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April 18, 2017

Video: Legislators prepare apology for racist past with exoneration of the Groveland Four

 

The Florida Legislature moved closer Tuesday to extending an historic apology to the families of four black men who were wrongly accused of rape in 1949 then tortured, murdered or unjustly imprisoned after one of the ugliest racist episodes in state history.

Known as the Groveland Four, none of the four men — Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, Charles Greenlee and Ernest Thomas — are still living, but members of their families were seated in the gallery of the House chamber when lawmakers voted 117-0 to unanimously join as sponsors of HCR 631. The measure exonerates the men and asks Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet to expedite consideration of posthumous pardons.

“This resolution, while seemingly minute, symbolizes the great state of Florida looking those families in the eyes — families, with children, who grew up not knowing their fathers but only knew their records,” said Rep. Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale, a sponsor of the bill. “This resolution is us simply saying, ‘We’re sorry’ — understanding we will never know or make up for the pain we have caused.” Story here. 

Miami lawmaker curses at black senator -- and refers to fellow Republicans as 'niggas'

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@PatriciaMazzei

TALLAHASSEE -- Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles dropped the n-word to a pair of African-American colleagues in private conversation Monday night — after calling one of them a “fucking asshole,” a “bitch” and a “girl,” the two senators said.

Over drinks after 10 p.m. at the members-only Governors Club just steps from the state Capitol, Artiles told Sens. Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville and Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale that Senate President Joe Negron of Stuart had been risen to his powerful GOP leadership role because “six niggers” in the Republican caucus had elected him.

Artiles later told Gibson and Thurston that he’d used the word “niggas,” suggesting the slang term was not meant to be insulting, Gibson and Thurston said. It’s unclear whom Artiles was referring to, since the only black senators in the state Senate are all Democrats — and none of them backed Negron’s bid to lead the chamber.

Artiles apologized to Gibson late Tuesday afternoon, after he’d been reported to Republican leaders and reporters started asking questions.

“In an exchange with a colleague of mine in the Senate, I unfortunately let my temper get the best of me,” Artiles said later in a statement. “There is no excuse for the exchange that occurred and I have apologized to my Senate colleagues and regret the incident profusely.”

To Gibson and Thurston, it was clear Artiles wasn’t referring to them or to any other Democrats as “niggas” but apparently to six Republicans who favored Negron for the job over Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater.

The discussion began Monday night after Artiles approached Gibson at the Governors Club to suggest that a series of questions he’d asked of one of her bills earlier in the day were payback for questions she’d asked before of one of Artiles’ bills.

At one point, Artiles referred to Gibson as “this fucking asshole” and “this bitch,” Gibson said.

More here.

Rick Scott calls for $100 million for Visit Florida

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@JeremySWallace

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is calling on the Florida Legislature to not just restore all funding for Visit Florida, but also give the embattled agency another $24 million for next year.

"My goal is to spend $100 million to market our state," Scott said with Visit Florida CEO Ken Lawson standing at his side. "When we invest in Visit Florida it helps us grow our economy."

If the state spends that much money, Scott predicted the state would have another record tourism year. Scott's call for more spending comes a day after he called for $200 million for repairs to the dike around Lake Okeechobee. Last week the federal government announced it would send the state $1.5 billion additionally for hospitals to handle low-income care costs. That funding could free up state funding for other priorities like what Scott outlined over the last two days.

Never mind that his requests comes a week after the House and the Senate both passed spending plans that give less to Visit Florida. The Florida House passed a budget with just $25 million for Visit Florida. The Senate proposed $76 million.

Visit Florida has been under scrutiny for controversial marketing plans, including one that paid Miami pop music star Pitbull $1 million to promote Florida as a "Sexy Beaches" destination. Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran initially called for killing the agency's funding completely for its past spending habits, but eventually relented to give the agency $25 million but with new restrictions to rein in travel expenses, cap management salaries and prevent future contracts like Pitbull's without the Legislature signing off.

The House and Senate are now left trying to negotiate a resolution to their $51 million divide in order to pass a state budget that both chambers can agree to.

