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157 posts from August 2017

August 30, 2017

Democrats around the country urge Trump to expand TPS to Venezuelans

Week That Was In Latin America Photo Gallery


Nearly two dozen Democrats from 11 states and the District of Columbia sent a letter to acting Department of Homeland Security secretary Elaine Duke on Tuesday calling for the expansion of Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelans currently in the United States, joining a growing chorus of lawmakers from both parties and Venezuelan activists pushing for the Trump administration to take action. 

Florida lawmakers including Sen. Bill Nelson and Reps. Kathy Castor, Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Stephanie Murphy and Debbie Wasserman Schultz signed the letter. 

"Granting TPS in these circumstances is also in line with our national interest," the letter reads. "Venezuelans in the U.S. have not just become a vibrant part of our communities, but have also made important contributions including as lawyers, doctors, and small-business owners. Further, sending these individuals back could spur mass forced migration, destabilizing the region as neighboring Colombia implements its peace accord and as we seek to curb illicit narcotics flows to the United States." 

Donald Trump, who continues to talk tough on immigration, hasn’t indicated that he is open to extending the program to another country.

The TPS program is designed to help individuals affected by “ongoing armed conflict, an environmental disaster, an epidemic or other extraordinary and temporary conditions,” according to the Department of Homeland Security. 

Read the letter here.

Another Bright Futures boost? Florida lawmakers propose higher ed expansions

Galvano and negron

via @clairemcneill

Veto be darned.

Gov. Rick Scott may have nixed a huge higher education bill in June, but Florida lawmakers are already renewing their push to overhaul the state’s higher education system in the coming legislative session, starting with the tuition bills of top students.

Proposed legislation filed by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, would make permanent the Bright Futures boost that rewards more than 46,500 high-achieving Florida students by paying 100 percent of their tuition and fees at state universities.

Galvano and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, pushed for that expansion this past session, but the provision was lost with the veto. Students still benefited because money was set aside in the budget. Now Galvano and Negron want to make the change permanent.

They also have their sights set on another Bright Futures expansion, this time benefiting the second-tier Florida Medallion Scholars who could see 75 percent of their tuition and fees paid by the state.

Florida Medallion Scholars used to receive funding for 75 percent of their tuition and fees, but as Bright Futures expanded and the economy contracted, lawmakers cut back. Now Medallion Scholars receive much less, about $2,310 per year, toward tuition and fees that cost about $6,000 at state universities.

Medallion Scholars must have 3.0 weighted GPA; a 26 on the ACT or 1170 on the SAT; and 75 service hours. To hit the higher tier, Florida Academic Scholars, they need a 3.5 weighted GPA; a 29 on ACT or 1290 on the SAT; and 100 service hours.

The new bill would also:

-- Require universities to implement block tuition, which lets students pay a flat rate for tuition per semester, rather than by credit hour. Proponents say this incentivizes students to take more classes and gives them more flexibility, ultimately speeding up the path to graduation.

-- Change the way the state determines which universities deserve extra money for being preeminent, by judging them based on their 4-year graduation rates, rather than 6-year graduation rates.

-- Give a grace period to universities seeking preeminence status when it comes to that metric change. This will benefit the University of South Florida, which is on the cusp of preeminence under current standards. Any university that meets preeminence under current metrics will get to keep that status, and the funding, for 2018-19, regardless of the metric change.

-- “Tighten” university relationships with the leadership, funds and public disclosures of their direct-support organizations.

-- Expand need-based aid.

-- Require universities to identify internship opportunities for students.

-- Establish a program to help universities recruit “world-class” faculty.

Protesters await Hollywood's decision on renaming Confederate streets

105HollywoodVote31 NEW PPP
@CTeproff @PatriciaMazzei

A lone man holding a large Confederate flag was hauled away in handcuffs Wednesday near Hollywood City Hall after he charged — flag first — at demonstrators urging commissioners to rename three local streets, including one honoring a founder of the Ku Klux Klan.

Moments earlier, the man, whom police identified as 22-year-old Christopher Rey Monzon of Hialeah, had engaged in a screaming match against some of the protesters.

