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February 15, 2017

Negron names 6 Republicans and Chris Smith to the Constitution Revision Commission

Florida Constitution Florida MemorySenate President Joe Negron named eight Republicans and one Democrat to the powerful Constitution Revision Commission Wednesday that he said each have a "tireless work ethic" and a commitment to revising the state constitution to reform state education laws.

"The appointees are strong advocates for school choice opportunities that celebrate the power of the parents to determine what form of education is best for their child,'' Negron said in a statement.

Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran each have nine appointments to the 37-member commission that meets every 20 years to put constitutional amendments directly on the 2018 ballot.

Gov. Rick Scott has 15 appointments to the panel, and will name its chair, and Supreme Court Justice Jorge Labarga made his three appointments to the panel last week. Attorney General Pam Bondi is also automatically a member of the commission. 

Negron made his selections from a list of 100 applicants and among those he rejected were  two sitting senators, Dana Young, R-Tampa and Greg Steube, R-Sarasota. 

Negron and Corcoran have both indicated they will choose applications to the panel who are committed to education reform and increasing school choice options for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Corcoran has said he wants the panel to recommend disabling the "Blaine Amendment," which prohibits state money from going into religious education programs, and both have been vigorous defenders of Florida's school voucher programs and the state's expansion of charter schools.

Continue reading "Negron names 6 Republicans and Chris Smith to the Constitution Revision Commission" »

In campaign throwback, Trump schedules Saturday rally in Melbourne

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President Donald Trump will return to his favorite part of campaigning -- holding massive public rallies -- Saturday when he once again returns to Florida for the weekend.

Trump has scheduled a 5 p.m. rally in Melbourne, according to an event listed on the website Trump used as a candidate. It will be held Orlando-Melbourne International Airport's AeroMod Hangar.

The president will spend the third consecutive weekend at Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach estate. He's expected to arrive in Florida on Friday.

Photo credit: John Locher, Associated Press (from a September rally in Melbourne)

Florida lawmakers in Congress pledge to deal with water issues

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- Florida's congressional delegation, which stretches from the far left to the far right, has successfully joined together to fight oil drilling efforts. Now the lawmakers are seeking common cause on a broader array of water quality issues facing the state.

A group of Republican and Democratic members met this morning to discuss algae blooms, red tide, Everglades restoration and Apalachicola Bay, even the sewage situation in St. Petersburg.

“Let’s get the politics out of this and make a difference,” said Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, co-chairman of the delegation. “We should be doing all we can to preserve the natural beauty of our state’s beaches and waterways. Coasts, lakes and rivers are key contributors to Florida’s thriving economy and serve as a vital habitat for plants and wildlife.”

It was the first meeting of the delgation this year and members posed questions to officials from the Army Corps and NOAA.

Attending the meeting was Buchanan, Neal Dunn, Gus Bilirakis, Darren Soto, John Rutherford, Francis Rooney, Charlie Crist, Al Lawson, Ted Yoho, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Frederica Wilson, Brian Mast and Lois Frankel.

"We are a powerful delegation when we united together," Wasserman Schultz said, recalling the effort to fight oil drilling. She and Buchanan are preparing new legislation against drilling. 

Buchanan said he wants the group to develop a multi-year plan. "A lot of things have been brushed under the rug for too long and now we need to get a comprehensive vision."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

House wants higher ethical standards for cities, special districts

The Florida House is forging full speed ahead with a plan to impose higher ethics laws on most city and town elected officials and to thousands of political appointees to local boards, including the Pinellas outfit that's the target of a grand jury investigation following a series of reports in the Tampa Bay Times.

The controversy that has engulfed the Pinellas Construction Licensing Board is likely to provide more impetus for the House proposals, part of House Speaker Richard Corcoran's policy agenda. Under the House proposal, most elected city officials would have to file the more detailed Form 6 statement of financial interests, which requires a reporting of assets and liabilities, property owned and the sources and amounts of income.

That's the form that legislators, county commissioners and constitutional officers must file, and the change has been a priority of the Commission on Ethics. As written, subject to change, the bill would require the use of Form 6 in every city that collects more than $5 million a year in taxes. A number of former legislators have been cited in recent years for violations of the ethics code for Form 6 omissions.

The House bill also creates Florida's first statewide local lobbyist registration system. Everyone who's paid to lobby local government would have to pay annual fees. Also under the House bill, every appointee of every board of a special district would be required to take an annual four-hour ethics course on conflicts of interest and other issues.

