January 09, 2019

FAU researcher to Senators: Address septic systems over Everglades reservoir

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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."

October 10, 2017

Taddeo joins Florida Senate as first Hispanic Democratic woman elected to chamber

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@ByKristenMClark

Beginning her service in Tallahassee this week as Florida’s newest state senator, Miami Democrat Annette Taddeo said she aims to be “a voice of inclusion, a voice of opportunity for all.”

“Just bringing the voice of the people,” Taddeo said at the state Capitol Tuesday morning after she was officially sworn in as District 40’s next senator. “It was not just a hashtag when we said it was ‘a people-powered campaign’ — it was truly born from the community and I’m very proud of that.”

Taddeo won a special election on Sept. 26 to replace disgraced former Sen. Frank Artiles, a Miami Republican who resigned in April. Her upset win over former state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, helped the Democrats secure an additional seat in the Senate, narrowing the Republican majority to 24-16.

In joining the Senate, the Colombian-born Taddeo also became the first Hispanic Democratic woman elected to the chamber.

“It’s a humbling experience; I’m very excited and honored to be given this responsibility,” she said. “I’m ready.”

Full story here.

 

Photo credit: State Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, center, is sworn in to office by Florida Supreme Court Justice Peggy Quince on Oct. 10, 2017. She was joined at her swearing-in ceremony by her 11-year-old daughter Sofia Taddeo-Goldstein, her husband Eric Goldstein and her mother Elizabeth Taddeo. [Florida Senate]

September 25, 2017

Open Miami-Dade House, Senate seats will be decided in Tuesday special election

Diaz and Taddeo

@ByKristenMClark

In a special election on Tuesday, voters in southwest Miami-Dade County will determine the successors for two seats in the state Legislature that opened up after a Miami Republican senator was forced to resign last spring when he made racist and insulting remarks in front of fellow senators at a bar near the state Capitol.

The fight for the District 40 Senate seat — formerly held by Frank Artiles, who stepped down in April — has been highly competitive for what it could mean, particularly for Democrats: The chance to flip the seat and narrow Republicans’ current 24-15 advantage in the chamber.

The House District 116 seat is also on the ballot, because Florida’s “resign to run” law required Miami Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz to vacate that seat when he chose to run in the District 40 contest.

More details here.

Photo credit: Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, left, and Democrat Annette Taddeo, right. [Miami Herald file photo.]

September 21, 2017

Annette Taddeo nabs late campaign endorsement from Joe Biden

2bBiden

@ByKristenMClark

Just how important is a win next week for Florida Democrats in the competitive special election for a state Senate seat in Miami-Dade County?

Important enough that former Vice President Joe Biden recorded a campaign call for Annette Taddeo in an effort to give a late boost to the Democrat’s candidacy against Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz.

Taddeo’s campaign announced Biden’s endorsement — and the phone call he recorded for her — on Thursday afternoon, five days before the District 40 election will be decided on Tuesday. Voting early in person and by mail has already started.

“I wanted to call to remind you that voting is underway for a very important special election in your community,” Biden says in the 50-second recording to voters, which is a political ad paid for by Taddeo’s campaign.

More here.

Photo credit: AP

September 18, 2017

As state Senate election nears, Diaz, Taddeo debate 'lessons learned' from Hurricane Irma

Diaz taddeo debate 0917

@ByKristenMClark

The impacts and recovery efforts that followed Hurricane Irma have presented fresh fodder for political debate between the two main candidates who are seeking voters’ support in a bitter battle that will be decided next week for an open state Senate seat in Miami-Dade County.

On WPLG Local 10 News’ “This Week in South Florida” on Sunday, Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz and Democrat Annette Taddeo sparred about the “lessons learned” from the storm.

They also used the 10-minute televised debate to trade attacks over which of them caters more to special interest groups and industries that came to the forefront during and after the hurricane, such as utilities and nursing home care.

“What we have learned is that industry has a great impact at the [Public Service Commission], at the Legislature. They have killed certain legislation so it could have prevented the lives that we lost at the nursing home,” Taddeo said on the Sunday morning show, referencing the eight elderly people who died last week in a Broward County facility that lacked air conditioning after the hurricane.

Whether it was the elder care industry or utilities, like Florida Power & Light, Taddeo said: “We need to make sure we have representatives that represent us — not the special interests. And that’s not what we have right now; we have had this problem in Florida for decades.”

Diaz — who’s served in the Florida House for seven years — countered that “it’s unfortunate that my opponent would try to paint me off as someone who’s beholden to special interests.”

