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February 20, 2017

Florida Legislature's own research reveals disparities in school recess

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For more than a year, whenever a “recess mom” has come to the Florida Capitol and pleaded with lawmakers, they have told stories of their child’s lack of access to daily recess — offering anecdotes from their child’s school or school district to showcase the inequities of unstructured playtime offered in Florida’s public schools.

Informal surveys of parents in some counties, like Pinellas or Miami-Dade, have seemed to support their assertions.

IN-DEPTH: “Quest for daily recess: Moms renew fight for more free play in Florida Legislature”

But if lawmakers need official, solid evidence of the disparities in school recess, they need look no further than the findings of their own research analysts.

The Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability (OPPAGA) last fall surveyed all 67 county school districts about their recess policies and also sought responses from 2,900 public elementary and middle schools.

The results revealed broad inconsistencies in whether school districts and specific schools actually offer daily recess, and if they do, how frequently and for how long.

The data — presented to some senators last week — comes as the Senate Education Committee is poised to vote Tuesday on legislation that would require 20 minutes of daily recess in all Florida public elementary schools, or 100 minutes a week.

Read more here.

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald

Rubio heads to Europe this week

Trump Education Secretary

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio will travel with a delegation of other senators to Europe this week while Congress is in recess, his office said Monday.

Due to Senate business Friday, Rubio was unable to go over the weekend to the Munich Security Conference attended by Vice President Mike Pence. He's traveling, like the other senators on the trip, with his wife, Jeanette.

Indivisible Miami, one of the groups recently formed to oppose President Donald Trump's presidency, plans to hold a Rubio "constituents town hall" on Thursday even though the senator won't be present.

Photo credit: J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

'A tough spot': 20 More House Republicans must choose between Rick Scott and Richard Corcoran

It's robo-call time for 20 more Republicans in the Florida House. They are the GOP members of the House Appropriations Committee who are set to vote Tuesday on one of Speaker Richard Corcoran's top priorities: a bill dismantling Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida (HB 7005).

This is the issue that has created a major rift between Corcoran and Gov. Rick Scott, who supports retaining the two programs that Corcoran calls "corporate welfare" and "the government picking winners and losers."

FullSizeRender(13)Eleven of the 20 GOP members on Appropriations are from South Florida or Tampa Bay, including Reps. George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale; Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo; Larry Ahern, R-Seminole; Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami; and Jose Felix "Pepi" Diaz, R-Miami (left), who said Tuesday's vote will simply keep the debate going.

"We're not even in session," Diaz said. "For somebody to vote in the affirmative does not mean that they support the bill wholeheartedly. It just means that they want to continue the conversation, and I don't think anyone has ever lost an election for continuing a conversation."

"We're in kind of a tough spot," said Moraitis, whose Fort Lauderdale district is heavily dependent on tourism. "But this is not a final vote. This is advancing a conversation."

That sounds like a vote less about the merits of the issue and more about process, and enabling Corcoran to retain a bargaining chip with the Senate and governor. At a private caucus with House Republicans last Wednesday, Corcoran said he urged everyone to "vote your conscience."

Moraitis, who met with hoteliers and tourism people in Fort Lauderdale Friday, said that in the wake of last year's Zika scare, it's more important than ever to promote Florida to visitors. He said Corcoran has not put any pressure on him to vote for the bill. "I certainly feel I have to help advance the conversation and not shut it off prematurely," he said.


February 18, 2017

Trump reverts to campaign mode in Melbourne rally

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@joeflech @PatriciaMazzei

MELBOURNE -- President Donald Trump reprised his favorite role — that of a rousing campaigner — on Saturday, holding a massive rally that offered him a respite from the tribulations of his first four weeks in the White House as he tried to regain control of his political message.

Faced with a series of early setbacks, including the firing of his national security adviser, the rejection by the courts of his immigration ban and low approval ratings, Trump reverted to the comfort of his candidate stump speech. To an ecstatic crowd of 9,000 at an Orlando-Melbourne International Airport hangar, Trump repeated his campaign promises, in some cases word for word — making it seem for a moment as though the months on the calendar had somehow flipped back to 2016.

Now, however, the Trump of 2017 stood behind a lectern bearing the presidential seal.

“I’m here because I want to be among my friends and among the people,” he declared.

