January 09, 2019

FAU researcher to Senators: Address septic systems over Everglades reservoir

Labelle algae

Should addressing Florida’s septic systems take precedence in addressing water quality issues?

A presentation made to the Senate Agriculture, Environment and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee told lawmakers “yes.”

Brian Lapointe, a researcher from Florida Atlantic University presented for nearly an hour to the committee Wednesday, explaining how septic systems provide primary treatment and are not designed to remove nutrients, bacteria, viruses or pharmaceuticals.

After a long presentation of historical data and a video funded by the Florida Chamber (which initially opposed the Everglades reservoir), Lapointe made the point that a group within the Department of Environmental Protection needs to build a plan to combat septic systems from dumping huge nutrient loads into the waterways.

Lapointe said the Everglades reservoir is “a distraction”  from the real problem of septic tanks, and added that curtailing toxic blue-green algae blooms in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers by sending Lake Okeechobee water south is a bad decision.

“We need a Manhattan Project,” he said. “We need to go to war against blue-green algae. We have to build a state master plan.”

Sen. Ben Albritton, a citrus grower, agreed with Lapointe and blamed newspapers for spreading “misinformation” about how the blooms spread and grow. The Wauchula Republican said farmers are falsely blamed for contaminating the water, and that the public needs to understand the real truth.

“It seems to me that this septic system problem is a bigger and bigger piece of the pie of where the nitrogen is coming from,” he said.

Sen. José Javier Rodríguez expressed concern about his native South Florida, and how it’s more important to send higher quality than a higher quantity of water south to the Everglades from the lake.

But Lapoint said it cleaning water “doesn’t make sense.”

“We have to protect Lake O,” he said. “We have to focus on the source of the water, clean it there and store it there. That’s common sense to me.”

Julie Wraithmell, the executive director of Audubon Florida, called Lapointe’s presentation “completely disingenuous.”

She pointed out how his charts that suggest water flows have increased to the Everglades over time start in the 1940s, which is after the Everglades were drained. She also said the presentation didn’t show how little water the Everglades is getting in dry season flows, which is when the most damage occurs. 

Wraithmell also added that she was “flummoxed” by the idea of blaming septic systems for the majority of nutrient dumps.

“There is no smoking gun for our water quality issues and no silver bullet,” she said. “It’s unfortunate because while it’s part of the science, it’s not all of the science, and for decision-makers to make good decisions, they need all the information."

January 08, 2019

DeSantis to Florida lawmakers: 'I respect the power of the legislative branch'

IMG_9834

Governor Ron DeSantis told lawmakers Tuesday afternoon that he looks forward to working with a legislature that exercises its power, suggesting Congressional lawmakers aren't sufficiently empowered. 

After DeSantis and the rest of the cabinet were sworn in Tuesday afternoon, lawmakers gathered on the fourth floor of the capitol for a luncheon in celebration. 
 
Addressing the group of legislators, the former Congressman said his main frustration with Congress was how weak the legislature was there, and how "they do not exercise the authority that was granted to them in the constitution." 
 
"The average member did not have much of a voice," he said. 
 
DeSantis, who canceled his inaugural parade in order to "get right to work" said the first order of business is to baptize his son, "knock that out," and then hit the ground running.
 
The Governor then presented House Speaker José Oliva and Senate President Bill Galvano with a framed version of the flag that flew over the capitol as they were sworn into office. 
 
"I am someone who thinks the government is better when the legislative branch exercises the power granted to them in the constitution," he said. 

June 01, 2018

Gwen Graham would end private prisons and decriminalize pot possession

Gwen Graham 10 EKM
Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham.

Gwen Graham would phase out private prisons in Florida and decriminalize the personal possession of marijuana if elected governor, according to a nine-point plan her campaign laid out today.

"For too long, the politicians in Tallahassee have ignored the inequity and pervasive prejudice in Florida’s criminal justice system," Graham said in a statement. "While they’ve failed to act, Floridians have been hurt by mass incarceration, increasing costs and devastating cuts."

Graham, one of four Democrats running for governor, laid out proposals that she thinks can pass in Florida's Republican-dominated Legislature, where some Republicans have led the charge for criminal justice reform - with mixed success.

Graham said she supports reforming the bail bond system, which keep poor people who can't afford to pay bail in jail longer. Orlando-area State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced in May that prosecutors in her office would no longer seek bail for low-level offenders, one option that Graham says she is considering.

