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April 05, 2017

Andrew Gillum draws top tier donors to early campaign for Florida governor

via @adamsmithtimes

The campaign of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum says the Tallahassee mayor has raised about $765,000 for his campaign, including $243,000 for his campaign and $522,000 for his affiliated Forward Florida Committee that can accept unlimited donations. He has $635,000 on hand heading into the second month of his campaign.

Prominent donors include George and Alex Soros, but the campaign says he received support from 56 of Florida's 67 counties, 3,500 online donations. Other prominent financial backers include Vin Ryan, Chris Findlater, Allison Tant, JP Austin, Leslie Kroeger, Tarra Pressley, Laurie Schecter, state Rep. Loranne Ausley, Jennifer Stearns Buttrick, Don Hinkle, Mimi Graham, and Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara Jordan.

“This resounding statement of early support proves that Andrew Gillum has the momentum to become the next Governor of Florida," said Sharon Lettman-Hicks, sernior advisor to the Gillum campaign. "Our campaign will continue to work to earn every vote in all corners of the state and invest in building the infrastructure needed to retake the governor's mansion. After nearly 20 years of failed leadership in Florida, Andrew Gillum will be a Governor the Sunshine State can be proud of again."

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

The news is good for Janet Reno's rustic Miami-Dade's homestead

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via @AndresViglucci

The natural oasis in the middle of Kendall where Janet Reno’s mother built a family home by hand, and where the former U.S. attorney general lived most of her life until her death last year, will be preserved and donated to Miami Dade College, the family says.

The wooded property and the rough-hewn family cottage were on the edge of the Everglades when the modest wood house went up in the 1940s. The site, around four acres, now sits a few blocks from the Palms at Town and Country mall, but in spirit and feel remains a throwback to the Miami of yore and miles away from the suburban sprawl that surrounds it. The Reno ranch and the home at its center, which is reached by a dirt road, are completely screened off from view by thickets of trees and vegetation.

“It’s amazing,” said Coral Gables attorney Alan Greer, who is representing the Reno family in negotiations with the college. “It’s like going back in time.”

Greer said the parties are ironing out a final agreement for donation of the ranch, which would become part of the environmental center at MDC’s Kendall campus. The center, nestled in a similar natural subtropical hammock, is a half mile south of the Reno property off Southwest 112th Avenue. The Renos were well known for their love of the outdoors and environmental activism.

“We’re working on all the details,” Greer said. “I’m confident we’re going to get there. It’s in conformity with Janet’s wishes.”

A spokesman for the college declined a request for comment.

More here.

Photo credit: Tim Chapman, Miami Herald file

Scott's hunt for agency law firms with Capitol connections comes up empty

Hunting for what it calls potential conflicts of interest, Gov. Rick Scott's office asked every state agency to disclose a case in which it employs a law firm that has a state legislator on its payroll. More than 30 agencies responded, but none said it has such an arrangement.

Only the Department of Corrections appeared to hedge somewhat, telling Scott's office that "it does not appear to have any current contracts with a law firm that employs a current Florida legislator."

Scott's chief of staff, Kim McDougal, asked agencies to respond after learning from a Times/Herald report that Broad & Cassel, the law firm that employs House Speaker Richard Corcoran, has received more than $235,000 in legal work from Enterprise Florida since 2014. A top Corcoran priority is to abolish Enterprise Florida, which he has repeatedly cited as an example of waste and "corruption" in state government.

In response, Scott's office said Corcoran's connection to Broad & Cassel "could easily be perceived as a conflict of interest" under state ethics laws, but Enterprise Florida has given no indication that it intends to sever its relationship with Broad & Cassel as a result. (The question is, if such a relationship is an apparent conflict of interest, why does Enterprise Florida do business with the firm?)

RichCorcoran020817_18766492_8colCorcoran said he could be fairly accused of a conflict of he was protecting Enterprise Florida. He described his determination to abolish a client of his law firm as "noble behavior" and proof that no conflict exists. "If every legislator is going to sacrifice their financial interest for the betterment of public good, that's a good thing ... For him (Scott) to call that bad, it's just not right."

Besides Corcoran, 36 of the 160 members of the Florida Legislature are attorneys, including 25 other House members and 11 senators. Most are employed by small law firms. It's illegal for a lawyer-legislator to personally represent a client before a state agency, but law partners and associates can.

