January 20, 2015

Fact-checking claims about Cuba by Marco Rubio, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ana Navarro

President Barack Obama’s administration has hit the reset button on Cuba, setting off a series of political claims from Florida.

On Jan. 15, the federal departments of Treasury and Commerce released new rules that make it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba and send money there. While the embargo remains in place -- that could only be lifted by Congress -- the new rules allow increased exports to the island and allow American visitors to return home with some Cuban cigars and rum.

As part of the deal between the two countries, Cuba released USAID worker Alan Gross and another spy whom the government didn’t identify (the Miami Heraldreported that Rolando Sarraff fits the description). Cuba also announced it would release 53 political prisoners -- though news reports stated that two have been arrested again. In return, the United States released three imprisoned Cuban spies.

The rules follow Obama’s Dec. 17 announcement that the United States would normalize relations with Cuba. Florida’s Cuban-American senator, Marco Rubio of Miami, blasted the move, as did some other GOP South Florida members of Congress. (Tampa Bay’s U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat, strongly supported the move.)

Cuba has been a hot topic in Florida politics for decades -- including in last year’s race for governor. But Obama’s announcement paves the way for more debate about Cuba heading into the 2016 presidential election.  Obama will likely mention Cuba in his State of the Union speech, given thatGross will sit with First Lady Michelle Obama. Rubio, meanwhile, has invited Rosa María Payá, daughter of the late activist Oswaldo Payá, who was killed in a suspicious car accident on the island. The GOP response will be given by U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and translated into Spanish by Miami’s U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

Here’s a summary of some of PolitiFact Florida's recent fact-checks that relate to Cuba.


Democratic lawmakers blast Scott over FDLE

Two leading Democratic state legislators accused Gov. Rick Scott of a "misuse of power" Tuesday and said the Legislature and all three elected Cabinet members should investigate Scott's forced ouster of former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey. The lawmakers said Scott should be the target of an ethics complaint over his alleged misuse of his official position and that his insistence that Bailey be ousted without explanation threatened to make Florida a "police state."

Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, and House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, spoke to reporters in response to a Times/Herald report Sunday in which Bailey described several specific cases in which he felt Scott's administration interfered with agency operations, including a 2013 effort to falsely claim that a court clerk in Orlando was the target of a criminal investigation.

"It's not a political issue. It's about the integrity of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement," Joyner said.

Lawmakers noted that the Legislature has the power to use subpoena power to compel testimony, and that the Republican leadership should consider forcing Bailey to testify under oath. Such action is highly unlikely because GOP lawmakers would avoid publicly embarrassing the sitting governor of their party.

Joyner said FDLE's integrity has been called into question and Bailey's integrity has been falsely attacked. She said she was troubled that her constituents in Tampa Bay have asked her why none of the three Cabinet members publicly protested the forced ouster of a law enforcement official all three said they admired and was doing a good job.

"'What is going on in Tallahassee?" Joyner quoted her constituents as saying. "Why hasn't the Cabinet stepped up? Are they complacent, ignorant or what? This is what people are saying. How can you be on the Cabinet and not know?"

"Nobody questioned the governor," Joyner said. "To remove him (Bailey) smacks of shenanigans."

Pafford said that before he called Tuesday's press conference, he told House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, of his intentions. Pafford also was scheduled to meet later Tuesday with Bailey's successor at FDLE, Rick Swearingen.

Bill would reduce taxes on solar power systems

A St. Petersburg lawmaker announced Tuesday the filing of a bill that would reduce the taxes on solar power systems for businesses that install them at their facilities.

The legislation by State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, would expand existing law for residential solar installations to include commercial property. The bill would reduce the real estate or personal property tax for solar installations and exempts devices that produce renewable energy from tangible property tax.

Solar industry experts say the taxes are one of the barriers to expansion of solar in Florida. Those taxes, the solar experts say, made it difficult economically for the industry to make a profit.

"The Sunshine State should be the leader in solar energy," Brandes said. "This legislation is designed to remove barriers to businesses so that they can enter this growing renewable energy market. Reducing burdensome taxes is a key component to fostering the solar energy market in Florida."

