June 18, 2018

Miami Republicans condemn Trump policy of separating families at the border

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@alextdaugherty

Republicans from Miami-Dade on Monday condenmed the Trump administration's decision to separate families crossing the southern border, with adults being sent to detention centers while their children are housed in cages and cry for their parents.

"It is totally unacceptable, for any reason, to purposely separate minor children from their parents," said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, who, along with Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo is leading negotiations on a compromise all-Republican immigration bill in Congress. "Any and every other option should be implemented in order to not separate minors from their parents, which I believe is unconscionable. We cannot allow for this to continue happening, and it must stop. I continue to work with my colleagues to ensure that the provision included in this week's immigration bill puts an end to this cruel practice.”

Curbelo called the separation policy "a tragedy" on Twitter over the weekend, and referenced former President Barack Obama's policy of detaining families and unaccompanied minors.

"While some tolerated it when it happened under the previous administration, I found it unacceptable then & I find it unacceptable now," Curbelo tweeted. "We’re crafting legislation to remedy this sad situation."

The White House announced the policy in April as a way to deter immigrants from entering the country illegally, and administration officials have defended it in the face of widespread criticisms from across the political spectrum.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio advocated for changing laws to allow families to stay together while being held in detention instead of separating them. Current law does not require separating families who cross the border illegally, and the compromise immigration bill includes a provision that would end the practice.

"Currently govt must either release parents & continue incentive for illegal entry with children or separate families by detaining parents," Rubio tweeted. "Neither is good. Lets change the law to allow families to be held together at family facilities & shorten detention with expedited hearings." 

Read more here.

June 15, 2018

Nelson offered this man up for a judicial position. Now he’ll vote against him.

Bill Nelson

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson said today he will vote against a judicial nominee he offered up to the White House along with Sen. Marco Rubio, a remarkable turn that raises questions about Nelson's own vetting process as he tried to put the focus on the state's Judicial Nominating Commission

"Because of the information brought up by the Senate Judiciary Committee, I will vote against the confirmation of Allen Winsor," the Florida Democrat said in a statement that provided no specifics.

His office would not elaborate on the record.

Nelson and his staff interviewed Winsor, who has opposed same-sex marriage, before his name was submitted to the White House, along with a list of other candidates. A spokesman, Ryan Brown, would not answer questions about that vetting.

Nelson's statement punts to the JNC.

"For years, Florida's two senators have relied on a bipartisan Judicial Nominating Commission to select our state's judicial nominees. This system, which was designed to take politics out of the process, only works if Florida's two senators agree to respect the commission's choices and jointly send the names they choose to the White House for consideration. This is exactly what we did in the case of Allen Winsor."

Winsor, picked to succeed U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle for a spot in the Northern District of Florida, was approved along partisan lines by the Judiciary Committee on Thursday and was sent to the full Senate for consideration. Democrats objected over his opposition to same-sex marriage.

Winsor was among the named Nelson and Rubio offered to the White House in December.

"We received the following unranked list of finalists on November 15, 2017: Martin Fitzpatrick, Jan Shackelford, Kent Wetherell, and Allen Winsor. We have separately interviewed the finalists. Subject to further review of their records and background, we are submitting them to you for the president's consideration," a letter read.

That means the White House picked Winsor.

As Gary Fineout of the Associated Press reported, Winsor is currently a Florida appeals court judge, but before he was appointed to that job by Gov. Rick Scott in 2016, he worked as solicitor general for Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Winsor was in that role when he defended Florida's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages that was eventually struck down. He was one of the lawyers who argued in a legal brief for the state that recognizing same-sex marriages from other states would "impose significant public harm" and that the state has a legitimate interest in defining marriage as between a man and woman.

Scott, who is challenging Nelson for Senate, issued a statement through the campaign.

"Bill Nelson is so partisan that a small group of out-of-state democrats can force him to vote against a Floridian that he interviewed, recommended and supported," spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said. "Despite claiming to be independent, Bill Nelson's own actions show that when democrats like party boss Chuck Schumer say 'jump,' Nelson's only question is 'how high?'"

