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85 posts from March 2018

March 30, 2018

Gov. Scott signs 'resign to run' bill, forcing lawmakers to choose to keep their seats or run for Congress

Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks after the end of the legislative session at the Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee on March 11, 2018. Flanking Scott are Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran, left, and Senate President Joe Negron. Mark Wallheiser AP

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed a bill that would require local and state lawmakers to resign from their current seats in order to run for Congress.

The so-called "resign to run" bill now forces nearly a half-dozen local and state lawmakers to choose between holding onto their current seats or take the risk of running for the Miami congressional seat that Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is retiring from.

Scott also vetoed his first bill of the year, obscure legislation that involves expanding the Palm Beach County Housing Authority from five seats to seven.

Normally, seats on the board are filled by the governor, but the bill allowed the Palm Beach County Commission to fill the two new seats. County commissioners were pushing for the bill so they could have more oversight over the troubled agency.

But Scott vetoed it, saying that the new seats should be filled by the governor.

The governor on Friday signed HB 215, a motor vehicle bill which included a controversial amendment that allows Florida International University to open a road to its Biscayne Bay campus through an environmental preserve in North Miami.

The university had cited the Parkland shooting in its arguments that the current campus, which only has one road in and out, needed a second entry and exit point for school safety. Efforts to open up a second road through the preserve have been brought repeatedly before the Legislature since at least 2011.

Despite opposition from local officials, the FIU language was successfully added to the motor vehicle bill in the waning days of session.

Herald staff writer Elizabeth Koh contributed to this report.

After voting for Parkland bill, state representative says he wants to remove gun control measures








Just weeks after state legislators passed a sweeping package of school safety and gun control changes following the Parkland shooting, a state representative who voted for the bill says he wants to remove its gun control provisions should he be re-elected.

In a town hall hosted by Florida Today Wednesday, Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, said he plans to file bills to remove some of the gun control provisions from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Safety Act — including a three-day waiting period, higher minimum age to buy firearms from a dealer and a ban on the sale and possession of bump stocks.

Fine said at the town hall that he supported the bill’s increased money for mental health services and school safety, as well as a guardian program that would allow staff in schools to be armed, given required training. But he said legislators “did three things as part of this that wouldn’t have stopped the Parkland shooting and I don’t think accomplish much of anything,” according to Florida Today. “I don’t think those things solve anything and, frankly to me, they were silly.”

The move is a shift in tone for Fine, who had called some of the gun provisions “minor, minor things” before voting for the Parkland bill and called on his colleagues to not let “perfect be the enemy of the good.”

The gun control measures were among the most contentious parts of an already contentious bill, particularly in Florida, where state lawmakers have voted to increase access to guns and has some of the most firearm-friendly laws in the country.

Legislative leaders had narrowly navigated polarized factions to pass the Parkland package in both chambers and make it the first legislation signed by Gov. Rick Scott near the end of the session. Even so, SB 7026 passed by a slim 20-18 margin in the Senate and a 67-50 margin in the House, where 19 Republicans (the majority of whom are not term-limited and up for re-election) voted no. Ten Democrats, largely from Broward County, voted yes.

Fine had expressed concerns after the Parkland shooting about the proposed gun control measures, telling CNN in February that “I’m not a big fan of taking away folks’ Second Amendment rights. I think we need to look at the issues and see where we can play around the edges.”

But shortly before the bill was passed by the House, Fine called on his Republican colleagues to put those gun control provisions in the context of the larger bill.  State lawmakers had debated for nearly a week on the legislation, which also included a controversial school guardian program that would allow staff in schools to be armed in addition to the gun control proposals. The latter had drawn particular ire from the House’s more conservative lawmakers, some of whom eventually voted against the bill.

Fine, a Brevard County Republican, said some of those provisions — the waiting period for buying long firearms and raising the age limit on purchasing guns to 21 — were “minor” and defended his decision to support the bill anyway. He minimized the impact of the higher age limit and compared the waiting period to the “three days to order something from Amazon Prime,” he added. “What is the harm in waiting three days if you want to go and get a rifle?”