“The only special interest that matters to me is the people of my community. Nobody’s worked harder during and after this storm than me,” Diaz said.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, left, and Democrat Annette Taddeo, right, debate during Sunday’s episode of “This Week in South Florida” on WPLG Local 10 News in Miami. Diaz and Taddeo are candidates for the open Senate District 40 seat in Miami-Dade County. [WPLG]

Lawmakers have favored relaxing school building codes. Will Irma change that trend?

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by @WLRN's @jessicabakeman

As Hurricane Irma bore down on South Florida, Kevin Youngman and his family sought shelter at Falcon Cove Middle School in Weston. There, he found himself in enemy territory.

“I think it’s weird for us because we all went to the rival middle school, Tequesta Trace,” said Youngman, 25, as he relaxed on an air mattress in the school gym.

“We’re kind of backstabbing our roots a little bit,” he joked, as he and his mother laughed. “But I guess Tequesta is backstabbing us, because they didn’t open up a shelter there — so I guess it’s their fault, not ours.”

Youngman was right about his alma mater: Tequesta Trace didn’t open as one of Broward County’s 21 shelters during Hurricane  Irma. That’s because the school wasn’t built to withstand the most dangerous storms. Alternatively, Falcon Cove is what emergency officials call an “Enhanced Hurricane Protection Area,” one of the state’s most fortified shelters.

Most public schools are constructed specifically for the purpose they served during Irma: to house people during emergencies. But that could change over time, as the Republican-led state Legislature has begun relaxing the more stringent building codes that apply to public schools. At the same time, lawmakers have promoted the growth of privately run charter schools, which aren’t required to comply with the same high construction standards.

Local leaders worry: If more schools are built without hurricane protections, there could be fewer places for people like Youngman and his family to go during storms.

More here.

WLRN is a news partner of the Miami Herald.

Photo credit: People from different part of the city gets ready to spend the night at the South Miami Senior High School shelter as South Florida prepares for the coming hurricane Irma in South Florida on September 08, 2017. Pedro Portal / Miami Herald

September 06, 2017

UPDATED: Taddeo, Diaz temporarily suspending Senate campaigns for Hurricane Irma

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@ByKristenMClark

Florida Legislature (34)The two candidates in a fierce battle for an open state Senate seat in Miami-Dade County have temporarily suspended their campaigns due to Hurricane Irma and say they have redirected their efforts to help with preparations for the massive storm.

Democratic businesswoman Annette Taddeo announced Wednesday morning she was putting a pause on her campaign and she called on her opponent -- Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz -- to do the same "to ensure our teams and their families can prepare for the storm."

“Our community’s safety must be our singular focus right now," Taddeo said in a statement. "Therefore, I have instructed my team to move to immediately suspend campaign activities and have asked that we pause any advertising from airing as soon as possible."

In a statement to the Herald/Times, Diaz indicated he had quietly already taken similar steps earlier this week.

"My main priority right now is to make sure that the residents of our community are safe and prepared," Diaz said. "Until Hurricane Irma clears, my state Senate campaign has refocused to emergency preparations mode."

Diaz said he's been in contact with state and local authorities in the past couple days and has also visited community centers and spoken with senior citizens to emphasize preparation. He said, "as of yesterday [Tuesday], all our radio ads were switched to hurricane preparedness messages."

"Needless to say, my efforts are focused on making sure that our community is safe, strong, and ready for the potential impacts of Hurricane Irma," Diaz said.

Taddeo also had urged Miami-Dade residents to heed weather warnings.

The general election for the District 40 seat in southwest Miami-Dade is on Sept. 26.

Photo credit: Annette Taddeo [top], Miami Herald file. Jose Felix Diaz [right], AP.

*This post was updated at 12:50 p.m.

August 30, 2017

Florida Democrats urge state lawmakers to remove Confederate statue in U.S. Capitol

Confederate Statue Florida

@alextdaugherty 

 

The entire Florida Democratic congressional delegation wants Gov. Rick Scott and state lawmakers to remove a statue of Confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith from the U.S. Capitol.

On Wednesday, 11 House Democrats from Florida sent a letter to Scott, State House speaker Richard Corcoran and State Senate president Joe Negron urging the trio to call a one-day special session to replace the statue in September.

“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, inequality and oppression,” the letter said.

Last year, the state legislature agreed to remove Smith's statue but it remains in National Statuary Hall in Washington, where daily tours are conducted in the Capitol, because lawmakers couldn't agree on a replacement.

