If House Republicans follow through this week on plans to vote on a budget for 2017-18 that simply mirrors this year's, they will have to scrap a slew of top education priorities they had sought this year and worked for months to craft -- including their $200 million "schools of hope" plan to provide incentives for specialized, high-performing charter schools to set up in predominantly low-income areas.
"Our responsibility, constitutionally, is to pass a budget, so if it means that's what we have to do and walk away, then that's what we have to do," House pre-K-12 education budget chairman Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, told the Herald/Times mid-afternoon on Monday. "We come back next session -- which, September starts committee [weeks] -- and we go back at it again."
The House's backroom offer over the weekend of what its calling a "continuation budget" was rebuffed by Senate leaders, leaving the two chambers deadlocked. The House isn't backing down, though.
Diaz said the plan is: "We're going to take last year's budget and put it on the floor and pass it, which means it's a take-it-or-leave-it offer -- which means there's no conference [negotiations]. That means they [the Senate] would have to turn down that bill for us to not have a budget and send us in to special session. That's where we are right now."
The status of budget negotiations could change by the hour, but for now, "the House is prepared to walk away with a continuation budget. We're fine with it," Diaz said. "It's a budget that will obviously not include all of these new twists and wrinkles and doesn't address those things that we think are a very high need and emergency needs, as we've said, but at the end of the day, we have to pass a budget."
"If that's where we have to go, that's where we have to go. We can't go climbing to the $85 billion that the Senate wants," Diaz added.
Diaz said he and his counterpart in the Senate -- Senate pre-K-12 education budget chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs -- are still talking privately to find middle ground on key budget issues affecting public schools. But he said their conversations are limited because they don't have budget allocations, a figure of how much money they would have to work with.
"It doesn't matter what we talk about because we don't have allocations," Diaz said. "We're talking about concepts and things that are important and how to help these kids in these low-income schools, et cetera, et cetera -- but it's all conceptual."
Photo credit: Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, addresses a luncheon audience at the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, Fla. on Jan. 26, 2017 with Miami Republican Rep. Michael Bileca, left. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau
House and Senate leaders conceded Monday that years of Legislative stalemate over the future of slot machine expansion in Florida -- including whether Miami-Dade will be home to additional casinos -- may come to an end not because of their actions but because the courts have forced their hand.
Lawmakers convened a conference committee Monday to work out the differences between their vastly different gambling bills aimed at renewing the gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe. But, in the process they concluded that no matter what they do, a series of court rulings may be driving the train.
“There’s too many lawsuits out there. We have to act,’’ said Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, the House's chief gambling negotiator. He noted that numerous court rulings over the last few years have been nipping away at the compact with the Seminole Tribe by allowing gambling to expand in violation of the compact without legislative approval.
The latest decision came Thursday, when the court approved the language for a proposed constitutional amendment that would require voter approval for any casino expansion in the future. Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, a lawyer who helped negotiate the current compact with the Tribe, said that he thinks the dissenting opinion in that case is the latest clue the court is ready to overrule the Legislature's position that it has final say over expanding gambling in Florida.
The dissent came from one of the two most conservative members of the Florida Supreme Court, Justice Ricky Polston, who was considered "a no-vote on the referendum counties to keep their slots," Galvano explained.
The language in his opinion may shine a light on a ruling lawmakers have been awaiting for nearly 11 months: whether a struggling race track in the impoverished North Florida town of Gretna is entitled to slot machines because voters approved a countywide referendum in 2012, he said, adding that Polston's dissent reads as if he has accepted that voter-approved slot machines across the state are "existing."
The Gretna case is expected to have precedent-setting power by determining whether or not voters can expand gambling without legislative authority and, Galvano speculated, it appears as if the court has decided voters are in control.
"One can almost glean from the dissent that it's a fait accompli just pending in the court,'' Galvano told members of the gambling conference at its first meeting on Monday. "I don't want to put words in the court's future opinion but those are the type things that we need to be aware of.”
Galvano said a reading of the opinions indicates that the court may have concluded that slot machines are not only allowed in the 10 counties that have conducted voter referendums to approve them, but that they may not be allowed if a county has not approved them -- such is the case at Hialeah Racetrack, in which the Legislature, not the voters, approved the slot machine expansion.