“The notion that these two minor, minor things — waiting 72 hours just like you do when you order something on the Internet and having to get a rifle from your father if you want to go hunting or your mother if you need to protect yourself — those two things would make perfect the enemy of the good,” he added.

Almost immediately after Scott signed the bill, the National Rifle Association filed a federal lawsuit to block raising the age limit to buy guns as a violation of the Second Amendment.

“This bill punishes law-abiding gun owners for the criminal acts of a deranged individual,” said Chris Cox of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action at the time. “The gun control provisions in this law wrongly blame millions of Floridians who safely and responsibly exercise their right to self-defense.”

On Wednesday, Fine said he disagreed the measures violate the constitutional right to bear arms but called the measures “a bad idea.”

Fine’s comments drew quick outcry from Parkland shooting survivors, including Jaclyn Corin, one of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students who has led the #NeverAgain movement.

“He voted for the bill when it went through the House, and is simply terrified of the backlash the NRA has given the State of Florida,” she wrote Friday morning on Twitter, adding the hashtag #VoteHimOut.

Fine did not respond to requests for comment Friday. A freshman legislator who is running for re-election in his district, he told Florida Today that he expects a dozen Republicans who both voted against the bill and are running for re-election would support his efforts to pull back the gun control provisions.

March 29, 2018

Why limiting gun-magazine size is a tough problem for Marco Rubio



In the middle of an emotional town hall event one week after the Parkland shooting, Marco Rubio said something that put him at odds with most Republican lawmakers: Limiting the size of magazines, the spring-loaded devices that feed bullet cartridges into guns, “may save lives” during attacks like the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 people.

Six weeks after the shooting, the Florida Republican has continued to say that he’s open to potentially limiting magazine sizes, though he has yet to support a specific proposal or offer a bill in Congress.

“I have traditionally not supported [a ban] on magazine capacity because I don’t think they prevent shootings,” Rubio said on Tuesday. “What has allowed me to re-examine it is the reality that in Parkland, at some point in that shooting, whether it was a gun jam or reloading, the shooter had to stop and people got away. And so, the purpose of my opposition has always been that I didn’t think it would make a difference and at least in this particular case it might have. Then, if I’m being intellectually honest, I have to look at it again.”

Though the Broward Sheriff’s Office has not confirmed the type of magazine Nikolas Cruz used in the shootings, a federal law enforcement official told the Miami Herald that all of the ammunition used by Cruz was in 30-round magazines.

But various bills that limit magazine size have traditionally received little support from Republicans. In 2013, the U.S. Senate rejected a ban on magazines that accept more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Rubio voted against that ban, and none of the 51 Republicans currently serving in the Senate voted for it.

Eight states and the District of Columbia have banned what are called “high capacity” magazines, usually devices that hold more than 10 or 15 rounds of ammunition. There are differences between states; some of them permit the possession of magazines above the 10- or 15-round threshold that were purchased before the ban went into effect, while others ban all magazines above the threshold.

“It is clear that any gun in the wrong hands can be used to kill another human being, but when you have weapons that accept either large magazines or just the fact that it has a magazine that can be detached and reloaded, this transforms that killer into a killing machine,” said David Chipman, a retired Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives special agent who now works as a senior policy advisor for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a group that promotes pro-gun-control policies.

Chipman said the 10- or 15-round limit on magazine size is largely based on a desire for law enforcement officers to have superior firepower compared to potential criminals. When he worked as an agent on the ATF’s SWAT team, he used a 15-round handgun magazine and a 30-round AR-15 magazine.

“As a law enforcement professional [if] we have a 15-round magazine, it doesn’t seem reasonable that someone should have more,” Chipman said. “There’s some groups that feel like the military and police should have weapons of greater lethality than the public, but then there are pro-gun people who claim they need to have identical weapons. That’s where the debate is.”

Read more here.