Brandes' legislation is one of a growing number of efforts to change Florida policy in regard to solar. Story here.

Weatherford and bros form business consulting firm


Former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford announced Tuesday that he’s going to give this private sector thing a try by forming a “strategic business advisory firm” with two of his brothers.

Weatherford and his brothers Sam and Drew, the former Florida State University quarterback, are calling their company “Weatherford Partners”. It will provide clients “with a broad range of business expertise and will invest capital directly into private companies with a strategic focus on Florida.”

Weatherford, who is often rumored to be a viable candidate for higher office, has spent most of his adult life as a state employee. Term limits forced him out last year.

Here’s the release:

Continue reading "Weatherford and bros form business consulting firm" »

Scott proposes $470 million cut in cell phone and TV taxes

Gov. Rick Scott announced he will pitch a $470 million cut in state cell phone and TV taxes during this year’s legislative session, which begins in March.

According to his office, Scott’s proposed cuts will save an “average family” spending $100 a month on cell phone and cable services about $43 a year, or $3.58 a month, or 12 cents a day.

The tax cut is nearly half of the billion dollars Scott proposes to slash in next year’s budget. Scott said his proposed budget will reduce the communications service tax rate by 3.6 percent.

“With our cell phone and TV tax cut, every Florida family is saving real money -- around $40 a year for spending as little as $100 a month between cell phone, cable and satellite bills,” Scott said. “Our economy is improving and while it’s tempting for government to always think they can spend your money better than you -- it’s your money!”

Scott’s highlight of this tax cut will likely echo his push to cut auto tag fees by about $25 per vehicle registration last year. Such cuts allow him to strike populist chords without saving typical Floridians that much money. The big winners with the auto registration fees? Car rental companies or businesses with large fleets. Big winners with a cut in the CST are bound to be businesses as well.

It's the second major sneak peak of Scott's budget, the first of his second term. Scott rolled out his proposed $19.75 billion K-12 education budget earlier this month. His plan would boost per-student spending to $7,176 -- $50 more than the record-high set in 2007-08, not accounting for inflation.

Scott has also said he would like to set aside $100 million for charter-school construction and maintenance.
He is expected to unveil his complete budget proposal next week.


Update: DOC secretary Julie Jones 'This is all hands on deck'

Julie JonesOn the defensive over allegations of abuse and cover up at the nation's third largest prison system, the newly-installed secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections is offering a series of reforms aimed at repairing the embattled department. 

DOC Secretary Julie Jones will tell the Senate Criminal Justice committee about a host of reforms to the system that has seen a 13 percent increase in inmate deaths in the last year amid accusations of abuse and cover-up within the prison system, a federal investigation and lawsuits from whistleblowers.

Jones, who retired from the Florida Department of Highway Safety last year, was recruited to bring in fresh blood to the department which hosts 101,000 inmates and operates a $2.1 billion budget.

Among the proposals Jones told the Herald/Times:

* $16.5 million to boost salary and hire an additional 160 new staff -- from corrections officers to critical positions in probation, medical and education -- to replace the more than 2,600 positions that were cut during Gov. Rick Scott's first term;

* make shift changes that force some supervisors and officers to take different hours;

Continue reading "Update: DOC secretary Julie Jones 'This is all hands on deck'" »

Ted Olson's claim about Supreme Court and marriage

With the U.S. Supreme Court poised to decide whether same-sex marriage must be legal in all 50 states, Fox News Sunday pitted Family Research Council president Tony Perkins against former solicitor general Ted Olson for a Jan. 18 roundtable debate.

There isn’t precedent for the Supreme Court justices to limit marriages to heterosexual couples only, said Olson, a Republican attorney who supports same-sex marriage and has argued 61 cases in front of the Supreme Court.

"The United States Supreme Court 15 times over the last 120 years has said that ‘marriage is a fundamental right,’" Olson said.

Perkins, a fervent opponent of same-sex marriage, interrupted: "Marriage, but not same-sex marriage."

