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Associated Press

Florida school districts join fight against new school law

More and more Florida school districts are joining a looming legal fight over a new law that steers money to privately run charter schools.

The Miami Herald reports the Miami-Dade School Board voted unanimously Wednesday to join a proposed lawsuit to block the sweeping legislation pushed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Miami-Dade is now one of seven districts that have voted to sue over the law, including all three districts located in heavily populated South Florida.

School officials have criticized the law because of the measure forcing school districts to share property taxes with charter schools. Charter schools are in line to get more than $96 million from this provision.

Legislators have defended the new law, saying charter schools are public schools that deserve their share of local tax dollars.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Immigrant groups urge Florida GOP lawmakers to oppose Trump

More than 100 immigration rights activists are urging Republican lawmakers in Florida to firmly oppose President Donald Trump‘s proposals to increase funding for immigration enforcement as deadlines for budget decisions near in Congress.

Advocates from Texas, New Mexico and Washington D.C. expressed anger Tuesday at Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart for backing a spending bill that gives $1.6 million for Trump’s controversial border wall. Other bills would add immigration agents and judges.

Activists targeted Diaz-Balart because he is a House Appropriations Committee member. They’re also concerned that other Cuban-American representatives in South Florida will side with the administration.

One demonstrator, Dian Alarcon, said Diaz-Balart’s office told a smaller group Tuesday the border wall measure would not likely pass the Senate. Diaz-Balart’s aide Cesar Gonzalez told reporters he would not comment.

State parcels out $50 million to help restore springs

Florida has picked 40 projects from across the state that will get a share of $50 million aimed at restoring some of the state’s springs.

The administration of Gov. Rick Scott announced the list of state-funded projects on Monday.

The list includes projects that call for extending sewer lines and connecting homes with septic tanks to central sewer lines. There are also several proposals to acquire land near existing springs.

The projects are expected to help springs located through north and central Florida including Wakulla Springs and Silver Springs.

Silver Springs was one of Florida’s first tourist attractions.

Wakulla Springs is considered one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world. Parts of the 1954 film Creature from the Black Lagoon were filmed at the springs.

Donald Trump’s unprecedented hands-on messaging carries risks

For the third time in six months, President Donald Trump is on the hunt for a new communications director. But in practice, the job is filled.

It’s Trump who’s the White House’s leading expert and the final word on what and how he communicates with the public. Despite decrying most negative media coverage as “fake news” and personally insulting members of the media, he has inserted himself into the White House’s press operations in an unprecedented fashion for a president.

Trump has dictated news releases and pushed those who speak for him to bend the facts to bolster his claims. He has ignored the advice of his legal team and thrown out carefully planned legislative strategies with a single 140-character tweet.

His direct, hands-on style helped him win the White House and still thrills his supporters. It also, however, poses increasing political and potentially legal risks. The clearest example is his involvement in crafting a statement for son Donald Jr. about a meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer. That declaration was quickly proven erroneous and raised questions about whether the president was trying to cover for his son.

Trump has struggled to find a communications adviser that meets his approval.

His first, Mike Dubke, stayed behind the scenes and never clicked with Trump, leaving after three months. Then Sean Spicer, Trump’s oft-beleaguered press secretary, took on the communications director job as well. He resigned both posts last month when Trump brought in hard-charging New York financier Anthony Scaramucci. Scaramucci lasted only 11 days before being fired in the aftermath of an expletive-filled interview.

A fourth candidate for the post, campaign spokesman Jason Miller, was named to the job during the transition but turned it down days later, citing a need to spend time with his family.

More recently there have been some informal internal conversations about an increased communications role for White House aide Stephen Miller, according to an administration official who was not authorized to discuss private talks by name and requested anonymity. Those talks are still seen as preliminary. Miller recently clashed with some reporters over immigration policy at a contentious press briefing.

