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June 07, 2017

In effort to keep schools funded, Senate overrides veto of K-12 spending

Florida Legislature (22)


Wanting to ensure Florida’s 4,200 K-12 public schools can “keep the lights on and keep the doors open” after June 30, the Florida Senate took the unusual step on Wednesday of voting to override a veto by Gov. Rick Scott.

Not because the senators particularly like the spending level they approved last month.

They just don’t have high hopes they’ll reach compromise with the House during a special session this week on how to pay for at least $215 million in additional funding Scott asked the Legislature to approve.

“In consultation with [President Joe Negron, R-Stuart] and other Senate leaders, we think it’s really important that we give the public confidence that our public schools will be open,” Senate budget chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said on the floor.

He added that the Senate doesn’t want “to be responsible ... for getting into a situation where we leave town and we do not have funding in place” for schools.

But the procedural votes by the Senate — which came with little opposition — will have little practical impact.

The House has no intention of following the Senate’s lead and restoring the K-12 funding Scott vetoed even as a temporary safeguard, Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, told reporters.

“They want to go back and play hide the ball with the voters,” Corcoran said. “So they’re saying, ‘OK, we’re going to try to look like the good guys in that we didn’t veto K-12 educational funding, and so we’re going to do the veto override.’ ”

Corcoran accuses the Senate of seeking “a massive tax increase” by proposing to pay for the extra K-12 funding in part through property taxes from new construction. He said the Senate’s override was an attempt to “mask” that goal, and he dismissed the potential of the special session collapsing.

“I think we’ll absolutely get to a point when the better judgment of all will prevail and the funding for K-12 education will happen — and it will happen without a massive tax increase,” Corcoran said.

Full details here.

Photo credit: AP

Rubio: If Trump has interfered with Russia investigation, 'American people deserve to know'

via @learyreports

Sen. Marco Rubio at Wednesday's Intelligence Committe hearing:

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Senate Republican fundraiser in California set for Monday and Tuesday could be a problem

Senate FundraiserWith the Senate insisting that any budget agreement follow the 72-hour cooling off period, the Florida House Republican leadership on Wednesday agreed to go along, even though they read the constitutional waiting period as not applying to the budget bills they will be passing this session. 

So what are House leaders asking for in return?

Nothing more than telling the Senate it wants them to come back to finish their work on Tuesday, June 13 -- same day the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee has scheduled its annual golf fundraiser in California.

The traditional golf fundraiser, often held at the prestigious Pebble Beach golf course, has been moved this year to Torrey Pines, the swanky municipal course situated along the cliffs of San Diego that is also on the  PGA tour. The bad news for Senate Republicans is that the fundraiser is scheduled for June 12-13. 

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said the fundraiser should have no impact on the special session. 

"I have a plane ticket to go to California this weekend, but it's not going to impact any decisions we make here,'' he said, shortly before the Senate was to convene. 

According to the invitation, the event begins with spas and biking in the afternoon on Monday. Then a reception and the Senate Majority Dinner. On Tuesday, the day is devoted to golf at the "home of the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open, Junior Worlds, hosts to the 2008 and 2021 U.S. Open Championship and site of the 2009 Samsung World Championship.”

Other optional events for this trip, the expenses for which are paid by political committees, include visits to the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, Evans Garage antique car museum, a tour of the aircraft carrier Midway, sea kayaking and snorkeling or a California wine tour.  

House leaders sent a memo to its members noting the House Clerk Portia Palmer concluded that the FEFP public school funding bill isn't subject to the 72-hour hold:

"Article III, section 19(d) of the Florida Constitution does not apply to this bill. It is not general in application; does not resemble the constitutionally required format and scope of a general appropriations bill described by Article III, section 19 (b); does not meet the definition of a General Appropriations Bill in Joint Rule 2; and meets the general appropriations exemption applicable to supplemental appropriations provided in Joint Rule 2."

The Senate disagrees. In a memo to Senators on Tuesday, Latvala wrote: 

"President Negron and I have reviewed relevant legal precedent and accepted the advice of our Senate Professional Staff regarding the application of the 72-hour cooling off period as it relates to this legislation. Out of an abundance of caution, the Senate will allow SB 2500A and SB 2502A to rest in final form for 72 hours prior to a vote. For this reason, the Secretary has distributed the filed versions to each member of the Legislature, the Governor, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and each member of the Cabinet. If amendments are adopted in Committee or on the Floor, the Secretary will issue a new distribution indicating the start of a new 72-hour cooling off period."