Some of her other ideas include:

  • Pay raises for prison guards.
  • Require state attorneys to get the opinion of a panel of in-house prosecutors before seeking the death penalty.
  • Reduce sentencing for nonviolent drug possession.
  • Restore voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences.

Graham said her first priority is "upholding the will of the people" and making medical marijuana accessible to those who need it. But she also believes that possession of marijuana in small amounts should not have a criminal penalty.

Some Florida counties have changed their ordinances so that being caught with small amounts of marijuana results in a civil fine, rather than an arrest.

"Florida should embrace the principle that no young person should go to jail or have their lives ruined over an incident of marijuana use — we can and should decriminalize," she said in a statement.

Her ideas were endorsed by former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, state Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, Leon County Public Defender Nancy Daniels and the state's largest police union, the Police Benevolent Association.

“We believe Graham’s plan to better support officers, close the state’s private prisons, and expand rehabilitation programs will make Florida safer," PBA executive director Matt Puckett said in a statement.

Her ideas didn't go quite as far as Orlando businessman Chris King's, who is trailing in the polls. King wants to eliminate the death penalty in Florida and legalize marijuana completely.

Graham's plan prompted King campaign spokesman Avery Jaffe to take a shot at her, calling it "half-hearted" and "lame."

February 26, 2018

GOP Congress returns after Parkland, under pressure to move on guns

US NEWS FLA-SCHOOLSHOOTING-OPENHOUSE 7 MI

@alextdaugherty

When Congress left town after the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a gun control movement led by Broward County students hadn’t yet captured the nation’s attention.

But lawmakers are now back in Washington after a 10-day break, and they’re under pressure to do something from media-savvy students who have so far forced the Florida legislature to offer a $500 million school safety package and driven President Donald Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio to change their stance on some gun policies.

But moving forward in a Republican-controlled Congress will be a tall order, and voting on any piece of legislation in the House of Representatives this week will be tougher since Republican leadership canceled votes on Wednesday and Thursday to honor the late Rev. Billy Graham, who will lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda for two days.

Plus, House leaders argue that they’ve already passed legislation related to mental health funding, tweaking the reporting process by federal and state authorities to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and bump stocks.

“The House has acted and leaders believe it’s the Senate’s turn to act,” a senior Republican House aide said.

The measure that tweaks the background check system, which has wide support from Democrats and Republicans, and directs the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to review bump stocks was attached to a bill that also allows concealed carry permits obtained in one state to be valid in another state, essentially transforming concealed carry permits into transferable documents like driver’s licenses. Democrats generally oppose expanding concealed carry permits across state lines, so they mostly opposed the bill even though it contained something they liked.

The legislative maneuvering on any bill related to guns decreases the chances of something becoming law, and there isn’t any gun bill up for a vote in the House this week, according to Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s calendar.

A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said there aren’t any plans now to fast-track gun-related bills in the upper chamber.

Read more here.

January 09, 2018

Negron: “The Florida Senate has zero tolerance for sexual harassment”

Senate President Joe Negron opened the 2018 Legislative Session by vowing to crack down on sexual harassment, saying the Senate has "zero tolerance for sexual harassment."

"I would like to begin today by addressing a very important issue that addresses not only the Florida senate, but also our counterparts in Congress, the entertainment industry, employers large and small across the country, and our culture in general," Negron said.

"Let me be clear: The Florida Senate has zero tolerance for sexual harassment or misconduct of any time against any employee or visitor," he said.

Allegations of sexual harassment have promised to overshadow the Legislature since last fall, when reports of sexual harassment against Negron's then-budget chair, Sen. Jack Latvala, surfaced.

In November, the Stuart Republican ordered an investigation into the allegations, which eventually led to Latvala's resignation.

He added that the Senate, led by Senate Rules Chair Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, is working to revise its administrative policies regarding harassment.

"I am committed to ensuring we all have a safe workplace environment to do the people's business," Negron said Tuesday.

Negron, is in his last session as Senate president, also emphasized expanding Bright Futures scholarships for college students and addressing the state's opioid crisis.

He also said he supported Scott's push for raises for state law enforcement, and that he supported House Speaker Richard Corcoran's efforts toward "school choice."

