A company that sued Martin County for allegedly reneging on a contract to use land to clean polluted water from Lake Okeechobee has won a major public records lawsuit accusing county commissioners of denying they conducted public business on private email accounts, delaying producing the accounts once they were discovered and, in one case, destroying the record trail.
The county has agreed to pay Lake Point LLC, a company that operates a rock mine in western Martin County, more than $371,800 in attorneys’ fees and establish a new policy for how to handle public business on private email accounts.
Photo by Miami Herald: Former Martin County Commissioner Maggy Hurchalla turned over emails between her and county commissioners, igniting a public records lawsuit that now has led to a $371,800 fine.
Gov. Rick Scott will be second-in-command of a Republican organization that played a huge financial role in his re-election.
On Friday the Republican Governor's Association named Scott its vice chairman, replacing South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who resigned and was appointed U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the chairman of the group, made the announced in a statement to the media.
“I am honored to serve in this new role for the RGA and help build upon our momentum that led to today’s near-century high of 33 Republican governors," Scott said. "The RGA has proved time and again that it is the most effective political organization in the country and I look forward to helping the RGA continue that tradition.”
The RGA has also proven to be a big supporter of Scott in the past. In 2014, the RGA spent over $18 million to help Scott win his re-election over Democrat Charlie Crist.
"Governor Rick Scott’s leadership and electoral experience will be a tremendous asset to the RGA as we recruit candidates, fundraise, and continue to build a solid foundation of resources for 38 gubernatorial elections over the next two years," Walker said.
The top leaders of the Florida Legislature are going to Washington, D.C. next week for a series of meetings with Congressional leaders and a lengthy discussion with Sen. Marco Rubio over federal issues.
Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron are confirmed to be part of a contingent that has meetings scheduled with Rubio on Monday and Tuesday.
Corcoran said Rubio invited leaders of the Legislature to go over federal transportation, health care and environmental issues and how they might after Florida.
A spokeswoman for Rubio said the meetings are to make sure there is an open line of communication as the state Legislature prepares to start its new session on March 7.
Rubio’s office said they have invited 17 leaders of the Florida House and Senate to the meeting including Democratic leaders of both chambers.
It’s been no big secret that Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has had his eye on the Florida governor’s mansion, but now the Democrat is acknowledging it out loud.
Speaking Friday at the Central Florida Urban League’s Cornerstone Awards in Orlando, Gillum announced officially that he is “seriously considering running for governor.”
The announcement is not unlike recent ones by those of fellow Democrats, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and former Tallahassee Congresswoman Gwen Graham — who also have all-but-announced formal campaigns for 2018.
“I feel strongly that the direction our state government has gone these last 20 years is out of step with the majority of Floridians, from the environment to wages, to education and job creation,” Gillum said, according to prepared remarks. “I believe this is a moment that requires not just people who quietly agree on these issues, but people who are going to be champions, who will get out and lead on them.”
The 37-year-old Gillum is viewed as a rising star in the Democratic Party. The affable African American politician was among the featured speakers at last summer’s Democratic National Convention and he has been a standout in Tallahassee city politics for 14 years.
However, Gillum faces some big obstacles if he does embark on a statewide campaign.
Photo credit: CateComm
The state government workforce continued to get smaller Gov. Rick Scott over the past year, and Florida has the fewest full-time state workers in proportion to its population of any state, according to a report released Friday.
The annual workforce report, produced by the state Department of Management Services, includes these findings:
* The total number of full-time state worker positions at the end of the last fiscal year was 97,700, compared to 104,134 in 2012, which was a year after Scott became governor. The actual number of employees was 88,991, which is 5.6 percent below the number in 2012.
* Florida had 101 full and part-time employees per 10,000 residents in 2016, the fewest of any state. The national average is 209.
* The state had 87 full-time employees per 10,000 residents, also the fewest of any state. The national average is 169.
* Employee turnover among career service workers, who make up the largest chunk of full-time state workers, was 11.8 percent last year, the highest percentage since Scott became governor in 2011 and the first time the turnover rate reached double digits.
