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April 21, 2017

Nelson: United Airlines evasive in probe of passenger removal

via @learyreports

United Airlines has snubbed Sen. Bill Nelson.

The Florida Democrat, who joined a letter demanding answers to the worldwide controversy of violently removing a passenger from a flight, says United did not sufficiently respond.

“We’re disappointed that neither United Airlines nor the Chicago Department of Aviation has yet provided substantive answers to the straightforward questions we asked about the forcible removal of a passenger on April 9, 2017," reads a letter from Nelson and other senators. "Getting answers for the public about what happened and what can be done to prevent such an incident from happening again is a priority for the members of our committee. We find any further delay in getting necessary answers unacceptable.”

The statement was drafted by Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Nelson, who serve respectively as the chairman and ranking member of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation along with Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) who serve as the chairman and ranking member of the Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security Subcommittee.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Inside Nelson's first fundraising report: Big names but mostly Florida cash

via @learyreports

There are donations from Elizabeth Warren, Al Gore and Steven Spielberg, but Floridians powered Sen. Bill Nelson’s first fundraising quarter. Nearly 80 percent of his individual contributions came from within the state, a review shows.

Nelson raised more than $2 million for the first three months of the year, a showing that dispels any talk he would not seek a fourth term in 2018. Nelson, 74, has $3.6 million in the bank.

He raised about $1.3 million from individuals, of which 78 percent came from within Florida. The rest of Nelson’s haul came from PACs, including $10,000 from Sen. Warren’s committee.

“Is this why Nelson votes with Warren 92% of the time?” asked the NRSC, which will again seek to cast the Florida Democrat as too liberal for the state, a strategy that has floundered before. “Nearly identical voting records and now $10k from Warren makes it pretty clear that Nelson isn’t the moderate he pretends to be.”

Nelson also got $5,000 from the Moderate Democrats PAC.

Several members of Congress contributed to Nelson, either through their PACs or individually. Charlie Crist personally gave $1,000; Val Demings gave $500. Ted Deutch used his PAC to send Nelson $2,000. Former Rep. Gwen Graham did the same.

Spielberg kicked in $2,700 while his wife, Kate Capshaw, contributed $5,400. Jeffey Katzenberg of Dreamworks also maxed out with $5,400.

There are special interests galore, from Boeing to Wawa. U.S. Sugar, long a benefactor of Nelson. FEC records show five executives contributed a combined $10,500.

Nelson’s report also reveals the outline of his campaign team. On his payroll are familiar names: Pete Mitchell, Dan McLaughlin, who is listed as a “research consultant.”

Diamond Strategies, a St. Petersburg firm run by Christina Diamond, whose husband, Ben, serves in the Legislature, took in $26,000 for fundraising work. Kevin Cate’s shop took in nearly $19,000 for digital advertising.

Nelson spent $12,500 for polling from Ohio-based EMC Research.

— Alex Leary, Tampa Bay Times, with Eli Murray

Read Frank Artiles' full resignation letter

Artiles
@PatriciaMazzei @MaryEllenKlas

Here's the text of the resignation letter Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles sent Senate President Joe Negron on Friday:

April 21, 2017

Dear President Negron,

Seven years ago, I began my public service with one goal in mind, and that was to serve a cause greater than my own.

Serving my constituents and improving their lives is why I serve. On many important issues, caring for the elderly, education and job creation, I have made it my personal mission to put others first. It’s the way I was raised, and the way I still choose to live my life today.

As a Marine, this attitude was embodied in our motto: Semper Fidelis, or “Always Faithful.” Be faithful to God, to country and to our fellow soldiers.

As a father and husband, despite the daily demands of elected office, I always keep the promises that I make to my two beautiful daughters, Bella and Giavanna, and my loving wife Aimee. I’m a fulfilled man, because of their unconditional love and support.

