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June 28, 2017

Rick Scott appoints Jonathan Zachem to lead business regulatory agency

From the News Service of Florida:

Gov. Rick Scott appointed Jonathan Zachem as Secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation on Tuesday. The department has been without a full-time leader since Ken Lawson left to become president and CEO of tourism-marketing agency Visit Florida in January.

Zachem had been DBPR's deputy secretary and previously served as chief attorney and then director of the agency's Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.

He also worked as in the prosecution services unit at the Florida Department of Health. Matilde Miller, who had been serving as interim secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulations since Lawson left, has also moved to Visit Florida, taking the role of vice president of compliance.

In face of new state law, Miami-Dade toll board decides to cut costs

Dolphin expressway

via @doug_hanks

Miami-Dade’s toll board is cutting costs and shedding staff as it faces a new state law demanding both lower fees for motorists and that some toll revenue be spent on county transit projects.

The leader of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority said the cuts aren’t related to the legislation Gov. Rick Scott signed into law this week that seeks to impose a 5 percent cut in tolls charged to most motorists. The law allows toll boards to skip the rate decrease if a cut violates lending agreements, and the Miami-Dade authority contends it falls into that category.

But as the toll board faces a growing political backlash against tolls and elected leaders want toll revenue for Miami-Dade’s cash-strapped transit system, an agency famous for flowing in money is trimming costs.

Full story here.

Photo credit: C.M. GUERRERO / El Nuevo Herald

Condo law reforms sought by Miami-Dade lawmakers signed into law


via @BrendaMedinar of El Nuevo Herald

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has approved state condominium law reforms that seek to punish voter fraud and theft in condo associations, clarify the definition of conflicts of interest and promote transparency.

Amendments to chapter 718 of the state law will take effect on July 1.

“I am very happy that we have finally achieved some of what is needed to stop fraud and abuse toward condominium owners,” said Maritza Escobar, owner of a condo unit in Hialeah Gardens. “In the future we have to make more changes to stop the abuse from management companies and boards.”

The reforms were presented in Tallahassee as a signature bill by the bipartisan Dade Delegation during the legislative session that ended in May. It was sponsored by Rep. José Félix Díaz and Senators José Javier Rodríguez and René García, and unanimously approved by the state House and Senate.

“That [the governor] signed the law is a victory and one that does not always happen,” said Díaz, whose district encompasses the Fontainebleau neighborhood in west Miami-Dade.

Díaz, who is vying for a Senate seat, said the delegation’s action and community engagement were key to the reforms getting passed.

“There are so many people in this county who have so many problems and do not raise their voices,” he said. “This is an example of when the government responds to the advice and suggestions of the public.”

The bill came a year after the publication of the “Condo Nightmares” series by el Nuevo Herald and Univisión 23. The investigation highlighted cases of electoral fraud, forged signatures on ballots, conflicts of interests, misappropriation of funds and rigged bids.

Full story here.

Photo credit: C.M. GUERRERO / El Nuevo Herald

Battle between Rick Scott and Aramis Ayala heads to Supreme Court

Fullcourt2017-HiResGov. Rick Scott and Orlando prosecutor Aramis Ayala square off Wednesday before the Florida Supreme Court in a high-profile case being watched nationally that could have implications for the 2018 elections.

Ayala demands that Scott show by what authority he stripped the elected Orange-Osceola state attorney of nearly two dozen felony cases after she said she would not seek the death penalty for an accused cop killer. Scott argues in court papers that under state law, he can reassign cases for any "good and sufficient reason (that) he determines that the ends of justice would be best served."

In her reply brief, Ayala claims that on four occasions, Scott rejected citizen requests to disqualify prosecutors from cases on the grounds that "each state attorney is an elected official charged with the duty to determine how to prosecute any crime committed within his jurisdiction" and that they "answer to the voters of their individual jurisdictions."

Ayala said in March she would not seek a death sentence in the case of Markeith Loyd, charged with killing his pregnant former girlfriend and an Orlando police officer, Lt. Debra Clayton, who tried to arrest him. The case sparked widespread outrage, and a group of Republican state legislators unsuccessfully petitioned Scott to remove Ayala from office.

The case centers on the question of whether the justice system is free from political influence, but the case also has political and racial overtones. Ayala, a Democrat, is the first African-American state attorney elected in Florida, a state where black defendants are disproportionately assigned the death penalty and where no white person has been executed for killing a black victim. Scott, a Republican, is a supporter of capital punishment who's expected to run for U.S. Senate next year.

Friend-of-the-court briefs were filed on opposite sides by Florida prosecutors, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz, legislators in both parties, a coalition of former state and federal legal experts and former justices, and families of murder victims who support the death penalty.

This is the most prominent case to come before the Supreme Court in oral argument since Scott appointed C. Alan Lawson to the bench last December to succeed James Perry, an African-American and outspoken critic of the death penalty in numerous opinions. Lawson's presence, and Perry's departure, presents the potential to tip this case in Scott's favor.