* Women greatly outnumber men in the state work force but men make more money on average across the board in state government. Among career service workers, the average salary was $37,042 for men and $34,384 for women. The average salary for all state workers was $39,657, which is 3.9 percent higher than it was in 2012.
All statistics in the workforce report are as of June 30, 2016. The full report can be found here.
In his administration’s earliest weeks, President Donald Trump has worked to deliver on major campaign promises that could impact millions of immigrants living in the country illegally.
Trump’s immigration policy as commander in chief has mostly been in line with his campaign rhetoric. A flurry of executive orders cast a wide net for people who will become deportation priorities and authorized the construction of a border wall with Mexico.
But Trump has held back on at least one promise for which he pledged prompt action: Recipients of a deferred action program Trump said he would terminate immediately for now have seen no changes.
Border wall planning in early stages
Trump’s promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border is In the Works. An executive order signed Jan. 25 directs the DHS secretary to "take all appropriate steps to immediately plan, design, and construct a physical wall along the southern border, using appropriate materials and technology to most effectively achieve complete operational control of the southern border."
In an implementation memo issued Feb. 20, DHS Secretary John Kelly instructed U.S. Customs and Border Protection to consult with other executive departments and agencies on the immediate planning, design, construction and maintenance of the border wall. The memo directs the use of materials originating in the United States "to the maximum extent permitted by law."
Border Patrol is assessing priority areas where a wall or similar physical barriers can be built, DHS said. The department has identified locations near El Paso, Texas; Tucson, Ariz.; and El Centro, Calif., for wall construction as the fencing in place is "no longer effective."
Currently, there are 702 miles of fencing along the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border. It includes 652 miles of primary fencing, 36 miles of secondary fencing and 14 miles of tertiary fencing, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Keep reading Miriam Valverde's story from PolitiFact.
When the Miami City Commission voted Thursday to give police officers the discretion to issue civil citations for misdemeanor marijuana possession instead of making an arrest, two commissioners were conspicuously absent.
Francis Suarez and Frank Carollo -- the former running for mayor, the latter mulling a run -- disappeared from the dais when the item came up in the evening. They missed the unanimous vote by Wifredo "Willy" Gort, Keon Hardemon and Ken Russell to enter into a three-year civil citation compact with the county, which implemented citations in 2015.
The agreement allows police to issue fines for several misdemeanor offenses, including littering and theft of shopping carts (commissioners removed trespassing and loitering and prowling). But the headliner of the group was marijuana possession.
Curious about why they were missing, and how they would have voted, we called Carollo and Suarez Friday morning to get a response.
Suarez didn't remember specifically why he left the dais -- "I just wasn't there" -- but said he supports the issuance of civil citations for misdemeanor pot possession. He shared police concerns about downgrading trespassing and prowling offenses, which apparently held up the agreement for months.
Carollo, a former police officer, did not respond to a voice mail and text message left on his cell phone around 9:45 a.m.
We'll update this blog if and when he calls back.
When it comes to telling local governments what they can and cannot do, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron are taking markedly different positions.
The issue will play out in the upcoming legislative session in the form of broad House legislation (HB 17) that would ban all local government regulation of business without state permission, which could throw out ordinances ranging from mandatory bar closing hours to protection of LGBTQ Floridians. A narrower Senate bill (SB1158) filed Thursday would prevent regulation of "commerce, trade and labor."
Where Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, sees preempting local laws as a priority, Negron, R-Stuart, feels differently.
"For me, the general rule is to allow local governments to operate in their lane without the state interfering," Negron said. "That being said, I believe there are certain policy issues (where the state should step in) and so there's a delicate balance here, and it depends on what the issue is."
For example, Negron championed giving the state power in determining gun laws. He voted last year to take local governments' rights to regulate ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft, an issue that will return this spring as well.
Corcoran, who under the Obama administration railed against the federal government meddling in state affairs, takes a hard-line approach toward local governments.
"When they set up the Constitution, they basically said that the federal government exists for these enumerated powers. If it's not enumberated, all of it belongs to the states," Corcoran said. "Every bit of it. And the states have all of that."
The same principle, he said, does not exist in the state's relationship with cities and counties, though they do currently have home rule -- the right to pass laws and regulations that the state has not prohibited in their boundaries.
