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March 14, 2017

White House invites people frustrated with Obamacare -- including a Miami man -- to share stories with Trump


Elias Seife made his first trip to the White House on Monday -- not as a mere tourist but as a guest of President Donald Trump's.

The Miami-area computer programmer was one of 11 people who met with the president to share their stories about frustrations with the Affordable Care Act.

Seife told the Miami Herald he got his invitation after going to his state representative, Republican Jose Felix Diaz of Miami, about his Obamacare concerns. To then expand on them to the president, Seife said Tuesday, was "a true privilege."

Seife, who has his own small business since 1993, said his individual insurance plan was canceled because it no longer met coverage criteria once Obamacare went into effect. Since then, he's had to change his family plan -- which also covers his wife and their 10-year-old daughter -- every year due to rising premiums and deductibles. Last year, he paid $1,400 a month for coverage; this year, he switched plans after the premium climbed to $1,900.

"I can't pay that," he told the Herald. "It's unsustainable."


Meeting in the Roosevelt Room along with Vice President Mike Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, each of the individuals invited by Trump talked about losing insurance coverage and facing higher costs to cover themselves and their employees.

Seife, sitting two seats from Trump, mentioned that his parents immigrated from communist Cuba.

"They know what socialism is all about," he said. "I know what socialism is...and this whole system was meant to have one single provider."

"It'll get better. If we're allowed to do what we want to do, it will get better. Much better," Trump said at the meeting. "Hopefully it will get very good."

Photo credit: Michael Reynolds, Getty Images via pool

Curbelo gets TV cover to back GOP healthcare plan



National Republicans are coming to the aid of Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo to support the House GOP's healthcare plan to replace the Affordable Care Act.

American Action Network, a group affiliated with House Speaker Paul Ryan, on Tuesday kicked off a $1.5 million, two-week TV ad campaign in 15 congressional district, including Curbelo's. He represents Florida's swing 26th district, which spans Westchester to Key West and has one of the highest number of Obamacare enrollees in the country.

"Republicans are keeping their promise with a new plan for better health care," the ad says. "More choices and lowers costs. Putting doctors and patients in charge again. No more big government penalties or job-killing mandates. New tax credits to make insurance cheaper. And real protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

"Thank Congressman Carlos Curbelo for keeping his promise, and replacing the Affordable Care Act with the better health care you deserve."

Curbelo voted to advance the legislation last week on the Ways and Means Committee, and immediately got bashed by Democrats, who consider him a top target for the 2018 elections. The Congressional Budget Office estimated Monday that some 14 million people would lose or drop insurance coverage in the first year of the House replacement plan.

In earlier ads airing in solidly conservative districts, including for Florida Reps. Ron DeSantis, Bill Posey and Ted Yoho, American Action Network used different language, urging the congressmen to "vote with President Trump." There's no mention of Trump in the spot airing in Curbelo's far more moderate district, which voted handily for Hillary Clinton.

Republican group airs TV ad for Acosta ahead of hearing



With the Senate planning to hold a hearing next week for Alex Acosta, President Donald Trump's labor secretary nominee, a Republican group has started airing a TV ad in Washington to push Acosta's confirmation

America Rising Squared's spot, titled "Confirm Acosta," notes Acosta is the son of Cuban immigrants, the first in his family to attend college and a Harvard Law School graduate -- and that he was appointed to the Justice Department by former President George W. Bush.

"As a prosecutor, he brought down drug lords, radical Islamic terrorists and corrupt lobbyists," the ad says, showing off headlines about the Jose Padilla and Jack Abramoff cases prosecuted by Acosta's office when he was U.S. attorney in Miami.

The ad, which was launched Monday and first reported by Bloomberg, is part of a six-figure TV and digital campaign. Acosta's hearing is scheduled for March 22.


Florida scientists fear hurricane forecasts, climate research will suffer under Trump

via @jenstaletovich

A growing chorus of scientists is raising the alarm over reports of Trump administration budgets cuts that would affect climate change research and hurricane forecasting.

On Monday, 32 Florida scientists sent a letter to the president voicing worry over reports that the Department of Commerce, which overseas the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has proposed cutting 17 percent from its budget, with the nation’s network of satellites taking the biggest hit. The satellites include a system of polar orbiters that provide critical data from the top and bottom of the planet and help scientists understand two of the biggest threats facing the peninsula.

“It would be like looking at the world with a half-blind eye and not two good eyes,” said Frank Muller-Karger, a University of South Florida oceanographer who was appointed to the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy by President George W. Bush.

Last week, the Washington Post obtained a four-page budget memo outlining the cuts. The cuts were so steep and in such critical areas that scientists immediately sounded the alarm. Cuts also included the popular and bipartisan Sea Grants program, which matches local money for coastal research.

A Department of Commerce spokesman said Monday that agency would not comment.

A spokesman for Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said his office had not been provided any details. But in a statement, Nelson said, “We’re not going to allow that to happen. NOAA’s mission is too important.”

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s staff declined to comment on the record about the reports.

More here.

Photo credit: Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Family of Hillsborough deputy killed in drunk driving crash advocates for new DUI laws



One year ago, Hillsborough Sheriff's Deputy John Kotfila Jr. was killed by a drunk man driving the wrong way down the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway.

