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February 09, 2017

Gov. Scott's job incentive programs get yet more scrutiny today



For the second straight day, one of Gov. Rick Scott’s biggest priorities will be under scrutiny at the hands of the Legislature today but with a big difference.

When Enterprise Florida goes before the before the Senate Appropriations Committee later today, it will be doing so in a committee that is lead by Sen. Jack Latvala, who has called the House Republican’s idea of killing that agency and Visit Florida the “dumbest idea.”

Cissy Proctor, the director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, is expected to testify that economic incentive programs under Enterprise Florida can “tip the scales” in the state’s favor when it comes to convincing companies to move to Florida.

Scott has argued that the incentive programs have been critical to the state adding more than 1.2 million private sector jobs since 2010.

Still, House Republicans yesterday took their first step toward killing Enterprise Florida. The House Careers & Competition Subcommittee voted 10-5 in favor of a bill pushed by Rep. Paul Renner, R-Jacksonville, which would eliminate Enterprise Florida completely and put all other economic development programs under the Department of Economic Opportunity.

“The problem with economic incentives is that they are selective and they absolutely pick winners and losers,” Renner told the committee yesterday.

Renner said the government shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners and losers in a free market.

Renner’s legislation comes as House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, has called the idea of giving tax credits to businesses to relocate or grow their operations in Florida a form of “corporate welfare.” He said other factors like improving education and infrastructure has the potential of attracting businesses more than tax credits.

Scott has warned Legislators that killing Enterprise Florida will damage the state’s economic momentum over the last 6 years.

Latvala’s Senate Appropriations Committee meets at 1 p.m. today.

Showdown looms over budget rules between House and Senate

At Florida's Capitol, far from the noise over tourism spending, a bigger clash looms between the House and Senate over stark differences in the Legislature's sole constitutional responsibility: the writing of a state budget.

For weeks, Senate President Joe Negron and his lieutenants have worked on a proposed new joint rule in response to House changes to the budget process, including a separate bill for each member project and a filing deadline of March 7, the first day of session. The Senate opposes those changes and considers them a procedural straitjacket that gives the House too much control over writing a budget while limiting public access to spending decisions.

Senators will offer a compromise Thursday at a Rules Committee meeting in what Negron calls a "show of good faith" to the House. "I'm putting forth a proposal that hopefully will allow us to work out this issue before we get to session," Negron told the Times/Herald.

Senators are critical of House Speaker Richard Corcoran's changes, approved by all House members. But without a two-chamber agreement, work on the budget can't get very far, virtually ensuring an overtime session. The Senate proposal would largely roll back the House changes, which Corcoran considers unacceptable.

"It's a giant move backwards against accountability and transparency," Corcoran told the Times/Herald.

Negron says the Legislature should not "artificially shut down the budget process" and that the Florida Constitution is clear: Neither chamber can establish a budget process that the other chamber must follow. "We're a bicameral Legislature," Negron said.

The Senate proposal, known as Joint Rule Two, says any member's spending project can be included in the final budget if it "is provided to the public at the time the funding is proposed in the conference committee and the conference committee has provided time for public testimony." The Senate also would replace a Corcoran priority, an online 37-question survey on every project, with eight general criteria, such as "the legal entity designated to receive and expend the funding." The Senate also wants to prohibit any lawmaker from raising a point of order to challenge any item in the final budget.

Florida lawmakers unveil latest plan to outlaw 'sanctuary' cities

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Declaring “we are a nation of rules,” Florida Republican lawmakers have officially revived their efforts to go after so-called “sanctuary” cities and counties in Florida — and their elected officials — that don’t fully cooperate with federal enforcement of immigration law.

The bills (SB 786 / HB 697) — dubbed the “Rule of Law Adherence Act” — impose an array of restrictions to ban “sanctuary policies” in Florida and create fines and penalties for state agencies, local governments or law enforcement agencies that have one. Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, and Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, unveiled their legislation Wednesday in Tallahassee.

“The one thing that everybody should know in our country is: We can’t choose which laws we’ll obey or which laws we don’t obey,” said Bean, who told the Herald/Times last week the legislation would be coming.

The bills would formally define a “sanctuary policy” as any “law, policy, practice, procedure, or custom adopted or permitted” by a state, local or law enforcement agency “which contravenes or which knowingly prohibits or impedes a law enforcement agency from communicating or cooperating with a federal immigration agency with respect to federal immigration enforcement.”

It’s not clear when — or even, if — the legislation might be considered, but the proposal is likely to draw backlash from Democrats, as well as immigrant advocates and local governments.

More here on what exactly Bean and Metz are proposing this year.

Photo credit: Jeremy Wallace / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

February 08, 2017

Trump wants cops to turn over 'bad' undocumented immigrants

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President Donald Trump said Wednesday he wants local cops to do exactly what Miami-Dade County police say they would like to avoid: work much more closely with federal immigration authorities.

Speaking to a conference of police chiefs in Washington, Trump urged cops to turn over “bad” immigrants who are in the country illegally to the Department of Homeland Security. That’s home to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which oversees deportations.

Trump told police they could tell Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly — the former head of the U.S. Southern Command in Doral — “who the illegal immigrant gang members are.”

“You know the illegals. You know them by their first name. You know them by their nicknames,” Trump said. “You’re in the neighborhoods: You know the bad ones, you know the good ones. I want you to turn in the bad ones.”

Miami-Dade police have no qualms about alerting immigration to violent criminals they have arrested. But the definition of “bad” is hazy, and local cops still have lingering questions over how far the administration may push them to cooperate.