Rubio in 2013 held up a judicial nominee — after submitting a JNC approved name to the Obama White House –amid objections from Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, now chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

June 14, 2018

Nelson up with first Spanish-language ad

Bill Nelson

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson has released his first Spanish-language ad, which will begin today on Facebook and Twitter and other digital platforms, the campaign said.

It follows Gov. Rick Scott's latest Spanish-language ad, one tied to the World Cup. And like Scott, Nelson shows off his bilingual skills in the spot. It highlights Nelson's voyage into space.

The campaign did not say how much money is behind the ad.

Politico today reported on Nelson's struggle with name ID among Hispanics, another worry for Democrats.

Watch Nelson's ad below: 

Here's Scott's ad:

What is Scott and Cabinet's approach to questions at Department of Revenue? Not my problem

Florida Cabinet KeelerThe state agency charged with collecting taxes purged the top employees at the Division of Property Tax Oversight, left positions vacant for months, filled the positions with people close to the governor and refused to provide a reason.

Should the public have confidence in the tax agency?

The agency staff wants employees to avoid building a records trail and encouraged behavior that requires them to conduct business primarily face to face or by phone.

How is that transparent and accountable?

DOR requires each employee to sign a gag order prohibiting them from providing any information to the media.

Is that a violation of the employees' First Amendment rights?

DOR removes the visitor parking spaces at agency headquarters and replaces them with tow-away zones, reserved parking for executive staff.

How is that in the public interest?

Gov. Rick Scott and the three members of the Florida Cabinet, who oversee the Department of Revenue, had an answer to those questions Wednesday: not my problem.

"DOR is overseen by the governor and other members of the Florida Cabinet. The governor, like them, expects the department to follow all laws and act in an ethical and transparent manner,'' said McKinley Lewis, Scott spokesman, in an email response to a series of questions Wednesday.

The governor and Cabinet, all Republicans, asked no questions of DOR Executive Director Leon Biegalski Wednesday as he appeared before them and asked for approval of his agency performance review and three routine rules changes. It is the same treatment they have given Biegalski since he was appointed in April 2016, the hand-picked choice of the governor.

This key agency answers to the governor and Cabinet, but they don't ask many questions

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, hand-picked by Scott to replace former CFO Jeff Atwater, has never publicly contradicted Scott. Attorney General Pam Bondi has also not demonstrated an inclination to be independent of the governor. And Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who has often sparred with the governor for the last seven years, mostly behind the scenes, has also now avoided any public conflict. He hopes to be on the November ballot with the governor who is running for U.S. Senate.

Since Beigalski last appeared before the Cabinet in March, he has ousted top employees and kept positions vacant for months to make room for Scott's staff. After the Herald/Times reported the shake up, one of the appointments from the governor's office, Thomas Adams, took a $5,000 pay cut and left to work for Patronis.

After the Wednesday Cabinet meeting, the Herald/Times asked Scott to explain why he had confidence in the agency.

"We do reviews of Leon. I can get you a copy of that record,'' he replied, before cutting off questions.

The Herald/Times then posed the following questions to the communications offices for Scott, Putnam, Bondi and  Patronis to get them to elaborate on their reasoning.

Bondi and Patronis did not respond. Lewis provided the above response and Putnam spokesperson Jennifer Meale said: " The executive director is charged with managing the department, and the governor and Cabinet will hold him accountable for its performance."

Here are the questions for which we did not get answers:

* How has the governor been assured that actions are being taken to ensure that there is proper training given to the remaining staff in the PTO section that reviews property appraiser and property tax budgets -- since they do not have anyone with slightly more than a year of experience?

* Please explain how it is not a violation of a state employee's First Amendment rights for DOR to prohibit them from being allowed to have a conversation on background to inform a journalist? 

* Please explain how it is acceptable that DOR is allowed to avoid the creation of public records trails? 

* What will you do if the agency has a misguided employee who is engaged in illegal or unethical conduct at work and, because the agency discourages creating a paper trail of controversial issues, the practice makes it difficult to apprehend and find evidence against them? 

* What deterrence is there to inappropriate behavior if an agency requires employees NOT to rely on emails, has prohibited them from keeping substantive meetings off the calendar, and encouraged behavior that requires them to conduct business primarily face to face or by phone?

