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

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 21, 2016

Bill Nelson to kick off Miami lawmaker's Florida Senate bid

@PatriciaMazzei

State Rep. José Javier Rodríguez is bringing a big name to kick off his Florida Senate bid: U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

Nelson will be the featured guest at a May 3 fundraiser at Segafredo, a restaurant in Miami's Brickell neighborhood, according to an invitation sent Thursday by Rodríguez's campaign.

The minimum suggested donation is $100.

Pinellas and Pasco county tax collectors lead state in gun permits

Tax collectors in Pinellas and Pasco counties outpace their colleagues across the state in processing applications and renewals for concealed weapons licenses in Florida. Data from Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam's office also shows that Pasco is the No. 1 county in permit renewals over the past year.

The Legislature passed a law in 2015 that allowed elected tax collectors to add gun permits to their array of services that include tax payments, driver licenses, auto tags and voter registration. In all, 25 of the state's 67 tax collectors provide the service. The two most populous counties, Miami-Dade and Broward, are not participants because both counties have appointed agency heads that perform the duties of tax collectors.

Tax Collectors Diane Nelson in Pinellas and Mike Fasano in Pasco have together processed more than 11,000 applications and renewals since July 1 of last year, or more than one-fifth of the state total of more than 51,000.

The county-by-county figures are here.

On Senate floor, Bill Nelson renews call for $1.9B to fight Zika

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson on Thursday filed legislation to fully fund President Obama's $1.9 billion request to fight Zika, saying the move was necessary amid "rumors" that appropriators have struck a deal for $1.1 billion.

"This is truly an emergency,” Nelson said on the Senate floor. “I’m calling on our colleagues to approve the president's $1.9 billion in emergency funding request now in the immediate future. Not later. The cost of this inaction would be far greater, and the consequences way too devastating."

Republicans have given a mixed reception to calls for $1.9 billion, with some supporting it and others suggesting Obama first use the funding he has already secured. Sen. Marco Rubio supports Obama's request.

 

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine hasn't ruled out bid for governor

Levine 1

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine says he is focused on his city position but hasn't ruled out running as a Democrat for governor in 2018.

"I haven't ruled out becoming president of a cruise line either," he quipped in an interview with the Miami Herald today.

U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee, announced this morning that she won't seek re-election and is seriously considering running for governor. Republican Gov. Rick Scott is term limited.

Levine said he hasn't talked to Graham or any of the other potential Democratic candidates including state Sen. Jeremy Ring of Margate or Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Levine, a millionaire businessman who was elected to his second two-year term in Miami Beach, has raised his political profile in recent months. He's flown to primary states and appeared on cable news shows to stump for Hilary Clinton, and he recently traveled to Cuba with a group of university students -- a trip that attracted controversy in South Florida after he said he was open to hosting a Cuban consulate in the Beach. And he is one of the more visible politicians speaking out about the need to tackle climate change -- a serious and expensive problem for his coastal community.

Levine's mayoral term expires in 2017. He hasn't yet said whether he will run for re-election as mayor.

"I haven't ruled that out," he said.

-- With Joey Flechas

Daughter's experience motivates Gov. Rick Scott on rape kit laws

TAMPA -- Gov. Rick Scott got the call no parent wants to hear.

On a Sunday morning just around 7 a.m., his daughter in her first year of college in Dallas was on the other end of the phone.

"She said, 'something very bad happened to me last night,'" Scott said recounting the story this morning in Tampa where he was drawing attention to legislation to help speed the process of testing sexual assault kits. "Fortunately she was not raped. But she had a drug put in her drink. It put her in the hospital."

Whoever put the drug in her drink at the party was never caught. Scott said he is just grateful she ended up in the hospital and not the victim of a sexual assault.

"That was a scary time," Scott said at a press conference at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Tampa Bay Regional Operations Center.

Scott used the personal story as a lead in to why Florida is becoming increasingly aggressive in testing sexual assault kits faster. In March, the Florida Legislature passed a budget that will boost funding for the state crime lab to process all crime evidence faster - including DNA samples from rape kits. And the budget dedicates more than $2 million this year as part of a three year effort to reduce a startling backlog of 13,000 untest rape kits in Florida.

The Legislature also passed new legislation directing law enforcement to submit rape kits in a more timely manner for testing to assure the state never gets a backlog in kits like it has today. That new law requires local law enforcement agencies to submit rape kits they collect to a statewide crime lab for forensic testing within 30 days of a sexual assault offense being reported. Testing of the kits would have to be completed within 120 by crime labs.

Julie Weil, a rape victim from South Florida who attended the press conference, said she is proud to see the state take a strong stand in attacking the backlog of kits. For five years, she said she's been working to bring attention to the problem. She said if there had been more DNA testing when she was assaulted in 2002, her attacker may have already been behind bars because of other sexual assaults and crimes he had committed.

An FDLE report released in January showed that kits are not sent in for testing for numerous reasons, including a victim who first reported a crime refuses to participate in an investigation or a state attorney's office decides not to prosecute. In other cases, a suspect pleads guilty so the kit results are never needed for prosecution.

But Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and victims advocates groups have been pushing for the testing to happen on all kits because they can help solve other crimes and even identify serial rapists. When the city of Houston tested 6,663 previously untested kits, they found 850 DNA matches that have led to more than two dozen convictions.

Donald Trump's misleading claims about "rigged" elections

CoreyandTrump

As Republican frontrunner Donald Trump has led the delegate chase, he has complained that the "corrupt and crooked" elections have been "rigged" against him.

But he has repeatedly failed to prove his case that states have stacked the deck against him.

Trump has received a plurality of delegates so far, but he yet hasn't hist a majority, which is 1,237. It is that process of delegation selection that has fueled many of his complaints.

