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April 03, 2018

Graham calls Trump an 'embarrassment' in first campaign ad



Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham rolled out her first gubernatorial campaign ad Tuesday, contrasting herself with President Donald Trump.

“Donald Trump is an embarrassment. Donald Trump is an example of a bully,” Graham says in the ad.

Graham's campaign says the digital ad -- a textbook piece heading into a mid-term election taking place under a president with an underwater approval rating -- will be initially targeting Palm Beach, the home of Trump's Mar-a-Lago retreat. After that, it will be aired statewide.

Graham, who is running for the Democratic nominee for governor, had raised about $6.8 million through her campaign account and Gwen Graham for Florida political committee as of early March, and spent about $2 million. She's beginning her ad campaign as Philip Levine, whom polls show is neck-and-neck with Graham in the Democratic primary, has been airing commercials for months.



October debates set for candidates running for Florida Governor and U.S. Senate

Bill Nelson


Leadership Florida and the Florida Press Association have announced dates for hour-long debates between the Democratic and Republican nominees to win the November election for Florida governor and U.S. Senate.

The organizations will host the events at Broward College two weeks before the general election. The debates will run back-to-back, on Oct. 23 and 24, and will each start at 7 p.m.

The debates will be carried across all of Florida's 10 media markets, and produced by West Palm Beach-based ABC station WPBF/Ch. 25. In Miami, the events will be broadcast by WFOR-CBS4.

For Senate, Bill Nelson, the only Democrat elected statewide in Florida, is expected to face a challenge from term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

For governor, August primaries will decide who will face off. Right now, Congressman Ron DeSantis and Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam are declared candidates on the Republican side (with House Speaker Richard Corcoran a possible third entry). On the Democratic side, the candidates are Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, Winter Park businessman Chris King, and former Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine.

Shark Tank blogger Manjarres says he’ll run against Parkland’s Congressman

Javier Majarres


Javier Manjarres, the political consultant behind the conservative Shark Tank blog, is running for Congress against Parkland-area Rep. Ted Deutch.

Manjarres, whose interest in running against Deutch has been known for months, announced his candidacy Tuesday morning. In a press release touting his blue-collar background and “size 11 Ariat boots,” he criticized Deutch’s politics and accused him of trying to capitalize on February’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“The recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida is a reminder that shameful extremists like Deutch will go as far as to lie in their ongoing efforts of exploiting victims of the shooting for political expediency and gain,” Manjarres, who’s accused Deutch of lying on Twitter about living in Parkland, said in a statement.

“With my size 11 Ariat boots firmly affixed, I enter this race with the intention of stomping out the un-American foreign and domestic policies that my opponent ‘Terrified Ted’ Deutch continues to support. I am going to eat his lunch and feed him his votes.”

Click here to read the rest.

April 02, 2018

Proposal to end hospitals' certificate of need system pulled from CRC

Screen Shot 2018-04-02 at 7.02.14 PM



A proposal that would have ended the state's certificate-of-need process for approving hospitals was withdrawn Monday, just before it was set to move into the next stage of consideration for the November ballot as a constitutional amendment.

Proposal 54, which was sponsored by Constitution Revision Commission member Frank Kruppenbacher, would have linked the approval process for new hospitals to infection rates at other hospitals in the area. By doing so, it would have no longer allowed to state to limit hospital growth through the current certificate of need process. The CON process currently requires the state to approve hospitals and other health care providers like nursing homes to add more sites or services.

The proposed amendment did not reference the long-running certificates of need process directly, but it would have prohibited limiting hospital growth in any counties with at least one hospital with an infection rate above the state average. Deregulating the hospital industry by restricting or removing the program has long been a priority for some leaders in the Republican-dominated Legislature and for Gov. Rick Scott, a past hospital executive.

When the proposal moved forward last month, Kruppenbacher — who Scott appointed to the seat — dismissed the possibility that such a measure might advance in the Legislature, saying overhauling the system had to happen through the CRC. The powerful 37-member committee meets once every 20 years to choose proposals to put directly before voters, which voters can then pass by a 60 percent majority.

He did not respond to requests for comment Monday on why the proposal was pulled before the commission meets this week to refine the language of the remaining proposed amendments.

The Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, which represents public, nonprofit and teaching hospitals in the state, objected to the proposal and lauded its withdrawal Monday.

“Preserving Florida’s health care strategic planning process is vital for a strong safety net hospital system which provides the most highly specialized medical care regardless of a patient’s ability to pay,” said Lindy Kennedy, the group's executive vice president, in a statement. “With fewer commercially insured patients to help cover the costs of caring for the poor and uninsured, safety net hospitals would have been forced to cut vital services that benefit all Floridians, such as neonatal care, trauma, burn, and transplants."

