Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School sign, wrapped in crime scene tape, reads "#MSDSTRONG" on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, in Parkland, Fla. A mass shooting that killed 17 people took place at the school last week. ALESSANDRA DA PRA | Times
A proposal to require teachers' unions to have at least 50 percent of all eligible union members pay dues or risk being decertified has seen plenty of twists and turns in the Florida Legislature this session. But it took on new meaning after the Parkland shooting, during which three teachers were killed protecting their students.
On Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to add this union rule to the Legislature's comprehensive education package, House Bill 7055.
"My friends just got slaughtered for saving kids' lives," said Anna Fusco, president of the Broward Teachers Union, after the vote. "And then they want to sit up there and act like it's not ... about busting our union."
The union rule was voted out of the bill in its previous committee stop in the Senate, while Parkland students were visiting the Legislature less than a week after the shooting. Sen. Perry Thurston, Jr., D-Lauderhill, gave an emotional speech about the teachers who had "jumped in front of the gunman," and he forced committee members to voice their votes individually.
But after Tuesday's vote it is back in the bill, which is likely headed for the Senate floor within days. It has already passed the House.
The Senate committee vote was primarily along party lines, with one Republican, Sen. Anitere Flores from Miami, voting with the Democrats against the education package. She said her opposition was because of the union portion.
Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said this bill ensures unions are represented only by people that the majority of the group agrees with. It requires that teachers' unions have at least 50 percent of all eligible union members pay dues or they must appeal to keep their certification.
"It's about legitimacy," he said.
Supporters of Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy group funded by the Koch brothers network, also motioned their support. The group has sent out mailers praising HB 7055 and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, by name.
Although the bill only applies to teachers' unions, bargaining units for crane workers and other trades came to the meeting to oppose it.
Fusco said her union is well above the required threshold. But it's about principle.
"People can't afford it and they still reap the benefits," she said of non-dues-paying teachers. She added that the members of the Florida Legislature aren't required to get 50 percent of all eligible voters to choose them — just 50 percent of everyone who votes.
"They want to put us at a higher level than when they get voted in. It's disheartening."
Scott Keeler Caption: SCOTT KEELER | Times Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R- Land O Lakes and Senate President Joe Negron, R- Stuart, talk during a budget conference committee meeting in Tallahassee, Friday, 5/5/17.
It was a tense day at the Florida Capitol on Wednesday, largely because of the Parkland shooting survivors and gun control activists who descended on the statehouse in the thousands. But there was internal turmoil as well.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, told reporters after the floor session ended that the Senate has been unwilling to start budgetary negotiations.
"We don't know what to say more to the Senate in terms of, 'Let's start negotiations,'" he said. "They've completely stonewalled us. They're acting like kindergarteners."
He explained that while many Senators have been cooperative with the House this session, there are "certain individuals" that are the problem. He confirmed those people are at "the top."
"It's just silliness — grow up," Corcoran said. "The Senate needs to grow up."
These negotiations typically take place after both chambers have passed their budgets to reconcile the differences in their specific dollar amounts, line by line. Both chambers passed their budgets on Feb. 8 and that process still hasn't begun.
There's speculation that Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, is holding out until the House passes its equivalent of SB4, which is the university funding package that he has championed this session, along with Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.
But Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, who is the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, declined to discuss the reasons behind the Senate's lag time.
"I'm not going to negotiate the budget through the media," he said. "I'm surprised. That's an odd and unbecoming statement (from Corcoran)."
In general, the stakes and the rhetoric in the Capitol have been ramped up since the Parkland shooting on Valentine's Day, causing the Legislature to completely shift gears and refocus its session on an issue it has long ignored: restricting access to guns.
Because of this, the House Appropriations Chair, Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, said it's not inconceivable the Legislature will have to meet beyond its scheduled end date of March 9, regardless of other infighting.
They cannot pass a final budget until they pass their promised proposals to beef up mental health programs in schools, school security and add new gun restrictions. Those plans are expected to be released Thursday.
"What's an extra two weeks or three weeks?" Trujillo asked. "If we could pass good, comprehensive policy that makes our children safer, our community safer, is it worth the extra two weeks? The answer is a resounding 'yes.'"