It is clear to me my recent actions and words that I spoke fell far short of what I expect for myself, and for this I am very sorry. I apologize to my family and friends and I apologize to all of my fellow Senators and lawmakers. To the people of my district and all of Miami-Dade, I am sorry I have let you down and ask for your forgiveness.

My actions and my presence in government is now a distraction to my colleagues, the legislative process, and the citizens of our great State.

I am responsible and I am accountable and effective immediately, I am resigning from the Florida State Senate.

It’s clear there are consequences to every action, and in this area, I will need time for personal reflection and growth.

I leave this office knowing that despite my shortcomings, I have fought hard to change the status quo while remaining true to myself. I’m grateful for those that have stood by my side, including my family, friends, and supporters.

Serving my community in the Florida Legislature has been the honor of a lifetime and I do not leave this process lightly. I will discover ways to continue to serve my community in the future.

God bless the great state of Florida and our great country.

Sincerely,

Senator Frank Artiles

ARTILES RESIGNS

Artiles
@PatriciaMazzei @MaryEllenKlas

TALLAHASSEE -- Sen. Frank Artiles resigned from the Florida Legislature on Friday, consumed by a scandal that erupted three days earlier over a diatribe of insults the Miami Republican unleashed against two lawmakers at a Tallahassee bar.

In a letter to Senate President Joe Negron, Artiles said he was stepping down for the sake of his family and of the institution of the Senate, whose work ground to a near halt this week as Republican leaders grappled with Artiles’ political future.

“My actions and my presence in government is now a distraction to my colleagues, the legislative process, and the citizens of our great State,” Artiles wrote. “I am responsible and I am accountable and effective immediately, I am resigning from the Florida State Senate.

More here.

Artiles expected to resign Friday

Artiles
@PatriciaMazzei @MaryEllenKlas

TALLAHASSEE -- Sen. Frank Artiles is expected to resign from the Florida Legislature on Friday, consumed by a scandal that erupted three days earlier over a diatribe of insults the Miami Republican unleashed against two lawmakers at a Tallahassee bar.

Word about Artiles’ impending resignation began to spread Friday morning in Tallahassee and Miami. Several sources confirmed to the Herald/Times that the senator intends to step aside.

Senate President Joe Negron forced Artiles to apologize on the Senate floor Wednesday for his alcohol-fueled racist and sexist Monday night tirade against Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville. But black lawmakers outraged at Artiles for calling Gibson a “bitch” and a “girl” — and for referring to some Republicans as “niggas” — said saying sorry was not enough: They formally sought his expulsion from the Senate.

Negron, whom Artiles had derided in his rant as a “pussy,” ordered an investigation. Artiles, an ex-Marine known for his combative style, hired a sharp-elbowed Tallahassee lawyer and vowed to fight.

But by Thursday afternoon, even Artiles’ friends in the state Capitol, convinced he couldn’t possibly redeem himself, had begun to say privately that Artiles had to go. The most evident sign of his looming exit: Political hounds started chatting about his competitive seat soon becoming open. 

“Frank has acted honorably in his decision, and my prayers are with him as he moves on from this process,” future House Speaker Jose Oliva of Miami Lakes, a longtime Artiles friend, said in an interview Friday morning.

More here.

Looks like son of Miami mayor will run for city commission

@NewsbySmiley

It looks like Tomas N. "Tommy" Regalado, the eldest son of Miami's mayor, is preparing to run for Miami city commission.

Regalado, a producer at the federally funded TV Martí, filed paperwork this week to appoint a campaign treasurer and open a campaign account at Sabadell United Bank. Regalado has been talking for months about launching a campaign.

He says, however, that he hasn't yet committed to running for the open District 3 commission seat being vacated by term-limited Frank Carollo, and will make a final decision and announcement next week.

"I'll be making my announcement on Tuesday," he said.

The field running for Carollo's seat, which represents a district that includes West Brickell and Little Havana, is already crowded. Frank's brother, former Mayor Joe Carollo, is raising money, as is Zoraida Barreiro, the wife of County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro. Former state senator Alex Diaz de la Portilla is also strongly considering his own campaign.

