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February 10, 2016

Negron committee set to vote on juvenile justice


Thursday morning, Sen. Joe Negron’s Justice Appropriations Subcommittee will hear legislation he voted against last year but that’s tied to one of his main focuses as he ascends to the Senate presidency.

The bill (SB 314) makes a number of changes to juvenile justice laws, notably cutting back “direct file,” a process that allows prosecutors to try kids as adults without a judge’s approval. It limits direct file to 17 violent crimes for 16- to 18-year-olds and to murder, manslaughter and rape for 14- and 15-year-olds. Children could still be tried as adults for other crimes under a judge’s order.

Reform supporters say direct file has been used to charge children as adults for relatively minor offenses, having a long-term effect on their lives. Opponents — namely prosecutors — worry that it takes a useful tool out of their hands in trying to curb criminal activity. 

The issue closely tied to one Negron has already made a centerpiece of his Senate presidency: not over-criminalizing childhood. He highlighted it in December when he was officially designated the chamber’s next leader, telling a story about mistakes he made as a child.

“Let's not criminalize adolescence,” Negron said. “There is a delicate balance here. We should not and we will not tolerate serious wrongdoing by young people but, at the same time, let's not criminalize adolescence.”

But last year, Negron voted against a similar bill in the same committee.

“The reason I voted against it last year was the percentage of direct files was very, very low, and I didn’t think there was a persuasive case made that there had been an abuse of discretion,” Negron said.

In recent years, the number of kids being tried in adult court has been decreasing, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.

Still, Negron said the issue merits consideration.

“It’s definitely a discussion we should have,” Negron said. “We’ll see where we go.”

Thad Altman blasts Senate budget process that leads to rejection of Florida Forever funding

Land and water MHFlorida Senate leaders rejected a budget amendment Wednesday that would have restored $222.5 million to the Florida Forever land-buying program that has been left threadbare since the Great Recession, arguing that the amendment was "out of order" because it would have left the Senate's proposed budget out of balance. 
The amendment, by Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, would have restored the funding to the state's once-vaunted land acquisition program, heralded by environmentalists as visionary approach to shielding the state's fragile ecosystems and waterways from pollution and other development encroachment.
The state program was wiped dry by lawmakers during the tight years of the recession and so environmentalists asked voters to approve Amendment 1 in 2014, creating a dedicated funding stream lawmakers would be required to use for land acquisition and water preservation.
Despite that, legislators have steadfastly refused to restore the land buying program -- which was first begun as Preservation 2000 by Republican Gov. Bob Martinez in 1991 -- to its traditional level of $300 million a year. The 2015-16 budget  includes only $17.5 million for the acquisition of vital conservation lands through Florida Forever. The Senate proposed budget raises that to $22.5 million. 
Altman's amendment would authorize $222.5 million in bond proceeds from recurring money used to fund the Land Acquisition Trust fund, to be used for land acquisition through the Florida Forever program. He argued that the revenue source -- the documentary stamp tax on real estate transactions -- is "a robust fund and is expected to grow" so earmarking the money to pay bonds for land buying "will not affect the stability of our state." 
"It's the best stewardship of our tax dollars,'' he said. "These lands we want to purchase; we will lose them. They're escalating [in value] faster than our ability to purchase them."
But Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, the Senate majority leader, called a "point of order" saying the amendment was not appropriate because it upset the budget balance. Senate Rules Chairman David Simmons, R-Orlando, agreed and the amendment was withdrawn.
Altman was angered by the ruling and said it exposed a serious flaw in the Legislature's budget process. 

"All I was asking is to restore the right of this body in public to question an allocation,'' he told reporters after the Senate adjourned. "Horrific, horrific ruling that sets a horrific precedent."

The decision to limit the amount of money allocated to land acquisition to $22 million was done during the budget allocation process with no interaction from legislators, he said. 

"It sheds light on a huge, huge issue,'' he said. "It's the fact that allocations are done completely out of the sunshine, privately done and nobody even knows who does them in this back room and the public has no say...I think we should call for allocations to be done in public, they should be voted on. There should be debate. People should have a right to give input."

