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157 posts from August 2017

August 31, 2017

University System chancellor gets contract extension

Chancellor_criserFrom the News Service of Florida:

The Florida Board of Governors on Thursday approved a one-year extension of the contract for Marshall Criser as chancellor of the state university system.

The extension, which takes effect Jan. 1, will pay Criser $370,000 in a base salary, along with a $55,000 housing and vehicle allowance and allow him to earn up to 10 percent of his base salary in an annual performance bonus.

Criser’s new contract represents a 7 percent increase in compensation, board officials said.

In voting to extend the contract, Alan Levine, a member of board, praised Criser’s professionalism. “He’s always accessible, always answers questions,” Levine said. “He goes the extra mile to make sure we have what we need before we make important decisions.”

Criser took office as chancellor in January 2014.

Miami Republican wants to keep White House from spending money to end DACA, if DACA survives that long

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As early as Friday, President Donald Trump could end a program that protected from deportation young immigrants brought into the country illegally.

But if the White House doesn't immediately eliminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, at least one Miami Republican member of Congress wants to try to make it more difficult for the Trump administration to act on its own.

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo recently filed three amendments to a House spending bill intended to block the use of budget funds to alter DACA. It appears to be a long-shot approach, given that the GOP-held House seems unlikely to oppose Trump on cracking down on immigration, an issue important to the president's base.

One amendment would prohibit the White House from using any funds appropriated in the bill to change DACA. Another would ban the funds from being used to deport DACA recipients or cancel or suspend their work permits.

A third amendment would allow DACA recipients, often called "Dreamers," to be eligible for government employment.

The mega appropriations bill is scheduled to be considered in the House next week, after Congress returns from its summer recess.

Some 50,000 people benefit from DACA in Florida. Curbelo filed a new version of the "Dream Act" -- legislation that would allow people brought into the country illegally as children to remain -- in March.

Photo credit: David Santiago, el Nuevo Herald

Trump to end DACA program as early as Friday

via @anitakumar01 @FrancoOrdonez

President Donald Trump is expected to end an Obama-era program that shielded young people from deportation, but he will likely let the immigrants known as Dreamers stay in the United States until their work permits run out, according to multiple people familiar with the policy negotiation.

That plan would allow Trump to fulfill a campaign promise to end one of Barack Obama’s signature initiatives while also giving the president a way to keep the pledge he made after Inauguration Day to treat the Dreamers with “great heart,” said sources on both sides of the issue who are involved in the discussions.

An announcement could come as soon as Friday, just days before a deadline imposed by 10 states that threatened to sue the U.S. government if it did not stop protecting people brought into the country illegally as children.

Advocacy groups that want to preserve the program are urging the White House to ask those states — led by hurricane-ravaged Texas — to postpone their Tuesday deadline. A delay would give those groups more time to negotiate, and it could give Trump the space to avoid making a major policy announcement while his administration is eager to remain focused on hurricane recovery efforts.

But the president is under intense pressure to move quickly to end the program — called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or, more commonly, DACA — from groups that supported his candidacy because of his pro-deportation immigration position and his promise to end this particular program on his first day in office.

More here.

Photo credit: Brynn Anderson, Associated Press

Diaz-Balart to Miami-Dade: 'C'mon, man. Use me.'

via @doug_hanks

As Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart tells it, he watches from the chairman’s perch of a powerful transportation committee just waiting to use his authority to steer billions of dollars in federal transit aid to his home county of Miami-Dade. The wait continues.

“C’mon man,” Diaz-Balart said. “Use me.”

His comments to the Miami Herald Editorial Board this week capture one of the biggest divides in Miami-Dade’s ongoing debate about whether to pursue an expensive rail expansion or make do with some sort of modernized bus system.

Advocates of rail say county leaders’ unwillingness to pick a single rail corridor to be built first has left Miami-Dade paralyzed. An ongoing study of six potential rail lines, they say, leaves Miami-Dade unable to start the lengthy federal application process that could eventually let Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican, use his influence as chairman of the appropriations subcommittee for transportation to advance a hometown project to the top of the funding list.

Skeptics see the years required for federal approval as a delay that residents won’t tolerate as traffic worsens. Now, Mayor Carlos Gimenez has joined their ranks. A recent memo from the mayor and his financial team outlines a more daunting objection: Even if Washington came through with billions to build new rail lines for Miami-Dade, the county doesn’t have the millions needed to operate it.