This past week, as White House staffers readied a statement accompanying Trump’s signature on legislation approving toughened sanctions on Russia — a bill Trump criticized — word came down that the president wanted to add some off-topic language into the statement. That’s according to two officials familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly talk about internal discussions.

“I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars,” the new section read. “That is a big part of the reason I was elected. As president, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress.”

That personal and boastful rhetoric is a far cry from the formal language normally found in presidential statements. It also appeared aimed at angering the same lawmakers he will need if he wants to pass any major legislation.

“All presidents are their own best messengers,” said Ari Fleischer, press secretary for President George W. Bush. Fleischer said that Bush, too, would at times get involved with the White House press shop.

Fleischer noted there was always a safety net of advisers at work. That does not appear to exist around the current president — particular around his Twitter account.

“The lesson for this president is that it’s perfectly fine to be involved and to, at times, go around the mainstream media with Twitter,” Fleischer said. “But he needs to tweet smarter.”

Corralling the president’s impulses is a challenge that now falls to new White House chief of staff John Kelly, a four-star Marine general tasked with straightening out an unruly West Wing. But many Trump allies don’t believe he’ll alter his ways.

“The reality is President Trump is sitting in the Oval Office,” said Sam Nunberg, a former campaign staffer. “And before that, he was a mogul with a business that spanned continents. He did it his way. He’s not going to change. It got him where he is and it will keep him where he is.”

Trump has long considered himself his own best spokesman and cares deeply about his public perception.

While a budding real estate magnate in New York in the 1980s and 1990s, he was known to call reporters to plant anonymously sourced scoops about himself. He vaulted to national stardom with “The Apprentice” and micromanaged aspects of his appearances, including his hair and lighting.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump was known to obsess over single images in a commercial or the font for an ad.

As president, he frequently has raged about his communications staff, blaming them for White House’s stumbles while almost never taking responsibility himself.

An avid consumer of cable news, Trump scolds surrogates when he thinks they are not adequately defending him on television. His frequently shifting positions also challenge his staffers, who have grown to be fearful of answering basic questions about the president’s beliefs for fear of later being contradicted, according to more than a half dozen White House officials and outside advisers speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

And the president has pushed staff to defend untruths, including when he ordered Spicer, in Spicer’s first White House briefing, to claim that the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd was larger than his predecessor’s, according to three White House officials and outside advisers familiar with the encounter.

More untruths have followed. In March, Trump tweeted without evidence that President Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower. And soon after firing FBI Director James Comey, Trump tweeted a warning that Comey had better hope there were no tapes of their White House conversations. There weren’t.

Another statement has received bipartisan condemnation and could face scrutiny from investigators probing possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.

As news broke last month that Trump Jr. had met with Russians in June 2016, the president’s eldest son released a statement — which was in part crafted on Air Force One by the president and a small group of aides while flying home from a summit in Europe — that claimed the meeting was about adoptions. But within days, Trump Jr. had to revise his story several times before eventually acknowledging that he was trying to procure damaging, Russia-produced information about Hillary Clinton.

“This was a bad decision by the president,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “When you get caught in a lie about one thing, it makes it hard to just say let the other stuff go.”

Press secretary Sarah Sanders said last week that Trump “weighed in as any father would, based on the limited information that he had.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Rev. Jesse Jackson visits Florida, discusses voter suppression

The Rev. Jesse Jackson says there was no evidence of voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election but says President Trump’s Commission on Election Integrity should look at the suppression of minority voters in certain states, including Florida.

The civil rights activist visited St. John Baptist Church in Orlando Sunday to encourage voter participation and to talk about voter suppression.

In a call with The Associated Press, Jackson said between 1.3 and 1.7 million voters don’t have the right to vote in Florida because they have a felony conviction although they are no longer incarcerated.