We have fact-checked three claims by Trump or his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski related to delegate selection or the primary voting system. Two of the claims were about Florida’s March 15 primary, while the third pertains to the Colorado caucus and state convention. We rated all three statements False on the Truth-O-Meter.

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida to see how we rated Trump's claims.

Jeremy Ring acknowledges he's considering run for governor too: 'No door is closed'

Jeremy RingState Sen. Jeremy Ring of Margate confirmed Thursday that he is calling potential funders and conducting his own exploratory campaign for a possible run for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018.

"No door is closed for me. I am considering it, yes, and am in an exploratory phase. I can't imagine having a decision in 2016." 

Ring, whose is retiring from the state Senate because of term limits this year, said he saw Gwen Graham's video announcing her interest in running today and considered it "extraordinarily misleading."

"If you were to do a 'pants on fire' thing, it would be an inferno,'' he said, referring to PolitiFact Florida's accuracy rating.
"The redistricting was done by the courts and it's not a conservative court. To blame the legislature, was someone disingenuous when you think all the court battles out there. The court pretty much did the Legislature's job but in the video, she blames the Legislature."

Ring said he interpreted Graham's video as a sign she is running, not just considering. "Everyone has a right to run, and to try to handicap races two years out is complete insanity."

Ring, who was on the team that built Yahoo, left the Internet start-up in 2001 and moved to Florida in 2001 to start a new company, Collegiate Images, with a friend. His net worth is $13.7 million. 

He said that he will spend the next several months doing "what I need to do to be credible. I won't run if I'm not credible. I'm certainly exploring it but it is going to come down to after the presidential election if I think I can win.

"In 2016, it comes down to fundraising. I feel I have the best bio of anyone who could possibly run. I have the best message of anyone who could possibly run -- bring the innovation economy to Florida. Can I bring people to support me?"

Miami Herald reporters Amy Sherman and Kristen Clark contributed to this report.

Marco Rubio celebrates brother's induction into Miami High's hall of fame

Sports_Hall_of_Fame_8

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami Senior High School welcomed new members to its hall of fame last weekend -- including one Mario Rubio, a football standout and the older brother of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

The younger Rubio attended the ceremony Saturday. He wore a name tag that read, "Marco." His older brother, a Vietnam vet who lives in Jacksonville, joined Rubio on the presidential campaign trail beginning late last year.

Here are some snapshots of the night, by photographer Matias J. Ocner:

Continue reading "Marco Rubio celebrates brother's induction into Miami High's hall of fame" »

Gwen Graham may run for Florida governor in 2018

Gwen-grahamAP

U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee, announced in a press release and video this morning that she might run for Florida governor in 2018.

"I'm excited to tell you first I am seriously considering running for governor in 2018," she said.

Graham, who said she won't seek re-election to her Congressional seat, would have faced a tough re-election after redistricting made her northern Florida district less favorable for Democrats. Republican Gov. Rick Scott is term limited so he can't run for re-election.

Graham won her seat in Congress in 2014. She has name recognition beyond northern Florida because she is the daughter of former governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn also seems to be feeling out a Democratic race. Other potential names mentioned include Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and State Sen. Jeremy Ring who represents western Broward.

On the Republican side, it has been speculated that Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam will run -- his political action committee raised more than $4 million in one year. There has also been considerable chatter that U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio will run even though he denied that a couple days after he lost the Florida presidential primary.

Graham's challenge in a statewide Democratic primary will be explaining some right-leaning votes she took in her conservative district including in favor of the Keystone pipeline.

Since her district was reconfigured by a court order, Graham has been rumored to be preparing to drop out of Congress and launch a campaign for governor in 2018. When U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown announced she would stay in the seat, Graham's options narrowed. This is considered more than a trial balloon but a warning shot to funders and potential foes. 

From her press release:

The politicians, lobbyists and courts in Tallahassee have been working to redraw and divide the North Florida district I represent -- they’ve turned what was an example of a fair district, into two partisan districts.

This is a perfect example of how dysfunctional our state government has become, and it’s caused me to rethink how I can best serve the people of North Florida and our state.

I’m excited to tell you, first, I’m seriously considering running for governor in 2018.

Public servants must focus on the job they’re elected to do, so I will spend the remainder of my term fully representing you in Congress, but I will not seek re-election while considering this next step of service.

Working together, I know we can bring common sense back to Tallahassee and make our state work for the people, again.

Thank you for all the support you’ve given me in the past. I will continue looking to you for advice, support and inspiration as we build a stronger future for Florida.

Photo credit Associated Press

April 20, 2016

Ted Cruz wants to debate Donald Trump again

@PatriciaMazzei

Ted Cruz challenged rival Donald Trump to another televised debate on Wednesday, preferably ahead of next Tuesday's primaries in a handful of northeastern states.

"It's been 41 days since we've had a Republican debate," Cruz told reporters at the Diplomat Resort & Spa, where the Republican National Committee was starting its three-day spring meeting. "Because Donald Trump is unwilling to stand on stage and debate, because he cannot defend his positions or his policies."

The Texas senator blamed the news media for not pressing for more debates, even though debates have been a ratings boon for television.

"I don't recall seeing on FOX News a debate countdown: 41 days and counting," he said. "What does it say for Hillary Clinton, the embodiment of imperial Washington arrogance, is more willing to submit to the voters and agree to debate than Donald Trump?"

Trump said after winning the Florida primary March 15 that he was done with debates. And the third remaining GOP contender, John Kasich, told reporters in Hollywood later Wednesday that he prefers one-on-one interviews where audience members ask questions, town-hall style.

"Town halls are the most important thing," he said. "Debates are all about sound bites."