Galvano admits it's an attempt to read the tea leaves on a case the court heard oral arguments about in June but has still not ruled.
"All of these things play into the big picture,’’ he said.
The proposed constitutional amendment is being backed by No Casinos, an Orlando-backed group that does not reveal its financing. The amendment would ask voters in November 2018 to require statewide approval for any casino expansion in the state. The proposed language would give voters the "exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling" in the state.
The Senate has long contended that lawmakers have the authority to expand gaming in Florida while the House is arguing that it supports requiring voters statewide to approve any new casinos.
“In the House, we would see the constitutional amendment as a compliment to what we are trying to do,’’ said Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, the House's leading negotiator on the gambling conference committee.
The Supreme Court approved the language of the amendment in a 4-2 decision, with Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and Charles Canady in the majority and justices Ricky Polston and R. Fred Lewis dissenting. Justice Alan Lawson, who joined the court at end of December, did not take part.
In his dissent, Polston argued that the proposal is misleading and violates the single-subject requirement. He said it fails to fully inform voters about its possible effects on a 2004 constitutional amendment that authorized slot machines in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Under that amendment, local voters also had to approve the slot machines.
"The initiative is placing voters in the position of deciding between a preference for controlling the expansion of full-fledged casino gambling and Florida's current legal gaming landscape," Polston wrote.
But the majority disagreed and said the ballot language was clear enough to go on the ballot.
"The opponents primarily argue that the initiative should not be placed on the ballot because it is unclear whether, if passed, the amendment would apply retroactively and what effect, if any, the amendment would have on gambling that is currently legal in Florida --- including gambling that was previously authorized by general law rather than by citizens' initiative," the majority wrote.
Galvano repeated the Senate’s desire to negotiate a comprehensive gambling package rather than just address the compact.
“Every point is a leverage point for one component of the industry, including the Seminoles, and that’s the only way we’ll get done,’’ he said.
The bills before the House and Senate attempt to not only renew the compact, but address court rulings that have left the state’s already-frayed gaming laws in tatters. The Senate bill, SB 8, opens the door to massive expansion of slot machines and Indian gaming, while the House bill, PCB TGC 17-01, continues to give the Seminole Tribe the exclusive right to slot machines outside of Miami-Dade and Broward and blackjack at their South Florida casinos but demands more money than they are paying now in exchange -- $3 billion over seven years.
"There's still plenty of threats out there and we're constantly playing a game of catch-up,'' Diaz said.
The Seminole Tribe has said that it would not agree to either approach because the Senate allows for more competition than it believes should be allowed in exchange for payments to the state while the House asks for too much money in exchange for what is essentially the status quo.
On Monday, Galvano said the Senate was prepared to make some minor changes to its own gambling bill by including a provision to require that the state be given 24 months to pass legislation to remedy any alleged violation in the Tribe’s compact with the state.
The Senate also agreed to provide more flexibility if the Seminole Tribe of Florida objected to allowing an additional casino in Broward, by instead suggesting that the two new casinos it wants to authorize for South Florida could both be located in Miami-Dade or Broward, a shift from the current bill which says each county may get only one new casino.
The Tribe has objected to the competition in Broward and "that gives us the flexibility without losing the revenue,'' Galvano explained.
Lawmakers in the Florida House plan to take a priority proposal aimed at reforming the standardized testing schedule in K-12 public schools and transform it into a broader education policy bill — a move intended to set up negotiations with the Senate with less than two weeks left in the 2017 session.
Members of the House Education Committee will vote Monday afternoon to expand HB 773 through a 76-page amendment — filed late Sunday by bill sponsor Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah. The amendment would replace the bill so it incorporates language not only from Diaz’s original measure but also from at least five other education bills lawmakers have considered to varying degrees.
Such a strategic move is typical at this point in session but often draws criticism over a lack of transparency. Individual policy bills that stalled in committee can find new life through omnibus bills lawmakers create by attaching those smaller proposals on to a single, expanded bill that’s still on track to reach the floor.