Senate President can't say if Legislature will end on May 5 as scheduled

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@JeremySWallace

The Florida Legislature is supposed to pass a budget and wrap up their annual spring session on May 5.

But given the number of major unresolved issues, many have wondered if the Legislature will have to either extend this year's session or maybe even have to come back for a special session as they had to two years ago to finish the budget.

We asked Senate President Joe Negron if he has any doubt the Legislature will finish on time.

"I can't predict the future, so I don't know exactly how things will unfold," the Republican from Stuart said. "I have every expectation that we'll be able to complete our business on time. As I've said before, it would be a sad commentary on the legal profession if two lawyers couldn't get their work done on time."

Negron, an attorney, was referring to House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Pasco County Republican who is also an attorney.

Candidates for Miami commission, mayor raise $500K in March

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@NewsbySmiley

The dust has settled on a frenzied month for political fundraising in Miami, during which candidates running for three commission races, the mayor’s office and a seat yet-to-be-determined raised more than a half-million dollars combined.

New political committees are getting involved, competing candidates are neck-and-neck in District 3, and incumbents without opponents — or even declared campaigns — are raising large sums.

The election is in Nov. 7. Click here to see who contributed to the campaigns.

Could this be Florida's next CFO?

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@JeremySWallace

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry was in Tallahassee today meeting with Gov. Rick Scott, but he made clear that it has nothing to do with the potential of Scott considering him for the soon-to-be vacant chief financial officer position.

“I love being mayor of Jacksonville,” Curry said when we asked him if he is interested in being CFO. “I’m over here today talking to the governor about Jacksonville issues.”

Current elected CFO Jeff Atwater has already announced he is leaving the position early in May to take a job at Florida Atlantic University. That gives Scott the authority to appoint an interim CFO who could serve until the end of 2018 when the next election for the position is held.

Curry’s name has come up as a potential candidate for CFO given he is a CPA, the former Republican Party of Florida chairman and is the mayor of the city with the largest population in Florida. He’s also from a county - Duval - that is a must win for Republicans to win statewide.
 
Curry has only been mayor for 2 years and has a term that runs until 2019. He would have to take a major pay cut from his $174,000 a year in Jacksonville to less than $130,000 for CFO.

Scott has not said who he is considering for CFO or when he would make a decision. Check out here some of the other candidates that we’ve speculated could be in the running.

Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel: 'I wanted to leave on my terms'

MelindamiguelChief Inspector General Melinda Miguel, the top investigator for two governors who has been accused of suppressing whistleblowers at the state’s prison agency and most recently was assigned the task of sorting through the financial troubles in Opa-locka, has resigned her post saying she “wanted to leave on my terms.”

In an exclusive interview with the Miami Herald late Monday, she said she wanted to leave before the arrival of a new governor and before legislation advances that adds new powers to her office. Miguel’s letter of resignation to the governor was dated April 4 but not announced by the governor’s office until late Monday.

“It’s been an honor to serve in this position and serve two governors. I’m tired, to be honest,” said Miguel, 53, who was first appointed chief inspector general by former Gov. Charlie Crist and then reappointed by Gov. Rick Scott.

Although her tenure under Scott was challenged by his aggressive former general counsel, Pete Antonacci, who asked her to delay the release of a prison report, and she came under fire by Opa-locka Mayor Myra Taylor and other commissioners, Miguel said the governor never interfered with her investigations.

“I had a tremendous amount of independence, and he never stood in my way,” she said. Story here. 

 

Florida House budget chief's absence stokes rumors of ambassador appointment by Trump

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@PatriciaMazzei @MaryEllenKlas

Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Trujillo was conspicuously absent Tuesday morning from a meeting of the Florida House budget committee he leads.

The reason? Word in the state Capitol was that Trujillo is away in Washington -- interviewing with President Donald Trump's administration for a potential ambassadorship to Latin America.

Reached Tuesday afternoon, Trujillo declined to comment.

The powerful budget chief was an early Trump supporter, one of only a handful of state elected officials to back his long-shot candidacy early. He's been under consideration to be ambassador to Argentina or Panama.