C. Pat Roberts stands in the courtroom where a hearing was held Friday in his lawsuit involving the Florida House. Emily L. Mahoney | TIMES
It's a case that has centered around one central question: How much power does the Florida House have to investigate private citizens?
It's not unlimited, according to a ruling from a state judge Wednesday that quashed the final two outstanding subpoenas from the House's investigation of TV executive C. Pat Roberts. His company, MAT Media, had contracted with the state's tourism arm to produce shows featuring celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse to promote Florida as a culinary hot-spot.
The House has been investigating whether Roberts made exorbitant profits on these contracts at the expense of taxpayers, and the final documents sought were Roberts' tax returns as well as his business ledgers and journals.
A federal judge had previously ruled that the state Legislature was well within its powers to issue and enforce subpoenas. But the state judge disagreed when it came to scope.
"Requiring production of the records would be approval of the very sort of governmental intrusion prohibited by ... Florida's Right of Privacy," wrote Circuit Judge Karen Gievers. She had reviewed these documents and found they were not "germane or pertinent" to the House's investigation.
The ruling is a loss for Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, who had signed the House's first-ever subpoenas on the floor of the House in a show of its investigative powers.
Roberts's lawyers had argued Corcoran was using this investigation for political gain in a year he is assumed to be running for governor. They submitted a copy of an ad he posted online that depicted him boasting to his family about his work to expose a $1 million contract that Visit Florida made with the rapper Pitbull.
"(The) Corcoran Family Super Bowl ad ... does provide a valid concern to MAT Media and Mr. Roberts about whether Speaker Corcoran and the other House members and staff would remember they are not above the law."
Adam Komisar, one of Robert's lawyers, said Roberts "has not had a chance to review the entire ruling with his attorneys, but he is pleased with the outcome."
But for the House, the fight is not over.
"It was a terrible decision," Corcoran said in a statement. "Of course the Legislature absolutely has the right to investigate all spending of taxpayer money. We will appeal this ruling and fully expect to win."
Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, who will succeed Corcoran as speaker, said he too will continue this investigation.
During a hearing last Friday, Paul Phipps, former chief marketing officer for Visit Florida, testified that MAT Media made money from its contract with the state, as well as ads it sold to other taxpayer-funded entities like cities' tourism agencies and from charging $10,000 annual licensing fees to the state to use its copyrighted content.
MAT Media also benefited from at least two years' worth of state tax rebates designed to encourage film companies to shoot shows and movies in Florida. Records from the Florida Office of Film and Entertainment show that Roberts made $400,000 in a yearly salary for at least two years of the show's production.
The House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee has proposed a bill that would curtail state contractors' profits at 15 percent, likely a result of this case.
Andrew Gillum, left, and Richard Corcoran, right, with debate moderators Troy Kinsey of BayNews 9 and Gary Fineout of AP.
The fight of the century? It was more like the hype of the century.
Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum staged their highly-promoted debate over illegal immigration in Tallahassee on Tuesday night.
Gillum, 38, is an announced Democratic candidate for governor and would be the first African-American to hold the state's highest office. Corcoran, 52, is a Republican state lawmaker from Land O'Lakes who's expected to run and who challenged Gillum to a faceoff three weeks ago.
Corcoran repeatedly called illegal immigrants a threat to public safety, and Gillum accused Corcoran of exploiting the issue in a TV ad to stir racial and ethnic divisions, and demanded Corcoran take the ad off the air.
"Richard's Corcoran's Florida? I don't want my kids to grow up in it," Gillum said in his closing statement. "We're bigger than that. We're better than that."
In his closing, Corcoran knocked on a wooden lectern to suggest a police officer knocking on a door and telling parents that a child has been killed by an illegal immigrant.
"A completely and utterly needless and unnecessary death. Nobody should experience that," Corcoran said.
Throughout the debate, Corcoran defended his support for a law that banned so-called sanctuary cities. But after passing the House, the bill (HB 9) quickly stalled in the Senate.
Their 45-minute debate, live-streamed on the candidates' Facebook pages, took place in a sterile TV studio in Tallahassee with no live broadcast and no studio audience.
Both men stuck to talking points and played to base supporters. Their encounter touched on Jim Crow laws, Trayvon Martin, and Japanese internment camps and deaths of multiple women in cases involving undocumented immigrants.
