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February 10, 2017

Florida CFO Jeff Atwater resigning for 'expanded' CFO role at FAU


@ByKristenMClark @MichaelAuslen @MaryEllenKlas

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater announced Friday he’s resigning from his Cabinet position to return to Palm Beach County and take a job as the CFO of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

Atwater, who is from North Palm Beach, will be the university’s vice president of strategic initiatives and CFO — where he’ll “lead strategic initiatives and economic development opportunities for FAU as well as manage the university’s finances and budget.”

FAU’s previous CFO, Dorothy Russell, retired on Jan. 31.

Atwater was elected Florida’s CFO in 2010 and won re-election in 2014. He cannot seek a third term but still had about 23 months left in office.

Atwater’s office said there is no designated date yet for when he will officially resign, but he plans to leave after the 2017 legislative session ends — sometime after May 5.

“I am honored to join FAU in such a significant capacity,” Atwater said in a statement from his state office. “While I would have preferred to embrace this opportunity at a later date, the timing of crucial university initiatives warranted an accelerated transition.”

Atwater added in a statement from FAU: “I cannot think of a better place to begin the next phase of my career.”

Full story here.

Photo credit: AP

After Fort Lauderdale airport shooting, Broward may push for ban on guns in government facilities

FLL Airportpeoplerunning


One month after the mass shooting at the Fort Lauderdale airport, Broward County Commissioners will discuss a resolution Tuesday to oppose legislation that would allow guns at government facilities.

The resolution doesn't specifically mention airports but the sponsor, Commissioner Steve Geller, said he opposes State Rep. Greg Steube's bill to allow conceal carry permit holders to carry guns in airports, one of multiple proposed bills to expand where guns may be allowed.

Here is the text of the resolution:

"The Board supports legislation allowing local governments to regulate firearms in government owned buildings and facilities. The Board further supports legislation prohibiting the possession of firearms, weapons, and ammunition in substance abuse programs, mental health programs, and sexual assault treatment facilities.

The board opposes legislation allowing individuals with concealed-weapons licenses to open-carry firearms on college and university campuses; at state legislative and cabinet meetings; governing board meetings of counties, cities, school boards, special districts; and in courthouses."

The County Commission previously approved it's state legislative program which included statements on gun regulations, however Geller's resolution would make opposing certain bills about guns a priority for county lobbyists.

The Democratic-dominated County Commission located in the most left-leaning county in Florida doesn't typically carry weight in GOP-dominated Tallahassee on partisan issues such as gun control. However, Broward officials may have more of a bully pulpit this year after an Army veteran opened fire in baggage claim at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport Jan. 6th, killing five and injuring six others. 

And Geller says he believes there is common ground with some senators, many of whom previously served in local government, who oppose efforts to allow guns in certain settings such as local government meetings.

Local government meetings "get very heated and to permit people to come in packing to me sounds absurd," said Geller, a former state senator. "What is it -- an attempt to intimidate elected officials?" 

The shooting has also renewed the debate about the city of Fort Lauderdale allowing gun shows at War Memorial Auditorium in Holiday Park. The City Commission has continued to support allowing the shows, the Sun Sentinel reported. 

- With Kristen Clark

Those hot congressional town halls? Don't expect many in South Florida


Over the past week, a string of town-hall meetings held across the country by Republican members of Congress have drawn hordes of constituents angry about repealing the Affordable Care Act and the GOP's embrace of President Donald Trump

But if South Floridians want a similar forum to vent to their Republican lawmakers, they're out of luck.

The only local member of Congress who plans to hold open meetings soon is U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, who's got two scheduled -- in Wilton Manors and Pompano Beach -- Saturday. Democrats just haven't been getting the same sort of protests as Republicans at their public events.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has no town hall planned, a spokesman said, noting that the Senate is still in session. (Progressive activists say they will nevertheless stump outside his Doral office Tuesday to ask him for one.) Neither does Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. No in-person town halls are scheduled either for Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, though he hopes to let constituents call into a "tele-town hall" in late March, a spokeswoman said. 

A spokeswoman for Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart refused to admit the congressman isn't holding town halls.

"The Congressman is constantly traveling the district and meeting with constituents, but we do not publicize his schedule," Katrina Valdés said in an email.

When pressed if that means no public events without pre-screened attendees, she added: "He has countless meetings with constituents and constituent groups while traveling the district. Our office is in touch with those who he will be meeting with."

More than 200 pro-Obamacare protesters showed up last Saturday at a town hall for Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis in Palm Harbor, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Donald Trump-connected Kushner may buy Marlins


@via kaufsports

So, it turns out that it may, in fact, be a member of the Trump-connected Kushner family who is interested in buying the Miami Marlins, just not Ivanka Trump’s father-in-law Charles Kushner, as originally reported.

According to the New York Times, it is Joshua Kushner, Ivanka’s brother-in-law, who has been pursuing the Marlins “for several months.” Joshua is the younger brother of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and close advisor.

