June 13, 2017

Republicans outraise Democrats ahead of Florida Senate, House elections

@martindvassolo

Republican candidates in a pair of special state Senate and House races in Miami have so far outraised their Democratic counterparts, according to their first batch of campaign finance reports.

Of the nine total candidates running to represent broad swaths of Miami-Dade County in Senate District 40 and House District 116, Republican Jose Felix Diaz in District 40 and Jose Mallea  in District 116 have the most cash on hand thus far, while the sole Democrat in the House race has less than $20.

District 40

Diaz, a state representative, is the leading money-getter in either race. He raised $278,400 in the latest filing period, which ended June 8.

He has $245,770 on hand from 334 contributions, including about $53,000 from 55 political committees. That’s on top of the $825,654 tucked in the coffers of his own political committee, Rebuild Florida.

After loaning himself $50,000, former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, also Republican, has $22,962 on hand from 31 contributions, including $3,000 from political committees. He raised $22,500 in the latest filing period.

Republican Lorenzo Palomares, a former Spanish-language campaign surrogate for President Donald Trump, raised $9,000. He has $10,047 on hand from 15 contributions, including $15,000 in loans to himself.

On the Democratic side, Annette Taddeo — the owner of a translation company who unsuccessfully ran for Florida’s 26th House District last year — raised $45,559 and has $42,286 on hand. Taddeo ranks second among all District 40 candidates in cash on hand. Fight Back Florida, Taddeo's political committee, raised $19,747, according to a listing of contributions and expenditures on its website, although that information has yet to be filed with the state.

Former Rep. Ana Rivas Logan, who previously served as a Republican before becoming a Democrat, raised $10,425. She has $8,035 on hand from 21 contributions, including a $2,500 loan from herself.

The sole independent in the race, Christian “He-Man” Schlaerth, raised $134. He has $3,013 on hand from eight contributions, including a $3,200 loan from himself.

District 116

In House District 116, candidates are running to fill the seat Diaz left open when he decided to run for Senate.

Mallea, who has received an endorsement from former Gov. Jeb Bush, raised $50,640. He has $88,489 on hand from 297 contributions, including $1,300 from lobbyists and $5,000 from three political committees, including the IRL PAC, which is affiliated with Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

His campaign also received $3,000 from gasoline distributors and $2,000 from tobacco distributors.

Daniel Perez, a Republican, raised $33,660 in the latest filing period. He has $35,419 on hand from 190 contributions.

The winner of the Republican primary will face off against Gabriela Mayaudon, a political newcomer who registered to vote for the first time earlier this month. The sole Democrat in the House race, Mayaudon has just $18.18 on hand. The Miami-Dade Democratic Party, her sole backer so far, cut her a check for $1,800 last week. She spent $1,781 of it to qualify for the race.

Both special elections were called by Gov. Rick Scott following the resignation of former Republican Sen. Frank Artiles, who vacated his District 40 seat after using the n-word in conversation and hiring a former Hooters "calendar girl" and a Playboy model with no political experience as "consultants." Primaries will be held July 25, followed by the general election on September 26.

June 09, 2017

Dems on K-12 funding: 'The increase is helpful but more is needed'

Florida Legislature (14)

@ByKristenMClark

Some House Democrats on Friday criticized a new K-12 schools budget for 2017-18 that would boost spending by $100 per student over this school year — calling the additional dollars a “hollow victory” and “not enough” to truly address public education.

“I believe the increase is helpful but more is needed,” said Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami. “Florida is the third largest state in the nation, yet our per-pupil funding is still $3,000 below the national average.”

“We’re underfunding public education,” agreed Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura. “That’s a mistake. That sells short the future of our state.”

“Public education has been the great leveler in this country; it’s been the main means of advancement for people of modest means,” Geller added, before making reference to a $419 million, charter school-friendly bill (HB 7069) lawmakers passed last month: “We’re putting way too much money into non-public education at the expense of public education.”

RELATED FROM POLITIFACT: “Florida House speaker touts record education spending, but there’s more to grade”

The increased funding — addressed in a contentious three-day special session this week — was a compromise between Gov. Rick Scott and House and Senate leaders after Scott a week ago vetoed the Legislature’s initial K-12 budget, deeming it insufficient.

In calling lawmakers back to Tallahassee, Scott asked for $215 million more in state money for K-12 in order to raise the per-pupil level by $100, an increase of 1.4 percent.

Full details here.

Photo credit: AP

June 07, 2017

Who will miss the Legislature's special session? Several lawmakers.

Florida Legislature (24)

@ByKristenMClark

For reasons such as family travel plans, cancer treatment or events surrounding the one-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting, several lawmakers won’t be at the state Capitol this week when the Legislature reconvenes to resolve budget disputes.