Olson continued, "Never once in any of those cases did it say that it had to be between a man and a woman. Fifteen times it said it was a matter of privacy, liberty, association, dignity and respect for the individual."

We wondered about these 15 cases and if they really don’t define marriage as solely between a man and a woman.

Turn to Lauren Carroll's fact-check from PunditFact.

Will Weatherford’s next big move


Former House Speaker Will Weatherford today announced that he and his brothers are forming a family-named business and consulting firm – a move that allows the 35-year-old Republican to beef up his bank account and his political resume as he decides whether to run for higher office in the future.

Weatherford’s next political campaign -- governor, CFO, U.S. Senate or even agriculture commissioner or another legislative seat -- is anyone’s guess. And he isn’t closing the door on the speculation even as he announces the formation of Weatherford Partners.

“It has been an honor to serve the state for the last eight years. Right now I am focused on spending time with my four children and working with my brothers to grow our business,” Weatherford said via email. “Public service and public policy is a passion I will always have. I look forward to seeing what the future holds.”

Weatherford made sure to point out that his firm is not a lobby shop.

Here’s the Weatherford Partners press release:

Tampa, Fla. – Weatherford Partners, a strategic business advisory and investment firm, announced its official launch today. The firm will provide clients with a broad range of business expertise and will invest capital directly into private companies with a strategic focus on Florida. Weatherford Partners is led by Will Weatherford, former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with my brothers, Sam and Drew, to launch this exciting business,” said Will Weatherford. “We share the same values, goals, and faith. It’s a natural fit, and one I know will be a successful and lasting partnership.”


Continue reading "Will Weatherford’s next big move" »

Wasserman Schultz invites same-sex couple from Hollywood as guests to State of the Union

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, announced she had invited same-sex married couple Todd and Jeff Delmay of Hollywood as guests to Tuesday's President Obama’s State of the Union Address.

They were married by Judge Sarah Zabel as part of a duel ceremony on Jan. 5, the day the judge ruled same-sex couples could legally wed as part of a landmark ruling in Florida.

The couple was part of the local lawsuit aimed to overturning Florida's ban of gay marriage.

The pair are scheduled to attend a telephone news conference with the congresswoman on Tuesday morning in Washington. 

They met a dozen years ago at a party at the Miami hotel where Jeff worked. Todd was a guest.

"There was a connection right away," Jeff Delmay, 36, told the Miami Herald after they married earlier this month.

For years, the Hollywood couple hoped they could get married, but didn't want to leave South Florida to do so.

"This is where we live," Todd Delmay, 43, told the Herald. He is originally from Michigan.


ICYMI .. CBS News poll: Plenty of Republicans think Romney should run in 2016

From CBS News ...

If the latest CBS News poll is any indication, Americans would like to see a number of potential candidates take the plunge -- but not all of them.

Republicans have a particularly broad field of prospective candidates, and it's seemingly growing by the day: Just last week, the 2012 GOP nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, told a room of donors in New York City that he's seriously entertaining a 2016 bid.

Fifty-nine percent of Republicans would like to see Romney jump into the 2016 race, while only 26 percent believe he should stay out, according to the CBS News poll.

Fifty percent of Republicans would like to see former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on the campaign trail as well, while 27 percent disagree. If both Romney and Bush run, analysts expect them to wage a competitive battle for the allegiance of the Republican establishment.

Another potential candidate viewed favorably by the GOP establishment, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, is sought less eagerly by Republicans. Only 29 percent say they'd like to see Christie launch a bid, while 44 percent say otherwise. (Only former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's numbers are more underwater: 30 percent of Republicans say they'd like to see her run, but 59 percent disagree.)

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee posts a respectable showing, with 40 percent of Republicans urging him to get in, and 29 percent urging him to stay out.

A trio of Republican senators who have stoked the enthusiasm of the grassroots have mixed numbers. Twenty-seven percent of Republicans would like Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul to mount a bid, but 34 percent disagree. Twenty-six percent would like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to run, while 19 percent would not. Twenty-one percent want Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to run, while 25 percent want him to not run.