It's a death that rocked the Tampa Bay law enforcement community -- and one that could have been prevented, his family and anti-drunk driving advocates said in the state Capitol Tuesday.

"I can't tell you what it's like," Kotfila's mother, Terry, said of losing her son at 30 years old. "It's my first thought in the morning. It's my last thought in the evening."

Alongside the Kotfilas, representatives of Mothers Against Drunk Driving urged the Legislature to require first-time DUI offenders to have an ignition interlock device installed in their cars for six months. The devices essentially operate as a breathalizer test that prevents a car from starting if the user is intoxicated.

Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, and Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Neptune Beach, have sponsored legislation (SB 918/HB 949) to do that this year. Neither has had a single hearing, and the Senate bill has to clear four committees, a requirement that usually signals a tough road to passage.

Current Florida law requires interlock divices for repeat offenders and those convicted of DUI with a blood alcohol level above .15 or with a minor in the car.

Upping the requirement would stop thousands of drunk drivers, said Colleen Sheehey-Church, national president of MADD. In the last 10 years, ignition interlock devices prevented 68,236 people driving drunk in Florida.

"There is never ever going to be a silver bullet to stop this, but I have to tell you that the ignition interlock is the best, strongest, fastest way that we can help prevent a 100 percent preventable crime," she said.

The man who killed Kotfila, Erik Thomas McBeth, was more than three times the legal blood alcohol limit during the crash, which killed both men.

The ignition interlock bill is limited only to people who have been convicted of DUI.

Photo: Terry and John Kotfila speak in the Florida Capitol to advocate for new requirements for first-time drunk driving offenders. (Michael Auslen | Times/Herald)    

Sen. Frank Artiles updates his report to reflect nearly $2,000 in travel, food and expenses from FPL

Frank Artiles KeelerFlorida Power & Light's paid nearly $2,000 in flights, food and beverage for Sen. Frank Artiles to travel to Daytona Beach and Disney's Epcot theme park last month, an expense the senator reported late Monday on his political committee's web site only after questions by the Herald/Times.  

Artiles, a Miami Republican who as a freshman is chairman of the Senate's Energy, Communications and Public Utilities Committee, was invited by FPL parent company, NextEra, to wave the green flag at the ceremonial start of the NASCAR event on Feb. 24. The next day, he was seen at Epcot, touring the theme parks' Drinking Around the World Showcase with FPL lobbyist and others.

Artiles' travel "was an in-kind contribution to Veterans for Conservative Principles by Florida Power & Light,'' said his aide, Alina Garcia in an email after the Herald/Times asked how the expenses were paid.

Artiles traveled on a plane owned by Dave Ramba, who also lobbies for FPL. Ramba uses his aircraft to provide legislators with air travel around the state and to and from Tallahassee. It is known as "the caravan" because it is a Cessna Caravan and can seat up to 8 people.

Ramba had parked the caravan at the Kissimmee Jet Center, the fixed base operator closest to Disney, during the weekend of the Daytona 500, which Ramba attended on Sunday. The NextEra-sponsored truck race on Friday night was the opening event of the Daytona International Speedway weekend, which culminates in the Daytona 500.

Also accompanying Artiles was John Holley, who has been director of state legislative affairs for Florida Power & Light since August 2011 and previously worked for three months as a lobbyist with Ramba's Tallahassee lobbying firm. Artiles said he has known Holley for seven years and considers him a loyal friend. 

When the Herald/Times asked how he paid for the trips on Ramba's aircraft, and whether he included payment for others Artiles identified as staff, Artiles refused to speak to a reporter.

"Everything in writing from this moment forward and I'll get you answers from my staff,'' he said, repeating four times that he wanted questions in writing.

In response to questions, Garcia told the Herald/Times that "there were no legislative interns or interns on the plane or traveling with the senator" and that "Sen. Artiles was traveling unaccompanied."

Senate rules require that senators receive prior written approval from the Office of the Senate President if they are seeking to have their cost of traveling on chartered aircraft reimbursed by taxpayers and Senate staff is not allowed to travel on charter aircraft. Artiles accepted the travel as an in-kind gift to his political committee and it is the only in-kind gift listed since September 2013. The Senate president's office said that Sen. Artiles does not employ any interns through his state office. 

Artiles said that a fundraiser he held in conjunction with the NextEra-sponsored truck race raised $10,000. He acknowledged that before the event he “did not know that NextEra was the parent of FPL.” On March 2, Artiles' political committee reported receiving $5,000 from FPL and $5,000 from Florida Prosperity Fund, a political committee controlled by Associated Industries of Florida to which FPL contributes.

Artiles' committee also reported writing two checks to Ramba on March 2: one for $900 to the Ramba Law Group for "legal" and another for $1,800 to Ramba Consulting for "consulting." Senate rules require members to report all contributions and expenses to their political committees on their web sites. Artiles updated his political committee with the in-kind contribution on Monday, after the Herald/Times inquiries.