"I don’t love my children enough to homeschool them," he quipped. "But I respect the decision of parents to homeschool theirs."

Negron

 

August 15, 2017

Wasserman Schultz: Florida lawmakers should hold special session, replace Confederate statue

@ByKristenMClark Confederate Statue Florida

As monuments celebrating the Confederacy face renewed scrutiny nationwide in the wake of a violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz wants Florida lawmakers to meet in special session this fall to replace the statue of a Confederate general that still represents the Sunshine State in the U.S. Capitol.

State lawmakers already voted 18 months ago to remove the statue of Edmund Kirby Smith from the National Statuary Hall after lengthy and contentious debates in Tallahassee. But Smith’s statue remains in the U.S. Capitol because state lawmakers failed during the 2017 session to agree on whom to replace him with when one committee chairman blocked a proposal.

“It’s time to stop playing games,” Wasserman Schultz, a Broward County Democrat, said in a statement Tuesday. “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 and oppression.”

“Governor [Rick] Scott and the Florida Legislature must take immediate action by calling a one-day special session,” she said.

Full story here.

Photo credit: AP

July 05, 2017

Miami Senate race a hard-edged referendum on Donald Trump

State-senate-gop

@martindvassolo

The Republican primary for a Miami state Senate seat — the first local partisan election since last November — has become a referendum on President Donald Trump.

Two self-described Trump loyalists — a former state senator with a taste for Twitter tussles and an attorney who loathes regulation — have channeled Trump in a hard-edged race against a rival who appears to be their polar opposite: A state representative beloved by Tallahassee Republicans with serious financial backing and a more complicated, and more personal, relationship to the president.

The attorney, Lorenzo Palomares, was the first to invoke Trump in the Senate District 40 race, noting his early support for Trump’s candidacy. But it’s the well-known former senator, Alex Diaz de la Portilla, who’s most prominently tried to position himself as Trump’s heir among Republicans with whom the president remains quite popular.

Then there’s Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the best-funded candidate in the race and a one-time contestant on Trump’s “The Apprentice” reality TV show. Soon after entering the campaign, he drew scorn from both the left and right after deleting from his Twitter account a photo of himself with Trump at an inauguration party, citing “aggressive trolling” from enemies. Diaz de la Portilla and Palomares pointed to the deletion as proof Diaz isn’t a true Trump supporter.

“He’s part of the establishment,” said Palomares, 63, who served as an unofficial Trump surrogate on Spanish-language TV. “He was one of the hundreds of Republicans that never supported Trump. It was only when he became president that they all jumped on the bandwagon.”

Palomares is divorced with two adult daughters and five grandchildren.

Diaz, 37, who is married with two young sons, has tried to distance himself from the hostility, pointing to his four House election victories over the past six years as a sign he could defeat a Democrat in the competitive Senate seat.

“I feel like I have a winning formula,” said Diaz, who represents part of the Senate district in House District 116 and works as a government law attorney. “If you look at my endorsements, the business groups, the conservative groups have endorsed me and not my opponents.”

The three Cuban Americans are vying to represent a largely Hispanic swath of Southwest Miami-Dade County in a special July 25 primary election, which was scheduled following the resignation of former Sen. Frank Artiles, a Republican who left office in April after using racial slurs in conversation with black lawmakers. The Miami Herald also revealed that he had hired a former Hooters “calendar girl” and a Playboy model as political consultants.

Democrats, who hold only 15 of 40 state Senate seats, see an opportunity to seize back control of the district, which they lost last November when Artiles defeated former Sen. Dwight Bullard. The Democratic contenders are former Rep. Ana Rivas Logan and businesswoman Annette Taddeo; the general election will take place Sept. 26.

Read more here.

June 08, 2017

Sarah Palin's falsely linked Florida House photo with her Facebook rant on climate accord

PalinFLHousefacebook

@amysherman1

It’s clear that Sarah Palin hates the Paris climate agreement.

What’s unclear is why she used a photo of Florida lawmakers to make her point in a Facebook meme.

"Don’t be fooled! The Paris climate accord is a scam," stated the headline at the top of Palin’s Facebook post June 6, 2017. (By June 7, the Facebook meme was no longer available but PolitiFact had taken a screenshot of her post, which had been shared at least 8,000 times.)

Beneath the headline is a photo of an unidentified group of mostly men cheering. The Facebook post doesn’t identify the people in the photo, but they are Florida House members at the state Capitol in Tallahassee.

