Republican leadership on Wednesday agreed to go along, even though they read the constitutional waiting period as not applying to the budget bills they will be passing this session. 

So what are House leaders asking for in return?

Nothing more than telling the Senate it wants them to come back to finish their work on Tuesday, June 13 -- same day the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee has scheduled its annual golf fundraiser in California.

The traditional golf fundraiser, often held at the prestigious Pebble Beach golf course, has been moved this year to Torrey Pines, the swanky municipal course situated along the cliffs of San Diego that is also on the  PGA tour. The bad news for Senate Republicans is that the fundraiser is scheduled for June 12-13. 

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said the fundraiser should have no impact on the special session. 

"I have a plane ticket to go to California this weekend, but it's not going to impact any decisions we make here,'' he said, shortly before the Senate was to convene. 

According to the invitation, the event begins with spas and biking in the afternoon on Monday. Then a reception and the Senate Majority Dinner. On Tuesday, the day is devoted to golf at the "home of the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open, Junior Worlds, hosts to the 2008 and 2021 U.S. Open Championship and site of the 2009 Samsung World Championship.”

Other optional events for this trip, the expenses for which are paid by political committees, include visits to the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, Evans Garage antique car museum, a tour of the aircraft carrier Midway, sea kayaking and snorkeling or a California wine tour.  

House leaders sent a memo to its members noting the House Clerk Portia Palmer concluded that the FEFP public school funding bill isn't subject to the 72-hour hold:

"Article III, section 19(d) of the Florida Constitution does not apply to this bill. It is not general in application; does not resemble the constitutionally required format and scope of a general appropriations bill described by Article III, section 19 (b); does not meet the definition of a General Appropriations Bill in Joint Rule 2; and meets the general appropriations exemption applicable to supplemental appropriations provided in Joint Rule 2."

The Senate disagrees. In a memo to Senators on Tuesday, Latvala wrote: 

"President Negron and I have reviewed relevant legal precedent and accepted the advice of our Senate Professional Staff regarding the application of the 72-hour cooling off period as it relates to this legislation. Out of an abundance of caution, the Senate will allow SB 2500A and SB 2502A to rest in final form for 72 hours prior to a vote. For this reason, the Secretary has distributed the filed versions to each member of the Legislature, the Governor, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and each member of the Cabinet. If amendments are adopted in Committee or on the Floor, the Secretary will issue a new distribution indicating the start of a new 72-hour cooling off period."

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen blasts Goldman Sachs investment in Venezuela

US Venezuela


Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen took to the House floor on Wednesday to blast Goldman Sachs' recent purchase of $2.8 billion in Venezuelan oil bonds, which hands the socialist government a financial lifeline amid widespread protests and hunger in the South American country. 

Ros-Lehtinen argued that the bond purchase will personally benefit embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro

"Goldman Sachs is also adding to the people's misery," Ros-Lehtinen said in a floor speech on Wednesday. "Last week, the investment bank bought $2.8 billion in Venezuelan bonds, not only providing the Maduro regime a lifeline in the short term but saddling the Venezuelan people with crippling debt repayments in the long term. When, not if, a democratically elected president comes to the Venezuelan people they will be stuck with the bill and the responsibility to pay for this debt."

Goldman Sachs, a New York-based investment bank, bought the bonds for 31 cents on the dollar, according to the Wall Street Journal, meaning the bank stands to make a tidy profit when Venezuela starts paying its debt.

"With so many Venezuelans lacking the basic goods, including food, many have taken to calling these bonds 'hunger bonds' as the regime lines its own pockets and the Venezuelan people continue to suffer," Ros-Lehtinen said. "Venezuela's pervasive corruption means any infusion of cash, like Goldman Sachs, will not benefit the people of Venezuela who desperately need it. Instead, Maduro and his thugs fill their coffers and use the cash to abuse the Venezuelan people and use it to stay in power."

Ros-Lehtinen, a longtime Miami Republican who recently announced that she's leaving Congress, is a longtime critic of the Maduro regime. The recent news of Goldman Sachs' bond purchase spawned protests and outrage among Venezuelan activists. 

During her speech, Ros-Lehtinen also criticized Maduro's involvement in writing a new constitution in Venezuela, arguing that the president is strong-arming the democratically elected legislature. 

"Peaceful protests have led Venezuelan strongman Nicholas Maduro to issue a decree to convene a constitutional national assembly in order to rewrite the Venezuelan constitution," Ros-Lehtinen said. "Maduro is once again trying to delay the inevitable: free, fair, transparent and democratic elections in Venezuela." 

South Florida is home to the highest concentration of Venezuelans in the United States, and local politicians have increasingly railed against Maduro's regime in recent months. 

"U.S. businesses should be avoiding deals with Maduro like the plague," Ros-Lehtinen said. 


Diaz de la Portilla faces foreclosure on out-of-district home


On campaign filings for the District 40 state Senate race, Republican Alex Diaz de la Portilla lists two addresses: a mattress company that belongs to his father and a five-bedroom West Miami home facing foreclosure.

Both lie outside the district he is running to represent, a large swath of Southwest Miami-Dade County.

The mattress company, Dé Mattress Inc., is located in District 38. The home, which has a homestead exemption reserved for primary residences, is located in District 37 in West Miami.

Florida law requires candidates for state office to live in their district by Election Day, which will be Sept. 26.

In an interview with the Miami Herald, Diaz de la Portilla acknowledged he doesn’t currently live in the district but said that he plans to rent a home or apartment unit before the deadline approaches. He said it is to be expected, with the surprise resignation of former state Sen. Frank Artiles in April and the announcement of a special election by Gov. Rick Scott, but he is looking at several options for his move.