“The white man made this country!” he said. “You’re lucky to be here. Florida is my home, and I will defend it.”

At first, he had stood silently by, giving media interviews as protesters holding ”Take Them Down” signs quietly stared at him. A scrum of police officers awaited nearby, ready to defuse any tension.

“These socialists are destroying our history,” he told the Herald, saying the fact that he was the only white nationalist present gave him “stronger resolve.” He gave his name as “Chris Cedeno” and said he was from Hialeah Gardens.

Then, after the shouts, the man broke yellow police tape as he lunged at protesters, said one of them, Cindy Thompson. Police took him down and ripped the flag from his hands. He was later charged with disorderly conduct, aggravated assault and inciting a riot.

“It’s pretty sad we live in a world where this still happens,” Thompson said.

About 150 people had begun gathering under the noontime sun to protest Forrest, Hood and Lee streets, which run through the predominantly black Hollywood neighborhood of Liberia.

Sometime after 4 p.m., commissioners are scheduled to vote on renaming the streets, christened in the 1920s after Gen. Robert E. Lee, who led the Confederate Army; Gen. John Bell Hood, a commander in the Battle of Gettysburg, and Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate lieutenant general said to be the Klan’s first grand wizard.

More here.

Photo credit: Pedro Portal, el Nuevo Herald

Florida Democrats urge state lawmakers to remove Confederate statue in U.S. Capitol

Confederate Statue Florida



The entire Florida Democratic congressional delegation wants Gov. Rick Scott and state lawmakers to remove a statue of Confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith from the U.S. Capitol.

On Wednesday, 11 House Democrats from Florida sent a letter to Scott, State House speaker Richard Corcoran and State Senate president Joe Negron urging the trio to call a one-day special session to replace the statue in September.

“No family visiting our nation's Capitol should have to explain to their child that the statue representing our state honors someone who fought for a philosophy built on hatred, inequality and oppression,” the letter said.

Last year, the state legislature agreed to remove Smith's statue but it remains in National Statuary Hall in Washington, where daily tours are conducted in the Capitol, because lawmakers couldn't agree on a replacement.

But with the recent violent protests in Charlottesville and elsewhere over the legacy of Confederate statues, and debates about streets named after Confederate generals in Florida, Democrats around the country are pushing to remove statues in public places.

Two weeks ago, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, asked state lawmakers to make the change.

“It's time to stop playing games,” Wasserman Schultz said.

Now, Wasserman Schultz is joined by her Democratic colleagues in Washington, including Miami Gardens Rep. Frederica Wilson.

Scott and Corcoran ruled out the possibility of a special session two weeks ago.

“Like most politicians in Washington, the Congresswoman is out of touch,” Corcoran said on Twitter. “We've already made this decision and are now having a conversation about which great Floridian we should honor. The Congresswoman should stop grandstanding and focus on balancing the Federal budget.”

Read more here. 

As Trump talks taxes, Republican group pushes Carlos Curbelo to act

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As Donald Trump pushes for lower corporate and personal income tax rates during a speech in Missouri today, a Republican group is urging Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo to follow suit. 

American Action Network, a group aligned with House leadership, is releasing mailers in 34 congressional districts across the country with the aim of reaching one million voters. In addition to Curbelo, a member of the House tax writing committee, the mailers will target Treasure Coast Rep. Brian Mast. Mast and Curbelo are likely to face competitive and expensive reelection bids in 2018. 

The mailer argues that America's tax code leads to U.S. companies relocating jobs to China. 

“Thousands of good-paying jobs are fleeing to countries like China, the status quo is failing, and it is leaving America’s middle class behind,” said American Action Network executive director Corry Bliss. “Americans are ready to see meaningful, pro-growth tax reform become a reality. That’s why we are urging people across the country to call their member of Congress to pass reforms that will help create more jobs and raise wages here at home.” 

The nation's tax system has not been overhauled since Ronald Reagan's administration and congressional leaders like House speaker Paul Ryan and tax committee chair Kevin Brady are pushing to pass a tax overhaul by the end of the year. 

American Action Network's latest push is part of a $20 million effort to overhaul the tax code. 

View a copy of the mailer here. 

