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November 14, 2017

Director of Miami International Airport resigns



The head of Miami International Airport submitted his resignation Tuesday, effective Feb. 1, according to Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

Emilio Gonzalez took the helm of the airport in April of 2013. Last year, he watched the international aviation hub handle a record 44.6 million passengers. Gonzalez presided over a $6.5 billion expansion of the airport, and oversaw four other airports in the Miami area.

“I am extremely proud of all the incredible work Emilio has achieved in the four and a half years he has been a part of the Miami-Dade County family,” Gimenez said in a press release announcing the resignation. “Although I am saddened by Emilio’s resignation, I understand he is eager to spend more time with his family and move forward in his professional career.”

To read the rest, click here.

Gov. Rick Scott proposes record $87.4 billion state budget

Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday proposed an $87.4 billion election-year budget, in his final opportunity to set the state’s priorities before he leaves office in about 400 days.

It’s by far the largest budget Scott has proposed since he took office seven years ago, and it is sure to undergo wholesale change when the annual legislative session begins on Jan. 9.

“I’m going to fight every day for Florida families,” Scott said at an announcement at Northern Tool in Jacksonville. “But we cannot stop now. We have to have another good budget.”

Scott called it the “Securing Florida’s Future” budget. Critics were quick to dismiss it as a blueprint designed to secure Scott’s political future.  

Scott called it the “Securing Florida’s Future” budget. But his critics in the Legislature, and elsewhere, were quick to dismiss it as a spending plan to secure Scott’s political future.

The two-term Republican governor can’t run again because of term limits, and he’s widely expected to challenge U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat who was elected in 2000. Scott’s political committee, Let’s Get to Work, listed $1.5 million cash on hand as of Oct. 31.

The Florida Democratic Party said Scott’s “self-serving” budget proposal can’t compensate for the past seven years of shortchanging education, the environment, health care and law enforcement. “He can’t run away from seven years of budgets that have left hardworking Floridians worse off than when he took office,” Democrats said.

Democrats seized on data showing that many of Florida’s smallest rural counties are worse off economically today than before the Great Recession of 2008-09.

Scott’s rosy view of Florida’s finances stands in stark contrast to the picture presented by the Legislature’s chief economist.

“A looming problem remains,” economist Amy Baker writes in the current version of the state’s long-range financial outlook, noting that the costs of state programs paid for with recurring revenue, mostly from the 6 percent statewide sales tax, exceed the amount of projected money available for 2020 and 2021 to pay for the state’s critical and high priority needs.

“This indicates that a structural imbalance is occurring,” Baker noted. Baker has told legislators that the costs of Hurricane Irma will place additional strain on the state’s finances.

Her outlook noted that the Legislature has made the state’s fiscal picture more complicated by “sweeping” or transferring more than $456 million from a variety of trust funds to the state’s current operating budget.

Revenue experts also have lowered the expected rate of return in the state pension fund next year.

The reduction from 7.6 to 7.5 percent will require an additional $124 million from the Legislature next year to keep the fund fiscally sound.

The size of Florida’s budget has grown larger in each of Scott’s seven years in office, even as the state government work force has shrunk. In 2011, Scott’s first year in office, the budget totaled $69.7 billion. The budget Scott signed last June was $82.4 billion.

Puerto Rico requests $94 billion from Congress for hurricane recovery

Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria


Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló unveiled a $94.3 billion disaster relief request to Congress on Monday, a massive sum that he said will help the U.S. territory adequately recover from Hurricane Maria.

Rosselló also promised that the island’s recovery effort will be the “most transparent” in U.S. history as the governor faces criticism over awarding a now-canceled $300 million contract to a small Montana-based power company to rebuild the nation’s electric grid. Over half of Puerto Rico is still without power 54 days after Hurricane Maria made landfall.

The largest chunk of Rosselló’s request, $31 billion, goes to housing assistance with $17.7 billion to rebuild the island’s power grid and $14.9 billion for health care.

“This is a critical step forward in the rebuilding of Puerto Rico where we’re not only looking to rebuild as was before but we want to make it much stronger and much more resilient and make Puerto Rico a model for the rest of the Caribbean,” Rosselló said.

The $94 billion request will likely be pared down by Congress and the Trump administration, as fiscally conservative Republicans will likely oppose such a massive long-term aid package as they did after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The package is over $30 billion more than a $61 billion relief request from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott after Hurricane Harvey flooded parts of metro Houston and East Texas.

