June 09, 2017

Funding for HB 7069 left alone after Senate backs off

Florida Legislature (22)


Florida senators wanting a second crack at stopping a contentious $419 million education reform bill that narrowly passed the Legislature last month were unsuccessful on Thursday in defunding it to redirect the dollars to general K-12 public school spending.

Broward County Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer led the charge to undo HB 7069, after Senate Pre-K-12 education budget chairman David Simmons — earlier passionately defiant — backed off his plans to force lawmakers to revisit the legislation during a three-day special session, even though it’s not on the Legislature’s restricted agenda.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, of Land O’Lakes, and his Republican caucus have dismissed the Senate’s effort as a waste of time and said even if the Senate approved changes to the HB 7069 funding, they wouldn’t support them. The bill is a top priority of Corcoran’s.

But Senate Democrats cast Thursday as the day for the Senate to stand up for itself and “redo” the May 8 result when the legislation passed by one vote.

Full details here.

Photo credit: AP

June 07, 2017

Diaz de la Portilla faces foreclosure on out-of-district home


On campaign filings for the District 40 state Senate race, Republican Alex Diaz de la Portilla lists two addresses: a mattress company that belongs to his father and a five-bedroom West Miami home facing foreclosure.

Both lie outside the district he is running to represent, a large swath of Southwest Miami-Dade County.

The mattress company, Dé Mattress Inc., is located in District 38. The home, which has a homestead exemption reserved for primary residences, is located in District 37 in West Miami.

Florida law requires candidates for state office to live in their district by Election Day, which will be Sept. 26.

In an interview with the Miami Herald, Diaz de la Portilla acknowledged he doesn’t currently live in the district but said that he plans to rent a home or apartment unit before the deadline approaches. He said it is to be expected, with the surprise resignation of former state Sen. Frank Artiles in April and the announcement of a special election by Gov. Rick Scott, but he is looking at several options for his move.

As for the mattress company, he said he runs his political consulting firm, First Stone Management LLC, from inside the space.

He said despite not living in the district, he has served more voters of District 40 over his decades of public service in the state Legislature than all of his competitors combined.

“I have very deep ties with this district,” he said.

Diaz de la Portilla is running against two other Republicans, three Democrats and an independent candidate in the special election to replace Artiles,who vacated his seat in April after making offensive remarks to colleagues. The primary will be July 25.

According to the Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser, Diaz de la Portilla and his ex-wife jointly own the West Miami home. In April, Wells Fargo filed a notice in county court seeking to foreclose on the home, according to a copy of the notice obtained by the Herald and first reported by Politico. Diaz de la Portilla listed the home as being worth $603,357 in a financial disclosure form. Diaz de la Portilla said the foreclosure was a necessary step toward modifying the loan on his home following a divorce.

“It should be resolved shortly,” he said.

Diaz de la Portilla blamed the “sleazy campaign” tactics of fellow Republican candidate and former Rep. Jose Felix Diaz for bringing the foreclosure notice to light, an accusation Diaz denied Wednesday.

“[His] financial mismanagement is a matter of public record,” Diaz wrote in a text message.

Democrat who switched parties too late withdraws from state Senate race


Steve Smith signed an oath when he qualified as a candidate for the state Senate last week saying he’s been a registered Democrat for a year.

Not quite.

Florida law requires anyone qualifying as a party candidate to state in writing that they have not been a member of another party for a full year before qualifying.

Smith, a long-time Republican and the CEO of a Miami tech consulting firm, registered as a Democrat on June 10, 2016, less than a year before he and six other candidates qualified on May 30 — 12 days short of a year — for the District 40 seat left vacant by former Sen. Frank Artiles.

Hours after a Miami Herald story went online Tuesday about the apparent violation, Smith he withdrew his candidacy, saying he did not want to jeopardize the Democratic Party’s chances to turn the seat blue and his own political aspirations down the road.

“It is what it is,” he said.

Had he remained in the race, Smith would have been vulnerable to a challenge, if one of his opponents had taken him to court. The state Division of Elections, through which candidates file their paperwork, does not police the accuracy of the information provided, simply that it has been completed in full, a spokeswoman said.

Mark Herron, a Tallahassee elections attorney who has worked with Democrats in the past, said if Smith were to win the Democratic primary on July 25 and a Republican opponent successfully sued him, Democratic candidates might not be able to fill that spot because of a provision in the vacancy and nominations statutes, which states that a primary victor who is found to have improperly qualified for a party’s nomination cannot be replaced by another candidate.

Alex Diaz de la Portilla, a Republican front-runner in the special election, said Tuesday he would have challenged Smith’s candidacy if he had gone on and won the Democratic primary.

“I would have sued him,” Diaz de la Portilla said, calling the situation unfortunate because Smith appeared to have just missed the deadline to switch parties. “Poor guy.”

Smith told the Herald he wasn’t aware of the violation, saying he thought he was “within the window.”

He said he consulted with an attorney and with the general counsel of the Florida Board of Elections before reaching his decision to withdraw. Asked if he would support one of his opponents, he said he would be backing Annette Taddeo, a Democrat. Smith said his sights were now set on a possible run for the 26th Congressional District seat — now held by Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

“I want to continue to fight for the people of my district,” Smith said.