After data scandal, Florida attorney general's office wants in-person meeting with Facebook

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi

One of Attorney General Pam Bondi's top deputies is demanding an in-person meeting with executives at Facebook to talk about the release of more than 50 million users' personal information.

In a Wednesday letter to Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Bondi's Privacy Bureau chief, Patrice Malloy, wrote that she expects a meeting set up by the end of the week.

"Please contact me by the close of business on Friday, March 30, to arrange for a mutually agreeable location, date and time with the goal of facilitating further discussion regarding this time-sensitive matter," Malloy wrote.

She included a list of nine questions she wanted answered after the New York Times revealed that Facebook users' information was harvested by a company called Cambridge Analytica, which was hired by President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.

Malloy called the release "troubling," and she asked to know the type of data that Facebook released, whether the company was paid for the data, which third-party applications also used the data, and how Facebook learned its policies were violated.

Attorneys general in 37 other states and territories sent a similar letter to Zuckerberg earlier this week, but Bondi did not sign it. A spokeswoman for Bondi said the office wasn't given enough time to join the letter.

March 28, 2018

Primary debate dates announced for Republican and Democratic hopefuls for governor


It's not yet certain who will be on the stage, but Republican and Democratic hopefuls for governor can now expect to debate their primary opponents under television lights just weeks before party voters choose who will be on their ballots in the general election.

The Children's Movement of Florida and the Florida Press Association announced Wednesday they will hold televised Republican and Democratic primary debates for the 2018 governor's race on Aug. 1 and 2, less than a month before the Aug. 28 primary.

Both debates will be produced by South Florida CBS station WFOR/Channel 4 and will be held at the University of Miami's Maurice Gusman Concert Hall in front of a live studio audience of 600, the groups said. The debates will air from 7 to 8 p.m. Eastern on the state's 10 major media markets, from Miami to Pensacola.

Qualifying criteria for the debates have not yet been released, but former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum have jockeyed in the polls to lead the primary race for the Democratic nomination. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Congressman Ron DeSantis are grappling for the top slot on the Republican side, though House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has not declared his candidacy, is mulling a run as well.

Photo: Philip Levine, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, speaking in Tallahassee Tuesday.

Rubio: Russian hackers used 2016 as practice and warns of 'chaos' and overconfidence in 2018

Fresh off a new round of questions into the Russian attempt to infiltrate voting systems in Florida and 20 other states, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio warned that the 2016 hackers were “probing” system vulnerabilities and he expects them to return this year with another attempt at putting U.S. elections “in doubt.”

“I’m not satisfied that anyone is doing enough, starting at the federal level — all the way to the state level,’’ Rubio told reporters Tuesday in Tallahassee, on the second day of a two-week swing through the state during the Senate recess. He said the threat is “not necessarily that they are going to break into ballot boxes and change the outcome of an election. The threat is much more nefarious than that.”

Rubio, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has held several hearings on Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, said that state and local officials have a dangerous level of “overconfidence” in their systems. More resources, coordination and redundancy in vote tabulation and reporting are needed soon, he said.

He suggested that Russian hackers could get into the voter registration systems in key counties in Florida and change the database — “eliminate people, change your address, whatever.” By hacking voter-registration lists, they will either delay or prevent people from voting and, he suggested, they could alter the “unofficial reporting system” on election night, creating doubt in the results. Read more here. 

Rubio is worried. He's got warnings for Donald Trump, the U.S. economy and the NRA

Marco Rubio U.S Senate.U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio was in full-alarm mode Tuesday on the second day of a two-week swing around the state during the spring recess.

He warned that President Donald Trump's scheduled meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jung-un is potentially "dangerous and counter-productive."  He warned of China's "unprecedented" and steady attempt at displacing the U.S. as the world economic power. He warned of overconfidence in the elections system. And he warned the National Rifle Association that if it doesn't focus its energy on reducing mass shootings, the Second Amendment could be at stake.