Read more here.

Shakeup at Radio Mambí, a Cuban-exile stalwart, reshuffles host lineup

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A shakeup at Radio Mambí, Miami’s leading Cuban-exile station, has resulted in the ouster of a well-known morning drive-time host and a shortened schedule for a late-night host who has been on the air for more than half a century.

Bernadette Pardo will no longer host her longstanding “Pedaleando con Bernie” (Pedaling with Bernie) local-news talk program on the station, whose call letters are WAQI-AM (710). Pardo was laid off Thursday shortly after the day’s program ended. Her termination was effective immediately, so she was unable to get behind the microphone Friday to bid her listeners goodbye.

“It was very shocking,” Pardo, an el Nuevo Herald columnist, told the Miami Herald when a reporter called to confirm her layoff. “I’ve been there for 30 years, and we were doing fine in the ratings.”

Also affected by the cutbacks: Martha Flores, host of the nightly program “La Noche y Usted” (The Night and You). Known as the “Queen of the Night,” Flores, a radio veteran of more than 50 years, will continue on air, but for fewer hours, said Rosemary Ravinal, a Univision spokeswoman who called Flores a “legend.”

Ravinal said the changes were part of a “minor restructuring” of Univision’s Spanish-language radio network. Fewer than 20 people from Univision stations across the country were affected, she said.

More here.

Photo credit: Pedro Portal, el Nuevo Herald

November 13, 2017

Latvala's lawyer now wants Lizbeth Benacquisto removed from Senate probe

Lizbeth BenacquistoSen. Jack Latvala on Monday tried a second legal maneuver to potentially influence a Senate investigation into sexual harassment allegations against him.

Citing a conversation with a television reporter last week, Latvala's lawyer, Steven R. Andrews, asked Senate Rules Committee chair, Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, to recuse herself from any deliberations relating to the allegations because, he said, she has violated Senate rules. Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, is allegedly being accused of sexual harassment by six unnamed women.

Senate President Joe Negron last week hired Tampa-based lawyer Gail Golman Holtzmana principal in the Tampa office of Jackson Lewis P.C., to conduct the investigation into the allegations starting on Tuesday. The unnamed accusers have refrained from coming forward after telling Politico Florida they were victims of unwanted physical touching and inappropriate language by Latvala. The Senate is hoping the women come forward with the understanding their identities are shielded from disclosure from a newly-enacted state law. 

In a letter to Negron Monday, Andrews said that Benacquisto violated Senate rules when she responded to a reporter's questions on Thursday and confirmed that the Senate had received a sworn complaint against a state senator, alleging sexual harassment.

Andrews said he asked the staff director of the Senate Rules Committee, John Phelps, for a copy of the complaint but was refused. Andrews concluded that Benacquisto acknowledged receiving a complaint against Latvala, although she does not directly say his name in the interview with reporter Mike Vasilinda.

Andrews alleges that Benacquisto violated Rule 1.48, which says that a "senator will only receive notice of a complaint once a Special Master is appointed."

"Latvala learned of the alleged complaint through media reports that were based solely on Senator Benacquisto' s public
comment,'' Andrews wrote. "Senator Benacquisto' s public comment regarding the alleged complaint is a material breach of the Senate Rules and mandates her disqualification from any further involvement in the investigation and/or disposition of any complaint against Senator Latvala."

His letter included a transcript of the interview between Vasilinda and Benacquisto: 

MR. VASILINDA: Where are you with finding someone to handle the Latvala investigation?
MS. BENACQUISTO: The president is working on that and the Office of Legislative Services is helping in that process as they are acting in that capacity at the moment.
MR. VASILINDA: And have you received a sworn complaint from someone?
MS. BENACQUISTO: I have. I have.
MR. VASILINDA: Is there someone calling into question Rule 1.43, that there is a sworn complaint?

Andrews concluded that Benacquisto must be disqualified from the Senate Rules' review of any action emerging from the investigation to "ensure that any other potential conflict of interest will be avoided which might flow from her relationship with any alleged complainant or with any other person who has information that is relevant to the investigation/disposition of the complaint."

Latvala has long has a difficult relationship with Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican. Last week, he told the Herald/Times that he did not believe he could get a fair hearing from her. 

Last week Latvala tried to influence the investigation by having Latvala take a polygraph test asking if he denied the allegations alleged in the Politico report. More than that here. 

