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April 24, 2015

The careful line Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush walk on immigration reform


NASHUA, N.H. -- Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio have turned explaining their similar positions on immigration reform into a political art form.

Secure the border, they grovel to conservatives worried about “amnesty.” Get a better grip on people come into the country legally with visas, in case they overstay them. Give legal priority to immigrants who can contribute to the economy. Then — and only then! — should the U.S. grant legal status to many of the nearly 11 million people inside the country without authorization.

“We need to control our border first of all,” Bush said last week at a political breakfast in Manchester, New Hampshire.

“The American people, they understand we have an issue that has to be confronted,” Rubio said at a Manchester house party a few hours later. “But they’re not willing to do it or even talk about it until you show them — not tell them, you better show them — that illegal immigration is under control.”

That’s what grass-roots Republican voters want to hear. But they remain skeptical of Rubio and Bush, at least in New Hampshire, which holds the nation’s first presidential primary next year after the Iowa caucuses. Neither state is known for its demographic diversity: The population of both states is more than 93 percent white in both states, according to the U.S. Census, and only 5 percent of residents are foreign-born.

Immigration presents a challenge for Bush, the former Florida governor who has yet to declare his 2016 presidential candidacy, and Rubio, the U.S. senator who’s already running. Both back granting legal status to the nearly 11 million people already in the country illegally.

More here.

Republican feud has shades of Democrat's dissension of two decades ago

Republicans in the Florida Legislature have met the enemy, and it is them.

They can’t agree on using federal money for people with no health care and as a result, budget negotiations are in disarray in a year with a $1 billion surplus. Unable to resolve their differences after months of refusing to compromise, Republican lawmakers will end the regular session next Friday without completing the one task they are required to do: passing a state budget.

The government of the nation’s third-largest state is controlled by one party, yet the standoff is Republican against Republican, in some cases involving members of the same family. House Republicans have been distracted by a leadership coup while Gov. Rick Scott is personally threatening to veto Republican senators’ bills and spending items unless they approve his tax cuts of $673 million.

“This damages our party,’’ said Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon when tensions were at their peak last week. “This makes us look like we cannot govern, that we cannot work out our differences, and the talk about a big tent is cheap.”

Lee likened the bickering among Republicans to the internal dissension that hastened the demise of the once-dominant Democratic Party in Florida two decades ago.

“We’re becoming just like the people we sought to unseat in the mid ’90s,’’ said Lee, a former Senate president. He expressed his disgust as fellow Republicans push for “a seemingly endless stream of budget requests that are only loosely related to the role state government should play.”

More here.

Xavier Suarez building war chest for possible 2016 mayoral bid

Xavier Suarez


For someone still deciding on a run for county mayor, Xavier Suarez isn't wavering on raising money.

The Miami-Dade commissioner told supporters Friday he raised "six figures" at an event this week hosted by Mike Eidson, the Miami lawyer who Suarez is helping try to reshape the county's plan for the Coconut Grove Playhouse. 

"I'm trying to prove to myself I can raises funds" needed for a 2016 mayoral campaign, Suarez said in an interview Friday. "A lot of people are responding nicely so far." 

In an email titled "Kitchen Cabinet Update," Suarez noted attendees for Thursday's reception at Coconut Grove's Calamari restaurant included Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon, developers Armando Codina and Wayne Rosen, lobbyist Brian May and Eidson partners Dean Colson and Roberto Martinez. The event raised money for Imagine Miami, a Suarez political committee that has collected nearly $120,000 in the 2016 election cycle, according to the latest reports.

"The evening fundraiser was amazingly successful, with six-figure results," Suarez wrote in the email, obtained by Naked Politics. Along with  listed attendees, the event featured "a handful of our kitchen cabinet members, who either shepherded the big donors or brought their own substantial checks."

Continue reading "Xavier Suarez building war chest for possible 2016 mayoral bid" »

Senate counter-offer: Expand health care coverage

The Senate doubled-down on its Medicaid expansion plan Friday, rejecting a proposal from the House to use $200 million in state money to help safety-net hospitals absorb a potential loss of $1.3 billion in federal health care funding.

