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253 posts from April 2014

April 29, 2014

City mayors join opposition to Major League Soccer stadium at PortMiami, alliance says


The mayors of 11 Miami-Dade County cities have signed on to a letter in opposition to David Beckham's proposal to put a Major League Soccer stadium on waterfront seaport property, according to the leading detractor to the plan.

The Miami Seaport Alliance has asked elected mayors and vice mayors to add their names to the list of critics who say a PortMiami stadium would risk jobs, security and cruise and cargo operations. Among those who have said yes, the alliance says, are the mayors of Homestead, Coral Gables and North Miami Beach.

"We believe united, we can help quash this terrible idea of a stadium at PortMiami, a maritime industrial port and a major economic driver of our community," Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall wrote in a letter to the mayors on behalf of the Seaport Alliance.

MacDougall, who is running for Congress as a Republican in South Miami-Dade, carried out a similar effort last year against the Miami Dolphins' short-lived push for a stadium renovation partly funded by tax dollars.

Unlike with the Dolphins, the debate over soccer doesn't center on local dollars. Beckham's group is seeking a state subsidy but says it will pay for stadium construction privately.

Continue reading "City mayors join opposition to Major League Soccer stadium at PortMiami, alliance says" »

Federal jury in Miami acquits Hialeah mayor, wife on tax-evasion charges


A Miami federal jury on Tuesday found Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina and his wife, Raiza, not guilty on a slew of tax evasion charges.

It was a resounding victory for the Robainas, who had repeatedly blamed mistakes by their accountant for the failure to report some $2 million in unreported income.

Federal prosecutors had declared them “tax cheats” through the two-week trail but the couple’s defense attorney had argued they were victims of an unscrupulous Ponzi schemer.

The Robainas’ trial, which has lasted more than two weeks, spotlighted Hialeah’s “shadow” banking industry of high-interest loans. As a sitting mayor, Robaina had loaned $750,000 to a Ponzi schemer who would eventually be convicted of swindling $40 million from the couple and dozens of other investors.

Prosecutors admitted that Luis Felipe Perez, the government’s star witness, was a “con artist” who hopes to obtain a reduction of his 10-year prison sentence for his jewelry investment scheme.

But they also revealed that Perez kept financial records showing he paid 36 percent interest on the loans from the Robainas, half in checks and half in cash — cash that prosecutors contend he kept secret from his wife.

More here.

Gov. Scott: "I haven't changed my mind at all" on in-state tuition for DREAMers

Gov. Rick Scott spoke to reporters after a Fort Lauderdale event today where he honored veterans at the National Guard Armory. Here is a partial transcript of the press gaggle, including about SB1400, the bill that would provide in-state tuition to DREAMers that is headed for a vote later this week:

Q: “SB1400 you are supportive of it?”

A: “Absolutely.”

Q: “When did that change? When did you have that change of mind as far as supporting it?”

A: “I haven’t changed my mind at all. I want low tuition for all Floridians. These are the things that the bill does. For individuals that grew up in our state they deserve the same tuition as individuals that, everybody else and all their peers. On top of that -- and this is something Charlie Crist opposed. He opposed in-state tuition for children of immigrants but on top of that it reduces the 15 percent differential and the inflationary change in tuition every year. How few people income goes up 15 [percent] plus inflation every year? And that’s what’s happened. They have caused tuition to be too expensive so lower-income middle-income families can’t afford their tuition and Charlie Crist is the one who signed those bills.”

Q: “In terms of the budget it seems like this year lawmakers included millions of dollars in hometown projects. Do you think they overreached on that?”

Q: “I haven’t seen all the parts of the budget. So I will review it like I’ve done every year. I have a review to make sure that it is good for taxpayers.”

Q: “They didn’t include as much in economic incentives and tourism as you had wanted. How do you feel about that?”

A: “I want to build jobs. Tourists add a lot of jobs. Every 85 tourists is another job in this state. So we need to continue to invest in Visit Florida. It’s worked, we are getting a good return on our investment so I want to continue to invest in that. Our projects for economic incentives -- these were all competitive projects -- we are competing with other states and other countries. I’m focused on getting a return for taxpayers but they work. [Enterprise Florida President] Gary Swoope and his team has done a great job.”