Curbelo hands in formal request to join Congressional Hispanic Caucus (Updated)

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Rep. Carlos Curbelo submitted his formal request to join the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Monday, the latest development in the Miami Republican's months-long quest to join the group that is currently made up of all Democrats. 

Curbelo sent a letter to CHC chairwoman Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., on Monday after the caucus asked him to do so 10 days ago.

"I respect that we will sometimes have a difference of opinions on legislative strategies and goals – that is inevitable when working in the world’s greatest deliberative institution," Curbelo said in the letter. "I am very hopeful that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus will send a strong message to the country that it welcomes all Hispanics and that it rejects the petty politics of exclusion and discrimination." 

A major hangup for some CHC members over Curbelo's potential inclusion is that he has not cosponsored a version of the Dream Act, though Curbelo has said he will vote in favor of any proposal to help undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children if such a bill makes it to the House floor. 

Curbelo asked to join the caucus early this year but his candidacy was delayed for months. The CHC used to include Republican members but several Florida Republicans walked out years ago over differences on Cuba policy and formed their own group, the Congressional Hispanic Conference. That group is chaired by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami. 

The Congressional Black Caucus is overwhelmingly represented by Democrats, though Utah Republican Rep. Mia Love is a member. Curbelo has said that if he is invited to join, he will not participate in CHC meetings where Democrats discuss partisan political strategy and only participate in meetings that are policy-oriented. 

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said he hopes the caucus lets Curbelo in. 

"Carlos is a quality legislator who is always seeking opportunities to reach across the aisle and find common ground on issues like immigration and education," McCarthy said in a statement. "I truly hope the Caucus doesn't send the American people the message that Hispanic Republicans and Independents are not welcome." 

“I feel like when people gather in St. Peter’s Square awaiting the smoke to emerge from the Sistine Chapel,” Curbelo said in October, joking as he likened his acceptance to the group to the top-secret selection of a new pope.

Lesley Clark contributed. This post was updated to include a comment from McCarthy. 

Bill Nelson calls out Republicans by name for refusing to work with him on taxes



Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson loves to talk about his bipartisan work in Washington and close relationship with Republican colleagues like Florida counterpart Marco Rubio

But Democrats weren't part of drafting the Senate's plan to rewrite the nation's tax code, and Nelson is personally appealing to his Republican colleagues on the Senate Finance Committee to find common ground. The bill is set for a committee markup on Monday afternoon, though Republicans can push the bill through with a simple majority. 

"We are completely rewriting our tax code," Nelson said, according to remarks prepared for delivery. "Yet, we haven’t had any hearings on the bill. Or any time to seriously debate the slew of policy changes that will affect people’s everyday lives." 

Then Nelson calls out several Republicans on the Finance Committee by name, referencing work he's done with them in the past. 

"Mr. Chairman (Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch), how many times have we come together to find common ground and get something good done for the American people? Just last year, we passed the Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act out of committee with a bipartisan vote of 26 to 0. It started with you and the Ranking Member hashing out differences to find a workable middle. Why can’t we do that again?"

"Senator (Chuck) Grassley, we worked together on the ACE Kids Act, which would create a national network of children’s hospitals and other providers to better serve kids needing specialized care."

"Senator (John) Cornyn, we’ve worked together to increase accountability at the VA, to honor helicopter air ambulance crews that served in Vietnam, and to help citrus growers struggling to deal with a plant disease known as citrus greening."

"Senator (John) Thune, you and I have partnered on so many issues in the Commerce Committee it’s hard to keep count. If anyone wants a good example of how we should be conducting ourselves, just look to how Senator Thune and I work together in the Commerce Committee."

"You all get the picture. I could go all the way down the line citing examples of times when each of us crossed the partisan divide to do the people’s work. It doesn’t happen as much as I’d like. But it is possible," Nelson said. 

Nelson also offered nine amendments to the tax bill, including lower tax rates for people making less than $170,000 a year, reinstating personal exemptions and providing funding for citrus trees struck by disease in Florida. His amendments are likely to fail in the GOP-controlled committee. 

"All I’m asking is to give bipartisanship a chance," Nelson said.

The House is expected to vote on its tax overhaul, dubbed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, this week. If the Senate passes its version, the two chambers will deliberate in conference to come up with a final bill. 

Florida Republican urges Trump to support Paris Climate Accord



For years, Miami Republicans were often isolated from the rest of their GOP counterparts in Florida on climate change issues. 