To Corcoran, taking away some of that ability is in service of another goal: "We have a job to try to make the state as friendly as possible for not just individuals but also for businesses."
Photo: Then-Rep. Richard Corcoran, R- Land O' Lakes, shares a laugh with then-Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, before the start of the 2016 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee. (SCOTT KEELER | Times)
After nine years of marriage, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist has filed for divorce.
“I think the world of Carole. She’s an amazing person. It just didn’t work out for us,” the former governor told the Tampa Bay Times. “I wish all the the best for her.”
Crist, 60, said the divorce should have no impact on his service. He and Carole, 47, own a Parkshore condo in downtown St. Petersburg, and details about whether he will continue to live there have yet to be worked out.
Crist met Carole, a glamorous fixture on the New York and Hamptons social circuit, in the fall of 2007 and became engaged in July 2008 when he was a Republican governor widely seen as a top contender to be John McCain’s running mate.
The Crists married in December 2008, and together they worked through a tumultuous period in Crist’s political career: An unsuccessful campaign for U.S. Senate as both a Republican and then independent in 2010 and then unsuccessful campaign for governor as a Democrat in 2014. In November, he was elected to the U.S. House, representing much of Pinellas County.
Mrs. Crist a top adviser to her husband throughout, and late last year went onto his campaign payroll as his political director.
--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times
Photo credit: Joe Burbank, MCT
The Miami-Dade and Broward school districts plan to keep protections for transgender students in place despite a change in federal policy.
On Wednesday, the Trump administration announced an end to federal protections that allowed transgender students to use school bathrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity. The administration is now leaving it up to states and school districts to determine such policies, lifting Obama-era federal guidelines that directed schools to treat students according to their gender identity, rather than their biological sex, or risk losing federal funds.
In South Florida, school administrators say LGBTQ students do not need to worry. Transgender students in Miami-Dade and Broward are still protected under the districts’ anti-discrimination policies, which were put in place before the Obama administration issued its directive last year.
Photo credit: Elaine Thompson, Associated Press
The mayor of South Miami and the former mayor of Pinecrest hoisted a dark suit on a hanger into the air between them, and the crowd of nearly 300 people jeered and laughed.
Someone threw a wad of cash on the table, nearly hitting the paper name tag identifying the invisible man as Senator Marco Rubio. Philip Stoddard, of South Miami, stuffed the bills in a suit pocket and held a water bottle near the lapels.
A man from the overflow crowd outside shouted from the open doors: “It’s an empty chair. We deserve better than an empty chair.”
He, and hundreds of other activists, gathered in the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami in Glenvar Heights Thursday night for a town hall meeting without their elected official.
Congress is in recess this week, so some representatives — including Florida Reps. Gus Bilirakis and Dennis Ross — use the break to hold town hall meetings. Rubio’s office said he was in Europe on senate business this week and wouldn’t be attending any, but activists found the senator twice on Thursday and posted videos of the confrontation online.
Florida House and Senate committees on Thursday gave approval to vastly different approaches to the future of gambling in Florida, with the Senate opening the door to massive expansion of slot machines and Indian gaming, while the House attempts to retract gaming and preserve protected markets for horse and dog racing and tribal gaming for another 20 years.
The House bill, PCB TGC 17-01, "reaffirms our commitment to a limited gaming footprint," said Rep. Michael LaRosa, R-St. Cloud, chair of the Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee which passed its bill 10-5.
"It also keeps the Legislature in charge" of the future of gaming, he said, an attempt to halt the expansion of gambling that has occurred in recent years as lawmakers failed to close loopholes and clarify the law in the face of court rulings.
By contrast, the Senate bill would give Miami-Dade and Broward counties each an additional slot casino, the Seminole Tribe would have seven full-scale casinos, and horse and dog tracks in at least eight counties would get new slot parlors.
The measures are seen as the first pieces in a lengthy session-long negotiation expected to guarantee the state an estimate $250 million ot $300 million in annual revenues from the Seminole Tribe and to clarify the state’s now-porous gaming laws that have been weakened by legal challenges, court rulings and numerous loopholes.