He said that when legislative leaders determine how much of the budget each budget area will get, they limit how much each area will have to spend. That is "bad enough for the appropriations process,'' he said, but by rejecting his amendment "they're saying we're telling you how you allocate your resources.  and by rejecting his amendment, "they're saying we're telling you how you allocate your resources."
Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, disagreed that the ruling was wrong.

"When you have the support of your colleagues, there's a lot of flexibility,'' he said, adding that Altman didn't say where he was taking the money for the land-buying bonds. "If you can find the money somewhere else and shift priorities over and there's a higher priority for land acquisition than there is for something, springs or something else like that, then all of those amendments are available to us. You just can't break the bank."

As for the claim that the budget allocation process is done behind closed doors, Lee pushed back.

"Some [budget] chairs have a discussion about how everybody feels about life in the committee,'' he said. "Others have private conversations with members of the committee...but ultimately the subcommittee's chairman's responsibility is to roll out a budget tha reflects the composite of his committee. We don't tell them how to do that."

Audubon Florida issued an email earlier in the day urging its members to tell senators to support the Altman amendment. "At a time when Florida's population is exploding it is essential that our state protect its most important natural lands and waters by acquiring these lands outright or by purchasing conservation easements which prevent future development,'' Audubon Florida wrote.


Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina drop out of GOP presidential race


New Hampshire's primary winnowed the Republican field by two candidates Wednesday: Both New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina dropped out after placing sixth and seventh, respectively, on Tuesday. (Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore remains a candidate.)

Here's Christie's statement:

I ran for president to say that the government needs to once again work for the people, not the people work for the government. And while running for president I tried to reinforce what I have always believed - that speaking your mind matters, that experience matters, that competence matters and that it will always matter in leading our nation. That message was heard by and stood for by a lot of people, but just not enough and that’s ok. I have both won elections that I was supposed to lose and I’ve lost elections I was supposed to win and what that means is you never know what will happen. That is both the magic and the mystery of politics - you never quite know when which is going to happen, even when you think you do. And so today, I leave the race without an ounce of regret. I’m so proud of the campaign we ran, the people that ran it with me and all those who gave us their support and confidence along the way. Mary Pat and I thank you for the extraordinary display of loyalty, friendship, understanding and love.

Here's part of Fiorina's statement:

This campaign was always about citizenship—taking back our country from a political class that only serves the big, the powerful, the wealthy, and the well connected. Election after election, the same empty promises are made and the same poll-tested stump speeches are given, but nothing changes. I've said throughout this campaign that I will not sit down and be quiet. I'm not going to start now. While I suspend my candidacy today, I will continue to travel this country and fight for those Americans who refuse to settle for the way things are and a status quo that no longer works for them.

Senators skeptical proposed changes to after-school funding could be in place by July


State senators peppered education budget Chairman Sen. Don Gaetz with questions on and off for an hour Wednesday afternoon about the Niceville Republican's plan to change how after-school and mentoring programs are funded, as the chamber started deliberating its budget plan for 2016-17.

Gaetz's proposal involves pooling together existing program funding from the departments of Education and Juvenile Justice (which currently go to about a half-dozen or so designated organizations, like Big Brothers Big Sisters or Boys & Girls Clubs), adding more dollars to that pot and creating a $30 million competitive grant program.

Gaetz says it would make a more fair process, free of lobbying and politics, and open up the dollars to more non-profit organizations that provide aftercare services to Florida children. (More here.)

Republican Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and several Democratic senators scrutinized the details of Gaetz's proposal during discussion on the Senate floor -- voicing skepticism through their questions that the plan could be implemented for the next budget year, which starts July 1, without affecting a funding stream that programs rely on.

They suggested a couple months wasn't enough time to set up the new state-appointed board that would vet program providers and decide which got how much money.

"I think President Gaetz is on to something that’s a good thing, because it becomes more of a fairness issue and a ranking issue, but it’s in the implementation that we have to look at this a little more closely," Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, said.

Gaetz countered every criticizing question with a defense.

Continue reading "Senators skeptical proposed changes to after-school funding could be in place by July" »

Is Donald Trump self-funding his campaign? Sort of

President Donald Trump wouldn’t be beholden to special interests, he says.

Why? Because billionaires aren’t paying for his campaign.

