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April 28, 2015

AP: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to run for president

From the Associated Press:

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will announce his plans to seek the Democratic nomination for president on Thursday, presenting a liberal challenge to Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Sanders, an independent who describes himself as a "democratic socialist," will follow a formal statement with a major campaign kickoff in his home state in several weeks. Two people familiar with his announcement spoke to The Associated Press under condition of anonymity to describe internal planning.

More here.

Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart tries to block new Cuba travel


Republicans in Congress filed legislation Tuesday that would dramatically limit new travel to Cuba, an attempt to block part of President Obama's more open policy toward the island's communist regime.

The proposed measure would ban new flights and cruises to Cuba. It was tucked into a wide-ranging, must-pass budget bill drafted by U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, who chairs the House subcommittee on transportation, housing and urban development appropriations.

Funding to facilitate travel to Cuba would be prohibited if airplanes or ships pass through any property confiscated by the Cuban government, which effectively rules out landing or docking at any airport or seaport. Importing restricted amounts of goods such as cigars would still be allowed.

In a statement, Diaz-Balart decried Obama's move in january to significantly ease travel restrictions. Permissible trips to Cuba, he said, now "include snorkeling, cigar factory tours, salsa dancing lessons, and other obvious tourist activities."

"Under these circumstances, Congress cannot remain idle," said Diaz-Balart, who is Cuban-American. "The expansion of regularly scheduled flights to Cuba is an obvious attempt to circumvent the tourism ban. Similarly, allowing cruises to dock in Cuba would violate both the spirit and the letter of U.S. law."

The massive, $55 billion budget bill was announced Tuesday with a news release that made no mention of the Cuba provision.

Another group of lawmakers has filed legislation to repeal all travel restrictions to the island.

Five bills the Florida House killed when it ended session early

The House leaving town early will prevent lawmakers from sending a number of high-profile bills to the governor’s desk.

While some issues — such as water conservation funding through Amendment One or the state’s gambling compact with the Seminoles — aren’t officially dead and could be brought up in a special budget session. But some policy won’t be passed this year either because it hasn’t had a vote in the House, or because the Senate doesn’t plan to agree with changes made by representatives.

“When you look at the amount of good policy that’s just going to fall off the table,” Senate President Andy Gardiner said Tuesday, “it’s just unfortunate.”

Prison reform: Amid disagreement on prison oversight, the Senate will not accept House changes to a Department of Corrections reform package and will instead use its own powers to keep tabs on state prisons for the next year. (SB 7020)

Special needs: Programs to help Floridians with disabilities attend college and find employment, both major priorities for Gardiner, passed the Senate but were never voted on by the House. (SB 802/SB 7030)

Tax cuts: Gov. Rick Scott and the House made a $690 million tax cut package a top priority, but without a budget, lawmakers can’t eliminate taxes on cable bills, textbooks and gun club memberships, among others. (HB 7141)

Economic incentives: Legislation by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, extending enterprise zones, reforming the state’s film incentive program and appropriating funds for stadium projects has not yet passed the Senate, and the House never passed similar legislation. (SB 1214)

Medical marijuana: A push to make cannabis that’s low in euphoric THC available to patients — including children suffering from severe epilepsy — was being revived by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, although it hadn’t gained traction in the House. (SB 7066)

House carefully planned its 'surprise' adjournment but not all members got memo

The decision by the Florida House to adjourn early was known among a small handful of members of the lobbying corps, who positioned themselves in the chamber for the historic announcement.

It was known among the House's leadership, which had the House Majority Office prepare a four-page document answering what they expected would be commonly asked questions about the House's position on the budget impasse and Medicaid.

But the decision took some members of the majority party by surprise.

"I don't know what's going on," Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, said on her cell phone as House members scattered.

Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, a retired sheriff's deputy, represents a moderate Republican district and said be believed a majority of his constituents favored the Senate's approach, to seek federal funds and to impose requirements on low-income people for an expansion of Medicaid.