Scott was then asked to comment about the deaths at VA hospitals:

A: “Veterans have died in our VA facilities...we’ve heard they have been injured. I’ve asked for information from the VA facilities. They have not come forward. We need more transparency, we need more accountability. I have asked for the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration to go do inspections. They have been turned away. ....”

Q: “You said you had always been in favor of in-state tuition for DREAMers. I did a quick search before I came here and I couldn’t find comments you made about that before this year. Can you be a little more specific about your support before this year?”

A: “It’s the right thing to do. As you know I’ve always focused on lower tuition for all Floridians and whether it’s those that grew up here they’re not getting in-state tuition, those that are seeing this 15% plus inflationary increase we need to get tuition lower so all of our students -- low-income middle-income everybody -- can afford college and university.”

Q: “So you’ve always supported in-state tuition for DREAMers throughout your tenure as Governor?”

A: “I have always supported lower tuition for all Floridians.”

Q: “Governor are you going to sign the 75 mile per hour speed limit bill?”

A: “I haven’t seen the bill yet. I will review it.”

Battle brewing between House and Senate on growler bill

The Florida Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would allow microbreweries to sell their products in popular half-gallon “growler” containers in exchange for more restrictions on how much they can sell, new rules backed by major beer distributors.

SB 1714 wouldn’t regulate any craft beer establishment selling fewer than 2,000 kegs a year. But microbreweries selling more than 2,000 kegs that exceed 20 percent of their sales in take-home consumption would have to sell their product to distributors, and then buy it back at marked up prices.

“It’s a terrible bill because it prevents the little guy from growing,” said Joey Redner, who founded Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing. “We are putting caps on how big companies can get.”

But the measure is expected to fall flat in the House, which killed a similar bill last month.

“The fact that the Senate saw fit to pass a bad bill with no House companion could prove very problematic,” said House Majority Whip Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, an early supporter of craft breweries. “We’ll see how it plays out, but you can take that I’m smiling and all calm right now to mean that it’s going to work out.”

The measure passed by a 30-10 vote, with six Republicans, including Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater; and four Democrats, including Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, voting against it. Ten Democrats and 20 Republicians, including Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, and Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, voted for it.

“There is not one person here who would vote to kill jobs,” said Simpson. “But this bill is not about that. It says if you grow to a certain size, you are no longer a small business. It’s a good bill.”

The brouhaha started when Latvala filed a bill that would allow craft breweries to sell their brew in half-gallon containers, which are allowed in 47 other states. Florida allows brewers to sell in containers that are 32 ounces and 128 ounces, but the half-gallon size is more popular with consumers because it’s a generous size, but not so much that a lot of leftover beer would go flat overnight.

But beer distributors, including the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, see craft breweries as competition. Senate President Don Gaetz, who counts Anheuser-Busch distributor Lewis Bear as a close friend, fast-tracked Stargel’s bill that imposed a series of new restrictions on craft breweries.

The bill would let them sell in quarter-gallon, half-gallon and full-gallon containers, but no other containers.

“If someone comes into the bar and asks me to fill a stein, I can’t do that,” Redner said.

Stargel said the bill won’t hurt existing breweries and will only protect them in the future from lawsuits.

“This is a new, growing industry,” Stargel said. “Rather than have them face it in the courts and see them shut down because of ambiguitities, I’m trying to put clarity into the law. This bill won’t limit their growth.”

Redner wasn’t buying it.

“If I get sued, why does the distributor care?” he said, noting the bill refers to kegs, not the barrels that craft brewers use.

“We came to the table hundreds of times,” Redner said. “But you can tell no one listened to us.”

Latvala said the backlash against Stargel’s efforts is the most he’s seen on any legislation.

“I’ve had more telephone calls, correspondences, Facebook posts on this than anything else,” he said. “I’m real hot on this issue. It started as a simple idea, and it evolved into something that will put people out of work, put people out of business.”


