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March 23, 2017

City officials urge legislators to halt the FPL transmission bill being 'bulldozed' through

FPL transmission linesOfficials from several Miami-Dade communities impacted by an 88-mile transmission line sought by Florida Power & Light through the county’s most affluent and environmentally sensitive areas pleaded with a Senate committee Wednesday not to approve legislation to allow the company to build the line without considering local development rules.

The bill, SB 1048 by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, would overturn an April 2016 ruling by a three-judge panel of the Third District Court of Appeal that said the governor and Cabinet failed to consider Miami-Dade County’s environmental rules when they signed off on allowing FPL to string a transmission line through Everglades marshes and fragile wetlands.

Despite their appeals, the Senate Community Affairs Committee passed the bill with only one no vote — that of Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, whose district includes the entire corridor of the transmission line along U.S. 1 from Cutler Bay, through Pinecrest, South Miami and Coral Gables to a substation in Coconut Grove.

“For constituents and local elected leaders who have been very involved in trying to make sure our community is protected from environmental impacts, economic impacts, public safety concerns, this bill confirms our worst fears about how laws are made in Tallahassee,” Rodriguez said. “The sense is that the bigger the checkbook, the easier it is to get laws written.” Story here. 

Scramble for healthcare votes suddenly puts Cuba policy in play

FAZ22 ForunSeguridad News rk (1)
@PatriciaMazzei @ngameztorres

The showdown in Congress over House Republicans’ healthcare bill might have nothing to do with Raúl Castro — if it weren’t for Miami.

Thursday’s planned vote on the American Health Care Act is so razor tight that House GOP leaders and the White House are leaning hard on every single shaky Republican for their support. One of them: Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, whose foremost want is to overturn the Obama administration’s Cuba opening — and who has recently taken it upon himself to outline a possible Cuba policy for the Trump administration.

Perhaps Diaz-Balart and the White House would engage in a little old-fashioned horse trading — a “Yes” vote on healthcare for swift action on Cuba?

The New York Times reported Wednesday that Diaz-Balart wanted assurances from White House officials that President Donald Trump would keep his campaign promise to take a harder Cuba line. There was no explicit discussion about trading a healthcare vote for a Cuba promise, The Times said after initially reporting otherwise.

“I wish that they would’ve given me a commitment on something, but that is just made up,” Diaz-Balart told McClatchy, the Miami Herald’s parent company, on Wednesday.

He added that he’s still undecided on the healthcare bill, mostly based on concerns about insurance coverage and premium costs for older Americans.

“I am very concerned that particularly that population is not being dealt with yet in a way that is giving me a lot of comfort,” he said.

Politically, he noted, it’s better not to be a hard “Yes” or “No”: “Once I do that, then I’m out of the loop.”

More here.

Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, el Nuevo Herald

March 22, 2017

Miami-Dade-backed legislation cracking down on 'rogue' condo associations advances

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@ByKristenMClark

A plan from Miami-Dade lawmakers to penalize fraud and abuse in condominium associations earned unanimous initial approval in House and Senate committees this week.

The bills, most notably, impose new criminal penalties for falsifying association documents, committing fraud in association elections and refusing to turn over administrative records, among other reforms.

"A lot of these reforms are a long time coming," said Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami, who is sponsoring the Senate bill (SB 1682) with Sen. René García, R-Hialeah. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 8-0 to advance their bill Wednesday.

More here.

Photo credit: Hundreds of Miami-Dade County condominium owners marched in protest in the city of Doral on April 16, 2016. Roberto Koltun / el Nuevo Herald

Constitution Commission announces hearings in Orlando, Miami, Boca Raton and Pensacola

From a release:

Constitution Commission Chairman Carlos Beruff today announced the first four scheduled stops on the statewide “Floridians Speak, We Listen” tour being hosted by the 2017-2018 Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC).  The Commission will be at the University of Central Florida (UCF) in Orange County on Wednesday, March 29 from 5-8 p.m.; Florida International University (FIU) in Miami-Dade County on Thursday, April 6 from 5-8 p.m.; Florida Atlantic University (FAU) in Palm Beach County on Friday, April 7 from 9 a.m.-noon; and the University of West Florida (UWF) in Escambia County on Wednesday, April 12 from 4-7 p.m. (central time).

Chairman Carlos Beruff, said, “When Governor Rick Scott appointed me as Chair of this Commission, my first order of business was to ensure Floridians are actively involved in this historic and important process. I am proud to announce our 'Floridians Speak, We Listen' tour, where we will get input from Florida families on the issues that matter to them. This historic process gives Florida voters an opportunity to change the framework of our government and I encourage all interested Floridians to attend a public hearing and make their voices heard.”