June 27, 2017

Beware healthcare 'spin,' Kellyanne Conway says in Miami, doing her own spinning


On the same day that Senate Republicans were forced to delay a vote on their healthcare legislation because not enough of them wanted to vote for it, White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway defended the bill in Miami.

“I know that people like to spin tales,” she said at the Miami-Dade County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day fundraising dinner. “Do the homework. Read all of the information.”

She, however, was not always providing it.

Conway said the Senate bill, called the “Better Care Reconciliation Act,” would offer “an increase in Medicaid spending every year, with a slowing of the growth of the expansion” promoted by former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

In its report released Monday, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office concluded that the lower rate of spending on Medicaid would result in a $772-billion reduction by 2026, about a 26 percent cut over a decade that would leave thousands of people without health insurance. Medicaid, which is run by states but funded by states and the federal government, provides care to the disabled and the needy. 

In all, the CBO projected some 22 million people with individual, employer or government insurance would lose coverage by 2026.

More than tout the Senate bill, Conway criticized the existing ACA, saying the “19th and 20th Obamacare exchanges failed — there’s only four left.” That appeared to be a reference to the 19th healthcare cooperative in the country folding, leaving four nationwide. But co-ops are not exchanges; exchanges are the ACA-created insurance marketplaces.

More here.

Photo credit: Charles Trainor Jr., Miami Herald staff

All stories lead to Florida: A fake Trump Time magazine cover hangs in Doral resort

From the Washington Post:

The framed copy of Time Magazine was hung up in at least five of President Trump’s clubs, from South Florida to Scotland. Filling the entire cover was a photo of Donald Trump.

“Donald Trump: The ‘Apprentice’ is a television smash!” the big headline said. Above the Time nameplate, there was another headline in all caps: “TRUMP IS HITTING ON ALL FRONTS . . . EVEN TV!”

This cover — dated March 1, 2009 — looks like an impressive memento from Trump’s pre-presidential career. To club members eating lunch, or golfers waiting for a pro-shop purchase, it seemed to be a signal that Trump had always been a man who mattered. Even when he was just a reality-TV star, Trump was the kind of star who got a cover story in Time.

But that wasn’t true.

The Time cover is a fake.

There was no March 1, 2009, issue of Time Magazine. And there was no issue at all in 2009 that had Trump on the cover.

In fact,the cover on display at Trump’s clubs, observed recently by a reporter visiting one of the properties, contains several small but telling mistakes. Its red border is skinnier than that of a genuine Time cover, and, unlike the real thing, there is no thin white border next to the red. The Trump cover’s secondary headlines are stacked on the right side — on a real Time cover, they would go across the top.

And it has two exclamation points. Time headlines don’t yell.

More here.

Rubio and Scott crisscross the Capitol as Obamacare repeal bill stalls in Senate

Marco Rubio 2


Minutes after he delayed a vote on a bill to repeal Obamacare when a number of Republican senators said they could not support it as written, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell retreated to his office.

Rick Scott and Marco Rubio were waiting for him.

The pair met with McConnell for half an hour, and after the meeting Rubio said the vote delay was “helpful to us.” 

“I’m going to view this entirely through the lens of what this means for Florida,” Rubio said. “The one unique advantage that we have being from Florida is that we have done what this law is going to... encourage other states to do.”

Rubio and Scott never publicly opposed the bill, which stalled after a number of senators told McConnell said they could not vote for the legislation in its current shape. But their tepid response, with Rubio summoning health care staffers from Tallahassee to review the bill and Scott declining to say he would vote for it if he could, is evidence of the work Senate leaders need to do to get a bill passed.

“Look, legislation of this complexity almost always takes longer than anybody else would hope,” McConnell said. “But we are going to press on. We think the status quo is unsustainable for all the obvious reasons we have discussed over and over and over again. And we are optimistic we are going to get to a result that’s better than the status quo.”

Scott, an ally of President Donald Trump and former health care executive, packed his day in the capital with meetings and television appearances, with the goal of stressing to Republican senators that the bill to repeal Obamacare must not penalize states like Florida that chose not to expand Medicaid.

“We're not treated the same way as a state like New York,” Scott said, arguing that New York gets $23 billion in federal dollars for health insurance while Florida gets $14 billion, despite Florida having more people to cover than New York.

“Our federal tax rates aren’t lower, so why should we get paid less?”

But Florida gets paid less because it declined to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. The state left as much as $66 billion in federal dollars on the table over 10 years after it decided not to expand Medicaid. Scott countered that expanding Medicaid would cost Florida $1.9 billion a year, but the actual cost to the state would have been closer to $500 million and wouldn’t kick in for a few years.

Read more here.

Fact-checking a falsehood about noncitizens voting



President Donald Trump’s unfounded allegations that millions voted illegally in 2016 is back in the news, with his supporters pointing to a new analysis that claims millions of undocumented immigrants voted in 2008.

Fox and Friends” co-host Ainsley Earhardt talked about it on the morning show recently.

“5.7 million — that’s how many illegal immigrants might have voted” in 2008, she said. Her comments referenced an article in the Washington Times, a conservative newspaper.

