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April 19, 2017

Trump misleads about formation of MS-13 gang

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President Donald Trump blamed former President Barack Obama on Twitter for the formation of one of the most notorious gangs.

“The weak illegal immigration policies of the Obama Admin. allowed bad MS 13 gangs to form in cities across U.S. We are removing them fast!” Trump tweeted April 18.

Trump’s tweet came days after four young men were found brutally murdered in Central Islip in Long Island. The Suffolk County police commissioner said he suspects the MS-13 involvement.

But the president’s post about the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13 gang, is misleading.

The gang was established in Los Angeles and spread across the country decades before Obama took office.

Trump’s administration has conducted target operations to arrest criminals, but data is not yet available on how many MS-13 gang members have been arrested or removed.

Ioan Grillo, author of the 2016 book “Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America,” disputed Trump’s conclusion.

“I have seen no evidence that the Obama administration can be blamed in any way for the existence or activities of the gang in the U.S.,” Grillo told PolitiFact.

We asked a Trump spokesman for more information but did not hear back by deadline.

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

Bill protecting Uber and Lyft heads to Rick Scott's desk after four years of fighting

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Local governments won’t be allowed to regulate ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft under legislation passed nearly unanimously by the Florida Legislature.

It now heads to Gov. Rick Scott for signature or veto. His office has not yet signaled whether he will sign it.

The bill (HB 221) sets statewide insurance and background check standards for ridesharing companies. But most critically, it overrides local governments’ attempts to regulate them. Some of the most high-profile fights over local rules have been in Key West and Hillsborough County.

“We go from a patchwork of local regulations that were in conflict to each other to a statewide regime that provides harmony, stability and certainty for riders and drivers alike,” said Colin Tooze, spokesman for Uber.

Uber and Lyft have argued that being subject to different rules in all 67 counties and more than 400 cities and towns made it hard to do business. With the news of the law passing, Tooze refused to say what, if any, expansion Uber plans in the state.

Taxicab companies have fought against these regulations, saying that they hold ridesharing companies to different standards. Historically, local governments have been allowed to regulate companies like taxis and limos.

The bill’s passage Wednesday ends years of infighting among lawmakers, particularly in the Senate, where leaders were reluctant to preempt local governments on ridesharing.

However, this year, the taxis’ lobbying efforts fizzled.

Their trade group, the Florida Taxicab Association, did not respond to requests for comment.

Opposition among the Legislature was hard to find. The bill passed the House unanimously, and just one senator voted against it: Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.

Asked by the Times/Herald if he would talk about his opposition Wednesday, he rushed off the Senate floor and said, gruffly: “No.”

If signed by Scott, the law would require ridesharing companies to have $1 million in insurance coverage whenever their drivers were engaged in a ride, as well as heightened requirements when logged into their smartphone apps but not driving a passenger.

Additionally, there would be statewide standards for background checks.

“This strikes the right balance of regulation and making sure that there’s plenty of access for Floridians,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who has sponsored the legislation in the Senate for the last four years.

He said it is also a step forward in what he views as the long-term future of transportation: A network of driverless cars run by ridesharing companies.

For Uber drivers, the move settles uncertainty in some jurisdictions, including Key West, Broward and Hillsborough counties, which at varying times in recent years banned Uber and Lyft or ticketed their drivers.

“I think it was totally ridiculous that Uber had to be held hostage by each county and each quasi-governmental entity,” said Marla Garris, an Uber driver who lives in Pinellas County. “It doesn’t need to be gridlock with local government. We as Floridians need to be on the same page."

Photo: Associated Press

Artiles apologizes on Senate floor as resignation calls mount

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@PatriciaMazzei @stevebousquet @ByKristenMClark

Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles stood on the Florida Senate floor Wednesday morning and told his colleagues he was sorry for insulting them in private using curse words and a racial slur.

“I extend a heartfelt apology to my colleagues and to all those I have offended,” Artiles began.

He offered a direct apology to Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat he had called a “bitch.”

“My comments to you were the most regretful of all, because they injured you personally,” Artiles said. “No one deserves to be spoken to like that.”

Gibson did not look at him even once.

Artiles acknowledged that his comments, made in private Monday night and revealed Tuesday, reflected poorly on him. He also apologized to Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who witnessed Artiles’ exchange with Gibson and tried to get Artiles to reconsider his crass language before the conversation got out of hand.

Artiles’ refusal to apologize to Gibson in person prompted Senate leaders to get involved. They forced Artiles to say sorry in person late Tuesday. By then, his remarks to Gibson and Thurston — including deriding Republican Senate President Joe Negron as a “pussy” and lamenting that “niggas” in the GOP caucus elected him — had been made public. Both Gibson and Thurston are black.

