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June 24, 2015

Miami archbishop says Pope Francis’ words nudged Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush on climate change

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski believes Pope Francis’ recent document on global warming is already changing the climate of the conversation in the presidential race, particularly among two friends, both members of his flock — and both angling for the most powerful position in the world.

Wenski said comments on climate change by Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, Republicans and devout Roman Catholics from Miami, have been noticeably milder in tone since Francis weighed in.

“Both of them, at least from what I can gather, have walked back some of their earlier comments,” Wenski told the Miami Herald in an interview Wednesday. He called the presidential contenders’ willingness to talk about how to solve the problems created by global warming an encouraging sign. “What the pope is saying is, ‘Let’s talk about this.’ And that requires — whether you’re Democrat or Republican or left or right — it requires that you transcend your particular interest or ideological lens and look at the issue from the common good.”

Rubio’s and Bush’s campaigns dispute that their candidates altered anything as a result of Francis’ encyclical, a teaching document published last week by the popular pope, who argued a religious case for protecting the environment.

The two politicians have said if humans are causing temperatures to rise — and they’re not convinced they are, despite broad scientific evidence to the contrary — a president must still promote policies that benefit the economy over ones that benefit the environment. Both are trying to raise campaign cash from some affluent donors, including the industrialist Koch brothers, who strenuously oppose policies that would curb carbon emissions.

But the candidates have not dismissed Francis’ intervention in the debate.

More here.

Does Florida flag echo Confederate banner?

via @glenngarvin

To art majors it’s a saltire, a heraldic symbol. To theologians, it’s a St. Andrew’s Cross, named for the Christian apostle who was nailed upon it. To a lot of us, it’s just a big red X. But is that thing criss-crossing Florida’s state flag really a racist symbol of the old Confederacy?

Some historians think so. Others say it’s a remnant of an even older period of history, when Florida was still under Spanish colonial rule. And some say it’s unknown and probably unknowable.

“You can read into this what you want to believe, and each generation will weigh in differently,” says Gary Mormino, an emeritus history professor at University of South Florida-St. Petersburg and author of several books on the state’s history. “And I have a feeling that, maybe in a generation or two, nobody will be interested any more.”

That moment, however, feels a long way off amid the growing public outcry about political symbols of the Confederate South in the wake of last week’s murder of nine black worshipers at a Charleston, S.C. church by a white man gunman who spouted racist rhetoric. The man charged in the case, Dylann Roof, appears in several photographs on a website holding replicas of the stars-and-bars Confederate battle flag.

More here.

Was Florida's graduation rate 'dead last' when Jeb Bush left office and does it remain near the bottom?

Jeb Bush often talks about how Florida’s graduation rate was abysmal when he became governor and has since risen.

But former state Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, says that the state's graduation rate was nothing to brag about when Bush left office -- or today.

"In 1998, when a newly elected Gov. Bush and a compliant Legislature started Florida’s ‘education revolution,’ our graduation rate was among the lowest in the nation," Gelber wrote in a June 21 Miami Herald op-ed. "After Bush’s two terms in office, Florida’s graduation rate was dead last and remains near the bottom."

He’s right that Florida’s graduation rate was among the lowest in the nation when Bush entered office in January 1999. But when Bush left in January 2007, was the state’s graduation rate "dead last," and does it remain near the bottom today? The answer depends upon which ranking we examine.

See what PolitiFact Florida found. 

Seminole Tribe starts clock on 30-day dispute resolution process over card games

Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman James E. Billie on Wednesday put Gov. Rick Scott on notice that the tribe believes it is entitled to stop paying the state about $216 million a year and to continue offering banked card games unless the state resolves the issue in formal dispute resolution within 30 days.

Under the 2010 gaming compact with the state, the tribe has the exclusive right to operate banked card games -- black jack, baccarat and chemin de fer --  at five of its seven casinos. But under the terms of the 20-year agreement, the tribe is permitted to continue offering banked card games for the full term of the compact if the state permits anyone else to offer such games. If the tribe is no longer the exclusive provider of the games, it also may stop making revenue payments to the state for them -- an estimated loss of about $216 million a year. 