"We will continue to ensure all agencies are in compliance with our state contracting laws," Scott's office said. "We are also continuing to look at all possible avenues where law firms conduct business with the state and we are looking at further potential executive action concerning these contracts."

Ironically, Enterprise Florida did not have to respond to Scott's edict on agency law firm contracts, because it is a "public private partnership" and not a state agency by law.

April 04, 2017

Negron offers compromise plan to build Everglades reservoir -- state-owned and leased land

EvergladesSenate President Joe Negron on Tuesday filed a sweeping rewrite to his top priority legislation to build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee by abandoning plans to buy up to 60,000 acres of agriculture land and rely on more state-owned and state-leased sugar fields to store and clean more water to be sent into Florida Bay.

Under the proposed amendment to SB 10, which will be presented Wednesday to the Senate Appropriations Committee, the state would convert state-owned land in the A-1 and A-2 parcels, currently being leased by Florida Crystals and Duda & Sons, and use it to create a 14-foot deep storage reservoir.

The proposal reduces the total cost of the plan from $2.4 billion in state and federal funds, to $1.5 billion. The state's share would be $750 million, which would include an additional $100 million in Legacy Florida funds, bringing the total amount from the documentary stamp tax earmarked by the 2014 Land Acquisition Trust Fund to $300 million. The federal government would be expected to match the remaining $750 million. 

Negron's move is a signal that he faced a steep climb to pass the proposal in his own chamber. The changes attempt to counter some of the most effective arguments used by the sugar industry, which was aggressively opposing it. Although Negron's proposals had support from many Senate Republicans, Democrats were opposed and were prepared to vote in a block to derail it.

"We've listened to our constituents, our fellow citizens in the Glades, and scientists,'' Negron, R-Stuart, told reporters. "We have been working to find the right balance between the goals we have and addressing concerns of fellow citizens in the Glades community."

Continue reading "Negron offers compromise plan to build Everglades reservoir -- state-owned and leased land" »

Will President Trump drop in on veterans' event at Mar-a-Lago?

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@PatriciaMazzei

President Donald Trump will hold a two-day summit at Mar-a-Lago Thursday and Friday with Chinese President Xi Jinping. But that doesn't mean the other action at Trump's Palm Beach country club will come to a halt.

To wit: Thursday evening, Mar-a-Lago will host a private screening of "VA: The Human Cost of War," a documentary on the "history, failures, and successes of the Veterans Administration," according to a news release sent Tuesday. The event, from 6-9:15 p.m., will include a reception and panel discussion titled, "What do we owe our veterans?"

The documentary, by filmmaker Ric Burns, was created, funded and produced by Palm Beach philanthropist Lois Pope, a veterans advocate, Mar-a-Lago member and Trump friend.

So...might the president stop by the soiree, as he's been known to do when he's in town?

"While we know that the President is aware of the event and will be at Mar-A-Lago, there is no indication at this time that he will attend our event," publicist Alison Dyer told the Miami Herald in an email.

Trump is aware of the event because he was invited, Dyer added.

"Mrs. Pope and Pres. Trump have been very close friends for three decades. In fact, when he bought Mar-a-Lago, he asked her to be membership chair because she knows everyone in Palm Beach," she said. "She wrote him a letter about the event on Thursday and then saw him at Mar-a-Lago on St. Patrick’s Day (she spends holiday dinners at the place), and he told her that if he can be there he will because veterans issues are so important to him."

Photo credit: Susan Walsh, Associated Press

Democrats force LGBT rights vote on House floor

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@MichaelAuslen

Legislation to give lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Floridians protection against discrimination is stalled in committees. But Democrats found a way to force an on-the-record vote on the issue in the Florida House.

Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, tried to add language to a bill regulating rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft (HB 221) that would prevent the companies from discriminating against drivers and riders, specifically listing "race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age, handicap, marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity."

Democrats forced a recorded vote on Richardson's amendment, which failed 70-44.

"It's not going to give me as a member of the gay community protection and afford me the opportunity to use a transportation network company," said Richardson, one of two openly gay members of the Legislature.