More here.

Colorado Republican proposes a ban on Venezuelan oil imports



The push to punish Nicolás Maduro is getting attention outside of South Florida. 

On Thursday, Colorado Republican Rep. Mike Coffman announced his intention to introduce the "Protecting Against Tyranny and Responsible Imports Act," legislation that would ban the importation of Venezuelan oil into the United States. Coffman plans to formally introduce the bill once Congress comes back to Washington next week. 

Coffman took issue with Donald Trump's suggestion that the U.S. could use military force against Venezuela, arguing that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence should pursue a ban on oil imports before considering military intervention. 

“The price of the blood that could be shed by our own military has a greater value to me than any increase in the price at the pump caused by a ban on the sale of Venezuelan oil in the United States,” Coffman, a Marine Corps veteran, said in a press release. 

The White House has said all options are on the table when it comes to Venezuela, and last week restricted Venezuela’s ability to borrow money from American creditors. 

“Although I am pleased that President Trump authorized additional sanctions against Venezuela, I believe that we must take stronger action to get Maduro to reinstate the National Assembly," Coffman said. His office estimates a ban on oil imports will lead to $10 billion in lost income for the Venezuelan government.

Most South Florida politicians from both parties are in favor of banning Venezuelan oil imports, which would directly impact Citgo, a Texas-based subsidiary of the Venezuelan state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., known as PDVSA. 

But there's disagreement in Congress among politicians from both parties over whether an oil ban would hurt Maduro's regime or fuel anti-American sentiment. The White House has yet to make a decision. 

“I believe there’s a crisis coming in Venezuela, and I think we need to be careful about not making ourselves the focus of that crisis,” Senate Foreign Relations chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee said in July. “Sometimes what we do unifies the chavistas.”

Venezuela exported 291 million barrels of oil and oil products to the United States in 2016. The United States buys nearly half of Venezuela’s oil, and oil revenues account for 95 percent of Venezuela’s export earnings, according to OPEC.

In contrast, Venezuelan oil accounts for just eight percent of U.S oil imports, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Rubio records robocall for Miami Senate candidate Diaz

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U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has lent his name -- and now, his voice -- to help a Republican friend campaign for the Florida Senate in Miami.

Rubio recorded a robocall in English and Spanish for state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, who's running in a special Sept. 26 election for Senate District 40. Diaz faces Democrat Annette Taddeo and independent Christian "He-Man" Schlaerth.

Rubio had already been featured in a mailer for Diaz, asking voters to sign up to vote by mail. The robocall "chases" those forms, asking voters to return them.

Here's the call script, transcribed from an audio of the call obtained by the Miami Herald:

His, this is Sen. Marco Rubio. I'm calling on behalf of my good friend Jose Felix Diaz, who's a candidate for state Senate District 40. I recently mailed you an absentee-ballot request form, and it's important that you return it today. Jose Felix Diaz voted to cut taxes by over a billion dollars in the past two years, saving you and your family money on school supplies, property taxes and small businesses. Jose will be what he's always been, a tireless champion for your family in the Florida Senate. But he needs your help to get there, so please return your absentee-ballot request form today.

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff

Supreme Court: Gov. Scott did 'not abuse his broad discretion' in death-penalty dispute



Gov. Rick Scott was within his executive authority in reassigning more than two dozen potential death penalty cases away from an Orlando state attorney who declared she wouldn’t pursue the punishment for any case prosecuted in her district, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

In a 5-2 ruling, justices said Aramis Ayala’s “blanket” opposition to seeking the death penalty negates her argument of having exercised prosecutorial discretion.

Writing for the majority, Justice C. Alan Lawson — a conservative judge whom Scott appointed to the Supreme Court in December — said Scott, as governor, has leeway in his constitutional duty to “take care that the laws are faithfully executed,” and “the governor has not abused his broad discretion in reassigning the cases at issue” to Brad King, a state attorney in Ocala.

Full story here.

Photo credit: AP

Still in Tallahassee, DeVos sought feedback from education, business leaders -- in private

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A day after visiting a private religious school and a public charter school in Tallahassee, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spent Wednesday speaking behind closed doors with various education stakeholders, business leaders and advocates in Florida’s capital city.