Senators last week similarly expanded their testing proposal (SB 926), although the tangential education policies being added to each chamber’s testing bill don’t yet align.
On the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill, Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., attacked President Donald Trump for his stance on drilling and portrayed Congress as doing nothing in the aftermath of the 2010 explosion.
“Trump looking to open up E Coast & new areas for offshore oil drilling when Congress has passed no new safety standards since BP,” Markey tweeted April 20.
We wanted to know what Trump’s plans were and if Congress has done nothing since the explosion.
The April 20, 2010, explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig was the worst offshore drilling catastrophe in U.S. history. The explosion killed 11 workers, and 134 million gallons of oil were released into the Gulf of Mexico.
We emailed a spokesman for Trump and did not get a reply; however, a spokesman for the Bureau of Ocean Management sent information about the reorganization of federal agencies that oversee drilling during the Obama administration.
Senate President Joe Negron sent a memo to fellow senators on Monday on the collapse of budget negotiations with the House.
Talks were making progress as recently as Friday, but reached a stalemate over the weekend, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran said the House would instead offer a "continuation budget" for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
"Our constituents deserve and expect more," Negron said in dismissing the idea. But House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, told the Herald/Times that he would offer a continuation budget at a legislative meeting on Tuesday.
Sen. Marco Rubio on Face the Nation said a government shutdown would have a “catastrophic impact” across the globe.
“The fight from the White House perspective is over funding for the border wall,” host John Dickerson said. “Is that an issue worth fighting over right now, if a government shutdown is a possible -- is a possibility?”
"Well, first, understand, we’re just trying to finish out the current cycle, the current budget year. And so I think that’s a fight worth having and a conversation and a debate worth having for 2018. And if we can do some of that now, that would be great. But we cannot shut down the government right now. We have a potential crisis brewing with North Korea. We have seen what’s going on, the ongoing crisis in Syria.
"We don’t know what the outcome of the French election is going to be, but that could potentially throw the European Union and the NATO alliance into some level of consternation. The last thing we can afford is to send a message to the world that the United States government, by the way, is only partially functioning. I mean, that would just have catastrophic impact, in my view, or certainly a very destabilizing, I should say, impact on global affairs. And so we should keep that in mind going into this week."
Rubio has not always been as resolute in opposing a government shutdown, as PolitiFact explains here.
Negotiations between the Florida House and Senate on a state budget are at a stalemate after the House on Sunday proposed a "continuation budget" for the fiscal year that begins July 1, meaning that current spending levels would remain flat with no cuts, no new initiatives and no hometown projects for legislators.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, made his offer in response to what he said was a liberal, free-spending Senate obsessed with higher spending and a lack of respect for the House. Corcoran viewed that as a serious offer, in part because it would ensure current spending levels for Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida for another 12 months.
But Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart (in photo), didn't take it seriously.
"That's not an offer. That's the equivalent of packing your suitcase and moving out," Negron told the Times/Herald. "It's a reflexive and lazy response to our responsibility for budgeting."
Negron's chief budget-writer, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said: "We laughed and went home."
Corcoran referred to Negron and Latvala as "Nancy Pelosi and Bernie Sanders" for their approach to budgeting, and Latvala in particular bristled at being labeled a liberal Democrat by the Republican speaker.
"If we're being liberal wanting to restore the personal needs allowance that people on Medicaid get, then so be it," Latvala said, referring to a proposed House cut, from $105 a month to $70, for elderly Floridians to pay for haircuts and other personal needs.
At the end of last week, Negron and Corcoran said negotiations were proceeding smoothly, and both leaders sounded hopeful about striking a deal. But House leaders claimed senators opened up a series of new issues on Saturday, including money for farmworkers and a program to help firefighters who are presumed to have contracted cancer. The House also said senators insisted the budget must have seven dollars for Senate member projects to every dollar for House projects.
Legislative leaders have said that a joint House-Senate conference committee would have to begin its work by Monday for the session to end on time on Friday, May 5.
Former Florida governor-turned-congressman Charlie Crist wants John Morgan to run for his old job next year.
Crist told MIami Herald news partner WFOR-CBS 4 that he thinks Morgan -- his old boss -- would win if he seeks the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018.