Wednesday morning, Negron stripped Artiles of his chairmanship of the Senate Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee.

More here.

Senate will try another route to get daily recess in state law

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With House Republican leaders holding up a Senate-approved bill to mandate daily recess in public elementary schools, Florida senators will attempt another route to get the proposal enacted this year.

Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores, the sponsor of the Senate recess bill (SB 78), filed a sweeping amendment Wednesday morning to her measure aimed at reducing statewide standardized tests, which would drastically broaden the bill to include several other policies — including mandatory daily recess.

The 17-page amendment will be considered this afternoon when the testing bill (SB 926) is up for its final committee hearing in Senate Rules before it would go to the floor.

By attaching the recess policy to the broader bill, it gives the Senate more leverage and could force the House into considering it through negotiations. The House also views testing reforms as a top priority this session. 

Full story here.

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald

Gov. Scott at White House Wednesday morning for bill signing

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Gov. Rick Scott will be at the White House Wednesday morning as President Trump signs a veterans bill.

Florida Department of Veterans Affairs Executive Director, Retired Army Lt. Col. Glenn Sutphin, will also join, according to Scott's office. Trump is to sign the Veterans Choice Program Extension and Improvement Act.

“My father served in WWII and I proudly served in the United States Navy and I appreciate President Trump’s commitment to our military and our veterans.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times


House and Senate advance medical pot bills but no compromise in sight



Florida lawmakers are moving full steam ahead to implement the voter-approved constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana, but there is still no sign of a compromise between competing House and Senate plans.

The two legislators tasked with putting the voters’ will into effect, Sen. Rob Bradley and House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, say they have begun closed-door talks to bridge large divides between their legislation. 

Neither was willing to divulge any information about a compromise Tuesday after their competing bills (SB 406/HB 1397) cleared their second hearings in front of each chamber’s health care budget subcommittee. They must pass one more committee before floor votes.

With the end of the legislative session 17 days away, Tuesday’s votes came with no moves toward a middle ground between the two bills.

“I’m in negotiations with the Senate,” Rodrigues, R-Estero, said. “Those negotiations will continue. We’ll see some policy changes that will occur at the third stop, which is the Health and Human Services Committee.”

What kind of changes? “I have nothing else to add,” he said.

Bradley, R-Fleming Island, is being similarly tight-lipped.

“I want to respect the integrity of our conversations, and so I’ll leave it at that we’re making significant progress on a lot of the issues dealing with patient access and I’m confident that we’re going to come to a conclusion in short order,” he said.

Both men have staked out firm positions on key issues as their negotiations prepare.

Bradley said the Senate won’t consider a bill that provides enough access for a patient base that could expand into the hundreds of thousands in short order. He also said Tuesday that “it’s important to the Senate” that whatever compromise language the chambers agree on includes vaping and edibles.

Rodrigues and his House colleagues are more reluctant to allow patients to vape or eat cannabis, but he has said he would be willing to do so if doctors played a strong role in directing patients what to do. (That policy idea has some activists concerned it could scare off doctors who are legally allowed only to “recommend” marijuana, not prescribe it outright.)

Other sticking points that remain: Requiring patients have a three-month relationship with their doctors, which the Senate bill does not include but the House does, and which many members of the public said was contrary to the will of the voters in Tuesday’s House hearing.

Additionally, the House bill allows for fewer new license holders, while the Senate language now includes more growers but limits the number of dispensaries each is allowed to open.

It’s likely both chambers’ legislation will be considered in committees next week — House Health and Human Services and Senate Appropriations — before facing floor votes in the final week of session.

Photo: Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, is the House member charged with reaching a medical marijuana compromise with the Florida Senate. (Scott Keeler | Tampa Bay Times)

Florida parents want a House vote on recess. Will they get it?

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All that Florida parents want is guaranteed daily recess for their elementary school children. Just 20 minutes a day to allow for a brain break and some playtime.

But for the second consecutive year, that relatively simple request seems increasingly in jeopardy — despite overwhelming public and legislative support — thanks to obstruction by a few influential lawmakers in the Florida House.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, won’t have a conversation about school recess, and his top lieutenants offer only deflection when asked what the House will do.

Parents want a vote. In the two weeks since the state Senate unanimously passed its bill to require daily recess in public elementary schools, parents have mobilized, calling for SB 78 to be brought to the House floor.

