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January 18, 2018

Where Miami lawmakers stand on a spending bill without an immigration compromise

Frederica Wilson 2


The federal government will shut down at 11:59 p.m. Friday unless the House and Senate pass a short-term spending bill.

The two U.S. senators from Florida and the five U.S. representatives from Miami-Dade County are divided on the spending bill, which faces opposition from conservative House Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate.

Keep in mind that the calculus can change quickly if an immigration compromise to protect Dreamers — undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children — is imminent.

Here’s where the Miami-Dade delegation stands on the short-term spending bill as of Thursday afternoon:

Sen. Marco Rubio (R): Rubio said on Monday “you can’t shut the government down over DACA,” and is likely to support a short-term spending bill. He voted in favor of a short-term spending bill in December.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D): Nelson is undecided, and is waiting to see how the House votes before deciding his vote. The Florida Democrat is facing pressure from immigration activists to vote against a short-term spending bill. He voted in favor of a short-term spending bill in December.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R): Curbelo will vote no unless a DACA solution is imminent. He voted against the short-term spending bill in December due to DACA.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R): Ros-Lehtinen will vote no unless a DACA solution is imminent. She also voted against the December spending bill due to DACA.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R): Diaz-Balart will vote in favor of the bill. “Shutting down the government, which among other things puts the lives of our troops in danger, would be detrimental and must be avoided,” Diaz-Balart said.

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D): Wilson voted against the December spending bill along with the majority of House Democrats. She’s pledged not to support any immigration compromise that includes funding for a border wall. “I do not plan to vote for the continuing resolution unless it includes measures to protect Dreamers and TPS holders; critical funding for CHIP and community health centers; and additional disaster recovery funding for Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Texas, Florida, and states impacted by wildfires.”

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D): Wasserman Schultz opposes the short-term spending bill due to concerns over DACA and funding for community health centers. “We remain mired in this unbreakable habit” of passing short-term spending bills, she said Thursday.

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran asks DHS to investigate St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, Andrew Gillum

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Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran SCOTT KEELER | Times

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen asking the federal government to investigate St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum for what he called illegal “sanctuary city” policies in their cities.

Both mayors are Democrats, and Gillum has announced his candidacy for the governor’s race that Corcoran may yet join. But even in the world of Florida politics, Corcoran’s letter represented a bold step.

His letter was not signed by any other official, and Kerri Wyland of the Governor's Press Office confirmed that Gov. Rick Scott had not spoken to Corcoran about the letter.

Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, made immigration a centerpiece issue of the 2018 session when he streamlined passage of HB9 last week, a bill that would ban sanctuary cities and penalize elected officials that vote for related policies. He mentions the bill in his letter, adding the House is “now waiting on the Florida Senate to act.”

Corcoran’s letter came after Nielsen spoke to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, saying her department had asked federal prosecutors to look into filing criminal charges against city officials in sanctuary cities.

That night, Corcoran tweeted a news story about Nielsen’s comments, saying she “can start with investigating @AndrewGillum and @Kriseman, who have been advocates for illegal sanctuary policies and amnesty. If you won’t follow the law, you don’t belong in office!”

He mimicked similar language in the formal letter he sent the same day.

“It is clear to many in our state that this problem is only growing, and the Department of Homeland Security should investigate these two elected officials immediately,” it read.

The letter then referred to a statement Kriseman wrote in February, responding to President Donald Trump’s executive order to cut federal funding from cities and counties that “willfully violate federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States.”

“I have no hesitation in declaring St. Petersburg a sanctuary from harmful federal immigration laws,” Kriseman wrote at the time. “We will not expend resources to help enforce such laws, nor will our police officers stop, question or arrest an individual solely on the basis that they may have unlawfully entered the United States.”

But Ben Kirby, spokesman for Kriseman, said St. Petersburg can’t technically be a sanctuary city because of the fact it doesn’t have its own jail and uses one run by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.

“What the mayor has said consistently is that he wants to work hard to ensure St. Pete is a welcoming and inclusive and lawful city … he encourages Speaker Corcoran to focus on the same for our entire state,” Kirby said. “There’s plenty of time for Republican primary politics after session.”

