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294 posts from March 2017

March 31, 2017

Debbie Wasserman Schultz could propose gun legislation after airport shooting



U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz held a roundtable Friday to discuss security at the Fort Lauderdale airport where a mass shooting occurred in January.

Wasserman Schultz met with federal, state and local law enforcement and government officials to discuss ways to improve security, mass shooting response and training — the second such roundtable the Weston Democrat has held. Most of the meeting held at Wasserman Schultz’s Sunrise office was in private. The media was allowed to ask questions to some of the participants after it ended.

Wasserman Schultz is considering proposing legislation related to rules about passengers transporting firearms. But any proposals about firearm restrictions could be dead on arrival in a Republican-led Congress.

Keep reading here.

Rubio: I've spoken to Trump three times about Cuba


Sen. Marco Rubio has kept mostly tight-lipped about what he's discussed with President Donald Trump on the occasions the two Republicans have met -- including over dinner with their wives at the White House.

But Rubio disclosed in a Spanish-language interview this week that he's used those conversations with Trump to bring up Cuba.

"I've spoken to the president of the United States personally on three occasions," Rubio told Mega TV host Oscar Haza after Haza asked about the future of U.S.-Cuba policy. "I think without a doubt there will be changes in U.S.-Cuba policy."

Rubio said he and his staff are dealing "very closely" with the White House on the issue, which he expects Trump to address "strategically."

"If the Cuban government is going to behave like a dictatorship, well, then we're going to deal with them like a dictatorship," Rubio said, without going into specifics. "We're not going to pretend it's changing. There haven't been any changes -- on the contrary, we've seen more repression." 

The topic of Cuba came up last week during White House health care discussions with Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.

Photo credit: Andrew Harrer, Bloomberg

Richard Corcoran on Rick Scott: 'A governor who won't help us'

Workers' comp is not a very sexy issue, but it's a major concern for Florida businesses.

As the 2017 legislative session reaches the midway point, it's unclear whether businesses and workers will get real help from the Legislature in response to court decisions that led to a double-digit increase in rates and struck down parts of the comp law as unconstitutional.

The Senate Banking & Insurance Committee on Monday will hear Sen. Rob Bradley's bill (SB 1582) in the fifth week of session, aRs&sbt the end of a long agenda. That's too late for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, who says the Senate needs pressure from Gov. Rick Scott on the issue but has gotten only silence. Corcoran says Scott is fixated on saving Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida when the bigger threat to jobs are workers' comp rates and the rise in property insurance premiums arising from abuses in a system known as assignment of benefits. 

"We've got problems in the Senate, and we've got problems with a governor who won't help us take this burden off the backs of our small businesses," Corcoran told the Times/Herald. "If the governor would get more active and start traveling the state, talk about the stuff that's really going to cost us jobs." Repeating a familiar theme, Corcoran said: "Handing over million-dollar contracts to Pitbulls and Emerils and the insider dealing that goes on is not how we bring tourism here."

This is not the first time Scott has been criticized for a lack of engagement with the Florida Legislature. But after placing Enterprise Florida on the political chopping block, Corcoran now faults Scott for trying to rescue a program he says is working.

Scott's office issued a response that focused mostly on Corcoran's effort to abolish Enterprise Florida.

"It is important to know that the bills fast-tracked through the Florida House have been job killers and detrimental to Florida's active military, veterans and their families by eliminating the Florida Defense Alliance," the statement said. "It is unfortunate that the Florida House continues to allow politics and not the livelihoods of Florida families drive their agenda." The statement said that last year, Enterprise Florida -- the agency targeted for extinction by Corcoran -- "worked with over 2,700 small and medium sized businesses to connect them with international partners and help them grow."

Scott's office cited the work of Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier in addressing escalating insurance premiums. Nowhere in the statement was workers' comp mentioned, but his office said Scott "is always interested in policies that reduce costs for Florida businesses and families."

'It’s more bullying. Stop bullying teachers,' Democrats say of 'union-busting' bill

House chamber 2016


A highly controversial measure opponents describe as “union-busting” legislation meant to target Florida public school teachers passed the Republican-led House Thursday along a near party-line vote, although it’s unlikely to have any life in the Senate.

Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, said his proposal, HB 11, “provides greater transparency, democracy and accountability to public-sector labor unions,” but Democrats lined up on the House floor to question Republicans’ motives for endorsing the bill.

“This bill targets teachers, state and local government employees, nurses, bus drivers and many others who serve us and care for us every day,” Rep. Loranne Ausley, D-Tallahassee said. “And we’re targeting them, because these organizations make political decisions that some people don’t like. That is wrong.”