"We often hear people say, 'Ignorance of the law is no excuse,'" said Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, chairman of the House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee. "The other side of that coin is proper information about the law so they're not ignorant."

Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole (right), the only Pinellas lawmaker on Metz's committee, received assurances from Metz that the   IMG_6980 ethics training would apply to the Pinellas licensing board because it was created as a special district under a 1974 state law. Asked if the board needs some schooling on ethics, Ahern said: "I think so. Absolutely."

St. Petersburg building official Rick Dunn, the licensing board's interim chairman, also likes the idea. "I would support the requirement for the four-hour class," Dunn said, noting that contractors and other private citizens who serve on boards often aren't familiar with laws that govern elected and appointed officials.

Florida has about 1,840 special districts overseeing community development, fire protection, health care, mosquito control and transportation. The House's proposals would have to pass the full House and Senate and Gov. Rick Scott's signature to become law.

-- With reporting by Mark Puente, Tampa Bay Times

Gov. Scott's teacher incentive proposal gets pushback in Florida Senate

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Florida senators in charge of crafting the K-12 education budget for next year aren’t sold on Gov. Rick Scott’s ideas to incentivize future teachers so they enter and stay in the profession.

Scott proposes the state spend $58 million on a variety of new initiatives — including $10 million for a “one-time hiring bonus” for new teachers who score in the top 10 percent in their subject-area exam for the subject they’ll teach.

MORE: "Teachers get a top focus in Florida governor’s budget"

That idea, in particular, drew some resistance Wednesday from some senators on the pre-K-12 education budget committee, mainly due to its similarity to the current “Best & Brightest” teacher bonus program, which controversially rewards top teachers based on their SAT/ACT scores in high school.

“Best & Brightest” has been a House priority the past couple years, driven by now-Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes. Senators were reluctant to renew it last year through the annual budget but ultimately agreed to do so as a compromise with the House.

This year — even with half of the senators new — the reservations about the program’s rationale remain. And they’re seeping into discussions about Scott’s proposal (which notably does not include renewing “Best & Brightest”).

“It concerns me that we continue to look for the best performers in college — and not the best teachers,” Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, said.

Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, agreed.

“It seems to me that rather than just giving a check to a teacher upon graduation from college with no strings attached, we could perhaps offer some financial assistance with a contractual commitment while they’re in schools of education,” Young said. “If we’re looking at recruiting and retaining, that seems a more targeted and efficient use of our taxpayer dollars.”

Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart defended Scott’s proposal, saying research shows “when an individual has strong content knowledge, that does translate into better [student] performance in the classroom.”

Photo credit: Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart answers questions from the Senate pre-K-12 education budget committee on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. Florida Channel

After Pulse, Fort Lauderdale tragedies, 2 lawmakers want to end 'gun-free zones'


Concealed guns at Miami Dolphins games, local bars and even voting booths could be commonplace under a sweeping measure introduced this week in the Florida Legislature.

With the recent, tragic history of the Pulse nightclub massacre last June in Orlando and the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting last month, two conservative Republican lawmakers want to do away with all of Florida’s “gun-free zones” — 15 locations in state law where concealed weapons are currently prohibited.

Sen. Dennis Baxley, of Ocala, and Rep. Don Hahnfeldt, of The Villages, have proposed eliminating all state-imposed restrictions on where Florida’s concealed weapons permit-holders can carry their guns — with the goal of allowing businesses, institutions and people to have greater control over their own protection, Hahnfeldt said.

If the proposal (SB 908/HB 803) became law, that would mean concealed guns could be carried in a plethora of places they aren’t allowed now.

Full details here.

Photo credit: First responders secure the area outside of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near baggage claim in Terminal 2 on January 6, 2017. Five were killed and eight wounded in an attack from a single gunman. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Florida lawmakers to unveil school testing reforms

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Instead of scattering K-12 assessment tests throughout the spring months and disrupting teaching time, a reform proposal being unveiled Wednesday morning in the Florida Legislature would require all such exams to take place only in the final three weeks of the school year, starting next year.

Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores, Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., and Palm Harbor Republican Rep. Chris Sprowls call their plan the “Fewer, Better Tests” bill — with the goal of reducing the stress and anxiety that teachers, parents and students grapple with during testing time.