UPDATE: Ramba said his firm received the "in kind letter on the 24th; it was dated and sent to the committee on the 22nd. Unfortunately, it was sent to me and didn't copy my staff so it was a clerical error it was not put on the PC website."

Photo: Miami Senators Frank Artiles and Rene Garcia being sworn in to the state Senate in November. Photo by Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times.

Here are the screen shots from the web page for Veterans for Conservative Principles first on Monday morning and next on Tuesday morning: 

Veterans for conservative principles receipts


Veterans for conservative principles 31417


Controversial 'sanctuary cities' bill advances in House



Communities in Florida that are considered “sanctuaries” for undocumented immigrants, such as Broward and Palm Beach counties, would have to do away with those practices or risk fines and other penalties from the state, under controversial legislation that passed its first legislative committee on Monday.

If the bill becomes law, county and local law enforcement agencies would also be required — at their taxpayers’ cost, with no guarantee of reimbursement — to comply with federal immigration detention requests, which are currently only optional.

Although the proposal (HB 697) easily advanced out of the House Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee by a 9-5 vote, it drew unanimous opposition from at least 20 audience members who spoke — including immigrant advocates.

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

March 13, 2017

Miami Democrat McGhee picked to lead Florida House Democrats in 2018



Miami Democrat Kionne McGhee's improbable political rise took another step Monday.

Democrats in the Florida House of Representatives narrowly picked McGhee, 39, to be their leader in 2018. McGhee beat out Fort Lauderdale Democrat Bobby DuBose. The final vote was 23-17. He would follow Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, who is the current Democratic Leader in the Florida House.

"I am humbled to even have this opportunity to stand before you," McGhee said moments before the Democrats cast their ballots in a conference room in Tallahassee. "I don't take this moment likely. For those of you who know my history, you know the road that I have lived to here wasn't easy."

McGhee recounted growing up in poverty in public housing with a single mother who would get up before dawn to pick beans for 75 cents a hamper in Homestead to put enough food on the table. He talked about struggling through school with a grade point average under 2.0 and being labeled "mentally retarded" by the schools. McGhee told his fellow Democrats that leaders "will always find his or her ingredients for success inside his or her own struggles."

McGhee, first elected to the Legislature in 2012, would rise to graduate from Howard University, become an attorney, write a best-selling book and now would be next in line to be Speaker of the Florida House if Democrats pulled off the improbably and picked up 20 seats in the 2018 election cycle.

It puts a pair of Miami-Dade politicians at the top of both parties heading into 2018. Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, has already been chosen to be the Republican leader in 2018. He is scheduled become the Florida House Speaker if Republicans hold the majority in 2018.

Former state Senate candidate Michael Góngora running for his old Miami Beach commission seat

Michael Góngora horizontal


Former Miami Beach commissioner and mayoral candidate Michael Góngora, who also came in third last year during the Democratic primary for state Senate District 38, wants back in City Hall.

The condo attorney served as commissioner for a year in the mid-2000s following a special election and then a full term from 2009 to 2013 before losing the 2013 mayoral election to Philip Levine. Now, with Commissioner Joy Malakoff withdrawing her bid for reelection following a physical injury, Góngora has his sights set for his old seat on the dais.

Góngora's entry marks another development in what looks to be an interesting election year in the Beach. With Levine seriously mulling a run for governor, Commissioner Michael Grieco and former state legislator Dan Gelber will square off for mayor. 

And there's still plenty of time for other folks to throw their hats in. The city's qualifying period isn't until the first week of September. The election is Nov. 7.

Read more.

Wait, Rick Scott said what about these two Democrats?


Gov. Rick Scott hosted a "jobs roundtable" in Tallahassee that he used to praise Democrats by name for voting against a bill to kill Enterprise Florida and another bill that he says would weaken Visit Florida. (Jeremy Wallace/Tampa Bay Times)


It’s the kind of praise you would expect from a Democratic leader.

“You need to call and thank Representative (Ramon) Alexander and Representative Loranne Ausley. Thank them for their vote. Because they’re thinking about the future of our state for our kids and our grandkids.”

But that was no tried-and-true Democrat tossing that praise around. No, it was Gov. Rick Scott, a two-term Republican governor who spent a portion of an hour long stop at Danfoss Turbocor, an air conditioner compressor manufacturer in Tallahassee, praising Alexander and Ausley, both Democrats, while slamming fellow Republican and state Rep. Halsey Beshears, R-Monticello over a vote in the Florida Legislature last week. And Scott handed out that praise more than once during his speech and later with reporters during interviews.

Beshears voted for House bill 7005, which would eliminate Enterprise Florida, an agency Scott has relied on to provide tax incentives to recruit companies to move to Florida and create jobs. While that idea was once lauded by Republicans when Scott was winning his 2010 election and 2014 re-election, the Florida House is now populated with Republicans who see those types of programs as corporate welfare and want to make their mark by killing the program even if it means chipping away at the legacy of one of two Republicans to ever hold the governorship of Florida for two terms.

Beshears also voted for House Bill 9, which Scott said will decimate Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing agency.

"Why in the world would Halsey Beshears - or anybody else - vote to eliminate Enterprise Florida and vote to decimate Visit Florida," Scott asked.

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