November 30, 2016

New House education chairman who opposed school recess plan 'will take a look' at it in 2017

Bileca_flhouse@ByKristenMClark

After being one of only two Florida House members to oppose it last session, Miami Republican Rep. Michael Bileca said he's open to considering a renewed effort to mandate recess time at Florida's public elementary schools.

But he indicated the proposal could still face some potentially tough scrutiny in 2017.

"I will take a look at it," Bileca told the Herald/Times. "The areas I had difficulty with were not changed (last session), so we'll need to see what's changed."

Although he's only one vote in the 120-member House, Bileca's opinion matters greatly because, as chairman of the Education Committee for the upcoming term, he has the power to influence the outcome of a wide range of education policy matters -- including this popular, parent-driven proposal.

Among Bileca's powers as chairman is deciding which bills are taken up by his committee. Failing to get a hearing is a frequent way bills die in session -- and it's how the recess measure stalled last spring in the Senate.

MORE: "Florida will again consider mandatory recess"

In filing a bill on Tuesday, Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, got the ball rolling to revive the Legislature's recess debate for next session. Rep. Rene Plasencia, the Orlando Republican who advocated for the issue last spring, is drafting the House companion.

"I know one of the things for me last year that I didn't like was it was tied to discipline," Bileca said, referencing a provision in last session's bill that read: "Free-play recess may not be withheld for academic or punititive reasons."

Bileca said he "expected modifications" in the proposal before it was brought to the House floor for a final vote but the bill was never altered.

Bileca and now-House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, were the only "no" votes when the measure passed the House, 112-2, in February. Corcoran's office did not respond to emails seeking comment this week about whether he would support a school recess proposal in the upcoming session.

While Plasencia's bill is still being drafted, the version Flores filed omits the line that concerned Bileca. It also doesn't include language affording recess time to sixth-graders who are enrolled at schools with at least one other elementary school grade, as last session's bill did.

In speaking with the Herald/Times, Bileca indicated the recess proposal could face a high bar as far as his support is concerned.

He noted that Florida already mandates physical education time, "a requirement that a lot of other states don't have." And he said: "My big focus for next session is going to be: Where are there areas we've over-regulated from the state level?"

One of the reasons the recess measure died last session in the Senate was because that chamber's education policy chairman at the time firmly believed it was a local issue that didn't "merit a Tallahassee solution."

Photo credit: State Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, during the 2015 session. myfloridahouse.gov

November 28, 2016

Miami Lakes councilman opens campaign account for 2018 state House bid

Mingo_frank@ByKristenMClark

Miami Lakes Councilman Frank Mingo will seek a seat in the Florida Legislature in two years.

Mingo filed paperwork last week with the Division of Elections to run as a Republican for the House District 103 seat. Current Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, is in his third term and plans to run for state Senate in 2018.

Although Mingo is the first to file for the seat, he is likely to have the backing of powerful House Republicans. He works as the supply chain manager for the Oliva Cigar Company -- the business of Miami Lakes Republican Rep. Jose Oliva, who is in line to take over as House speaker in 2018.

Mingo has lived in Miami Lakes since 1986 and has been a town councilman since 2013. Launching a campaign account now allows Mingo to begin raising money.

Photo credit: miamilakes-fl.gov

November 22, 2016

Negron, Corcoran now officially in charge of Florida Legislature

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@stevebousquet @MaryEllenKlas @ByKristenMClark

Under new leadership, the Florida Legislature entered a strange new world Tuesday as the House speaker condemned the entrenched power of lobbyists and called for major changes in spending sure to be opposed by the Senate and Gov. Rick Scott.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, described a Capitol controlled by lobbyists and politically-wired vendors, with lawmakers doing their bidding at the expense of taxpayers.

“Too many bills filed in session are given to members by lobbyists and special interests,” Corcoran said. “Too many lobbyists see themselves as the true power brokers of this process. Too many appropriations projects are giveaways to vendors and the decision of whether they get in the budget has more to do with their choice of lobbyist than the merits of the project … It all ends, and it all ends today.”

But it won’t all end as easily as it sounds.

Despite Corcoran’s zeal for reforming the process of lawmaking, he controls only one side of the Capitol. The Senate, led by Republican Joe Negron of Stuart, has very different ideas.

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

November 21, 2016

DuBose, Farmer named leaders of Broward County legislative delegation

@ByKristenMClark

A state representative entering his second term and a freshman senator in his first elected office have been named the leaders for Broward County's legislative delegation for the 2017 session.

State Rep. Bobby DuBose and state Sen. Gary Farmer, both Democrats from Fort Lauderdale, were elected as chairman and vice-chairman, respectively, by the 19-member delegation on Thursday.

The delegation's chairmen and vice-chairmen serve one-year terms.

DuBose was first elected to the Legislature in 2014 and was reelected this year without opposition.