"I along with most of the other members was absolutely surprised," Pilon said. "We were given no notice ahead of time, no indication that it was coming....I was very surprised and very disappointed that it was handled that way.''

Another Republican House member from a swing district, Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa, said the first he knew about the premature sine die was when Crisafulli told the entire chamber at 1:15 p.m. Tuesday.

"It was dramatic in the way that it occurred," Harrison said. "But that's up to leadership. It wasn't mine to make."
Harrison, who represents a district that includes the University of South Florida and Moffitt Cancer Center, said he's open to the concept of expanded Medicaid coverage, including the Senate model. 
"We could use a cooling off period," Harrison said. "This will give us a chance to go home and hear from our constituents."
He said he'll schedule public meetings to discuss the issue.

The Senate was also kept in the dark. 

Two hours before the House shut down, Senate President Andy Gardiner asked House Speaker Steve Crisafulli if he could dispatch a team of senators to begin discussions on "how we land this plane," Gardiner told reporters later Tuesday.

The next thing he knew, the House closed its doors.

Here's the Q and A prepared by Republican Leader Dana Young's office and distributed by email:  Download Q&A on Sine Die.docx (1)

Staff writers Michael Van Sickler and Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. 

Senate to continue session because 'we have a job to do'

Moments before House Speaker Steve Crisafulli gaveled the session to a close more than three days early, he left a message on the cell phone of Senate President Andy Gardiner, alerting him of the decision.

Gardiner said that despite the news, he continued navigating the Senate through a series of bills, including a series of claims bills devoted to authorizing payments to people who have been injured by government negligence, and sent them to the governor. He then announced the Senate would return again on Wednesday because "we have a job to do."

Addressing the chamber, nearly two hours after the House abruptly adjourned sine die, Gardiner experessed his disappointment. 

"Nobody won today," Gardiner said. "Nobody won. Taxpayers lost. It's an unfortunate turn of events."

Gardiner said he was proud of the Senate, disappointed in the House and determined to return on Wednesday. He ticked off the bills that had died, casualties of the House’s decision to leave early amid the budget impasse.

"The corrections bill that Sen. Evers brought forward to this chamber, and this body with an oversight committee -- that bill's not going to make it," he said.

He also mentioned a sweeping water bill, a priority of Crisafulli

"There are so many good issues," Gardiner said. "Sadly those expecting post- secondary options for children with unique abilities will not have that option. It died in the House.”

Gardiner said he "couldn't be prouder of the Senate."

Continue reading "Senate to continue session because 'we have a job to do'" »

Ex-Miami Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart joins Univision News as GOP political analyst


The Diaz-Balart brothers will now be represented in the country's rival Spanish-language news networks.

Former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Miami has joined Univision News as a Republican political analyst, the Doral-based network announced Tuesday. His younger brother José Díaz-Balart is a top anchor for Telemundo, which is based in Miramar, and also hosts an English-language cable show on MSNBC. (A third brother, Mario Diaz-Balart, holds a seat in Congress.)

"Lincoln's extensive experience as a legislator and his profound knowledge of the issues and challenges facing our country make him an asset to Univision News," Daniel Coronell, the division's executive vice president and executive director, said in a statement. "His valuable contributions to the political discussion will strengthen our news and electoral coverage throughout the 2016 election cycle, bringing our audience expert commentary and analysis from the Republican perspective."

The elder Diaz-Balart has been working as an attorney and lobbyist since leaving Congress in 2011. He is also a longtime friend and adviser to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is organizing a likely 2016 presidential campaign.

For reporters, Diaz-Balart's hiring might mean he will no longer be willing to comment on Bush or any other political news to anyone other than Univision. The network once made that arrangement with former Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas.

Unlike his TV-anchor brother, Lincoln Diaz-Balart does not -- or at least, has not up to now -- used the accent in his last name.

