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May 23, 2017

Is the Florida Legislature broken? Why was leadership-built consensus, compromise and open debate on the tough stuff abandoned?

Corcoran and Negron@MaryEllenKlas

Determined to push through a list of priority bills this year, Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran abandoned the difficult and often hard-to-manage job of achieving bipartisan and ideological consensus on education, economic development and state worker bills and instead employed a rule that allowed them to attach their policy bills to the budget package using a series of conforming bills.

The strategy allowed them to force the passage of sweeping policy changes in a way that avoided having to water them down with consensus-driven amendments. It also allowed them to shift the session from one built on a representative democracy -- in which every elected lawmaker had a role to play in the final package of policies they were asked vote on -- to one in which the presiding officers exercised autocratic control by forcing them to vote on take-it or leave-it policy bills.

Is this a sign the system on which the Florida Legislature is built is flawed? Is it broken? If not, why couldn't Florida Legislative leaders drive consensus on a bill that everyone sees, modifies and votes on? 

Is the session too short? Are the issues too complex? Are the leaders too ill-equipped? Has Florida become too diverse to govern?

We take a look at another contentious end to session and break it down here. 

Sunshine Law takes further hits with new Legislature-approved exemptions

Florida Legislature (26)


From temporarily shielding the identities of murder witnesses to permanently sealing millions of criminal and arrest records, state lawmakers did more this spring than they have in all but one of the past 22 years to chip away at Floridians’ constitutional guarantees to access government records and observe meetings of their elected officials.

The Legislature passed 17 new provisions — and reauthorized six others — that create carve-outs in the state’s Sunshine Law, according to a tally by the First Amendment Foundation, a non-profit organization that advocates for transparency in government and has annually tracked Sunshine-related legislation.

The number of exemptions this year is the second-most since 1995 — five fewer than the record 22 exemptions lawmakers passed in 2014, said Barbara Petersen, president of the foundation, of which the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times are members.

“Every exemption that’s created is an exception to the Florida Constitution,” Petersen said, calling the trend “very disturbing.”

Full story here.

Photo credit: House Speaker Richard Corcoran, left, R-Land O'Lakes, and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, speak to the media after the 2017 legislative session ended Monday night May 8, 2017 at the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)

May 22, 2017

Special counsel investigation could reach into Trump’s business empire

Trump Russia Probe

via @KevinGHall @NickNehamas

WASHINGTON -- The appointment of a special counsel empowered to probe ties between Russia and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign now brings the developer’s business empire into investigators’ cross hairs.

It’s an entirely new ballgame for the Trump Organization, which until the surprise appointment Wednesday had been somewhat removed from the political turmoil engulfing the president.

“The gloves are off. I don’t think I’d call it carte blanche, but it’s pretty close,” said Roscoe C. Howard, appointed by President George W. Bush in 2001 to serve as U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.

Did Trump, his family or campaign officials meet with Russian officials or people tied to Russia at Mar-a-Lago, the South Florida resort that the president has taken to calling his southern White House? What about Trump Tower in New York, where son-in-law Jared Kushner secretly met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December?

Those questions are fair game now. 

The investigation by a special counsel must follow facts and a line of inquiry consistent with the defined mandate. But there is a lot of running room for an investigator who by design has been freed from having to worry about angering the occupant of the White House.

More here.

Photo credit: J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

Florida concealed weapons permit holders exposed in computer hack


More than 16,000 concealed weapons permit holders in Florida may have had their names accidently made public because of a data breach at the The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Agency officials released a statement saying concealed weapons licensees who renewed online may have had their names accessed. In addition, 469 other customers have been notified that their social security numbers may have been hacked as part of the breach.

“Other information possibly accessed per the data breach is all public information and poses no risk of identity theft,” a statement from the Department of Agriculture said. “The breach occurred through the online payment system; although, the hackers were unsuccessful in obtaining any financial information. The department takes cybersecurity seriously and acted quickly to mitigate the effects of this breach. The privacy of the department’s customers is a top priority and will remain so.”