Beneath the photo Palin shared is text that says: "They pretend it’s about fixing our environment ... But it’s really about stealing billions from the American people and giving it to foreign countries, governments and lobbyists!"

The Facebook meme, posted after President Donald Trump pulled out of the agreement, could leave the impression that the people in the photo are rejoicing using the agreement to steal billions from Americans.

That's not the case.

PolitiFact fact-checked Palin’s photo as part of our effort to debunk fake news on Facebook. Our efforts to reach a spokesperson for Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, were unsuccessful. (Palin’s post was previously debunked by other news outlets including the Miami Herald, a partner along with the Tampa Bay Times in PolitiFact Florida, and Politico.)

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

May 24, 2017

At town hall meeting, Miami-Dade Schools urge parents to oppose HB 7069

Town hall photo web

@KyraGurney

Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho had a dire message for parents and teachers at a town hall meeting Tuesday night: If Gov. Rick Scott approves the state budget and a controversial education bill, the school district faces serious financial trouble.

"This is a man-made crisis," Carvalho said, speaking to a packed auditorium at John A. Ferguson Senior High in West Kendall. "If something doesn't change, a crisis it will be."

The town hall at Ferguson High was the third of six meetings organized by the school district this week to urge teachers and parents to contact the governor and ask him to veto a mammoth education bill (HB 7069) and the line-item in the budget for per-pupil education spending.

The $82.4 billion budget passed by the Florida Legislature earlier this month increases school funding by 0.34 percent or $24.49 per student, which Carvalho and other Florida superintendents say is not enough to meet public education needs. At the town hall meeting, Carvalho told residents that after the district's mandatory contribution to the Florida retirement system, the increase amounts to just 50 cents for each of the district's nearly 350,000 students. 

"What can you get for 50 cents these days? Can anybody tell me, please?" Carvalho asked the audience at Ferguson High.

The Miami-Dade school district is also concerned that a provision in HB 7069 — which would compel districts to share millions of dollars in local tax revenue earmarked for capital projects with charter schools — would force Miami-Dade to put maintenance projects on hold and impact the district's credit rating, Carvalho said.

Many in the audience said they shared the school district's concerns and planned to contact the governor. Maria Prospero, the mother of a student at Olympia Heights Elementary School, said she had decided to attend the town hall meeting "for my daughter's rights." Prospero said she was concerned that her daughter's school could lose after-school activities and language programs if the district doesn't get enough state funding. She said she planned to share information about the budget with her friends on Facebook and send an e-mail to Scott. 

Meanwhile, supporters of the education bill are organizing their own events to urge the governor to sign HB 7069 into law. They have planned three rallies this week at the same locations as the school district's town hall meetings. A pro-HB 7069 rally will be held at Miami Senior High School on Thursday at 5 p.m. before the school district's 6 p.m. town hall meeting. Supporters of the bill are also holding a rally on Friday at 3 p.m. outside the School Board Administration Building downtown. A school district sponsored town hall will be held at that location at 4 p.m.  

November 10, 2016

Anitere Flores named to Florida Senate leadership post

Ap_flores2@ByKristenMClark

Newly re-elected Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores has been named the Florida Senate's President Pro Tempore for the 2017 session.

Incoming Florida Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, announced Flores' appointment as his No. 2 on Thursday, heralding Flores as a "loyal friend and trusted ally."

"The role of Senate President Pro Tempore is a significant position of trust and authority," Negron said in a statement, adding that Flores has "longstanding relationships with many new and returning senators. She has a proven ability to work in a bipartisan manner without compromising her own unwavering principles. I have complete confidence in her ability to represent the Senate in this important leadership position."

Flores was re-elected to the Senate on Tuesday with 54 percent of the vote after a competitive battle with Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell for the newly redrawn District 39. The district includes portions of Miami-Dade County and all of Monroe County. Flores has been in the Florida Senate since 2010.

Flores' appointment will become effective Nov. 22, when the Senate convenes in Organization Session. The President Pro Tempore is formally nominated and elected by the full Senate during the Organization Session.

Flores joins a growing list of Miami lawmakers who will hold influential positions in Tallahassee next session. On Wednesday, several Miami-Dade County representatives were also named to the leadership team in the Florida House under incoming Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes.

Photo credit: AP