Note: This blog's templates will be updated this afternoon to a responsive design bringing it in line with MiamiHerald.com.

At that time, we will also change to the Facebook commenting system. You will need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment.

February 16, 2017

Trump looms over ‘sanctuary’ showdown in Miami-Dade

109Gimenez01 NEW PPP
@doug_hanks @PatriciaMazzei

President Donald Trump’s crackdown on communities offering “sanctuary” from immigration enforcement faces its first big test Friday when the Miami-Dade County Commission convenes to decide whether local jails should continue holding inmates sought by the feds for deportation.

After weeks of protests and demonstrations, the 13-member commission wades into a legislative battlefield over Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s Trump-friendly detention policy, which must receive board approval to stand. At the rare special meeting, set to begin at 10 a.m., competing resolutions call for backing Gimenez’s authority, reversing him, and condemning Trump’s original threat of the loss of federal funds as an unconstitutional assault on local government.

Combined, the agenda offers a local venue for the national debate — and a chance for a heavily blue county largely populated by immigrants to weigh the consequences of cooperating with the Trump administration.

“Obviously, this is something that the country is wrangling with,” said commission Chairman Esteban “Steve” Bovo, a Republican who backs Gimenez’s detention policy. “It’s serious stuff for people. We have to treat it that way. I don’t have a lot of tolerance for the political grandstanding.”

At stake is Miami-Dade’s identity as one of America’s most prominent immigrant capitals. Looming over the vote is Trump’s threat to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars, which could squash the county’s hopes for an expanded rail system.

More here.

Photo credit: Pedro Portal, el Nuevo Herald

From the Miami Herald archives: At Justice Department, Acosta focused on human trafficking

USAttorney11 boaters dade j
via @DriscollAmy

This story was originally published in June 2004.

When Alex Acosta talks about the Justice Department's battle against modern-day slavery, the passion in his voice comes from one stark image in his memory.

It's a photograph he saw a few years ago of a tiny room where a 14-year-old Mexican girl was held captive: just three walls, a curtain and a twin bed.

The girl slept there, lived there and was forced to have sex there with man after man, up to 30 a day, he said. There was only one personal item in the room: a teddy bear, the last remnant of her lost childhood.

"This is human trafficking, " he said, punctuating each word, as he announced a new antislavery initiative last week in Tampa. "It is evil. It is hideous. It is one of the most horrendous crimes of our society."

Last August, Acosta became the first Hispanic to lead the Department of Justice's civil rights division. The Cuban American from Miami who entered Harvard University at age 17 is now the point man in the government's drive to halt trafficking of an estimated 15,000 people a year into the United States for slavery.

More here.

Photo credit: Miami Herald file

Trump says his Cuba views are 'very similar' to Rubio's

RUBIO Y TRUMP
via @ngameztorres

President Donald Trump said during a press conference Thursday that he shares Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio’s views on Cuba.

“We had dinner with Senator Rubio and his wife, who was by the way, lovely, and we had a very good discussion about Cuba, because we have very similar views on Cuba,” Trump told journalists.

“Cuba has been very good to me, in the Florida elections, you know, the Cuban people, Americans,” he added in reference to the support of Cuban American voters.

Former rival Rubio and his wife had dinner with Trump and First Lady Melania on Wednesday night, after the president received Lilian Tintori, the wife of the Venezuelan political prisoner Leopoldo López in the White House. A smiling Rubio posed for a photo with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Tintori.

The comment suggests a possible change in Cuba policy since Rubio was one of the staunchest critics of former President Barack Obama’s engagement with Cuba, especially in the area of human rights.

More here.

Photo credit: Rainier Ehrhardt, Associated Press

Senate keeps DC law firm hired to fight redistricting -- to fight the Florida House

Joe Negron Richard CorcoranWhy would Florida's Senate president spend $71,600 on a Washington D.C.-based legal firm with no offices in Florida to represent them in legal battles over the Florida Constitution, and with the Florida House?

That's the obvious question for Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who has signed two contracts, and assumed a third, from former Senate President Andy Gardiner, with Sidley Austin, a mega-firm in D.C. with offices across the globe -- except Florida.

Negron signed the third contract with the firm on Nov. 18, shortly after House Speaker Richard Corcoran disclosed rules that will bind the Senate to an unprecedented budget protocol, complete with disclosure requirements and prohibitions on recurring line items.

"This is a very unique area of the law given that it is unprecedented for one chamber to promulgate rules that would purportedly control the actions of another chamber,'' Negron told the Herald/Times said. "Those are issues we can look to precedence from the United State Supreme Court and to Florida courts."

He said he has authorized Sidley Austin to advise the Senate on the House rule relating to the appropriations process and it is "looking at the legal relationship and separation of powers."

"I believe their firm has expertise not only that is beneficial to us but has also done work in other states and brings a national perspective that brings significant value to the Senate and how we navigate the matter,''

The firm recently drafted a brief to challenge the House rules in court. Negron has refrained from filing that action, saying instead negotiations are ongoing.