The withdrawal is part of the further culling of dozens of proposal from the commission's consideration: Another health care proposal, which would have added a "bill of rights" for residents in long-term care facilities, was withdrawn last month after sponsor Brecht Heuchan conceded it was unlikely to have the votes in its current form.

No Casinos calls special session talk 'fictional crisis'; Tribe's lawyer says state loss of revenue is not imminent

CasinoFlorida legislative leaders are expected to decide this week whether to pursue a special session to expand slot machines in some counties while it asks the Seminole Tribe to renew its gaming deal with the state, but the head of the No Casinos effort on Monday called the idea a "last ditch effort by gambling interests" and a lawyer for the tribe s there is no need to hurry.

In a letter to House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron, John Sowinski, president of the group that has put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that will inhibit gambling expansion, suggested it was "a fictional crisis manufactured by gambling lobbyists."

"The urgency of this matter is curious, since no facts have changed since the end of session that would now make this such an enormous priority that it could merit a call for a special session of the Legislature,'' he wrote. 

No Casinos has succeeded in getting enough signatures to put an amendment on the ballot to require a statewide vote to expand gambling options in Florida. If the measure succeeds, legislators will have less influence over all gaming decisions.

The amendment is backed by Disney Worldwide and the Seminole Tribe, both of which oppose any expansion outside of the tribe's seven existing casinos. The amendment exempts gaming expansion if it involves Indian tribes, such as the Seminoles and their Hard Rock casinos.

Last week, Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes and Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who has been designated by Republicans to be next Senate president, announced they are considering a special session because of budget concerns that the tribe may withhold payments to the state because of a legal settlement they reached as a result of a lawsuit in federal court over designated player games at pari-mutuel facilities.

Under the settlement, the tribe agreed not to withhold the more than $300 million in annual payments it now gives the state as part of its compact to operate casinos on its seven reservations until the end of March.

The settlement gave the Legislature enough time to outlaw the games, which the court said violated the tribal compact. Lawmakers adjourned without passing any gaming legislation and nothing has changed, except a newfound concern about the tribe stopping payment. 

Barry Richard, the Tallahassee lawyer who has argued the cases for the Seminole Tribe, told the Herald/Times Monday "the only reason the tribe would terminate payment is if they think there is a substantial impact on their financial circumstances, or they think they are paying too much money for the exclusivity -- given that it's been infringed upon. Then, they would terminate or reduce the payments."

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation has been working to enforce the settlements, closing down designated player games at pari-mutuels that operated them, and "the tribe is satisfied that DBPR has been acting aggressively,'' Richard said. 

However, a new threat to the tribe's bottom line has emerged: a new kind of slot-machine look-alikes that have proliferated at strip malls and convenience stores. The tribe is now suing the owners of those games and their landlords in Jacksonville and, Richard said, it is likely the tribe will let those lawsuits play out before it would withhold payments to the state. Those cases are not set for trial until June. 

But, Richard added, "something is going to have to happen. They are not going to let these machines proliferate."

So is there a need for a special session? 

Richard said the tribe is always open to listening. "If the legislature wants to bring them a proposal that's been signed off on by everybody, they are happy to look at it,'' he said. 

But, he warned, "the tribe doesn't want to have non-productive conversation with one chamber or the legislature, or some members of leadership, and then have it go back to others who disagree with it."

Galvano confirmed Monday that he has not had any substantial talks with the tribe about the compact. 

Meanwhile, Sowinski notes that many perceive the talk of a special session is more about the potential for legislators to raise money from the parimutuel industry, who are among the most reliable contributors in the state.  Corcoran is a likely candidate for governor and several others are pursuing state Cabinet positions and could benefit from a special session that would attract the industry's money.

But, Sowinski argued, convening a special session could have the opposition effect if the industry wants to defeat the proposed amendment. 

"You can tell the gambling interests and assure the people of Florida that public policy is not for sale in Tallahassee by resisting gambling lobbyist pressure for a special session,'' Sowinski wrote. "Convening a special session that will be seen as a genuflection to the gambling industry would provide voters with a perfect illustration of why Amendment 3 is so badly needed."

Read Sowinski's letter here:  Download No Casinos letter re special session 4-2-18


Tim Canova drops Democratic bid to unseat Debbie Wasserman Schultz, will run as independent



Tim Canova, a liberal Nova Southeastern University law professor who raised millions in an unsuccessful Democratic primary bid against Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in 2016, announced Monday that he will drop out of the Democratic primary for Wasserman Schultz's Broward-based district and instead run as an independent. 

"Even as independents, we are the real Democrats in this race," Canova said at a press conference outside Broward County Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes' office. "Even as we run as independents, I will run as a better Democrat. I did not leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left us." 