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

Florida House backs protections for murder witnesses' identities



The examples of tragedy in Rep. Cynthia Stafford’s district are almost too many for the Miami Democrat to list, but she offered a few to the Florida House on Thursday:

▪ “A 10-year-old retrieving his basketball in his front yard, shot and killed.”

▪ “An 8-year-old girl shot and killed, walking out of her front yard.”

▪ “A straight-A student on her way to college — the valedictorian of her class with a full scholarship — shot and killed riding in her car.”

“In each of these instances, someone knows what happens, but they’re afraid to come forward,” said Stafford, who represents areas that include Opa-locka, Liberty City and parts of Miami Gardens.

Stafford hopes legislation she proposed will give murder witnesses more incentive to talk with police, and the Florida House endorsed her bill Thursday by a near-unanimous vote.

More here.

Photo credit:Matias J. Ocner / For the Miami Herald

March 30, 2017

Russian hackers tried to get into email of Rubio presidential campaign aides

Trump Russia Probe

Sen. Marco Rubio revealed Thursday that unknown Russian hackers tried unsuccessfully to access the email accounts of some of the top aides to his 2016 presidential campaign.

Rubio acknowledged the attempted breach in Senate Intelligence Committee meeting, after an expert in Russian influence operations testified that Rubio "anecdotally suffered" from Russian efforts to discredit him during the Republican primary. A similar campaign was under way on social media over the past week against House Speaker Paul Ryan, added Clint Watts of the Foreign Policy Research Institute. 

Watts later said Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham were also Russian targets.

Later in the hearing, Rubio said his aides' emails were targeted by Russian IP addresses in July 2016, shortly after he announced he'd seek reelection to the Senate.

"Within the last 24 hours -- at 10:45 a.m. yesterday -- a second attempt was made again against former members of my presidential campaign team who had access to our internal campaign information," Rubio said. "That effort was also unsuccessful." 


Photo credit: Susan Walsh, Associated Press

David Rivera files to run for office, again


David Rivera wants to run for the Florida House of Representatives again, after having lost a narrow race in a recount last year.

Rivera, a former state legislator and congressman turned perennial candidate, submitted candidacy paperwork to the Florida Division of Elections on Wednesday. The Republican intends to run for House District 105, currently represented by term-limited Rep. Carlos Trujillo -- who, as it happens, holds the position that once made Rivera so powerful in Tallahassee: budget chief.

Trujillo is still holding out hope he might be named as an ambassador to Panama or Argentina under President Donald Trump -- something he has said would force him to vacate his two-year term after one year.

Another Republican, Ana Maria Rodriguez, has also filed to seek the seat.

A recount last November determined that Rivera had lost the House District 118 seat to a first-time candidate, Democrat Robert Asencio.

Rivera told the Miami Herald in a text message Thursday that he's running again "to continue serving my community." He later telephoned to add, "And I was asked to run by many constituents."

What he's been doing professionally since being ousted from Congress in 2012 is unclear. He says he's a business development consultant.

By the time the 2018 election rolls around, Rivera may no longer be dogged by a federal criminal investigation into the 2012 congressional election. He is suspected of orchestrating an illegal campaign finance scheme against one of his rivals in the Democratic primary. The statute of limitations for prosecutors to charge Rivera will expire later this year; the U.S. attorney's office in Miami has shown no signs of an upcoming indictment.

Still pending against Rivera is a state ethics fine of nearly $58,000 that has yet to be imposed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran. Rivera had preemptively challenged the legality of the penalty to the Florida Supreme Court, but the justices rejected his appeal in December, because Corcoran hadn't actually fined Rivera.

The Florida Commission on Ethics recommended the fine after finding that Rivera, as a state legislator, failed to properly disclose his income and double-billed taxpayers when improperly seeking a travel reimbursement paid for by his campaign account. Rivera has denied any impropriety.

The ethics investigation began in 2010, after the Miami Herald found problems in Rivera's financial disclosure reports. The review was put on hold until after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Miami-Dade state attorney's office probed for criminal wrongdoing in Rivera's finances. Prosecutors found Rivera appeared to live off his campaign account but never charged him citing an ambiguous law.

Rivera's latest candidacy filing will allow him to open a new campaign account. As treasurer, Rivera listed himself.

--with Mary Ellen Klas

This post has been updated.

Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, el Nuevo Herald

Orlando prosecutor Aramis Ayala's allies rally at the Capitol



Outside the Florida Capitol, more than 100 people bussed in from around the state gathered Thursday to show support for State Attorney Aramis Ayala.

