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March 10, 2017

Unanimous death juries legislation headed to governor's desk



In one of their first decisions this year, the Florida Legislature on Friday sent Gov. Rick Scott a bill that will require juries to vote unanimously to sentence a convicted murderer to death.

Mandated by a Florida Supreme Court ruling in Hurst vs. Florida that found the state's existing 10-2 jury vote requirement unconstitutional, the Legislature's move will allow prosecutors to pursue new death row cases as soon as Scott signs it.

"Your vote today allows cases to move forward and victims and their families to have justice," said Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, the House judiciary chairman and the bill's sponsor.

The Florida House voted 112-3 Friday for the legislation (SB 280). Opposed were Reps. Joe Geller, D-Aventura, Robert Asencio, D-Miami, and Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill.

"Our current law's been found unconstitutional, and so it is tempting to vote for this because at least requiring unanimity is better than what we have," Geller said. "(However,) I think it's morally and ethically wrong for the state to take life."

Geller filed legislation (HB 6045) to abolish the death penalty, but it has not been scheduled for a hearing.

The Senate voted unanimously for the measure making juries unanimous on Thursday. A spokeswoman for Scott said he is "reviewing" the legislation, but he has been a supporter of the death penalty, executing more people than any other governor since capital punishment came back into practice in 1976.

Photo: State Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, who sponsored legislation requiring juries to vote unanimously to put someone to death. (SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times)

Democrats target Curbelo for Obamacare replacement vote

Congress Health Overhaul

Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, whose congressional district has one of the highest number of people in the country covered by the Affordable Care Act, voted this week to replace the popular healthcare law with the House GOP's proposed alternative.

"I think this could be very successful," Curbelo told the Miami Herald, referring to the American Health Care Act, which has cleared two House committees and won the endorsement of President Donald Trump. "Whereas the ACA threatens people and punishes them if they don't acquire a health insurance product approved by the government, this proposal says, 'We're going to empower each and every one of you as consumers so that you have the resources to purchase the plan that best fits your needs.'"

But Curbelo's vote, at 4:15 a.m. Thursday on the House Ways and Means Committee, gave Democrats a renewed line of attack against the sophomore congressman, who was comfortably reelected in November even though Hillary Clinton trounced Trump in his district.

"Carlos Curbelo is now on the record in favor of jacking up health insurance premiums and ripping away coverage form millions so that Republicans can cut taxes for health insurance CEOs," Javier Gamboa, a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman, said in a statement. "This is a boardroom bailout that makes health care more expensive and less accessible for Americans and now Carlos Curbelo owns this debacle until Election Day."

The Florida Democratic Party and another liberal group in the state, For Our Future, also pounced on Curbelo. They criticized him for voting for legislation before having an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office of how much it might cost or how many people might be insured.

"That was not ideal, but that's something that we can address in the coming weeks," Curbelo said. "We just voted to advance this proposal through the legislative process. The CBO score will be in by Monday, and if there are any adjustments that need to be made, we have plenty of time."

An analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health policy think tank, found that older Floridians with lower incomes who live in rural areas will fare worse under the AHCA than they did under Obamacare. Curbelo's district includes the rural Florida Keys -- which he countered have only one insurance provider under the existing marketplaces created by the ACA.

In the committee, Curbelo correctly noted that the Obamacare small-business tax credit has attracted very few eligible businesses.

As of January, Curbelo's district had about 92,500 people enrolled in the marketplaces -- one of the highest number in the country. 

Democrats don't have an obvious candidate to run against Curbelo in 2018, a midterm election year in which Florida Republicans tend to get more of their voters to the polls. And he ran on his opposition to portions of Obamacare, which he voted repeatedly to limit and replace during his first term in office. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a leading author of the House alternative, even campaigned for Curbelo in Southwest Miami-Dade County.

--with Amy Sherman

Photo credit: J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

In 'the bubble,' House Democratic freshmen feel heat from GOP

The 45 freshmen in the Florida House will cast their first big votes Friday, and they'll have to choose sides in the battle between House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Gov. Rick Scott.

