Note: This blog's templates will be updated this afternoon to a responsive design bringing it in line with

At that time, we will also change to the Facebook commenting system. You will need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment.

April 20, 2017

Artiles controversy engulfs Florida Senate with two weeks left of session

@PatriciaMazzei @stevebousquet @ByKristenMClark @MaryEllenKlas

TALLAHASSEE -- Controversy raged in the Florida Capitol for a second day Thursday over Sen. Frank Artilesracist and sexist tirade, distracting and slowing down the Legislature just two weeks before the end of the annual lawmaking session and building pressure on the Miami Republican to resign — or risk the potential career-ending condemnation of the Senate.

The Senate abruptly canceled formal meetings Thursday afternoon as leaders scrambled to find a quick resolution to Artiles’ political future. As a Senate lawyer began taking sworn statements about Artiles’ Monday-night verbal assault on two black colleagues at a bar near the Capitol, the senator hired a defense attorney who argued Artiles’ use of the n-word and other insults are constitutionally protected free speech.

Meanwhile, the two black lawmakers Artiles targeted in his alcohol-laced rant got national attention as they demanded that he resign or be removed from office.

“They’re not trying to protect him,” Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, said of Senate leaders. “But Frank is the type you have to drag out kicking and screaming. He’s not the type to surrender.”

Thurston was with Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, at the Governors Club Lounge on Monday night when Artiles, unhappy that Gibson opposed one of his bills, let loose with a barrage of racially tinged profanity. He referred to Gibson as a “bitch” and a “girl,” and dropped the phrase “fucking asshole.” Artiles denied none of the language when he apologized Wednesday on the Senate floor. 

If Artiles hoped his apology would end the controversy, it had the opposite effect. Protesters picketed his Miami office and crowded his Tallahassee office, where security ensured they were not disruptive. Artiles was nowhere to be found.

More here.

Photo credit: José A. Iglesias, el Nuevo Herald

Speaker Corcoran's message to parents wanting school recess: Be patient

Corcoran_Richard Swearing In (1)


Speaker Richard Corcoran told reporters Thursday that there’s plenty of time in the final two weeks of the 2017 session for the Florida House to vote on a bill that would require more time for recess in public elementary schools, but he would not commit to holding a floor vote as parents demand.

When asked if the House would take up a parent-supported bill (SB 78), which passed the Senate unanimously two weeks ago, Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, said during a press conference: “What I’d say on that is: We have two weeks left. There’s a lot of activity on the recess bill that’s still happening, and anything is possible.”

The House version of the recess bill — which was significantly watered-down and is no longer supported by parents, health and physical education experts, or the lawmaker sponsoring it — is stalled in a committee that’s not scheduled to meet again. There is no visible action by House members that indicates that status would change.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

Scott-O-Meter update: Stalled promise to be No. 1 in reading, math



Gov. Rick Scott vowed in his second term to reach for the stars when it comes to student tests.

Scott promised in 2014 that Florida would be "No. 1 in the nation for student performance in reading and math."

To compare test scores among the states, researchers and politicians typically point to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which tests progress in a variety of subjects including English and math at certain grade levels every other year.

Florida is nowhere near the top in reading or math for fourth or eighth graders.

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

Artiles asks Negron and Senate's general counsel to recuse themselves from his investigation

Frank ArtillesThe Florida Senate abruptly canceled all formal meetings Thursday afternoon as Senate leaders scrambled to find a quick resolution to the political future of Sen. Frank Artiles, the Miami Republican being asked to resign by his Senate colleagues after his racist-laced comments about them in a bar earlier this week.

Artiles hired a lawyer and formally asked Senate President Joe Negron, the Senate's general counsel, Dawn Roberts, and five other senators to recuse themselves from the pending investigation, and appoint an independent investigator. He suggested the Senate does not have jurisdiction and the inquiry is flawed.

