« April 2019 | Main | June 2019 »

11 posts from May 2019

May 21, 2019

Fourth Miami-Dade commissioner: I'm running for mayor in 2020


It's not official yet, but a fourth Miami-Dade commissioner is sending word he plans to run for county mayor in 2020.

Jean Monestime, a former commission chairman who took office in 2014 as the first Haitian-American member of the 13-seat board, has privately told fellow commissioners he is running. Publicly, he sounds like a candidate-in-waiting. "I'm speaking to leaders in the community right now. I'm reaching out to different advisers and counselors and elders in the community. ...as I'm trying to formulate a plan to get in there," Monestime said of the 2020 race during a Tuesday interview. "I think I should be able to do that formally within the next 30 days." 

The Democrat joins three fellow commissioners on the list of 2020 contenders. Only one, Daniella Levine Cava, has actually filed candidacy papers. The other two, Esteban "Steve" Bovo and Xavier Suarez, are raising money for a potential 2020 race to succeed term-limited Carlos Gimenez, but have not filed papers or made an announcement. 

Bovo and fellow commissioner Joe Martinez both said Tuesday that Monestime told them he was running for mayor in 2020. While county offices are non-partisan, Florida's Democratic Party tried to recruit Monestime to challenge Gimenez, a Republican, in 2016. Monestime considered it but ultimately passed on the race. 

While in place for the mayor since the 1990s, term-limit rules in 2020 will force their first retirements for county commissioners, including Bovo and Suarez. Monestime and Levine Cava's final four-year terms do not expire until 2022. 


May 13, 2019

Florida banking regulator suspended over harassment allegation

Florida’s top banking regulator was suspended Friday after an employee accused him of “inappropriate and uncomfortable" behavior just weeks after he took the job.
Ronald Rubin, commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation, is on paid leave while an inspector general investigates.
An agency spokeswoman declined to comment, citing the open investigation. Rubin was unable to be reached for comment Monday, but he declined to comment to the American Banker newspaper over the weekend.
On Friday, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis issued a press release announcing Rubin’s suspension and released a redacted complaint filed by one of the employees working in Rubin’s agency.
The employee, whose name and title were redacted, described behavior by Rubin that forced the employee to hide and take time off to avoid seeing the commissioner.
On the way to lunch with Rubin one day in April, the commissioner suggested the two stop by his downtown Tallahassee condominium “so that he could show me the renovations that had been done,” according to the complaint.
Rubin asked the employee to remove their shoes, and the employee described it as an “uncomfortable situation.”
While at lunch, Rubin mentioned his parents’ sex life. On the way back from lunch, Rubin again wanted to stop by his condo to talk to people who were painting it.
The next day, Rubin offered the employee to go with him to a conference in Washington. When the employee declined, he offered a key to his D.C. apartment whenever the employee wanted to visit the city.
The behavior prompted the employee to ask for another position within the agency. And in other instances, the employee hid in an office and declined to hang out with coworkers out of fear of running into Rubin, according to the complaint.
“I feel like my opportunities to get to know my coworkers and people in this agency have been hindered by inappropriate and uncomfortable circumstances,” the employee wrote. “Considering I am new to the agency it has made my transition here much more difficult than I feel it should be or would be otherwise.”
“Every person deserves to feel safe and respected in their work environment,” Patronis said in a statement Friday. “That standard is non-negotiable.”
On Monday, Attorney General Ashley Moody called the allegations “deeply troubling" and said they should be addressed during an emergency Cabinet meeting. Rubin reports to the Cabinet, which includes Moody, Patronis, the governor and the Commissioner of Agriculture.
Rubin, a former special counsel in the Division of Enforcement at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, was named in February to handle oversight of Florida’s banks, check-cashing stores and payday loan shops.
The appointment came nearly nine months after Patronis forced out Rubin’s predecessor, former Commissioner Drew Breakspear.
Patronis had cited concerns over Breakspear’s “lack of cooperation, responsiveness, and communication,” and Patronis’ office also said he was upset over Breakspear’s handling of a sexual assault complaint between two Financial Regulation employees.