At least one senator and 10 House members — most of whom are Republicans — had received excused absences, as of Tuesday afternoon, from the House speaker and Senate president to miss either all or some of the three-day special session that begins Wednesday.

Sen. Dorothy Hukill, a Republican from Central Florida, is the lone senator. After being diagnosed with cancer last year, she has been recovering from medical treatments for several months. (She also missed the entire regular session this spring and the Legislature’s organizational session after the general election in November.)

“My recovery from cancer treatment and surgery has progressed very well. Unfortunately, my physicians are recommending that I not travel in an abundance of caution following my recent follow-up treatments,” Hukill wrote in a letter to Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, seven Republicans and three Democrats in the House will also be absent for a variety of reasons, according to a list provided by the office of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.

Full details here.

Photo credit: AP

June 06, 2017

Mallea, Perez and Mayaudon will battle for Jose Felix Diaz's House seat

Jose Felix Diaz goodbye

@ByKristenMClark

Two Republicans and one Democrat qualified by a Tuesday deadline to run in a special election this year that will determine who will replace Miami Republican Jose Felix Diaz in the Florida House.

The primary contest between Republicans Jose Mallea and Daniel Anthony Perez will be held July 25. The winner of that race will face off against Democratic newcomer Gabriela Mayaudon in the special general election on Sept. 26.

Those are the same dates when a special election for the District 40 Senate seat will also be held. Sen. Frank Artilesresignation in April from that seat — after an offensive and racist tirade against two senators — created a game of dominoes in Miami politics. Diaz resigned his District 116 House seat last month to run for Artiles’ seat, which sparked the need for the additional special election.

More here on the candidates who qualified in the House District 116 race.

Photo credit: AP

June 05, 2017

Senate budget bills, Stand Your Ground change among 24 proposals sent to Gov. Scott today

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@ByKristenMClark

Several high-profile bills lawmakers passed during the 2017 session were officially sent to Gov. Rick Scott's desk this afternoon -- including a controversial shift in the state's Stand Your Ground law, an expansive public records exemption that would permanently seal millions of criminal and arrest records, and a higher education reform bill that's a top priority of Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

Scott now has 15 days to decide whether they should become law. He can either sign them, veto them or let them become law by default.

Negron's higher ed bill (SB 374) was one of several budget-related measures from the Senate that were sent to Scott on Monday, marking another key step in the process of adopting spending for the 2017-18 fiscal year that begins July 1. (Scott approved the main budget act on Friday, with several substantial vetoes that included base state funding for K-12 schools -- a chunk of spending lawmakers will do-over in a three-day special session later this week.)

The Senate's "conforming" bills are complementary to the main budget and deal with specific issues, such as colleges and universities, the state pension system, health care and the clerks of court. The House has its own conforming bills, among which is HB 7069, a highly contentious K-12 public schools bill; none of those have been sent to Scott yet.

The change to Florida's Stand Your Ground law (SB 128) -- which shifts the burden of proof in pretrial hearings to prosecutors -- passed the Legislature on the final day of the regularly scheduled session as part of a deal to also pass a bill dealing with religious expression in public K-12 schools (SB 436). That legislation was also sent to Scott Monday.

Meanwhile, SB 118 could virtually eliminate Floridians’ access to many individuals’ criminal histories in the name of addressing stigma against those accused, but not convicted, of crimes. It has drawn opposition from open government advocates and is one of several bills the First Amendment Foundation has asked Scott to veto.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

May 18, 2017

In Liberty City, Richard Corcoran lauds rogue Democrat for supporting 'Schools of Hope'

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@ByKristenMClark

Miami Democratic Rep. Roy Hardemon had an unlikely and influential ally showering him with praise in his legislative district Wednesday: House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

“[Hardemon] doesn’t care who’s got power. He doesn’t care what the status quo is. He doesn’t care whether he gets elected,” Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, said in brief remarks on stage for the groundbreaking of the Liberty Square redevelopment project, with Hardemon at his side.

Hardemon, a freshman lawmaker, secured himself in Corcoran’s good graces last week, when he broke from the House Democratic caucus to support a controversial $419 million K-12 public schools bill that Corcoran and House Republicans unveiled and successfully pushed through in the final days of session.

Hardemon was the only Democrat in either the House or Senate to vote in favor of HB 7069.

“He doesn’t fear. What he cares about is his community,” Corcoran said, before touting a key provision of HB 7069 that’s meant to help neighborhoods like Liberty City.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, left, R-Land O’Lakes, sits with Rep. Roy Hardemon, D-Miami, while they attend the groundbreaking ceremony to for the Liberty Square Rising project in Liberty City on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. Matias J. Ocner / For the Miami Herald

May 12, 2017

Issues involving race played dominant role in Florida's 2017 session

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@ByKristenMClark and @MichaelAuslen

It was an emotional peak in the long legislative session: Lawmakers — black, white, Hispanic — stood in somber solidarity in a Capitol rotunda to formally say the state of Florida was sorry for what it did seven decades ago to four black men who were victims in one of the most racist episodes in state history.