"Due to your various public comments concerning this m request that you recuse yourself from participating in debate or voting on any issues concerning Senator Artiles coming before the Senate,'' wrote Steven R. Andrews, a Tallahassee lawyer hired by Artiles. "Respectfully, your public statements seems to indicate that you may have prejudged this matter and may have improperly considered matters outside of the written complaint of Senator Thurston."

The letters came after Rep. Jose Oliva, the incoming House speaker, told the Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau that he had reservations about the way Negron had handled the investigation, suggesting that it was setting Artiles up for a "kangaroo court" because the injured parties would be sitting in judgment on his fate. 

Andrews argued that the short time period laid out by Negron -- requiring Roberts to produce a report to the Senate Rules Chairman Lizbeth Benacquisto by the close of business on Tuesday -- was a violation of his due process rights. He said that Artiles will depose Sens. Perry Thurston, Lizbeth Benacquisto, Anitere Flores and Oscar Braynon.  Download Artiles letter to Dawn Roberts



Fact-checking a claim about investments by University of South Florida


University of South Florida students, faculty and alumni are revamping their efforts to have more say in how the university invests its money.

A new video called "#HeyJudy" from the USF Divest coalition urges USF administrators to stop investing in a number of industries that they don’t support, such as private prison operators, tobacco companies, oil companies and weapons manufacturers.

A cool-talking student narrator (he’s "kind of a big deal") lays out the problem and calls on USF President Judy Genshaft to implement an ethical review process giving students and faculty some influence over where the money goes.

The video laces comments from a the narrator with asides from people who control the industry being called out.

"Here at the University of South Florida we invest in oil companies," the narrator says.

"Like BP, even though we screwed up your coastline," says a man dressed like an oil executive. "Ooo."

"Tobacco companies," the narrator says, adding to the list.

"USF hypocritically proudly tobacco free, yet, the school shares in tobacco’s plentiful profits," says a man with a cigar in tow.

"That is hypocritical," the narrator responds. "We also invest in weapons manufacturers."

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

Q poll: Trump spends too much time at Mar-a-Lago


via @learyreports

President Donald Trump spends too much time at properties owned by his company, including Mar-a-Lago, according to a new Qunnipiac poll.

Fifty-five percent of voters in the national survey had that opinion vs. 34 percent who did not. Half of voters say Trump does not spend enough time at the White House, while 2 percent say he spends too much time and 38 percent feel he’s hit the right amount.

Trump has visited Mar-a-Lago seven times and could soon shift visits to his golf property in New Jersey.

A total of 35 percent of American voters are “very comfortable” or “somewhat comfortable” with the amount spent on security so President Trump and his family can stay in  places other than the White House, while 60 percent are “not so comfortable” or “not
comfortable at all.”

The poll was conducted April 12-18 and includes 1,062 voters nationwide with a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Charles Trainor Jr., Miami Herald staff

PolitiFact's guide to fake news



At first look, certainly seems a trustworthy source. So does And Even has an official ring to it.

But all of these websites peddle bogus stories, either by making up fake news or sharing it from other sources. And it’s not always apparent to readers that’s the case.

Since December, we at PolitiFact have been partnering with Facebook to root out fabricated reports shared by social media users. As of April 19, we’ve written more than 80 fact-checks about fake news stories. We’ve noted some trends along the way, chief among them that it can be really difficult for readers — from casual skimmers to seasoned newshounds — to spot fake news outlets when they pop up.

It’s also difficult to determine where these fictional stories come from, and just how they spread across the Internet.

Using our experiences, we've been able to create our own fake news almanac. We want to help readers sort out fact from fiction on your social news feeds, so we compiled a list of every website on which we’ve found deliberately false or fake news stories since we started working along with Facebook — 156 in all.

Keep reading from PolitiFact.

Voting rights ballot initiative gets green light from Supreme Court

The Florida Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Thursday that a proposed constitutional amendment to restore the voting rights of convicted felons can appear on the 2018 ballot.