May 08, 2019

FBI will meet with Florida lawmakers to discuss 2016 Russia hack

Download (11)


The FBI will meet with Florida Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives on May 16th after they asked for a briefing on the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in Florida during the 2016 presidential election, a congressional source told the Miami Herald. 

Politico Florida first reported the meeting, which Reps. Stephanie Murphy and Michael Waltz requested on May 2nd. The FBI is also meeting with Sen. Rick Scott and Gov. Ron DeSantis after the Mueller Report said an FBI investigation found that "at least one Florida county" was infiltrated by Russian spear phishing attempts during the 2016 campaign. It's unclear which county was hacked and how much information the hack elicited. 

Sen. Marco Rubio told the New York Times that an intelligence operation uncovered the breach some time ago. But he said national security officials chose to protect intelligence methods by issuing a broad warning to Florida’s 67 elections offices instead of informing the state or the local office that had been hacked.

“Everybody has been told what it is they need to do to protect themselves from the intrusion,” Rubio said. “I don’t believe the specific victims of the intrusion have been notified.”

The confirmation by Rubio, a Republican member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, elevated concerns about the security of elections in a state of 13 million voters. It also shed a new light on why there has been so much confusion around whether Florida was, in fact, hacked during the 2016 campaign.

Republicans think Ilhan Omar is a winning message against South Florida Democrats



South Florida Democrats are among the most knowledgable lawmakers on the ongoing crisis in Venezuela, and frequently work with Republicans on the issue. After all, they represent some of the largest Venezuelan and South American communities in the United States. 

That doesn't matter to national Republicans.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, a group that seeks to elect Republicans to the House of Representatives, launched a Facebook ad campaign this week targeting Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell for not calling on Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar to step down from the foreign affairs committee after she referred to U.S. support for Juan Guaido as a U.S.-backed coup attempt.

"Ilhan Omar blamed the U.S. for the Venezuela crisis and openly supports murderous socialist dictator Nicolas Maduro," the ad says. "But Debbie Mucarsel-Powell has been SILENT. Tell Debbie it's time to remove Omar from the Foreign Relations Committee." 


Omar is a lightning rod for controversy during her first months in office, making comments about Jewish people that evoked anti-Semitic stereotypes in addition to her critical comments on the administration's decision to recognize Guaido as Venezuela's legitimate leader. Republicans have called on her to step down from the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Mucarsel-Powell, along with South Florida Reps. Donna Shalala and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, were the first three members of Congress to sponsor legislation in response to the crisis in Venezuela and they do not share views of some of their colleagues on the left. Their bills passed the House of Representatives and await consideration in the Senate. 

"We are targeting key swing voters who don't share in the socialist Democrats' embrace of a brutal dictator," NRCC spokesperson Camille Gallo said in an email. The ads will run for seven days and she said the total spending of the ad by is in the "thousands," according to Gallo. 

Mucarsel-Powell has an announced Republican challenger in Irina Vilariño, the owner of Las Vegas Cuban restaurants, but she remains the favorite to win reelection in a Democratic-leaning district after raising over $450,000 in the first quarter of 2019.  She won one of the most expensive congressional races in the country in 2018 on a healthcare-focused message and her district is rated as "lean Democratic" by the Cook Political Report.

The NRCC has also attacked South Florida Democrats on whether or not they support impeaching Donald Trump, though none of them back impeachment. 

'You can call him our water czar': Nikki Fried names Florida's new water policy director


Florida's got a new "water czar," agriculture commissioner Nicole "Nikki" Fried announced Wednesday.

Chris Pettit, who has worked for years in water management districts and county water utilities, will replace Steve Dwinell, who retired as water policy director for the state's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Office of Agricultural Water Policy.

Fried said Pettit and his office will work to develop and implement best management practices, known as BMPs, for agriculture. BMPs, which have been criticized in the past for not being enforced, aim at lowering and maintaining nutrient runoff from farming operations. The nutrient runoff is a key source in the development of the red tide and blue-green algae that choked Florida's coasts and waterways last summer.

Fried said she is still seeking money for BMP implementation. This year she requested $25 million in the budget to help Florida farmers implement water efficiency improvements and reduce nutrient usage, but only received $4 million — a $1 million reduction from last year's budget. 