The question of whether to abolish Enterprise Florida and other state-run economic incentive programs is also about who has more clout with members -- Corcoran or the governor. The Senate shows little interest in this issue and Scott would veto it if it reached his desk, so the fight looks like a mostly symbolic test of Corcoran's clout. He wants an overwhelming House vote, above 80, the number needed to override a Scott veto, and because some of the 79 Republicans will vote against the bill, he needs Democrats, giving the outnumbered minority real clout early in the session (22 of 41 Democrats are new to the House).   

FullSizeRender (10)Some Democratic freshmen had their arms twisted Thursday in "the bubble," a small private room at the back of the House chamber where Corcoran's budget-writer, Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami (in photo), was reminding them in not-so subtle terms how much this issue matters to Corcoran. On Day 3, it wasn't lost on anybody that Trujillo and Corcoran -- not Scott -- will decide which members' hometown spending projects find their way into the House budget and which ones won't. 

"I don't think he's threatening or intimidating. I think it's really just giving them the information," Trujillo said of Corcoran. "But obviously, you tend to have a better relationship with those who are philosophically aligned with you than those who aren't."

"A lot of them are on the fence," Trujillo said. "Our goal on all very, very important policies is that if it does come back that it's veto-proof."

Some rookie Democrats have also been called to meetings with Scott or Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera. Veteran Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, is a longstanding critic of Enterprise Florida who will vote for the bill, but said every conversation with a Republican begins with, "'Are you still with us? You solid?'" Said Jenne: "The freshman class is being pulled in two different directions. They're in an odd spot."

Freshman Rep. Wengay Newton, D-St. Petersburg, sounded like a "no" Thursday as he spoke of how economic incentives were critical to getting businesses to invest in inner-city St. Pete, where he served on City Council. But Newton could be headed to the bubble before Friday's vote. "I'm still up in the air," he said. 


Higher ed reforms breeze through Florida Senate. Now for the House.

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A $162 million plan to improve state funding for student financial aid opportunities and make Florida’s public colleges and universities more competitive passed the state Senate on Thursday with near-unanimous support — marking early success for one of Senate President Joe Negron’s top priorities.

Senate Bill 2 is the cornerstone of proposed reforms that Negron, R-Stuart, wants for the state higher education system this year. Other potential changes aimed at the state college system are more controversial and moving slowly through the Senate.

MORE: “Oops! Joe Negron initially didn’t vote for his hallmark higher ed legislation”

A companion measure to SB 2 still needs to be approved by the House. That package (HB 3 and HB 5) has yet to be considered, and it could now face more difficulty due to clashing priorities — and rising tensions — between Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.

The proposed reforms in SB 2 include an array of changes to Florida’s public colleges and universities.

Read here for more.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

March 09, 2017

Curbelo files new DREAM Act in Congress


Bolstered by the White House’s apparent interest in protecting at least one group of unauthorized immigrants, Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo on Thursday re-filed legislation that would allow people brought illegally as children to remain in the country.

The “Recognizing America's Children Act” would offer an eventual path to U.S. citizenship to immigrants who entered illegally before Jan. 1, 2012, and were 16 years old or younger.

The legislation is essentially a new version of the DREAM Act, which failed in the Senate in 2010. Curbelo first proposed the bill last June, as he was running for reelection to Florida’s swing 26th congressional district.

He said he’s bringing it back because President Donald Trump, in his executive order on immigration, left in place the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — known as DACA — which shields so-called DREAMers from deportation.

“This White House has sent a very strong message by preserving the executive order that protects these young people,” Curbelo said in an interview with the Miami Herald. “We know that they’ve been very aggressive when it comes to immigration policy, so it certainly stands out that they have left the DACA executive order untouched.”

More here.

Photo credit: José A. Iglesias, el Nuevo Herald

Fourth DCA rules against Bondi in Broward mortgage-fraud case

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In a setback for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, an appeals court this week reversed a ruling against a Broward County mortgage company accused of defrauding hundreds of homeowners at the height of the housing crisis.

The Fourth District Court of Appeals in West Palm Beach ruled Wednesday that the state’s case against Outreach Housing must go back to trial. The decision also did away with the $8.3 million judgment that had been imposed against the company.

According to the appeals court, the trial judge erred in quickly ruling in the state’s favor after incorrectly accepting the state’s argument that Outreach’s principal, Blair Wright, had admitted wrongdoing in the case. Wright had been representing himself in court before three defense attorneys stepped in, working on a pro bono basis.