South Florida DREAMers fear possible end of DACA protection


via @glenngarvin @BrendaMedinar @harrisalexc

Undocumented South Florida immigrants whose parents brought them as children and who’ve been protected from deportation by a federal program known as DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — are nervously awaiting word on whether President Donald Trump will extend it or do away with it, a decision that will come within the next few days.

“Everyone is scared. Everyone is talking about hiring attorneys, talking about what they could do if they lose DACA,” said Ximena Bouroncle, a 26-year-old FIU psychology major who came to the United States with her parents when she was 14. “The fear is always there, the fear to lose everything I have worked so hard for ever since I came to this country.”

That could happen as soon as next week, when President Trump must decide whether to cancel DACA or face a lawsuit from 10 states that say the program — which was established by an executive decree by former President Barack Obama — is an unconstitutional abuse of presidential power. The group of Republican state attorneys generals have said they will take the matter to federal court unless the program begins shutting down by Sept. 5.

If DACA is canceled, it could mean that somewhere between 750,000 and 1 million beneficiaries of the program — about 50,000 of them in Florida — could be deported, many of them to countries they don’t even remember.

The politics of DACA are complicated and many experts on both sides of the controversy say it could still survive. And even if it doesn’t, they nearly all agree, its end will be phased in over many months, perhaps even a couple of years, so nobody is likely to face deportation next week. 

But if the program is eliminated, most of the “DACAmented,” as the beneficiaries refer to themselves, will face severe obstacles to staying in the United States, immigration attorneys say.

“Every case is different, so I can’t give blanket advice,” said Randy Sidlosca, a Miami attorney who has been handling DACA clients since the program began in 2012. “But, generally speaking, DACA people are going to face some very tough times if the program is ended.”

More here.

Photo credit: David Santiago, el Nuevo Herald

Ballard firm lands another big Washington lobbying contract

via @learyreports

Lobbyist Brian Ballard has landed another big Washington contract, picking up Halkbank, a Turkish state-owned bank.

Ballard Partners already represents the government of Turkey, which is paying the firm $1.5 million this year, the same as the one-year Halkbank contract inked this week.

Both are overseen by former Democratic Rep. Robert Wexler, who joined the firm as it expanded to Washington this year, Ballard capitalizing on a tight relationship with President Donald Trump.

Already Ballard Partners has taken in more than $3.5 million in income from its Washington operation, with major clients being Amazon.com ($140,000); American Road & Transport Builders Association ($200,000); Reynolds American ($220,000) Geo Group ($250,000); and U.S. Sugar ($300,000), according to records.

“I would imagine if Hillary Clinton were elected I wouldn’t be here,” Ballard told the Tampa Bay Times earlier this year. Read that profile below -- and questions raised about Trump‘s vow to “drain the swamp."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

When Marco Rubio faced heat for opposing Superstorm Sandy aid

via @learyreports

“Stay home.”

That was an irate New York Rep. Peter King to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio after Rubio opposed a nearly $51 billion aid package for Superstorm Sandy in 2013.

“Guys like Marco Rubio in Florida, with all the money that your people have gotten in Florida over the years from every hurricane that came along, and this guy has got the nerve to vote against money for New York and then come up here and try to raise money?” King said on Morning Joe.

“You know, he can forget it. He can stay home.”

Rubio, who was then feeling out a run for president, argued that the aid package was stuffed with pork, an argument echoed by numerous other conservatives, including Texas, Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn and most Texas GOP House members.

Now Texas is facing an epic catastrophe with Hurricane Harvey and the debate over aid has resurfaced.

Rubio’s office did not respond to a question Tuesday posed by the Tampa Bay Times whether he would seek any sort of conditions for Harvey money. In 2013, Rubio did vote for a smaller Sandy aid but that’s not what was approved.

In a statement explaining his opposition, Rubio said emergency assistance funding shouldn’t be “derailed by efforts to find spending cuts to offset them,” but “we do have a responsibility to make sure this emergency spending is ultimately going to disaster relief, and not to other pet projects. Unfortunately, the Hurricane Sandy supplemental bill goes far beyond emergency relief to impacted victims and communities, which is why I voted no on final passage.”