* Please explain why it is acceptable that DOR removes the visitor parking spaces at agency headquarters and replaces them with tow-away zones reserved parking for executive staff?

June 12, 2018

Remember when Cabinet meetings used to focus on agency oversight?

Florida Cabinet KeelerThe state agency in charge of regulating taxation in Florida has four equal bosses — Gov. Rick Scott and the three elected members of the Cabinet — but in the past two years, in public meetings and correspondence, they have asked few questions and have given the agency scant public scrutiny.

The agency's director, Leon Biegalski, was the governor's choice to lead the Department of Revenue when he was elevated from deputy secretary at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation in April 2016. Since then, the governor has canceled DOR's regular appearance in 9 of 19 before the Cabinet meetings.

When Biegalski appears before the Cabinet on Wednesday, it will be the first time this year. Will they ask any questions?

Judging from the transcripts of the previous meetings, that's not likely. Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam asked only two questions in Biegalski's 10 appearance before them — and both came from Putnam. Story here. 

Until Scott's tenure, the Florida Cabinet had a tradition of meeting every other week. 

Florida, unlike most other states, has a unique power-sharing relationship between its governor and the Cabinet members. They share oversight and hiring authority of the directors of the departments of revenue, law enforcement, highway safety, the division of bond finance and the state board of administration.But the shared role also underscores the structural weakness of Florida's governor in controlling the shared agencies and Scott has ratcheted down the amount of substantial dialogue that takes place during Cabinet meetings.

In the last seven years, Cabinet sessions have been more ceremonial and less substantive. More time is devoted to award ceremonies than under previous governors, and a regular feature is Bondi’s promotion of offering dogs for adoption.

Scott, who is running for U.S. Senate, sets the calendar and has convened only three Cabinet meetings this year. He scheduled eight meetings for the entire year, the fewest in recent memory, and canceled the meeting in May.

When the Cabinet had both Democrats and Republicans on it, there were more questions of agency heads in the public forum than there have been under Scott.

At a Nov. 20, 2008, Cabinet meeting, as former Revenue Director Lisa Echeverri Vickers presented her legislative budget request and annual performance report, former CFO Alex Sink grilled her about enforcement of tax revenue collection. Vickers acknowledged that she is asking for more auditors to help them collect the unpaid taxes.

Sink, a former banker and a Democrat, then asked about tax collections on short sales, a policy based on the rule because the Legislature failed to pass a statute, and the agency's application of "a glitch in the depreciation laws" that had left many businesses vulnerable.

The discussion provided an opportunity for the public to hear the agency's response to handling two important issues in an open forum.

Under Gov. Jeb Bush, former Revenue Director admitted during his annual performance review on Sept. 21, 2004, that the measures related to review of property appraisers "were fairly easy to achieve."

"You're an honest man, Zingale,'' Bush replied.

"Well, we want to do better than that,'' Zingale responded.

June 11, 2018

Democratic super PAC reserves air time for Bill Nelson

Bill Nelson

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson will get a "seven figure" advertising boost from Senate Majority PAC, which today announced it has reserved $80 million in air time in Florida and eight other states.

"Our record fundraising this cycle has allowed us to both be on-air in several states now and increase our strategic investments," said J.B. Poersch, president of Senate Majority PAC. "We are implementing an aggressive media strategy to combat the Republicans' baseless, partisan attacks and promote our candidates that are fighting for higher wages and lower health care premiums."

The TV time is reserved from after Labor Day through Election Day in November. This reservations will total roughly $80 million and cover Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Tennessee and West Virginia.

The group did not provide specifics other than each state will get at least seven figures.The super PAC in May spent $2.2 million for a bio ad about Nelson and that was followed by a $600,000 digital campaign in partnership with Priorities USA Action.

But Nelson continues to be far outpaced in advertising by Gov. Rick Scott's campaign and the pro-Scott New Republican PAC, which Monday announced another $3.5 million in spending, in the form of a negative ad about the long-serving Democrat.

June 08, 2018

Rick Scott appears to support Curbelo's immigration plan, but how would he vote?

Gov Rick Scott

@alextdaugherty

Gov. Rick Scott appears to be on board with Rep. Carlos Curbelo's plan to bypass House Speaker Paul Ryan to force a slew of immigration votes, putting the Republican running for Bill Nelson's U.S. Senate seat in line with Democrats and a small group of moderate Republicans.

