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152 posts from October 2017

October 27, 2017

U.S. marshals served David Rivera last week at Orlando airport

@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. marshals served former Congressman David Rivera a week ago at the Orlando airport, finally giving the Miami Republican formal notification that the Federal Election Commission has sued him.

Rivera, who had evaded marshals since July, showed up to the Florida Legislature on Tuesday and feigned ignorance of the case against him. But records show he had already been served when he told Politico Florida reporters he didn't know what lawsuit they were asking him about.

The court filing appeared to show that Rivera had been served Oct. 18. But that turned out to be a record that a new summons had been issued, not actually served. The summons wasn't delivered to Rivera until 4 p.m. on Oct. 20 at Orlando International Airport, according to a new filing posted Friday.

Rivera or his attorney, if he designates one, now has until Nov. 13 to respond to the lawsuit.

 

Bill Nelson files legislation to help Puerto Rico's Medicaid woes

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@alextdaugherty

Puerto Rico's Medicaid system was in trouble before Hurricane Maria hit the U.S. territory. 

Now, thousands of residents are in need of medical care after Maria sapped power from most of Puerto Rico, and the island's Medicaid funding is set to run out of money in the next few months.

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló came to Washington in September before Hurricane Maria and lobbied lawmakers to treat Puerto Rico's Medicaid system like any other state. Currently, Congress provides Puerto Rico with a set amount of Medicaid dollars. 

Sen. Bill Nelson filed legislation on Friday that would eliminate Puerto Rico's cap on Medicaid funding as thousands of residents are in need of medical care in the wake of Hurricane Maria. 

"The people of Puerto Rico need our help," Nelson said in a statement. "As we work to help them recover and rebuild in the aftermath of this devastating disaster, we also have to look toward the future and help them avert what could be a serious health care crisis if nothing is done." 

Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Richard Blumenthal, Bob Menendez and Cory Booker all signed on to the bill. Nelson is a member of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over Medicaid. 

The bill would also provide prescription drug subsidies for low-income senior citizens in Puerto Rico. 

Jeff Clemens admits to affair and his colleagues ask, after so many months, why now?

Jeff Clemens TBTJust days after the designation of the incoming Senate president by Florida Republicans, the incoming leader of the Senate Democrats admitted having an affair with a lobbyist during the last legislative session.

The affair, between Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth political consultant, and former Martin County lobbyist Devon West, was first reported in Politico Florida.

Clemens, who is 47 and married, acknowledged the affair Thursday and apologized in a written statement provided to Politico and the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times.

“I used poor judgment and hurt people that I care about, and for that I apologized long ago,” he said. “But I also owe my constituents and colleagues an apology and I intend to do just that.

“No excuses are good enough or can undo the pain I’ve caused. I have spent a lot of time, long before I was contacted by a reporter, focusing on improving my behavior. I will always aim to be a better person, be as honest in my private life as I am with my public one, and continue to seek forgiveness from the people I have wronged.”

As minority leader, Clemens is charged with leading the election efforts of Senate Democrats in 2018 and won a significant victory in September, when Annette Taddeo defeated Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in the Miami district formerly held by Republican Frank Artiles. Read more here. 

Sorority sisters rally around Frederica Wilson in feud with Trump

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via @williamgdouglas

President Donald Trump has earned the ire of yet another black grassroots group thanks to his rhetorical attacks on Rep. Frederica Wilson, one of a historic black sorority’s most prominent members.

Alpha Kappa Alpha, the nation’s oldest Greek-lettered sorority founded by black college women, recently launched an effort to show support for Wilson, who’s been feuding with Trump for days over his handling of a phone call to the widow of a U.S. soldier.

The latest blow is another chapter in what's been an ongoing battle between the president and the black community.

Wilson has come under heavy criticism from Trump and his backers. She skipped coming to Washington this week due to ongoing threats against her after she bashed Trump for his handling of a conversation with the family of Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed during an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger.

"When what should have been a phone call by President Trump to express condolences to the widow of Sgt. Johnson concluded with the family feeling disrespected, Alpha Kappa Alpha member and Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson expressed her distaste for the president’s choice of words,” read the statement to the sorority’s 290,000 members, a copy of which was obtained by the Miami Herald's McClatchy Washington bureau.

"She is now undergoing a virulent attack after she revealed comments made by President Trump to the widow…," the statement said. "This lawmaker, educator, and advocate has been there for so many. Sorors, let us be there for her."

Wilson, who pledged AKA while an undergraduate at Fisk University, is a leader in the sorority, having served as its South Atlantic Regional director.

Alpha Kappa Alpha is the latest black sorority or fraternity to defend one of their own against Trump’s broadsides and exert its influence in Washington.

Read more here.

October 26, 2017

Democrats demand White House documents on hurricane response

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@alextdaugherty 

Democrats in Congress are not happy that Republicans rejected an effort to request documents from the White House related to the administration's Hurricane Maria response. 

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, asked Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., to send a letter requesting the documents along to the White House after Gowdy rejected an earlier request by Cummings. 

