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May 25, 2017

What is Gov. Scott hearing now on #HB7069? It's a toss-up.

Florida Budget (3)@ByKristenMClark

Floridians continue to inundate Republican Gov. Rick Scott with input on whether he should sign or veto a controversial K-12 schools bill known as House Bill 7069.

And the overall message is no longer decisive as it was less than a week ago — now that school choice groups have stepped up to more aggressively defend and lobby for the legislation, which heavily benefits charter schools through additional funding and less regulation.

As of Wednesday evening, the amount of emails, letters, phone calls and petition signatures Scott’s office had received were roughly even, currently skewing slightly in favor of him signing the bill into law.

Altogether, Scott has gotten 11,800 messages in support, compared to 10,900 messages against — barely a 1.1-to-1 margin at this point, according to the information requested by the Herald/Times from the governor’s office.

Full details here on those numbers and how — and why — they've changed significantly since last week.

Photo credit: AP

May 24, 2017

Florida Republicans offer muted response to healthcare CBO score

@PatriciaMazzei

Florida Republicans in Congress had little to say Wednesday after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the revised House GOP bill to replace Obamacare would leave some 23 million people without health insurance by 2026.

That's a slight improvement from the 24 million who would have been left uninsured over the next decade under a prior CBO projection. But legislators weren't exactly celebrating -- especially because they expect the Senate to write their own, different version of the legislation.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Carlos Curbelo, one of two Miami Republicans to vote for the American Health Care Act called the new CBO score "a reminder that there is a lot of room for improvement in the AHCA."

"Since before it was voted out of the House, Congressman Curbelo has been working to enhance it by strengthening protections for those with pre-existing conditions and increasing support for lower income Americans and those nearing the age of retirement," spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez said in a statement. "He has continued those efforts by engaging Senate offices in recent weeks."

A spokeswoman for the other Miami Republican to back the bill, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, said he had yet to review the CBO report because he had "been in meetings and hearings."

"While understanding the CBO is not infallible, he greatly respects the office and hopes to review the report this weekend," spokeswoman Katrina Valdés said in an email.

A spokesman for Sen. Marco Rubio would not comment.

Democrats, on the other hand, were eager to continue slamming the AHCA.

"This Republican health care bill is a disaster," Sen. Bill Nelson said in a statement. "It takes health care coverage away from 23 million people, allows older Americans to be charged more and ends the guarantee of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. We should be focused on improving our nation's health care system, not making it worse."

Corcoron has a new political committee, ahead of possible run for governor

via @adamsmithtimes

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran has opened a new political committee, Watchdog PAC, that may or may not bankroll his campaign for governor in 2018. The Land O'Lakes Republican says he will remain speaker of the Florida House through the 2018 session and decide after that whether or not he will run for governor.

In the meantime, it apears virtually every special interest wanting something done or not done in the legislature can bankroll the ironically named Watchdog PAC to curry favor with Corcoran. We haven't heard back from Corcoran yet, but this new committee fits exactly what he said he intended to do.

"If I can't raise the money, I can't raise the money, and if I raise the money and I don't want to run for governor, I don't run for governor. I'll use it for constitutional amendments, I'll use it for helping real conservatives, or I'll turn it over to the (Republican) party," Corcoran told the Tampa Bay Times earlier this month.

Adam Putnam already has north of $8 million for his gubernatorial campaign, and state Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater seems increasingly likely to get into the race as well. U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of northeast Florida is also a prospect.

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

BuzzFeed: Mar-a-Lago employee working on Trump travel logistics to Italy

From BuzzFeed News:

A top Mar-a-Lago employee is also working for the government to help prepare for President Trump's visit to Taormina, Italy, for the G-7 Summit — an unconventional arrangement that further blurs the line between the president's business empire and the White House.

Heather Rinkus, the guest reception manager at Trump's "Winter White House," is working with the president's advance and logistics team, while Trump's exclusive club, Mar-a-Lago, closes for the summer. She has an official White House email and government-issued phone, two sources familiar with Rinkus’ trip told BuzzFeed News.

An administration source confirmed to BuzzFeed News on Wednesday that Rinkus was officially listed as an advance associate for the Taormina leg of the trip and had government-issued blackberry and email.

She is married to a twice-convicted felon, Ari Rinkus, who is known to brag about his wife's access to the president as he trawls for investors and pursues government contracts on behalf of a foreign company, BuzzFeed News previously detailed.

More here.

At town hall meeting, Miami-Dade Schools urge parents to oppose HB 7069

Town hall photo web

@KyraGurney

Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho had a dire message for parents and teachers at a town hall meeting Tuesday night: If Gov. Rick Scott approves the state budget and a controversial education bill, the school district faces serious financial trouble.

