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May 07, 2017

'Monday’s vote is about more than recess,' disappointed parents say of education budget bill

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Passionate parents, like Kate Asturias of Miami and Angela Browning of Orlando, have been fighting for years to get guaranteed daily recess for their children and the more than 1.2 million other kids in Florida’s public elementary schools.

The two moms trekked to Tallahassee on Friday, for the countless time, hoping to see lawmakers finally make that happen. They left disappointed once again.

The favored proposal of “recess moms” and dads that unanimously passed the Senate a month ago (SB 78) wasn’t brought to the floor by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, before Friday’s session deadline — despite parents’ numerous emails and phone calls urging him to take up the bill, which had the votes to pass easily.

Instead, Corcoran prolonged a conclusion to the recess proposal by lumping it — with a never-before-seen exemption parents didn’t ask for — into a 278-page education budget bill released Friday evening, three days before lawmakers will vote Monday on an annual budget package they can’t change.

Filled with disappointment and anger, parents vented their frustration in social media groups this weekend — and some now have a message for their lawmakers: Don’t vote “yes” on this bill just so Florida’s kids can be assured recess.

More here.

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald

May 06, 2017

New law would go after cyber criminals who use Bitcoin

via @DavidOvalle305

Criminals who use the virtual currency known as Bitcoin can be convicted of money laundering under a Florida law passed by lawmakers late on Friday.

Both houses approved the bill, which now heads to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott for approval.

Lawmakers approved the measure after a Miami judge last year threw out the criminal case against a man accused of selling $1,500 worth of bitcoins he was told was to be used to purchase stolen credit-card numbers online.

“Cyber criminals have taken advantage of our antiquated laws for too long,” said House Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, who sponsored the bill. “Bitcoin bypasses the traditional banking system, and our state’s laws simply had not caught up to the upsurge in criminality in the world of cybercurrency.”

The bill was crafted with help from Miami-Dade cyber-crime prosecutors.

Full details here.

In final session votes, lawmakers trade 'Stand Your Ground' for religious liberties in schools

Stand Your GroundBy Jim Turner
News Service of Florida

A change to the state’s “stand your ground” self-defense law is heading to Gov. Rick Scott after the Senate agreed late Friday to go along with a House proposal.

The House and Senate both wanted to change the law but had clashed on a legal issue in the bill (SB 128).

But with time running out in the legislative session Friday, the Senate voted 22-14 — with Tallahassee Democrat Bill Montford joining Republicans in support — to accept the House proposal.

The move came in exchange for getting the House to accept the Senate’s more far-reaching language on a separate measure (SB 436) dealing with religious expression in public schools.

“I thought that it was a reasonable resolution to both matters, and they’re both constitutional issues,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who sponsored the “stand your ground” bill. “And we wrapped it all up in a bow, and we resolved them both in a satisfactory manner.”

More here.

Photo credit: AP

May 05, 2017

If Rick Scott vetoes budget, House Speaker says they have votes to override



House Speaker Richard Corcoran is not sweating the idea that Gov. Rick Scott could veto the entire state budget the Legislature is expected to pass on Monday.

"If he vetoes the budget, we have the votes, we'll override," Corcoran told reporters late Friday.

Scott has said that vetoing the entire budget is one of his options, but has stopped short of threatening it. The Legislature is preparing to send him a budget that cuts Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida and ignores his request for $200 million to speed up work on the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee - his stated three biggest priorities.

"I'm going to look at my options," Scott said on Wednesday during a stop in Tampa when asked if he would veto the entire budget. "That’s an option I have. But what I do every year is I go through  (the budget) and say what's good for our Florida families? I represent everybody in the state, so I'm going to do what's best for every family in the state."

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Rick Scott delivers his State of the State Address in March with House Speaker Richard Corcoran watching on. (SCOTT KEELER/Tampa Bay Times)

Mammoth education budget bill will decide testing, recess, teacher bonus policies and more

Florida Legislature (7)


At the insistence of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, numerous major changes to education policy for Florida’s K-12 public schools — from teacher bonuses and daily recess, to testing reforms and expansions for charter schools — were crammed into a single mammoth bill on Friday, with $414 million in spending attached.

All of the policies in the the 278-page bill (HB 7069) will pass or fail as one on Monday, when lawmakers vote on the annual budget.

No changes can be made to the bill. House and Senate members have less than two days to make sense of it before they must cast an up-or-down vote.

If lawmakers’ pass it, the bill ties the hand of Republican Gov. Rick Scott. Should he want to veto the bill, he would be politically responsible for shooting down every policy in it — particularly the parent-demanded daily recess measure.

Corcoran told reporters it wasn’t political strategy to link all of the policies together, but he showed his cards a week ago when he tweeted after midnight Saturday that “the problem with recess is the governor not the Legislature.” (He pointed out Friday that that tweet ended up being true and was simply “just a week early.”)

But the sheer size and scope of the new version of HB 7069 caught many lawmakers by surprise — even those closely involved in negotiating the compromise between both parties and both chambers.

Several senators, in particular, were troubled by the process and said the bill wouldn’t automatically have their support.

Full details here.

Photo credit: Senate President Joe Negron, center right, watches as Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran, left, and House members work out budget differences during a budget conference late afternoon Friday, May 5, 2017 at the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. Mark Wallheiser/AP

Florida Legislature offically headed for overtime


It's official, the Legislature didn't finish on time and is headed for overtime.

The Legislature officially voted just after 9 p.m. to extend the annual 60-day session to a 63-day session in order to complete a new state budget on time.