The House made its offer -- which did not include expansion -- Thursday in hopes of jump starting stalled negotiations over the state health care budget. But Senate leaders insisted that providing coverage to more than 800,000 low-income Floridians was the better solution.

"(The House's) response indicates their continued unwillingness to deal with insurance coverage," said Senate Budget Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon. "And I understand that. I’m not surprised to see that. And our response indicates that we are not prepared to walk away from that."

Lee said using $200 million in state money to replace some of the Low Income Pool, a federal-state program that helps hospitals pay for uninsured and Medicaid patients, would be like charging Floridians twice for the same services, since Floridians already pay federal taxes.

"It is not an optimal situation," he said.

The LIP program is set to end on June 30, unless the federal government approves a proposed successor program. Federal health officials have said they are more likely to extend the funding if Florida expands Medicaid.

Continue reading "Senate counter-offer: Expand health care coverage" »

House poised to overhaul prison inspections, impose new requirements at troubled agency

The investigative staff at the Department of Corrections would face an overhaul, officers who injure inmates could be subject to felonies, and the state would start a pilot project to put body cameras on prison guards, under a bill set to be given preliminary approval today in the Florida House.

The proposal is the first part of a bi-partisan agreement between the House and Senate to address questions of inmate abuse, allegations of staff cover-ups and evidence of organizational troubles that have been festering in the state’s prison system for years. The agency and its staff are also under investigation by both state and federal law enforcement agencies.

“There’s a lot of problems in the prison system and this is a monumental step forward – and it’s only the beginning,’’ said Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, who negotiated the compromise with Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker.

The changes are included in an amendment by Trujillo to SB 7020. The second element of the deal, not included in the bill, is a promise to create a select committee of legislators to provide oversight of DOC, review treatment of inmates, investigate grievance trends and monitor implementation of provisions in the bill beginning this fall.

Evers began investigating DOC in January in the wake of several reports in the Miami Herald and other news organizations that exposed suspicious inmate deaths, questionable use of force and allegations of agency cover-ups. 

Faced with opposition from Gov. Rick Scott’s administration, the proposals no longer include elements that would have taken authority over the agency away from the governor. Evers originally proposed creating an independent oversight commission that would have the ability to investigation allegations of wrongdoing at the state’s largest agency. The Senate plan also would have required that DOC secretary to be appointed by the governor and Cabinet, with confirmation by the Senate. 

Continue reading "House poised to overhaul prison inspections, impose new requirements at troubled agency " »

Lawmakers push to extend statute of limitations on rape cases

Lawmakers have voted to extend the statute of limitations for rapes to be reported and prosecuted.

Dubbed the 43 Days Initiative Act in honor of Danielle Sullivan, who reported a rape 43 days too late, the bill (SB 133) will up the amount of time after a crime is committed that victims can report a rape and see the state take action.

The legislation — sponsored by Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, and Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando — has passed both chambers, but lawmakers need to iron out the length of the new statute of limitations before it can be sent to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature or veto.

Senators on Friday passed an eight-year statute of limitations. The House had already passed a six-year time frame. The Senate's version has been sent back to the House for approval

Right now, victims have four years to report rapes. When the victim is a minor, charges can be filed and prosecuted at any time, and the bill doesn’t change that.

Supporters say the statute of limitations extension is important because victims often struggle with coming forward for some time.

The bill also corrects a 2011 error by the Legislature that made sexting an unenforceable crime. Attempting to stop charging minors with child pornography for sending inappropriate pictures of themselves, lawmakers made sexting a civil offense. No court has jurisdiction over juvenile civil crimes.

Now, sexting will be punishable by a small fine and community service for a first offense.

PolitiFact looks at claims by Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders

While Hillary Clinton has the Democratic field to herself right now, there are other Democrats making waves that they might run for president too -- and PolitiFact is keeping an eye on them. We have been busy fact-checking claims by Clinton, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Clinton said during an event at a college that "The United States invented the community college. Nobody else had ever done anything like it." This is largely correct, though Clinton’s terminology could have been more precise. Also, other types of institutions in Europe share characteristics of community colleges. Still, the specific U.S. system is was an innovation. Keep reading here.