Confirmed public hearing dates, times and locations are provided below. Additional tour stops will be announced soon.

Continue reading "Constitution Commission announces hearings in Orlando, Miami, Boca Raton and Pensacola " »

Republicans accused of advancing 'union-busting' proposal with little chance at becoming law

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@ByKristenMClark

Florida’s public-sector labor unions — which represent thousands of workers ranging from school teachers to public utility linemen — would have to convince their members to pay up or else risk being shut down, under a controversial plan by House Republicans that is now headed to the floor despite little chance at becoming law.

HB 11 is a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, but it drew resounding backlash from Democrats and labor leaders who say the measure is nothing more than a politically motivated attempt to bust up unions.

It passed the Government Accountability Committee on a 14-8, party-line vote Wednesday, its second of only two committee stops.

Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, argues his proposal is about “transparency and democracy” because it would ensure labor unions serving government workers are accountable to and financially supported by at least a majority of the workers the union is supposed to represent.

“I think that’s a good thing to be responsive,” Plakon said, adding: “Public-sector unions should have to operate in a transparent fashion, under democratic majority-rule. ... This empowers members of the bargaining unit and it also pushes the unions to have to respect their members by asking for dues.”

But Florida is a right-to-work state, so employees cannot be forced to join or pay dues to a union. Union leaders say Plakon’s proposal contradicts that state law, and it would essentially force labor organizations to continuously “campaign” for enough dues-paying members — or risk being shut down.

“I think it’s very clear that this bill is about politics, not about policy,” Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, said. “This bill is about union-busting, plain and simple.”

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

White House angles for Diaz-Balart's vote on health care

FAZ22 ForunSeguridad News rk
@PatriciaMazzei

In a story Wednesday about the White House leaning on House Republicans to back the GOP healthcare bill, The New York Times reported that Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart used the hot political moment to reiterate that President Donald Trump promised to undo the Obama administration's Cuba policy.

For other House members, the health bill has been an opportunity to deal. As part of the discussions, Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, Republican of Florida, made it clear to White House officials that he wanted assurances that the president would hold to his pledge to consider reversing President Barack Obama’s opening with Cuba, the White House official said. Mr. Diaz-Balart backed the measure in the Budget Committee last week, although the official said there had been no explicit discussion of trading his vote for a promise on Cuba.

(An earlier version of the story incorrectly said Trump had pledged to Diaz-Balart he'd reverse the Obama policy in return for his vote.)

Diaz-Balart has made no secret that he's brought up Cuba every time he's had a chance to speak to top White House personnel. He was particularly friendly during the transition with Vice President Mike Pence. But a source told the Miami Herald on Wednesday that the Trump administration has yet to make any assurances or commitments on Cuba.

Diaz-Balart's spokeswoman, Katrina Valdés, said in an email Wednesday to the Herald and the Tampa Bay Times that, on health care, the congressman "is still reviewing the recent changes to the bill and continues to negotiate with House Leadership about multiple aspects of the bill, including how the legislation handles older, low income constituents."

A vote is planned for Thursday.


--with Alex Leary

Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, el Nuevo Herald

Rubio remains noncomittal on GOP healthcare bill

via @learyreports

Sen. Marco Rubio declined on Wednesday to take a position on the GOP's Obamacare replacement bill, saying it is a "work in progress."

"By the time I give you a statement now, that bill could change in the next 12 hours and then I'm on record of supporting something that changed," Rubio said on Jacksonville radio station WOKV.

He's right that the bill could change before the end of the day as Speaker Paul Ryan, President Trump and others are trying to rally enough votes. "They've got their own drama going on over there," Rubio said of the House.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

PolitiFact Florida: Is the Center for Immigration Studies a hate group?

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@amysherman1 @politifactfl

The term "hate group" usually brings to mind groups like the Ku Klux Klan, which has targeted African-Americans for centuries, or Neo-Nazi groups that admire Adolf Hitler.

Not think tanks that focus on immigration.

Yet the Southern Poverty Law Center recently included the Center for Immigration Studies on its annual list of hate groups.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, the Center for Immigration Studies’ executive director, Mark Krikorian, argued that the label is misplaced and intended to suppress their viewpoint.

"The wickedness of the SPLC's blacklist lies in the fact that it conflates groups that really do preach hatred, such as the Ku Klux Klan and Nation of Islam, with ones that simply do not share the SPLC's political preferences," he wrote.

