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November 13, 2017

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.

November 10, 2017

Curbelo to receive John F. Kennedy New Frontier award for climate change work

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Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo will receive the 2017 John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award, which honors Americans under the age of 40 who are changing their communities and the country with their commitment to public service.

The 37-year-old congressman will receive the award on Nov. 16 alongside May Boeve, the 33-year-old executive director of, a climate change advocacy group that organized the massive People's Climate March in 2014. 

“With his vision for a New Frontier, President Kennedy challenged young Americans to take on great challenges, solve complex problems and work for a better future” said Jack Schlossberg, a member of the New Frontier Awards committee. “May Boeve and Congressman Carlos Curbelo have each answered President Kennedy’s call to action in our time, taking on the greatest challenge facing the world today – climate change. They remind us that everyone, private citizens and elected officials alike, can make a difference.”

The award's release said that Curbelo "earned a reputation for moderation and a willingness to work across party lines on difficult policy problems" and noted his leadership on the Climate Solutions Caucus, a body of 62 members evenly split between both parties that works to find policies that can address climate change. The caucus's Republicans banded together earlier this year to vote against a proposal that would have nixed a Defense Department report on the threats posed by climate change to military installations.

Past New Frontier award winners include New Jersey Democratic Sen. (and possible 2020 presidential candidate) Cory Booker and Hawaii Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.  

November 09, 2017

Coral Gables city attorney leaving for Trump administration post at Labor


The top lawyer in Coral Gables, City Attorney Craig Leen, is leaving his post to take a senior position at the Labor Department under President Donald Trump, according to a top elected official.

Leen, 42, will serve as senior adviser to Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, a Cabinet secretary from the Miami area, Leen confirmed Thursday night. Acosta was dean of the law school at Florida International University when Leen worked there part-time as an adjunct law professor. Leen said Acosta contacted him over the summer and requested he join him in Washington.

Leen said he does not have a party affiliation, and did vote for Trump in November. He described his political post, approved by the White House, as overseeing compliance rules for government contractors. The work overlaps with his background as a government lawyer on the local level, he said.

Read more here

Gov. Scott orders special election to replace Baez

Daisy baez lnew cmg

A special election to replace a Miami-Dade County legislator who resigned last week will be held next spring, leaving Florida Democrats short a member during the entirety of the upcoming lawmaking session.

On Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott scheduled the special House District 114 primary for Feb. 20 and the special general election for May 1. The 60-day legislative session begins Jan. 9.

Democrats will be left with only 40 members in the 120-member chamber. Republicans are on the verge of a super majority able to override the governor and give little heed to Democratic requests. Scott was under no obligation to set the election before session.

Rep. Daisy Baez of Coral Gables resigned Nov. 1 as part of a deal cut with prosecutors. She pleaded guilty Wednesday to a misdemeanor perjury charge in a case involving her legal residency.

More here.

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, Miami Herald staff

Tampa-based labor lawyer chosen to lead Senate's sexual harassment investigation

Gail Gollman HoltzmanSexual harassment complaints are now being accepted in the Florida Senate.

Senate President Joe Negron announced Thursday that a law firm has been chosen, a lead investigator has been named, and a phone number has been offered up to the unnamed accusers who for the last week have refrained from coming forward after alleging in Politico Florida that were victims of unwanted physical touching and inappropriate language by Sen. Jack Latvala.

Negron announced that Individuals may contact Gail Golman Holtzmana principal in the Tampa office of Jackson Lewis P.C., who is handling the investigation, by calling her assistant, Nicole Villa, to schedule appointments beginning tomorrow at 813.512.3215.

"The Senate has zero tolerance for sexual harassment, sexual assault, or misconduct of any kind,'' Negron said in an email to senators. "I encourage anyone with any information regarding the anonymous allegations to contact Ms. Holtzman.  Identifying information regarding anyone who has been the victim of sexual harassment will be held confidential as permitted by law."

Latvala's lawyer, Steve Andrews, said he was pleased the Senate "has chosen a reputable law firm" but he questioned whether witnesses, as well as complainants, would be held confidential.  

"The promises to witnesses may be ephemeral because anybody who is a witness to a complaint may have to subject to cross examination, motive to lie, things like that,'' he said. "We have 14-15 sworn statements and I am going to encourage this law firm to interview these people who are on the record, under oath.'' 

Negron launch an investigation a day after the charges surfaced in the Politico Florida report alleging allegations from staff and lobbyists against Latvala. He assigned the task of finding someone to head the effort to Karen Chandler, coordinator of the Office of Legislative Services. 

Chandler reviewed five law firms and selected Jackson Lewis, a national law firm that specializes in employment law and said Holtzman will serve as the lead attorney and primary contact in the investigation. The contract is expected to be finalized on Friday.

In a memo to Negron Thursday, Chandler left the impression that Holtzman will be in Tallahassee in person to conduct interviews. She said her investigation will begin Tuesday, Nov. 14, and "continue through the week and, if necessary through the weekend. If no appointments are scheduled for the weekend, she will depart Friday evening for Tampa and return to Tallahassee Sunday, November 19, and be available for additional appointments."