Canova, whose 2016 bid received national attention after Sen. Bernie Sanders backed him over Wasserman Schultz, eventually lost the Democratic primary by 14 percentage points. Canova's decision to run as an independent gives Wasserman Schultz a clear path to the Democratic nomination in 2018.

Republicans Joe Kaufman and Carlos Reyes have also filed to run in Florida's 23rd Congressional District, which encompasses portions of Broward County and northeastern Miami-Dade County. 

March 30, 2018

Gov. Scott signs 'resign to run' bill, forcing lawmakers to choose to keep their seats or run for Congress

Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks after the end of the legislative session at the Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee on March 11, 2018. Flanking Scott are Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran, left, and Senate President Joe Negron. Mark Wallheiser AP

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed a bill that would require local and state lawmakers to resign from their current seats in order to run for Congress.

The so-called "resign to run" bill now forces nearly a half-dozen local and state lawmakers to choose between holding onto their current seats or take the risk of running for the Miami congressional seat that Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is retiring from.

Scott also vetoed his first bill of the year, obscure legislation that involves expanding the Palm Beach County Housing Authority from five seats to seven.

Normally, seats on the board are filled by the governor, but the bill allowed the Palm Beach County Commission to fill the two new seats. County commissioners were pushing for the bill so they could have more oversight over the troubled agency.

But Scott vetoed it, saying that the new seats should be filled by the governor.

The governor on Friday signed HB 215, a motor vehicle bill which included a controversial amendment that allows Florida International University to open a road to its Biscayne Bay campus through an environmental preserve in North Miami.

The university had cited the Parkland shooting in its arguments that the current campus, which only has one road in and out, needed a second entry and exit point for school safety. Efforts to open up a second road through the preserve have been brought repeatedly before the Legislature since at least 2011.

Despite opposition from local officials, the FIU language was successfully added to the motor vehicle bill in the waning days of session.

Herald staff writer Elizabeth Koh contributed to this report.

After voting for Parkland bill, state representative says he wants to remove gun control measures








Just weeks after state legislators passed a sweeping package of school safety and gun control changes following the Parkland shooting, a state representative who voted for the bill says he wants to remove its gun control provisions should he be re-elected.

In a town hall hosted by Florida Today Wednesday, Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, said he plans to file bills to remove some of the gun control provisions from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Safety Act — including a three-day waiting period, higher minimum age to buy firearms from a dealer and a ban on the sale and possession of bump stocks.

Fine said at the town hall that he supported the bill’s increased money for mental health services and school safety, as well as a guardian program that would allow staff in schools to be armed, given required training. But he said legislators “did three things as part of this that wouldn’t have stopped the Parkland shooting and I don’t think accomplish much of anything,” according to Florida Today. “I don’t think those things solve anything and, frankly to me, they were silly.”

The move is a shift in tone for Fine, who had called some of the gun provisions “minor, minor things” before voting for the Parkland bill and called on his colleagues to not let “perfect be the enemy of the good.”

The gun control measures were among the most contentious parts of an already contentious bill, particularly in Florida, where state lawmakers have voted to increase access to guns and has some of the most firearm-friendly laws in the country.

Legislative leaders had narrowly navigated polarized factions to pass the Parkland package in both chambers and make it the first legislation signed by Gov. Rick Scott near the end of the session. Even so, SB 7026 passed by a slim 20-18 margin in the Senate and a 67-50 margin in the House, where 19 Republicans (the majority of whom are not term-limited and up for re-election) voted no. Ten Democrats, largely from Broward County, voted yes.

Fine had expressed concerns after the Parkland shooting about the proposed gun control measures, telling CNN in February that “I’m not a big fan of taking away folks’ Second Amendment rights. I think we need to look at the issues and see where we can play around the edges.”

But shortly before the bill was passed by the House, Fine called on his Republican colleagues to put those gun control provisions in the context of the larger bill.  State lawmakers had debated for nearly a week on the legislation, which also included a controversial school guardian program that would allow staff in schools to be armed in addition to the gun control proposals. The latter had drawn particular ire from the House’s more conservative lawmakers, some of whom eventually voted against the bill.

Fine, a Brevard County Republican, said some of those provisions — the waiting period for buying long firearms and raising the age limit on purchasing guns to 21 — were “minor” and defended his decision to support the bill anyway. He minimized the impact of the higher age limit and compared the waiting period to the “three days to order something from Amazon Prime,” he added. “What is the harm in waiting three days if you want to go and get a rifle?”

“The notion that these two minor, minor things — waiting 72 hours just like you do when you order something on the Internet and having to get a rifle from your father if you want to go hunting or your mother if you need to protect yourself — those two things would make perfect the enemy of the good,” he added.