The lawmakers are formally announcing their proposal at an 11 a.m. press conference at the Capitol. Their legislation (SB 926/HB 773) was filed within the past week.

“Seeing firsthand the angst and all the scrambling, the biggest impact that can be had is pushing back the calendar,” Diaz told the Herald/Times.

Full details here.

Photo credit: Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, addresses a luncheon audience at the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, Fla. on Jan. 26, 2017 with Miami Republican Rep. Michael Bileca, left. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

The silent treatment between Gov. Scott and Speaker Corcoran

In the heated battle over job incentives and tourism money, Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran are goading each other with tweets, press releases and Scott's media events, like the ones in Tampa on Monday and Panama City on Tuesday.

But are these two strong-willed Republicans actually talking to each other? No, and that's rarely a good sign in Tallahassee.

4619Corcoran spokesman Fred Piccolo said the speaker called Scott's cell phone late last week before the governor launched a statewide tour in which he has publicly criticized two GOP House members in their districts, Reps. Paul Renner (left) and Jay Trumbull, for supporting the elimination of Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida.

"The speaker had reached out to the governor in the past week prior to the governor's state tour," Piccolo said.

A phone conversation wouldn't change either man's mind, but the deepening rancor over incentives and tourism could easily spread to other policy areas, such as the budget, tax cuts and education.

Scott's office did not deny that he got the call from Corcoran, and spokeswoman Jackie Schutz did not directly address the question of Scott giving him the brush-off. She said that before last week's vote by a House subcommittee to ax the programs, Scott chief of staff Kim McDougal and legislative affairs director Kevin Reilly walked the halls and visited with every Republican member of the panel but one to express Scott's view that the agencies must survive. "He's been very clear how he feels about it," Schutz said.

Meanwhile, the back-and-forth continues. First-term Rep. Alex Miller, R-Sarasota, fired back at critics in a guest column in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, and Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, tweeted: "The Gov is a good man and I agree with him on many things, but he is wrong to go after good House members."

Scott will hold two more "Fighting for Florida Jobs" roundtables Wednesday in Sunrise and Riviera Beach. Two of five House members who sided with Scott in a 10-5 subcommittee vote last week are Democrats from Palm Beach County. Corcoran has referred the bill to the full House Appropriations Committee in advance of a scheduled Feb. 21 vote.

Should teachers punish students with no recess? Lawmakers aren't weighing in this year.

Recess Bill 01 EKM


An elementary student acts up in class. No recess for him.

Another student didn’t turn in her homework. Five fewer minutes of recess for her.

While some school districts, like Miami-Dade, Hillsborough or Pinellas, ban such practices, no state law prohibits public school teachers from dangling recess time before their students — a carrot to keep them in check and, if necessary, revoke as a tool to discipline them.

Florida lawmakers in 2016 considered prohibiting teachers from using the threat of limited or no recess as a punishment, but that detail isn’t in the conversation at all this year as the Legislature again contemplates making daily recess mandatory in public elementary schools.

The provision was stripped from this year’s legislation (SB 78/HB 67) — at the request of two, now powerful Republican House members who were the only ones who voted to oppose the recess bill last year.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Kindergarteners Trenevia Desiree and Jenny Farias, right, get some push-ups in during the 20-minute daily recess at Miami Gardens Elementary School on Feb. 3. The school is part of a pilot program in Miami-Dade County that allows students recess time five days a week. Florida lawmakers are again considering a statewide mandate for daily recess in public elementary schools. Emily Michot / Miami Herald

February 14, 2017

Rubio and wife to dine with Trumps at White House

GOP 2016 Rubio

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and his wife, Jeanette, will dine privately Wednesday night with President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump.

The Rubios will join the Trumps at 6:30 p.m. in the Blue Room, according to the White House. Trump has met with a number of lawmakers in Washington, but none has had a one-on-one dinner, wives included, on the schedule.

Trump and Rubio put aside the colorful exchanges they had during the Republican presidential primary (think "Little Marco" and...hands) once Rubio sought reelection to the U.S. Senate and received Trump's endorsement. Rubio also backed Trump's candidacy, even after a slew of controversies, though he didn't publicly campaign with him.

Rubio harshly questioned Rex Tillerson when Trump nominated him for secretary of state but ultimately voted for his confirmation.

Photo credit: Wilfredo Lee, Associated Press