There is technically no legal definition of a “sanctuary city,” but a common element in the debate is the practice of local jails calling U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents about detainees they suspect to be undocumented and often holding them for a short period until ICE arrives.

As of Wednesday, Pinellas County was one of 17 Florida counties to make an agreement with ICE to cooperate in its jails via a legal workaround that avoids the sheriffs taking on extra liability.

Geoff Burgan, spokesman for Gillum, also said Tallahassee is not technically a sanctuary city and the letter is only the speaker playing politics.

“No matter how much Richard Corcoran tries, Donald Trump and Sean Hannity have already endorsed Ron DeSantis,” he said. “Tallahassee’s police officers are not ICE agents but if Corcoran wants to suddenly expand the federal government in Florida that’s his prerogative.”

Two women running for Congress in Miami make Time Magazine cover



Two Democrats running for competitive congressional seats in Miami are getting some exposure on the cover of Time Magazine, one of President Donald Trump's favorite platforms. 

Democrats Mary Barzee Flores and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell feature on Time's latest cover in a story highlighting the hundreds of women nationwide who decided to run for office after Trump's victory in 2016.

Barzee Flores is one of a host of Democrats seeking to replace retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, while Mucarsel-Powell is Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo's only serious challenger. 

Barzee Flores is mounting her first campaign for elected office. The former federal judge nominee works as a lawyer in Miami. Mucarsel-Powell is in her second campaign, she ran a closer than expected race against well-funded Republican state Sen. Anitere Flores in 2016. 

Both Barzee Flores and Mucarsel-Powell are endorsed by EMILY's list, which provides money and operational support to progressive, pro-abortion rights female candidates nationwide.

Saturday is the one year anniversary of Trump's inauguration and hundreds of women's marches are planned around the country this weekend. 

Why the fate of Dreamers is fueling talk of a government shutdown in Washington

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The federal government will shut down on Friday at 11:59 p.m. if Congress fails to pass a short-term spending bill in the next 36 hours.

Because Republicans control the government, leaders like President Donald Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell must put together a spending bill that gains enough support to pass the House and Senate.

But some Democrats and Miami Republicans say they will vote against any spending bill if a solution for 800,000 young immigrants known as Dreamers — undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children — isn’t imminent. Friday is not the final deadline for passing a Dreamer fix, because the Obama-era executive action called DACA, which allows Dreamers to live and work in the U.S. without the threat of deportation, expires in March. Congress has a few more weeks to come up with a deal, but lawmakers upset with the ongoing negotiations are using the Friday deadline as leverage to force action.

Sen. Marco Rubio is urging the House and Senate to pass a short-term spending bill to keep the government open even if leaders can’t agree on a DACA solution by Friday night.

“You can’t shut down the government over DACA,” Rubio said earlier this week. “The deadline is in March, not Friday of this week. One of the implications of doing so is that the government will not be able to process the permits that people are applying for, so it’s almost counterproductive.”

If Senate Democrats uniformly oppose a short-term spending plan because it lacks a Dreamer solution, the government will shut down, because a spending bill requires 60 votes in the 100-member Senate, and Republicans control only 51 seats.

But Republicans in Congress have traditionally relied on Democrats to join them on votes to keep the government open — to make up for the Republicans who are concerned about the federal deficit and object to short-term spending bills that don’t cut the federal budget.

Here are some of the biggest questions that must be resolved to pass a spending bill. Keep in mind congressional leaders will typically make last-second deals to secure the votes of members who are wavering.

Read more here.

AG Pam Bondi: "We're prepared to go to litigation" against opioid manufacturers


Florida officials are meeting with a federal judge in Ohio in a few weeks to try to reach a settlement with the drug manufacturers and distributors who helped create America's opioid crisis, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said Thursday.

Bondi said she's sending her chief deputy to a Jan. 31 hearing in Cleveland before U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, who is overseeing more than 200 lawsuits filed by states, cities, counties and individuals against the drug companies. 

"Am I optimistic we’re going to resolve it that day? No," Bondi said. "And if we’re not, we’re prepared to go to litigation."

She said her office was also hiring outside counsel to represent Florida, which has not yet filed a lawsuit against the manufacturers.