"You know a lot of times you see these really dumb deals," he said of current political leaders at an Iowa rally Feb. 1. "And you'll say that's dumb. It doesn't make sense. But then when you think, it does make sense because these politicians are representing interests, whether it's a country or a company, where doing the stupid deals actually makes sense only for that politician and for that company or country."

In contrast, Trump said, "I'm self-funding my own campaign. It's my money."

Trump talks about self-funding his own campaign almost every day, it seems, so it’s about time we put it on the Truth-O-Meter.

The fact is, Trump’s campaign isn’t 100 percent self-funded. He receives a significant amount of individual donations. But he does have a point that he puts up a lot of his own money, especially compared with other candidates (and that big-money donors are largely staying away).

See what Lauren Carroll of PolitiFact found.

Campaign for Miami District 4 commission seat begins amid expectations Francis Suarez will run for mayor


Francis Suarez is only three months deep into his final four-year term as a Miami city commissioner, but the campaign to take his place should he run for mayor in 2017 has already started.

On Wednesday, Ralph Rosado announced that he will make another push for the city's District 4 seat, which represents Coral Way, Flagami, and several other of Miami's southwest neighborhoods. His first fundraiser will be Feb. 24 at Ball and Chain, 1513 SW Eighth St.

"There's a lot to be done" in Miami, said Rosado, a Cuban-born urban planner who lives with his wife and three kids in Golden Pines.

Rosado has been in this position before. He filed to run for the District 4 commission seat and raised $165,000 when Suarez looked like he would challenge Tomas Regalado for mayor in 2013. But Suarez aborted that plan and Rosado rolled his campaign account over to the 2019 election. He still has about $80,000. Manuel Reyes, another candidate with a 2019 campaign account open, has $16,000 in the bank.

Rosado said he doesn't have any inside information on if Suarez will run for mayor (the commissioner says he's heavily leaning toward a run) but he couldn't wait around to find out. Should Suarez run for mayor, he would have to give up his commission seat in order to qualify for a November 2017 election.

Here's the press release:

Family and Friends,

I have some exciting news to share – I am re-starting my campaign for City of Miami Commissioner for District 4. As someone that was born and raised in the City, that learned in its schools and that played in its parks, I look forward to addressing the challenges ahead.

District 4 is a district of neighborhoods, and the residents of Shenandoah, Silver Bluff, Coral Gate, Golden Pines, West Little Havana, Flagami, and Flagler Gardens deserve the best representation possible. During the last several years I have had the chance to help improve conditions in the district and city in various ways, by focusing on transit access, pedestrian safety, park improvements, enhanced policing, business creation, and the amelioration of conditions for senior citizens.

My campaign kickoff/fundraiser will be on Wednesday, February 24th, 6-8pm, at Ball and Chain, 1513 SW 8 Street. It would mean a lot to have you there with my family and me.

I’m willing to put in the hard work that any campaign requires. But I cannot do it alone. I will need you by my side. Whether you can volunteer or contribute financially or both, your support is critical. Together, we can secure a brighter future for the neighborhoods of Miami’s District 4.

If you are unable to attend but would like to support the campaign, you may contribute online at


or by mailing a contribution (payable to "Ralph RosadoCampaign") to Ralph Rosado Campaign, PO Box 452521, 1800 Coral Way, Miami, FL 33245-2521. Maximum Contribution: $1,000 Per Person (Personal and/or Corporate).

Please feel free to extend this invitation to anyone interested in helping my campaign efforts.

Mari, the kids, and I look forward to seeing you on Wednesday, February 24th!

Ralph Ralph Rosado
Candidate for City Commissioner
City of Miami - District 4 

Political advertisement paid for and approved by Ralph Rosado, Candidate for City of Miami Commissioner, District 4.


Love and hate for Miami Sen. Diaz de la Portilla who hasn't taken up gun bills

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Senate Judiciary Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla has received a lot of praise and a lot of fury, ever since the Miami Republican announced his decision last month that he wouldn't hear a bill allowing concealed weapons on the state's public college and university campuses.

It was the second-straight year that Diaz de la Portilla made that decision, so it wasn't an unforeseen outcome for the legislation, which is now all-but-dead despite easily passing the House last week.

