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February 07, 2018

Richard Corcoran gets a sit-down with 'Dirty trickster' Roger Stone



Notorious political operative and agent provocateur Roger Stone plans to meet with House Speaker Richard Corcoran — a sit-down sure to stoke intrigue about Corcoran’s possible run for governor and speculation about whether Stone will be involved.

Stone, who was in Tallahassee Wednesday to give a paid speech to the Capital Tiger Bay Club, said a “mutual friend” set up a meeting later during his visit to the state Capitol with Florida’s House Speaker. Both said they’d expressed interest in getting together.

“I’ve never met him and I’m curious to meet him,” Stone said. “He’s one of the candidates for governor who I don't know.”

Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, hasn’t officially declared his candidacy. But he recently began airing political commercials funded by his political committee, WatchDog PAC. A newly released Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy poll showed he is running behind declared candidates Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam and Palm Coast Congressman Ron DeSantis.

Click here to read the rest.

Photo credit: Roger Stone, AP

TPS solution for Haitians not a priority in high-stakes immigration debate



The U.S. Senate isn’t seriously considering a path to permanent residency or citizenship for more than 300,000 Temporary Protected Status recipients as part of an immigration deal to keep 689,000 Dreamers from being deported.

Two senators involved in ongoing immigration talks, Florida Democrat Bill Nelson and Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, said there aren’t active serious discussions about the fate of TPS holders from Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras.

“The bipartisan group is trying to get some consensus of what can pass that will protect the DACA Dreamers,” Nelson said. “What I expect is within two weeks we are going to get a DACA solution. I would hope it includes TPS, but if it messes up getting votes in order to pass the Dreamers, I think that would not be considered then and would be held for more comprehensive immigration.”

Flake said a proposal did exist at one point to take some visas from the diversity lottery and apply them to TPS recipients. But the idea, part of an immigration proposal by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., was rejected by President Donald Trump.

TPS has been discussed at recent Senate immigration meetings, according to Flake, but the topic isn’t under serious consideration as Senate Democrats and Republicans try to negotiate an immigration proposal that will receive 60 votes in the upper chamber, along with the approval of the GOP-controlled House of Representatives and Trump.

“It’s been discussed but nothing firm,” Flake said, adding there’s “no serious discussion” about TPS.

The Senate stance on TPS comes after Trump reportedly blasted TPS recipients in a White House meeting, saying, “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out,” and “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” — in reference to immigrants living and working legally in the United States under TPS and to making changes to the diversity lottery system.

Read more here.

Rubio and Nelson call for more funding to stop grasshopper sparrows from vanishing

Grasshopper sparrow white oak in grass

by @jenstaletovich

Florida's two U.S. senators, Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Bill Nelson, are sounding the alarm on Florida's nearly extinct grasshopper sparrows.

In a letter to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Deputy Director Greg Sheehan this week, the two senators warned that with fewer than 100 birds left on the planet, the agency needs to ensure adequate funding for research. Since 2013, wildlife managers have been racing to save the Central Florida bird with a captive breeding program intended to boost the wild population. But in recent months, researchers discovered a new and likely invasive parasite has begun rapidly killing young birds. 

Larry Williams, the Service’s Florida supervisor, told the Herald last month that he has requested between $150,000 and $200,000 this year, but the funding remains uncertain.

"While we understand that all agencies face painful budget decisions, the funding needs in question make up less than one percent of the total Recovery Program funding for USFWS proposed by the Senate Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee for the current fiscal year," Nelson and Rubio wrote.

The agency, along with researchers at the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation and White Oak who manage two breeding programs, are working with the University of Georgia on identifying the parasite and developing a treatment.

Research about the grasshopper sparrow, which would become the first North American bird to go extinct since the mid 1980s, could also help other captive breeding programs. Researchers also worry that the parasite could threaten Florida's other endangered prairie sparrows, including South Florida's Cape Sable seaside sparrow.

Since it was added to the endangered species list in 1986, the Service has spent about $1 million to save the bird, which has lost about 85 percent of its prairie habitat. Two groups are also collecting donations to support research: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Foundation has set up an emergency fund and Florida International University's Tropical Conservation Institute has started a matching grant.

"Floridians have witnessed some important successes in increasing the populations of treasured, but threatened, wildlife including the Florida Panther, Florida Manatee, and American Crocodile, among others," the senators wrote. "In this case, USFWS, the State of Florida, local governments, private landholders and ranchers, and conservation groups have already made significant investments to protect critical habitat where Florida grasshopper sparrows should be able to thrive for decades to come."

Pizzo launches Florida Senate rematch against Daphne Campbell


Attorney and former Miami-Dade prosecutor Jason Pizzo launched his campaign for a northeast Miami state Senate seat Wednesday, setting up a rematch with Sen. Daphne Campbell, D-North Miami Beach.