"Addressing our state's water issues was one of my top priorities when I was running for office," Fried said during a press conference at the South Florida Water Management District in West Palm Beach. "Today's appointment is an important step in achieving that goal. Cleaning up our water and keeping it clean for generations to come involves real comprehensive solutions to our water problems." 

She said Pettit's new role will involve building partnerships to the state's agriculture and environmental community to build a "path forward" to a cleaner Florida. 

"Chris and I have a shared approach of really bringing everybody together, listening and finding common ground," she said. 

Pettit said he hopes to move past any "divisiveness" in the communities, which have blamed one another for last summer's outbreak. 

"We share a vision, finding common ground between agricultural, environmental and urban communities in pursuit of healthy ecosystem and watersheds," he said. "My responsibility is to ... bring stakeholders together and tackle these difficult issues."

Who are the six Republican Florida lawmakers who voted against the bill allowing teachers to be armed?

Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami
Perhaps the bill that drew the most local and national headlines during Florida’s legislative session was Senate Bill 7030, which allows classroom teachers to be armed on campus. The bill was a follow-up to last year’s law passed in the wake of the shooting in Parkland, which first created the “Guardian program” to allow school staff to be armed but excluded teachers who “exclusively perform classroom duties" from being eligible.
This year’s bill, which is expected to be signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in the coming days, undid that exception. Anyone volunteering to participate in the program must undergo screening and training by law enforcement.
The bill was largely passed along party lines. However, a handful of Republicans broke ranks to also vote against the bill along with the Democrats.
In the House, five GOP state representatives voted “no:" Reps. Mike Beltran of Lithia, Vance Aloupis of Miami, Chip LaMarca of Fort Lauderdale, Mike Caruso of Delray Beach and David Smith of Winter Springs.
All five are freshmen, meaning they were just elected to the Legislature last year. Several said they had not coordinated their vote, but instead had decided on their own they would not support the bill.
Beltran said his vote was the result of several months’ worth of research as well as “overwhelming opposition” from his constituents.
“I feel that firearms in our schools belong in the hands of trained law enforcement professionals. I am prepared to allocate the resources necessary to protect each school,” he wrote in a statement. “Community sentiment strongly aligned with my own analysis and so the answer was clear.”
Similarly, Aloupis said his vote was influenced by his community’s reaction to the idea.
“School safety isn’t a partisan issue,” he said. “There’s much good that the bill will do, especially in the area of data sharing. However, many parents and other stakeholders in my community urged me to vote ‘no’ for reasons specific to the Guardian program — and it’s my responsibility to make sure that those voices are heard in Tallahassee.”
In addition to the contentious piece involving teachers carrying guns, the bill also adds a slew of other school safety measures, such as more specific guidelines for how schools should offer mental health services to students as well as creates a standardized, statewide “threat assessment” tool for schools to keep records of students they feel may pose a “behavioral threat” to themselves or others.
LaMarca said the fact that his district is in Broward County played a role.
“Having heard from hundreds of families, parents, students, school district members, law enforcement officers, as well as members of the (Marjory Stoneman Douglas) Public Safety Commission ... I voted NO,” he wrote. “My geographic location and personal relationships with many of the families and elected officials made this a very personal issue for me.”
In the Senate, Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said during a committee meeting in mid-April that she would not be supporting the bill in an emotional speech, so her “no” vote was expected.
When it comes to putting more guns in schools, "there’s more things that can go wrong than can go right in that situation,” she said at the time. “I really hope that I’m wrong. I hope we’re all wrong and it will be a lot more good that comes from this than bad, but I firmly believe our kids’ lives should be protected by more than just hope.”
To see how other state senators voted on the bill, click here.
To view the votes in the state House, click here.

May 04, 2019

Changes to Bright Futures test score requirements passed by Florida Legislature

Senate keeler
SCOTT KEELER | Times The Florida Senate was in session on Tuesday, April 30, 2019 during the last week of the sixty day session.

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Legislature passed a bill, Senate Bill 190, that will result in higher required test scores for Bright Futures college scholarships for students who graduate in 2021 and beyond.