It was a theatrical warm-up act for a pair of ambitious politicians who have never run for statewide office. It drew a crowd of two dozen reporters and gave both men what they crave the most: free media coverage.
Corcoran and Gillum don't have very much in common, but they are mired deep in political obscurity. A recent poll by the University of North Florida found that 78 percent of voters have not heard of Corcoran and 81 percent have not heard of Gillum.
Gillum repeatedly criticized Corcoran's TV ad that shows a teenage girl stalked and shot by a hoodie-wearing male attacker. Corcoran did not respond and instead accused Gillum of refusing to take a position on a "sanctuary state" bill in the House.
The debate was mostly about a Corcoran priority, HB 9, that sought to prohibit so-called "sanctuary cities" in Florida that refuse requests by federal authorities to detain undocumented immigrants who otherwise would be released.
After passing the House, the bill headed to a disinterested Senate, where two Miami-area Republicans, both Hispanics, blocked a committee vote.
Gillum called America a nation of immigrants and noted that Corcoran himself was born in Toronto where his father worked for the U.S. State Department).
"I don't have anything against Canadians, by the way," Gillum said.
"I'm not an immigrant. I'm a natural born American citizen," replied Corcoran, whose parents were World War II veterans. "To say I'm an immigrant is you playing politics and using perjoratives in the worst possible way."
They battled over words. Corcoran chided Gillum for using the term "undocumented immigrants" and said they should be called "illegal aliens."
"Illegals is not a noun," Gillum shot back, accusing Corcoran of trying to "dehumanize" immigrants.
— With reporting by Elizabeth Koh and Emily L. Mahoney
A screen grab from a video Richard Corcoran tweeted in preparation for the debate
Surely Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, intended to generate buzz with his explosive first campaign ad last month, but he's getting extra bang for his buck with a debate scheduled for Tuesday night with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.
After Corcoran released an incendiary TV ad in late January that depicted a white woman being shot in a suburban Florida neighborhood by an "illegal immigrant," Gillum, who is running for governor as a Democrat, criticized him via Twitter. Corcoran then challenged him to a debate over the issue. Corcoran has repeatedly called Tallahassee a "sanctuary city" and has made this issue a centerpiece of the 2018 session in a classic Trump-era appeal to Republican base voters.
But this debate is anything but typical, as Corcoran technically isn't running for governor yet because he has not announced his candidacy. What's more, the debate will center around "sanctuary cities," which the Florida House tried to ban in a bill that has severely stalled the Senate anyway.
Even still, Tuesday night will be an opportunity for both candidates, neither of whom are early front-runners, to get their messages out and highlight their firmly held ideologies — which are essentially complete opposites.
The debate is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. and last 45 minutes. It's being held in Tallahassee and will be broadcast on Facebook Live at both Corcoran's and Gillum's Facebook pages.
Follow the Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau's coverage for related stories and analysis during and after the debate.
A young, red-haired woman walks through a suburban neighborhood, smiling and texting, until "an illegal immigrant" in a hoodie turns around to shoot her, as the camera pans straight down the barrel.
No, this isn’t a horror movie — it’s a new campaign ad released Monday morning by Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran.
“This could have happened to any family, anywhere,” Corcoran says in the voice-over. “Incredibly, some Tallahassee politicians want to make Florida a sanctuary state.”
The explosive ad minimizes any remaining doubt about Corcoran’s potential run for governor, something he has said he will decide after session is over in March. It also debuted on the day Ron DeSantis, the favorite for President Donald Trump and Fox News, announced a bid for governor that will shift the race for the Republican nomination to the far right, where immigration will be a red meat issue for primary voters.
Corcoran’s political action committee, Watchdog PAC, has already spent $95,560 to run the 30-second spot more than 700 times on Fox News channels this week in cities in north and central Florida, including Jacksonville, Pensacola, Orlando, Tampa and St. Petersburg, according to media tracker NCC Media. James Blair, chairman of the PAC, said that was only the first round but declined to comment further on the campaign’s ad strategy.
While intended to shore up support among the GOP’s conservative base, the ad alarmed immigration experts who said it stokes racial fears.