Farmer is a consumer advocate attorney and former president of the Florida Justice Association. He won Broward County's District 34 Senate seat with 63 percent of the vote.

DuBose and Farmer, respectively, replace former Democratic state Rep. Gwyndolen Clarke-Reed and Sen. Chris Smith.

Florida Legislature's leadership for 2016-18 includes major Miami-Dade influence

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@ByKristenMClark

For the next two years and potentially beyond, lawmakers representing Miami-Dade County are poised to wield extreme influence in the Florida Legislature — the likes of which they haven’t had in a decade or more.

At least seven Miami-Dade legislators — and potentially a few more yet to be announced — will hold powerful leadership positions from now through 2018 under incoming Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.

These roles should ensure Miami-Dade’s mark on everything from school choice measures and gambling regulations to which local projects get funding priority.

The 2016-18 Legislature will be sworn in Tuesday during a one-day organizational session, when Negron and Corcoran will also formally take over as chamber leaders.

Both the new Senate president and House speaker have chosen Republican women from Miami as their top lieutenants: Sen. Anitere Flores and Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, respectively.

Below them will be a slew of committee chairs from Miami-Dade, too, who will have the ability — particularly in the House — to hold sway over statewide policy and the purse strings of the state’s $82 billion budget.

Among those chairs is Miami Lakes Republican Rep. Jose Oliva, who Corcoran named leader of the powerful House Rules and Policy Committee. Oliva is also what his Miami colleagues call the “speaker in waiting,” poised to succeed Corcoran as head of the chamber two years from now.

For local residents, these positions of influence for Miami-Dade legislators mean the senators and representatives they elected — especially the Republican ones, since that party holds the majority in both chambers — will be among the key decision-makers in Tallahassee with the ability to put the county’s needs and priorities at the forefront for possibly years to come.

“It’s access to where decisions get made,” Nuñez said. “We really are in a unique position and our citizens are the better for it.”

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

November 15, 2016

66 new Florida lawmakers arrive in Tallahassee for training

Capitol

@ByKristenMClark

A week after Florida voters elected them, 66 new state lawmakers -- who make up 40 percent of the entire Legislature -- will be in Tallahassee on Tuesday for training and orientation.

More than a third of the 120-member House and half of the 40-member Senate are new to their legislative seats for 2017. Many have held elected office before (even within the Legislature itself), but for several, this is their first foray into public service.

Over the next two days, freshmen House members will learn the basics of legislating and the essentials for navigating the Capitol itself. Sessions range from "Introduction to State Government" and lessons in ethics, open meetings and public records to "How to Fill Out your Committee Preference Form" and "What to Expect in Your First Term."

Incoming senators will have similar training, too, although they're only in town for one day.

Among the 46 freshmen House members, there are expected to be 24 Republicans and 22 Democrats -- the second-largest freshman class in the Florida House's history. (There were 63 new members in 2000.) The final partisan breakdown depends on the outcome of a recount for a Miami-Dade House seat, in which Democrat Robert Acensio led Republican David Rivera by 68 votes in initial Election Day results.

Two of the freshmen House members are recently experienced in the Legislature having moved from the Senate back to the House with Tuesday's election: Palm Beach County Democrat Joe Abruzzo and Rockledge Republican Thad Altman.

In the Senate, 20 are freshmen -- the largest freshmen class in the chamber's history, with 11 Democrats and nine Republicans. At least a dozen are recently former representatives promoted by voters last week to the Legislature's upper chamber.

All 160 lawmakers will return to Tallahassee next week for the organizational session on Nov. 22, during which they'll be sworn in to their new terms in office.

Times/Herald co-bureau chief Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

Photo credit: Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

November 03, 2016

Legislative candidates who don't live in district they're seeking can't vote for themselves

Ap_flores2@ByKristenMClark

When she votes this fall, veteran Miami Republican lawmaker Anitere Flores might not be able to vote for herself.

Because if she votes in her current precinct, the ballot she receives will have neither her name nor her District 39 Florida Senate race on it. It will list the District 40 race instead.

The same goes for House District 103 candidate Ivette Gonzalez Petkovich, a Doral Democrat in her first bid for public office. Rather than seeing her own name on a ballot for the first time, she’ll see candidates for House District 116 if she votes in the precinct she’s assigned to now.

That’s because Flores and Gonzalez Petkovich — along with five other legislative candidates in Miami-Dade — don’t currently live in and aren’t registered to vote in the district that they’re seeking to represent.

The Herald/Times identified the seven candidates — one Republican (Flores) and six Democrats — through an analysis of current voter registration records. These candidates make up 20 percent of the 34 candidates competing for Miami-Dade legislative seats this fall.

More here.

Photo credit: AP

October 21, 2016

Rivera plays the Rubio card

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@PatriciaMazzei

Trying to capitalize on his most famous political friend, David Rivera sent Miami voters a new flier this week prominently featuring an old photograph with none other than Marco Rubio.