But while Scott offered support for Curbelo's idea to force action, it isn't clear what types of immigration policies he would champion in the U.S. Senate if elected.

"We need to secure our borders and help these kids. Congress needs to get DACA legislation done. Thanks Congressman Curbelo for fighting for this," Scott tweeted on Thursday night.

Scott's campaign confirmed that he supports the Miami Republican's effort to force votes in Congress but did not offer an endorsement for specific immigration-related bills.

Scott has said in the past that he doesn't support deporting 1.8 million immigrants who came to the United States illegally as young children, a position that most Republicans and President Donald Trump share.

Scott has also demanded that Congress pass legislation that protects the young immigrants from deportation while securing the border, a wide-ranging policy position that could include a bill promoted by Donald Trump that failed to garner 40 votes in the U.S. Senate earlier this year and a bipartisan proposal called the USA Act that provides a pathway to citizenship for the young immigrants while also providing funding for a "smart wall" at the U.S.-Mexico border.

It's not clear where Scott stands on four immigration-related bills that failed in the U.S. Senate earlier this year. Two bipartisan compromises received a simple majority but failed to clear the required 60-vote hurdle after a majority of Republicans voted against them, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. The bill promoted by the White House, which provided a path to citizenship in exchange for border security funding and cuts to legal immigration, received 39 votes in the Senate.

Nelson voted in favor of the two bipartisan compromise bills and voted against the Trump-sponsored bill.

Read more here.

June 07, 2018

Diaz-Balart votes against amendment that would ban federal funds for oil drilling exploration

 

Mario Diaz-Balart

@alextdaugherty

Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart voted against an amendment that would ban federal funds for oil and gas drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf before 2022, the only member from Florida in the House Appropriations Committee to do so. 

But Diaz-Balart said that his vote against Maine Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree's amendment was not a signal that he favors offshore oil drilling in Florida. 

"Current law states that any offshore drilling or leasing activity is banned in Florida," Diaz-Balart spokesperson Katrina Bishop said. "Congressman Diaz-Balart worked with his colleagues to ensure this bill passed and was signed into law in 2006. In addition, Interior Secretary (Ryan) Zinke has stated on multiple occasions that Florida will be exempt from any future offshore drilling. Any assertion that Diaz-Balart’s vote today would result in offshore drilling off Florida’s shores is incorrect." 

The amendment was part of an hours-long debate on various additions to the 2019 Interior and Environment funding bill, a $35.25 billion package. The amendment failed 20-26, on a mostly party-line vote, though Florida Republican Rep. John Rutherford voted in favor of the amendment along with Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The fourth member of the Appropriations Committee from Florida, Republican Rep. Tom Rooney, did not vote.

Pingree's amendment stated that "None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to prepare a five-year offshore oil and gas leasing program that would schedule any Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas lease sale before 2022."

Florida currently has a moratorium on oil and gas drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico until 2022. Sen. Bill Nelson has filed legislation to make the moratorium a permanent ban, and Zinke's announcement set off charges from the Florida Democrat that the Trump administration exempted Florida from a plan to expand offshore oil and natural gas drilling to benefit Gov. Rick Scott politically as he campaigns for Nelson's Senate seat. 

"It’s outrageous that ANY member of Congress from Florida would EVER vote to allow offshore drilling," tweeted Mary Barzee Flores, a Democrat who will run against Diaz-Balart in November. 

June 05, 2018

Nelson blasts decision to cancel August Senate recess as 'raw politics'

 

Scott and nelson

@alextdaugherty

With Gov. Rick Scott touring the state in his official and campaign capacities at all times, Sen. Bill Nelson needs every minute he can get in Florida between now and Election Day. 

Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is determined not to let that happen. 

The Republican leader, who controls the schedule in the U.S. Senate, announced Tuesday that Congress' upper chamber will be in session for most of August, when senators typically travel home to campaign for reelection and raise funds. 

"Due to the historic obstruction by Senate Democrats of the president’s nominees, and the goal of passing appropriations bills prior to the end of the fiscal year, the August recess has been canceled," McConnell said in a statement.

