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65 posts from December 2017

December 28, 2017

How the GOP tax overhaul could impact your kid’s education


via @kyragurney

The sweeping $1.5 trillion tax overhaul President Donald Trump signed into law last week will likely impact many areas of American life, including education.

Experts are still analyzing what the GOP tax plan means for each state, but it could affect everything from how parents pay for private schools to the amount of money available for public education. Here’s a look at how the tax overhaul might impact Florida schools — and some of the proposed changes that didn’t make it into the final bill.

1. A new way to pay private school tuition

For some families, the GOP tax plan will make it easier to pay private school tuition.

The tax-advantaged 529 accounts many families use to save for college — because earnings aren’t subject to federal income tax — can now be used to save for K-12 private school tuition as well.

Supporters are cheering the provision as a victory for the school choice movement, which supports non-traditional education options such as charter schools and private school vouchers.

“It expands choice, it encourages families to save for education and it dramatically increases the flexibility on how families use 529 accounts,” said Thomas Carroll, the executive director of the #EdTaxCredit50 Coalition, a group pushing for the expansion of 529 accounts. “I just think it’s a tremendous opportunity for families to look at as an easier way to save money for the school of their choice.”

Ralph Arza, a former Florida legislator and the director of government relations for the Florida Charter School Alliance, said the tax legislation empowers parents to pick the best education option for their child.

“Children are expensive,” he said. “Any time you can help a family out by putting a few more dollars into the family account, I think that’s a very positive thing for our country.”

But critics argue that the provision will primarily aid wealthy families because low- and middle-income parents — who might already struggle to save for college — likely don’t have extra money to set aside for private school tuition.

Read more here.

December 27, 2017

Broward lawmaker: End session money chase by governor, Cabinet

Here’s an idea whose time has probably not yet come in the Florida Legislature: Stop the governor and Cabinet members from soliciting and collecting campaign money during the legislative session.

Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, filed his proposal (HB 707) and says statewide officials should be held to the same standard as lawmakers, who are barred from fund-raising during regular, extended and special sessions because it creates the appearance of a quid pro quo at the Capitol.

“Everybody should play by the same rules,” Jenne told the Times/Herald. “It’s just to avoid the appearance of impropriety.”

The governor can legally raise money during sessions even though he has life or death power over every bill and appropriation affecting lobbyists and their clients. Cabinet members lobby lawmakers on all kinds of issues but have no constitutional role in the fate of specific legislation like the governor does.

Gov. Rick Scott sidestepped a question about it. “It’s a decision for the Legislature,” he told reporters.

“I’m not familiar with the bill. I look forward to reviewing it,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican candidate for governor.

Jenne’s bill received only two House committee references -- ordinarily a good sign -- but no senator has filed the proposal. Even if it passed, it would not have any impact on the upcoming session.

The governor and all three Cabinet members are Republicans, but Jenne, a Democrat, said he’s not motivated by partisanship. He noted that he and his family are long-time personal friends with Jimmy Patronis, the appointed chief financial officer who needs to build a fund-raising fortress because he lacks statewide name recognition and may face a Republican primary challenge from Sen. Tom Lee.

December 26, 2017

Bill Nelson to visit Puerto Rico tomorrow



Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is visiting Puerto Rico tomorrow to meet with Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and other officials as thousands of Puerto Ricans settle in Florida after Hurricane Maria severely damaged the U.S. territory.

Nelson is traveling with Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, the only Puerto Rican in Congress from Florida, who predicted that Puerto Ricans who are new to Florida will create political pressure for Florida Republicans in 2018 because of President Donald Trump's inadequate disaster response and a GOP-led tax bill that Rosselló and other Puerto Rican politicians vehemently oppose

Interestingly, Nelson's office cited media reports that more than 1,000 people may have died due to Maria's effects instead of the official tally of about 60 deaths. Puerto Rico's government said it will review the death toll after the Center for Investigative Journalism and the New York Times published accounts that deaths in Puerto Rico spiked in 2017 after Hurricane Maria made landfall compared to the same time in 2016. 

Nelson first visited Puerto Rico in mid-October, about three weeks after Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico. Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio was among the first elected officials to visit Puerto Rico after the storm and his office sent staffers to the island, though Rosselló criticized him by name for ultimately supporting the GOP-led tax bill that became law last week. 

December 23, 2017

Immigration activists criticize Nelson's government funding vote

Bill Nelson


U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is taking heat from immigration activists over his decision to support a stop-gap measure to continue funding the federal government through mid-January despite the lack of a solution to protect scores of young undocumented immigrants facing deportation.

Nelson, who is up for reelection next year in Florida, was among a handful of Senate Democrats to vote Thursday in favor of what's known as a continuing resolution. The 66 - 32 vote, which following a favorable vote by the House, allowed the federal government to avoid a shutdown on New Year's Day.

Immigration groups wanted Nelson -- and all Democrats -- to vote against the measure in order to pressure Republican leadership to pass legislation this year protecting a class of some 800,000 Dreamers facing deportation after President Trump chose to phase out a protective Obama-era order known as DACA. Some Republicans, including South Florida's Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, voted against the continuing funding measure for that very reason.

