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March 12, 2015

Thursday: What to watch in Tallahassee

Thursday marks the tenth day of the 2015 legislative session. More than a dozen House committees and subcommittees are scheduled to discuss a variety of issues. It will be much slower in the Senate.

Here are five things to watch:

The House Education Appropriations Subcommittee will discuss a bill that would scale back testing in public schools (HB 7069). The panel will also debate a proposal encouraging school systems to adopt school uniform policies (HB 7043).

The House Health Quality Subcommittee moves forward with a proposal that would expand the use of telehealth, the practice of using web and videoconferencing technology to let doctors treat patients remotely (HB 545).

The House Regulatory Affairs Committee takes up a bill (HB 239) that would increase the penalties for people whose greyhounds or racehorses test positive for a prohibited substance.

The Senate Rules Committee will hear legislation that expresses "profound disagreement" with President Barack Obama's decision to open diplomatic relations with Cuba (SM 866). The proposal by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, is largely symbolic, but likely to find support.

It is worth noting that the Senate cancelled an Appropriations Committee meeting scheduled for Thursday afternoon. Last week, Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said the budget process had come to a halt on account of a possible $1.3 billion hole in the healthcare budget. Apparently, he wasn't bluffing.

-KATHLEEN McGRORY, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

March 11, 2015

Marco Rubio, John Kerry spar over Iran


U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio had a pointed exchange Wednesday with Secretary of State John Kerry in a Senate hearing that was supposed to be about U.S. military action against ISIS but instead turned into a discussion about ongoing nuclear talks with Iran, which have become a political lightning rod in the early 2016 presidential campaign.

Rubio, like other likely Republican candidates, has taken a hard line on the negotiations. He was one of 47 GOP senators to sign an "open letter" to Iran warning that any potential deal struck by the Obama administration might not be supported by the GOP-controlled Congress. The letter caused a political firestorm and diplomatic uproar. Senate historians have found little precedent for such a move. 

But Rubio used his support of the letter as a fundraising opportunity.

That was after Wednesday's hearing, in which Rubio's first question to Kerry was this: 

"I believe that much of our strategy with regards to ISIS is being driven by a desire not to upset Iran so that they don't walk away from the negotiating table on the deal that you're working on," he said. "Tell me why I'm wrong."

"Because the facts completely contradict that," said Kerry, before adding that he couldn't elaborate because details about the talks should remain secret.

The back-and-forth continued for about five minutes, with Rubio later saying Sunni countries in the Middle East that are U.S. allies, such as Saudi Arabia, are worried about the potential Iran deal.

"Is it not right that they feel that we've kept them in the dark about our negotiations with Iran and that in essence the way we've proceeded with our negotiations with Iran have impacted our trust level with these critical allies in this coalition?" the Florida Republican said. "Is that not accurate?"

"Senator, that actually is flat wrong also," Kerry responded. "Flat wrong." 

In the video below, posted on YouTube by Rubio's office, the exchange begins around the 1:20 mark.


Florida political parties pledge to communicate with Spanish speakers in 2016 election


Florida Republicans and Democrats responded to a request by a group of Hispanic activists for bilingual communications staff that the parties intend to reach out directly to Spanish speakers -- in the 2016 election.

The pledge is obvious. Nearly 15 percent of Florida registered voters identify as Hispanic, and both parties have made concerted efforts to reach out to Spanish-language media outlets, especially in South Florida and Orlando.

But the activists who wrote the party earlier this month noted that -- outside of the heat of a campaign -- the parties don't often publish news releases in Spanish or pitch stories to Spanish-speaking media. It sounds like that still won't happen, at least not til 2016.

"As we build our team and carry out our strategic plan for the coming election cycle, we will certainly make sure that engaging the Hispanic media is a top priority for our communications team," new Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia wrote back. "We understand that outreach and engagement with all communities in Florida requires specialized skills, and I have tasked my staff with finding the best candidates for every open position."

Allison Tant, chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party, wrote that she has fought for issues that matter to Hispanics.

"We know that having the right values is not enough; we must also communicate in a culturally aware way to Hispanic voters," she added. "Through a combination of Party and campaign efforts, we aim to have Spanish-fluent staff working in communities across Florida and with journalists for the 2016 election."

Read the Republican letter here.

Read the Democratic letter here. 

This post has been updated.

Florida's aversion to 'climate change' extended to other agencies

via @fcir

No one told Bart Bibler not to use the terms “climate change” and “global warming” during his six months on the job at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Then, on March 4, he walked into a Florida Coastal Managers Forum, a teleconference with representatives from other state agencies.

When he introduced himself, Bibler congratulated everyone for the “exciting” work being done to address the impact of climate change, and then he mentioned his opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline project.

“The reaction was mostly shock,” Bibler said. According to Bibler, the forum moderator, Ann Lazar, said she hoped his advocacy on the conference call wouldn’t result in cancellations of future ones.

“Obviously, she's nervous I had violated this unwritten policy of talking about climate change,” Bibler said. “I didn’t get the memo.”

Lazar declined to comment.

DEP officials put Bibler on a two-day leave. The letter of reprimand chastised him for expressing his personal views about the pipeline. It also stated that a summary of the meeting Bibler supplied to his supervisor “gave the appearance that this was Ann's official meeting agenda that included climate change.”

More here.

House passes bill aimed at more adoptions, including for same-sex couples

In a show of bipartisanship — although perhaps not unity — the Florida House on Wednesday approved a bill leadership says is aimed at increasing adoptions in the state through incentives to community-based care agencies and state employees who adopt.