The tribe contends that the state Division of Parimutuel Wagering has violated its right to offer banked card games exclusively in Florida and therefore it is entitled to operate the games even after the provision of the compact that governs the card games expires in July.

The tribe argues that the state triggered this provision by authorizing various video-based blackjack and baccarat stations at non-tribal slot casinos in Miami Dade and Broward counties in February 2011 and by allowing "double hand poker and three card poker" at cardrooms at Ebro Greyhound Park in North Florida, Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream Racetrack in Hallandale Beach last year. 

Continue reading "Seminole Tribe starts clock on 30-day dispute resolution process over card games" »

Bobby Jindal becomes 13th Republican presidential candidate

@PatriciaMazzei

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal confirmed Wednesday on Twitter that he's running for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

He becomes the 13th announced GOP candidate, after Donald Trump formally filed to run Monday. 

Marco Rubio fights conservative backlash over his support of Obama trade authority

via @learyreports

Sen. Marco Rubio has a new headache from the right: His support for President Obama’s Pacific trade deal.

“Marco Rubio Casts Deciding Vote For Obamatrade Without Even Reading It,” screamed a headline in Breitbart News, which last rode the Florida Republican on immigration.

Deciding vote is hyperbolic but Rubio’s was essential as the measure was advanced Tuesday by 60 votes, the exact number needed to overcome the Senate’s procedural hurdles.

A number of conservative groups have lashed out at giving Obama fast track authority on trade deals, claiming the accords have been created in secret and warning it wouuld bring in more foreign workers. Plus they don’t want to give Obama any more power.

Rubio felt it enough to push back on Twitter today, linking to a National Review story that says Rubio did read the deal.

As noted earlier, the trade issue has divided Republican candidates. In the Senate, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz voted no yesterday.

Rubio after the vote breezed by reporters without taking questions. He hasn’t said much publicly about the deal lately but was a visible champion, writing in the Wall Street Journal and calling on action during his first foreign policy speech as a presidential candidate.

“It is more important than ever that Congress give the president trade promotion authority so that he can finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership,” Rubio said in a May 13 speech before the Council on Foreign Relations.

Jeb Bush also supports the deal.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

The ACLU is trying to stop the 24-hour abortion waiting period before it goes into effect next week

Women's clinics and the state government are waiting on a Tallahassee judge to decide whether a controversial 24-hour abortion waiting period passed by the Legislature this spring will go into effect next week.

The law, which is scheduled to go into effect July 1, requires that a woman see a doctor at least 24 hours before having an abortion.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of a clinic in Gainesville shortly after Gov. Rick Scott signed the measure earlier this month. They say the waiting period is overly restrictive, creates an "undue burden" and is unconstitutional under the Florida Constitution's sweeping privacy protections.

Now, they're asking a judge to step in and use an injunction to prevent the law from being enforced while they continue a legal battle with the state.

Chief Judge Charles Francis said he expects to issue a decision soon, but that it wouldn't be until Thursday at the earliest. He could decide either to temporarily stop the law from going into effect or to allow it to continue. In either case, it is likely the question will be appealed.

It's important to note that while an injunction would halt the 24-hour wait period requirement temporarily, it will not be the end to the lawsuit. So it's entirely possible that that injunction will be granted but that the law will be upheld as constitutional at a later point.

In the lawsuit, the ACLU argues that the waiting period is overly burdensome, particularly for women who live far from a clinic or cannot take time off work.

"It imposes burdens both small and large, tangible and intangible on women who seek abortion," Renee Paradis, a New York-based attorney for the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project, said Wednesday during a court hearing in Leon County. "And it puts the state in between a woman and her doctor and their decisions about her health."

But Blaine Winship, special counsel in the attorney general's office, argues that the Legislature has both a significant interest and a clear right to create a waiting period. The new law would not be unduly burdensome, he said.

"One, pregnent women are a vulnerable group ... the distinct interests of fetuses are also at stake," Winship said. "That's because abortions are irreversible terminations of life."

And the state has the unique ability to protect those interests, he said.

As agreement puts end to LIP debate -- for now -- it also means losses for local hospitals

@MaryEllenKlas @dchangmiami

The tumultuous debate over the future of healthcare funding for the poor came to a quiet end Tuesday as the governor signed into law a budget that includes $1 billion in federal funds to pay for charity care and raise Medicaid rates at Florida hospitals.