Jackson says his Rainbow PUSH Coalition has set up its own commission of scholars and activists to look into such voter suppression. The group is also focusing on voter registration in closely watched elections in Virginia and New Jersey. And in Florida, the group is focused on restoration of voting rights for felons.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump: My base is stronger than ever, despite 2020 rumblings

President Donald Trump is insisting his support is stronger than ever, despite a report that some Republicans are weighing a 2020 presidential run without him.

In a flurry of early morning tweets Monday, Trump says “the Trump base far bigger & stronger than ever before (despite some phony Fake News polling).” He specifically criticized the “failing @nytimes.” The New York Times detailed efforts by some Republicans looking ahead to 2020, including Vice President Mike Pence. Pence called the report false.

Trump also tweets that he is “working hard” from his private golf club in central New Jersey, while the White House heating and cooling system is repaired, and plans to head to New York next week for “more meetings.” He also reiterated personal attacks on Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal.

The president also plans to spend some time in New York City while he takes a break from Washington.

White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said Monday that Trump will return to his hometown for part of the first half of next week. She did not provide more details.

Trump tweeted Monday that he would be heading to New York for meetings. He has not spent a night at his residence in Trump Tower since the inauguration.

The White House says Trump will be meeting with Cabinet secretaries and top aides on issues like health care and taxes while in New Jersey.

Republish with permission of The Associated Press.

State of Florida will pay $82,000 after losing vote-by-mail lawsuit

Florida is paying attorneys who represented the state and national Democratic Party more than $82,000.

Court records filed last week show the administration of Gov. Rick Scott agreed to pay the money to end a lawsuit over the state’s vote-by-mail law.

Sarah Revell, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner, verified the amount that will be paid.

The Florida Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee sued the state last year because the law did not require voters to be notified if their signatures on their ballot and voter registration forms don’t match. A federal judge called the law “illogical” and “bizarre.”

The Florida Legislature changed the law this spring.

Since Scott took office in 2011, the state has paid nearly $20 million to cover expenses and fees for lawyers who have sued the state.

Florida Supreme Court

Florida Supreme Court warns residents of email, phone scams

The Florida Supreme Court is warning of widespread phone and email scams seeking to trick people into paying money.

A news release sent Friday said the scams appear to heavily target those with limited English-language skills, the elderly, health-care workers and relatives of people who recently died.

Court officials advise that state courts in Florida do not make initial contact by email or phone to ask people to appear before a judge or to pay money. For these things, people are either told in person or through delivery by regular-delivery mail.

One scam emails health care workers about a “Health Care Service Violation.” A separate phone scam targets Spanish speakers in South Florida. A third involves heirs of an estate who must pay an upfront “tax” to receive payment.

More than 100,000 Florida students receiving school vouchers

More than 100,000 Florida students are enrolled in the state’s main private school voucher program.

Step Up for Students, the largest organization that administers the program, said enrollment hit 100,238 on Thursday.

Jon East, a spokesman for Step Up, said the target enrollment for the coming school year is 102,000 and that the group expects to hit that number in the next few days.

Florida’s tax credit scholarship program is the state’s largest private school voucher program. It’s used primarily by low-income families and most families send their children to religious schools. Most of the children who receive the vouchers are black or Hispanic.

The vouchers are funded by corporations, which in turn receive tax credits. The law creating the program was first approved in 2001 under then-Gov. Jeb Bush.

Legislation calls for 7 new VA medical clinics in Florida

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson says lawmakers have authorized seven new medical facilities for veterans in Florida.

Nelson said in a news release Wednesday that the new Veterans Affairs facilities will be located in Daytona Beach, Jacksonville, Ocala, Tampa and Lakeland, with two in Gainesville. A total of 28 around the country were approved. Some are replacements for clinics already operating, while others are new.

By law, Congress must approve any VA leases that would result in an average rental payment of more than $1 million per year.

The legislation authorizing the new Florida facilities was included in a larger veterans’ health care bill. The measure, which was approved by the House last week, heads to the president’s desk to be signed into law.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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