“The Oversight Committee cannot conduct a credible investigation into the federal government’s response to these hurricanes without obtaining documents and information directly from the White House,” Cummings said in a statement.  “As former Chairman Tom Davis demonstrated, a Republican Chairman can obtain documents from a Republican White House—if he asks.  If our Committee obtains no documents at all from the White House, our investigation will be incomplete, inadequate, and marred by claims of partisan protectionism.”

Four weeks ago, Cummings and delegate Stacey Plaskett, D-U.S. Virgin Islands, asked Gowdy to investigate the response to Maria and Irma by requesting documents from the White House, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Health and Human Services and the Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo  Rosselló. 

Cummings said Gowdy only sent requests for documents to the three federal Cabinet agencies, not the White House or the governor's office. Representatives from FEMA, DoD and DHS all testified before the committee over the past four weeks. 

“President Trump awarded himself a grade of ‘10’ for his Administration’s response to Hurricane Maria.” Cummings said.  “There may be reasonable disagreements about whether President Trump’s response to the hurricanes in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands was effective, but the Oversight Committee will not be able to answer this question until we obtain the documents and information the White House is withholding.  If the Committee continues to wall off the White House from congressional scrutiny, we will be doing a disservice not only to history, but to the American families who are being devastated by these disasters.” 

 

 

Judge denies Miami candidate's request for new ballots

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@NewsbySmiley

A Miami-Dade judge on Thursday denied a candidate’s attempt to force the county supervisor of elections to halt the distribution of ballots in the city of Miami’s fourth district until new ballots could be redrawn with her name atop her competitors.

Denise Galvez Turros had sought to place her name first on the ballot ahead of Manuel “Manolo” Reyes and Ralph Rosado. In a complaint filed this month after absentee ballots began to go out, she argued that the supervisor of elections and Miami city clerk had wrongly considered her surname to be Turros, resulting in her third-ranked placement on the ballot due to alphabetical ordering.

Galvez had sought a preliminary injunction from Judge Rosa Rodriguez that would have forced the printing of new ballots, but was denied during an emergency hearing. She said she plans to seek a change to Florida’s state statutes to ensure complex surnames are properly identified on ballots.

“This was not about manipulating the election,” she said. “This was about having my name represented correctly as it’s been my entire life.”

Florida House wants to narrow 'trade secret' exemption used to keep contracts and records from the public

Matt Caldwell
Companies that do business in Florida would no longer be able to hide behind a trade secrets exemption to shield financial information and contracts from the public -- unless they first get a court's permission -- under legislation filed Thursday in the Florida House.

The measures, HB 459 and HB 461, filed by Rep. Ralph Massullo, a Lecanto Republican, are designed to target what House Speaker Richard Corcoran said has become a widespread abuse of the state public records law used by government contractors to shield basic financial information.

"If you spend one penny of taxpayers dollars, you don't have that trade secret exemption,'' Corcoran said Thursday at a press conference in Tallahassee. 

Together, the bills require that any contractual agreement with a local tourism development board to be disclosed to the public and repeals 75 definitions of trade secrets in an attempt to streamline the law that has been expanded as a way to keep from the public the explosion of public-private partnerships and other contracts. 

Neither Corcoran or Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, would say whether the disclosure would apply to companies that use the trade secret exemption to shield the chemicals used in oil and gas fracking activities. Caldwell noted that the House has tried and failed to get the state Senate to pass legislation that would allow the Department of Environmental Protection to designate what chemicals meet the definition of trade secret in those cases, not the companies. 

"This is a gray area we continue to ought to address,'' Caldwell said. 

In recent years, State Farm Insurance has used the trade secrets statute to prevent disclosure of the number of policies it holds in Florida. The Seminole Tribe has used the trade secrets exemption to prevent disclosure of the revenues it makes from its monopoly operation of slot machines in Florida. And the Florida Republican Party claimed that it could not disclose information relating to redistricting because it would have exposed the "trade secrets" of its political consultants. 

"Anything that is a public record and meets the traditional definition of public record should be made public,'' Caldwell said. "Narrowing this down to a single definition provides the greatest opportunity for transparency."

He said the measure was spawned by the $1 million Pit Bull contract that Visit Florida refused to release to the Florida House last year, claiming it was a trade secret. Corcoran sued and the agency settled and released the information. 

The proposal also specifically excludes from the definition of “trade secret” any government agency contract or agreement and any related financial information.

If the bills are passed into law, any agency contract, agreement, and any related financial information would be deemed a public record unless it is exempt from public record requirements.

If a company wants to claim a public record is a trade secret, the bill requires it to petition a circuit court to determine if the information meets the definition of a trade secret.

"It puts the burden on the vendor,'' Corcoran said. 

The House also filed HB 3 that attempts to expand legislation last year that to increase accountability of local tourism development organizations. Under the measure, any contract signed by a local tourist development board or a local tourism marketing board that is valued at more than $250,000 would have to be approved by local county commissioners and any contract over $5,000 would have to be published online. 

Rep. Michael Grant, a Port Charlotte Republican, said that tourism boards in Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville and Broward, Tampa, Pinellas and Okaloosa have failed to provide the public with the transparency they should  regarding the use of their bed tax money.