“It’s clear that they haven’t established any policies yet,” said Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Pérez, who attended the Major Cities Chiefs Association and Major County Sheriff’s Association conference where Trump spoke. “It’s still too soon.”

More here.

Photo credit: Evan Vucci, Associated Press

Florida declines to send infrastructure wish-list to Trump administration


Forty-nine states and U.S. territories submitted a wish list of road, transportation and pipe projects to the Trump administration Wednesday. One of the few holdouts? Florida.

The National Governors Association said it sent governors' list of 428 "shovel-ready" infrastructure projects to the Executive Office of the President and the White House National Trade Council. The submission, which the NGA says it won't make public, comes after the administration asked for help after offering its own list of projects to the association. Some projects on that initial list, such as the I-395 highway interchange in Miami, had already been funded. The initial list was compiled by a consultant.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott didn't contribute to the NGA's additions. Spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said Wednesday that, instead, Scott "will be working directly with the administration."

McClatchy Washington correspondent Lindsay Wise contributed.

Will $100 million for citrus tree compensation be the biggest member-project ask?

Canker 1997Florida homeowners who lost their beloved citrus trees to the failed canker eradication program 17 years ago could be compensated this year under a $100 million budget request being filed this week by a Miami lawmaker.

Rep. Jose Felix Diaz wants the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) to make good on four court rulings ordering the state to pay more than 114,000 homeowners in Broward, Palm Beach, Lee and Orange counties whose citrus trees were cut down between 2000 and 2006 to curb the spread of citrus canker.

State agriculture inspectors deployed crews with chainsaws to chop down 577,253 orange, grapefruit and key lime trees throughout the state — even if the trees showed no signs of infection.

Outraged property owners representing counties with 94 percent of the lost trees joined five class action lawsuits to seek compensation. In four of the cases, the court ordered the state to pay more than $100 million in judgments, attorneys fees and interest. The fifth case, involving Miami-Dade residents who lost 40 percent of the healthy trees removed in Florida, is still pending.

The budget request filed by Diaz — and a similar one expected to be filed in the Senate by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami — is likely the largest member project to be filed this session in the House. Under new House rules, every budget request made by individual members must be filed and voted on as a separate bill.

Diaz, who chairs the powerful House Commerce Committee, said it is time the state compensate Floridians “whose property was illegally taken through no fault of their own.”

“Anyone who was in Florida for the citrus canker scare knows of someone who had their property taken away and who never received a dime for it,” he told the Herald/Times. “There are tens of thousands of Floridians who were stripped of their citrus trees and are still wondering why the state has not made them whole.” Story here. 

Florida House votes to kill Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida


State Rep. Paul Renner, R-Jacksonville, talks to reporters after his bill to kill Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida easily passed a House Committee.


The Florida House took a stunning first step towards killing the state’s primary tourism marketing agency and the state's chief economic development agency.

By an overwhelming vote, a Florida House committee voted to eliminate Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, despite testimony from dozens of businesses and economic development groups from around the state that warned them not to.

The 10-5 vote is a blow to Gov. Rick Scott who just a day earlier lashed out at the House for even considering the idea which he said would hurt Florida’s economic momentum and result in few jobs.

But State Rep. Paul Renner, R-Jacksonville, said he wasn’t deterred at all from pushing his legislation. He said economic incentives are inherently unfair because it is essentially the government picking some companies for incentives over others.

“For me, this issue is an easy issue,” Renner said. “It’s not hard to stand on principle.”

The bill still has a long way to go, with more committee stops in the House and a Florida Senate that appears far away from backing a plan to kill both agencies. State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, has questioned both Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida spending, but said he wants to “recast” those agencies, not eliminate them like the House.

Brandes is the chairman of a Senate budget writing committee with jurisdiction over both agencies. He held a hearing earlier on Wednesday that questioned the return on investment Florida gets from Enterprise Florida and how much more the taxpayers are funding Enterprise Florida compared to private business. The agency is supposed to be a 50-50 split.

To thwart fear of retaliation, Legislature looks to shield murder witnesses

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Someone — a child, a mother, a brother — is killed. Witnesses are too afraid to speak up. A murderer goes free.

In many of Florida’s vulnerable neighborhoods, talking to police could be a life-or-death decision for those who witness violent crime. Their reluctance to cooperate makes it difficult for law enforcement and prosecutors to seek justice.

State lawmakers want to change that culture by affording murder witnesses protection and shielding their identities in public records for two years after the crime.

“Let’s stop this no-snitch mentality,” said Rep. Cynthia Stafford, a Miami Democrat who’s sponsoring HB 111 this year. “Someone knows what happened but no one is coming forward because they’re afraid. Witness intimidation, retaliation — all of these are issues and concerns that people have about helping law enforcement help us.”

More here.

Photo credit: State Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami, speaks before the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee about her "witness protection" bill. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to speak to Broward Democrats



New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will keynote the Broward Democratic Party's annual fundraising dinner.

The event, which the Broward Democrats recently renamed the "Obama-Roosevelt Dinner," is March 4 at the Hyatt Pier 66 in Fort Lauderdale.

“Mayor De Blasio has distinguished himself as a voice of the people. His message of inclusion and acceptance of all Americans is what we need as a nation of diversity in these troubling times. America is the melting pot of the world, and nowhere is that more true than in Broward County and New York City. Mayor De Blasio is a rising leader in the Democratic Party, and it will be a great honor to welcome him to beautiful Broward,” said Cynthia Busch, chair of the Broward Democratic Party.

Broward has about 600,000 registered Democrats -- the highest number in Florida.

Check out de Blasio's Truth-O-Meter record from PolitiFact New York including a claim he made about Trump and sanctuary cities.