Photo: Steve Smith

June 05, 2017

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



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

June 02, 2017

Democrats take advantage of high-profile absences during District 40 forum



With two big-name Republicans a no-show, the rest of the field vying for the Florida Senate seat left vacant by Republican Frank Artiles when he suddenly resigned in April pounced on the opportunity to speak directly to voters at a candidate forum Thursday night, the first in the special election race.

Scheduling conflicts prevented Rep. Jose Felix Diaz and former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla from addressing a mostly black crowd at the panel inside Second Baptist Church, 11111 Pinkston Dr. in Richmond Heights, leaving some community members disappointed.

Wylamerle Marshall, 89, said their absences proved to her they were not committed to serving her district, District 40 in Southwest Miami-Dade.

“Their not being involved in the process tells me they are not that interested in the position that they are running for,” she said. “I would not waste my time with them.”

The absence left just one Republican in attendance, attorney Lorenzo Palomares.

But he struggled to get his footing, with the more liberal candidates receiving the majority of the applause as they condemned attacks on the Affordable Care Act and President Donald Trump's decision on Thursday to pull the U.S. from the Paris climate accord — both federal issues unrelated to the state Legislature.

On the climate accord decision, Palomares referred to global warming as a theory that could have harmful impacts, depending on if you believe in it or not.

“It's a concept,” he said, to confused looks from some audience members.

He said the accord was a contract made in “good faith,” and that it was unenforceable.

Democrats in the race — former state Rep. Ana Rivas Logan, Steve Smith and Annette Taddeo — along with independent candidate Christian “He-Man” Schlaerth, maintained their support for climate science and said they fear dramatic sea-level rise in Miami-Dade County.

“It's real, it's happening,” said Smith, a first-time candidate and founder of a tech consulting company. “We are at ground zero in South Florida.”

Taddeo, a translation business owner who has suffered several political defeats in recent years, said she was “”absolutely devastated” and embarrassed to hear of Trump's plan.

“I cannot believe, in this community specifically, that the United States of America has joined Syria and Nicaragua — those are the only two countries that have not joined in the Paris accord,” she said. “We are living climate change.”

Candidates from all sides came to a consensus against state House Bill 7069, a controversial education bill that will allow charter schools to share tax dollars with public schools. They also agreed that the Affordable Care Act was in need of reform, although Palomares was far more critical of the federal legislation than his counterparts.

In the end, each candidate made their case as to why they deserved former Artiles' seat, one he left vacant after resigning in April following offensive remarks he made to two senators.

Palomares flaunted his record as a civil-rights attorney; Smith touted his experience in the tech industry, and Taddeo noted her commitment to the African-American community. Rivas Logan, a teacher of nearly 30 years at Robert Morgan Educational Center, and Schlaerth, an adjunct professor at a handful of local colleges, talked up their experience with the education system.

Photo: Matias J. Ocner, The Miami Herald

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article153959094.html#storylink=cpy

May 12, 2017

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


@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 08, 2017

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


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



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

May 06, 2017

In final session votes, lawmakers trade 'Stand Your Ground' for religious liberties in schools

Stand Your GroundBy Jim Turner
News Service of Florida

A change to the state’s “stand your ground” self-defense law is heading to Gov. Rick Scott after the Senate agreed late Friday to go along with a House proposal.

The House and Senate both wanted to change the law but had clashed on a legal issue in the bill (SB 128).

But with time running out in the legislative session Friday, the Senate voted 22-14 — with Tallahassee Democrat Bill Montford joining Republicans in support — to accept the House proposal.

The move came in exchange for getting the House to accept the Senate’s more far-reaching language on a separate measure (SB 436) dealing with religious expression in public schools.

“I thought that it was a reasonable resolution to both matters, and they’re both constitutional issues,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who sponsored the “stand your ground” bill. “And we wrapped it all up in a bow, and we resolved them both in a satisfactory manner.”

More here.

Photo credit: AP

May 05, 2017

Mammoth education budget bill will decide testing, recess, teacher bonus policies and more

Florida Legislature (7)


At the insistence of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, numerous major changes to education policy for Florida’s K-12 public schools — from teacher bonuses and daily recess, to testing reforms and expansions for charter schools — were crammed into a single mammoth bill on Friday, with $414 million in spending attached.

All of the policies in the the 278-page bill (HB 7069) will pass or fail as one on Monday, when lawmakers vote on the annual budget.

No changes can be made to the bill. House and Senate members have less than two days to make sense of it before they must cast an up-or-down vote.

If lawmakers’ pass it, the bill ties the hand of Republican Gov. Rick Scott. Should he want to veto the bill, he would be politically responsible for shooting down every policy in it — particularly the parent-demanded daily recess measure.

Corcoran told reporters it wasn’t political strategy to link all of the policies together, but he showed his cards a week ago when he tweeted after midnight Saturday that “the problem with recess is the governor not the Legislature.” (He pointed out Friday that that tweet ended up being true and was simply “just a week early.”)

But the sheer size and scope of the new version of HB 7069 caught many lawmakers by surprise — even those closely involved in negotiating the compromise between both parties and both chambers.

Several senators, in particular, were troubled by the process and said the bill wouldn’t automatically have their support.

Full details here.

Photo credit: Senate President Joe Negron, center right, watches as Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran, left, and House members work out budget differences during a budget conference late afternoon Friday, May 5, 2017 at the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. Mark Wallheiser/AP