Ayala, elected the top prosecutor in Orange and Osceola counties last November,  is playing the starring role in the latest controversy over Florida's death penalty. On March 16, she said she would not seek the death penalty while in office.

That prompted a firestorm of criticism: Gov. Rick Scott reassigned a high-profile case to another state attorney; House Speaker Richard Corcoran called for Ayala to be suspended from office; House and Senate budget proposals call for more than $1 million to be cut from her budget.

But her supporters at Thursday's rally say she was acting within her rights.

"She wasn't afraid to speak the truth about how broken the death penalty is," said Christine Henderson, national organizer for Equal Justice USA. "And what does she get in return, y'all? Florida's governor overstepping his authority, trying to put her in her place, trying to take away the power that the people gave to her to fulfill."

Justice reform organizations including Equal Justice USA and Color Of Change bussed people to the capital from all over the state, including Tampa Bay and South Florida. They delivered petitions to the governor's office, as well.

Other speakers called out Scott and state lawmakers for attacking Ayala, the first black prosecutor elected in Florida, but not taking similar stands in cases of injustice, including the deaths of boys at the Dozier reform school.

"How is the governor so pissed off over charges against this one accused murderer, but this governor and phony Legislature refuse to open a real investigation into the murders and suspicious deaths of scores of boys buried in the state of Florida's death camp called Dozier School for Boys owned, run and operated by the Legislature of Florida?" said Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor.

One lawmaker who has been critical of Ayala made an appearance: Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, who led the push to defund parts of her office. He said he figured he should see what her supporters were saying.

He also said a proposal to cut 21 positions from Ayala's office would have no impact because there are currently 60 unfunded and unfilled jobs in her office.

Photo: Supporters of State Attorney Aramis Ayala gather at the state Capitol on Thursday. (Michael Auslen | Times/Herald)

Miami-Dade prosecutors won't charge Bannon in voter registration investigation

Trump Deep State
via @DavidOvalle305

White House chief strategist Steve Bannon won't face any criminal charges related to his mysterious voter registration in Miami-Dade County.

Prosecutors announced Thursday that they could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Bannon, President Donald Trump's special assistant, broke the law when he signed up to vote in Miami-Dade County after leasing homes in Coconut Grove — even though he seemed to spend most of his time outside of the state.

“To ‘reside’ at a location is a nebulous concept that depends on a person’s actions and their subjective state of mind,” according to a final memo released by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. “The Florida case law interpreting [voter residency] is both sparse and antique.”

Investigators were looking at a narrow question: whether Bannon lied to the elections department about his residency when he twice filed to be a voter in Miami-Dade.

Prosecutors ultimately concluded that the evidence “tends to indicate” that Bannon “did not intend to or actually reside in Miami-Dade County” between 2014 and 2016. But there was enough contradictory evidence — including Bannon calling the Grove property “my house” in an email to a fellow political operative — to create “reasonable doubt” before a jury.

The Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office had been investigating the matter since August, when The Guardian, a British newspaper, reported that Trump’s newly minted campaign chief could have violated the law by registering to vote in Miami. Bannon never actually voted in Miami-Dade County.

More here.

Photo credit: Evan Vucci, Associated Press

Fact-checking claims about sanctuary cities


PolitiFact has fact-checked two claims about sanctuary cities this week -- one relates to a Florida bill and the other was a statement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Florida House Republicans are following President Donald Trump’s lead by supporting legislation that requires jurisdictions to do away with practices that shield undocumented immigrants, which are known as "sanctuary cities." 

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, has raised strong objections to a proposal (HB 697) that would require county and local law enforcement agencies to comply with and support enforcement of federal immigration law or face stiff penalties.

Smith argued that the bill’s enforcement penalties are uniquely harsh.

"It will be the only law of its kind in the nation," Smith said.

See what fact-checker Allison B. Graves found.

Sessions said "sanctuary cities" that won’t cooperate immigration authorities are acting unlawfully and stand to lose funds if they don’t comply.

The Justice Department’s inspector general has determined that policies in such jurisdictions are illegal, Sessions said March 27.

"Not only do these policies endanger lives of every American, just last May, the Department of Justice inspector general found that these policies also violate federal law," Sessions, who began leading the department this year under Trump’s administration, said during a White House press briefing.

Keep reading Miriam Valverde's fact-check here.

And here is a look at polls about Americans' views on sanctuary cities and an attack by Trump on former Gov. Jeb Bush.