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May 23, 2017

Miami talk-radio station WIOD drops vocal Trump-critic host


Citing "cost-cutting measures," Miami talk-radio station WIOD-AM has dropped from its lineup local host Fernand Amandi, a vocal critic of President Donald Trump, Amandi said late Tuesday.

In a statement posted to Twitter, Amandi thanked his editorial team -- and the listeners and callers who had tuned in to "Amandi On Air," the daily weekday show he began guest-hosting in late 2014. His last show was Friday.

"With your support, we succeeded in hosting one of the last forums of its kind on South Florida talk radio, spotlighting important local and national issues with a stellar line up of artists, authors, experts, journalists and newsmakers while steadfastly welcoming all callers and all perspectives against the backdrop of the most engaging and tumultuous political era in recent memory," Amandi said.

He declined to comment beyond the statement. WIOD management could not be immediately reached late Tuesday.

Amandi, a Democratic pollster with the firm Bendixen & Amandi, was the most liberal host on WIOD's lineup, which includes nationally syndicated shows by conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Amandi, who hosted weekly roundtables with local reporters, including from the Miami Herald, opened his phone lines to callers to discuss national, state and local politics, a rarity in English-language radio. In contrast, the call-in format dominates local talk radio in Spanish.

The last "Amandi On Air" show was Friday. It featured Herald opinion columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. and Republican political strategist Rick Wilson of Tallahassee, among other guests. After the show concluded, according to Amandi, he was informed by iHeart Media, WIOD's owner, of his dismissal.

Photo credit: Max Reed, Miami Herald file

On House floor, lawmakers urge 'decisive' U.S. steps on Venezuela


Five members of Congress from both political parties took to the House floor Tuesday evening to deliver a series of related speeches denouncing the Venezuelan government of President Nicolás Maduro.

The lawmakers, two of them from Florida, urged further U.S. sanctions. Last week, the Trump administration penalized eight Venezuelan Supreme Court judges, citing their short-lived decision earlier this year to strip legislative power from the elected National Assembly.

"The situation in Venezuela is becoming more desperate by the day: the humanitarian situation is worsening, the Maduro regime continues its flagrant human rights abuses, and despite the latest round of sanctions issued by the Treasury Department, the United States needs to take more decisive steps in support of the Venezuelan people," said Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who led the effort.

Also speaking were Reps. Albio Sires, D-New Jersey; Joaquin Castro, D-Texas; Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, and Jeff Duncan, R-South Carolina.

New DEP secretary, Noah Valenstein, says there's no conflict in political side businesses

Noah Valenstein@MaryEllenKlas

When Noah Valenstein, the newly appointed head of the Department of Environmental Protection, was applying in April to be the state's top environmental regulator, he left one thing off the application: Companies he started and his wife runs have been paid nearly $1 million by politicians and lobbying groups, many of whom sought to influence the administration’s policy or advance the governor’s political fortunes.

Valenstein, the current executive director of the Suwannee River Water Management District, was appointed DEP secretary Tuesday by the governor and Cabinet. He was hired by Scott in December 2012 as the governor’s policy coordinator for energy, agriculture and the environment and worked in that position until he left for the water management district — its board is appointed by Scott — in October 2015. He took a three-month leave of absence in 2014 to advise Scott’s re-election campaign.

Before he joined the governor’s office, Valenstein was director of legislative affairs for the non-profit Everglades Foundation from August 2011 until December 2012.

But while Valenstein was holding each of these policy jobs, his wife was also operating two political consulting and polling companies that Valenstein started: Campaign Facts, LLC, and Voter Opinions, LLC. Each catered exclusively to Republican candidates, advocacy groups and political committees.

In a statement to the Herald/Times, Valenstein said he has removed himself from the businesses, but he would not explain how he distances himself from the special interests that contribute heavily to the party, candidates and political committees that hire the companies.

“When I began my job as Policy Coordinator at the Governor’s Office in 2012, I immediately removed myself from all aspects of these businesses,” Valenstein’s statement said. “As Secretary of DEP, I will continue to remain independent of these matters, and I will take every precaution to avoid any potential conflicts of interest.” Read more here. 

Scotts signs 16 bills into law: providing damages to Barahona survivor, cracking down on public records abuses

Nubia Barahona2Gov. Rick Scott signed 16 bills into law Tuesday, agreeing to pay the surviving victim of one of the most horrific child abuse cases in state history $3.75 million in legal damages, another bill to end "gotcha" public records requests, and a bill that will give families with foster children 50 percent discounts on all state parks.

After three years of waiting, Victor Barahona, the surviving twin brother of Nubia Barahona, will receive money as part of a legal settlement with the Department of Children and Families, under SB 18, which will has now become law.