Meanwhile, Alex Dominguez, Olidia "Lee" Hernandez, Alfonso Leon, Miguel Soliman, Daniel Suarez, and José Suárez have also filed campaign paperwork.

Secret meeting at Mar-a-Lago raises questions about Colombia peace and Trump

Colombia trump

via @FrancoOrdonez @anitakumar01

President Donald Trump quietly met a pair of former Colombian presidents last weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, thrusting his administration into an ugly power struggle in Latin America that threatens to undermine the country’s controversial peace agreement with rebel leaders.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is expected to push Trump to support the peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia at their first meeting at the White House next month. He wants the Trump administration and Congress to maintain the $450 million in foreign aid promised by former President Barack Obama to implement the plan to end Latin America’s longest armed conflict.

The meeting between Trump and the former presidents, Álvaro Uribe and Andrés Pastrana – Colombia news media have reported it was arranged by an influential U.S. critic of the plan, Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida – was not on the president’s schedule and was not disclosed to reporters who traveled with him to Palm Beach.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer initially declined to answer questions about the meeting, leading to a rash of speculation in Colombian media. Colombian newspapers, websites and radio stations debated the meeting’s significance — and whether it actually had happened. “I don’t have anything for you at this time,” Spicer said Wednesday when asked.

The White House later confirmed the meeting to McClatchy but downplayed its significance, saying it was a mere coincidence that both former leaders opposed to the peace pact were at the president’s club. Aides to Rubio declined to comment. 

“They were there with a member from the club and briefly said hello when the president walked past them,” spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. “There wasn’t anything beyond a quick hello.”

More here.

Photo credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press

Rubio tours Florida to highlight opioid crisis

via @learyreports

Sen. Marco Rubio has spent the Congressional recess traveling Florida to talk with officials about a grim subject: opioids.

“In just the last week I’ve met and talked with local officials and members of law enforcement in West Palm Beach, Pensacola, and Jacksonville about how the opioid epidemic is ravaging Florida’s communities. It’s clear that we must do more to make sure people seeking help are able to get the treatment they need,” Rubio said in a news release Wednesday praising $27 million in federal funds to combat the problem in Florida.

Rubio has also recently helped introduce legislation to stop the flow of fentanyl.

His attention to the crisis comes as state leaders are grappling with a response. That raises a question: What does Rubio think about calls for Gov. Rick Scott to declare an emergency, something Scott has resisted.

“That’s a decision for state government leaders to make,” a Rubio spokesman tells the Tampa Bay Times.

Maryland became the latest state to do so in March, devoting $50 million in new funding. "We need to treat this crisis the exact same way we would treat any other state emergency," Gov. Larry Hogan said at the time. Other states include Virginia and Massachusetts.

Scott has refused to do so, even as he’s readily declared emergencies for Zika, Ebola and wildfires. "We're working through the Legislature, we're doing the workshops," he recently said, as Democrats again pressed him on the issue.

In 2015, the last year for which data is available, opioids were the direct cause of death of 2,538 Floridians and contributed to an additional 1,358 deaths.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

How the Legislature could use $1.5 billion in extra Medicaid money for something other than hospitals

SP_409499_KEEL_12_FLGOV

@MichaelAuslen

There's $1.5 billion on the table that could shore up the state budget, but the question in Tallahassee is this: How will the Legislature be allowed to use it?

Both the House and Senate appear ready to use the Low Income Pool approved by the Trump administration last week to offset cuts to hospitals and free up money for other priorities.

"It’ll free up money from general revenue that then can be used to put into reserves to shore up out years or to pay for some of the projects that members have a unique interest," said House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami. "Whether it’s Lake Okeechobee in the Senate or on the House side, a lot of the K-12 priorities, Schools of Hope and Best and Brightest."