"Marco Rubio and David Rivera fighting together for a better future for our families," it reads, in Spanish. "Always by your side."

Rivera doesn't tout an explicit Rubio endorsement. But it certainly implies one.

Rubio, who is busy with his own reelection campaign to the U.S. Senate, hasn't endorsed anyone in Rivera's race. Rivera is vying to return to the state House, four years after losing his seat in Congress under a cloud of political scandal.

Ever since, Rubio has maintained a public distance from Rivera. They sold the house they jointly owned in Tallahassee last year, as Rubio embarked on his presidential candidacy. Earlier this year, Rivera quietly campaigned for Rubio in Iowa ahead of the first-in-the-nation caucuses. Rivera announced his candidacy the day after Rubio lost the Florida primary and dropped out of the race.

Rivera served as Rubio's rules chief when Rubio was Florida House speaker, and their friendship dates to long before then. The photo used in the flier shows both men when they were much younger, smiling and shaking hands in what appears to be the House floor.

This year, Rivera is embroiled in an ugly contest in House District 118 against Democrat Robert Asencio.

During the primary, Rubio's former rival, Jeb Bush, endorsed a Rivera opponent, Lynda Bell.

An earlier version of this post misstated the number of the district Rivera is seeking.

Obama endorses 13 Florida legislative candidates, including several in Miami-Dade races

@ByKristenMClark

President Barack Obama is supporting 13 Florida Democrats running for the state Legislature, the Florida Democratic Party announced this morning.

The list includes several high-profile candidates in highly competitive races -- many in Miami-Dade county.

Those include District 37 Senate candidate and current Miami state Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez and District 39 candidate and political newcomer Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, of Pinecrest.

Both Rodriguez and Mucarsel-Powell are trying to unseat powerful Miami Republicans -- Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Anitere Flores, respectively -- and help Democrats narrow the Republicans' hold on the chamber majority.

On the House side, Obama also backed Miami-Dade legislative contenders Ivette Gonzalez Petkovich (challenging Hialeah Republican Manny Diaz Jr. in District 103); Nick Duran (running for Rodriguez's open seat in District 112 against Rosa Maria Palomino); Daisy Baez (running for the open District 114 seat against John Couriel); and Robert Asencio (who's in a bitter battle against former state Rep. David Rivera in District 118).

Many other Democrats also running against Republicans in Florida legislative districts weren't included in Obama's endorsement list, which is solely non-incumbents.

But noticeably absent from the list were state Sen. Dwight Bullard (who's running for re-election in District 40 in a heated race against state Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami) and District 38 Senate candidate and current state Rep. Daphne Campbell (who's running against former state Rep. Phillip Brutus).

Here is the full list of Florida legislative candidates Obama endorsed:

 

Continue reading "Obama endorses 13 Florida legislative candidates, including several in Miami-Dade races" »

October 12, 2016

Daphne Campbell sends, retracts fundraising email on official House account

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@ByKristenMClark

Prematurely describing herself as "New Senator Elect Daphne Campbell," the Miami Democratic state representative now seeking a state Senate seat accidentally sent out a fundraising invitation Wednesday afternoon on her official Florida House email account.

Campbell sent a follow-up email two hours later -- from a campaign email -- saying: "Please Ignore previous Email/Flyer which was sent by error from the State email by a Staff. See the corrected email ... Sorry for the error."

Both of Campbell's emails invited the recipient to join "the only Democratic nominee" for Senate District 38 for a fundraiser Wednesday night in Tallahassee. The event for Campbell was to be hosted by Oscar Braynon -- a Miami Gardens senator who will be the Senate Democrats' next leader.

At this point in the election cycle, all races have only one candidate from any political party. Florida's Aug. 30 primary determined party contenders for the general election.

With 31 percent of the vote, Campbell won a six-way primary to become the Democratic nominee in the District 38 race. But she's not guaranteed to be the "New Senator Elect" yet, as she called herself in the "From" line at the top of both emails.

Campbell faces former Democratic state Rep. Phillip Brutus on the Nov. 8 ballot. Brutus, of North Miami, is running as a no-party affiliated candidate in this election.

Neither candidate has raised much money this cycle, compared to other Miami-Dade state Senate races, which have attracted hundreds of thousands of dollars. As of Sept. 30 -- the most recent reporting date -- Campbell had raised about $100,000 so far this cycle and had about $4,400 in the bank. Meanwhile, Brutus had raised $12,300 -- in addition to $12,500 he's loaned his campaign -- and he'd spent about $11,400.

The winner will replace longtime state Sen. Gwen Margolis, who is retiring. The newly redrawn coastal District 38 roughly stretches from the MacArthur Causeway to the Broward County line and from the ocean to I-95.

Photo credit: State Rep. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami, in 2015. myfloridahouse.gov

*This post has been updated to correct Brutus' fundraising figures.