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen blasts Goldman Sachs investment in Venezuela

US Venezuela


Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen took to the House floor on Wednesday to blast Goldman Sachs' recent purchase of $2.8 billion in Venezuelan oil bonds, which hands the socialist government a financial lifeline amid widespread protests and hunger in the South American country. 

Ros-Lehtinen argued that the bond purchase will personally benefit embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro

"Goldman Sachs is also adding to the people's misery," Ros-Lehtinen said in a floor speech on Wednesday. "Last week, the investment bank bought $2.8 billion in Venezuelan bonds, not only providing the Maduro regime a lifeline in the short term but saddling the Venezuelan people with crippling debt repayments in the long term. When, not if, a democratically elected president comes to the Venezuelan people they will be stuck with the bill and the responsibility to pay for this debt."

Goldman Sachs, a New York-based investment bank, bought the bonds for 31 cents on the dollar, according to the Wall Street Journal, meaning the bank stands to make a tidy profit when Venezuela starts paying its debt.

"With so many Venezuelans lacking the basic goods, including food, many have taken to calling these bonds 'hunger bonds' as the regime lines its own pockets and the Venezuelan people continue to suffer," Ros-Lehtinen said. "Venezuela's pervasive corruption means any infusion of cash, like Goldman Sachs, will not benefit the people of Venezuela who desperately need it. Instead, Maduro and his thugs fill their coffers and use the cash to abuse the Venezuelan people and use it to stay in power."

Ros-Lehtinen, a longtime Miami Republican who recently announced that she's leaving Congress, is a longtime critic of the Maduro regime. The recent news of Goldman Sachs' bond purchase spawned protests and outrage among Venezuelan activists. 

During her speech, Ros-Lehtinen also criticized Maduro's involvement in writing a new constitution in Venezuela, arguing that the president is strong-arming the democratically elected legislature. 

"Peaceful protests have led Venezuelan strongman Nicholas Maduro to issue a decree to convene a constitutional national assembly in order to rewrite the Venezuelan constitution," Ros-Lehtinen said. "Maduro is once again trying to delay the inevitable: free, fair, transparent and democratic elections in Venezuela." 

South Florida is home to the highest concentration of Venezuelans in the United States, and local politicians have increasingly railed against Maduro's regime in recent months. 

"U.S. businesses should be avoiding deals with Maduro like the plague," Ros-Lehtinen said. 


Diaz de la Portilla faces foreclosure on out-of-district home


On campaign filings for the District 40 state Senate race, Republican Alex Diaz de la Portilla lists two addresses: a mattress company that belongs to his father and a five-bedroom West Miami home facing foreclosure.

Both lie outside the district he is running to represent, a large swath of Southwest Miami-Dade County.

The mattress company, Dé Mattress Inc., is located in District 38. The home, which has a homestead exemption reserved for primary residences, is located in District 37 in West Miami.

Florida law requires candidates for state office to live in their district by Election Day, which will be Sept. 26.

In an interview with the Miami Herald, Diaz de la Portilla acknowledged he doesn’t currently live in the district but said that he plans to rent a home or apartment unit before the deadline approaches. He said it is to be expected, with the surprise resignation of former state Sen. Frank Artiles in April and the announcement of a special election by Gov. Rick Scott, but he is looking at several options for his move.

As for the mattress company, he said he runs his political consulting firm, First Stone Management LLC, from inside the space.

He said despite not living in the district, he has served more voters of District 40 over his decades of public service in the state Legislature than all of his competitors combined.

“I have very deep ties with this district,” he said.

Diaz de la Portilla is running against two other Republicans, three Democrats and an independent candidate in the special election to replace Artiles,who vacated his seat in April after making offensive remarks to colleagues. The primary will be July 25.

According to the Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser, Diaz de la Portilla and his ex-wife jointly own the West Miami home. In April, Wells Fargo filed a notice in county court seeking to foreclose on the home, according to a copy of the notice obtained by the Herald and first reported by Politico. Diaz de la Portilla listed the home as being worth $603,357 in a financial disclosure form. Diaz de la Portilla said the foreclosure was a necessary step toward modifying the loan on his home following a divorce.

“It should be resolved shortly,” he said.

Diaz de la Portilla blamed the “sleazy campaign” tactics of fellow Republican candidate and former Rep. Jose Felix Diaz for bringing the foreclosure notice to light, an accusation Diaz denied Wednesday.

“[His] financial mismanagement is a matter of public record,” Diaz wrote in a text message.

Democrat who switched parties too late withdraws from state Senate race


Steve Smith signed an oath when he qualified as a candidate for the state Senate last week saying he’s been a registered Democrat for a year.

Not quite.