Holding a rally less than a month after inauguration is not unheard of for American presidents. But in the past, such public events have been choreographed to push a specific policy, a priority of the nascent administration’s first weeks in office.

Trump, who has yet to send any proposed legislation to Congress, didn’t make a case for a single issue. He urged lawmakers to work with him on tax reform, an infrastructure spending plan and the replacement of the Affordable Care Act but did not dwell on the particulars.

He also rattled off a list of his accomplishments, such as nominating Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, restarting construction of the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, and pursuing a more aggressive deportation policy for “gang members and drug dealers who are right now, as I speak, being thrown out of the country.”

“And they will not be let back in,” he said. “We will have strong borders again.”

More here.

Photo credit: Susan Walsh, Associated Press

Billionaire Democrat's name surfaces in Florida governor chatter

via @adamsmithtimes

Add another potentially game-changing name to the prospective Democratic candidates for governor in 2018. Billionaire Palm Beach resident and former U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Greene.

"I've been approached by a lot of people, and I've had conversations with people that have approached me," said Greene, who lost the 2010 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate to Kendrick Meek after spending about $23 million of his own money.

Though we hear Greene has been talking to political consultants about a potential run, Greene downplayed his interest to The Tampa Bay Times and said he is not actively looking at it.

Greene said he is largely focused on his "Closing the Gap" conference set for April in Palm Beach. It will explore how to improve opportunities for all of society. Scheduled speakers include former British Prime Minister David Cameron, former Apple CEO John Sculley, columnist Thomas Friedman, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

"It's certainly something that I haven't ruled out if it made sense," Greene said.

At this point likely Democratic candidates include Mayors Andrew Gillum of Tallahassee and Philip Levine of Miami Beach and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee. Others considering it include Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Orlando businessman Chris King, and Orlando area attorney John Morgan.

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

Bob Graham wants 9/11-style panel in Congress to investigate Russian meddling

via @learyreports

Former Sen. Bob Graham, who co-chaired a congressional investigation into 9/11, wants a similar approach for a probe into Russian interference.

Graham issued the following:

"After the horrific terrorist attacks of 9/11, the congressional leadership set aside political differences in a search for the truth. For the first time in more than 200 years, Congress merged two standing committees from different houses -- the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence -- into a Joint Congressional Inquiry. Due in large part to the experience of our members, their familiarity with the use of classified information and an independent staff, the Joint Inquiry wrote the first draft of the U.S. intelligence community’s role in the events surrounding the tragedy. Our investigation discovered documentation and data that raised concerns about possible involvement of foreign individuals and sources of support for the hijackers.”

“Fifteen years later, evidence is mounting that the Russian government attempted to influence the result of the 2016 election, including possible coordination with American campaign officials, and impact governmental action following the elections. Because of these attacks on our democratic process, I urge Congress to convene a new bicameral, bipartisan joint inquiry so the American people have a comprehensive account of what happened -- and what our government and other democracies which might be at risk can do to protect our electoral processes from covert foreign intrusion.  

“The world is watching. If we do nothing, we will communicate that the United States is indifferent to outside interference in our political process.  Inaction will empower the Russian government and other potential interlopers to act with impunity.  With elections scheduled this year in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and other nations, the United States must immediately send a loud and clear signal that interference in democracy will not be tolerated.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

February 17, 2017

Rick Scott ratchets up feud with House Republicans with robo calls


Gov. Rick Scott (AP)


Gov. Rick Scott isn't done singling out Republicans in the Florida House of Representatives who voted against one of his biggest priorities.

Following a week that he toured the state publicly calling out Republicans for voting to kill Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, Scott is now using a political action committee he controls to launch automated telephone calls to voters in 9 key House districts to complain about those legislators even more.

"Unfortunately your state Rep - Paul Renner - is playing politics with Florida jobs," Scott said on the recorded phone call in Jacksonville. "He voted to kill our state tourism and jobs program and that will destroy our economy and will lead to higher taxes."

The ad is paid for by Let's Get to Work, the governor's political committee.

Scott is irate over a bill that passed a House subcommittee that would kill both Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. The bill passed on a 10-5 vote in the Careers & Competition Subcommittee. However, the bill has almost no chance of ever becoming law because the Senate does not have a similar bill. Both chambers need to pass identical bills for a bill to even make it out of the Legislature. And even if they did pass the same idea, Scott would have veto power to reject the Legislation.