The events were not disclosed on DeVos’ public schedule, as her office deemed them “private” activities.

However, on Wednesday afternoon, the U.S. Department of Education released a “readout” promoting one of the gatherings after the fact — a “summit” at Bethel Family Life Center with “K-12 and HBCU [historically black college and university] leaders.”

Meanwhile, DeVos’ office also did not disclose — nor offer a readout of — a meeting reportedly held earlier Wednesday with about a dozen leaders of business, higher education and advocacy organizations at the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

The News Service of Florida reported that DeVos had a “warm reception” there and urged the leaders to “double down” on efforts to expand choices for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Full story here.

Photo credit: U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos participates in a lesson with fifth grade students at Holy Comforter Episcopal School in Tallahassee on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, as they use an online-learning platform to take a quiz about idioms. DeVos spent two hours visiting classrooms at the private Christian school. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times

August 30, 2017

Confederate generals are history: Hollywood agrees to rename streets

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@PatriciaMazzei @CTeproff

Acknowledging the painful legacy of slavery and the Civil War, Hollywood commissioners decided Wednesday to rename three streets honoring Confederate generals that for the better part of a century have run through a predominantly black city neighborhood.

After more than five hours of fervent and often tense debate, the City Commission voted 5-1 to rechristen Forrest, Hood and Lee streets, though their new names have yet to be determined.

“This is about what the meaning of community is,” Mayor Josh Levy said. “We don’t endorse hate. We don’t endorse symbols of hate. What hurts you, hurts me. It should hurt all of us.”

Levy, Commissioners Kevin Biederman, Dick Blattner, Debra Case and Linda Sherwood voted in favor. Vice Mayor Traci Callari voted against. A five-vote super-majority was required for approval. Case was out of town and attended the meeting by phone. Commissioner Peter Hernandez walked off the dais in a huff just before the vote, accusing his colleagues of violating procedure.

Hernandez and Callari said residents of the three streets should have gotten a chance to vote on the changes, something the commission opposed last month. Hernandez also suggested the city was acting with hypocrisy by not renaming other Hollywood streets also thought to be named after Confederates. 

“I can’t support cherry-picking, and I can’t support the process, the way it was done,” he said.

More here.

Photo credit: Pedro Portal. el Nuevo Herald


Former Doral city official to run for Ros-Lehtinen’s seat as a Republican

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@alextdaugherty @patriciamazzei

The race to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen keeps getting bigger.

Former Doral Councilwoman Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera will run as a Republican for Ros-Lehtinen’s Miami-based seat in 2018, she told Miami Herald.

“When I saw that she was not going to be running again, I thought that was interesting, and I had several people from the community call me and ask me to consider running,” Rodriguez Aguilera said. “I have been involved in community activism, human rights, economic development and international affairs all my life, and I feel that this is a good fit for me.”

Rodriguez Aguilera, 59, works as an entrepreneur and teaches at Miami Dade College. She was a Doral councilwoman from 2012-2014 and served as the city’s first economic developer.
Rodriguez Aguilera said the most important attribute she will bring to Washington is that she is someone who “can listen and cut red tape.”
“Bureaucracy is needed but not to the point that they stall businesses,” she said.

Rodriguez Aguilera avoided the word “moderate” when describing her political leanings, describing herself instead as a “common-sense Republican.”

She said she voted for Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election. That puts her at odds with one of the two announced Republican candidates: Raquel Regalado, the former school board member and Miami-Dade County mayoral candidate, who did not support Trump.

The other announced Republican candidate, Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, voted for Trump.

“What he did on the Cuba situation with Obama rolling it back was laudable,” Rodriguez Aguilera said. “With my father being a Cuban political prisoner, we needed to get some pride back.”

She also supports the president’s sanctions and tough talk on Venezuela.

“I think that no one is perfect but I think that the president in general has done a good job, though I don’t agree with every single thing he’s done,” Rodriguez Aguilera said.

National Democrats see an opportunity to flip Ros-Lehtinen’s district, which includes most of Miami and Miami Beach. The district voted for Hillary Clinton by nearly 20 percentage points over Trump, making it the most Democratic-leaning district in the country currently held by a Republican in Congress.

Read more here.