Both the Senate and House voted officially to extend the annual session to Monday until 11:59 p.m.

The decision to meet on Monday was already in the works days ago because it became clear the Legislature would not have a budget ready to pass by Friday.

A year after her predecessor lost his job, Senate confirms Celeste Philip as surgeon general



On the final day of 2016’s legislative session, Dr. Celeste Philip became Florida’s acting surgeon general after the Senate refused to confirm her predecessor, Dr. John Armstrong. This year, as the Legislature prepared for a final set of votes Monday, the Senate confirmed Philip to the job permanently.

The surgeon general, appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, is head of Florida’s Department of Health.

Technically speaking, Armstrong resigned last year. He did so after it was clear that he did not have the votes in the Senate, where Democrats and at least one Republican blocked his confirmation. They took issue with a rise in HIV in South Florida that accompanied cuts to the DOH workforce, reported by the Times/Herald

As well, DOH had removed 9,000 sick children from coverage under the Children's Medical Services program.

In addition to Philip, the Senate on Friday confirmed three other appointees to run state agencies: Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Justin Senior, Secretary of Elder Affairs Jeffrey Bragg and Executive Director of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Glenn Sutphin.

Photo: Florida Surgeon General Celeste Philip talks to reporters following a Zika roundtable at the Hillsborough County Health Department last August. (Monica Herndon | Tampa Bay Times)

Mar-a-Lago season is over: Trump spending weekend in New Jersey

via @learyreports

First there was Mar-a-Lago. Now, Bedminster.

President Donald Trump is spending the weekend at Trump National Golf Course in New Jersey, an anticipated move after the social season wrapped up in Palm Beach.

“Rather than causing a big disruption in N.Y.C., I will be working out of my home in Bedminster, N.J. this weekend. Also saves country money!” Trump wrote on Twitter Friday, referring to  canceled plans to drop in on Trump Tower, where a large protest was planned.

Trump has visited Mar-a-Lago seven times since becoming president, stirring debate about the cost and disruption to daily life and business. His trips brought teams of protesters but also smaller groups of supporters, some lucky enough to get invited inside the opulent resort.

This week, the expense became clearer as a conservative group, Judicial Watch, obtained documents showing that Trump’s flights to Florida for two weekends cost nearly $1.3 million. That does not include security and associated costs.

Trump was a frequent critic of President Barack Obama’s travel, which Judicial Watch estimated cost at least $97 million over the course of his time in office.

The budget deal approved this week by Congress includes $61 million for local security costs incurred by Trump’s travel. Palm Beach County alone burned through about $4 million and New York City has spent millions more to protect Trump Tower, where First Lady Melania Trump resides with 11-year-old son Barron.

Trump told Fox News last week that he didn’t want to return to New York because it’s “very expensive for the country” and that “I hate to see the New Yorkers with streets closed.”

Yet he defended his travel.

“It would be much better if people would understand that I could go other places than I have,” Trump said. “But then they hit me for relaxing. And I don’t want to be known as a person that relaxes because I am working hard and I am working hard for the people and we’re doing a great job.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Fact-checking a Democratic attack about a Trump golf course in Puerto Rico

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President Donald Trump accused Democrats of using Puerto Rico’s debt as a bargaining chip before the deadline to settle the federal budget.

“The Democrats want to shut government if we don’t bail out Puerto Rico and give billions to their insurance companies for OCare failure. NO!” Trump tweeted April 27.

Trump appeared to be referring to an effort by Democrats, including Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, to address a Medicaid shortfall in Puerto Rico, which became the largest municipal bankruptcy on May 3.

The Florida Democratic Party fired back at Trump’s tweet in a press release, suggesting that Trump shares blame in the island’s economic downfall. A Trump golf resort, the party said, crashed in Puerto Rico and hurt taxpayers.

“Trump conveniently left out the fact that his golf course on the island defaulted, like so many of his other failed business schemes. The failure left Puerto Rican taxpayers with a nearly $33 million bill, another example of Trump’s many scams that make him wealthier and con hardworking families,” the party wrote.

Did Trump really leave the island stuck paying for a bungled investment? Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

Parents could more easily object to books, lesson materials in public schools

Read 28 Two PAB


Moms and dads will have more power to challenge their child’s classroom books or other lesson materials that parents deem distasteful, offensive or inappropriate for public schools, under a bill the Florida Legislature passed Friday.

Lawmakers argue county school boards aren’t giving parents a fair say to contest instructional materials, and that HB 989 only “tightens up that process.” But opponents fear it makes it easier for parents to object on philosophical grounds to some core topics their children are taught — such as evolution or sex education, or historical events, like slavery or the Holocaust.

Senators approved the bill, 19-17, after about 40 minutes of debate Friday. Miami-Dade Republican Sens. Anitere Flores and René García opposed it with the chamber’s 15 Democrats.

Senate sponsor Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, said critics’ concerns about extreme complaints were unwarranted because he said the legislation limits what kind of objections parents could make.

The bill states parents and residents of a school district can challenge any classroom materials, library books or reading lists that contain “pornographic” content or “is not suited to student needs and their ability to comprehend the material presented, or is inappropriate for the grade level and age group.”

It’s that vague language — as well as how the bill defines the “resident” who can make the challenge — that has Democrats most concerned. They also worry it overrides the authority of elected school board members.

“This seems to go a lot farther than a lot of us think makes sense,” Miami Democratic Sen. José Javier Rodríguez said.

More here.

Photo credit: Miami Herald file photo