Last year, the House attempted to get the county-controlled organizations to disclose specifics about how they were spending their millions in tourism development taxes but several refused. 

They will be required to put that information on a website, so that everybody will have that available,'' Grant said. "If they are spending taxpayers dollars then they need to reveal what they're doing. It's as simple as that. It's all our money and they need to reveal how it is spent." 

Under the bill, local tourism development boards also would have to disclose conflicts of interest and financial audits would also have to increase. They would be prohibited from paying anyone a salary that exceeds the authorized salary for the Florida governor and increases penalties on violations of disclosure and ethical standards. 
 
Robert Skrob, executive director of the Florida Association of Destination Marketing Organizations, warned that the House proposals would add an expensive layer of bureaucracy.

“Florida’s Destination Marketing Organizations are fully transparent and in compliance with all state and local laws,'' he said in a statement. "Our state tourism numbers are at record levels. The current structure is working."

Photo: Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, courtesy of The Florida Channel. 

 

 

Bruno Barreiro lands on national Republican fundraising list

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@alextdaugherty 

Miami-Dade commissioner Bruno Barreiro, one of three Republicans vying to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, landed on the National Republican Congressional Committee's "On the Radar" list. 

The NRCC, a Washington-based group dedicated to electing Republicans to the House of Representatives, listed Barreiro as one of 31 candidates nationwide that has met a "minimum threshold in campaign organization." As Barreiro raises more money, he could be come eligible for additional levels of support from the NRCC. 

"These 31 candidates are formidable competitors against the liberal agenda of Nancy Pelosi and the left," NRCC chairman Steve Stivers said in a statement. "We look forward to working with these candidates to grow our Republican majority and enact policies that help hard working Americans." 

Barreiro faces former Miami-Dade mayoral candidate and school board member Raquel Regalado and former Doral councilwoman Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera in the Republican primary. Ros-Lehtinen's Miami-based district is one of the most democratic-leaning in the country currently represented by a Republican. 

The most recent fundraising quarter was interrupted by Hurricane Irma, and Barreiro raised $41,950 after posting a haul just over $175,000 in the quarter after announcing his candidacy. 

GOP’s Curbelo expected to join caucus that’s been Democrats-only

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via @lesleyclark

Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo's effort to join a Democratic-only congressional caucus is about to pay off with an invite.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus meets Thursday and Curbelo is expected to be accepted, the caucus chairwoman told McClatchy on Wednesday. Letters will go out to all Republican members of Congress who are Hispanic and caucus votes will follow, but Curbelo is almost certainly to be welcomed aboard, said Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M. Other GOP members could also join.

“He got us to a good place,” Grisham said of the Cuban-American Curbelo’s push to join the caucus, which began with his appointment to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, a non-profit affiliated organization.

The caucus that the Miami-area congressman is now likely to join is a forum for issues of concern to the Latino community. It now consists of 31 Democrats.

The caucus at one time included members from both parties, but several Florida Republicans walked out years ago over differences on Cuba policy and formed their own group, the Congressional Hispanic Conference. That group is chaired by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., who said he’s not interested in joining the caucus.

He said the two groups have a “cordial” relationship and work together, but ”it’s pretty clear that there’s a partisan divide.”

Curbelo, who is up for re-election in 2018 in a Democratic-leaning district in Miami, had asked to join the Democrats-only Congressional Hispanic Caucus eight months ago, but said he was left wondering what happened to his application.

“I feel like when people gather in St. Peter’s Square awaiting the smoke to emerge from the Sistine Chapel,” Curbelo said, joking as he likened his acceptance to the group to the top-secret selection of a new pope.

He said he was grateful his request was being taken seriously, but added, “It should be an easy decision. My goal and my intention is to work constructively with all of those members on a lot of the issues that unite us.”

Read more here.

Trujillo tapped as U.S. ambassador to OAS

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@PatriciaMazzei @MaryEllenKlas

Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Trujillo is moving up in the Trump administration, to be U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States.

The White House announced Trujillo’s appointment Thursday, just two months after President Donald Trump named him one of four U.S. representatives to the United Nations General Assembly. That job made Trujillo, an early Trump campaign supporter who attended the president’s inauguration, one of U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s four deputies.

“It’s an honor to be nominated,” Trujillo said as he was heading to the airport for New York, where he is giving a speech Thursday on war crimes in Rwanda at the International Criminal Tribunal. At 34, Trujillo said he is the youngest Trump nominee.

Trujillo’s impending appointment was first reported by Politico Florida. Trujillo has been traveling to the U.N. since the second week in September but did not give up his legislative seat.

If confirmed to the OAS ambassadorship by the U.S. Senate, Trujillo would have to resign his powerful post as House budget chief in the Florida Legislature and live full time in Washington — though the timing of that resignation is unclear. It could come after the 2018 session ends March 6, if the Senate doesn’t schedule a confirmation hearing until then. Once scheduled, he expects the hearing process to take two months.

More here.

Photo credit: Pedro Portal, el Nuevo Herald