September 25, 2017

Open Miami-Dade House, Senate seats will be decided in Tuesday special election

Diaz and Taddeo

@ByKristenMClark

In a special election on Tuesday, voters in southwest Miami-Dade County will determine the successors for two seats in the state Legislature that opened up after a Miami Republican senator was forced to resign last spring when he made racist and insulting remarks in front of fellow senators at a bar near the state Capitol.

The fight for the District 40 Senate seat — formerly held by Frank Artiles, who stepped down in April — has been highly competitive for what it could mean, particularly for Democrats: The chance to flip the seat and narrow Republicans’ current 24-15 advantage in the chamber.

The House District 116 seat is also on the ballot, because Florida’s “resign to run” law required Miami Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz to vacate that seat when he chose to run in the District 40 contest.

More details here.

Photo credit: Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, left, and Democrat Annette Taddeo, right. [Miami Herald file photo.]

September 18, 2017

Lawmakers have favored relaxing school building codes. Will Irma change that trend?

315HurricaneI07+NEW+PPP

by @WLRN's @jessicabakeman

As Hurricane Irma bore down on South Florida, Kevin Youngman and his family sought shelter at Falcon Cove Middle School in Weston. There, he found himself in enemy territory.

“I think it’s weird for us because we all went to the rival middle school, Tequesta Trace,” said Youngman, 25, as he relaxed on an air mattress in the school gym.

“We’re kind of backstabbing our roots a little bit,” he joked, as he and his mother laughed. “But I guess Tequesta is backstabbing us, because they didn’t open up a shelter there — so I guess it’s their fault, not ours.”

Youngman was right about his alma mater: Tequesta Trace didn’t open as one of Broward County’s 21 shelters during Hurricane  Irma. That’s because the school wasn’t built to withstand the most dangerous storms. Alternatively, Falcon Cove is what emergency officials call an “Enhanced Hurricane Protection Area,” one of the state’s most fortified shelters.

Most public schools are constructed specifically for the purpose they served during Irma: to house people during emergencies. But that could change over time, as the Republican-led state Legislature has begun relaxing the more stringent building codes that apply to public schools. At the same time, lawmakers have promoted the growth of privately run charter schools, which aren’t required to comply with the same high construction standards.

Local leaders worry: If more schools are built without hurricane protections, there could be fewer places for people like Youngman and his family to go during storms.

More here.

WLRN is a news partner of the Miami Herald.

Photo credit: People from different part of the city gets ready to spend the night at the South Miami Senior High School shelter as South Florida prepares for the coming hurricane Irma in South Florida on September 08, 2017. Pedro Portal / Miami Herald

Bonuses based on teacher test scores violate civil rights, lawsuit alleges

Dept of Education

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.”

Full story here.

Photo credit: Florida Department of Education [Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times]

August 30, 2017

Florida Democrats urge state lawmakers to remove Confederate statue in U.S. Capitol

Confederate Statue Florida

@alextdaugherty 

 

The entire Florida Democratic congressional delegation wants Gov. Rick Scott and state lawmakers to remove a statue of Confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith from the U.S. Capitol.

On Wednesday, 11 House Democrats from Florida sent a letter to Scott, State House speaker Richard Corcoran and State Senate president Joe Negron urging the trio to call a one-day special session to replace the statue in September.

“No family visiting our nation's Capitol should have to explain to their child that the statue representing our state honors someone who fought for a philosophy built on hatred, inequality and oppression,” the letter said.

Last year, the state legislature agreed to remove Smith's statue but it remains in National Statuary Hall in Washington, where daily tours are conducted in the Capitol, because lawmakers couldn't agree on a replacement.

But with the recent violent protests in Charlottesville and elsewhere over the legacy of Confederate statues, and debates about streets named after Confederate generals in Florida, Democrats around the country are pushing to remove statues in public places.

Two weeks ago, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, asked state lawmakers to make the change.

“It's time to stop playing games,” Wasserman Schultz said.

Now, Wasserman Schultz is joined by her Democratic colleagues in Washington, including Miami Gardens Rep. Frederica Wilson.

Scott and Corcoran ruled out the possibility of a special session two weeks ago.

“Like most politicians in Washington, the Congresswoman is out of touch,” Corcoran said on Twitter. “We've already made this decision and are now having a conversation about which great Floridian we should honor. The Congresswoman should stop grandstanding and focus on balancing the Federal budget.”