(The Washington Post’s fact checker found the pork claim doesn’t hold up.)

Two other Florida lawmakers opposed the Sandy money: Rep. Ron DeSantis and Ted Yoho.

DeSantis also did not respond to questions; Yoho was traveling overseas.

King says he won’t seek revenge. “1 bad turn doesn’t deserve another,” he wrote on Twitter. “I won’t abandon Texas the way Ted Cruz did New York.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Associated Press

Hundreds pay final respects to former Florida Sen. Greg Evers

FullSizeRender (23)MILTON — Brad Paisley and Vince Gill sang about life and death. His daughter Stephanie, sobbing, said: “He loved y’all, more than words can say.” The eulogy was delivered by Marion Hammer of the National Rifle Association.

For nearly two hours Tuesday, Northwest Florida mourned the death of Greg Evers, who had deep Panhandle roots and represented the area for 15 years in the Legislature until last year. A strawberry farmer, he died at 62 last week in a one-car accident in his hometown of Baker and leaves both parents, three children and three grandchildren.

“‘Hey, Sugar, how you doin’?’” Evers’ pastor, Alton Nixon, described how the tall, strapping politician with the toothy grin would greet people, imitating Evers’ smile and his drawl. And at a sign of trouble, a friend recalled, Evers would say, ”It’s all gonna work out.”

Evers, known as ”Bull,” was remembered for his support for increased pay for correctional officers, Second Amendment rights, and finding affordable housing for ex-offenders. But most tributes were about his personal traits.

“He was a down-to-earth, God-fearing farmer,” Hammer said. “Rolling around in the dirt, trying to repair a tractor, or in a nice suit and high-polished cowboy boots.”

Hammer, describing Evers’ politics as ”probably a little to the right of me,” recalled that he called her one day in 1991, near the end of a special House election, when he didn’t have the NRA’s support in one of the state’s most conservative districts.

“‘No hard feelings, but I’m gonna win this election,’” Hammer recalled Evers saying, calling her ”Miss Marion.” He won, they became friends and Evers never worried about the NRA’s endorsement again. “If he said it, he meant it,” Hammer said.

In Tallahassee, Evers made unannounced visits to state prisons, supported a reform of the state’s sentencing laws, and wasn’t bashful about calling out Gov. Rick Scott.

The moving service for Evers at the First Baptist Church of Milton reflected the close-knit character of Northwest Florida. Leaving church, some said his sudden death was another painful but important reminder about the precariousness of life.

Hundreds of townsfolk attended as did a group of Republican leaders that included three Senate presidents, Joe Negron, Andy Gardiner and Don Gaetz; U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz; two candidates for governor, Sen. Jack Latvala and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam;  Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis; and about a dozen Republican senators.

Evers didn’t shy from controversy. In an unsuccessful bid for Congress last year, he gained unwanted national attention when, days after the Pulse nightclub shootings, he offered to raffle off a weapon similar to the one used in the massacre in Orlando.

At the time of his death, Evers was said to be looking for a path back to politics, maybe as a candidate for a school board or sheriff. Don Gaetz said he last saw Evers a few weeks ago at a restaurant in Destin. ”He had a big smile on his face and he said, ’I need to talk to you about politics,’” Gaetz said.    

VIDEO: Betsy DeVos visits Tallahassee but is criticized over which schools she chose to tour

Devos 1


In case you missed it, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos paid a visit to Florida's capital city on Tuesday, and the controversial school choice advocate who is President Donald Trump's education chief didn't escape criticism.

She toured two schools -- a private Christian school and a public charter school affiliated with Florida State University -- but DeVos did not spend time at any local traditional public schools, which still educate the most children in Florida and across the country. (Local schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna wasn't even told she'd be in town, let alone invited to join her.)

Nonetheless, DeVos had glowing praise for Florida's innovations in school choice and there were some students and educators in town who were happy to welcome her.

Find our full report here, and watch our video recap below.

Photo credit: A dozen protesters, including Tallahassee residents Colleen and Al Thorburn, far right, gathered outside Holy Comforter Episcopal School in Tallahassee to greet U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. DeVos spent two hours visiting classrooms at the private Christian school. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times