"I feel it’s in their (the drug companies') best interests to attempt to resolve it as early as possible and at least correct their conduct," she said. "And then we’ll go back and get all the money that they owe these people."

Bondi, who led the crackdown on pill mills that inadvertently led to the heroin crisis, has been a proponent of expanding treatment for addicts. But she has not filed a lawsuit against the manufacturers, distributors and doctors who helped create the crisis, and cities like Delray Beach and some counties have started to pursue legal action on their own.

Instead of filing a lawsuit, like attorneys general in Ohio and other states have done, she joined 40 other states in an investigation into the drug companies last year. She would not answer questions Thursday about whether the companies have complied with the investigators' subpoenas.

However, despite not filing a lawsuit, Florida could end up getting money from a settlement that comes out of Polston's courtroom.

The judge has been pushing for plaintiffs and drug companies to reach a settlement, and earlier this month he invited the members of the multi-state investigation to attend the Jan. 31 hearing.

“It’s clear that any resolution has to be a global one and needs to include the states, and lawsuits that have been filed and lawsuits that are contemplated,” Polster told the Associated Press.

Bondi on Thursday called the drug companies' actions over the last two decades "outrageous" and said, "I'm over them."

"It’s about time they all step up to the plate and admit what they’ve been doing, and we won’t back down on that," she said. 

Bill Nelson calls for DOT probe into Brightline fatalities

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@NewsbySmiley and @DavidJNeal

For the second time since South Florida’s high-speed commuter line began carrying passengers less than a week ago, a Brightline train has struck and killed someone, raising concerns about pedestrian safety and leading a U.S. senator to call for a federal transportation investigation.

According to Boynton Beach police, 51-year-old Boynton Beach resident Jeffrey King tried to beat the train Wednesday afternoon and pedaled around the gates as he crossed the tracks going west on East Ocean Avenue. King was struck by one of Brightline’s trains, which only began carrying paying passengers from West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale Saturday.

On Friday, the commuter line’s VIP opening was marred when a train killed 31-year-old Boynton Beach resident Melissa Lavell. As was the case with King, Lavell was crossing the tracks in Boynton Beach after guardrails were down.

The fatal incidents this week follow two previous fatalities that occurred after Florida East Coast Industries, Brightline’s parent company, began running its passenger cars along the tracks in July to prepare for the commuter line’s launch. The spate of deaths alarmed U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, who called on Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao Wednesday to launch a probe into the security of crossings around the train’s path.

To read the rest, click here.

January 17, 2018

A special election to replace Latvala now? Too costly, experts say

Former Sen. Jack Latvala’s resignation in a sexual harassment scandal leaves about half-a million residents of Tampa Bay without an elected voice in the state Senate, and it appears they won’t have one until November.

Election supervisors in Pinellas and Pasco counties have advised Gov. Rick Scott’s voting experts that the cost of a special election is so high -- more than $1 million -- that it makes sense to leave the seat vacant until next November when it will be filled anyway, because Latvala’s term was due to expire and he could not run again because of term limits.

Supervisors Deborah Clark in Pinellas and Brian Corley in Pasco were asked by the state Division of Elections to offer expert advice.

They said the time line for an election, starting on the date candidates qualify to be on the ballot and ending with the official certification of results, is 136 days.

That means voters could not choose an interim replacement until May or June.

State law requires a 45-day window for ballots to be sent to overseas and active military voters, and results of an election are not ratified until 14 days after the polls close.

The cost of an election includes opening and staffing early voting sites, paying poll workers and mailing ballots in a district with nearly 350,000 voters.

But special elections typically attract very small turnouts.

Clark and Corley noted that waiting until the fall to elect Latvala’s successor would require no additional costs, because a statewide election is already scheduled.

“I really feel that this is a common-sense decision,” Clark said. “The information that we’ve provided makes a clear picture.”

Scott is expected to support the two supervisors’ recommendation because his administration requested it.

“Justifying that cost to have a (senator’s) name on the door is problematic,” Corley said. “It’s really hard to justify.”

Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who’s likely to be the next Senate president next fall, agreed that a special election is too expensive.

“There’s a significant cost element,” Galvano said.