Read more here. 

August 17, 2017

House committee reshuffle elevates 21 freshmen

Florida Legislature lobbyHouse Speaker Richard Corcoran released his version of musical chairs on Thursday, giving 21 of the 27 freshman Republicans elected last fall vice chair positions, ousting veterans in many cases and replacing three lawmakers who have resigned since session ended -- Reps. Jose Felix Diaz, Eric Eisnaugle and Dan Raulerson

The big winner appears to be Rep. Jamie Grant, who lost a bitterly fought race for House speaker designate for 2020 earlier this summer, and was awarded the chairmanship of the Health Quality Subcommittee. As we have already reported, Rep. Paul Renner becomes the new chair of Ways and Means and the Ways and Means Chair, Rep. Jim Boyd, becomes the new chair of Commerce, replacing Jose Felix Diaz.

Republican Reps. Kathleen Peters and Cary Pigman, seem to have gotten the biggest demotions.

Last session, Peters resisted but consented to the House leadership's insistence that the committee hear a high priority bills for Florida Power & Light that would have allowed them to charge customers for fracking operations in other states. Corcoran removed her as chair of the Energy & Utilities Subcommittee and a position on the Ways & Means Committee. She will now have two new committee assignments: Public Integrity & Ethics Committee and Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee. The new chair on the utilities subcommittee is Corcoran loyalist Jay Trumbull.

Pigman, a doctor who had an embarrassing arrest for drunk driving last session, lost his chair of the Health Quality Subcommittee.

Here are the other vice chair shuffles:

* George Moraitis, Appropriations Committee, to Jeanette Nunez.

* Larry Ahern, Post-Secondary Education Subcommittee, to Thad Altman.

* Ben Albritton, Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee to Ralph Massullo.

* Justice Appropriations Subcommittee to Cord Byrd.

* Elizabeth Porter, Agriculture & Property Rights Subcommittee to Charles Clemons. She retains Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee vice chair.

* Neil Combee, Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee to Clay Yarborough.

*  Robert Cortes, Education Committee, becomes vice chair of Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee.

* Jake Raburn, Pre-K-12 Appropriations Subcommittee to Byron Donalds.

* Brad Drake, Transportation Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee to Michael Grant

* Jay Fant not only lost the vice chair of the Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee to Erin Grall, he lost his position on the House Judiciary Committee and the Ways and Means Committee. He was added to the Education Committee and the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.

* Careers & Competition Subcommittee to Randy Fine.

* Pre-K Innovation Subcommittee to Jason Fischer.

* Local, Federal & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee to Don Hahnfeldt.

* Gayle Harrell, Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee to Cyndi Stevenson.

* Sean Harrison lost Health Innovation Subcommittee vice chair to Frank White, but gained the Judiciary Committee vice chair -- previously held by Ross Spano -- and retained the Rules and Policy Vice chair.

* Blaise Ingoglia, Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee to Bob Rommel.

* Clay Ingram, Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee, to Robert Cortes.

* Jennifer Sullivan, Public Integrity & Ethics Committee to Thomas Leek. Sullivan, however, is promoted to vice chair of the Education Committee.

* Energy & Utilities Subcommittee to Bobby Payne.  

* Post-Secondary Education Subcommittee goes to Mel Ponder.

* Charlie Stone, Government Accountability Committee, to Jayer Williamson. But Stone retains Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.

Some things will not change. David Santiago will retain the vice chair of Insurance & Banking Subcommittee and Health & Human Services Committee. Mike Miller retains the vice chair of Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee. Rene Plascencia remains vice chair of both Health Quality Subcommittee and Pre-K 12 Quality Subcommittee. Julio Gonzalez retains his vice chairmanship of both the Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee and the Criminal Justice Subcommittee.

Bryan Avila retains his vice chairmanship of the Commerce Committee and remains as alternating chair of the Joint Committee on Public Counsel. Halsey Beshears loses his place on the Ways and Means Committee.

Colleen Burton is elevated in a couple of ways. She's now chief deputy whip and becomes vice chair of Ways and Means instead of the vice chair of Local, Federal & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee. Danny Burgess is added to Oversight, Transparency and Administration Subcommittee.

There appear to be only a handful of changes for Democrats. Tracie Davis was added to the Health and Human Services Committee and Emily Slosberg was added to the Judiciary Committee.