The court's decision, written by Justice Fred Lewis, is an important legal victory for voting rights advocates, who are collecting signatures from around the state to place the question before voters next year.

"First, the ballot title and summary clearly and unambiguously inform the voters of the chief purpose of the proposed amendment," Lewis wrote. "Read together, the title and summary would reasonably lead voters to understand that the chief purpose of the amendment is to automatically restore voting rights to felony offenders, except those convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses, upon completion of all terms of their sentence. Second, the ballot title and summary also do not mislead voters with regard to the actual content of the proposed amendment. Rather, together they recite the language of the amendment almost in full."

Florida has an estimated 1.5 million felons who have been stripped of their voting rights, more than any other state.

Attorney General Pam Bondi's office did not file a brief with the court on the ballot title and summary. The proposed amendment would undo a policy change enacted by Bondi, Gov. Rick Scott and other Cabinet members in 2011 that requires most convicted felons to wait for five years after leaving prison before they can file a clemency petition, seeking to regain the right to vote. Scott, a Republican who's considered a heavy favorite to run for the U.S. Senate in 2018, told the Times/Herald in 2016 he supports the existing restrictions.


Artiles' remarks were "reprehensible," fellow Miami senator says



Senate President Pro Tempore Anitere Flores -- the No. 2 senator behind President Joe Negron, R-Stuart -- is among those appalled by the crude, racist and sexist words her fellow Miami Republican colleague, Sen. Frank Artiles, used earlier this week when speaking to two black lawmakers.

"I think everything he said is reprehensible -- and not language that should be used by a professional and not language that should be used with regards to colleagues," Flores told the Herald/Times.

MORE: "Legislative complaint seeks to expel Miami lawmaker from Senate over ‘racist rant’ "

A member of the Rules Committee -- which will eventually decide on a formal complaint calling for Artiles' expulsion from the Senate -- Flores was deliberative in responding to a question of whether Artiles should resign.

"At this point, we have a process, and this process is being done," she said. "There are investigations being done by the Senate ... so I want to see what are the recommendations that come back from the special master. My understanding this is very much like a legal and judicial proceeding, so we have to be respectful of that -- but as far as what he said, I think that the words that he used were wrong."

Flores added: "Now we are in a formal process, where I as a member of the Rules Committee will have to serve as one of the decision-makers. I think that procedurally those of us on the Rules Committee are probably being cautioned to not comment too much because of that."

A couple other senators on the committee -- Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon, of Miami Gardens, and committee vice-chairman Sen. Perry Thurston, of Fort Lauderdale -- have been more vocal about what outcome they believe should befall Artiles: Expulsion from the Senate.

Thurston was present at the Governors Club in Tallahassee on Monday night, when Artiles used profanity and a racist slur while speaking to -- and insulting -- Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville.

On Wednesday, Artiles formally apologized on the Senate floor, but it did little to quell growing public outrage. Later that day, Thurston and Braynon led a press conference of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, which voted to initiate the formal complaint against Artiles.

Later Wednesday -- after Rules Committee chairwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, found the complaint had "probable cause" -- the chamber's general counsel Dawn Roberts was appointed to serve as a special master tasked with investigating the complaint and reporting back with a recommendation to Rules by April 25.

The 2017 legislative session is scheduled to end May 5.

Photo credit: AP

Lawmakers, politicians sound off on social media about Frank Artiles

Blackcaucus 0419


Several state lawmakers and other politicians in the state have taken to social media to express their anger since the news broke Tuesday evening that Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles had used curse words and a racial slur to insult a black female lawmaker and describe other senators.

Artiles apologized privately by Tuesday evening and formally apologized publicly Wednesday morning on the Senate floor, but calls are mounting for him to resign.

MORE: "Legislative complaint seeks to expel Miami lawmaker from Senate over ‘racist rant’ "

Here's a snapshot of the reactions:

Continue reading "Lawmakers, politicians sound off on social media about Frank Artiles" »