"I would argue today that perhaps the single, biggest threats to the Second Amendment are these mass shootings because if it weren't for mass shootings and gun crime you wouldn't see this outcry,'' Rubio said at a meeting with reporters at his Tallahassee office in the Florida state Capitol. "It's awakening the conscience of the country."

He called Trump's visit with Jung-un "counter-productive because it will be used just to give him a platform to look important,'' adding that he doesn't know "if the meeting is ever going to take place or not.

Rubio said he was "doubtful" that Jung-un was interested in denuclearization. 

"I am very doubtful that he will ever surrender his nuclear weapons because, for him, that is his life insurance,'' Rubio said. "That is what keeps him in power. Because he is fearful of becoming [deposed Libyan leader Muammar] Gaddafi and fearful of becoming [executed Iraqi president] Saddam Hussein and he's a young man. He's got to figure out how to hold onto power for 50-60 years."

He said Jung-un benefits from the meeting more than Trump because the dictator "lured an American president' into a meeting and it helps him in his quest "to be accepted as a global power.

"These parameters have to be worked out in ahead of time so that when you're going there, you're going to sign an agreement not negotiate an agreement,'' he said. "So if that's not what's going to happen, I think it's a terrible idea."

He called Trump's Tweet announcing the meeting "a very mysterious announcement that came out of the blue."

Rubio's advice to the president: "If this is a deal to just meet with a guy under false pretense and there's not a pre-arranged outcome, I think not only is it a waste of your time it actually proves to be quite dangerous and counter-productive."

The Florida Republican saved his strongest warnings, however, for the global economic war underway between China and the U.S. 

He said the biggest threat to the U.S. economy and its democratic system is the steady infiltration of Chinese companies into the U.S., where states and local governments are relying on Chinese firms to produce infrastructure and where companies and universities allow Chinese nationals to "embed themselves, even with classified standing, into corporate entities that provide defense contracts and then deliver secrets."

"You cannot be a successful Chinese company until you are willing to do what the government asks of you when they ask it of you,'' Rubio said. "Even if they are just a component in the supply chain, the ability of them to embed in that chain technology that allows them to shut it off or capture information is extraordinary."

He said his frustration was the failure of the U.S. to focus on the threat.

 "We've got a big problem on our hands, particularly as we move into revolutions in artificial intelligence and quantum computing,'' he said. "Whoever wins that battle will win the 21st Century. It's the equivalent of the Brits winning the industrial revolution and America winning the technology revolution."

Rubio dismissed the criticism of him by the students at the March for Our Lives event last week, in which students accused him of selling out to the NRA, and wore $1.05 signs -- a number they said was derived by dividing the number of students enrolled in Florida’s schools by the amount of campaign contributions Rubio received from the National Rifle Association.

"I don't care. It doesn't matter. I'm a grown man and I can defend myself if I needed to,'' he said. "But more importantly, I'm focused on finding answers. I don't spend my day in the Twitter bubble. I have a job to do and I'm going to do it."

He said the Stop School Violence Act that passed Congress and was signed into law in less than a month had "strong, bi-partisan support" because it was achievable quickly. He noted that the 17 parents of the Parkland victims have diverse opinions about gun control, but they agreed on the proposal.

Rubio said he abandoned his initial proposal to raise the age limit for gun purchases because it wasn't possible to pass in the short time.

And he said he hopes to find bi-partisan support on the "red flag" bill that he and Nelson have sponsored that allows family members and others to notify law enforcement if they suspect someone who has access to guns is a threat to themselves and others. He said he does not know the NRA's position on it.

Rubio also said he was prepared to modify his opposition to ban on high capacity magazines, but he was not sure how to do it.

"I have traditionally not supported [a ban] on magazine capacity because I don't think they prevent shootings,'' he said. "What has allowed me to re-examine it is the reality that in Parkland, at some point in that shooting, whether it was a gun jam or reloading, the shooter had to stop and people got away."

Because of that, he said that he is prepared to reconsider his position.