Pizzo ran against Campbell in the Democratic primary for the District 38 seat and lost in 2016 by about 8 points.

Here's the press release:  

Pizzo focuses on bringing district together with strong ethical leadership
North Miami Beach, Fla. - Today, Jason Pizzo officially launched his campaign for the state senate in District 38. Following his close second-place finish in 2016, Pizzo is focused on restoring strong ethical leadership for District 38 residents.
Jason Pizzo said, "Thank you for standing with me and being part of the charge for social change and new leadership in Tallahassee. Our campaign is up and running, and in the coming weeks and months ahead, I will be reaching out to share events and opportunities for you to get involved.
"As we gear up for the Primary Election of August 28th, I want to hear from all of you, and share some of our ideas, as we begin the campaign for State Senate. As you know, District 38 is a large and wonderfully diverse community, comprised of 15 municipalities, with so many critical issues which bring us together. We want safer streets, more efficient transportation, vibrant neighborhoods, and for working people to stop struggling to make ends meet. We want true equality and protection for both our people, and our precious environment."

Bill Nelson, Rick Scott neck-and-neck in potential U.S. Senate race

Scott and nelson

@alextdaugherty @newsbysmiley

Florida Gov. Rick Scott hasn't decided whether he'll run for Bill Nelson's U.S. Senate seat this year, but if he does a new poll suggests the race will be a photo finish. 

A poll conducted last week by Jacksonville-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy shows Nelson with a 45 percent to 44 percent lead over Scott, with 11 percent of voters undecided. Nelson's one percentage point lead is within the poll's four percentage point margin of error. 

Scott received a slight bump in Mason-Dixon's poll in October after Hurricane Irma, but little has changed in the four months since as Scott finishes up his last legislative session in Tallahassee while Nelson tries to forge an immigration deal and a disaster relief bill for Florida in Washington. 

Nelson has the advantage among Democratic, women, black and Hispanic voters while Nelson leads with Republican, white and male voters. Nelson has a 33 percentage point lead in Southeast Florida while Scott maintains big leads in North Florida and Southwest Florida. Scott leads Nelson by six percentage points in the crucial I-4 corridor in Central Florida though Nelson leads Scott by five percentage points in Tampa Bay. Scott has both a higher favorability and unfavorability rating compared to Nelson. Only three percent of Florida voters don't recognize Scott while Nelson is unknown to 12 percent of voters. 

The Mason-Dixon poll was conducted statewide by telephone from January 30 to February 1 and included a total of 625 registered Florida voters. 


Scott is expected to make a decision on the Senate race after the 60 day legislative session ends.

Republicans currently control 51 U.S. Senate seats, and beating Nelson, Florida's only statewide elected Democrat, would go a long way towards Republican control of the upper chamber of Congress in a year where Democrats are expected to make gains. 

Battle royale: Florida House gears up for what could be its biggest debate of the session

image from
A screen capture from a negative ad ran by the statewide teachers' association opposing HB 7055 | YouTube

It's a debate worth about $26.9 billion, and involves the most fundamental, nagging question surrounding Florida's education system: What does Florida owe its students in public education?

And it begins today — at least this year's rendition.

The Florida House's omnibus education bill, HB 7055, is slated to be heard on the floor Wednesday afternoon — an event that promises to be one of the biggest debates of the 2018 session. The nearly 200-page bill incorporates everything from the creation of a new scholarship for students who struggle in reading to slapping potentially life-threatening requirements on teachers' unions.

It also includes a top priority for Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, in its voucher for students that are bullied which would allow them to attend another public or private school.

The bill is so much of a priority that, in an unprecedented move, House leadership tied the per-student funding language for all public schools, meaning that $21.1 billion of public school funding is "contingent upon PCS for HB 7055 or similar legislation becoming law," according to the budget.

Democrats may not have the votes in the 76-40 sea of red that is the Florida House of Representatives, but they have vowed to trade every bargaining chip, deploy every amendment and fight as hard as they can to stop or alter the bill and what they said is a legally-questionable budgetary tactic.

As of Tuesday evening, 37 amendments were filed for HB 7055. The House must debate and vote on every single one.

"It's not in my system to file 18 amendments. I’m the type to say, 'Let's work together and figure this out,'" said Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, the ranking Democratic member on the House Education Committee. "But I cannot sit back and watch our public education system blow up at the hands of ... outside interests that want to continue to fill their pockets up."

He then added: "And if I don’t see a dime in the budget or get another bill heard because of this, I’m OK ."

Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, said he expects a debate but that it would be "surprising" if it does not pass out of the House.