In a letter to state officials, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said they have “agreed in principle” to a Florida plan for distribution of the Low Income Pool (LIP) funds that pay for hospital care for Medicaid beneficiaries and the low-income uninsured. The plan also calls for paying higher Medicaid rates to hospitals, particularly those that care for large numbers of uninsured patients.

State lawmakers had to redesign the LIP program and raise Medicaid reimbursement rates because the federal government reduced LIP money for Florida by $1.2 billion for the coming year, which led to a budget impasse between the House and Senate this spring and then to a special session on the budget that ended last week.

The Senate, siding with business groups, hospitals and health insurers across the state, wanted to offset the loss of LIP money by creating a privately-run insurance exchange to draw down federal Medicaid expansion money available under the Affordable Care Act. But the House rejected the plan, resulting in the budget standoff. 

Government regulators agreed to extend Florida’s 9-year-old LIP program, but capped spending for the coming year at $1 billion in combined federal and state funds. Under the agreement, combined LIP spending will be capped at $608 million the following year, starting in July 2016.

For this year’s budget, legislators decided to inject $400 million in state funds, which will draw down $600 million in federal matching funds, to raise Medicaid rates for hospitals — offsetting the reduction in LIP funds with higher rates.

Continue reading "As agreement puts end to LIP debate -- for now -- it also means losses for local hospitals" »

Scott’s vetoes cut into local South Florida projects

Gov. Rick Scott’s veto ax hit South Florida deeply Tuesday, cutting projects with both local support and others that were priorities for local government.

Scott cut a record total of $461 million from the $78.7 billion state budget and made the deepest local cut to Florida International University. The state school lost $5 million intended for a land swap that would allow it to move into a portion of a county park currently occupied by the Miami-Dade Youth Fair.

FIU has offered to move the fair, but negotiations are at an impasse as fair executives insist the cost of the project will be several times more than the $40 million estimated by supporters. Last year, Scott approved $10 million in state funds toward the move, but this year the governor appeared to side with fair executives and said the spending was not acceptable because “a total project cost had not been established.”

The veto disappointed members of the Miami-Dade legislative delegation, which pushed for the funding as a top priority.

The governor left intact, however, two local university projects related to autism — $1.7 million for the University of Miami’s Center for Autism and $750,000 for the Dan Marino Foundation. He also agreed to steer $965,000 to the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and $500,000 to Camillus House to serve sexually exploited adolescent girls.

The governor, however, cut several urban parks and bike trails because they “circumvent the Transportation Work Program.” Among them: $2 million for the Underline Linear Park and Urban Trail in Miami, a 10-mile linear park running under the county's elevated Metrorail system from Miami to Dadeland.

More here.

Jeb Bush's campaign finance chairman will be New York Jets owner Woody Johnson

Jeb Bush has named Woody Johnson, the billionaire New York Jets football team owner and top Republican fund-raiser, as his national finance chairman and Jack Oliver as co-chairman.

Johnson has been spending lots of time with Bush, lending him his private jet to go to Europe to polish his foreign-policy credentials and appearing with the candidate at a Greenwich, Connecticut, fund-raiser Tuesday evening. The Johnson pick was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Bush's second week as a declared candidate also includes finance events in Miami, Tampa, Jacksonville, Orlando, New York, Chicago, Houston, Dallas and Tulsa.

 "Woody's longstanding commitment to public service and strong track record of working with people of different backgrounds to accomplish big goals represent the values and priorities of Jeb's campaign," Bush adviser Sally Bradshaw said in a statement. "Under the leadership of Woody, Jack Oliver, Heather Larrison and so many others, I'm confident Jeb will have the resources needed to share his message of expanding economic opportunity for all Americans to voters across the nation."

In a statement, Johnson called Bush "a bold and thoughtful leader with the vision and experience to ensure our nation’s greatest days remain ahead. As governor, he was able to unite Floridians around the shared goals of opportunity, growth, prosperity and freedom, achieving tremendous results for his state."

The campaign plans to name more finance appointees later.

This post and its headline have been updated to substitute the Wall Street Journal's story with our own reporting.