Bill sponsor, Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, said he was working with other lawmakers to require ridesharing drivers follow the same nondiscrimination laws as taxicabs and other public accommodations. However, those laws do not outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Additionally, Uber and Lyft have their own nondiscrimination policies, which do protect LGBT people.

Legislation to do that (HB 623) is almost certainly dead after it did not receive a hearing in the Careers and Competition subcommittee, which includes seven cosponsors of the bill. This year, more Republicans than ever have publicly backed the anti-discrimination bill, called the Competitive Workforce Act: Seventeen.

The vote on Richardson's amendment Tuesday was essentially a party-line vote, though broader support for LGBT anti-discrimination protections is not. Some of those who voted against Richardson's amendment are some of the most public advocates for adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the state's anti-discrimination laws, including one of the sponsors of HB 623 and the longtime supporter who carried a similar bill last year, both of whom are Republicans.

Republicans who voted in favor of the protections: Reps. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena; Rick Roth, R-Loxahatchee; Brad Drake, R-Eucheeanna (later changed his vote to "no" saying he accidentally pressed the wrong button).

Four Republicans who voted against the bill but later changed their votes to "yes": Reps. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota; Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart; Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater; Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo.

Photo: Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach. (Scott Keeler | Tampa Bay Times)

Daily school recess mandate passes Senate. The House remains this year's challenge.

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@ByKristenMClark

Nearly 1.3 million elementary school students in Florida are a major step closer to being guaranteed 20 minutes of recess every school day after the state Senate unanimously endorsed the concept Tuesday.

The easy win for SB 78 — sponsored by Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores — comes one year after chamber leaders wouldn’t even consider the idea.

“This bill is here as a result of moms from across the state having to listen to their children come home — their 7-year-old son come home — and say, ‘Mom, I’m so tired. I hate going to school; I hate going to school because there’s nothing for me to look forward to.’ ” Flores said. “This was a real grassroots effort of moms from across the state, saying: ‘Can you please help? Can you please be the voice in Tallahassee that I can’t be?’ ”

Requiring daily recess in elementary schools is overwhelmingly favored by parents who have lobbied aggressively for the change in Florida law. It’s also supported by a majority of state lawmakers.

But it still faces a potential repeat of 2016 — when the proposal stalled over a single lawmaker’s opposition.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Loana Paine 6, plays on the slide during recess at Citrus Grove Elementary School on Thursday, February 9, 2017. Florida lawmakers are again considering a statewide mandate for daily recess in public elementary schools. Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald

Apology on the way for those beaten at state reform school, but could more be done?

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@JeremySWallace

The men who survived years of beatings and torture at a reform school in north Florida when they were children are finally on the cusp of getting a formal apology from the state for what they went through.

But even as House and Senate leaders were celebrating the progress of legislation that will formally apologize for what happened at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, made clear the fight to honor the victims - both living and dead - isn’t over at least for him.

Corcoran said Tuesday that the victims deserve more, including “possibly” compensation from the state and he will continue to look for a way to bring to justice the last remaining living guard who he says was responsible for some of what happened at the school in the small Panhandle town of Marianna where children for 111 years were sent for everything from skipping school to “being incorrigible.”

“We went through every machination to try to figure out how we can still prosecute him and bring him to justice,” Corcoran said. “We’ll still work on it. We’re not giving up.”

Corcoran said both ideas may not come to fruition this year, but he’s determined to make sure a formal apology is not the last step in the process of acknowledging what was done to children as young a 6 years of age in the the state’s care.

Corcoran said what is happening over the next few weeks in the Legislature is “a good solid, minimum first step” but he himself issued an apology to the dozens of men at the Florida Capitol Building for the Legislature taking so long to acknowledge the horrors of Dozier.

On Tuesday morning, the Florida Senate’s Judiciary Committee took the first step toward apologizing to the thousands of children sent to Dozier. That committee, after hearing heart wrenching testimony from more than a half dozen survivors of the school, unanimously passed a resolution that expresses regret that “children of this state were subjected to the cruelty and abuse” at Dozier. On Thursday, the House will have a similar bill heard in committee, but also calls for paying for memorials to be erected in Tallahassee and Marianna to assure the tragedies at the school are never forgotten.

