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December 02, 2016

Latvala bristles at freshman senator's attempt to repeal in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants

via @JeffSolochek

Without mentioning any names, or even the issue at hand, Florida Sen. Jack Latvala took a clear swipe Thursday at a newly minted Senate colleague who filed legislation to undo a university tuition measure that Latvala worked hard to broker two years ago.

Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, proposed a bill Wednesday to void a law granting in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant students who graduate from Florida high schools. Latvala initially had little to say about the proposal, which he hadn't yet read.

MORE: "In-state college tuition rates for Florida's undocumented students could be in danger"

A day later, in a room filled with school board members from across the state, Latvala let loose. He made his comments in response to the question of what might be his biggest non-financial challenge in the 2017 session.

That challenge, Latvala said, will be coming to grips with the largest freshman group of senators in memory — 20 in all, 17 of whom came from the Florida House with their own set of protocols and behaviors that differ from the more collegial Senate.

He paused, then continued to speak about "one of" the House transplants who, just a few days into the term decided to file a bill that would repeal all the hard work a longstanding senator — the Appropriations Committee chairman, no less — spent significant effort moving through the Legislature.

Latvala is the Appropriations chair.

"It gets your back up," he said. "The final chapter hasn't been played on that."

FSBA executive director Andrea Messina, who moderated the panel, playfully asked, "It wasn't Sen. (Dana) Young, was it?"

A grinning Young sat three seats away from Latvala, who responded quickly, "She wouldn't dare."

Sen. David Simmons, another Senate long-timer at the table, said he spent eight years in the House before coming to the upper chamber. The operating models of each differs greatly, he said, and it will take time for all to acclimate to one another.

But one thing is certain, Simmons said: Newcomers quickly learn that "the toe or foot you step on is attached to another part of the anatomy you might need to kiss" later on to get what you want.

The room burst into laughter. Steube was not present.

Nine Democrats to compete for Miami-Dade Democratic Party chair

Bullard_cropAP

@amysherman1

Sen. Dwight Bullard won’t run for chair again of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party but still plans to run for Florida Democratic Party chair.

Bullard will run for county party vice chair against activist Rubin Young

On Tuesday, about 200 members of the county party who represent their precincts will gather to elect a chair, vice chair and other leaders. (Here is the full roster of who is running.)

The outcome has ramifications for the state’s party leadership. The county party will also elect a state committeeman and committee woman and those two individuals will get to vote on the Florida Democratic Party chair in January. Across the state, the committeemen and women vote according to a formula based on the number of registered Democrats in the county which means that Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach carry considerable weight.

Here’s a look at the candidates running for positions in Miami-Dade:

State committeeman:

  • Bret Berlin: A business consultant, Berlin has served as the chair for 12 years and is former Miami-Dade chairman and supported Hillary Clinton during the primary. He says he hasn’t seen the DEC membership this low. “It's disappointing so few people are engaged -- it means we have to do much better job as a party to regain trust miami dade electorate and rebuild this party.”

(Any voting member can nominate himself or herself from the floor so it is possible he will face a competitor.)

State committeewoman:

  • Francesca Menes: She lost a race for state house in 2016 and is running for a state house race in 2018.
  • Annette Taddeo Goldstein: She has lost multiple races, most recently for Congress to former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia. Taddeo Goldstein has been mentioned as a potential state party chair candidate but didn’t respond to the Herald this week about whether she will definitely run. She is currently vice chair of the Florida Democratic Party and a past chair of the Miami-Dade party.
  • Elizabeth Judd: A retired AFSCME union business agent, Judd is a longtime DEC member.
  • Bess McElroy: A retired city of Miami personnel administrator, she unsuccessfully ran for state house twice. In the past she has served as vice chair and was the interim chair a few times.

The other two candidates are Mae Christian, Elizabeth Rodriguez and Elizabeth Washington-Wells who are also running for chair.