House Democrats formalize 'caucus' opposition to gaming compact absent inclusion in talks

Can Gov. Rick Scott ratify a gaming compact without a vote from Democrats? The Florida House Democratic Caucus is pretty confident the answer is no.

The caucus on Tuesday formally announced what had been informally previously accepted -- that Democrats have taken a “Caucus Position” to withhold their support for ratification of gaming compact between the governor and the Seminole Tribe of Florida until Democrats are included in negotiations.

The postion was "developed at a routine Tuesday meeting of the House Democratic Caucus,'' the Democrats announced in a statement. It was approved unanimously by voice vote.

“We have been expressing our concerns all session long,” said Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, in a statement. “It should come as no surprise to the governor that we expect a seat at the negotiating table.”

House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, criticized the governor's failure to include legislators in his current talks. "Once again, the people of Florida are witnessing Governor Scott’s failure of leadership,” he said. 

Last week the governor's deputies announced the governor as "getting close" in completing a deal with the tribe and tested the interest of legislators to conduct a May special session on a compact. They sent a signal there was little interest in moving forward without details of the deal. 

Senate sends to gov bill to require all children under age five to travel in safety seats

Under the measure, HB 225, the law will expand the current requirement that children ages 3 or younger be restrained in car seats to apply to children ages 4 and 5, who often outgrow car seats. No longer will they be allowed to be restrained using a seat belt. They will have to be restrained using booster seats.

The bill received final approval after legislators had tried for 14 years to get the measure passed. Florida and South Dakota are the only two states in the nation that do not require children who have outgrown their child safety seats to use booster seats.

According to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, motor vehicle injuries are a major cause of death among children. Using a car seat reduced the risk of death for infants by 71 percent and for older children by 54 percent. Fatal or incapacitating injuries were reduced 17 percent for children up to age 7 or 8 who use booster seats.

"This is a wonderful bill and it's going to save children's lives," said Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, who worked on passing the bill for years.

Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, called it a "mom's issue." Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami, called it a "father issue, too." Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, said concerned uncles support it, as well.

The measure was pushed by members of the Florida Junior League, and it was sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami.

Drivers who violate the requirement are subject to a $60 fine, court costs and add-ons, and having three points assessed against their driver's license. To avoid the points, the driver may participate in a child restraint safety program.

There are some exceptions: Children between 4 and 5 years of age may use a seat belt if the driver is not a member of the child's immediate family and the child is being transported as a favor to the family, in the case of an emergency, or when a doctor provides reason for an exception.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that children use a child safety seat or a booster seat until at least age 5, and until the seat belt fits properly. According to the federal guidelines, the seat belt fits properly when the lap belt lays across the upper thighs (not the stomach) and the shoulder belt lays across the chest (not the neck). The recommended height for proper seat belt fit is 57 inches tall.

Florida Senate quietly advances immigrant tuition bill to the floor

One of the most controversial bills of the session is on its way to becoming law.

In the most quiet of ways on Tuesday, members of the Florida Senate agreed to hear a bill that would allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates at Florida colleges and universities.

The proposal is likely to pass. Twenty-one of the 40 senators have publicly expressed their support. Another three have voted for the bill in previous committee stops.

Advancing the bill to the Senate floor was heavy lift for its sponsor, Sen. Jack Latvala.

Earlier this month, Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, had used a procedural maneuver to block the proposal from moving through the legislative process. Latvala's later attempts at adding the language to separate bills failed.

But on Tuesday, powerful Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher motioned to waive the Senate rules so that the immigrant tuition bill (HB 851) could be considered.

Senate President Don Gaetz asked if there were any objections. There were none.

Gaetz approved the motion and moved on with the agenda.

Gaetz, R-Niceville, opposes the bill. But he had said he would not stop it from reaching the Senate floor.

Latvala expects a hearing Wednesday and a vote Thursday.

The version that will be considered has the support of the House and Gov. Rick Scott, Latvala said.

Regalados gun shy on schools policing plan?


Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado and daughter School Board Member Raquel Regalado on Monday announced a new initiative to staff city of Miami schools with retired city cops. And then they promptly cancelled a Tuesday event to promote the plan.