"Run. I told him, I said if you run I think you’ll win," Crist said of a conversation last week with Morgan.
Here's a transcript of Crist's interview with "Facing South Florida" with Jim DeFede:
DEFEDE: Your friend John Morgan has talked about possibly running. Do you think he would make a good governor?
CRIST: I do. I do. I love John Morgan. Not only is he my friend, my lifelong friend now, but he is my former law partner. And I have gotten to know him so much better over the last five years than I did before. He has a great sense of humor. He’s no holds barred. He has a self-assuredness about him that few people do have. And he has a heart of gold. And that’s the most important thing about a good leader. That they lead with heart. It’s good to be smart. It’s good to listen. But if you don’t have the good heart to start with you can’t be a great leader. He has a great heart. He could be a great governor.
DEFEDE: Are you encouraging him to run?
CRIST: I just did yesterday [April 16].
DEFEDE: Did you really?
CRIST: Yeah, why not?
DEFEDE: What did you tell him?
CRIST: Run. I told him, I said if you run I think you’ll win. And I believe that. And if he doesn’t run, that’s his decision. You know, only each of us can make that kind of a decision. That’s a big deal decision. So if he decides not to I’ll understand that too and wish him the best. I love him.
Sen. Marco Rubio on Sunday denied a role in setting up a meeting at Mar-a-Lago between former Colombian presidents opposed to a peace deal.
Appearing on "Meet The Press," Rubio also expressed understanding for President Trump's shifting positions.
"I think when you're running for president, especially someone that's never held elected office, there's one set of things that you may view the world through-- a lens that you may view the world through. Then, you get elected and you get good people. And those good people bring you the facts. And they bring you, "Here's what's going on. Here are our options. Here's what happens if you do this. Here's what happens when you do that." And that reality begins to assert itself. And you have to react to that. You're now the president. You're no longer a candidate. You're not a pundit. You have to actually make decisions that have real impact and consequence. And I think that's what you're seeing here. I think you're seeing a president--
Do you think he's moving away from maybe the isolationist rhetoric and tendencies that he had as a candidate?
SEN. MARCO RUBIO:
I think he's dealing with the reality of being president of the United States. I think he's dealing with the reality of our options oftentimes on foreign policy are not a choice between a good one and a bad one. It's a choice between two less-than-ideal options.
And you're trying to figure out which is the least harmful of the two. And I think that's something we should be encouraged by, not something that we should be critical of. This whole flip-flop thing is a political thing. It's something people use in campaigns.
But in every other aspect of our life, people change their minds or make different decisions when presented with a set of facts that, perhaps, are different from what they thought. Why should that not be the case, especially for something as important as the presidency?
TALLAHASSEE -- Last Monday afternoon, at the start of the state Legislature’s seventh week of session, Sen. Audrey Gibson raced up three floors to present one of her bills to the Florida Senate’s Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee.
Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, stood behind the lectern and tried to catch her breath as she told colleagues about a 6-year-old from back home who had been involuntarily committed to a mental-health facility for three days for a “temper tantrum.” She filed legislation to require such facilities to speed up their evaluation of the about 30,000 admitted each year under the state’s Baker Act.
But a Miami Republican on the committee had questions. Wouldn’t it cost more money for the facilities to work faster? Sen. Frank Artiles asked. Only for more transportation, Gibson said. Artiles continued: If a child is released before 72 hours have gone by and has a psychotic break, won’t lawmakers just be forced to change the law again?
It looked like a typical legislative exchange over policy. Nine hours later, Gibson found out it had been political retribution.
Spotting her at the Governors Club Lounge in downtown Tallahassee around 10:30 p.m., Artiles, who had been drinking, confronted Gibson: “Audrey, stop being a bitch on my bills and I’ll stop being a fucking asshole on yours.”
His words would mark the beginning of the end of his Senate career.
By the end of his tirade, Artiles had called Gibson a “girl,” Senate President Joe Negron a “pussy” and Republicans who had elected Negron “niggas.” By the end of the week, Artiles had resigned, succumbing to pressure from a Senate overcome by the scandal.