“The PEOPLE have spoken and they want this bill!” Orlando “recess mom” Amy Narvaez wrote in an email to House leadership earlier this month that was obtained through a public records request.

But despite the public outcry, House leaders have shown no inclination to act.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Omari Accius 6, enjoys recess at Citrus Grove Elementary School on Thursday, February 9, 2017. Florida lawmakers are again considering a statewide mandate for daily recess in public elementary schools. Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald

Florida Senate unveils its version of 'schools of hope,' diverging from House

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A top Florida senator on Tuesday rolled out his version of a comprehensive plan to help students who attend perpetually failing public schools in Florida — proposing to offer additional resources to those traditional schools, rather than emphasizing incentives for new charter schools to come in and compete with them as the House wants to do.

Senate Pre-K-12 education budget chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, unveiled his alternative to the House’s “schools of hope” legislation by piggy-backing his proposal on to an unrelated education bill (SB 1552) that originally dealt only with expanding bonuses for top teachers and principals.

Simmons’ revised bill gives “schools of hope” a companion measure in the Senate two and a half weeks before session is scheduled to end. Doing that provides senators a way to formally discuss the proposal and vet their ideas for it ahead of budget negotiations. House and Senate leaders last week agreed to send “schools of hope” to conference committee, all-but ensuring some form of it will become law in 2017-18.

The House’s measure expedites turnaround strategies for failing schools but focuses mostly on creating a $200 million incentive plan to attract high-performing, specialized charter schools that would essentially compete with struggling neighborhood schools by offering students in those schools an alternative. The Senate doesn’t want to go that route right away.

Simmons’ legislation includes some of the “schools of hope” language but proposes first giving failing schools some extra help — something House Republicans have largely discounted, saying those schools have already had such opportunities and it hasn’t worked.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

April 18, 2017

What happens next for Frank Artiles? Mea culpa and bills

Frank Artiles KeelerAs a freshman senator this year. Frank Artiles has filed more bills than just about anyone except maybe Republican freshman, Sen. Greg Steube; so how will that play out when his bills come up before some of the colleagues he has insulted?

The Senate Judiciary Committee hears two of Artiles' top priority bills Wednesday:  SB 12, a claims bill against the Department of Transportation on behalf of the family of Jacksonville man who was killed when his car skidded out of control because of standing water from a clogged drainage basin. He also seeks approval for a more controversial bill, SJR 134, which is a constitutional amendment to require Miami-Dade, Broward and Volusia counties to elect their sheriffs. 

Sitting on Senate Judiciary are both Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, and Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, each of whom was at the receiving end of one of Artiles' racial slurs at a Tallahassee bar on Monday night. He has since apologized and asked for a moment to address the full Senate on Wednesday morning. 

Thurston is also vice chair of the Rules Committee, where Artiles has SB 190, pre-empting local government from regulating low voltage electrical alarm fences. 

Things could get complicated, however, especially if the Democratic caucus votes to file a formal complaint alleging a violation of the rules and conduct and triggering a full-blown ethics review by the Senate Rules Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers.

Benacquisto quoted Senate President Joe Negron's tweet late Wednesday: "Racial slurs and profane, sexist insults have no place in conversation between Senators and will not be tolerated" and replied: "Intolerance will not be accepted in any form...…

Photo: Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times

Secret 2014 recording caught Artiles using 'hajis' slur

Python Hunters

In 2014, when then-state Rep. Frank Artiles was running for reelection in Miami-Dade County, someone secretly recorded him at a polling place — and caught him using a slur for Middle Easterners or Muslims: “hajis.”

That was three years ago, long before Monday night, when now-state Sen. Artiles deployed the n-word in a conversation with two African-American senators. The Republican Artiles now faces pressure from Florida Democrats to resign.

Artiles is expected to publicly apologize on the Senate floor Wednesday for calling Democratic Sen. Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville a “fucking asshole” and a “bitch” on Monday — and for referring to fellow Republicans who elected Senate President Joe Negron of Stuart as “niggas.” Artiles also called Negron a “pussy.”

Back in August 2014, Artiles was campaigning unopposed in the primary ahead of a general election race against a largely unfunded, first-time Democratic candidate named Omar Rivero that hardly made headlines. But at some point Rivero posted the secret recording to his YouTube channel. The following March, after Artiles denied he had punched a college student at a downtown Tallahassee bar, the audio made the rounds in Miami political circles.

It resurfaced Tuesday, after Artiles’ private exchange at the Governors Club in downtown Tallahassee with Gibson and Sen. Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale was made public.

More here.

Photo credit: Steve Cannon, Associated Press