Was it due to concerns over a bill passed Monday by the Florida House of Representatives that would allowed armed teachers in schools? Or did the Regalados become gun shy after a swift rebuke from Fraternal Order of Police leaders, critizing an alleged plan to kick off a fledgling Raquel Regalado mayoral campaign by placing old, untrained, out-of-shape former police in schools?

Miami FOP president Sgt. Javier Ortiz thinks it's the latter.

“This reckless political stunt was going to endanger our children all in the name of future mayoral votes,” he said Monday night after ripping the father-daughter duo in a joing statement with the school district's police union.

District police union president, Lt. Howard Giraldo, said the plan looks an awful lot like outsourcing.

A chuckling Raquel Regalado, on the other hand, said school district officials postponed the press conference at the Coral Way K-8 Center in order to focus opposition to the guns bill.

The school board has publicly opposed the legislation despite its slim chances of passing the Senate and assurances from their attorney that it wouldn't force any changes to Miami-Dade's zero tolerance gun policies. But board member Regalado said anything is on the table as the legislative session nears an end.

As for the plan to use retired police officers to staff schools part-time, Regalado said the retired officers - paid for by the city - would indeed be trained and prepared to keep schools safe. And she noted that she's running for re-election to the school board, and her father just won a new term in office.

“Javi just needs something to talk about,” she said.

Charlie Crist camp: Rick Scott burned $20m on a feckless "bully" campaign

From a press release by Charlie Crist spokesman Kevin Cate

Reporters –

By our accounting and published reports, by the end of session, Rick Scott will have hemorrhaged about $20 million to artificially boost his horrible poll numbers. And that may be low balling it because this doesn't include spending by opaque 501c4 groups, such as Americans for Prosperity and Progressive Choice, groups that share the goal of re-electing Rick Scott.

And that spending is only since Charlie Crist, the People’s Governor, announced in November.

Let’s put that in perspective.

At this time last cycle, Rick Scott had spent less than $4 million against Bill McCollum and Alex Sink. As we all know now, that was on his way to spending $95 million in 2010, a far friendlier climate for a tea party candidate than 2014.

To match his extravagant spending from 2010, Rick Scott needs to raise way, way more than the $100 million his campaign has boasted about. In fact, to match what Scott spent from May through Election Day in 2010, he’d have to spend another $91 million on top of the $20 million he’s already thrown away. And that money won't go nearly as far, since he has a much bigger campaign bureaucracy to fund.

Remember, this is a man who has been alone on TV promoting lies and deceptions.

He has also spent carelessly online. The only frugal aspect of his campaign is the illegal part where he uses taxpayer resources to prep him for campaign speeches and stage campaign commercial shoots.

By comparison, Charlie Crist has yet to spend anything on TV commercials, and has a much leaner campaign operation. In fact, some top advisers are simply volunteers, a testament to the fact that the Crist campaign is in this to take back Florida for the people, not themselves.

When we begin to communicate on paid media, we will continue to communicate for the remainder of the cycle, and Rick Scott’s mountain of money will have been wasted.

Remember, this was the $25 million he intended to bully his competition out of the race. He said as much.

Now that’s basically gone. And it didn’t work.

Ahead of Bill Clinton fundraiser, RPOF web ad recalls Crist calling on him to resign

From a Republican Party press release:

Today, the Republican Party of Florida released a new on-line ad, "Money and Fame." Former President Bill Clinton is set to headline a DGA fundraiser for the benefit of Charlie Crist in Miami Beach on May 6th [Blog note/UPDATE: The DGA says the fundraiser benefits the DGA generally, not Charlie Crist or his campaign]. This ad highlights Charlie Crist’s previous statements about the former President while Crist was running for U.S. Senate in 1998 against Senator Bob Graham.

This digital ad will be promoted on Facebook and Twitter.

STATEMENT FROM RPOF EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR JUSTON JOHNSON: “The only thing that stays the same about Charlie Crist is that he will say or do anything for money and fame. Was Charlie Crist lying then, when he called Bill Clinton a liar and asked him to resign from office, or is he lying now, when he calls him a friend?”