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s designation hasn’t gone unnoticed. In January, House Republicans in the Florida Legislature invited Krikorian to speak about refugees. House Democrats walked out of the hearing in protest.

PolitiFact has quoted Krikorian or other officials at his center in multiple articles about immigration. After reading Krikorian’s editorial -- in which he said the Southern Poverty Law Center’s complaints were trivial -- we decided to review the evidence for ourselves.

We found the case against the center is based on some of its associations rather than its current work.

But we want readers to review the evidence for themselves. Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

Acosta fields questions on Epstein sex case at Senate hearing

Trump Labor Secretary(2)
@PatriciaMazzei

Alex Acosta, President Donald' Trump's labor secretary nominee, got questions Wednesday at his Senate confirmation hearing about the sordid underage sex-ring case involving Palm Beach billionaire Jeffrey Epstein.

As U.S. attorney in Miami, Acosta -- now dean of Florida International University's law school -- signed off on a plea agreement that attorneys for Epstein's victims called a "sweetheart" deal.

Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democratic member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions committee, asked Acosta if he approved the deal despite opposition from prosecutors in his office.

Acosta called his office's involvement unusual, given that Epstein was charged by state prosecutors following a grand jury's recommendation.

"We deemed it necessary to become involved, and we early on had discussions within the office," Epstein said. "We decided...that Mr. Epstein should plead guilty to two years, register as a sexual offender and concede liability so the victims could get restitution. If that were done, the federal interest would be satisfied and we would defer to the state."

Acosta's office drafted a 53-page indictment that was never used. Declining to discuss specifics of the case, Acosta called it "pretty typical" to write up an indictment that "often does not consider the strength of the underlying case."

"'These are all the places we can go,'" Acosta said, describing a draft indictment. "Yet at the end of the day, based on the evidence, professionals within the prosecutor's office decide that a plea that guarantees that someone goes to jail, that guarantees that someone register generally, and that guarantees other outcomes, is a good thing."

Kaine asked again: Did his staff agree with cutting the deal?

"It was a broadly held decision, yes," Acosta said.

Acosta was introduced Wednesday by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, both Cuban-American Republicans like Acosta. If confirmed, Acosta would be the only Hispanic on Trump's Cabinet.

Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, asked Acosta about his time heading the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division -- particularly his foray into an Ohio voting-rights case days before the 2004 presidential election. Acosta sent an unsolicited letter to a judge siding with Republicans who challenged the eligibility of thousands of African-American voters.

"I want to ask you if you regret the decision to send that letter in 2004," Murray asked.

Acosta argued the letter was misinterpreted: "We were not taking a position on what was being done in Ohio specifically," he said. Murray called his response "a very legal answer" and pressed him again.

"As an attorney to the Department of Justice, sometimes you have to do things that are unpopular but are legally correct," Acosta said. "The letter is legally correct. I wish the letter was not interpreted the way it's interpreted."

"As secretary of labor, I want to know if you will bow to political pressure -- which I have seen, under this Trump administration, a tremendous amount of political pressure," Murray said.

"I have prosecuted UBS, the international bank, and as a result of that prosecution, they changed Swiss law," Acosta said. "I've prosecuted major drug cartels for 200,000 kilos -- the heads of the Cali cartel -- for 200,000 kilos of cocaine. I have been in public service the better part of my professional career, and I've seen pressure, and I don't for a second believe that senior officials would or should bow to inappropriate pressure."

"We work for the president. He is our boss," Acosta added. But, citing the confirmation hearing of former Bush Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, he concluded: "We all will ultimately follow his direction -- unless we feel we can't. And if we can't, we resign." 

Photo credit: Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press 

Conservatives press Nelson on Gorsuch vote for Supreme Court

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via @learyreports

A conservative group is dropping new mailers in Florida today to keep up pressure on Sen. Bill Nelson to support Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court.

This is the second direct mail piece from Concerned Veterans for America, and it makes a patriotic appeal, asking if Nelson will "protect the freedoms you fought to defend."

"Each piece of mail directs citizens to call a CVA switchboard where they are informed about Neil Gorsuch’s record and then patched through to Senator Nelson’s office," the group said. It is also targeting Democratic senators in Indiana, North Dakota, West Virginia, Missouri, Colorado, Maine and Montana.

Nelson, facing re-election next year, has not said how he'll vote on Gorsuch.

UPDATE: The Republican National Commitee is also using a Facebook ad.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times