"Last night, Senator Nelson from Florida and a handful of Democrats voted with Republicans to prevent immigrant youth from getting the protections they desperately need," United We Dream, an immigrant, youth-led network based out of Texas, wrote in a statement after the vote.

Nelson took to Twitter Friday to say he's "proud to be a co-sponsor of the Dream Act and will keep fighting to pass it into law."

"I will continue working to make sure #Dreamers who came here at no fault of their own are not kicked out of the only country they've ever known," he wrote.


Florida House Democrats Charlie Crist, Al Lawson, and Stephanie Murphy also voted in favor of the continuing resolution, which passed 233 - 181 in the chamber. The bill, which Trump signed Friday, gives the federal government until Jan. 19 to find a permanent solution (or another short-term fix) to avoid a shutdown.

December 22, 2017

Trump says Ron DeSantis would ‘make a GREAT Governor of Florida’


Via @learyreports

President Trump, flying to Palm Beach, just gave a big backing to U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis for governor.

"Congressman Ron DeSantis is a brilliant young leader, Yale and then Harvard Law, who would make a GREAT Governor of Florida," Trump wrote on Twitter. "He loves our Country and is a true FIGHTER!"

The random shout-out appears to be because Trump, toward the end his flight to Florida, saw a Fox News segment with DeSantis, according to a reporter on the plane. More here.

December 21, 2017

Miami Beach Commissioner urged police to back off donor to congressional campaign



A Miami Beach commissioner and congressional candidate tried earlier this year to dissuade the city’s police chief from going after a campaign donor accused of walking around his condo tower with a rifle and hacking fire alarms apart with a machete, according to public records.

Emails from Kristen Rosen Gonzalez’s city account show that about one week after Hurricane Irma hit South Florida, she urged Police Chief Dan Oates to back off his pursuit of Erik Agazim, an arms dealer now facing a dozen felony charges in connection with the destruction of 11 fire alarms at the Sunset Harbour South condo tower.

Police say Agazim, 41, was seen walking around his complex in tactical gear Sept. 15 slashing fire alarms that had been malfunctioning and wailing since Irma made landfall. He was arrested Sept. 22.

But Agazim denies the allegations. And on the day after the incident, he reached out to Rosen Gonzalez for help.

She tried.

To read the rest, click here.

After denying him entry, members of Hispanic Caucus endorse Curbelo's opponent

Carlos Curbelo 3


One month after rejecting Miami Congressman Carlos Curbelo's request to join their ranks, two members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are now endorsing his opponent.

The Debbie Mucarsel-Powell campaign announced Thursday that Rep. Pete Aguilar, the caucus' whip, and Rep. Linda Sanchez, the past chairwoman of the caucus, are backing the Democrat against the Republican incumbent in 2018. Both Aguilar and Sanchez represent districts in California.

"As an immigrant and a Latina, Debbie is the champion Miami families deserve in Washington to advocate for this community. Debbie has spent her career expanding health care access to underserved communities in South Florida, predominantly serving communities of color. I know she will take that same dedication and passion to Washington, where she will continue to fight for what is right for the people of Florida's 26th Congressional District,” Sanchez said in a statement.

The endorsements come a little more than one month after the Hispanic Caucus, comprised entirely of Democrats, rejected Curbelo's request to join. The caucus' current chairwoman said the Republican congressman's voting record factored into the decision to deny his membership, but Curbelo at the time called his rejection a "truly shameful" and partisan move.

Curbelo spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez responded to the endorsements Thursday, saying "the Congressman feels sorry for any candidate who would accept the endorsement of individuals who promote bigotry and discrimination against fellow Americans of Hispanic descent."

Debbie MP

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell

December 19, 2017

Trial set in lawsuit that seeks to toss Joe Carollo from office

Carollo lawsuit


Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo must turn over cellphone bills and credit card statements to a vanquished political foe ahead of a trial set for early next month to decide whether the controversial politician should be expelled from public office, a judge ruled Tuesday.

With a final hearing set for Jan. 5, Judge Thomas Rebull ordered the city’s newest commissioner to respond to a subpoena issued by lawyers for Alfonso “Alfie” Leon, who lost to Carollo in a Nov. 21 runoff election to represent the city’s third district. Leon wants to invalidate Carollo’s victory on the grounds that the commissioner failed to meet a requirement that candidates live in the boundaries of the Miami district they want to represent for at least one year before a deadline to qualify to make the ballot.

The deadline this year was Sept. 23. Carollo, who has lived for years in a Coconut Grove house outside the district, signed a lease for apartment 504 at Brickell Station Lofts on Sept. 22, 2016, just barely making the cut to run for the seat being vacated by his younger brother, Frank Carollo.