Almost immediately after Scott signed the bill, the National Rifle Association filed a federal lawsuit to block raising the age limit to buy guns as a violation of the Second Amendment.

“This bill punishes law-abiding gun owners for the criminal acts of a deranged individual,” said Chris Cox of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action at the time. “The gun control provisions in this law wrongly blame millions of Floridians who safely and responsibly exercise their right to self-defense.”

On Wednesday, Fine said he disagreed the measures violate the constitutional right to bear arms but called the measures “a bad idea.”

Fine’s comments drew quick outcry from Parkland shooting survivors, including Jaclyn Corin, one of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students who has led the #NeverAgain movement.

“He voted for the bill when it went through the House, and is simply terrified of the backlash the NRA has given the State of Florida,” she wrote Friday morning on Twitter, adding the hashtag #VoteHimOut.

Fine did not respond to requests for comment Friday. A freshman legislator who is running for re-election in his district, he told Florida Today that he expects a dozen Republicans who both voted against the bill and are running for re-election would support his efforts to pull back the gun control provisions.

March 29, 2018

Why limiting gun-magazine size is a tough problem for Marco Rubio



In the middle of an emotional town hall event one week after the Parkland shooting, Marco Rubio said something that put him at odds with most Republican lawmakers: Limiting the size of magazines, the spring-loaded devices that feed bullet cartridges into guns, “may save lives” during attacks like the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 people.

Six weeks after the shooting, the Florida Republican has continued to say that he’s open to potentially limiting magazine sizes, though he has yet to support a specific proposal or offer a bill in Congress.

“I have traditionally not supported [a ban] on magazine capacity because I don’t think they prevent shootings,” Rubio said on Tuesday. “What has allowed me to re-examine it is the reality that in Parkland, at some point in that shooting, whether it was a gun jam or reloading, the shooter had to stop and people got away. And so, the purpose of my opposition has always been that I didn’t think it would make a difference and at least in this particular case it might have. Then, if I’m being intellectually honest, I have to look at it again.”

Though the Broward Sheriff’s Office has not confirmed the type of magazine Nikolas Cruz used in the shootings, a federal law enforcement official told the Miami Herald that all of the ammunition used by Cruz was in 30-round magazines.

But various bills that limit magazine size have traditionally received little support from Republicans. In 2013, the U.S. Senate rejected a ban on magazines that accept more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Rubio voted against that ban, and none of the 51 Republicans currently serving in the Senate voted for it.

Eight states and the District of Columbia have banned what are called “high capacity” magazines, usually devices that hold more than 10 or 15 rounds of ammunition. There are differences between states; some of them permit the possession of magazines above the 10- or 15-round threshold that were purchased before the ban went into effect, while others ban all magazines above the threshold.

“It is clear that any gun in the wrong hands can be used to kill another human being, but when you have weapons that accept either large magazines or just the fact that it has a magazine that can be detached and reloaded, this transforms that killer into a killing machine,” said David Chipman, a retired Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives special agent who now works as a senior policy advisor for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a group that promotes pro-gun-control policies.

Chipman said the 10- or 15-round limit on magazine size is largely based on a desire for law enforcement officers to have superior firepower compared to potential criminals. When he worked as an agent on the ATF’s SWAT team, he used a 15-round handgun magazine and a 30-round AR-15 magazine.

“As a law enforcement professional [if] we have a 15-round magazine, it doesn’t seem reasonable that someone should have more,” Chipman said. “There’s some groups that feel like the military and police should have weapons of greater lethality than the public, but then there are pro-gun people who claim they need to have identical weapons. That’s where the debate is.”

Read more here.

After data scandal, Florida attorney general's office wants in-person meeting with Facebook

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi

One of Attorney General Pam Bondi's top deputies is demanding an in-person meeting with executives at Facebook to talk about the release of more than 50 million users' personal information.

In a Wednesday letter to Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Bondi's Privacy Bureau chief, Patrice Malloy, wrote that she expects a meeting set up by the end of the week.

"Please contact me by the close of business on Friday, March 30, to arrange for a mutually agreeable location, date and time with the goal of facilitating further discussion regarding this time-sensitive matter," Malloy wrote.

She included a list of nine questions she wanted answered after the New York Times revealed that Facebook users' information was harvested by a company called Cambridge Analytica, which was hired by President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.

Malloy called the release "troubling," and she asked to know the type of data that Facebook released, whether the company was paid for the data, which third-party applications also used the data, and how Facebook learned its policies were violated.

Attorneys general in 37 other states and territories sent a similar letter to Zuckerberg earlier this week, but Bondi did not sign it. A spokeswoman for Bondi said the office wasn't given enough time to join the letter.