That reality hasn't slowed Scott one bit. His whirlwind tour of the state included him accusing lawmakers of turning their back on the economic momentum the state has built since 2010 and called the "politicians" who don't understand how important tourism marketing is to the state.

Scott's automated phone calls target these members: Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole; Halsey Beshears, R-Monticello; Randy Fine, R-Brevard; Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice; Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa; Mike La Rosa, R-St. Cloud; Alex Miller, R-Sarasota; Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, and Renner.

Renner said Scott's pressure isn't going to change his vote on the bill to kill both agencies. He said he's taking a stand on principle and doesn't believe in "corporate giveaways."

"I think in our community, the more people hear about the facts about those programs they will be offended," Renner said.

Renner said he thinks a better way to grow jobs is through broad based tax cuts that help more businesses than a tax incentive package could.

Fearing Trump, Miami-Dade commission drops county's "sanctuary" protections

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@PatriciaMazzei @doug_hanks

Miami-Dade commissioners on Friday backed Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s controversial decision to detain jailed inmates sought for deportation by the federal government, citing funding threats by President Donald Trump and ignoring hours of emotional testimony from residents who implored the board to stand up to the mayor.

With a 9-3 vote, commissioners stood behind Gimenez despite listening to scores of residents who spent the day at County Hall hoping to persuade them to protect Miami-Dade’s immigrant identity.

“Shame on you!” the crowd cried after the vote, hurling bits of paper at the dais and standing up to yell and stomp out of the chambers. “May God have mercy on your soul,” one woman hollered.

Voting to endorse Gimenez’s Jan. 26 directive were Chairman Esteban “Steve” Bovo, Vice Chairwoman Audrey Edmonson and Commissioners Bruno Barreiro, Jose “Pepe” Diaz, Sally Heyman, Joe Martinez, Dennis Moss, Rebeca Sosa and Javier Souto. Voting against were Commissioners Daniella Levine Cava, Jean Monestime and Xavier Suarez. Commissioner Barbara Jordan was absent.

“Miami-Dade is not — has never considered itself — a sanctuary community” Gimenez said.

More here.

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, Miami Herald staff

Accused ‘frontman’ in Venezuelan drug ring is member of Trump’s Doral golf resort

via @ChuckRabin

The Trump administration this week froze the assets of a wealthy Venezuelan businessman named Samark Lopez Bello, accusing him of being the “frontman” in a narco-trafficking scheme run by the country’s vice president.

It turns out that Lopez Bello, a petroleum distribution executive in Venezuela, is also a member of one of President Donald Trump’s luxury golf course resorts in South Florida.

His name is on a confidential membership roster at Trump National Doral provided to The Herald. Several members also confirmed the businessman is a member at the luxury resort purchased by President Trump in early 2012, where memberships run as high as $50,000 plus annual fees. It wasn’t clear Friday how long Lopez Bello had been a member there or if he joined before Trump’s purchase of the renowned golf destination.

Helen Ferre, special assistant to the president and director of media affairs, responded to questions about Lopez Bello with a short email statement: “This is not a White House issue, the President is divested from the business.”

More here.

Restore county's 'sanctuary' stance, residents urge Miami-Dade commission

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@PatriciaMazzei @doug_hanks

One after another, the people who crammed the Miami-Dade County Commission chambers Friday delivered an extended, impassioned and often eloquent defense of immigration, imploring their elected leaders to defend South Florida’s diversity under the presidency of Donald Trump.

More than 150 people signed up to speak, almost all of them against Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s decision to require local jails to detain inmates at the request of federal immigration authorities. Commissioners are scheduled to vote to accept or reject Gimenez’s directive later Friday.

The mayor has cast his action as a purely financial one, intended to avoid a federal funding cut threatened by a Trump executive order banning cities and counties that act as a “sanctuary” for immigrants who are in the country illegally.

But for most speakers — the vast majority of them Hispanic — Gimenez’s move to essentially revoke the county’s sanctuary stance represented an unacceptable rebuke to Miami-Dade’s immigrant identity.

“I’m heartbroken by this debate,” said Manuel Ernesto Gutierrez, who described himself as a U.S. Navy veteran. “What bothers me — and should bother you — is the fundamental issue of what kind of community do we want to be. Do we want to be a welcoming community?”

More here.

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, Miami Herald staff