"Were going to pass a gaming bill” that ties the compact to “massive contraction,’’ predicted House Speaker Richard Corcoran in an interview Wednesday with the Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau. “I can assure you the face of gaming is a massive contraction and those people who have abused the system, abused the power of the special interests to get things in law that should never have been in law, will suffer the consequences.’’
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz vowed to fight back against President Donald Trump’s immigration orders and criticized Miami-Dade county commissioners for caving to Trump on sanctuary cities.
Wasserman Schultz, a Weston Democrat, met with city and county officials in Broward on Thursday morning after she held a closed-door briefing with federal immigration officials from multiple agencies including Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Wasserman Schultz sought the ICE briefing to gain more clarity about the administration’s immigration plans, but said she walked away with scant information.
“In my 24 years in office I have rarely had a more evasive briefing than the one I just had,” she told local government officials who met with her at a city of Sunrise government building.
Keep reading here.
Anthony Man Sun Sentinel
About a month before Donald Trump — then merely a celebrity real-estate mogul — completed the purchase of the Doral Resort & Spa, the hotel hosted a conference of the Hispanic Leadership Network, a fledgling Republican group created to grow the party’s Latino outreach.
A discussion titled “Immigration Policy and the Hispanic Workforce” featured four prominent Republicans urging lawmakers to pursue comprehensive immigration legislation. One of the panelists was the dean of Florida International University’s law school, Alex Acosta.
“We need someone that’s going to say we have to enact comprehensive immigration solutions,” Acosta said at the Jan. 27, 2012, conference. “Part of that means figuring out what we do with all the individuals that are already in our nation. We need them here. They provide construction jobs. They provide agricultural jobs. We need to figure out a way to address that.
“We need to figure out a way to then have a pathway to further future legal immigration. And if we don’t take it all at once, we’re not going to solve it, because you can’t solve part of it without solving the other part. You can’t address immigration without answering what do you do with individuals that are already in the United States.”
Acosta is now President Trump’s second nominee for labor secretary. And if the experience of Andy Puzder, Trump’s first nominee, is any indication, Acosta’s moderate immigration views could be problematic ahead of his confirmation hearing.
Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, el Nuevo Herald
Politico speculated the other day that Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum could announce for governor Friday at an appearance in Orlando for the Central Florida Urban League's Cornerstone Awards. Seems unlikely that a mayor would announce formally for office outside his own city, but it's a safe bet that both Gillum and Miami Beach Beach Mayor Philip Levine will sound very much like gubernatorial candidates when they address the gathering Friday.
That's because for all purposes they already are running for governor. So is former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee. They're traveling the state, interviewing and hiring campaign consultants, meeting with key donors, activists and others.
State Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, told reporters Thursday that "there's no one that's actively lobbying against" efforts to require mandatory daily recess in Florida's public elementary schools.
There has so far been no obvious or outspoken public opposition to the measure, but district administrators quietly have voiced concerns about requiring all schools to have recess -- citing a potential lack of time in the existing school day. (A few lawmakers, like House Education Committee chairman Michael Bileca, R-Miami, also don't like the idea of imposing another statewide mandate.)
Although there was resounding support for the statewide daily requirement last session in the House, only one school district -- Orange County -- took action to fall in line with what lawmakers had sought to do. Miami-Dade County did revise its existing policy to encourage more time for recess, but it's still not required daily.
Plasencia said he's spoken with many school districts, and "what they're trying to do is have some input so they can integrate it in a much more productive way into their school days."
"It's tough on the school districts because, in the past, there have been a lot of mandates that have been handed down," said Plasencia, who is sponsoring the House bill for the second year in a row.
Plasencia and Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores, the Senate sponsor, were joined at a press conference on Thursday at the Capitol by recess moms from North Florida and representatives of the Florida PTA.
With success earlier this week in getting the Senate bill heard, they called on Clearwater Republican Rep. Chris Latvala to schedule a hearing on the House bill when his K-12 Innovation Subcommittee next meets in March.