A 2018 election environment that appears to favor Democrats could change that approach. 

Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, announced Monday that he wants President Donald Trump to reconsider his decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord after Syria joined the pact, leaving the U.S. as the only country who hasn't signed on. Buchanan also urged Trump to stay in the accord in May, though Trump announced that the U.S. would pull out in June. 

"Climate change is a serious threat, especially for a state like Florida that has two coastlines vulnerable to rising waters," Buchanan said. "There is a reason why 196 nations across the globe support this voluntary and non-binding agreement."

Since Trump made his decision to leave the accord, Hurricane Irma swept through the state and Buchanan drew a serious Democratic challenger who once came within 750 votes of winning a state House seat. Siesta Key attorney David Shapiro said Buchanan's stance on the Paris Climate agreement was "too little too late," indicating that climate change will be a major campaign issue in Buchanan's low-lying Gulf Coast district that includes Sarasota and Bradenton. 

Democrats also scored major victories in local elections across the country last week, including the St. Petersburg mayor's race in Florida where incumbent Rick Kriseman held off Republican Rick Baker despite trailing in most polls. Last week's results have put Republicans on edge ahead of a 2018 cycle where the House of Representatives could be up for grabs.

Buchanan's district voted for Trump over Hillary Clinton by 11 percentage points in 2016 though the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a Washington-based organization that seeks to elect Democrats to the House of Representatives, has put Buchanan's district on the organization's target list for the 2018 elections. The DCCC is now targeting 6 Florida seats, including all three Miami-based seats that are held by Republicans.

Buchanan has over $2 million on hand to defend his seat, according to Federal Election Commission records

Did the Herald paint an unfair picture of the juvenile justice system? A look at the facts


By @MarbinMiller
After the Miami Herald published Fight Club, its investigative series on Florida’s juvenile justice system, the state Department of Juvenile Justice issued a lengthy statement titled “Setting the Record Straight: Miami Herald Omits Facts, Ignores Reforms in Series Targeting DJJ.”

The department did not challenge any facts or data presented in the six-part series. “I will not deny, or discredit or downplay some of the horrible incidents that have happened,” DJJ Secretary Christina K. Daly told a state Senate committee on Oct. 11.

But in the secretary’s “setting the record straight” release, she stated that the Herald’s stories “do not accurately define the juvenile justice system in Florida or the many partners who are committed to serving youth and their families.” And she said the juvenile justice system was not receiving proper credit for years of reforms.

She has continued to defend the agency vigorously in appearances before lawmakers, characterizing the abuses the Herald described as the work of a small number of “bad apples.”

Here is a look at some of what Daly said the Herald failed to fully acknowledge. All statements are verbatim from the “setting the record straight” news release or from statements to lawmakers in a public forum. Read here. 


A new bill would allow all TPS recipients to apply for permanent residency



As the Trump administration weighs whether or not to end the Temporary Protected Status for thousands of Haitians and Salvadorans, three members of Congress are preparing legislation that would allow every TPS recipient to apply for permanent residency.

The bill, dubbed the ASPIRE Act, would let every person covered by TPS before Jan. 1, 2017, apply for permanent residency by proving before a judge that they would face extreme hardship if forced to return home.

“The Temporary Protected Status program was created with bipartisan support to protect human life,” said Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., who plans to introduce the legislation with Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Washington Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal. “It advances American interests and values and we must work in a bipartisan manner to do the right thing and protect hardworking immigrants from being sent back to countries where their physical well being could be cast into doubt.”

The bill also creates a new form of “protected status” for TPS recipients who have been in the the U.S. for at least five years. Instead of waiting for renewal or revocation of their status every 18 months, current TPS recipients would be able to stay in the U.S. for a renewable six-year period, though they would not be eligible for permanent residency if they cannot prove extreme hardship.

Clarke’s proposal is more expansive than a bill sponsored by Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo that would provide a path to permanent residency for TPS recipients from Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras who arrived in the U.S. before Jan. 13, 2011. Ros-Lehtinen and Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart have signed on to Curbelo’s bill.

The ASPIRE Act would also correct what Clarke’s office calls an “error” in existing law that requires TPS recipients who arrived in the U.S. illegally to leave the U.S. and reenter to adjust their status. Instead, a TPS designation would be enough of a reason to apply for permanent residency without having to leave the country.

Read more here.