Wednesday marks the beginning of debate for the budget and its amendments but HB 7055 will officially be voted upon Thursday.

"We'll present the budget, we'll present the bill, I'm sure they'll have an opportunity to present their debates and they will be voted on accordingly," he said. "We're in no rush. We'll take as long as it takes."

Trujillo is the chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and has accepted President Donald Trump's nomination to be a U.S. Ambassador to the OAS, meaning that once the U.S. Senate confirms his appointment, he'll move to Washington. He had originally said that the passage of 7055 was not tied to the per-student funding for statewide public schools, also known as FEFP. But after a reporter sent him the budgetary language, he confirmed that he had been mistaken.

"The assumption is correct," Trujillo said. "Obviously it's not our intention to defund the FEFP and it's something that if the bill is not reported favorably we will obviously amend to fix it."

Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, said even if it passes this way, having this hardball approach does not bode well for the House and Senate to be able to negotiate effectively when both chambers must reconcile the differences between their passed budgets.

He has filed an amendment to strike that language from the budget to separate 7055 from the FEFP.

"It's unlikely we’re going to leave here without funding public education," Richardson said. "It's a budget blowup possibility then we’re back in special session. It sets up a situation for a blowup before we’ve even started."

February 06, 2018

Ros-Lehtinen, Curbelo vote against short-term spending bill with no immigration fix

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen


The threat of a government shutdown is unlikely in Washington this week, but two Miami Republicans in the House of Representatives continued to break ranks with their party and voted against a short-term spending bill that passed Tuesday because a solution for 690,000 DACA recipients isn't imminent. 

Miami Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo were two of eight Republicans who voted against a spending bill that passed 245-182. Most of the other Republican No votes were from conservatives who typically vote against spending bills that don't include spending cuts. 

"I again voted no on the Continuing Resolution because we have yet to debate and vote on a bill that would provide legal status to our DREAMers," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "We have less than a month until the administration’s arbitrary deadline for DACA beneficiaries begins to phase out. However, these young immigrants face real challenges every day that Congress does not take action. They are missing out on job and school opportunities and in not being able to provide for their families. They live with fear of having to go back to a country that they don’t know. I remain committed in keeping my pledge to vote no on any funding bill until Congressional leadership brings a DREAMers fix to the floor." 

Curbelo voted in favor of a short-term spending bill to reopen the government last month after Senate Democrats decided to support a spending bill in exchange for a debate on discussion on an immigration bill, though he voted against previous spending bills in the last few months because of immigration. Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring in 2018, was the only House Republican to vote against the bill to reopen the government in January because it didn't provide a bill for DACA recipients. 

Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart voted in favor of the bill while South Florida Democratic Reps. Frederica Wilson, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Ted Deutch, Alcee Hastings and Lois Frankel all voted against it.

Update: Curbelo released a statement on his vote. 

"One of my chief legislative priorities this Congress and the last, has been to forge a compromise on immigration that delivers a fair, permanent solution for young immigrants brought to our country as children, while securing the border so future illegal entry is discouraged and diminished," Curbelo said. "The biggest obstacles to that goal have been Congressional Leadership’s refusal to recognize we are running out of time and the objections of extremists in both parties. While I appreciate the Senate is almost certainly moving on immigration next week – and I want to give our institutions an opportunity to debate this issue with the government open – I am not comfortable extending the funding deadline past March 5th. Doing so would relieve the pressure, and we must keep the pressure on."

Bill Nelson says SpaceX launch is the next step on getting humans to Mars

SpaceX New Rocket Launch (2)


Sen. Bill Nelson, the only member of Congress who has been to space, was giddy after SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket successfully launched a red Tesla Roadster towards Mars on Tuesday. 

He had his entire staff watch the launch on TV and then walked to the Senate floor to inform his colleagues. 

"The largest rocket since the moon program, the Saturn V, launched from the Kennedy Space Center today," Nelson said. "The test launch of the Falcon Heavy is a spectacular demonstration of the comeback of Florida’s Space Coast and of the U.S. commercial launch sector, which is succeeding in a big way. That’s good news for the civil space program. It's good news for national security. It's good news for employment in the U.S. and it's great news for jobs and the economy." 

Nelson hurdled into space 32 years ago from the same launch pad in Cape Canaveral that SpaceX used on Tuesday. 

"The icing on the top of the cake was the two boosters coming and simultaneously landing a hundred yards apart on two landing pads on Cape Canaveral air force station," Nelson said. 

Nelson is the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee which has jurisdiction over the nation's space program. He said Tuesday's launch is a big step for future exploration of Mars. 

"By all means when we launch in a year in a half, Americans on American rockets, that will rivet the attention of the entire country and that will help enormously as people start to focus that we're serious about this, taking humans all the way to Mars and returning them safely," Nelson said, referencing the NASA plan to get humans on Mars by the 2030s.  