Another Miami lawmaker who campaigned for Trump, Republican Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, a former contestant on "The Apprentice" TV show Trump once hosted, is one of several candidates being considered to be South Florida's top federal prosecutor.

On Monday, two days after Politico reported Diaz was a finalist for the position of U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, the legislator declined to answer questions about vying for the job.

"I can't talk about that," he said.

This post has been updated.

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, el Nuevo Herald

$1.5 billion health care deal with feds may not be a sure thing in the Florida House

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@MichaelAuslen

The Florida House has not yet decided if it will include a new $1.5 billion sum of money to cover low-income health care costs in its budget.

House Health Care Appropriations chairman Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, said that it "depends on what kind of assurances we get from the federal government."

The federal government agreed to revive the Low Income Pool at $1.5 billion last week after it was set to end. Though it is clear that the money will be funded mostly by the federal government with the remainder coming from state or local governments, the full terms of the agreement are not yet clear.

"We have a promise and that's great. We'd love to have it," Brodeur said. "What I'd like to see is a printed letter that outlines the terms of what we're talking about."

Justin Senior, secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration, has been working with the feds to reach a final agreement in time for the Legislature to finalize a budget before a May 2 deadline.

But Brodeur said the House was cautious about two key issues: How the state is allowed to use the money and how many years the program will be guaranteed. If the money can only go to hospitals with large numbers of charity care patients -- generally the public and teaching hospitals that make up Florida's safety net -- Brodeur said he would have concerns about funding for other health care priorities.

The program's longevity is a concern, as well, given that it has been surrounded by uncertainty in recent years. When the Obama administration did not renew LIP in 2015, it contributed to a breakdown over Medicaid spending and triggered a special budget session.

"If it's a one-year deal, to what degree do we want to get hooked on the federal dollar again just to come back next year and take it all away?" Brodeur said.

A draft of the deal with the federal government provided by AHCA suggests the program would last for four years and could be used primarily to reimburse hospitals. However, agency officials note the draft is not final and negotiations continue with the federal government. 

The Senate appears to be ready to take the money.

That chamber's budget already included approximately $600 million in LIP. And $1.5 billion gives them even more flexibility, Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, the chamber's Health and Human Services Appropriations chairwoman, said last week after the agreement with the federal government was announced.

"I hope that the whole pot would be used for hospitals for different versions of patient care," she said but noted it "may give us the opportunity to provide further funding for other health care priorities."

She envisioned moving money around in the budget to free up more dollars for priorities like Medicaid provider rate increases, clearing wait lists at the Agency for Persons with Disabilities and the Department of Elder Affairs, and the opioid crisis, which is ravaging pockets of the state.

But, even last week, Flores expressed concern about the House's willingness to agree to accept LIP.

"I would hope that No. 1, that the House would be open and receive this funding," she said.

Photo: Health Care Appropriations chairman Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, (right) speaks with Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, on the House floor. (Scott Keeler | Tampa Bay Times)

April 17, 2017

Does competition lift public schools as Jeb Bush says?

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via @PolitiFactNH

As New Hampshire considers the merits of a universal Education Savings Account bill, education reformers nationwide are watching - and weighing in.

Senate Bill 193 would allow parents to use 90 percent of the per-pupil grant the state gives to local public schools and instead put it toward alternative educational expenses, including private school tuition or homeschooling.

ESAs function basically like vouchers, but they give parents more options about how the money can be spent.  

Proponents of ESAs tout them as the next evolution in school choice. If SB 193 is passed by the House (it cleared the Senate in March), it would be one of the most expansive school choice laws in the country.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose Foundation for Excellence in Education is backing market-based education reform efforts nationwide, submitted an op-ed in New Hampshire papers this week, urging passage of the bill.

"This legislation (will not) hurt public schools. In fact, a large body of research, including that done in my home state of Florida, indicates quite the opposite. When public schools face increased competition, they get better and kids learn more," he wrote.

Critics of choice typically say that diverting funds from public schools hurt those schools. So putting aside the question of whether vouchers actually help the kids who use them, we wondered: Does research show that school choice, and specifically vouchers, help public schools get better?

See what PolitiFact New Hampshire found.