Chandler did not mention lobbyists but said that "Senate employees may contact Ms. Holtzman through her assistant, Nicole Villa, to schedule appointments beginning Friday." She said Holtzman "will be assisted by her associate, Matthew Klein; employees may request a preference for either person" and added that both will be "available for appointments outside of regular business hours."

In order for employees to feel comfortable participating in this process, supervisors should not require the use of any leave time nor should supervisors inquire as to the reason for an employee’s brief time out of the office.

In a Thursday memo to Negron, Chandler said OLS "sought initial guidance from law professors at state universities in identifying firms specializing in this field. Consideration was given to firms with sufficient and balanced resources to conduct an investigation of this nature in a time sensitive manner. Other criteria that were considered in order to ensure a fair and objective investigation were its independence from the Florida Legislature in regards to appropriation of state funds and governmental relations."

She said OLS also considered firms "that could accommodate the sensitive nature of the subject matter given that media reports stated that the victims were fearful of sharing their experiences." 

Holtzman, who has more than 30 years experience practicing law, specializes in "federal and state labor and employment claims...including those alleging discrimination, harassment, retaliation/whistleblower, wage/hour and breach of employment contract." 

She is the immediate past chair of the ABA Labor and Employment Section. Jackson Lewis has more than 800 attorneys in major cities nationwide and focuses primarily on workplace law.

The Senate confirmed Thursday that it has received a sworn complaint from one individual alleging harassment, but has refused to name which senator it made the allegations against. 

Rivera hires attorney in FEC case


Former U.S. Rep. David Rivera has hired an attorney to defend him in a civil lawsuit brought by the Federal Election Commission.

Court records show Rivera retained Miami attorney Roy Kahn on Thursday. The FEC wants Rivera to pay $486,000 in penalties for failing to report at least $69,000 in secret cash he funneled to a ringer candidate in 2012.

Kahn said the defense will soon respond to the feds' July filing

"Not a complicated case," he said. "Pretty simple."

Rivera eluded U.S. marshals trying to serve him with the lawsuit for three months. The marshals finally caught up with the Miami Republican at Orlando International Airport last month.

Kahn is best known for his criminal defense work, but he insisted he's also been involved in civil litigation for the past 15 years.

Marco Rubio says Roy Moore should be disqualified from the Senate if allegations are true



Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said Roy Moore should disqualify himself from running for an Alabama Senate seat if an on-the-record account by a woman who said that Moore had sexual contact with her when she was 14 is true. 

The Washington Post reported that Moore had multiple relationships with underage women decades ago, including a relationship with a 14-year-old that began when the young girl's mother let Moore look after her outside a courthouse. 

"Today’s report in The Washington Post raises allegations against Mr. Moore that are deeply disturbing and, if true, disqualifying," Rubio said in a statement.

Moore, a fiery Republican former judge who has said that LGBT individuals are unfit to serve in Congress, is the Republican nominee for attorney general Jeff Sessions' former seat after winning a fierce GOP primary earlier this year. The election between Moore and Democrat Doug Jones is just over a month away, meaning Moore's name will still appear on the ballot even if the Alabama GOP revokes the party's endorsement. 

Rubio never endorsed Moore after he won the Republican nomination, in contrast to some of his Senate Republican colleagues. His campaign had no plans to speak or raise money on Moore's behalf.

Disavowing Moore could lessen the GOP's advantage in the Senate, which currently stands at 52 Republicans and 48 senators who caucus with Democrats. 

Many Republican senators, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, called on Moore to step aside if the allegations are true. 

Sen. John McCain did not include a qualification about proving truthfulness in his statement. 

"The allegations against Roy Moore are deeply disturbing and disqualifying," McCain said. "He should immediately step aside and allow the people of Alabama to elect a candidate they can be proud of." 

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said he could not comment on the sexual assault allegations against Moore because he hadn't read the story yet. 

Bill Nelson: 'This is not the way to make complicated tax law'



Florida Sen. Bill Nelson is a member of the Senate Finance Committee tasked with drafting the chamber's tax overhaul after the House of Representatives released their version last week. 

He isn't happy with how things are going. 

When asked if there are any areas of potential compromise for Democrats and Republicans on a tax bill, Nelson chuckled.

"How can I answer that when I don't know that they're going to do?" Nelson said, adding that Finance Committee chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, "doesn't seem to be cooperating at all." 

"They're cutting out the members of the Finance Committee who happen to be Democrats," Nelson said. "They're accelerating saying that they're going to file it (the tax bill) today or tomorrow and that we're going to markup on Monday. That's no hearings, nothing. This is not the way to make complicated tax law." 

Nelson, who often touts the benefits of bipartisanship, is one of 12 Democrats on the Finance Committee. 

A leaked memo of the Senate tax plan released Thursday sets the child tax credit at $1,650, $50 higher than $1,600 House proposal but lower than the $2,000 proposal championed by Sen. Marco Rubio. Rubio has said that he will not vote for a tax plan if the current $1,000 child tax credit tax credit doesn't at least double. 

Nelson, Florida's only Democrat holding statewide office, is up for reelection in 2018 and is likely to face a challenge from Gov. Rick Scott.