O'Malley said on NPR "We're not allowed to read it (the Trans-Pacific Partnership) before representatives vote on it." 

Strictly speaking, he’s wrong -- Congress, and the American public, will be fully informed of what’s in the Trans-Pacific Partnership before lawmakers vote to make the agreement part of United States law. But he has a point that lawmakers won’t know what’s in the Trans-Pacific Partnership before they cast a separate, precursor vote -- the vote to authorize Obama to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership on a fast-track basis in the first place. Continue reading here to see how we rated O'Malley's claim.

Sanders said on Fox News that "99 percent of all new income today (is) going to the top 1 percent." 

Sanders is referring to pre-tax, pre-transfer income growth during the economic recovery from 2009-13.We found consensus among economists that the statistic and calculation offered by Sanders is credible, but it’s just not the only way to consider income inequality. Other measures may be equally valid and produce different results. But economists say specific data does not yet exist. Continue reading here to see how we rated Sanders' claim.

(Fact-checks by Louis Jacobson and Katie Sanders.)

Party-line Senate vote sends abortion waiting period to Gov. Scott

After the most emotionally-charged debate of the session, the Florida Senate on Friday passed a requirement for a 24-hour waiting period before a woman can undergo an abortion. The bill now goes to Gov. Rick Scott, who is expected to sign it.

The vote was 26-13, as every Republican voted for it and every Democrat present voted against it. Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, was excused Friday to attend a funeral.

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, revealed for the first time that his wife Victoria was seriously ill 29 years ago and was four months pregnant at the time and was advised to have an abortion. She considered it, refused to have an abortion and gave birth to their daughter, Erin.

"I'm glad she had 24 hours to think about it," Gaetz said.

Democrats said the bill represented the annual assault on women's rights by the Republican controlled Legislature.

Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, called the bill "unnecessary government intrusion into the lives of women." Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, criticized a provision that a woman who was raped must prove it with a police report to obtain a waiver from the 24-hour wait.

The House passed the bill earlier on a 77 to 41 vote. The version headed to Scott's desk, HB 633, is sponsored by the Legislature's youngest member, freshman Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, a 23-year-old Republican from Mount Dora. Sullivan's mother, Patricia, is a long-time conservative activist in Central Florida who founded the North Lake Tea Party.

PolitiFact looks at one of Rick Scott's environmental promises

As part of his environmental agenda during his re-election campaign, Gov. Rick Scott promised that he would "issue an executive order to provide a foundation for bringing together stakeholders to plan with his administration for additional needed actions."

We'll note that he didn't promise to create a foundation as in an organization -- he put that promise under the header "executive order to protect water quality" in his environmental campaign plan.

We how PolitiFact Florida rated Scott's progress and here is our entire Scott-O-Meter.

After three years of debate, Legislature passes growler bill

On Friday, the Florida House voted unanimously to legalize 64-ounce growlers, which, though a standard size in the industry, have long been illegal in this state. The Senate approved the legislation (SB 186) last week.

The legislation, which is awaiting Gov. Rick Scott’s signature or veto, allows craft breweries to sell the half-gallon jugs of beer, a move they say is necessary to foster growth.

“This day has been a long time coming,” House Majority Leader Dana Young, R-Tampa, said on the floor Friday. “It was a lot harder than it should have been, and a lot of you have lived through this craziness with me.”

The bill passed Friday does more than allow growler sales, although that’s where the debate started three years ago. Beginning July 1, breweries will also be allowed to open up to eight tap rooms, where customers can sample beer, buy a pint or fill their growlers.

Brewers have been doing this for some time by way of an exemption in state law meant to encourage tourism.

Limits to purchases from craft distilleries will also be raised under the bill.

Growler legislation has been a priority for Tampa Bay legislators for three years. The bill passed Friday was sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and in the House by Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, and Young.