Bryant E. Middleton, one of those to testify, told the Judiciary Committee that he suffered beatings during his tenure at the school from 1959 to 1961 for such minor offenses as eating berries off a bush, mispronouncing an instructor’s name and saying he wanted to run away. One day he said he and another boy tried to run away. When they were caught, he said they were taken to the infamous “White House” where savage beatings were administered.

“I lost count at 56, I passed out,” Middletown said as other men who had been at Dozier in the audience sobbed. “I awoke in a room, laying on the bed with a bloody night gown, blood running down my leg. As a child.”

After the men spoke, State Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne, choked up when she talked about struggling to comprehend that while she was a child growing up in the 1960s, other children were being savagely beaten at the hands of the state.

“Our pledge would be that this never happens again to a child in the state,” Mayfield said as she used a tissue to wipe tears from her eyes.

Stories had swirled for decades about harsh conditions at Dozier, open from 1900 to 2011. In 2012, University of South Florida anthropologists began investigating burial grounds on the campus, where pipe crosses marked what was said to be the final resting place for 31 boys who died there. Using ground penetrating radar and excavation techniques, they found 55 graves, many in the woods outside the marked cemetery. Remains were found buried under trees and brush and under an old road.

USF anthropologists last year presented a report to the Florida Cabinet that showed most of the deaths were caused by illness, but others involved shootings, drownings and beatings.

Jerry Cooper, president of the White House Boys Organization that advocates on behalf of the people abused at the school, said his group is not pushing for compensation for victims at this point. He said what they wanted first and foremost was to get an apology for what happened at the school. But he said if the state ever does consider the idea, he hopes any man who ever had to set foot in the White House will be taken care of by the state.

 

Another pro-Trump ad hits Florida airwaves

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson is a lost cause, but a pro-Donald Trump group is spending money on this ad in Florida calling for the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

The digital spot from Making America Great began today and also is running in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, Montana, Wisconsin, Maine and Washington, D.C.

It’s the second ad from Making America Great, run by Rebekah Mercer. The first ad was for TV and also ran in Florida, touting Trump's initial moves in office. The ads come as Trump's approval rating has fallen.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Corcoran: 'It's not one person' determining House's school recess bill

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@ByKristenMClark

Florida senators are poised to pass a bill this afternoon that would give 1.3 million elementary school students a guarantee of 20 minutes of recess every day, something parents have clamored for for more than a year.

The Senate's bill (SB 78) is the preferred version for passionate "recess moms," who have lobbied for a statewide daily requirement in public schools. The House version -- previously identical -- was significantly watered down last week by a subcommittee, so now "recess moms" want House Speaker Richard Corcoran to move forward with the Senate's measure after today's vote.

Corcoran won't commit to doing that -- and he rejects that one person in the Florida House might be dictating the direction of that chamber's proposal.

“It's working its way through the process, and we’ll see what happens,” Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, told the Herald/Times Tuesday morning.

When asked specifically if he'd take up the Senate bill, he said: “I’ve said it from Day 1 until Day 60, these institutions shouldn’t be top-down; these institutions should be an egalitarian place where everyone has an equal voice — and we’ll keep doing that.”

MORE: "Did Miami lawmaker intervene to dilute school recess bill? He won’t say."

On whether one lawmaker was determining the fate of the House's bill, though, Corcoran added: “It’s got to be voted on out of committee; anyone can offer amendments, so it’s not one person.”

Miami Republican Rep. Michael Bileca, Corcoran's education policy chairman, is the only lawmaker who publicly opposes mandating daily recess in Florida's elementary schools. 

Bileca wouldn't say last week whether he intervened to water down the House's bill in a way that eliminates that daily requirement. (House sponsor Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, said the changes were necessary to ensure his bill would move through House committees. Assuming the recess bill clears its next committee, too, it would then have to go before Bileca's committee before it could reach the House floor.)

Corcoran last year joined Bileca in opposing the school recess legislation; they were the only two in the 120-member House to vote "no." But Corcoran supported this year’s original bill, he reiterated Tuesday, because a provision was removed that would’ve barred teachers from withholding recess as a punishment. (Bileca had opposed that provision, too, along with the legislative mandate.)

UPDATE: The Senate passed its recess bill unanimously. Full story here.

Photo credit: Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau