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376 posts from June 2016

June 30, 2016

Judge blocks parts of abortion law hours before it goes into effect


A federal judge late Thursday night blocked parts of a controversial abortion law within hours of it going into effect.

The injunction, written by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle, orders the state to maintain contracts for preventive care with abortion clinics including Planned Parenthood and prevents a new rule that would require 50 percent of all abortion clinic records to be reviewed by the state each year.

Hinkle's ruling simply blocks these parts of the law from going into effect while the case is argued or unless a higher court overturns his decision. He wrote in the opinion that he expects the defunding and record inspection provisions will likely be ruled unconstitional.

For more background on the case, read our earlier reporting here.

Attorney General Pam Bondi's office could not be immediately reached Thursday night for comment on whether it planned to appeal the decision to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Leaders with Planned Parenthood, which sued the state over the law, said in written statements that they were pleased with the decision.

“Today’s ruling should be hailed by all Floridians, but especially the thousands of men and women across the state who would have been cut off from access to reproductive health care including cancer screenings, birth control, STD testing and more had HB 1411 been allowed to stand," said Barbara Zdravecky, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida.

This is not an entirely unexpected outcome.

In court Wednesday, Hinkle raised concerns about both of the provisions he blocked.

Under the law, signed by Gov. Rick Scott this spring, no state money can be used for non-abortion care -- services like cancer screenings, HIV tests or education programs -- at abortion clinics. Planned Parenthood said it stands to lose $500,000 in state money as a result.

Hinkle's ruling says that portion of the law essentially discourages clinics from performing abortions, which he said is unconstitutional.

"You can't defund based on exercising a constitutional right," he said Wednesday.

It's unclear what effect there might be on state health care contracts. But Hinkle instructed the state not to cancel any alternate contracts it has struck and told it not to cancel those held by abortion clinics.

He also instructs Planned Parenthood to set aside a $5,000 security within a week.

Hinkle further ruled the requirement that half of abortion records be checked by state regulators was high. He made clear that the state is justified in inspecting health records but said it hasn't shown any justification for such a large volume.

Hinkle, who was appointed to the bench by Bill Clinton in 1996, did not block new definitions of the trimesters of a pregnancy, which Planned Parenthood challenged, but which he said were resolved by the state's lawyers in court.

Other parts of the law will still go into effect, including a requirement that abortion doctors obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital or abortion clinics have transfer agreements in place. There are no known abortion clinics expected to shut down in the state as a result of this law.

Will secret lockbox contents shed light on how David Rivera got rich?



How ex-U.S. Rep. David Rivera, now a Republican candidate for the statehouse, became a million-dollar man in his three years out of political office remains an enigma.

The most obvious explanation has been that he inherited his newfound wealth from his late mother, who died in 2013.

Daisy Magarino, who also went by Daisy Rivera, left no will, according to records in Miami-Dade County probate court. But she did keep a safety-deposit box at a Doral bank.

What was inside? Who knows? Like much of David Rivera’s finances, what was inside the lockbox remains a secret.

Its contents could solve the puzzle of what happened to her estate. But there’s no public accounting of them, even though a judge ordered one.

Magarino’s daughter, Diana Rivera McKenzie, asked the judge for permission to open the box. Her reasoning: A will might be inside. Her brother, the former congressman, raised no objection.

Go ahead, Judge Michael Genden said. In December 2014, he ordered the box unlocked.

Eighteen months later, there is still no record of what the Riveras found — or even if they opened the box. Despite the judge’s order that an inventory of the box’s contents be “immediately” filed with the court, no such list has been turned in.

Did Magarino leave behind a will? Jewels? Property deeds? Gold doubloons? Nothing but personal mementos?

More here.

Photo credit: Charles Dharapak, Associated Press

Gov. Rick Scott's blind trust drops in value $27 million, as he nearly doubles his income from it

Rick Scott 2015 APFlorida Gov. Rick Scott, a multi-millionaire former businessman, saw his net worth decline $27 million last year as his blind trust dropped in value.

Scott filed his annual financial disclosure form Thursday, showing that his net worth was more than $119 million at the end of 2015, a 19 percent drop from the previous year.

Scott, a former hospital executive, has maintained most of his assets in the Gov. Richard L. Scott 2014 Qualified Blind Trust. The law allows public officials to create a blind trust in lieu of revealing their assets on a financial disclosure form.

The governor’s blind trust is managed by a third party — a company that includes a longtime business associate of Scott. By law, the trust is intended to shield his investments from his direct control, but it also shields them from public disclosure.

The governor reported that in 2015 his blind trust dropped in value from $127.8 million to $100 million, but the governor also drew more income from the trust last year than he did in 2014.

Scott reported $16.5 million in income from his trust in 2015 — up from the $9.7 million in income he drew from two trusts in 2014. The law does not require Scott to report how he spent the income from his trust. The governor does not take a salary from the state.

Questions have followed Scott since he first created the blind trust when he was elected in 2010. When Scott ran for re-election in 2014, he briefly dissolved his first trust and released information about the individual holdings in it. He also released his tax returns for 2013.

The tax returns showed that the Scott family earns millions more than the governor reported individually on his financial disclosure form. It also raised questions about whether Scott may have control over assets held by his wife, Ann Scott.

An investigation by the Herald/Times into those investments found that filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission indicated the governor had substantially larger holdings in several companies than what he reported to the state. A lawsuit was filed by George Sheldon, a Democrat candidate for attorney general, but a court ruled that the governor could not be compelled to disclose more information. More of the story here. 

Candidate for Miami-Dade commission collapses during candidate forum, later dies


Daisy Black, a former El Portal mayor who was Miami-Dade Commissioner Audrey Edmonson’s lone challenger in the District 3 race, died Wednesday after collapsing during a candidate forum with local labor unions, according to multiple people close to Black, including the head of Miami-Dade Democratic Party.

“Today the candle went out on the life of a woman that has inspired myself and countless others. Mayor Daisy Black was an incredible leader and fixture in the Democratic Party,” State Sen. Dwight Bullard, chairman of the county Democratic Party, posted on his Facebook page. “She made Miami-Dade County a better place to live by her mere presence and will be so missed by me and those who were blessed to know her.”

Friends who gathered at Hialeah Hospital Wednesday afternoon were told of her death, Edmonson said, but the hospital declined to comment on Black’s condition Wednesday night.

The 68-year-old was finishing up her appearance before a panel of interviews for the AFL-CIO’s high-stakes candidate screening on Wednesday when she collapsed around 11 a.m. , according to multiple accounts from the event. A senior member of the firefighter’s union performed CPR on Black until paramedics arrived.

Read the story here

AFL-CIO endorses Raquel Regalado in Miami-Dade mayor race


Miami-Dade’s largest coalition of labor unions has endorsed Raquel Regalado in her challenge of county Mayor Carlos Gimenez, with the South Florida AFL-CIO knocking the incumbent for his effort to hire for-profit companies to run government services and facilities.

“To public-sector unions, Gimenez has consistently said he wants to privatize government,” said Cynthia Hernández, spokeswoman for the AFL-CIO, an umbrella group that includes all county unions except for the ones representing fire and police employees. “We’ve seen departments that are under-staffed and not functioning well.”

The endorsement gives Regalado, a two-term school board member, the backing of the political apparatus behind Miami-Dade’s largest labor group about two months before the Aug. 30 nonpartisan primary that could decide the mayoral contest. “With 60 days till Election Day, this unified endorsement affirms the viability of my candidacy by those most impacted by who is Mayor of Miami-Dade County,” Regalado said in a statement.

Gimenez, who came to office in 2011 championing a tax cut that helped lead to a string of austerity budgets, was an underdog for winning the endorsement of the AFL-CIO, which represents county unions that have battled the mayor’ administration on contract concessions and spending cuts. But his camp hoped to keep the coalition group neutral in the mayor’s race, and then try for endorsements from individual unions seen as more favorable to Gimenez.

 “I didn’t think they were going to endorse anyone,” Gimenez said Thursday. “I’ll get the endorsement of other unions.”
Read the story here

Rubio says State Department soft on Cuba, China


Sen. Marco Rubio criticized the State Department for treating Cuba, China and Thailand too leniently in its 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report, an annual look at forced prostitution, childhood slavery and other abuse around the world.

The State Department places every country in one of three tiers based on its governments efforts to comply with "the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking," as spelled out in the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act.

Congress first passed that legislation, and President Bill Clinton signed it into law, in 2000, and lawmakers have reauthorized it four times since then. It requires the State Department to evaluate all nations, including the United States, in annual reports to Congress.

"When we talk about human trafficking, we're talking about slavery -- modern-day slavery that still today claims more than 20 million victims at any given time," Secretary of State John Kerry told ambassadors, trafficking victims and other guests Thursday during a State Department ceremony marking the release of the new annual report.

Kerry said he had personally made many phone calls to foreign ministers, presidents and other leaders to push them to combat human trafficking. 

In its report last year, the State Department moved Cuba up from Tier 3, the worst level, to Tier 2, and kept Cuba at Tier 2 in the current report.

"(It's) a ranking not justified by the facts on the ground, but rather reflective of the Obama administration's pursuit of normalized relations with the Castro regime at any cost," Rubio said after the report's release.

The United States and Cuba re-established diplomatic ties in July 2015 after a 54-year break grounded in the Cold War.

Kerry said the rankings of Cuba and other countries "don't take into account political and other factors."

In its section on Cuba, the new State Department report concludes: "The government of Cuba does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so."

The Cuban government prosecuted 18 sex traffickers in 2014, the most recent year for which data was available, and released a report on its anti-trafficking efforts last October.

"The Cuban government was more transparent in providing details of anti-trafficking efforts and the government's overseas (forced) medical missions program," the State Department said. "However, the government did not prohibit forced labor, report efforts to prevent forced labor or recognize forced labor as a possible issue affecting its nationals in medical missions abroad."

Noting that the government is the primary employer in Cuba, the State Department said 84,000 Cubans work overseas on medical missions.

"Some participants in foreign medical missions and other sources allege (that) Cuban officials force or coerce participation in the program," the report said. "However, the Cuban government and some participants say the program is voluntary and well paid compared to jobs within Cuba."

The State Department used similar broad language to justify China's Tier 2 ranking, saying it has significant trafficking problems but is "making significant efforts" to meet minimum standards for its elimination.

Rubio criticized that ranking.

"While the internal State Department deliberations for this year's report are not yet known, there is no indication that China's trafficking track record has improved," the Miami Republican said.

The report acknowledged: "State-sponsored forced labor continues to be an area of significant concern in China."

While the government closed most "Re-education Through Labor" camps last year, it continues to use forced labor at government rehabilitation and detention centers, the report said.

"Chinese women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking within China," the State Department found. "

The United States was one of 36 countries that received a Tier 1 ranking, along with most European nations. Israel was the only Middle East country to get the top grade, while Taiwan, South Korea and the Philippines were the only Asian nations.

The full State Department report can be read here.


Hillary Clinton's campaign makes Miami hires


Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign has hired a couple of staffers in Miami familiar with local Democratic politics, the Miami Herald has learned.

Raul Martinez Jr. will work as Clinton's Florida director of coalitions, and Johanna Cervone as her Miami regional press secretary, according to a campaign source. Other Florida staffers are expected to join the campaign in coming weeks.

Martinez is former chief of staff for ex-U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia. Prior to that, he worked as Florida Hispanic vote director for President Barack Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. He is the son of former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez.

Cervone was most recently communications director for Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, whose 2014 election was one of local Democrats' biggest recent wins. Before getting into politics and community organizing, Cervone taught Spanish and Portuguese at the university level. She grew up in Miami and is originally from Argentina.

No word yet on where Clinton will open a local campaign office for her Miami staff.

Hialeah Gardens mayor, council endorse Manny Diaz Jr.


Incumbent Republican state Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. has earned the endorsement of Hialeah Gardens Mayor Yioset De La Cruz and the entire city council, Diaz's campaign announced today.

“We need Manny Diaz’s leadership in Tallahassee,” De La Cruz said in a statement provided by the campaign. “He is a trusted partner at the state level for our community. We look forward to continuing to work with him to improve our schools and to support policies that will increase economic growth and opportunity in our area.”

Joining De La Cruz in supporting Diaz are Councilmen Luciano “Lucky” Garcia, Rolando Piña, Jorge Merida, Jorge Gutierrez, and Elmo Urra.

“Manny Diaz knows our community and is committed to making it even better,” Gutierrez said. “We can depend on him to listen to the constituents he serves and make wise choices in Tallahassee. We can’t afford to be without him as our representative in the Florida House.”

Diaz, of Hialeah, is seeking re-election to a third term in the Florida House, representing District 103. He was first elected in 2012. If re-elected, Diaz is in line to be either House Education Committee chairman or education budget committee chairman in 2017.

Diaz faces Democrat Ivette Gonzalez Petkovich in the November general election. Neither candidate has a primary challenger.

District 103 includes Miramar, Hialeah, Hialeah Gardens, Medley and part of Doral.

Democratic Florida Senate candidate was a Republican until last week


Last Thursday, Bruce Kaplan switched his political party affiliation from Republican to Democrat. On Friday, he qualified to run for the Florida Senate.

The problem? Florida law requires candidates to switch parties a year before the start of qualifying.

Kaplan was 368 days too late.

Records from the Miami-Dade elections department show Kaplan, 56, was a Republican until June 23, 2016. According to state law, he would’ve had to be a Democrat since June 20, 2015.

“My understanding is that you cannot change from one party for another within that one year period prior to qualifying and still be eligible to run,” Democratic state Rep. Joe Geller, a private elections lawyer, said.

Kaplan, a former Miami-Dade County commissioner, is one of seven Democrats who qualified in District 38, which was newly redrawn to include North Miami and Miami Beach.

He may not be a candidate for much longer, at least as a Democrat.

Read more here: Democratic Florida Senate candidate was a Republican until last week

Still no Supreme Court decision on death penalty with one week left before recess


With one week left before the Florida Supreme Court goes on its summer recess, the justices have yet to rule on one of the most anticipated and politically charged questions facing them this year: Whether to commute the sentences of 390 death row inmates after the state’s death penalty laws were struck down and rewritten this spring.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a case called Hurst vs. Florida that the process used to sentence people to death in the state was unconstitutional.

Without a valid death penalty law on the books, the Florida Legislature passed new laws for death sentences that will leave the decision to the jury, which has to find one aggravating circumstance and agree to the death penalty on a 10-2 vote.

What remains unclear is how the Hurst decision will impact those who have already been sentenced to death.

Defense attorneys for death-row inmates have argued their clients’ sentences should be commuted to life in prison. But the state has stood by the original death sentences.

“If the (Hurst) case were to be remanded (back to a trial court), it would have to be under the new statute,” Assistant Attorney General Carine Mitz said in the Supreme Court in May. “I still don't think we have a problem.”

The seven justices don’t have to make up their minds before the summer recess — and given the complexity and controversy of the issue, they may not. But until they do, there’s deep uncertainty on the issue, not just for those convicted and sentenced to death but also within the political and legal worlds.

Gov. Rick Scott has not signed a death warrant since the Florida Supreme Court halted the executions of Michael Lambrix and Mark Asay in February and March.

Some death row lawyers and Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente have questioned whether the new law is constitutional because, they say, the requirement that the jury find just one aggravating factor could increase the number of convicted murderers eligible for the death penalty.

On Thursday, the court issued one death-row opinion that briefly addressed Hurst. Charles Brant, who pled guilty to the 2004 murder of 21-year-old Sara Radfar in Tampa.

Because Brant waived his right to a jury in the penalty phase of his murder trial, the justices wrote that Hurst cannot be applied to his case. They issued a similar decision in a death penalty case case earlier this month, writing that a death-row inmate “cannot subvert the right to jury factfinding by waiving that right and then suggesting that a subsequent development in the law has fundamentally undermined his sentence.”

The final opinions before the court goes on recess are expected at 11 a.m. July 7.