Diaz de la Portilla has grown increasingly reluctant to take up a similar bill that would allow concealed-weapons permit-holders to openly carry -- which the senator said this week is "on life support."

He told the Herald/Times today that it won't be on next week's judiciary agenda, and the committee might hold only one more meeting after that.

He acknowledged he's been getting "hate mail" for not hearing either the open-carry or campus-carry bills, but he shrugs off the criticism.

"I don't feel any pressure at all," he said. "I'm going to make what I think is a good decision based on sound policy reasons and it's no different than any other issue."

That's not stopping gun-rights advocates -- who are livid -- from trying to turn up the heat and persuade him to change his mind, particularly on campus-carry.

"Senator Diaz de la Portilla has taken it upon himself to unilaterally decide the future of a bipartisan bill that the vast majority of legislative members support," Florida Students for Concealed Carry state director Bekah Hargrove said in a statement this week. "He has made a mockery of the American legislative branch and turned Florida’s legislative process into a one-man show, without respect for the safety of college students."

She added: "He should be removed from his office for ignoring his duty to put bills up for a vote." Download Open Letter

Both the student group and Florida Carry have accused Diaz de la Portilla of refusing to meet with Shayna Lopez-Rivas, a rape victim who has testified at every legislative hearing that was held. She has said that if she had had the ability as a student to carry a gun, she feels she wouldn't have been raped.

"He has refused repeated requests to meet with supporters of Pro-Second Amendment bills," Florida Carry said in an email blast today urging its 37,000 members to call on Diaz de la Portilla to take up both campus-carry and open-carry.

Meanwhile, groups that support gun-control regulations and keeping guns off college campuses are thanking Diaz de la Portilla for his "courage" in choosing not to take up the bills, which are priorities for the powerful National Rifle Association.

"I write to commend you for your courage and steadfast commitment to student safety," Dana Bolger, executive director for Know Your IX (a national campus sexual assault prevention organization), wrote in a letter to Diaz de la Portilla that was given to the Herald/Times. Download Know Your IX Letter to Senator Diaz de la Portilla (The same letter was also sent to Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando.)

"I can say with confidence that allowing students to carry concealed weapons on campuses would have dangerous and potentially fatal consequences for Florida students, particularly for women and other marginalized students," Bolger wrote. "Some proponents of HB 4001 and SB 68 have suggested that allowing students to carry guns will protect them from becoming victims of sexual assault. This could not be further from the truth."

Gov. Rick Scott solicits support for tech center grant funding



Trying to get Florida lawmakers' support for one of his more lesser-profile priorities, Republican Gov. Rick Scott rallied in the Capitol rotunda this morning to raise awareness for his call to invest $20 million in a grant program that would help students at the state's 48 post-secondary technical centers.

Flanked by students, center administrators and other supporters, Scott said: "This is part of making sure that you get the right things passed during session, that the right things are in the budget."

"You have to be here to make sure your legislators know what's important to you," Scott told the crowd, noting his proposed Technical Center Rapid Response Grant Program is "important to people who want jobs around our state."

Scott included the $20 million for the new program in his proposed budget to lawmakers. Education budget leaders in both the House and Senate have said they are open to discussing it but aren't committing to Scott's specific recommendation.

The House included $10 million toward the program in its budget plan, said Miami Republican Rep. Erik Fresen, the House's education budget committee chairman.

Senate education budget Chairman Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, mentioned the full $20 million in funding when he gave his initial budget presentation in late January, noting that "how that will be defined will be the subject of" future committee work in the Senate.

Both the House and Senate will discuss their full budget proposals on the chamber floors today and Thursday.

It's not common practice for Scott to lobby lawmakers directly or hold rallies to drum up support for his priorities. In the past couple months, though, he's appeared before House and Senate committees to argue for his tax-cut package, and last week, he held another Capitol rally to promote his call for $1 billion in tax cuts and $250 million in business incentives.

The "rapid response" grants are one of at least a handful of priorities that lawmakers either have rejected, questioned or are offering counter proposals for during the 2016 session. Among those topics: the proposed tax cuts, the business incentives for Enterprise Florida, the Seminole gaming compact, and his funding plan to increase to K-12 education funding using mostly local property tax revenue. 