The other candidates for chair are:

  • Dr. Leonarda Duran: She is president of the Miami-Dade Democratic Hispanic Caucus and works as a therapist/life coach.
  • Tony Diaz: He runs an ad agency and is running for Miami City Commission in 2017.
  • Millie Herrera: She is a former appointee of President Barack Obama to the U.S. Department of Labor and a former chair of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida. She owns a public relations firm.
  • Rafael Velasquez: He lost a race for state house in 2002. Velasquez, a real estate broker, said he was on the national finance committee for Clinton.
  • Juan Cuba: He resigned as director of the Miami-Dade Democrats after the Nov. 8th election.
  • Fred Frost: Former president of the South Florida AFL-CIO and works for CWA International Union.
  • Ernesto Fernandez

This post has been updated to reflect additional candidates who signed up to run or switched races.

December 01, 2016

Trump protest bus, rejected from art fair, will park in Wynwood

Trump bus

via @NickNehamas

A former Donald Trump campaign bus remodeled into anti-Trump automotive artwork will be displayed in Wynwood for Miami Art Week after another art fair pulled the plug.

Out-of-town artists Mary Mihelic and David Gleeson were supposed to display the bus — which the Trump campaign used briefly during the run-up to Iowa’s Republican primary — at Red Dot art fair in Miami. But days after Trump’s upset victory, fair organizers emailed to say the protest bus was no longer welcome.

“In light of the surprising results, I've decided to pass on [the bus] display,” Eric Smith, CEO of the company that runs Red Dot, wrote in a Nov. 10 email seen by the Miami Herald.

Coupled with the president-elect’s criticism of journalists, Mihelic said the fair’s sudden about-face scared her.

“If no one is willing to show anti-Trump art, no artists are going to be willing to make it,” said Mihelic, who splits her time between galleries in New York City and Chicago. “Freedom of speech is what really makes America great.”

Smith, of Red Dot, did not respond to a request for comment.

But the artists scrambled and were able to find a new location in the cramped courtyard of a Wynwood marketing agency called Engine Shop. The agency also leases space to Conception Art Fair next door.

More here.

USDOT awards FIU $1.4M grant to study bridge restoration

@PatriciaMazzei

Florida International University won $1.4 million from the federal government earlier this week. The grant, from the U.S. Department of Transportation, is intended to pay for research on how to restore aging bridges and build new ones.

Miami members of Congress pushed for the money, according to U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Republican whose district includes FIU's main campus. The grant is part of USDOT's University Transportation Centers program, which was signed into law last December. Curbelo had introduced the program in a bill he filed in September 2015.

"FIU's work to address substandard bridges is critical to restoring our transportation infrastructure in South Florida and across the county," Curbelo said in a statement. "I'm grateful for the support of my colleagues Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and the Florida Delegation for championing this effort with me."

Atorod Azizinamini, chairman of the structure and bridge engineering program at FIU, said in a statement issued through Curbelo's office that supporting FIU "will benefit South Florida and the country as we improve our aging infrastructure."

Jeb Bush returns to Trump's Washington

FullSizeRender__7__8col
via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- The last time Jeb Bush held an education summit in Washington, as he does today, scores of reporters and a big crowd showed up. The headline: Bush seeks balance on Common Core under 2016 glare.

Two years ago, speculation raged over whether Bush would run for president. Finally, in June 2015, he jumped in with a big splash of money. The rest is well-known.

Today, Bush continued his re-emergence in a space he feels most comfortable in: policy wonk. He kicked off his Foundation For Excellence in Education summit with an 8:45 a.m. speech.

"This is a time for big thinking and courageous leadership, to encourage each other to move the needle so that more and more children gain the power or knowledge in this turbulent world, this exciting world that we’re living in," Bush said.

National political reporters, who used to show up en masse to hear the presumed presidential front-runner, blew off the speech.

Bush began with a nod to the election. "I actually planned not to be here this year," Bush said to laughter. "I hoped to be pursuing a different type of public service."

Turning more introspective he said, "It's always a good learning experience to get beat bad ... It is humbling and that's not bad." 

The 2016 election wasn’t all bad for Bush. President-elect Donald Trump picked Betsy DeVos, an ExcelinEd board member, for his education chief.

Continue reading "Jeb Bush returns to Trump's Washington" »

Report: Utilities and fossil fuel industry are orchestrating a campaign to oppose solar expansion


Blocking the Sun reportWith Florida now a battleground over the future of solar energy, "utility interest groups and fossil fuel industry-funded think tanks is providing funding, model legislation and political cover for anti-solar campaigns,'' according to a new report funded by environmental activists and think tanks that are opposing the effort. 