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who is running for governor in 2018, has ordered a comprehensive review of the department’s cybersecurity measures

The 16,000 concealed weapons permit holders represents less than one percent of the total number of concealed weapons licensees.

Permit holders who may have been affected by the data breach are being instructed to call  1-800-350-1119 for more information.

Buckhorn apologizes amid uproar over joke about pointing machine gun at journalists

From Richard Danielson and Howard Altman of the Tampa Bay Times:

The office of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn issued a statement Monday afternoon saying Buckhorn is apologizing to combat journalists for a joke he made last week about pointing twin .50-caliber machine guns at local journalists and seeing them “cry like little girls.”

As the joke generated controversy online, Buckhorn spokeswoman Ashley Bauman issued this statement:

"This was a story that he had told for three consecutive years, and at no time was it ever construed to be serious or an accurate portrayal of what occurred.  It was merely a humorous tongue-in-cheek description. Clearly that does not translate on Twitter, and, in light of the current rhetoric at the national level aimed at the media, (it) inadvertently served to reinforce some of those sentiments. That was not his intention. In fact, as the son of a former wire service reporter, he has nothing but the highest regard for the work of journalists and their profession and he apologizes to those he offended."

Last week, Buckhorn was speaking at the Special Operations Industry Conference in Tampa and told a crowd of more than 1,000 commando and defense industry leaders about his experience last year as a “hostage” during a demonstration of special ops rescue tactics.

The highlight, he said, was when he was aboard a Navy special warfare boat, firing blanks from 50-caliber machine guns.

“And so the first place I point that gun is at the media,” he told the crowd. “I’ve never seen grown men cry like little girls, for when that gun goes off those media folks just hit the deck like no one’s business. It’s great payback. I love it.”

In fact, no one ducked or cried as he was firing the blanks. But Buckhorn, who typically has a good working relationship with local reporters, got a big laugh and a round of applause from the special operations crowd.

But the joke met with a chillier reception on the Facebook page of Military Reporters & Editors, which represents about 300 journalists.

“Personally, I was appalled,” wrote Susan Katz Keating, a freelance writer and organization board member who was in the conference room Tuesday for Buckhorn’s keynote address. Katz Keading had guns pointed at her while covering unrest in Northern Ireland in 1988.

Buckhorn initially said critics are being overly sensitive. “I think that is a silly reaction,” he said late last week of those upset by a story he has told “a dozen times.”

Some journalists in the room said they weren’t being thin-skinned. No skin is thick enough to stop a bullet or bomb blast, something Daily Beast national security reporter Kim Dozier knows all too well.

In 2006, she was nearly killed in a car bombing that took the life of the U.S. Army officer her team was filming Capt. James Alex Funkhouser, along with his Iraqi translator and Dozier’s CBS colleagues Paul Douglas and James Brolan.

“As someone who had been under fire once or twice, and lost two colleagues to a car bomb in Iraq that nearly killed me, I didn’t appreciate the remarks,” said Dozier, who wrote a book about her experiences and efforts to recover. “The mayor probably didn’t realize how many of the reporters in the room had risked their lives to bring Americans the story of U.S. troops in the field, including veterans-turned-journalists with prior special ops service.”

Meanwhile, the story went viral over the weekend, with the Washington Post doing its own story and the Drudge Report posting two different links to the Tampa Bay Times story.

Photo credit: James Borchuk, Tampa Bay Times

Gov. Scott adds Miami House district to special summer election


There will now be two races on the ballot for a special Miami legislative election this summer. 

Gov. Rick Scott decided Monday to schedule the contest to replace state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz at the same time as the already-scheduled election to replace state Sen. Frank Artiles. That's a special primary July 25 and a special general election Sept. 26.

Diaz resigned Thursday to run for Artiles' seat, as required by state law. His resignation is effective Sept. 26, Election Day.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner, Florida's elections chief, will now have to schedule a qualifying deadline for House District 116 candidates. The deadline for Senate District 40 candidates is May 30-31. 