Schools of Hope moves forward to allow charters near struggling district schools

Commissioner Pam Stewart SCOTT KEELER | Times

The Florida Board of Education unanimously approved a rule on Wednesday opening the door for private nonprofits to apply to receive millions in state funding to operate charter schools near low-performing public schools, called “Schools of Hope.”


The rule establishes a process for a nonprofit group to become an operator of the charter schools.

The “Schools of Hope” program was passed last year as part of the controversial school choice mega-bill HB7069, which several school districts are challenging in court.

The board also voted to grant an additional $2,000 per student to 14 struggling district schools through the “Schools of Hope” program, adding to the 11 that were already selected in November.

During the meeting, a teacher from Gadsden County told the board that she was concerned about charter schools poaching teachers away from public schools with the promise of higher salaries.

“If you pay teachers well you won’t need all of these Schools of Hope,” said Judith Mandela, who teaches middle school math and is the vice president of her local teacher’s union. “A teacher left my district yesterday solely because his salary was extremely low.”

Commissioner Pam Stewart said after the meeting that local districts have the power to set their own teacher salaries to be competitive with charter schools and that state board is against a statewide minimum because of the diverse standards of living in Florida.

“It is in statute to provide differentiated pay so those districts with low-performing schools can in fact offer teachers more money for serving in those lower-performing schools it’s a great way to actually lure teachers,” she said.

John Kelly sits down with the Miami delegation to discuss immigration



White House chief of staff John Kelly made the rounds on Capitol Hill Wednesday as Congress tries to find a solution for 800,000 undocumented young immigrants and one of the groups he met with were Miami Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart. Texas Republican Rep. Will Hurd joined the Miami trio. 

Kelly, the former head of U.S. Southern Command which is based in Doral, is talking to lawmakers as Congress wrestles with an immigration debate amid finding a way to fund the government past Friday. The White House has not signaled any specific proposals it would support regarding immigration, and congressional leaders from both parties are trying to hash out a deal. 

Kelly also met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which is made up of all Democrats, to discuss immigration. All three Miami Republicans are willing to vote for legislation that stops the potential deportation of Dreamers, but its unclear which specific proposals will earn the votes of enough liberal Democrats or conservative Republicans. 

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Photo courtesy of Curbelo's office.

Rubio’s push for swift Russia sanctions is latest quiet break from Trump



Marco Rubio’s new bill that would swiftly punish Russia for any future election meddling is the latest evidence of a subtle split between the Florida Republican and certain elements of his party who parrot President Donald Trump’s argument that the investigations into Russian meddling amount to a partisan witch hunt.

Rubio recently worked with the liberal Washington, D.C., city council to rename the street in front of the Russian embassy after slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. He continues to assert confidence in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation as other Republicans question Mueller’s motives. And his election-meddling bill, co-sponsored with Maryland Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen, would give more power to Congress instead of the president when it comes to sanctioning Russia over election interference.

But Rubio’s supporters on Capitol Hill insist that the second-term senator isn’t changing his ideals, and his actions aren’t driven by animus towards the president. Instead, Trump’s attitude towards Russia and the investigations that have already resulted in the indictments of four former Trump campaign officials, including former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, are making anti-Russia hawks like Rubio more of an outlier within a Trumpian GOP.

“I think he’s true to his values and the values of our Republican Party,” Miami Republican congresswoman and Trump critic Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said. “It’s just now that instead of the Republican Party, it’s the Trump Party. But Marco is a true-blue Republican in the old-fashioned sense of the phrase. Who would think that being wary, suspicious of anti-Russian strongarm tactics would be deemed as outliers?”

For Rubio, the hard talk on Russian meddling goes back to the 2016 election, when he dropped out of the presidential race after losing to Trump in the Florida Republican primary. Rubio said last year that his former campaign staffers were targeted by unknown Russian IP addresses.

“In July 2016, shortly after I announced I’d seek re-election to the U.S. Senate, former members of my presidential campaign team who had access to the internal information of my presidential campaign were targeted by IP addresses with an unknown location within Russia,” Rubio said at a Senate hearing. “That effort was unsuccessful. I do think it’s appropriate to divulge this to the committee, since a lot of this has taken a partisan tone.”

Read more here.