March 25, 2016

Competency-based education pilot program, other education measures signed into law


A handful of education policies were among the nearly six dozen bills Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed into law today -- including one that will test competency-based education in four Florida counties and another desired by the Miami-Dade school district to ensure tax revenue gets to public schools faster.

HB 1365 sets up a five-year pilot program in certain Florida counties with the goal of letting students advance through school if they can prove they've mastered what they should be learning.

Now that it's law, it can start next school year in Pinellas, Palm Beach, Lake and Seminole counties, as well as at the P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School in Gainesville.

Scott also signed HB 499, which reforms statewide the process for resolving property tax disputes heard by county Value Adjustment Boards.

The measure was a priority for Miami Dade Public Schools, which has, for years, complained that lengthy delays in tax collection have short-changed public schools by millions of dollars in funding. The new law is intended to give any and all local government entities faster access to their tax revenue by placing limits on the appeals process.

Here's a list of the education-related bills Scott signed today:

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March 24, 2016

Gov. Rick Scott signs 34 bills, including body cameras, slungshots & dental carve-out

@ByKristenMClark and @MichaelAuslen

Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed 34 bills into law today, including one requiring law enforcement agencies to adopt policies and training protocols for using officer-worn body cameras and another that makes it legal again for Floridians to carry concealed slungshots.

Scott also signed legislation carving out dental services from Medicaid managed care plans. It's a change supporters say will lower costs and better mirror the private insurance market, where medical coverage and dental coverage are generally provided by different insurers.

Currently, Medicaid recipients' dental coverage is from the same provider as their medical.

The bill requires a study by the Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability to assess the idea before it goes into effect, allowing lawmakers to come back to the table and change course if need be. In his letter approving the legislation, Scott issued a stern warning to lawmakers:

"While I am giving my approval to this bill today," he wrote, "if the results of the study do not demonstrate better quality dental care at reduced costs than the net benefits provided under Statewide Medicaid Managed Care today, I expect the 2017 Legislature to amend the statute immediately to protect Medicaid recipients and the services they receive through Statewide Medicaid Managed Care."

Meanwhile, the body-camera legislation (HB 93) sailed through the Legislature this session, garnering unanimous approval from both chambers. The new law doesn't require agencies to use body cameras but will ensure that those that do have proper procedures in place.

As of October, 18 police agencies in Florida — including Miami and Miami Beach — used body cameras. Another 10, such as Tampa police, were operating pilot programs.

“This bill gives us that opportunity to go further to make sure that we are providing transparency to our citizens but also give accountability to our law enforcement,” Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, said after the legislation passed the House earlier this month.

The bill dealing with slungshots (HB 4009) lifts a ban on the manufacturing or sales of the weapon and allows individuals to carry it concealed without a permit. A slungshot -- which is a weight attached to a cord or strap -- was originally a maritime tool that later became a weapon used by gangs in the 19th century.

Other bills Scott signed today deal with various criminal justice issues, agriculture, education and public records exemptions, among other topics.

Here is the full list of new laws:

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March 18, 2016

South Florida Republicans break with GOP in deportation vote


Only five Republican lawmakers stood up to their party leader in voting against allowing House Speaker Paul Ryan to file an amicus brief opposing President Barack Obama's decision to withhold deportation for more than 5 million undocumented immigrants.

All three Cuban-American representatives from South Florida -- Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Marco Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo -- were among the five Republicans who voted against a resolution that the House passed Thursday almost entirely along party lines.

The Supreme Court next month will hear a case brought by Texas, joined by Florida and 24 other states, arguing that Obama's bid to shield about 5.2 million illegal aliens from deportation imposes unaffordable health-care, education, law-enforcement and other costs on them.

Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who replaced Ohioan John Boehner as speaker in October, acknowledged that House intervention in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court was unprecedented, but he insisted it was necessary to prevent executive overreach by Obama.

With no Democrats voting for the bill, Ryan and other Republicans said Obama's executive orders dating to 2012 amount to the president legislating immigration reform without going through Congress.

"I recognize that this is a very extraordinary step," Ryan said on the House floor. "I feel it is very necessary, though. In fact, I believe this is vital."

In a joint statement Friday, Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart said that although individual members of Congress have the right to file briefs supporting court cases, the House as a whole should not do so.

"All amicus briefs should carry the same weight, and beginning this pattern may signal to the Supreme Court that Congress is prioritizing certain cases over others," the two Miami Republicans said.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a first-term Republican from Kendall, went further. He accused Republicans of playing politics with the important issue of immigration.

"For two long, both parties have preferred to score petty political points using the immigration issue rather than passing meaningful reform to secure the border, reform our visa system and find a fair solution for the undocumented," Curbelo said.

"The surest and most constitutionally solvent way to end the president's executive overreach is to pass meaningful immigration reform, not by employing empty tactics that ignore the root cause of the problem," he said.

The two other Republicans who voted against the House resolution were Reps. Richard Hanna of New York and Robert Dold of Illinois. Rep. Alex Mooney, a West Virginia Republican and one of five other Cuban-Americans in Congress, voted for the measure, which passed by a 234-186 margin.