What few knew at that moment of unity on the morning of April 18 was that just 13 hours before, a state senator had cursed at a black female lawmaker using a sexist remark and a racial slur directed at other legislators.

As news of the confrontation spread hours after the state’s apology to the families of the Groveland Four, scandal engulfed the Capitol. Four days later, that senator — Miami Republican Frank Artiles — resigned.

The coincidental contrast between the long-awaited apology and Artiles’ offensive tirade at a private Tallahassee club marked a climax in a nine-week legislative session when race played a dominant role. Policy proposals and unrelated events intersected at the Capitol in ways that emphasized racial divides that still exist in 2017.

Full story here

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

May 09, 2017

Why 2 House members missed the vote on HB 7069

Edwards@ByKristenMClark

Sometimes a poorly timed lunch break or trip to the bathroom can have consequences.

Broward County Democratic Rep. Katie Edwards said Tuesday she was taking heat from her constituents about why she wasn’t in the room when the House voted Monday on a $419 million education policy bill — one of the most consequential and controversial pieces of legislation lawmakers passed in the 2017 session.

Edwards, of Plantation, opposes HB 7069, but she was one of 11 House members who didn’t officially vote on it. (Eight of those 11 were excused to miss the last day of session.)

Edwards said her absence during the roll-call vote was simply a matter of poor timing. “Unfortunately I stepped away from my desk to use the ladies room,” Edwards explained in an email to the Herald/Times.

Tampa Bay-area Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-Treasure Island, also missed the vote for a simple reason. She said by email that she was “eating in the back and [the vote] came up quicker than I thought.”

Read more here.

Photo credit: Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times.

May 08, 2017

Senate narrowly approves $419M schools bill, while saying it needs immediate fix

@ByKristenMClark

Lawmakers struggled to pass a controversial $419 million, 278-page K-12 public schools bill on Monday, the final day of the annual session — as senators acknowledged parts of the rushed legislation were flawed and would need to be fixed when the Legislature reconvenes in 2018.

However, the prospect of a possible veto by Republican Gov. Rick Scott was floated even before the Monday night vote, which would stop the legislation from becoming law.

The Senate endorsed HB 7069 by the narrowest possible margin after two hours of lackluster and largely negative debate, voting 20-18 to pass it.

Three Republicans joined the 15-member Democratic caucus in opposition: René García of Hialeah, Denise Grimsley of Sebring and David Simmons of Altamonte Springs — who, as the pre-K-12 education budget chairman, handled the bill on the floor and struggled to defend it.

MORE: “Parents, school leaders urge ‘no’ vote on mammoth education bill”

Earlier in the day, the Republican-led House made quick work to pass the bill within an hour, by a 73-36 vote with all but one Democrat — Miami Rep. Roy Hardemon — opposed.

HB 7069 was a top priority of land O'Lakes Republican and House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s. Miami Republican Michael Bileca and Hialeah Republican Manny Diaz Jr. — the House education policy and pre-K-12 budget chairmen, respectively — were heavily involved in crafting it.

But in a manner that drew heavy criticism, the large and wide-ranging bill was negotiated and finalized in private and made public for the first time Friday evening — less than 66 hours before the House voted and 71 hours before the Senate voted. (Simmons said he saw a first draft of HB 7069 only at 7 p.m. Thursday.)

“This isn’t a finished bill, it’s got problems — big problems,” Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, said. “It’s a litany of bad ideas … that do not take the needs of the student into account.”

More here.

Lawmakers will decide major K-12 policy, spending today -- and rest of 2017-18 budget

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@ByKristenMClark

A swift outcry of condemnation came over the weekend from many parents, teachers and school administrators who want the Florida Legislature to reject a $419 million, 278-page K-12 public schools bill — which was decided behind closed doors, which lawmakers cannot change and which they’ll have had only about 72 hours to review when they vote Monday.

House and Senate members will decide the fate of HB 7069 as part of several up-or-down votes on a 2017-18 budget package. The Legislature extended its annual session until 11:59 p.m. Monday with the intent of passing an $82.4 billion spending plan, its single constitutional obligation.

MORE: “All eyes on the Florida budget as lawmakers return to state Capitol for one final act”

Public education advocates, like the Florida PTA and other groups, and superintendents — including Miami-Dade County Public Schools chief Alberto Carvalho — aim to convince their elected representatives to vote “no.” Such an outcome is unlikely but not unprecedented, and it would potentially call the entire budget into question because of the major dollars attached.

“I’ve spoken to so many senators — both parties — who are opposed to so many portions of that bill,” Broward County Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, said. “The question is: Will they have the fortitude to vote no?”

More here.

Photo credit: Carl Juste / Miami Herald