“It’s very interesting the actors they put in that ad, the victim is a white woman, the perpetrator is a male with dark hair, a mustache or facial hair so one could argue they’re trying to create this image of the Latino man that’s suspect,” said Elizabeth Aranda, a professor of sociology specializing in immigration at the University of South Florida. “They’re using that same stereotypical imagery in this ad, placed in a suburb, trying to send a message that everyone’s at risk here when the data doesn’t support it.”
Numerous studies have found that immigrants commit fewer crimes than U.S.-born citizens. A 2013 research study published by a University of Massachusetts-Boston professor found that crime rates are lower among first-generation immigrants than they are among the rest of the American population.
Additionally, the magazine Governing compared immigration data to crime stats and concluded communities with higher shares of undocumented immigrants were more likely to have lower violent crime rates.
Corcoran has made a crackdown on illegal immigration a centerpiece issue of the 2018 legislative session by pushing HB 9 through the House in its opening week. The bill would prohibit any kind of “sanctuary city” policies that restrict local law enforcement from enforcing federal immigration laws, and would punish officials for voting in favor of sanctuary policies with hefty fines or removal from office.
There is no legal definition of a “sanctuary city” but it generally refers to a city where the local jail does not call U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents about detainees they suspect to be undocumented and hold them until ICE arrives.
The bill will face tougher opposition in the Senate but could become a major bargaining chip as Senate President Joe Negron tries to bargain for more higher education funding, among other things.
Monday’s ad provides Corcoran the narrative to justify the legislation.
In the ad, Corcoran evokes the story of Kate Steinle, a 32-year-old woman who was allegedly shot in the back and killed by an undocumented immigrant in San Francisco in July 2015. The immigrant, Jose Ines Garcia Zarate of Mexico, had been deported and reentered the U.S. multiple times. Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump seized on the story as an example of what happens in sanctuary cities like San Francisco.
In the case, Garcia Zarate’s defense argued that he had accidentally shot the gun and Steinle had been killed by a ricochet. The facts are disputed but he was acquitted of homicide and was sentenced this month to the time he has already served awaiting trial.
On Monday, Corcoran said that he believed this was a responsible ad.
“What it says is that the No. 1 role of government is to protect its people and its citizens,” he said.
Corcoran has said previously that Florida has two “sanctuary cities:” St. Petersburg and Tallahassee. Both Democratic mayors of those cities, Rick Kriseman and Andrew Gillum, dispute that claim.
Gillum, who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor, was quick to pounce on Corcoran’s ad. Through a spokesman, he characterized the ad as “race-bating” and said that Corcoran “ought to be ashamed of himself.”
But in a display of the polar opposite dynamics in today’s GOP, neither DeSantis nor Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, another candidate for governor, spoke out against the ad’s message.
William Berry, a political science professor at Florida State University, said the ad shows Corcoran is playing his typical “hardball.”
“He knows his constituents and this is probably an appealing ad for them,” he said. “I think this is an issue that’s big for him politically, certainly in the case that there’s a Republican gubernatorial primary, he’s … moving things to the right in terms of discussion.”
When legislators take their seats on the floor of the Florida House this afternoon, they will be considering an agenda both bearing the stamp of House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s legislative priorities and aligned favorably with fiscal conservatives.
The Land O'Lakes Republican, who is in his final session and considering a run for governor, is using his personal bully pulpit to push an array of causes, including banning so-called sanctuary cities (HB 9), ending subsidies for sports teams like the Tampa Bay Rays (HB 13) and banning future redevelopment agencies (HB 17). Also among the sixteen bills being heard this afternoon are a repeal of Florida’s no-fault auto insurance system (HB 19) and legislation that would set new barriers to local tax increases (HB 7).
Though advocates are expected to protest the sanctuary cities bill at the Capitol before the session begins, Corcoran’s priorities are primed for passage in the Republican-majority House. The House Democratic caucus has criticized the agenda as Corcoran's play for the more right-wing members of his party.
The House outcome may also be likely, but their future in the Senate will be an uphill fight. Several of the bills being heard on the floor died in the Senate last year.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran opened the legislative session Tuesday with a set of fiery fiscal promises and a call on the chamber to be a "house of reformers" during the next two months.
Corcoran, who is in his final term and is considering a run for governor after the session ends, highlighted several of his legislative priorities, including a bill that would ban sanctuary cities in the state and policies that would expand school choice. Setting up a clash with Gov. Rick Scott's plan to grow funding for K-12 schools through increased local property taxes, Corcoran also vowed to resist raising taxes on individuals or businesses or dipping into the state's fiscal reserves — "the Florida House will not surrender a single penny."