Florida law requires anyone qualifying as a party candidate to state in writing that they have not been a member of another party for a full year before qualifying.

Smith, a long-time Republican and the CEO of a Miami tech consulting firm, registered as a Democrat on June 10, 2016, less than a year before he and six other candidates qualified on May 30 — 12 days short of a year — for the District 40 seat left vacant by former Sen. Frank Artiles.

Hours after a Miami Herald story went online Tuesday about the apparent violation, Smith he withdrew his candidacy, saying he did not want to jeopardize the Democratic Party’s chances to turn the seat blue and his own political aspirations down the road.

“It is what it is,” he said.

Had he remained in the race, Smith would have been vulnerable to a challenge, if one of his opponents had taken him to court. The state Division of Elections, through which candidates file their paperwork, does not police the accuracy of the information provided, simply that it has been completed in full, a spokeswoman said.

Mark Herron, a Tallahassee elections attorney who has worked with Democrats in the past, said if Smith were to win the Democratic primary on July 25 and a Republican opponent successfully sued him, Democratic candidates might not be able to fill that spot because of a provision in the vacancy and nominations statutes, which states that a primary victor who is found to have improperly qualified for a party’s nomination cannot be replaced by another candidate.

Alex Diaz de la Portilla, a Republican front-runner in the special election, said Tuesday he would have challenged Smith’s candidacy if he had gone on and won the Democratic primary.

“I would have sued him,” Diaz de la Portilla said, calling the situation unfortunate because Smith appeared to have just missed the deadline to switch parties. “Poor guy.”

Smith told the Herald he wasn’t aware of the violation, saying he thought he was “within the window.”

He said he consulted with an attorney and with the general counsel of the Florida Board of Elections before reaching his decision to withdraw. Asked if he would support one of his opponents, he said he would be backing Annette Taddeo, a Democrat. Smith said his sights were now set on a possible run for the 26th Congressional District seat — now held by Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

“I want to continue to fight for the people of my district,” Smith said.

Photo: Steve Smith

Museum Park could get a $2 million playground, and a redevelopment agency the bill

Carollo money


UPDATE: The board of the Bayfront Park Management Trust voted 5 to 4 to install the $2 million Berliner playground and seek repayment from the Omni Community Redevelopment Agency. Carollo cast the deciding vote.

Miami Commissioner Frank Carollo wants to buy a $2 million playground for Museum Park and send the bill to an anti-blight agency.

Carollo has called for a special meeting Wednesday of the Bayfront Park Management Trust in order to push for the purchase of an elaborate, futuristic jungle gym. He wants the trust to pay for the structure -- to be provided by a vendor he brought to the table -- and pay for it out of an improvements fund that has yet to receive a dollar.

"We're trying to be a signature park," Carollo, the trust's board chairman, said late last month after unveiling the idea. "It's something worthy of Museum Park. Something worthy of being next to the science museum. And I think we should move forward."

Carollo says the playground would be an important amenity for a park that has never lived up to the hype of the $68 million facility initially envisioned back when Miami was first planning to build an art and science museum south of I-395. He says the playground is similar to a dramatic play area in Seattle built next to the Space Needle.

The money Carollo wants to tap into to pay for the playground would come from the Omni Community Redevelopment Agency, which agreed to pay $2 million a year into a Museum Park improvements fund under the massive Global Agreement that also paid for Marlins Park and the PortMiami Tunnel.

A bare bones version of the park opened in 2014, but money has never changed hands. And as of now, the entire payment due this year is sitting in the redevelopment agency's reserves, with no agreement over how it should be spent or whether it should even be due the city.

"Monies are owed to the city with regard to capital improvements here at Museum Park and right now we're in the process of figuring out how to transfer that over," City Attorney Victoria Mendez told trust board members last month.

If Carollo is going to convince the Bayfront Park Trust to buy the playground, he'll need more support from the board. They rejected his proposal on May 24 with a tied vote.

Dissenters on the board complained about the lack of detail regarding the playground's costs, and the lack of competitive bids in bringing in playground manufacturer Berliner and their sales representative, ARC Florida. The Miami Foundation, which has taken an active interest in upgrading Museum Park, has also weighed in, cautioning Carollo from moving forward on the playground without first getting public input and considering the larger picture of the park's future.

The board meets at noon at the Bayfront Park Management Trust offices at 301 Biscayne Blvd

VISIT Florida boss' support for House tourism bill rankles industry

The man who runs VISIT Florida, Ken Lawson, is just doing his job, but he's making some prominent tourism industry people angry. Lawson is supporting the deal his boss, Gov. Rick Scott, struck with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, on tourism in the special session that starts Wednesday.