"The House and the Senate are negotiating to work out quickly a joint budget rule that promotes transparency and a good process,'' he said. "We are continuing to talk."

Unlike the House, whose lawyers do not believe that a draft lawsuit is shielded from Florida public records law, the Senate refuses to release a draft copy of its work.

Continue reading "Senate keeps DC law firm hired to fight redistricting -- to fight the Florida House" »

Senate keeps DC law firm hired to fight redistricting -- to fight the Florida House

Joe Negron Richard CorcoranWhy would Florida's Senate president spend $71,600 on a Washington D.C.-based legal firm with no offices in Florida to represent them in legal battles with the Florida House?

That's the obvious question for Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who has signed two contracts, and assumed a third, from former Senate President Andy Gardiner, with Sidley Austin, a mega-firm in D.C. with offices across the globe -- except Florida.

Negron signed the third contract with the firm on Nov. 18, shortly after House Speaker Richard Corcoran disclosed rules that will bind the Senate to an unprecedented budget protocol, complete with disclosure requirements and prohibitions on recurring line items.

"This is a very unique area of the law given that it is unprecedented for one chamber to promulgate rules that would purportedly control the actions of another chamber,'' Negron told the Herald/Times said. "Those are issues we can look to precedence from the United State Supreme Court and to Florida courts."

He said he has authorized Sidley Austin to advise the Senate on the House rule relating to the appropriations process and it is "looking at the legal relationship and separation of powers."

"I believe their firm has expertise not only that is beneficial to us but has also done work in other states and brings a national perspective that brings significant value to the Senate and how we navigate the matter,''

The firm recently drafted a brief to challenge the House rules in court. Negron has refrained from filing that action, saying instead negotiations are ongoing.

"The House and the Senate are negotiating to work out quickly a joint budget rule that promotes transparency and a good process,'' he said. "We are continuing to talk."

Unlike the House, whose lawyers do not believe that a draft lawsuit is shielded from Florida public records law, the Senate refuses to release a draft copy of its work.

Continue reading "Senate keeps DC law firm hired to fight redistricting -- to fight the Florida House" »

House Democrats call out Republicans' closed-door meeting

@MichaelAuslen and @stevebousquet

11212016_190301_cruz_8colHouse Minority Leader Janet Cruz on Thursday responded to a closed-door caucus meeting held by Republicans in Tallahassee to discuss taking down Enterprise Florida.

"Transparency when conducting the people’s business is of the utmost importance and that’s why our caucus room is always open to the public," Cruz, D-Tampa, said in a statement.

Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, assembled his Republican members at an upscale bar not far from the Capitol called The Edison on Wednesday night, where he played a video targeting Enterprise Florida, instructed members to "stay on the moral high ground" and blocked a Times/Herald reporter from observing the meeting.

Several Democrats voted against a Corcoran-backed proposal to gut Enterprise Flat a committee meeting last week. But Cruz said the minority party wants to reform the program.

"It’s also no secret that Enterprise Florida is an agency in serious need of reform and House Democrats look forward to having that debate," she said. "Floridians deserve an end to corporate welfare that benefits large corporations and the ultra-wealthy and a renewed focus on growing jobs here at home by supporting our local small businesses."

Photo by Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times

Anti-Trump protesters in Florida try to figure out what comes next

ACTIVISTS a epf
@PatriciaMazzei

Three weeks after they wore pink knitted hats, waved homemade protest signs and marched in Washington and in Miami, the women determined to keep confronting President Donald Trump filed into the pews of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Coconut Grove — if not to pray, then at least to commune.

“If you feel comfortable closing your eyes, please do so: We’re in a safe space,” Natalia Vásquez urged as she led an opening moment of meditation that felt a lot like the start of a yoga class. “Ask yourself, ‘Why am I here? What is important to me right now? And how can I become involved in loving action?’”

They breathed and applauded and cheered together. And then came the hard work: trying to figure out how to turn their anti-Trump fervor into a long-term political movement — one more akin to the tea party, which quickly dominated U.S. elections, than to Occupy Wall Street, which didn’t.

The women’s marches held on Jan. 21, the day after Trump’s inauguration, drew such extraordinary crowds that organizers across the country have spent the past few weeks dealing with the consequences of their unexpected success. Protesters wanted to know what more they could do — now and over the next four years.

No one had planned that far in advance.

More here.

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell, Miami Herald staff

Gov. Rick Scott takes on more state legislators in their home districts

ScottMosi21317

@JeremySWallace

Standing in a zoo, Gov. Rick Scott made clear today that he’s not done handing out political retribution to state legislators who have dared oppose him on two of his biggest priorities.

At the Brevard Zoo, Scott ripped into state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Brevard County, for being one of 9 Republicans that voted to eliminate funding for the state’s primary economic development agency, Enterprise Florida, and Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency.