Photo credit: State Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, and state Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, speak at a press conference on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 about their legislation to require 20 minutes of recess daily in Florida's public elementary schools. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau
Florida Senate President Joe Negron is never going to be mistaken for a fiery ideologue who draws unwavering lines in the sand. But the Republican from Stuart said his temperament and willingness to work out policy differences shouldn’t be seen as a sign of weakness.
“How you say something is not a reflection of how committed you are to it,” Negron told the Times/Herald during an interview Thursday.
Negron declared that the art of working out policy differences through compromise is a healthy part of the process that past legislative leaders have demonstrated works. The attorney first elected to the Florida House in 2000, said he believes that even the biggest issues can be resolved in a way that people don’t have to compromise their values and principles. At some point the process requires everyone to work together in good faith to resolve their differences, he said.
“I find it to be an act of hubris to suggest that we cannot do that,” Negron said.
His comments struck a sharp contrast with House Speaker Richard Corcoran who has already declared that the House will not budge on, among other things, allowing economic incentives in the state budget or accept a tax cut plan for businesses while property owners face increased taxes because of rising property values - two of Gov. Rick Scott’s biggest priorities. Corcoran has also clashed with the Senate of basic budget writing rules, insisting that all budget items - including all local funding projects - first be submitted as a full bill in order to get into the state spending plan. At one point Corcoran even dared the Florida Senate to try to sue them over the rules when Negron suggested the Senate might have to take legal action if Corcoran didn't back off.
“The best place to be is on moral high ground,” Corcoran said in an interview Wednesday. “The best place to be whether it’s in a legitimate battle or a battle of ideas is to have the moral high ground where you are right.”
Negron said he “completely respects” the House for wanting to have their own rules and views, but expects the House to also respect the Senate’s desire to have their own rules and positions.
“We all have rules and principles,” Negron said “They may be different from one another but people who are serving have a vision and are guided by the ideals that they believe in.”
The line from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio's aides when they were asked this week why the Florida Republican wasn't planning any town hall meetings during the congressional recess was that he was away in Europe on Senate business.
But Rubio returned quietly Wednesday night -- and was promptly confronted Thursday morning by a protester who found the senator even though he hadn't publicly listed any appearances.
"Senator, I thought you were in Europe," an unidentified man says on the clip. "Are you going to host a town hall?"
"Good to see you, man," Rubio responded.
The New Times reported Rubio returned from Europe in time to teach his weekly politics class at Florida International University.
Indivisible Miami, an anti-Trump group, has planned an empty-chair town hall -- to be held with or without Rubio -- for Thursday night. Another one is scheduled for Saturday in Plantation. Activists held a similar event Wednesday night in Tampa, featuring a Rubio cardboard cutout. More than 500 people attended.
Rubio's office said the senator was at Jackson for a roundtable discussion on Florida's opioid crisis. The office did not advertise Rubio's appearance in advance, as it often does with local events so news reporters can attend. Aides later posted a recap of the event on Rubio's Senate website.
The senator's Europe trip was also shrouded in mystery. Rubio's office didn't say until Monday that he had made the trip to France and Germany; he'd been expected to depart for Europe on Germany to attend the Munich Security Conference but didn't due to extended Senate business. No day-to-day schedule or recaps of Rubio's trip have been made public, either.
Labor groups have been picketing Rubio's Doral office on a weekly basis over his support for President Trump's Cabinet picks. Protesters have also shown up at the offices of Miami Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen this week, asking for town halls.
Photo credit: Alan Diaz, Associated Press
A top priority of Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, is ready for the full Senate to vote on once the 2017 session begins March 7.
The higher education package -- formerly two bills now blended into one (SB 2) -- includes a variety of reforms intended to elevate Florida's State University System and its state colleges to a more competitive level, nationally and internationally.
"We should be at the very top of our game in our state university and college system," said Bradenton Republican Sen. Bill Galvano, the higher ed budget chairman who spearheaded the legislation. "We should raise expectations, and that’s what we’re doing."
SB 2 -- dubbed the "Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act of 2017" -- advanced unanimously out of the Senate's full budget committee Thursday morning with some additional revisions. Negron told the Herald/Times the bill will be among the first considered by the chamber during the first week of session next month.
Photo credit: Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times