After other House leaders indicated earlier this week that taking LIP money wasn't a sure thing, Trujillo's comments Wednesday and Thursday echo remarks made last week by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, who heads the Senate's health care budget subcommittee. She said the federal government's last-minute agreement to reinstate the LIP -- which technically reimburses hospitals that care for the uninsured -- gives the Legislature more flexibilitty.

But can they do that?

It all depends on the terms the state is able to convince the federal government's Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to agree to.

"The devil is going to lie in the details," Trujillo said.

LIP is governed by complex rules that impact sources of funding, how much each hospital is paid out and what kinds of costs it can reimburse. That makes legislators, particularly House leaders, reluctant to count on the money.

Even in Tallahassee, where millions are spent on lawmakers' pet projects, $1.5 billion is a lot of money.

Still, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, said Thursday he thinks that the new Trump administration will give Florida favorable terms. At the very least, he said, a $1.5 billion pot of money is more than the state was given in the final years of the Obama administration, which wanted to end LIP in an effort to push the state toward expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

"My anticipation, and I think the Senate’s anticipation, is it’s a much bigger number than any of us thought was coming and in all likelihood, we will be more than capable to work with those terms and conditions to craft something that’s workable," Corcoran said.

But for hospitals, which generally praised the LIP deal as good news, that could mean they still get hit by deep cuts.

Lawmakers are signaling that they hope to move around money elsewhere in the health care budget to effectively use the $1.5 billion on priorities outside the state's safety net hospital system.

The original budget proposals included Medicaid cuts to hospitals totaling $621.8 million in the House and $258.6 million in the Senate. Most of that came from the federal government, but the state portion was being redirected to other priorities.

With LIP now a possibility, the Legislature could make deeper cuts to hospitals and use LIP to fill the holes they leave behind -- if the rules set by the federal government allow it.

Neither Corcoran nor Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has put health care funding at the centerpiece of his term in office. Instead, as Trujillo said, the money could go toward issues that are higher priority for the two chambers' leaders, like education or the environment.

"It just gives us some more money, some more flexibility in order to accomplish those goals," Trujillo said.

Photo: House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, (center).

April 20, 2017

Artiles controversy engulfs Florida Senate with two weeks left of session

ARTILES PROTEST0011 JAI
@PatriciaMazzei @stevebousquet @ByKristenMClark @MaryEllenKlas

TALLAHASSEE -- Controversy raged in the Florida Capitol for a second day Thursday over Sen. Frank Artilesracist and sexist tirade, distracting and slowing down the Legislature just two weeks before the end of the annual lawmaking session and building pressure on the Miami Republican to resign — or risk the potential career-ending condemnation of the Senate.

The Senate abruptly canceled formal meetings Thursday afternoon as leaders scrambled to find a quick resolution to Artiles’ political future. As a Senate lawyer began taking sworn statements about Artiles’ Monday-night verbal assault on two black colleagues at a bar near the Capitol, the senator hired a defense attorney who argued Artiles’ use of the n-word and other insults are constitutionally protected free speech.

Meanwhile, the two black lawmakers Artiles targeted in his alcohol-laced rant got national attention as they demanded that he resign or be removed from office.

“They’re not trying to protect him,” Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, said of Senate leaders. “But Frank is the type you have to drag out kicking and screaming. He’s not the type to surrender.”

Thurston was with Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, at the Governors Club Lounge on Monday night when Artiles, unhappy that Gibson opposed one of his bills, let loose with a barrage of racially tinged profanity. He referred to Gibson as a “bitch” and a “girl,” and dropped the phrase “fucking asshole.” Artiles denied none of the language when he apologized Wednesday on the Senate floor. 

If Artiles hoped his apology would end the controversy, it had the opposite effect. Protesters picketed his Miami office and crowded his Tallahassee office, where security ensured they were not disruptive. Artiles was nowhere to be found.

More here.

Photo credit: José A. Iglesias, el Nuevo Herald