Scott told business and tourism leaders that the committee Fine sits on decided “we’re not going to spend any more money on marketing our state. We’re not going to spend any more money trying to get jobs from other states.”

Scott said Fine’s vote was hard to take because of his background in business.

“What’s even more frustrating is that you have a local state Rep that’s a business person - Randy Fine - and he’s saying the same things,” Scott said with television camera’s rolling.

Fine said he would not comment until he heard all of Scott’s comments. But on Wednesday, Fine sent Scott a letter that read as a warning for him to not call him out by name.

“Rather than us talking at each other in the media, I’d prefer to talk to you in person,” Fine wrote in the letter he delivered to the Governor’s office. “It’s much easier for me to make a five minute elevator trip from the 14th floor to the first floor of the Capitol than you to fly to the Brevard Zoo.”

Clearly it didn’t cause Scott to change his plans. Scott’s trip to Brevard marked the five stop this week to a district of a Republican on the House subcommittee that voted to kill the bill. In each stop, Scott has been sure to call out members by name for voting to kill the two agencies. Later today, he was expected to be in St. Cloud, the home district of Rep. Mike La Rosa, R-St. Cloud.

La Rosa expected the visit. On Wednesday he said he welcomed the governor visiting with business leaders in St. Cloud, but doesn’t regret his vote at all.

“Because I think it was the right vote,” La Rosa said.

Scott’s stops in La Rosa’s and Fine’s backyards come as House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, released a new 3 minute video that shows how Florida taxpayers gave millions of dollars to companies to locate in Florida that later went bankrupt. But both examples in the video - Sanford Burnham and Digital Domain - are from deals struck before Scott was elected.

Scott has argued that there are now protections in place that require companies to create jobs before they get their money. In addition, there are provisions that require companies to maintain the jobs for years, otherwise they face the potential of clawbacks.

Trump names Miamian Alex Acosta to lead labor department

One16 Arrest Lnew jmb
@jayhweaver @PatriciaMazzei @NickNehamas

President Donald Trump nominated R. Alexander Acosta, a former Miami U.S. attorney and the current dean of Florida International University’s law school, as labor secretary Thursday after Trump’s initial choice failed to gain support in the Republican-led Senate.

Acosta, a 48-year-old Republican who served as South Florida’s top federal prosecutor during President George W. Bush’s second term before joining FIU’s faculty, not only boasts stellar conservative credentials but is also recognized locally as a political pragmatist.

“He has had a tremendous career,” Trump said Thursday. “He will be a tremendous secretary of labor.”

Trump made the announcement from the White House East Room. Acosta wasn’t present, suggesting Trump decided on his new nominee so quickly that Acosta didn’t have enough time to make it to Washington.

Acosta, who is Cuban-American, would be the first and only Hispanic on Trump’s Cabinet, and the third Cuban-American Cabinet secretary in history, after Mel Martinez and Carlos Gutierrez. Acosta’s full name is Rene Alexander Acosta; he goes by Alex and lives in Coral Gables.

The president spent most of the news conference Thursday laying into reporters, whom he characterized as unfair. Trump has scheduled his first post-inauguration political rally for Saturday afternoon in Melbourne. 

More here.

Photo credit: Miami Herald file

Senate will seek to 'take some of the edges off' controversial teacher bonuses

Capitol@ByKristenMClark

David Simmons, the Senate's pre-K-12 education budget chairman, elaborated slightly on Thursday about the Legislature's intent to expand the controversial "Best & Brightest" teachers bonuses into a potentially quarter-of-a-billion-dollar program next year aimed at incentivizing more teachers to join and stay in the profession.

MORE: "$200 million for teacher incentives? Florida lawmakers crafting plan to do it"

During another meeting of his committee, Simmons indicated that the crux of "Best & Brightest" might still remain but that the Senate will seek to "take some of the sharp edges off."

He said qualifying criteria for the expanded teachers incentives could perhaps include "other avenues, such as a grade point average" and "something that would deal with the principal's own assessment, as to those who deserve to be rewarded for hard work and improvement of their students."

Members of the Senate Pre-K-12 Education Appropriations Subcommittee will get a draft plan of the proposal in "the next several days," Simmons said.

Asked by the Herald/Times, Simmons wouldn't say where the money might come from to pay for the expansion or if another education program might have to sacrifice in the process.

"I think we pay for it because we need to pay for it," Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said, referencing a looming nationwide teachers shortage. "I think there’s $250 million in the budget to pay for this."

"I’m not concerned that we’re talking about $200-250 million," he added. "It’s an investment, it’s not an expenditure, and I think we can find it in an $83 billion budget."

A quarter of a billion dollars is about three-tenths of 1 percent of the total state budget and, more specifically, about 1 percent of the state’s $23.4 billion pre-K-12 budget.

In case you missed it, more details here.

Photo credit: Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

*This post has been updated.