As the House adjourns early over Medicaid battle, we look at claims on the Truth-O-Meter

A battle over Medicaid expansion led the Florida House to adjourn the session three days early on Tuesday, leaving hundreds of bills dead for now including $690 million in tax cuts, a priority of Gov. Rick Scott.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said the House will return when the Senate was ready to negotiate their budget differences but it was unclear when that would occur. They will have to come back in a special session to complete the state budget by the June 30 deadline.

Crisafulli echoed Senate budget chief Tom Lee who said Monday: "There's no possible hope for getting done at this time."

The Senate agreed to remain in session, sending bills symbolically to the House where they will die.

The House opposed the expansion of the health care program for the poor while the Senate advocated for a version of it, creating a major rift between the two GOP-dominated chambers. Scott, once a supporter of Medicaid expansion, opposed it this session and threatened to sue the federal government over it. (He officially announced that he filed the suit Tuesday afternoon.)

The federal government is offering billions if Florida expands Medicaid, paying 100 percent of the expansion at first and gradually downshifting to 90 percent in later years. The program currently eats up a sizable portion of the state budget.

While there was a long list of hot issues this session -- including whether to allow guns on college campuses and K-12 schools and a proposal for online voter registration -- in the end the feud over Medicaid was what brought the Legislature screeching to a halt.

Here’s a look back at some of our claims related to Medicaid expansion from PolitiFact Florida.

Florida Senate warns governor's intervention to set special session would be 'paternalistic'

via @stevebousquet

The sudden shutdown of the Florida House that derailed the 2015 session Tuesday makes it even more difficult for the Legislature's presiding officers to agree on the framework for a special session. The ugliness between House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner won't easily subside, and Gov. Rick Scott has already said he would consider calling a special session if the Legislature's leaders can't pull it off.

If it's possible for things in Tallahassee to go from very bad to worse, here's how: Scott unilaterally calls the Legislature back into special session without any consensus among legislative leaders on how to break their budget impasse.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said that would be a mistake. Speaking to reporters Monday night, before the House went home, Lee said Scott should stay on the sidelines and let lawmakers try to resolve their differences on their own.

"You don't want to call the Legislature back until it's ready to do its job," Lee said. "The governor I think has been hesitant to insert himself into this debate, this impasse, and I think at this point, it's the Legislature's job to build a budget. We understand that ... I think it would be a little paternalistic for the governor to step in and try to manage the process. His turn comes when we pass a budget."

--STEVE BOUSQUET, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Florida lobbyist gift-ban exceptioin heads to governor's desk

via @stevebousquet

The House gave final passage Tuesday (before it abruptly adjourned) to a bill that creates a narrow exception to the notorious 2006 lobbyist gift ban. The bill (SB 984) by Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, clarifies the law that a legislator using a public facility for a public purpose such as a town hall meeting is not a violation of the lobbyist gift ban. A number of legislators also have rent-free office space from cities or counties that lobby the Legislature.

The Senate rules and the House administrative policy manual both require approval by the Senate president or House speaker before a legislator can use government property. The bill removes the requirement.

The House vote was 119-0. The bill now goes to Gov. Rick Scott.

--STEVE BOUSQUET, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Florida Gov. Rick Scott files lawsuit against feds over hospital funding


Gov. Rick Scott followed through Tuesday on his promised lawsuit against the federal government over its threat to withhold hospital charity-care funding if Florida doesn't expand Medicaid. 

His office announced the filing shortly after the Florida House of Representatives adjourned its legislative session ahead of schedule, amid its budget stalemate with the Senate over healthcare. Scott declared his intent to sue 11 days ago.

The lawsuit was filed against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and its secretary, Sylvia Burwell, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and its acting administrator, Andy Slavitt. View it here.

"President Obama's sudden end to the Low Income Pool (LIP) healthcare program to leverage us for Obamacare is illegal and a blatant overreach of executive power," Scott said in a statement. "His administration is effectively attempting to coerce Florida into Obamacare by ending an existing federal healthcare program and telling us to expand Medicaid instead. This sort of coercion tactic has already been called illegal by the US Supreme Court."