NASA still doesn't have a permanent director after Nelson and other Democrats, along with a few Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio, voiced concerns over Trump's pick to run the agency, Oklahoma Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine. Bridenstine's Senate confirmation is currently in limbo, though Trump did renominate Bridenstine after his nomination expired at the end of last year.   

Campus free speech bill passes Senate Education. But does it expand students’ rights?

Free speech
OCTAVIO JONES | Times Julie Solace, 23, of Tampa marches along with other student activists in the SlutWalk event at the University of South Florida's Martin Luther King Plaza in Tampa, Florida on Monday, October 30, 2017.

Tuesday was Florida State University Day at the Capitol, and shortly before the Seminole marching band began blaring their triumphant "War Chant" outside, the Senate Education committee was locked in heated debate over free speech on university campuses.

The committee eventually passed SB 1234, sponsored by Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, along party lines. It has one more committee in the Senate before it will hit the floor and its House version is on a similar track.

The bill has essentially two halves: one piece would expressly put schools on the hook for lawsuits, fines and attorneys fees if they violate certain free speech rules, including if protests are found to "materially disrupt" previously scheduled events.

"I don't like that. I have talked to some members of the legislature about that. I think it's going a little bit too far," said FSU President John Thrasher, a former Speaker of the Florida House, who was at the Capitol. "I don't think we need that and I think they're going to work on it."

Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Perry Thurston, Jr., of Lauderhill voiced concern during committee that this bill could take away the power of universities to have control over the events that take place on their campuses, and could discourage counter-protests like those that were staged at the University of Florida when white supremacist Richard Spencer spoke last fall. Thurston proposed several amendments, one of which would have ensured the right to peacefully counter-protest, that did not pass.

"It's always prefaced on the fact they cannot disrupt or disturb, it just reserves the right to protest," he said. "At the time of the Richard Spencer … there were protests of that event as well. So the faculty has the ability to allow people to disagree to actually express that they're disagreeing with the presenter."

He later called the bill "unnecessary."

A representative of the American Civil Liberties Union spoke against this portion of the bill, saying it would give universities financial incentives to chill student speech. However, it supported the other half of SB 1234: which would require public universities and colleges to dissolve designated "free speech zones," or areas they have set aside for student protests.

"This is to address a flourishing limitation of free speech, particularly across the country, many of our universities are restricting free speech to 'free speech zones,'" he said. "And there's something very antithetical to a free speech environment and saying you can have free speech but only in this little square."

A few Florida universities, such as the University of Central Florida and Florida State University, guide students to open areas well-suited for protests, but those institutions have emphasized that these zones are not restrictive.

Others, like the University of West Florida, for example, do have dedicated zones, where all non-scheduled gatherings must be held.

Bill that would have let pharmacists test and treat flu, strep stalls in committee





A bill that would have allowed pharmacists to test and treat for the flu or strep infections was shelved Tuesday in a state Senate committee meeting, after pushback from physicians and committee members about patients bypassing their primary care providers.

SB 524, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, would have given pharmacists the ability to conduct a basic swab test for flu or strep throat and dispense treatment such as prescription Tamiflu or antibiotics, without patients going to the doctor first to be diagnosed.

Though the bill would have required pharmacists to undergo an eight hour certification course, multiple physicians cited concerns at the meeting that pharmacists would still not have the medical training to adequately diagnose the flu or any complications a patient might have from a basic test.

Michael Forsthoefel, a general internist in Tallahassee associated with the Florida Medical Association, said the mouth swab tests were imprecise compared to a trained doctor's clinical diagnosis and that older, higher risk patients might develop related medical issues after contracting the flu which a pharmacist might not be equipped to treat.

"The flu itself doesn’t kill people — it’s the complications," he said. "This is what a pharmacist is not trained to screen out."

Suzanne Wise, president of the Florida Pharmacy Association, countered that for some patients without access to a provider, the bill would allow them to receive treatment they might not otherwise get. Pharmacists, she said, are "their access point to this care."

This year's flu season has seen one of the nation's worst outbreaks in nearly 10 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of Jan. 27, more than 14,600 people have been hospitalized with confirmed cases of the virus, and the federal agency has received reports of at least 53 pediatric deaths.

Brandes moved to "temporarily postpone" his own bill after multiple members of the committee said they would not be able to support the legislation, contending it overly expanded pharmacists' scope of practice. But he disputed that the legislation would have encroached on physicians' authority to diagnose patients.

"This is about access for someone who doesn’t have a physician at all," he said, adding he hopes to bring the legislation back next year.

Picture: Sen. Jeff Brandes, Tampa Bay Times