"This is a man-made crisis," Carvalho said, speaking to a packed auditorium at John A. Ferguson Senior High in West Kendall. "If something doesn't change, a crisis it will be."

The town hall at Ferguson High was the third of six meetings organized by the school district this week to urge teachers and parents to contact the governor and ask him to veto a mammoth education bill (HB 7069) and the line-item in the budget for per-pupil education spending.

The $82.4 billion budget passed by the Florida Legislature earlier this month increases school funding by 0.34 percent or $24.49 per student, which Carvalho and other Florida superintendents say is not enough to meet public education needs. At the town hall meeting, Carvalho told residents that after the district's mandatory contribution to the Florida retirement system, the increase amounts to just 50 cents for each of the district's nearly 350,000 students. 

"What can you get for 50 cents these days? Can anybody tell me, please?" Carvalho asked the audience at Ferguson High.

The Miami-Dade school district is also concerned that a provision in HB 7069 — which would compel districts to share millions of dollars in local tax revenue earmarked for capital projects with charter schools — would force Miami-Dade to put maintenance projects on hold and impact the district's credit rating, Carvalho said.

Many in the audience said they shared the school district's concerns and planned to contact the governor. Maria Prospero, the mother of a student at Olympia Heights Elementary School, said she had decided to attend the town hall meeting "for my daughter's rights." Prospero said she was concerned that her daughter's school could lose after-school activities and language programs if the district doesn't get enough state funding. She said she planned to share information about the budget with her friends on Facebook and send an e-mail to Scott. 

Meanwhile, supporters of the education bill are organizing their own events to urge the governor to sign HB 7069 into law. They have planned three rallies this week at the same locations as the school district's town hall meetings. A pro-HB 7069 rally will be held at Miami Senior High School on Thursday at 5 p.m. before the school district's 6 p.m. town hall meeting. Supporters of the bill are also holding a rally on Friday at 3 p.m. outside the School Board Administration Building downtown. A school district sponsored town hall will be held at that location at 4 p.m.  

South Florida congressman wants Trump to pay for Mar-a-Lago travel

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- This bill won’t go anywhere, but give Rep. Alcee Hastings creative points with the TRUMPED Act, aka Taxpayers Require Urgent Mandatory Protection from Egregious Debt Act of 2017:

“Since President Donald John Trump’s election, my Congressional offices have received numerous calls and letters expressing concern over his use of Mar-a-lago as an almost weekly retreat. His constant use of his own property is padding his own pockets with taxpayer money, while significantly harming local businesses and straining primary law enforcement agencies to the brink. For instance, over just one holiday alone, the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office was forced to absorb $250,000 in unforeseen expenses.

“It is offensive that President Trump insists on a budget that unequivocally, and without mercy, attacks hardworking Americans, and then has the audacity to turn around and insist that our local police officers, first responders and small businesses suffer under his insistence that he be allowed to enjoy a lavish life style at taxpayer expense.

“That is why I introduced the TRUMPED Act. The bill is based on a simple premise: if President Trump wants to make continual use of his properties, then he may do so, but he can't have taxpayers foot the bill.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Regalado casts herself as Ros-Lehtinen's political heir

IMG_Whither_Regalado__2__2_1_759SRKUS_L272473723
@PatriciaMazzei

As she mulled a run for Congress, Raquel Regalado was nagged by a question she said was posed to her again and again that might not usually be asked of male candidate.

"The first question that I was asked was, 'How are you going to be a mother and a congresswoman?'" Regalado said Tuesday at a women-centered Miami Young Republicans event where she kicked off her candidacy. "I think it's sad that we're in a place where people still ask those questions."

With that, Regalado, a former Miami-Dade County School Board member, portrayed herself as the political heir to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the retiring GOP congresswoman Regalado is hoping to replace.

Regalado didn't explicitly draw the line between her nascent candidacy and Ros-Lehtinen's trailblazing political career. But it was clear that, as the most prominent Republican woman who's filed for the Democratic-leaning 27th district, Regalado plans to campaign as a politician cast in Ros-Lehtinen's centrist mold.

Ros-Lehtinen has been a frequent GOP critic of President Donald Trump. Regalado didn't endorse him last year, and preemptively dismissed the suggestion that Republican voters -- especially in blue Miami-Dade -- want candidates to echo the president. (Her biggest opponent so far, Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, appeared as a Trump surrogate at South Florida rallies.)

"This is not about a particular person," Regalado said, referring to Trump. "This is about having a party that represents its residents.... The party, to be successful, has to have different voices." 