For students who would receive the “Academic” scholarship, which covers full tuition and fees at state universities and colleges, the required SAT score will rise from 1290 to around 1330. For the second-tier “Medallion” award which covers 75 percent of tuition and fees, the benchmark would climb from 1170 to about 1200.

The specific number for the new scores would be set by the Department of Education based on national averages, which are rising as a result of the test-makers removing the quarter-point penalty for wrong answers in 2016.

Even still, the change in scores will likely result in thousands of high school students no longer being eligible, and Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said low-income and minority students would be disproportionately affected.

READ MORE: Bright Futures standards could rise, hurting students of color — again

Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, who sponsored the House version, said the change is needed to ensure the scholarship goes to students who are “indeed our best scholars.”

The bill also, notably, did not include another measure supported in the House that would have required universities to survey their faculty and students about their political leanings to ensure “intellectual diversity.”

Republicans in the Senate, however, rejected that language.

“I tell you this bill doesn’t have that in it because many of us ... find that idea dangerous," said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island. “Any time our country’s ever gone down that road it’s ended poorly.”

May 02, 2019

FL House passes bill to bury power lines

FPL elnuevo 91917

A bill that would require utilities to give long-range storm protection plans to the Florida Public Service Commission got the OK from the Florida House.

Without any debate and an overwhelming 110-3 vote, the bill passed through the House Wednesday. The bill passed 37-2 in the Senate last week.

The bill aims to create more plans to bring power lines underground, an expensive process that may or may not deliver significant improvement in the grid. It provides an opportunity for investor-owned utilities to build infrastructure and profit from the capital improvements — charges that will show up on customer utility bills.

According to the staff analysis by the House and Senate, these new bills create a new cost recovery charge, separate from a utility’s base rates. An investor-owned utility can recover its costs to implement a 30-year storm protection plan, including a profit on capital projects.

Sen. José Javier Rodríguez spoke to House Democrats at their pre-session caucus meeting Tuesday, pointing out issues in the bill. 

“There’s going to be less scrutiny on what they’re spending it on and it will be more expensive for consumers on this state,” said the Miami Democrat, who was one of two “no” votes in the Senates.

Rodríguez compared the bill to an action in 2011 when the state approved requests by FPL and another utility, Progress Energy, to add more than $2 monthly to their customers’ bills for nuclear “cost recovery.” The “cost recovery” is for plants that may never be built including proposed new reactors at Turkey Point, 25 miles south of Miami near Homestead.

“This is basically the same thing,” he added.

House Democratic Reps. Anna Eskamani, Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, and Cindy Polo, D-Miami Lakes, voted no after bringing up similar concerns in debate Tuesday night.

Eskamani, D-Orlando, asked a series of questions regarding the cost being passed off to customers and the utility companies that would benefit. 

“I have serious concerns around any legislation that provides another avenue for investor-owned-utilities to increase rates,” she said.

Rep. Randy Fine, who sponsored the House bill, said constituents will appreciate the extra costs when their lights stay on, bringing up anecdotal examples of nursing homes that go black during hurricanes or restaurant workers who lose when the power goes out.

The Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, already has a plan in place for storm hardening.

After the rash of Florida hurricanes in 2004 and 2005, the Public Service Commission imposed several new requirements on utility companies with respect to preparing for storms and strengthening infrastructure. The commission adopted a rule that requires each company to file storm hardening plans every three years.

“Do we want resiliency?” the Palm Bay Republican asked. “Do we want hardening? Do we want long-term plans?"

The Public Service Commission estimates that the implementation of the bill would require them to hire four more employees, which Fine said is a testament to an increased focus on transparency. In total, they would cost about $261,269 in the next fiscal year.

Undergrounding just 4 percent of Florida Power and Light’s overhead power lines would cost about $577 million per year, according to a staff analysis of the bill. The state’s largest utility’s current undergrounding program costs more than $632,000 per mile.

Democrats are coming to Broward as part of a national voting rights effort

Download (10)


Broward County was ground zero for claims of election fraud, blown deadlines, lawsuits and incompetence during the 2018 election.