Nelson, one of 10 Democrats seeking reelection in states that President Donald Trump won in 2016, said McConnell's rationale is laughable. 

"Mitch is using any excuse he can in order to hold those of us who want to be home campaigning, hold us here in Washington because we have to vote. That's what he's doing," Nelson said. "This is nothing but raw politics. He can do all of that stuff and of course I'll be here voting, which is why the people sent me here, but at the end of the day that's not going to do him any good." 

Nelson added that there's lots of important legislation that the Senate should consider during the month of August, but McConnell's decision isn't about getting more bills passed or nominees confirmed. 

Scott has spent millions on television ads while Nelson has decided not to spend money so far. Outside groups from both sides have started to spend on television and digital advertising ahead of what could be the most expensive U.S. Senate campaign in history.

Update: Scott expressed support for McConnell's decision on Twitter. The Florida legislature wrapped up its regular session in March and is not expected to meet in 2018 unless a special session is called by Scott or the legislature. 

 

May 29, 2018

John Morgan tells Gov. Scott: Drop appeal in smokeable medical marijuana case

Johnmorgan

@elizabethrkoh

Orlando lawyer and medical marijuana advocate John Morgan urged Rick Scott Tuesday to reconsider pursuing a ban on smokeable cannabis, after a Leon County circuit court judge ruled it was unconstitutional late last week.

In a press conference with reporters, Morgan said the governor is responsible for the state’s decision to appeal and flouting voters’ desire to smoke the drug for medical use privately.

“What everyone needs to understand is that Gov. Scott could remove that appeal today if he wants,” Morgan said. “Gov. Scott should say enough is enough: ‘I am going to allow the people’s will to be done.’ “

“The most direct method to get relief is smokeable marijuana,” Morgan added. “This is not a political issue.”

Judge Karen Gievers, in a 22-page decision, had ruled Friday that the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana was unconstitutional and that the Legislature's ban on smoking medical cannabis conflicted with voters’ approval of a constitutional amendment that broadly legalized it in 2016.

In concurring with plaintiffs’ arguments that the voter-approved definition and ballot language implied a right to smokeable medical marijuana, Gievers rejected arguments asserting the state had the authority to set limitations on smoking for health and safety concerns.

But the state filed an appeal shortly thereafter, putting an automatic stay on the ruling as it goes to the 1st District Court of Appeal.

"This ruling goes against what the legislature outlined when they wrote and approved Florida’s law to implement the constitutional amendment that was approved by an overwhelmingly bipartisan majority," state Department of Health spokesman Devin Galetta wrote Friday.

But Morgan cast the decision to appeal the ruling as a misguided political choice that Scott should reconsider amid his ongoing U.S. Senate campaign against Sen. Bill Nelson.

He called on voters — including veterans, alluding to Scott’s perpetually-worn Navy hat — to contact the governor and urge him to end the state’s legal challenge.

Scott “is going to have to explain to veterans and really sick people and people who have really bad injuries why you kept this going,” he said. “Pam Bondi is just his lawyer… Rick Scott is the boss and the buck stops there.”

If he drops the appeal, “I think he gains 5 points overnight,” Morgan said. “Gov. Scott is playing with political wildfire for something he doesn’t have to do.”

Morgan also blamed the pharmaceutical industry and opioid makers for wanting to drag out the case and trying to suppress the medical marijuana industry, accusing them of being threatened by a more effective product.

“Gov. Scott is going to have to make a decision whether he is going to put politics over people or he’s going to put campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry over compassion,” he said.

Morgan said Tuesday he was willing to wait a few weeks for Scott to heed his call before potentially moving to expedite the case to the state Supreme Court.

“If a person is terminally ill, you can move to expedite trials, hearings, the whole process,” he said. He noted the diagnosis of 68-year-old Cathy Jordan, one of two patients who are among the plaintiffs in the suit. Jordan has Lou Gehrig's disease and illegally grows marijuana in her own backyard to smoke.

Morgan said he believes the ballot language, the statement of intent and the support of more than 71 percent of voters is ironclad, regardless of the court’s ideological tilt: “I believe that if [late Supreme Court Justice Antonin] Scalia was alive, he’d side with us.”