Joshua, a venture capitalist who invested in Instagram and is very involved in the family’s real estate dealings, and his brother-in-law Joseph Meyer are said to have proposed a complicated financial package for the Marlins that would include other partners. According to the Times, the Marlins negotiations do not involve Jared or his father, Charles, who served a prison sentence for tax evasion, illegal campaign donations and witness tampering.

Keep reading Michelle Kaufman's story here.
Miami Herald photo by Charles Trainor Jr. is of Jeffrey Loria

In Miami Gardens, Khizr Khan celebrates court ruling against Trump ban


Less than two hours after an appeals court refused to restore President Donald Trump’s ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations, Khizr Khan, perhaps the most famous Muslim American of last year’s campaign, celebrated the news among his admirers at the Islamic Center of Greater Miami.

“There will not be any ban,” Khan predicted.

“I am sure all of you have heard by now that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal unanimously — all judges — have stayed the ban permanently,” he added, as the crowd at the Miami Gardens mosque broke into applause and a couple of hollers.

“That speaks volumes to the malice that Donald Trump and a few members of his Cabinet, a few members of his [national] security staff, have against Muslims. They will be defeated. There are patriotic Americans among Republicans that know that these are not the values of this country.”

Khan called the ban — and Trump’s hostile reaction to the judiciary — “an embarrassment.”

“I hope somebody translates into easy English to him,” he said of the ruling. (“Donald Trump is an immigrant,” Khan added. “Two-thirds of his wives are immigrants. Mothers of his children are immigrants. How dare he has forgotten that! So we will remind him.”)

It was a rallying cry from Khan, the Gold Star father who became an overnight political celebrity after he spoke against Trump in July at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Khan’s 27-year-old son, U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, was killed by a car bomb in Iraq in 2004.

“Have you even read the United States Constitution?” the elder Khan asked of Trump as he pulled a copy of the Constitution from his pocket at the convention. “You have sacrificed nothing.”

More here.

Photo credit: Carl Juste, Miami Herald staff

Moms want 20 minutes of school recess a day. Will Florida Legislature act?

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@ByKristenMClark @KyraGurney

On a recent Friday afternoon, a troop of kindergarteners walked outside in a single-file line to their daily 20-minute recess break at Miami Gardens Elementary School.

Once the children reached the edge of a grassy field, they broke into a run. Two girls held hands and twirled in circles in the middle of the field, while the other kids split into groups to play tag.

“We get to have fun with our friends and play whatever we want,” said Raven Hightower, one of the kindergarteners. “We run around. We can find insects.” Her classmates chimed in — they enjoy playing tag and chasing butterflies, too.

Hightower and her classmates are lucky. Most Florida public schoolchildren don’t get outdoor playtime every school day — and getting it even several days a week isn’t a guarantee in many school districts.

In Miami-Dade County, elementary children are supposed to get it at least two to three days a week, with a few schools testing out the five-day model. Since December, Orange County public schools have required recess five days a week.

But in Pinellas County, students might have recess only twice a week. And in Polk County, one kindergarten class in Lakeland last year got recess for a short time only on Fridays.

Across Florida, how much unstructured playtime public elementary schoolchildren get each day varies greatly from school to school. Some of the state’s 67 county school districts don’t have a formal policy, and in those that do, administrators often give principals and teachers a lot of discretion.

It’s that inconsistency that’s leading passionate “recess moms” to once again lobby lawmakers this spring to pass a statewide, mandatory requirement that elementary schoolchildren get 20 minutes of recess each day.

“One day, we may not need this mandate for our children, but we need it now,” said Angela Browning, a mom from Orlando who helped found the group Recess for All Florida Students.

More here.

Photo credit: Kindergarten students head out to the playground for recess at Citrus Grove Elementary School in Miami on Thursday, February 9, 2017. Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald

February 09, 2017

Appeals court denies to restore travel ban. 'See you in court,' defiant Trump tweets

From McClatchy:

In a major blow to the Trump Administration, a panel of three federal judges on Thursday unanimously denied the federal government’s efforts to toss out an order that halted the president’s travel ban, sending the case back to the Seattle judge who issued the temporary restraining order last Friday.

“The government has not shown a likelihood of success on the merits of its appeal, nor has it shown that failure to enter a stay would cause irreparable injury,” the court stated.

President Donald Trump reacted quickly with a tweet: “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!”

The Trump Administration had appealed a ruling by U.S. District Judge James L. Robart in Seattle last Friday that imposed a temporary restraining order to stop the administration from moving forward with Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order that created a temporary new travel ban. The order suspended immigration for 90 days from the Muslim majority nations of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen, and also placed a 120-day hold on refugee admissions from all countries as well as an indefinite suspension of refugee admissions from Syria.

As federal immigration authorities moved to enforce the order, travel was disrupted for thousands of immigrants who had already obtained valid visas, and protests by thousands of demonstrators at airports across the country erupted.

More here.

Health officials wrap up week of hearings on marijuana


IMG_6434The Florida Department of Health’s fifth and final hearing on new medical marijuana rules may have been its most sparsely attended, but those who did show up largely spoke with one voice.