Regalado's answer to how she'd juggle motherhood and Congress, by the way, was that her children were born into a political family and are used to the balance. Her father is Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado.

"They don't know any better," Raquel Regalado said, citing her school board experience as positive for her two children, since they benefited from her focus on policies to help kids on the autistic spectrum, as they are.

"I told them, 'Going to Congress would be the best thing that could happen to my family,'" she said.

 

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell, Miami Herald staff

Florida Prison guards arrested for spraying inmate in face and locking him in closet

@jkbjournalist

Prison wireTwo corrections officers have been arrested after allegedly spraying an inmate in the face with chemicals and locking him in a supply closet, still covered in toxic residue as he begged to be let out, documents show.

READ MORE: Deadly abuse in Florida’s prisons

The officers, guards at Liberty Correctional Institution in Florida’s Panhandle, allegedly punished the inmate after he refused to return to a dorm. The inmate was asking to be placed in protective custody because he said his cellmate was threatening to harm him.

Capt. Steven Cloud and Sgt. Jeffery Davis allegedly laughed at the inmate and ordered him to return to the dorm. When he refused, the two officers took him to a supply closet, where he was strip-searched. Davis then reached around and sprayed him in the face with a chemical agent, the report said. When the inmate turned around to avoid the spray, Davis sprayed him again, “in the ear,’’ the report said.

Cloud allegedly told the inmate to “wear it’’ for at least 15 minutes, then left him in the closet unhandcuffed, the arrest papers said. It’s not clear how long he was begging for help before he was let out.

The officers then fabricated a report, saying that the inmate was sprayed because he had been aggressive toward them, the arrest affidavit said. Cloud was charged with official misconduct and submitting a false report; Davis was charged with malicious battery, official misconduct and filing a false report. Story here.

Union-backed coalition launches ad urging veto of HB 7069, taking Republicans out of context

 Anti7069 ad

@ByKristenMClark

The fight over whether Republican Gov. Rick Scott should sign or veto a controversial $419 million K-12 public schools bill is escalating to new levels: Ad wars.

A labor union-backed political advocacy group debuted an online video ad Tuesday (below), asking Scott to veto HB 7069 because it heavily favors privately managed charter schools over traditional public education.

But the liberal-leaning Fight for Florida Inc. takes quotes from Scott and a Republican senator out of context in trying to make its case that the legislation is bad policy.

Full details here.

Image credit: Fight for Florida, Florida Education Association / YouTube

Adam Putnam calls for special session on medical marijuana

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@MichaelAuslen

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Republican candidate for governor Adam Putnam wants state lawmakers to come back to Tallahassee in a special session to finish the work on medical marijuana that they started but didn't finish earlier this month.

"I think that it's important for the elected officials to have done their job during the regular session," he said Tuesday. "Since they didn't, I think a special session is in order."

Lawmakers failed to reach agreement on sweeping legislation that would have put into state law the will of 71 percent of voters who supported medical pot. A breakdown in backroom negotiations among top members of the Legislature meant they left their regular session this year without putting a system into place, kicking the issue to the Department of Health, which Putnam and others have been critical of.

"I think for a constitutional amendment's implementation, it's important for the elected officials to do it, not the bureaucrats at the Department of Health," Putnam said.

He joins more than two dozen other Florida politicians who have called for a special session, including Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham and possible candidate John Morgan, who were both among the first to demand a special session. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, also rumored to be considering a run for governor, said two weeks ago that he supports bringing the Legislature back.

"I watched my husband battle cancer & the effects of chemo. Patients could use medical marijuana to treat their pain," Graham tweeted early this month.

As well, 13 state lawmakers have written letters to Secretary of State Ken Detzner asking for a special session: Sens. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami; Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg; Greg Steube, R-Sarasota; and Victor Torres, D-Orlando. And Reps. John Cortes, D-Kissimmee; Nick Duran, D-Miami; Katie Edwards, D-Plantation; Roy Hardemon, D-Miami; Wengay Newton, D-St. Petersburg; Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena; Sean Shaw, D-Tampa; Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton; and Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando.

If 32 members of the Legislature, Detzner's office would have to poll the House and Senate. A three-fifths majority of each chamber is required to call a special session. In addition to the 13 listed above, at least 14 other lawmakers have said on social media or in interviews with the Times/Herald that they support a special session.

The other two options, which are far more common: Gov. Rick Scott could call a special session (he has routinely said he will "consider his options"), or Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron could jointly do so.

Photo: Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam (OCTAVIO JONES | Tampa Bay Times)