Diaz's House District 116 overlaps in part with Artiles' former Senate District 40 in Southwest Miami-Dade County. Artiles resigned last month. Both Diaz and Artiles are Republicans.

Sinkhole opens in front of Mar-a-Lago


Good thing President Donald Trump isn't in South Florida.

A sinkhole has opened in the main road in front of Trump's Mar-a-Lago "Winter White House," according to the town of Palm Beach.

The sinkhole, which measures 4 feet by 4 feet, is on Southern Boulevard "directly in front of Mar-a-Lago," the town said in an alert to residents. "It appears to be in the vicinity of the newly installed water main."

One lane of traffic is closed, though the road remains open. There will likely be "exploratory excavation" in the area Monday.

Rick Scott touts Enterprise Florida even as agency's budget gets slashed



Gov. Rick Scott appears to have already lost the battle over protecting Enterprise Florida’s funding, but you wouldn’t know if from his latest press releases touting the agency’s most recent accomplishments.

Scott released a statement this morning that claims that a recent Enterprise Florida sponsored trade mission to Argentina has already generate $24 million in expected sales for 40 companies that were part of the trip.

“Enterprise Florida led this mission and they do important work to connect Florida small business with opportunities in international markets,” Scott said in a statement to the media. “We are competing in a global economy, and many of these businesses would not have the resources or opportunities to market themselves across the world if not for Enterprise Florida. It is disappointing that the Legislature chose to disregard the impact not fully funding EFI could have on our job creators and families.” 

The Florida Legislature earlier this month passed a budget that strips Enterprise Florida of job incentive money and slashes the agency’s budget from about $24 million to $16 million to do things like trade missions to other nations. Scott famously toured the state for two months touting the agency and ran television ads warning the Legislature against disrupting the agency that he has relied on to promote his job creation programs.

The Florida House has led the charge to cut funding for Enterprise Florida. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has called Enterprise Florida’s incentive programs “corporate welfare” and argued that more important for economic development is improving education and public infrastructure.

U.S. to extend protected status for Haitians

via @Jacquiecharles

Haitian immigrants who have been enrolled in the Temporary Protected Status program will get another six months extension, Miami Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson said.

Wilson told the Miami Herald that she was informed of the decision Monday morning after receiving a phone call from the Department of Homeland Security. Her office was in the midst of a Twitter storm pushing to renew the program, which has given 58,000 Haitians protection from deportation since their homeland was devastated by an earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010.

Wilson, with other Democratic and Republican lawmakers plus Haitian and immigration advocates, had been fighting for an 18-month extension. The acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had recommended six months extension, with termination of the program in January. 

“You have to take everything you get and you have to maximize what you get. Within that six months, you have to work your magic,” Wilson said.

Photo credit: Bryan Cereijo, Miami Herald

Rubio says 'people got what they voted for' with Trump

via @learyreports

Marco Rubio says people shouldn't be surprised about the drama flowing from the White House.

"I don't understand why people are that shocked," Rubio said Sunday on "Face the Nation," after being asked if he agreed with Mitch McConnell there could be less drama. "This president ran a very unconventional campaign. I was there for a big part of it at the beginning alongside being one of his competitors. And that's what the American people voted for. And in essence, you know, this White House is not much different from the campaign.

"I mean, people got what they voted for. They elected him. Obviously it's in the best interest of this country to try to help him succeed. As far as the drama's concerned, yeah, I mean, it's unique. It's different from anything we've ever confronted. I think our job remains to do our work. We'll have to deal with these issues. These issues come up, these questions every single day. And I do think the White House would benefit from some systems in place that perhaps avoid some of the unnecessary friction points that come up on a daily basis. But this is also the political environment we now live in, too. I mean, politics are covered this way.

"And politicians also behave in this way because they know they can get attention for saying things one way or the other. It's just the way politics has moved. I don't think it's good for the country. But that's where we're headed for now apparently."

Jeb Bush on Friday said: "When I ran for office, I said he is a chaos candidate and would be a chaos president. Unfortunately, so far chaos organizes the presidency right now."


--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times