“He literally got railroaded,” said Robyn Sztyndor, one of Wright’s attorneys. “There were disputes on every single issue, and there was evidence on both sides. He did not get his day in court.”

Circuit Court Judge Michael Gates was also wrong to award $880,000 in restitution and $7.45 million in damages, the appeals court ruled.

More here.

Photo credit: Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press

Acosta says he'd step down from FIU, U.S. Century Bank if confirmed as labor secretary


Alex Acosta, the Florida International University law school dean nominated by President Trump to serve as labor secretary, has confirmed he'd step down from his job if confirmed by the U.S. Senate. 

Acosta would also resign from the board of U.S. Century Bank, according to an ethics agreement released Thursday by the Office of Government Ethics. The document is dated March 6. 

Leaving the bank might mean giving up a 2016 bonus, which Acosta estimated could range between $50,000 and $150,000, if he doesn't get it before becoming labor secretary. There are other bank assets Acosta acknowledged he would also have to forfeit to join the Cabinet.

In addition, Acosta would leave posts with Breakthrough Miami, Gulliver Schools, and the American Bar Association Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights and Responsibilities. 

In his financial disclosure, which was also made public Thursday, Acosta, 48, listed less than $1 million in investments. He made about $380,000 from FIU last year, and $170,000 from U.S. Century Bank.

Photo credit: Steve Nesius, Associated Press


Oops! Joe Negron initially didn't vote for his hallmark higher ed legislation

Sb 2 vote


Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has talked for several years about his desire to reform and enhance Florida’s higher education system. It’s one of his few top priorities.

But when he finally saw the culmination of the main cornerstone of those efforts on Thursday, he missed a significant step.

He didn’t vote.

More here.

Image credit: Florida Channel

*This post has been updated

Florida House Republicans ready to kill jobs program despite Rick Scott's protests


State Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, answers questions about his plan to kill Enterprise Florida during a debate on the floor of the Florida House of Representatives on Thursday. State Rep. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican and ardent defender of the agency, watches on. (Photo: Scott Keeler/Tampa Bay Times)


Despite unusual political pressure from Gov. Rick Scott over a period of weeks, Florida House Republicans shrugged off his stinging attacks and took a big step toward destroying his No. 1 legislative priority.

On Thursday the Florida House started debate on a bill that would kill Enterprise Florida, the economic development agency Scott has relied on to hand out tax breaks to companies in exchange for them creating jobs in Florida. The bill is now almost certain to pass the Republican-led Florida House on Friday, a stunning act of defiance of the sitting Republican governor and his top legislative priority.

State Rep. Paul Renner, a Republican from Flagler County in northeast Florida, offered no apologies as he rolled out his plan that would kill 24 difference economic development and tax credit programs in Florida in a quest to rid government of what House leaders have called “corporate welfare.” Renner said Enterprise Florida is selective in picking companies to get subsidies, often over competitors.

“These incentives violate principles of fairness and they also pick winners and losers,” Renner said.

To hammer home his point, Renner took a subtle jab at Scott, proposing a scenario in which a doughnut shop, which gets no incentives, watches another one open across the street with the help of government incentives paid for by taxpayers. Scott famously touts his days of running a doughnut shop in the 1970s as his start to becoming a businessman.

Better than handing out tax breaks to a few companies, Renner said the government should use that money to improve education, infrastructure or cut taxes more broadly.

Continue reading "Florida House Republicans ready to kill jobs program despite Rick Scott's protests" »

Is Sen. Bill Nelson a filibuster flip flopper?



A conservative group misfired in its attack on U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., for being inconsistent on the use of the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees.

America Rising Squared, the policy arm of the conservative America Rising PAC, said in an online post that Nelson, up for re-election in 2018, committed a "filibuster flip-flop" on President Donald Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch.

"In 2006, Nelson opposed the use of a filibuster for the nomination of Justice (Samuel) Alito, but now has adopted a different stance," said America Rising Squared, a group advocating for senators to support Gorsuch.

We decided to look at whether Nelson flip-flopped on using the filibuster for a Supreme Court nominee on our Flip-O-Meter, which examines whether a politician has been consistent on an issue.

Experts told us America Rising mischaracterized Nelson’s record.

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.