"If I'm being intellectually honest, I have to look at it again,'' he said. "Frankly, I haven't figured out how to regulate it in a way that could also pass. Some people just want to ban them. I'm not sure that's the right answer."

He said he is looking at the idea but added, " I just don't have a proposal to bring to people that we can defend. I have to be able to explain to people in both sides of how we arrived that point."

March 27, 2018

Gov. Scott, Cabinet must create new voting rights restoration system

A federal judge on Tuesday ordered Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet to establish a new system for convicted felons to seek restoration of their voting rights by April 26.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee issued a permanent injunction in support of the Fair Elections Legal Network that sued the state a year ago, and successfully challenged the constitutionality of the state’s antiquated voting rights restoration process.

Walker did not order the restoration of voting rights for any felons in his order, but he directed Scott and his three fellow Republicans to establish “specific and neutral criteria to direct vote-restoration decisions,” and “meaningful, specific and expeditious time constraints” for the voting rights restoration process.


FDLE investigating missing hard drives from state Department of Revenue

Florida's Old Capitol, seen from North Monroe Street in Tallahassee.

State police are investigating the possible theft of three external hard drives containing personal information held by the Florida Department of Revenue.

In a press release, the department said the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Office of Inspector General were now investigating, after the drives were found missing from employee workstations in Tallahassee.

The department is "working swiftly to identify the information contained on these devices," which were used only by "authorized employees," the release states.

"If, after the full investigation, it is found that any employee did not take the proper steps to protect taxpayer information, they will be held accountable," the release states.

A department spokeswoman would not elaborate on the type of personal information contained on the drives, citing the ongoing investigation. The Department of Revenue collects taxes and manages the state's child support system.

Sen. Marco Rubio on having U.S. Census asking about citizenship: I don't see the problem with it

Marco Rubio 32718U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio departed from his Miami colleagues Tuesday and said the decision by Commerce Secretary Ross on Monday to include a citizenship question in the  2020 Census is, essentially, no big deal.

"I personally don't see the problem with it,'' Rubio told reporters at a "pen and pad" briefing in Tallahassee Tuesday. "I think there's a lot of noise being made about it."

Rubio's comments diverge from the opinion of other members of Congress from South Florida who have said they fear some people could be dissuaded from answering the census if the citizenship question is asked. It would be the first time since the 1950s that the people are asked to identify whether they are legal citizens or not. 

Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has said she fears that asking about citizenship could discourage an accurate count and rob South Florida, home to about 450,000 undocumented immigrants, from drawing down federal dollars for infrastructure projects and social service programs that are based on the census count. 

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, said he is also concerned that the question could discourage people from responding to the census tally, and ultimately harm everything from federal money to redistricting. 

The U.S. Constitution requires the federal government to conduct a census every 10 years to determine how many people are living in a given area. The count traditionally attempts to include everyone, regardless of their citizenship status, including undocumented immigrants. 

Rubio, however, said that since the census already asks a host of personal questions one more question -- about the legal status of people living in the country -- won't matter.

"It asks you all sorts of other information for purposes of identifying the demographics of a community,'' he said. "They ask you how much money you make, how many kids you have, your race and ethnicity. Why wouldn't it ask you about your citizenship status?"

"Some people are going around saying they are going to use the census document as some sort of immigration enforcement vehicle and others are concerned that there will be underreporting,'' he said. " But the truth is, congressional districts across the state are designed by population and taking into account how many are U.S. citizens, I personally don't see the problem with it."

Meanwhile, civil and human rights groups have blasted the decision to include the citizenship question in the next census. 

The NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice called it "a political calculation designed to undermine our Constitution and undercount children, people of color, and other vulnerable populations."


Vanita Gupta, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said his organization will urge Congress to overturn the Commerce Department decision. 

"Adding this question will result in a bad census – deeply flawed population data that will skew public and private sector decisions to ensure equal representation, allocate government resources, and anticipate economic growth opportunities – for the next 10 years,'' he said in a statement. "The stakes are too high to allow this. We urge Congress to overturn this error in judgment.”