Not all speakers presented the same wish list, but many — particularly hopeful cannabis patients and their caregivers — expressed a handful of hopes with the new rules DOH must put in place by this summer.

The highlights:

* Don’t require doctors have a 90-day relationship with a patient.
* Allow “whole-plant use” so patients aren’t limited to oils, pills and proprietary vaping devices.
* Let doctors determine which patients would benefit from cannabis, rather than only allowing those with conditions enumerated in Amendment 2 or by the Board of Medicine.
* Give out additional licenses, and let companies specialize in growing, production, testing or dispensing, rather than forcing them to be vertically integrated.
* Find ways to keep costs down.

That’s a snippet of two hours of public testimony in Tallahassee on Thursday. The department made stops earlier this week in Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale, an unusual move that officials say they were not required to do.

Additionally, the health department will continue accepting written comment through Friday at 5 p.m.

Now, Christian Bax, the director of the Office of Compassionate Use, is tasked with reading through comment and changing a rule his office proposed last month to implement Amendment 2 after 71 percent of voters approved it in November.

There is no timeline yet, but DOH does face a July deadline to write rules.

They’ll also likely face new direction from the state Legislature, which will almost certainly pass a medical marijuana bill during its session, which begins March 7.

Photo: Department of Health officials listen to public comment at the final rulemaking hearing for new medical marijuana rules Thursday in Tallahassee. (Michael Auslen, Times/Herald)

Study: South Florida ranks No. 5 in undocumented immigrant population

110Gimenez01 NEW PPP

South Florida is home to nearly half a million immigrants who are in the country illegally, making it the metropolitan area with the fifth-largest undocumented population in the U.S., according to a new analysis by the Pew Research Center.

Some 450,000 unauthorized immigrants reside in the greater Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach area, Pew found, based on 2014 estimates from government data. About 55,000 live in the city of Miami alone.

President Donald Trump has promised to crack down on illegal immigration, signing an executive order last month to cut federal funding for cities and counties considered “sanctuaries” for the undocumented. To avoid the label, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez quickly agreed to hold inmates in local jails for federal immigration agents even if the feds refuse to reimburse the county for the expense — a contentious policy reversal that has been met with protests.

South Florida trails other major urban centers that attract scores more of undocumented immigrants. Leading the list are New York and Los Angeles, with 1.2 million and 1 million, respectively. In third and fourth place are Houston (575,000) and Dallas (450,000).

More here.

As livid Corcoran dares Senate to sue, Negron squelches lawsuit threat

Joe Negron Richard Corcoran@SteveBousquet

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran on Thursday dared the Senate to make good on a threat to file a lawsuit challenging the House's power to impose new budget-writing rules that affect how the Senate crafts a budget, but Senate President Joe Negron has shot back, saying that's not going to happen.

"Legislative business should be resolved in the Capitol, not in the court system,'' Negron told the Herald/Times. "I expect that to happen."

Negron's comments follow a day-long public feud between Corcoran and Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, after Latvala took credit for a compromise that he said would avoid a lawsuit and a feared shutdown of state government over differences in how to resolve the state budget -- the only bill legislators are required to pass each year.

Latvala sponsored a proposed joint rule designed to meet the House halfway and it passed the Senate Rules Committee Thursday. 

"This saves us from going to the precipice of potentially gridlock, government shutdown, all those bad things," Latvala told reporters. "I think that's all going to be avoided now. It's not completely worked out between the two sides, but we're well on the way.

But it doesn't go nearly as far as Corcoran wants.The House rules imposed by Corcoran include a detailed questionnaire on every member-sponsored project and a requirement that only one-time non-recurring money can be spent on projects -- an effort to halt the practice of embedding permanent projects into the budget without annual review. 

In a statement on Thursday, Corcoran stood by his rules and dared the Senate to follow through on the lawsuit.

"They threatened to sue us if we put that language in our House rules. We're still waiting," he said. "If they want to sue the House for fighting on behalf of the people for unprecedented levels of transparency, accountability and public scrutiny of pork barrel spending, I'll pay their filing fee."

 The feud carried into the night late Wednesday as Corcoran and Negron negotiated by phone on how the Senate might offer a compromise that respects House changes to the budget-writing process. As they spoke, a story about the Senate's threatened lawsuit appeared in the Naples Daily News.

The story, bannered as an exclusive, quoted Latvala as saying: “We’re adhering to the fidelity of the Constitution ... We’re not abiding by the other House’s rules in the budget process. We’re going to abide by our policies and procedures and long-standing customs."

Although Negron said the Senate has no intention of filing a lawsuit, the Senate has retained the Chicago law firm of Sidley Austin to advise Negron on a variety of legal issues, Negron's spokesperson said. The Times/Herald could not get confirmation that the firm has drafted legal briefs in preparation for a lawsuit. 

"All communications between the Senate and outside counsel are privileged,'' said Senate spokesperson Katie Betta.