In line with his ongoing goal to get Florida students employed, Scott's budget proposal called for the Department of Education to set up the "rapid response" grants to help expand or develop post-secondary programs "in high-demand areas." The state's tech centers served more than 230,000 students in 2014-15.

"I've never met anybody in the state who's interested in going on unemployment. They all want jobs," Scott said. "It's our job to create an environment where they can get the best jobs possible."


Marco Rubio's false claim about Hillary Clinton's position on abortion

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who’s known for his strong anti-abortion views, said Hillary Clinton is the extremist when it comes abortion, not him.

"Why doesn’t the media ask Hillary Clinton why she believes that all abortions should be legal, even on the due date of that unborn child," he said during the Feb. 6 Republican debate in New Hampshire.

Is it true that Clinton "believes all abortions should be legal even on the due date"?  

The Rubio campaign didn’t get back to us. So we looked at comments Clinton made on the issue over the past 15 years.

Clinton has said she could support restrictions on abortions in the third trimester (about week 28 of a pregnancy) if the mother’s life and health are taken into account. Rubio casts this position as the equivalent of supporting abortions on the due date, but that exaggerates Clinton’s position.

Keep reading Lauren Carroll's fact-check from PolitiFact.

Florida House, Senate at odds over fix to state's death penalty law

After hearing emotional and graphic testimony from families of murder victims, Florida House members stood firm Wednesday on a new death penalty law that does not require juries to be unanimous in recommending death sentences.

The House Judiciary Committee passed a bill (HB 7101) that makes several changes to the law to bring the state into compliance with last month's U.S. Supreme Court decision that invalidated the state's sentencing law because judges, not juries, make the final decisions to warrant the death penalty. That narrowly-crafted decision, Hurst vs. Florida, did not address jury unanimity, but the issue is dominating political debate in Tallahassee.

The 18-member committee, voting along party lines, rejected an amendment by Democratic Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez of Miami that would have required future juries in capital cases to be unanimous in recommending death. That requirement is in a Senate death penalty bill (SB 7068), putting the two chambers at odds in the major criminal justice issue of the 2016 session. Both houses must agree on a new law and Gov. Rick Scott must sign it for executions to resume.

Thirty-two states allow capital punishment but Florida is one of only three states that does not require a jury to be unanimous in recommending death. Alabama requires at least 10 jurors to agree and Delaware has a law similar to Florida's, but it's now under review by the Delaware Supreme Court.

Florida prosecutors, led by State Attorney Brad King in Ocala, are lobbying for a law that requires no more than nine of 12 jurors to agree on death sentence recommendation. King's testimony focuses on crime victims, and he cited a case that he personally tried: the rape and murder in 2005 of a nine-year-old Homosassa girl, Jessica Lunsford, by John Couey.

Couey was sentenced to death by a jury in Miami-Dade on a 10 to 2 vote.  

"Now if John Couey is not one of the worst of the worst, I couldn't tell you who is," King testified.

Lawmakers also heard from Emily Cope, who was a teenager in Volusia County in 2009 when her father, Keith Cope, was hog-tied to a bed so tightly that he lost limbs and later died in a hospital. A jury recommended that Cope's roommate be sentenced to death on a 10-2 vote. Emily Cope is now a victim advocate for the Edgewater Police Department.

Polk County Public Defender Rex Dimmig, speaking on behalf of public defenders statewide, predicted a flood of lawsuits by inmates if the Legislature does not act now to require jury recommendations of death to be unanimous.

"Take us out of the situation of being an outlier state," Dimmig pleaded with lawmakers. "Address it now."

The vote was 17-1 with every lawmaker voting for the bill except for Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, who said she opposes capital punishment.

Nine people were sentenced to death in Florida in 2015. The state has 389 inmates on death row, some of whom have languished there for 30 years or more. The Florida Supreme Court has indefinitely postponed the execution of Michael Lambrix, a convicted double murderer who had been scheduled to die on Thursday.

Referring to the compelling words by speakers on both sides, Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, said: "You could hear a pin drop, and that is seldom the case in Tallahassee."