KenLawsonA compromise struck between Scott and Corcoran means that VISIT gets fully funded at $76 million, but at a steep price. Buried in House Bill 1A is language carried over from the regular session that requires any public money given to a tourism business must be matched dollar-for-dollar by private contributions. The bill specifically prevents using matching money from local tourism groups in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, St. Petersburg and elsewhere, known as DMOs or destination marketing organizations, that are funded mostly by bed taxes paid by tourists.

In an email to industry members Tuesday (at left), Lawson noted the matching requirements and said: "These changes in no way limit VISIT Florida's ability to partner with public or private organizations, including local Destination Marketing Organizations." Similar language was in HB 5501, the tourism package from the regular session, which Scott has said he will veto because that bill cut VISIT's funding from $76 million to $25 million next year.

It was apparent that Lawson acted without first securing the support of VISIT Florida's board of directors, which includes Bill Lupfer, a respected industry veteran and president of the Florida Attractions Association. Lupfer emailed a call to action to his members Wednesday urging them to rally behind a different Senate tourism bill (SB 2A) sponsored by Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, whose bill would allow local bed tax money to match state money. "Call your rep today to support Senate Bill 2A. Special session affects all members," the Florida Attractions Association said on Twitter.

A fed-up Senate spells serious trouble for Rick Scott and Corcoran

The Florida Legislature returns to Tallahassee for a special session Wednesday. With the House and Senate headed in opposite directions, the priorities of Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran are in big trouble.

Days after Senate President Joe Negron stood with Scott and Corcoran at a Miami airport press conference, the Senate wants to help hospitals, overturn Scott's vetoes of college and university spending and pay for a public school increase partly with property taxes from new construction. Corcoran on Tuesday called his fellow Republicans' tax idea a "massive property tax increase," a sign of a disaster in the making.

It gets worse. Irritated by Scott's line item vetoes, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, describes a Senate unified behind Negron and fed up with Corcoran scripting a deal to get what he wants: Scott's signature on HB 7069, the big education policy bill with its expansion of charter schools that came within one vote of defeat in the Senate.

That bill hovers over the Capitol like a dark cloud, with some senators having voted for it last month only because they thought Scott would veto it, which they now realize was a mistake. Now senators are asked to ratify a Scott-Corcoran deal on jobs, tourism and education to make it more likely Scott would sign 7069, and it sounds like all bets are off.

Latvala called the House's jobs and tourism bill (HB 1A) dead in the Senate and called Corcoran, a potential rival for governor, the most transactional politician he's ever seen in 15 years in Tallahassee. "Everything has a price," Latvala said. (Corcoran similarly views Latvala as purely transactional).

Put simply, Negron can't guarantee an outcome in his chamber the way Corcoran can in the House. Scott and Corcoran again may have underestimated the Senate's institutional reputation for independence.

Senators are territorial about hometown spending. They think Scott went too far with last week's line-item vetoes and it's going to come back to haunt him. For example, Scott vetoed $3 million for an arts program at Polk State College, a project that's important to former Senate Appropriations Chairman JD Alexander, who maintains close ties with a number of senators and has been making phone calls to express his dismay (There is not an identifiable statewide impact," Scott said in his veto message of June 2).

Breaking with Scott, Latvala criticized the governor for vetoing so many of his priorities in Tampa Bay. "It's a two-way street," Latvala said. "The governor sort of antagonized some of us with the actions he took vetoing our projects." He said that once again, Scott used his line item veto power without warning and with little or no explanation.

Finally, the Senate will insist that a revised K-12 budget must be available for review for 72 hours before a vote (the House disagrees with that position). "I think the Senate is on strong legal ground," Negron said Wednesday. "The 72-hour cooling-off period does apply. The Senate believes in strong fidelity to the Constitution."


That time Sarah Palin used a Florida House photo as a Paris climate deal meme


An old photo of happy Republican members of the Florida House has somehow become an internet meme shared by former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Palin posted the meme on her verified Facebook page Tuesday. 

"Don't Be Fooled! The Paris Climate Accord is a SCAM," it reads. "They pretend it's about fixing our environment... But it's REALLY about stealing Billions from the American people and giving it to foreign companies, countries and lobbyists!"

But, inexplicably, the photo is of several current and former Florida House members -- including Will Weatherford, Jimmy Patronis, Scott Plakon, Chris Dorworth, all Republicans -- apparently rejoicing in some sort of legislative victory completely unrelated to climate change or the Paris accord.

Palin's post had 8,133 shares as of Wednesday morning, and 507 comments.

UPDATE: Palin deleted her post, without explanation, Wednesday afternoon.

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