But with the recent violent protests in Charlottesville and elsewhere over the legacy of Confederate statues, and debates about streets named after Confederate generals in Florida, Democrats around the country are pushing to remove statues in public places.

Two weeks ago, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, asked state lawmakers to make the change.

“It's time to stop playing games,” Wasserman Schultz said.

Now, Wasserman Schultz is joined by her Democratic colleagues in Washington, including Miami Gardens Rep. Frederica Wilson.

Scott and Corcoran ruled out the possibility of a special session two weeks ago.

“Like most politicians in Washington, the Congresswoman is out of touch,” Corcoran said on Twitter. “We've already made this decision and are now having a conversation about which great Floridian we should honor. The Congresswoman should stop grandstanding and focus on balancing the Federal budget.”

Read more here. 

July 10, 2017

Boston police called Alex Diaz de la Portilla 'belligerent' in 2012 misdemeanor arrest

IMG_districtelALEX_2_1_KQ5I3SGGvia @newsbysmiley

A former Miami lawmaker hoping to return to the state Senate this summer was arrested in Boston nearly five years ago after police say he and a guest ignored orders by hotel security to stop smoking cigarettes in their room and then became “belligerent” when told to pack their bags and leave.

Alex Diaz de la Portilla was charged with trespassing and taken into police custody, according to an incident report and booking form obtained by the Miami Herald. Police also arrested Tania G. Cruz, the daughter-in-law of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, on the same charge.

The Oct. 19, 2012, misdemeanor cases were dismissed prior to arraignment at the request of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, according to the Central Division of the Boston Municipal Court. Diaz de la Portilla brushes the incident aside as a non-event.

But the police description of the previously unreported incident is unflattering. And the details are coming to light just days ahead of a July 25 Republican primary election to decide whether Diaz de la Portilla, State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz or attorney Lorenzo Palomares will represent the party in the race to replace former Sen. Frank Artiles in serving District 40.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Miami Herald file photo

July 05, 2017

After death threat, Miami Republican agrees to diversion program for suspect

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@martindvassolo

After receiving a death threat last week, a Miami Republican has agreed to allow the suspect to enter a diversion program, where he would receive mental health treatment and perhaps a lesser sentence.

Florida Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, who last week received a death threat on his Facebook page, told the Miami Herald's editorial board on Wednesday that he "expressed a desire" to help suspect Steve St. Felix enter into a diversion program as opposed to an immediate criminal sentence.

In Miami-Dade County, the victims of minor felonies must consent to allow suspects enter into year-long diversion programs, said Jacqueline Woodward, St. Felix's attorney. Afterward, a judge would decide on a charge.

"I on my own did contact the judiciary and I've spoken with the judges that are in charge of these mental health issues and I expressed a desire to work with the gentleman that threatened me to work on a diversion plan for him," said Diaz, who is running for state Senate. "I don't want him to go to jail for the rest of his life."

St. Felix, a former member of the Miami-Dade Republican Executive Committee, was arrested Monday and charged with making written threats with intent to do bodily injury.

"I'll kill your ass and you better not show up to the next REC meeting," the 34-year-old wrote, a reference to the local Republican party, according to his arrest report. A registered Republican living in Miami Gardens, St. Felix told police he didn't intend to harm Diaz, a current member of the REC. Police said St. Felix had not taken his medications when he made the threat, but it is not known what condition he suffers from.

Steve StfelizHe remains in jail on a $500,000 bond, according to jail records.

"I would be very happy to hear Mr. Diaz is understanding of the situation and realizes that Steve needs mental health help," Woodward said.

During the editorial board meeting, Diaz was joined by fellow Republican candidate Lorenzo Palomares, a local attorney who on Friday offered to represent St. Felix pro-bono after saying Diaz had used the incident to earn free airtime.

While he said the issue should have been dealt within the Republican Executive Committee, which St. Felix resigned from several months ago, Palomares said he was "pleased" with the idea of a diversion program.

"I'm glad that perhaps my input into it made the changes that are coming in respect to that case," Palomares said,to which Diaz shook his head. "But I stand by what I said. I believe a conditional threat is no threat at all."

Diaz said St. Felix had previously posted about harming himself, police and that he was armed, which signaled to him that the threat, while not in person, warranted a call to police.

He called Palomares' offer "disgusting" and out of "third-world politics."

"My goal, not only for his safety but for my family's safety is that he gets the proper treatment he needs," Diaz said. "And if he spirals out of control when he's off his medications, I want to ensure that he's on a program that's monitoring him and making sure that he's taking his medications. Because, you know, today it may be a threat against me but tomorrow it could be against Mr. Palomares."