Now, Democrats are coming from Washington to hold hearings in Fort Lauderdale as part of a national effort to examine voting rights and election administration issues.

On Monday, four members of the Committee on House Administration, along with local Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Alcee Hastings, will hold an official field hearing at the Broward County Governmental Center. Former gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, who is leading an effort to register one million new voters ahead of the 2020 election, is among the witnesses.

Since taking control of the House in November, House Democrats, led by Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge, had or are planning hearings and listening sessions in Brownsville, Texas, Atlanta, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Alabama and Washington, D.C. The Atlanta hearing included former Georgia gubernatorial candidate and Gillum ally Stacey Abrams, and Republicans argued that her testimony was being used to raise her political profile.

Democrats are using the hearings to build evidence for future legislation that would require certain states to obtain federal pre-clearance before changing any voting laws or practices. In a landmark 2013 case, the Supreme Court ruled that a provision in the Voting Rights Act designed to prevent laws or policies that deny people the right to vote based on race was unconstitutional. Since the decision, certain states have tried to pass voter ID laws or revived voter ID laws that were declared invalid by the federal government.

More here.

May 01, 2019

FL Legislature approves right to grow veggie gardens


The Miami Shores front-yard vegetable garden, as seen in 2013, that created a dispute leading to this year's legislation that would prevent local governments from regulating locations of such gardens (Walter Michot / Miami Herald file)





A bill that will ban local governments from regulating vegetable gardens — and herb, fruit and flower gardens — is headed to the governor’s desk.

The House bill, which passed 93-16 on Wednesday, prohibits local governments from regulating vegetable gardens on residential property and voids any existing ordinances or regulations that tell people where they can and can’t grow their own produce.

An identical Senate version passed 35-5 out of the chamber last week.

The conversation surrounding vegetable gardens is rooted in a legal dispute about an ordinance in Miami Shores that banned the gardens from being planted in front yards. Hermine Ricketts and Tom Carroll, who ate from their vegetable garden for 17 years, sued the village after they faced $50 in daily fines after the village amended its ordinance in 2013. They had to dig up their garden — which can’t grow in their backyard because of a lack of sun. Gone were their tomatoes, beets, scallions, spinach, kale and multiple varieties of Asian cabbage to boot.

In November 2017, an appeals court upheld a ruling that the couple does not have a constitutional right to grow vegetables in their front yard. They appealed the ruling to the Florida Supreme Court, which declined to grant review.

The main opponent to both vegetable garden bills has been the Florida League of Cities, who have argued that the unique aesthetic of Florida’s cities are brought about through code enforcement. They also argued against the idea of preemption, which would undo rules like a 2013 Orlando ordinance that allows residents to use 60 percent of their front yard as a vegetable garden.

While other concerns over too much preemption came up in committee, the bill specifies that the language does not apply to other regulations like limits on water use during droughts, regulated fertilizer use or the control of invasive species.

“This bill should not be viewed as an attack on home rule, but rather a defense of our most basic rights as Floridians," said House bill sponsor Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff, R-Deland. "Whether it’s a hobby or a way for a cash strapped family to save money without sacrificing their nutrition, government at any level has no business telling Floridians that they cannot grow their own food because of where they live.”

The Senate passed a similar bill during the 2018 session, but the clock ran out and it never got a House companion.

Rickets said she is relieved that she can finally regrow her garden, which she leaned on as a hobby and source of nourishment.

“After almost six years of fighting, I am relieved that my right to grow my own garden, on my own property, is finally going to be protected,” Ricketts said. “Once it was taken from me, my health suffered severely. I am looking forward to the time that I can once again grow my own food, for my own consumption, without having to worry that an overzealous code enforcement officer will try to fine me into destitution.”

Ari Bargil, who represented Ricketts and Carroll, said he was happy to hear that the Legislature understood the importance of the family's case.

“This bill eliminates the ability of local governments to enact senseless laws targeting basic acts of self-sufficiency under the pretense of ‘aesthetics,’” said attorney Ari Bargil, who represented the Miami Shores family. “By signing this bill, the governor will reaffirm that Florida is a state that respects both basic property rights and constitutionally protected civil liberties."