Among Florida's 24 other U.S. House members, 22 voted along party lines, with Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel and Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan failing to vote.

Nine other Florida Democrats voted against the measure, among them Reps. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, who is chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

Two lower courts have ruled in favor of the states, most recently the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals based in New Orleans.

With only eight justices on the Supreme Court since Justice Antonin Scalia's death last month, a 4-4 decision after the scheduled April 18 arguments would uphold the lower courts' rulings and overturn Obama's executive orders protecting millions of undocumented parents and their children from deportation.

Obama on Wednesday chose Merrick Garland, a former federal prosecutor and current judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, to replace Scalia on the high court, but Senate Republican leaders are refusing to take a vote or even hold hearings on the nomination, saying Obama has only 10 months left in office.

Immigration has become perhaps the most divisive issue in the presidential campaign, with Republican front-runner Donald Trump vowing to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat of Puerto Rican descent, ridiculed Republican lawmakers, many of whom he said have disingenuously tried to distance themselves from Trump's hardline stance on immigration.

"They keep saying, 'Well, Trump doesn't represent us, he doesn't (represent) our views, he doesn't represent our values,' and now they want to know where Trump gets all of his anti-immigrant, xenophobic views from," Gutierrez told reporters. "Try the House of Republicans."

In a speech Friday on the House floor, Gutierrez accused his Republican colleagues of "stoking anti-immigrant fears and mass-deportation fantasies."

"The vote is a political stunt disguised as a legal brief because the Republican majority sees a crass political opportunity to stand with the anti-immigration wing of their party," he said.  

The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and 60 individual business leaders, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, filed an amicus brief supporting Obama last week.

Before the vote Thursday, Democratic Rep. Linda Sanchez, head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said "the Latino community is being used for political purposes."

Sanchez added: "We are being demonized, we are being marginalized, and we see a frightening level of hateful rhetoric and vile hate speech aimed at our community, and nobody is standing up within the Republican Party to say that this is unacceptable."

America's Voice, a pro-immigration advocacy group, said the vote Thursday was the eighth "anti-immigration" vote taken by Republicans in the current session of Congress.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and 223 other Democrats filed an amicus brief backing Obama earlier this month, but there was no vote on the brief and it represents them as individuals.

In still another amicus brief, almost 120 cities and counties across the United States on March 8 expressed support for Obama, among them Pembroke Pines, Tampa and Sunrise.


March 17, 2016

Gov. Rick Scott signs record $82 billion Florida budget in speedy fashion

via @JeffMHarrington

With no fanfare, Gov. Rick Scott late Thursday said he has signed a record $82 billion budget for the next fiscal year, keeping intact $256.1 million in line-item vetoes that he foreshadowed earlier this week.

John Tupps, deputy communications director in Scott’s office, announced the governor’s actions in an email shortly after 8 p.m., with no immediate accompanying statement from Scott.

On Tuesday, in a highly unusual move, Scott released a pre-emptive list of planned vetoes and said, “I will be signing this budget into law as soon as the Florida Legislature delivers it to me.” He did just that, with his signature coming the same day the budget reached his desk.

The governor’s speedy signing prevented interest groups or individual lawmakers from mounting pressure on the governor to reverse himself on any planned vetoes.

The veto list was far less extensive than lawmakers had feared, widely viewed as a signal by Scott that he didn’t want to stir any more dissent within the Capitol. Scott and his fellow Republicans who control the Legislature have had a shaky relationship stretching back to the last session.

This year, however, even after Scott’s priorities for job incentive funds and tax cuts were rejected or marginalized by the Legislature, the governor showed little evidence of retribution.

Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, on Tuesday said Scott was sending “an olive branch” by the more modest veto list. But Diaz added that it was no coincidence that Scott’s vetoes totaled $256 million, very close to a $250 million fund for Scott to lure jobs to Florida that lawmakers rejected.

Scott’s string of vetoes includes after-school mentoring and youth crime-prevention programs, family counseling and inmate re-entry efforts, $8 million for Florida International University’s expansion plans, a new jail in De Soto County, a new roof for North Lauderdale City Hall and a cattlemen’s arena in Hardee County.

Neil Cavuto: Would Rick Scott have denied Abraham Lincoln the White House?


Under the way Gov. Rick Scott wants to award Donald Trump the Republican nomination, Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy would never been presidents of the United States, Fox News host Neil Cavuto argued with Scott during a prickly interview with the two-term governor.

Scott had just told Cavuto that Trump should be the Republican nominee if he get’s close to the 1,237 delegates needed to be the party’s candidate. If Trump is “very close to having all of the delegates he needs and doesn’t get it” it will be difficult for Republicans to win in November, Scott told Cavuto.

But that brought a quick rebuke from Cavuto.

“You seem to be saying there will be hell to pay if he doesn’t get the nomination when he doesn’t have the 1,237 delegates,” Cavuto said during the segment on Your World with Neil Cavuto. “Those are the rules. Everyone understood its 1,237.”