The state admitted negligence in 2014 after 10-year-old Victor was found near death and covered with pesticides alongside his sister’s decomposing body along I-95 in Palm Beach County in 2011. They were in the custody of their adoptive parents, Jorge and Carmen Barahona, who have been charged with murder.

The governor also approved SB 80, a compromise proposal between public record advocates and lawmakers who wanted to crack down on a small group of serial records abusers who attempt to snag unsuspecting public officials into violating public records laws in an effort to coerce a financial settlement.

The measure adds a new requirement that the public provide the records custodian with written notice of the public record request five days before filing a lawsuit to force compliance. If the public agency does not provide contact information for the records custodian on its website and in the administrative building where public records are routinely requested, the five-day notice is not required.


The long list of bills signed late Tuesday also includes proposals that impose new regulations on timeshares (SB 818), new restrictions on human trafficking (SB 852), and new penalties for shark finning (SB 884). The governor also approved a new public records exemption for individuals with substance abuse impairment under the Florida Marchman Act (SB 886).

Another bill, HB 185, gives a 50 percent discount on campsite fees to foster families, and a free annual state park entrance pass to families who adopt children with special needs. Boat owners who purchase a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) or an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) will receive discounts on boat registration fees under HB 711 and small-scale food sellers will be considered cottage food operators if their annual sales don't exceed $50,000 (HB 1233).

Finally, if voters approved the expanded $25,000 of homestead exemption on the 2018 ballot, the governor will have already signed the implementing bill, HB 7107. 


Raquel Regalado announces run for Congress

Regalado Congress


After weeks of demurring, Raquel Regalado says she’ll run to replace the retiring Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in Congress.

The former Miami-Dade School Board member told the Miami Herald on Tuesday that she’s “all in” after spending the last several weeks meeting with political committees and Republican leaders in Washington.

A 42-year-old mother of two and self-described “compassionate Republican,” Regalado said she’s the type of moderate candidate capable of holding the Democratic-leaning 27th district for the GOP next year.

“Even though the Democrats are saying this seat has to go to a Democrat because independents will lean to a ‘D,’ I disagree,” she said. “I think the majority of people believe it will be better to have a Republican in the room than a Democrat out in the hall.”

Regalado, the daughter of Miami’s mayor, said she wants to focus on education policy on the federal level. Her children, Isabela, 13, and Sebastian, 12, are both on the autism spectrum, and their future was a motivating factors in her run years ago for school board.

To read the rest, click here.

Florida lawmakers unimpressed by Trump budget

via @learyreports

President Trump's budget proposal brought negative reviews from Florida Democrats and little reaction from Republicans, a telling sign of overall lack of enthusiasm.

"This plan cuts some of our most critical programs including Medicaid and food stamps," said Sen. Bill Nelson. "It also cuts funding to agencies such as NIH, which is working to find cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s, and the EPA, which protects our environment. Slashing these vital programs will hurt millions of hardworking families. We should be focused on helping people, not hurting those who need our help the most.”

Nelson said the budget would also eliminate Amtrak service in Florida. More than 950,000 Floridians used the service in the last fiscal year.

Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart: “As a member of the Appropriations and Budget Committees, I will thoughtfully review and consider the President’s request. The Constitution is clear in that funding decisions are ultimately in the hands of Congress, and it is critical we ensure hard earned taxpayer dollars are well spent.  I look forward to working with Chairman Frelinghuysen, Chairwoman Black, and the White House to put together a fiscally responsible budget.”

Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo: “Today’s budget proposed by the Administration does not reflect the appropriate allocation of funds to get our country back on sound fiscal footing. From cuts to agencies needed to protect our environment and combat the threats of climate change, to cuts to our safety nets for the most-needy Americans, to complete slashing of public broadcasting funds, this budget abandons progress already made on programs that enjoy bipartisan support. As the House looks to begin its own budget and appropriations process, my colleagues and I will work to ensure many of these programs remain adequately funded."

We've asked Sen. Marco Rubio for comment.

Rep. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee: "In my district, one in every four Floridians has been on food stamps at some point over the last 12 months. That is twice the national average. It is unconscionable for the President to propose cutting nutrition benefits at any level, because any reduction would mean less for those in North Florida who need it most. Every day, children who qualify for free breakfast and lunch attend school and are fed the only meals they will receive that day because their parents can’t afford to feed them. We put hard-working Floridians in the no-win position of having to choose between paying their light bill or affording healthy food. This is unacceptable."

Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg: "A budget is a reflection of our principles and this proposal illustrates a complete lack of values. It decimates vital programs – from environmental protections to public education to medical research. It cuts taxes for the very wealthy while leaving the poor, sick, and disabled out in the cold. It doubles down on cruel cuts to Medicaid – despite promising not to touch it. In Pinellas County where 40% of our children depend on Medicaid and CHIP for their care, what could be more heartless? This budget is fiscally irresponsible and morally repugnant.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Putnam on early campaign shakeup: 'You're always adjusting'

via @adamsmithtimes

In a sign of unsteadiness for what had looked like a strong-out-of-the-gate Adam Putnam campaign, the Republican frontrunner for governor suddenly fired his campaign manager and political director.