The report, “Blocking the Sun,” released by the Environment Florida Research & Policy Center, singles out Florida's four largest utilities -- Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Gulf Power and Tampa Electric -- as being among 17 entities nationwide that are working aggressively "to block solar policies."

The report was written by the Frontier Group and Environment America Research and Policy Center, two environmental think tanks backed by pro-solar and anti-climate change activists. The report says it was funded by several individuals that are who are listed in the report's opening pages. 

Coming after the pro-solar groups' defeat of the utility-backed Amendment 1, the missive is a sign that the battle over solar power in Florida is still young. 

It also come out the same day that SolarCity, a subsidiary of Tesla Motors, Inc., announced that it has launched residential solar service in Orlando and is hiring sales staff and installers at its Clermont offices. The company said it plans to expand to additional areas of the state in the coming months.

The debate has already begun over how the issue will be framed. The utilities, with the help of a report by the conservative James Madison Institute and advocacy by the Florida Chamber of Commerce's Tallahassee leaders, have tried to make the case that as more individuals and businesses install solar panels, the cost of providing access to the grid will be divided among fewer paying customers with those left on the grid "subsidizing" others.

Their greatest worry: a “utility death spiral” triggered by customers who abandon the grid as the price of solar panels and energy storage technology declines. 

In some states, "utilities have responded to the challenge posed by solar energy by working constructively with regulators and other decision-makers to develop new business models that maintain consumers’ access to an affordable, reliable electric grid,'' the report says. In others -- like Florida -- they have fought to limit customer-generated solar by attempting to pass the failed Amendment 1 and now want regulators to rollback net metering policies that encourage solar investment. 

The report attempts to provide a road map for the source of much of that information by detailing the role of several organizations have had in the elaborate campaign to limit customer-owned solar expansion throughout the nation:

  • The Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the trade group that represents U.S. investor-owned electric utilities, worked with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) on model legislation to repeal state renewable electricity standards and run an anti-solar public relations campaigns.
  • The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which has drafted anti-net metering resolutions and legislation.
  • The Koch brothers, who have funneled tens of millions of dollars through a network of opaque nonprofits, including the 60-Plus organization which spent more than $1 million to promote the utility-backed Amendment 1 in Florida.
  • Americans for Prosperity (AFP) which has run "misinformation campaigns against net metering and other solar policies."
  • The Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), a Houston-based front group for the fossil fuel industry.

Environment Florida proposes several recommendations for legislators and state regulators to push back. It urges them to resist caps on net metering, added surcharges and tariffs on solar customers and to reject attempts to roll back renewable electricity standards.

Instead of focusing on the "subsidy" narrative pushed by the utility companies, it also wants regulators to calculate the value of distributed solar energy to the grid, encourage community solar projects and they want to polices that allow for "strong net metering and interconnection standards, which enable many customers to meet their own electricity needs with solar power." 

 

Bondi to meet with Trump on Friday

@MichaelAuslen and @VeraMBergen

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, rumored to be in the running for a job in Donald Trump's administration, is scheduled to meet with the president-elect Friday.

Trump transition spokesman Jason Miller announced the scheduled meeting in a Thursday morning conference call, according to reporters who were on the call.

It is planned for 1 p.m. in Trump Tower. The presidential transition has been silent about what Trump and Bondi, who are personal friends, will discuss.

Bondi's name has been mentioned in connection to several high-level positions, including White House "drug czar" and U.S. trade representative. She could also be nominated as a deputy or assistant U.S. attorney general or as a candidate to chair the Republican National Committee.

However, she could also be wary of any job that would require a rigorous Senate confirmation process, as Bondi tends to cringe under critical spotlight.

Bondi was an early Trump supporter and appeared alongside him at rallies around the state, as well as at the Republican National Convention.

For the last week, Bondi has been out of the public eye, missing ceremonial events in the state Capitol, and her office has refused to respond to questions about where she is.

Gov. Scott seeks 5 percent raises for some state police officers

Gov. Rick Scott wants the Florida Legislature to approve a 5 percent pay raise for about 4,000 state law enforcement officers in next year's budget.