But Scott said taking the nomination away from Trump if he’s close would become a big problem for the party in November  because of how Trump has drawn new voters into the party.

“I would hope he’d have 50 percent, but if he’s close he needs to be our nominee,” said Scott, who endorsed Trump on Wednesday after he won Florida’s presidential primary.

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March 16, 2016

Gov. Rick Scott has Miami Hurricanes victorious, FGCU going far in March Madness bracket



In his official prediction for this year's NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament, Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott is favoring his home-state teams.

He picked the University of Miami Hurricanes to go all the way and claim the National Championship over the Michigan State Spartans.

He's also predicting Florida Gulf Coast University will make it to the Elite Eight. He has the Eagles besting No. 1-seeded North Carolina, USC and Kentucky before losing to West Virginia in the East regional finals.

Scott posted a signed copy of his selections on Twitter this afternoon, including a photo of himself filling out the bracket:

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March 11, 2016

Capitol Buzz: Things to watch today in Tallahassee


Let's face it. There's only one thing everyone's really watching for today -- that fun tradition that officially marks the end of the annual legislative session. But first, there is more work for lawmakers to finish.

* At (or after) 2:53 p.m., the House and Senate can vote on the 2016-17 proposed budget. Passing it completes the one obligation lawmakers are constitutionally required to accomplish.

* The Senate could take up the House's counter-offer on a major education bill, but with the clock running out, it's unclear how viable this legislation still is after the House made significant changes to it Thursday evening.

 * When all the work is done, lawmakers will gather in the Capitol rotunda for the hankie drop. Republican Gov. Rick Scott plans to attend.

* Once Sine Die comes, Dr. John Armstrong -- Florida's surgeon general and top health official -- will be unemployed. The Senate declined to confirm his appointment, so Scott will have to name a replacement.

March 10, 2016

MSNBC shuts down interview with Florida Gov. Rick Scott after he ignores question


Florida Gov. Rick Scott stayed stubbornly on message -- as he usually does -- Thursday morning on MSNBC's Morning Joe.

And that prompted anchors Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinksi shut the interview down.

They asked Scott for his presidential endorsement, which the governor said he wasn't giving. But then Scarborough asked about Donald Trump.

"Would you tell your friend, Donald Trump, that he should walk back his statements that Muslims -- that Islam hates America, that Islam hates us?" Scarborough asked. "Do you think Muslims in the state of Florida hate America?"

"Well, as you know, in Florida we're the best melting pot in the world," Scott said. "We love everybody coming to our state. After the Paris bombings I did ask the federal government to not allow any more Syrian refugees to come into Florida until we vetted them. I'm still concerned that the federal government's not vetting them. But that's what my concern is."

Scarborough and Brzezinksi tried again. Four more times.

"That's not the question," Brzezinksi said at one point. Scarborough:"No, no, I don't want to know what's going on in Florida."

"Rick, Rick, Rick," Brzezinksi said. "I know you and Joe are friends and this is kind of awkward. But can you answer the question or should we scoot?"

They scooted.

One tidbit from Scott: He will attend Thursday night's GOP debate at the University of Miami.

Capitol Buzz: Five things to watch today in Tallahassee


With less than two days left in the 2016 session, lawmakers are furiously trying to pass policy bills through both chambers before the clock runs out. The Senate again starts daily work at 10 a.m., while the House convenes at noon.

Here's what we're watching today:

* The House and Senate will take questions on their 2016-17 budget proposal, in advance of Friday's expected vote.

* The Senate will take up two environmental bills. SB 1168 implements Amendment 1 (the land and water conservation amendment approved by voters in 2014) and establishes a dedicated funding source for Everglades restoration. The chamber will also take up SB 1290, giving state regulators more flexibility over state lands.

* Gov. Rick Scott must act on more than two dozen bills by today, including allowing disabled vets with identifying license plates to park for free at airports, and removing the term "absentee ballot" from the statutes and replacing it with the term "vote by mail ballot."

* The House could take up a massive education bill that the Senate passed Wednesday.

* The Senate is slated to consider a proposal to allow other standardized exams for K-12 public school students, like the SAT or Advanced Placement courses, as an alternative to the Florida Standards Assessments.

March 08, 2016

It's now legal in Florida to break into cars to rescue vulnerable people, pets


Floridians can now legally break into locked vehicles to rescue pets or vulnerable people who are "in imminent danger of suffering harm."

HB 131 took effect today and is among 16 bills Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed into law.

The new law is in direct response to a growing number of incidents where pets, children and others have died because they've been left in overheated cars, particularly under Florida's steamy summer sun.

Under the new law, individuals can't be sued for breaking into a car to rescue someone, so long as they have:

-- first checked the vehicle is locked;

-- called 911 or law enforcement before entering the vehicle or immediately after doing so;

-- uses no more force than is necessary to break in;

-- and remains with the person or animal until first-responders arrive.

House Majority Leader Dana Young, R-Tampa, Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, and Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, ushered the proposal through the Legislature this session with unanimous support.