Hard-charging campaign manager Kristin Davison and political director Jared Small were two of the three outsiders to join Putnam's senior political team, along with former National Republican Senatorial Committee Executive Director Ward Baker, who remains with the campaign.

The sudden shakeup came after the completion of an ambitious, ostensibly successful and well-organized 10-day bus tour immediately after Putnam's long expected announcement for governor. The firings threaten to overshadow the strong rollout and raise doubts about the readiness of Putnam, 42, who has never faced a truly competitve campaign since his first primary for the Florida House at age 21.

The good news is he still has a veteran team of political hands at his side, including Baker and longtime Putnam adviser Mac Stevenson, among others.

"We're very grateful for her efforts to help this campaign get off to the strongest possible launch," said Putnam campaign spokeswoman Amanda Bevis. "We wish her the best."

On Tuesday, talking to reporters after Cabinet, Putnam had this to say about staff turnover: "This is a grassroots movement and I’m very excited about the team that we have and I wish the team members who’ve moved on to other things the very best. ... You’re always adjusting and modifying as you move forward."

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

Here's ad from Ryan-backed group 'thanking' Curbelo for healthcare vote


The promised TV ad from a political nonprofit backed by House Speaker Paul Ryan to praise Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo and other vulnerable Republicans who voted for the American Health Care Act is here.

American Action Network pledged to politically back House lawmakers who supported the Obamacare replacement legislation, a priority for Ryan and President Donald Trump. Curbelo and 20 other Republicans who voted "yes" could face challenging reelection races in their swing districts next year. Curbelo has yet to draw an opponent.

The ad features a California woman who lost her doctor under the Affordable Care Act. It will be tailored to each of the representatives' districts. The only other Florida Republican also getting the help is Rep. Brian Mast of Hutchinson Island.

The bill still hasn't moved in the Senate.

 This post's headline has been changed to avoid confusion with Ryan's political arm, "Team Ryan."

Too much of education bill done ‘behind closed doors,’ top GOP contender for governor says



Republican candidate for governor Adam Putnam joined the chorus of critics of the Florida Legislature’s massive K-12 education bill that heavily favors charter schools over traditional public schools.

“I have concerns about the way that that bill along with much of the budget was fashioned completely in the dark and behind closed doors,” Putnam told reporters on Tuesday about House Bill 7069.

A key part of HB 7069 is $140 million for a new “Schools of Hope” program, which is largely an incentive for specialized charter schools to set up in low-income areas and essentially compete with struggling traditional public schools. The bill also allocates $234 million in teacher bonuses, both through the controversial “Best & Brightest” program and through a new scheme — whereby “highly effective” teachers would be guaranteed $1,200 bonuses for each of the next three school years and “effective” teachers could get up to $800 each year, depending on how much money is available.

Aside from the numerous other policy reforms not related to spending that are also in the bill, the legislation includes $30 million to expand the Gardiner Scholarship, a voucher program that helps students with disabilities pay for alternative education options.

Putnam didn’t specifically take issue with provisions of the bill, but stressed the way the bill was assembled was cause for concern.

“Not only the public, but many of the members who were asked to vote on it were unaware of all the things that were taped together at the last second and shoved in the pipeline,” Putnam said.

The Legislature voted out the bill on May 8, but it has still not been officially sent to Gov. Rick Scott, who will have 15 days to sign the bill into law or veto it once he gets it.

PHOTO CREDIT: GOV. Rick Scott and 2018 gubernatorial contender Adam Putnam talk during the first day of the Legislature's annual session in March.

Bondi on Sunshine exemption sealing criminal records: What about sex offenders?


Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi says she’s “concerned” about a new exemption to the state’s Sunshine Law, which would virtually eliminate Floridians’ access to millions of criminal and arrest records.

Approved unanimously by lawmakers last month, SB 118 would require clerks to seal more than 2.7 million criminal records and hundreds of thousands of arrest records for individuals who were found not guilty, acquitted at trial, had charges against them dropped or dismissed, or weren’t charged after being arrested.

That would effectively prevent people from knowing whether someone was arrested or charged with a crime when they ultimately aren’t convicted in a court of law.

“What concerns me about this — just as a career prosecutor: Sex offenders,” Bondi told reporters Tuesday. “I think some of those cases are very important, to be able to know about the past and the history. That does concern me.”

Full details here.

Herald/Times staff writer Michael Auslen contributed.

Photo credit: AP