Scott, who has generally opposed across-the-board raises for all state workers during his six years in office, made the proposal at a Florida Highway Patrol station in Orlando Thursday. He cited their heroic efforts at the Pulse nightclub massacre in June, followed by two hurricanes and a tropical storm.

"We must always do everything we can to recognize our law enforcement officers and let them know how much we appreciate their service," Scott said in a statement. "It is thanks to their hard work and sacrifice that Florida persevered throiugh these difficult times and has achieved a 45-year crime rate low."

The Republican governor said he has attended 32 funerals for fallen law enforcement officers since he took office in January 2011.

Scott has advocated performance-based bonuses for state workers in most of his budgets. Last year he vetoed a $2,000 raise for state forestry firefighters, who did receive a pay raise in the current year's budget.

Scott's new proposal, which will be in his proposed budget for fiscal 2017-18, would cover sworn officers in nine state entities, the governor's office said. They are FHP, FDLE, Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Department of Financial Services, Lottery, Agriculture and Consumer Services, Business and Professional Regulation, attorney general and Florida School for the Deaf and Blind.  

Scott's pay raise would not include the more than 22,000 correctional officers who work in Florida prisons. Like other state workers, they have received only one small raise in the past decade. Correctional officers voted last month to fire the Teamsters as their bargaining agent and rehired the Police Benevolent Association, which represented prison guards until 2011.

By making police pay raises a priority, Scott will likely have to bow to the Legislature's spending priorities in at least one other area.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, has already raised doubts about plans by Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, to ramp up spending for state universities and the environment.

"The budget, I think, is going to be difficult," Corcoran told Capitol reporters last week. "My hunch is ... that we're going to be, at best, flatlined, and at worst, we could have a deficit."

In just two days, they will graduate from 'Legislator University'

A motivational speaker who worked in the White House. A mandatory seminar on sexual harassment. Breakout sessions on the death penalty, workers comp, Medicaid, the courts and the Florida retirement system.

It's all part of two days of member training next week in the Florida House of Representatives, with code numbers assigned to each seminar, just like at UF and FSU. The "Legislator University" is part of House Speaker Richard Corcoran's plan to upgrade civility and professionalism in a House where more than one-third of the members (46) are newbies.

Corcoran is bringing in Shelby Scarbrough, a motivational speaker who will discuss the importance of civility in politics and how to apply it to lawmaking. Scarbrough, whose fees and expenses were picked up by the Republican Party of Florida, is a Harvard Business School grad who worked in the White House Office of Presidential Advance and once owned a group of Burger King franchises in Northern Virginia.

Scarbrough's general session talk (GS 101) is one of three must-attend seminars for all House members. The others are Respect in the Workplace, with a focus on sexual harassment, and Ethics in the Legislature.

One class likely to draw a crowd (GS 303), inspired by the Corcoran-inspired new rules for lobbyists and House members, is "What Do the Rules Changes Mean for Me?" The program guide describes it this way: "Confused about how the recent rules changes related to lobbyists will impact how your office operates? Unsure what your responsibilities are? This session will clear up some of the common misconceptions."

Another seminar is entitled "Things I Wished Someone Told Me 6 Years Ago" in which members of the Class of 2010, now in their last terms, "share what they've learned so you don't have to make the same mistakes."

 

November 30, 2016

Fact-checking Ted Cruz's claim about political arrests in Cuba

CruzAP

@amysherman1

The son of a Cuban immigrant, Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said that he hoped President-elect Donald Trump could press for change for Cubans following Fidel Castro’s death.

But in a Nov. 27 interview on ABC’s This Week, Cruz expressed some skepticism that anything will be better under Castro’s brother Raúl Castro, who began taking over in 2006.

"What the Obama administration has done is strengthen Raúl Castro. Raúl is the dictator now," Cruz said. "You know, I asked my dad at dinner last night, what do you think happens now that Fidel is dead? And he shrugged and said Raúl has been in power for years. The system has gotten stronger. ... You know, in 2015 roughly 10,000 political arrests occurred in Cuba. That is five times as many as occurred in 2010, when there were only about 2,000."

We were interested in his statistic, so we contacted Cruz’s office. Spokesman Phil Novack told us the senator slightly misspoke, but his point is still basically accurate.

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.