But in a complaint filed the day before the election and later amended, Leon argues that the elder Carollo didn’t change his address on his voter’s registration and driver’s license for weeks, proving Carollo actually moved into the third district well after the execution date of his lease. Leon, who said in a text message that he is “preserving the integrity of the election process,” is now pulling the power bills for Carollo’s home and apartment, financial bills to show where he received his mail, and documents from the apartment complex to see when and how frequently he was at the building.

Click here to read the rest.

As housing deadline looms, Florida legislators urge Puerto Rico to formally ask FEMA for help ASAP

Irma evacuees Miami Herald filesWill thousands of Puerto Ricans be kicked out of their temporary housing in Florida next month?

That is the worst-case scenario emerging because the Puerto Rican government has not formally requested FEMA assistance for housing aid for the more than 200,000 evacuees who have arrived in Florida, according to Democratic members of the Florida House and Senate who are raising the alarm. Here is their release:

Florida Legislators Call on Puerto Rican Government to Request Aid for Evacuee Housing Needs in Florida

TALLAHASSEE - Democratic Senate and House members of the Florida Legislature on Monday sent a formal letter asking Governor Ricardo Rossello of Puerto Rico to request FEMA assistance with housing evacuees currently living in Florida.  More than 200,000 American citizens have arrived in Florida from Puerto Rico since September when the island was devastated by Hurricane Maria.  Many of those evacuees are staying with family or friends while some are living temporarily in hotels paid for with FEMA vouchers.

The hotel voucher program, known as TSA (Temporary Sheltering Assistance), is scheduled to expire January 15, 2018.  Additionally, many evacuees are looking for apartment or housing rentals but since the Puerto Rican government has not requested FEMA approve the direct lease program to pay rental fees for those evacuees in Florida, no financial assistance is currently available.  Florida already has a shortage of available affordable housing units and without FEMA assistance, local and state government agencies have limited resources to ensure housing options for the evacuees.

“We have been meeting and working with State Emergency Management officials for months, but many of the programs available under FEMA can only be approved if the government of Puerto Rico asks for them to be implemented,  said Senator Victor Torres, of Orlando. “There are tens of thousands of families living in Florida and if just one family becomes homeless due to lack of action by the Federal government or those officials making decisions in Puerto Rico, it is one family too many.”

 Senator Linda Stewart echoed Torres’ remarks. “It’s imperative that we work this out with the government of Puerto Rico,” she said.

Representative Robert Asencio, of Miami added: “These disasters have no quick remedy, yet it is both frustrating and heartbreaking to have to tell Puerto Rican families in South Florida that further assistance may not come due not to lack of resources, but to inaction. It is imperative that we get FEMA support to rapidly and effectively help these families. The time to make that request is now.”

“Puerto Ricans will be here, they’re trying to establish here, they’re trying to work, they’re trying to get their kids enrolled in school, they’re trying to find a safe environment and a place to live,” said Representative Amy Mercado, also of Orlando. “We are failing them if we’re not doing the job here trying to navigate affordable housing funds for their intended purpose.”

 Representative John Cortes, of Kissimmee, agreed: “We must explore every option available to help our fellow citizens get the resources they need to get back on their feet.”

 Photo: Hurricane Irma evacuees, Miami Herald files

December 18, 2017

Federal judge removes himself from FEC lawsuit against Miami ex-Congressman



A Miami judge presiding over a federal elections lawsuit against ex-congressman David Rivera has agreed to remove himself from the case after Rivera said he feared he wouldn't get an impartial hearing unless the case were transferred to a new judge.

U.S. District Judge Robert Scola recused himself from the Federal Election Commission's case against Rivera Friday, one day after Rivera filed a motion calling on Scola to transfer the case to another judge. Scola's order, first reported by the New York Times, was published in the court docket Monday afternoon.

Scola had presided over the case since it was filed in July by FEC lawyers, who sued Rivera for alleged election law violations over his role in a 2012 campaign finance scheme to secretly funnel more than $69,000 to a bumbling Democratic candidate running at the time against Rivera's ultimate general election foe, Joe Garcia. With the help of former girlfriend Ana Sol Alliegro, FEC lawyers say Rivera steered resources to the campaign of Justin Lamar Sternad in a bid to damage Garcia's campaign before he made the general election.

Sternad and Alliegro both pleaded guilty to criminal charges. Rivera, who has always denied any wrongdoing, was never charged with a crime.

On Thursday, Rivera's attorney, Roy Kahn, argued in a motion that the judge had proved himself biased in 2014 while presiding over Alliegro's criminal case. During the hearing where she pleaded guilty, Scola forced federal prosecutors to name the previously unidentified Rivera as an alleged co-conspirator. While sentencing Alliegro, Scola said "the man should come forward and not let the woman do time on his behalf."

Scola responded Friday that he was unconvinced by the argument. Still, he found it best to recuse himself anyway.

"While the Court has no doubt in its ability to conduct these proceedings in a fair and impartial manner, it is mindful that its comments in a prior related proceeding, could cause “an objective, disinterested, lay observer . . . [to]entertain a significant doubt about the [Court’s] impartiality,” Scola wrote.

The case has been transferred to Judge Marcia G. Cooke.