“At the end of the day, a bill passed that will help a lot of kids in this state, I think to the tune of over 600 kids that will find potential homes,” House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said after the vote. “I think the more we can do to move the ball down the field on that issue, the better off we are.”

The bill (H.B. 7013), which passed 68-50, gains additional notoriety for an amendment approved Tuesday that allows same-sex couples to adopt, a practice long banned by state statute but permitted after a 2010 court ruling.

Continue reading "House passes bill aimed at more adoptions, including for same-sex couples" »

League of Women Voters pushes alternative to Medicaid expansion


In the latest update to the Florida Medicaid expansion debate, the League of Women Voters in Florida held a call Wednesday afternoon supporting the recent passage of a proposal in the Florida Senate that hopes to expand coverage to about 800,000 uninsured Floridians.

The League’s president, Deirdre Macnab, said she was encouraged by the passage of the bill in the Senate and is hopeful it will also go on to pass in the more conservative Florida House.

"We've also been very encouraged by the really huge response by the business sector," Macnab said, referring to the support from several local-level chambers of commerce, business organizations and business lobbying group Associated Industries of Florida.

Continue reading "League of Women Voters pushes alternative to Medicaid expansion" »

Fact-checking Rick Scott on environment, sea level rise claims

Gov. Rick Scott’s record on the environment has faced renewed scrutiny after a news report stated that administrators in his Department of Environmental Protection were banned from using the terms "global warming" or "climate change."

Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, which broke the story, cited former DEP officials who said they had been told verbally to avoid such phrases.

"We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’ " said Christopher Byrd, an attorney with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection from 2008 until 2013. "That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel."

After the report appeared, FCIR responded to critics who noted that the phrase "climate change" can be found on DEP’s website. FCIR explained that the majority of the documents predated Scott and that DEP’s servers host reports from other agencies and that the unofficial censorship system is porous.

The Washington Post then reported that a DEP official underlined the phrase "climate change" in a scientist’s paper multiple times, and she was told to remove it.

In the past, Scott has largely dodged questions about climate change using the refrain "I'm not a scientist." (Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has also used that phrase.)

Scott and his administration have denied that any such policy existed.

"It's not true," Scott told reporters in Hialeah March 9, without going into specifics.

Instead, Scott repeated familiar broad talking points about his environmental accomplishments without addressing whether any of them would address climate change.

"Let's look at what we've accomplished," he said. "We've had significant investments in beach renourishment, in flood mitigation. Look at what we've done with the Everglades: We settled a lawsuit over the Everglades. That litigation had been going on for decades. We put money in the Tamiami Trail, to raise that, to push water south. We've had - I think we've had record investments in our springs."

Here’s a look at some of PolitiFact Florida's previous fact-checks of Scott’s claims about the environment and his progress on environmental-related promises.

Palm Beach students see smoking bill pass

Palm Beach County students got a lesson in Florida government Wednesday when a bill they proposed to their local lawmakers made it through its first committee in the House and Senate. They were even grilled by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and heard testimony by Brian Pitts of Justice-2-Jesus.

Their proposal (H.B. 671, S.B. 548) would make it illegal to smoke a cigarette while driving with a child younger than 13 in the car.

The bill — the brainchild of Natalie ChavezRuben GarciaDeili Gomez and Zindi Rios of Palm Beach Lakes Community High School — passed a House subcommittee unanimously and Senate Regulated Industries by a 7-4 vote. It’s being sponsored by Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, and Rep. Bobby Powell, D-Riviera Beach, as part of their “There Ought To Be A Law” competition.

Despite fielding a series of tough questions from Negron, who voted against the bill after saying he was concerned about infringing on privacy rights, the students said they felt better about the political process than they had before.

Jeb Bush withdraws from remaining businesses


Jeb Bush has dropped his remaining business interests, freeing him from professional entanglements and potential conflicts as he prepares to run for president.

The former Florida governor has divested from the two Coral Gables-based companies where he still had ownership stakes, his spokeswoman said Wednesday. Bush sold his ownership stakes this month in Jeb Bush & Associates and Britton Hill. He had already resigned from other corporate boards.

“This was a natural step as Governor Bush transitioned his time and focus from running his business to increasing his political efforts on behalf of conservative candidates and causes,” spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said.

Though he has yet to formally declare his candidacy, Bush traveled to Iowa last week and will head to New Hampshire this weekend — the first two states to hold 2016 presidential caucuses and primaries. He has scheduled a visit to the third state, South Carolina, next week.

More here.

This post has been updated.

Miami-Dade mayor raises $172,000 in February



January was an astounding fund-raising month for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, and February's results highlight that fact.

The political committee Gimenez is using for his 2016 reelection campaign reported $171,750 in contributions for February, according to a report filed this week. That follows a whopping $500,000 haul in January, Gimenez's first month of fundraising for an election that's still a year and a half away. 

Coastal Construction, a large commercial builder with offices in Miami, is now the top single donor for Gimenez's Miami-Dade Residents First. The company gave $20,000 in February.

Genting, the Malaysian-based casino company that owns the former Miami Herald site in downtown Miami, gave $15,000. Genting rival Magic City Casino donated $10,000. In all, Miami-Dade Residents First has collected $671,952 and spent $13,360, according to elections-department records.  

Gimenez's one declared challenger, school board member Raquel Regalado, is using a long-standing committee that backed past races for her and  her father, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado. The committee, Serving Miamians, reported one contribution in February: $5,000 from Forum Real Estate Group.

Potential challenger Xavier Suarez, a county commissioner, reported no contributions to his political committee, Imagine Miami, since December.