July 07, 2017

Republican House candidate sues opponent ahead of primary

@martindvassolo

Jose Mallea, a Republican running for state House in Miami-Dade County, is attempting to force his opponent to withdraw from the race for House District 116.

In a lawsuit filed Friday against fellow Republican Daniel Perez, Mallea requests that a Leon County Circuit Court rule Perez ineligible to run, citing a Miami Herald article that found Perez does not currently live at the address he listed when running for office.

The Kendall home where Perez receives his mail, is registered to vote and claims homestead exemption is under major construction, and it will be for the foreseeable future.

In the meantime, Perez said he is living with his father elsewhere in the district, although he has not disclosed that address to the Miami Herald.

The Florida Constitution requires legislators to live in the district they represent by Election Day. For Perez, that’d be Sept. 26, if he defeats Mallea in a July 25 primary. Perez has said he does not know if construction will be completed by Sept. 26.

If Perez lives with his father in the district, he would not be in violation even if he doesn’t live at his listed address.

But Mallea’s lawsuit claims that Perez should be forced to withdraw his candidacy because the sworn statement to the state’s Division of Elections that he lives at his home is now false, which would be in violation of Florida statute.

“Daniel Perez’s relationship with the truth is estranged at best,” Mallea said in a statement. “To knowingly identify an uninhabitable building with no roof as his address is the latest in his pattern of lies.”

Perez could not be immediately reached for comment.

Mallea has also been accused of not living in the district, although he says he has moved into a rented apartment unit in Doral. He provided the Miami Herald copies of his Florida Power and Light bill and his updated voter registration.

Florida House responds to Broward Schools' threat of lawsuit with promotional video

Capture

@ByKristenMClark

Two days after the Broward County School Board decided to sue over newly enacted and controversial statewide education reforms, Florida House Republicans countered by debuting a promotional video that touts their hotly debated “Schools of Hope” plan.

The “Hope” program — a top session priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes — is one of several provisions within House Bill 7069 that attorneys for the Broward school district plan to argue is unconstitutional.

Corcoran on Wednesday said the Broward School Board’s vote earlier that day to file a lawsuit was “clueless” and “arguably heartless,” in part, because “Schools of Hope” aims to break the cycle of traditional public schools that earn failing grades year after year.

RELATED: “Broward Schools to sue over controversial new schools law”

The House’s new video advertising “Schools of Hope” is the most recent product of an aggressive digital marketing strategy implemented under Corcoran, who took over as speaker in November.

The video’s message — and an accompanying tweet from Corcoran promoting it — are consistent with how Republican lawmakers have argued in defense of HB 7069: By casting critics as people opposed to helping tens of thousands of children in perpetually failing schools who might not have other public education options to turn to.

“As they prepare to sue ... we help prepare kids to soar,” Corcoran wrote Friday on Twitter, appearing to reference the Broward County School Board.

Watch the video and read our full story here.

Image credit: "Florida House of Representatives" YouTube page

June 29, 2017

Miami House candidate lists home under construction as residence

Perez home construction@martindvassolo @PatriciaMazzei

The Kendall home where a Miami Republican candidate for the Florida House says he lives is a shell of a house, with no roof and little more than walls under construction.

Daniel Perez lists the house on Southwest 84th Street in Kendallwood as his residence on his voter registration and all of his candidacy documents, and he gets a tax-break homestead exemption there. But he isn’t currently sleeping there.

Perez said Thursday that while the house is under construction, he has been living with father in an apartment elsewhere in the district. He refused to provide the address to verify if it's within House District 116 boundaries.

“I think this is borderline ridiculous,” he said of being asked about his residency. His parents own a house outside the district, public records show.

Florida requires legislators to live in the districts they represent by Election Day. For Perez, that'd be Sept. 26, if he defeats rival Jose Mallea in the July 25 primary. Perez said he's unsure if construction on his new home will be finished by Sept. 26.

He said he lived in the home he and his now-fiancée bought for $460,000 a year ago before the new construction began a couple of months ago. Perez switched his voter registration to the home last September, and hasn't changed it since.

Perez debuted a TV ad Wednesday attacking Mallea for not living in the district -- though Mallea says he moved into a Doral rental apartment within district boundaries on June 15.

This post has been updated.

Photo: Martin Vassolo, The Miami Herald

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