As for the mattress company, he said he runs his political consulting firm, First Stone Management LLC, from inside the space.

He said despite not living in the district, he has served more voters of District 40 over his decades of public service in the state Legislature than all of his competitors combined.

“I have very deep ties with this district,” he said.

Diaz de la Portilla is running against two other Republicans, three Democrats and an independent candidate in the special election to replace Artiles,who vacated his seat in April after making offensive remarks to colleagues. The primary will be July 25.

According to the Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser, Diaz de la Portilla and his ex-wife jointly own the West Miami home. In April, Wells Fargo filed a notice in county court seeking to foreclose on the home, according to a copy of the notice obtained by the Herald and first reported by Politico. Diaz de la Portilla listed the home as being worth $603,357 in a financial disclosure form. Diaz de la Portilla said the foreclosure was a necessary step toward modifying the loan on his home following a divorce.

“It should be resolved shortly,” he said.

Diaz de la Portilla blamed the “sleazy campaign” tactics of fellow Republican candidate and former Rep. Jose Felix Diaz for bringing the foreclosure notice to light, an accusation Diaz denied Wednesday.

“[His] financial mismanagement is a matter of public record,” Diaz wrote in a text message.

Democrat who switched parties too late withdraws from state Senate race


Steve Smith signed an oath when he qualified as a candidate for the state Senate last week saying he’s been a registered Democrat for a year.

Not quite.

Florida law requires anyone qualifying as a party candidate to state in writing that they have not been a member of another party for a full year before qualifying.

Smith, a long-time Republican and the CEO of a Miami tech consulting firm, registered as a Democrat on June 10, 2016, less than a year before he and six other candidates qualified on May 30 — 12 days short of a year — for the District 40 seat left vacant by former Sen. Frank Artiles.

Hours after a Miami Herald story went online Tuesday about the apparent violation, Smith he withdrew his candidacy, saying he did not want to jeopardize the Democratic Party’s chances to turn the seat blue and his own political aspirations down the road.

“It is what it is,” he said.

Had he remained in the race, Smith would have been vulnerable to a challenge, if one of his opponents had taken him to court. The state Division of Elections, through which candidates file their paperwork, does not police the accuracy of the information provided, simply that it has been completed in full, a spokeswoman said.

Mark Herron, a Tallahassee elections attorney who has worked with Democrats in the past, said if Smith were to win the Democratic primary on July 25 and a Republican opponent successfully sued him, Democratic candidates might not be able to fill that spot because of a provision in the vacancy and nominations statutes, which states that a primary victor who is found to have improperly qualified for a party’s nomination cannot be replaced by another candidate.

Alex Diaz de la Portilla, a Republican front-runner in the special election, said Tuesday he would have challenged Smith’s candidacy if he had gone on and won the Democratic primary.

“I would have sued him,” Diaz de la Portilla said, calling the situation unfortunate because Smith appeared to have just missed the deadline to switch parties. “Poor guy.”

Smith told the Herald he wasn’t aware of the violation, saying he thought he was “within the window.”

He said he consulted with an attorney and with the general counsel of the Florida Board of Elections before reaching his decision to withdraw. Asked if he would support one of his opponents, he said he would be backing Annette Taddeo, a Democrat. Smith said his sights were now set on a possible run for the 26th Congressional District seat — now held by Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

“I want to continue to fight for the people of my district,” Smith said.

Photo: Steve Smith

Museum Park could get a $2 million playground, and a redevelopment agency the bill

Carollo money


UPDATE: The board of the Bayfront Park Management Trust voted 5 to 4 to install the $2 million Berliner playground and seek repayment from the Omni Community Redevelopment Agency. Carollo cast the deciding vote.

Miami Commissioner Frank Carollo wants to buy a $2 million playground for Museum Park and send the bill to an anti-blight agency.

Carollo has called for a special meeting Wednesday of the Bayfront Park Management Trust in order to push for the purchase of an elaborate, futuristic jungle gym. He wants the trust to pay for the structure -- to be provided by a vendor he brought to the table -- and pay for it out of an improvements fund that has yet to receive a dollar.

"We're trying to be a signature park," Carollo, the trust's board chairman, said late last month after unveiling the idea. "It's something worthy of Museum Park. Something worthy of being next to the science museum. And I think we should move forward."

Carollo says the playground would be an important amenity for a park that has never lived up to the hype of the $68 million facility initially envisioned back when Miami was first planning to build an art and science museum south of I-395. He says the playground is similar to a dramatic play area in Seattle built next to the Space Needle.

The money Carollo wants to tap into to pay for the playground would come from the Omni Community Redevelopment Agency, which agreed to pay $2 million a year into a Museum Park improvements fund under the massive Global Agreement that also paid for Marlins Park and the PortMiami Tunnel.

A bare bones version of the park opened in 2014, but money has never changed hands. And as of now, the entire payment due this year is sitting in the redevelopment agency's reserves, with no agreement over how it should be spent or whether it should even be due the city.

"Monies are owed to the city with regard to capital improvements here at Museum Park and right now we're in the process of figuring out how to transfer that over," City Attorney Victoria Mendez told trust board members last month.

If Carollo is going to convince the Bayfront Park Trust to buy the playground, he'll need more support from the board. They rejected his proposal on May 24 with a tied vote.

Dissenters on the board complained about the lack of detail regarding the playground's costs, and the lack of competitive bids in bringing in playground manufacturer Berliner and their sales representative, ARC Florida. The Miami Foundation, which has taken an active interest in upgrading Museum Park, has also weighed in, cautioning Carollo from moving forward on the playground without first getting public input and considering the larger picture of the park's future.

The board meets at noon at the Bayfront Park Management Trust offices at 301 Biscayne Blvd