Trump has made repeated claims about massive voter fraud and election rigging, which we’ve debunked again and again and again and again and again and again and again (and we’ve debunked a claim by his spokesman Sean Spicer).

The claim made on “Fox and Friends” is based on an extrapolation of a controversial study that relied on a very small number of responses. Researchers involved in the underlying survey of voters have cautioned against using their data to reach conclusions about noncitizen voters.

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

Miami Herald photo of voters at the Coral Gables library in March 2016.

Democratic congressional candidate bashes Pelosi



During a constituent breakfast Tuesday, Democratic congressional candidate Kristen Rosen Gonzalez criticized the leadership of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Party’s “political industrial complex.”

Rosen Gonzalez, a Miami Beach commissioner running to replace Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in District 27, addressed her qualms inside the Puerto Sagua Restaurant in Miami Beach.

“When the newly elected people get to Washington D.C., Nancy Pelosi says to them, ‘So, you think you’re gonna do something in Congress? Well, the first thing you have to worry about is getting reelected. So get over to the DCCC [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] and start calling'” donors, Rosen Gonzalez said sharply.

“Excuse me?” she continued, to some laughter. “That’s all it’s about. All it’s about is money, money, money, money. And if you don’t like that, then...they don’t consider you viable.”

Rosen Gonzalez, a Miami-Dade College instructor, would need to work alongside Pelosi if she wins. But she said she hopes her candidacy inspires others to “elect candidates who are not going to be beholden to one person.”

Pelosi has faced recent criticism and even calls to resign from her post following the loss of Democrat Jon Ossoff in Georgia’s special election. Conservative ads painted Ossoff as Pelosi’s puppet.

Rosen Gonzalez’s appearance was organized as part of the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club and moderated by former Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower.

During the hourlong talk, Rosen Gonzalez also criticized Republicans’ efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, arguing “everyone deserves access to healthcare,” and proposed reforms to the pharmaceutical and health-insurance industries.

During a question-and-answer segment, she was asked about her thoughts on police reform.

Last month, the Miami Herald published an email Rosen Gonzalez sent to the city manager, in which she wrote, “We need to give the cops back their bullets, remove their body cams, give them their dignity and let them work all the off hours stuff they want.”

She later apologized for the email, writing in a letter to the editor that the words she chose “do not reflect how I truly feel” and that she voted in favor of equipping Beach officers with body cameras.

“I knew I was gonna get this question. I think I’m gonna get it the rest of my political career, so I’m just gonna have to figure out the best way to answer it,” she said Tuesday. “Body cameras are new, so we have to figure out what the policies are and maybe they’re gonna have to be lenient. And if a police officer says a four-letter word, they don’t get punished or get marks on their record. What I was trying to do was just ask some questions, so that i could figure out how to improve the policies surrounding that.”

Photo: Matias J. Ocner, The Miami Herald

Rick Scott declines to say if he thinks Marco Rubio should vote for the health care bill as written



Florida Gov. Rick Scott is crisscrossing Capitol Hill on Tuesday as the Senate wrestles with a bill that would repeal parts of Obamacare. He's meeting with top Republicans Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and senior Republicans like Sen. Orrin Hatch.

But Scott, a Republican and ally of Donald Trump, demurred when asked if Sen. Marco Rubio should vote for the bill as written. Scott will meet with Rubio later on Tuesday afternoon. 

"There's constant conversations and it's changing, so you can't say where it is right now," Scott said. "Let's all focus on the biggest here, and the biggest issue here is cost reduction. What I'm talking about to him right now are the things that are important to our families and our taxpayers." 

Rubio hasn't given any indication that he plans to block the bill's path to the Senate floor, although he's brought three staffers from Tallahassee to Washington to review the bill. 

The staffers are Allen Brown, health care adviser to Senate President Joe Negron; Carol Gormley, health care adviser to House Speaker Richard Corcoran; and Justin Senior, secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.

Scott said a big priority for him is to make sure that states who didn't expand Medicaid, like Florida, receive the same per capita funding for Medicaid as a state that chose to expand the program under Obamacare. 

"We're not treated the same way as a state like New York," Scott said, arguing that New York gets $23 billion in federal dollars for health insurance while Florida gets $14 billion, despite Florida having more people to cover than New York. 

"Our federal tax rates aren't lower so why should we get paid less?"

Senate leadership is urging a vote on the health care bill this week, saying that a further delay will make it harder for a majority to support the bill. But a  

"Whoever is paying for it, the Obamacare costs have skyrocketed, people can't afford their health care, employers can't afford their health care and the government can't afford their health care.  

Four Republican senators, including moderates Susan Collins of Maine and Dean Heller of Nevada along with conservatives Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, said they will not allow the legislation to proceed in its current form. The GOP enjoys a four seat majority in the Senate, meaning three Republican dissenters can kill the bill. 

Even if the bill passes the Senate, it could be a tough road to make it through the House. A group of conservative lawmakers dubbed the Freedom Caucus are expected to oppose the Senate bill in its current form. 

"I don't have a vote," Scott said. "But it's very important to repeal and replace Obamacare."