The Pasco County Republican also turned his fire on the city of Tampa for what he has called a tax but what the city describes as anything but.
At issue is a $1.50-per-night surcharge on rooms at 14 hotels in downtown Tampa and Ybor City. The City Council authorized the surcharge last year at the request of the Hillsborough County Hotel and Motel Association. The money, an estimated $1.2 million a year, is earmarked for marketing that would benefit the participating hotels.
Corcoran, whose office has filed a suit targeting what he characterizes as an illegal tax, contended that the money will actually go for a new baseball stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.
"Wrong as usual," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn tweeted: "Assessment was requested by the hotels, imposed on themselves voluntarily and has nothing to do with the TB Rays. City merely a pass through. #factsmatter."
Corcoran made reference just once to the sexual harassment allegations that have rocked the state capital in recent months, noting that "long before scandals, this House of Reformers raised the issue of sexual harassment and insisted that every single person in this process will be treated with dignity and respect."
Senate President Joe Negron had said there would be "zero tolerance" for instances of sexual harassment in his preceding speech in the adjacent chamber, after the resignations of Sens. Jeff Clemens, D-Atlantis, and Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
Missing too from Corcoran's prepared remarks were mentions of the opioid crisis or Hurricanes Irma or Maria, though Puerto Rico representatives were in the audience for the State of the State.
In response to House Speaker Richard Corcoran's comments on sanctuary cities, House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, said House Democrats would oppose the bill and called Corcoran's comments "political theater."
"Let's be clear, there are no 'sanctuary cities' in Florida," she said in a statement. "It's a waste of our time and the taxpayers' money to come up here for sixty days and debate legislation that is clearly unconstitutional and will be struck down by a judge almost instantly if it becomes law."
Tampa Bay Times staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this story.
"I think these accusers are very credible. … I think we're going to learn even more as this goes on, and even if he's elected to the Senate, I think there's going to be a process … that could reveal more and be very potentially problematic for him. In fact, I guarantee it would be."
"Whether it's Roy Moore or what you read about the media reports from California or D.C. or Tallahassee, it's disgusting. So, if any of those allegations are true, he ought to resign."
The governor was then asked if a different threshold exists regarding predatory behavior with minors.
"I think whether it's minors, whether it's women, anybody. I mean, let's think about it. We all have children. We have nieces and nephews. I have daughters. Now I have grandsons. I expect people to be treated with respect. That's what you always expect. So, if the allegations are true, he has to get out," Scott said.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran:
"As the father of two teenage girls, there can't seriously be a question of my position. Roy Moore should step aside."
Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam:
"I find the accusations repulsive. I believe that for the good of the people of Alabama, Roy Moore should drop out of the race."
"This is not a question of innocence or guilt like in a criminal proceeding, this is a question of what's right and what's wrong. And acknowledging that you're dating teenagers when you're 32 year old as assistant state attorney is wrong. It's just plain wrong."
A state program that awards bonuses to top-rated teachers based on their own SAT and ACT scores from high school violates federal and state civil rights laws against employment discrimination, argues a potential class-action lawsuit filed this week by Florida’s largest teachers union and seven classroom teachers from South Florida.
The Best and Brightest program — first enacted in 2015 and now in its third year — continues to be envisioned by Florida House Republicans as an innovative means to recruit and retain the best teachers in the state’s public schools.
But it’s been a subject of ongoing controversy because the program relies on teachers’ own test scores — sometimes decades old and unavailable — which has no proven correlation to teacher effectiveness.
The Florida Education Association is now asking a federal judge to step in and declare the program illegal and discriminatory against teachers who are older and who are non-white.
The FEA first made the accusation two years ago through a complaint to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — an avenue the union said Friday it had to exhaust before it was recently given federal authorization to file a lawsuit.
“The SAT/ACT score requirement has an illegal disparate impact on teachers based on their age and on teachers based on their black and Hispanic race,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys, John Davis and Kent Spriggs, argued in the 58-page lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee. “The SAT/ACT score requirement is not required by business necessity and is not related to job performance.”