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Associated Press

Florida could put police lineup standards into law

Florida could put into law police lineup guidelines that the state’s top law enforcement agency developed six years ago.

The Senate voted unanimously for a bill that would require law enforcement agencies to use the lineup standards to avoid eyewitness mistakes that could lead to wrongful convictions.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement encouraged agencies to adopt the standards, but agencies aren’t required to do so.

Eyewitness mistakes are to blame in 64 percent of cases in which defendants are later exonerated by DNA evidence.

The current guidelines suggest lineups be conducted by an administrator who does not know the suspect in order to ensure impartiality. Also, witnesses should be told that suspects may or may not be in a photo or in-person lineup and that they are not required to make an identification.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Keep it secret: Florida may close presidential searches

Florida legislators are considering whether to keep secret searches for university and college president.

A House panel approved a bill Thursday that would keep confidential the name of anyone applying to become head of a college or university.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Bob Rommel, a Naples Republican, would also keep confidential the names of people applying for other top positions such as dean or provost.

The legislation (HB 351) heads next to the full House. A similar bill has not moved in the Senate.

If the measure becomes law, the names of finalists for top jobs would be made public 21 days before there is a final vote to hire someone.

Rommel and other supporters contend the change is needed because Florida isn’t attracting quality candidates for university jobs.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Ethics panel to probe complaints against Devin Nunes

The Latest on the congressional inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 election (all times local):

10:20 a.m.

The House Ethics Committee is investigating allegations that intelligence committee Chairman Devin Nunes may have made unauthorized disclosures of classified information.

The full 10-member committee is investigating the allegations, a departure from the usual procedure of having a smaller subcommittee handle a probe, and an indication of the seriousness of the claims.

The California Republican congressman says several left-wing activist groups have filed accusations against him with the office of congressional ethics.

Nunes says the charges are false and politically motivated. But he says it’s in the best interest of the committee to have Republican Mike Conaway of Texas temporarily take charge of the committee’s investigation.

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10:15 a.m.

Two ethics watchdog groups filed complaints about the chairman of the House intelligence committee, Republican Devin Nunes of California.

Nunes says he’s temporarily stepping aside from the panel’s investigation of Russian meddling in the election because of the complaints.

Democracy 21 and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington say Nunes disclosed classified information, which violates House ethics rules.

The groups say Nunes publicly disclosed information he learned by viewing classified material.

Two of the four people who signed the March 28 letter alleging ethics violations served as White House counsels in Republican and Democratic administrations.

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10:05 a.m.

Speaker Paul Ryan says Texas Republican Mike Conaway will take over the House investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election.

Ryan says an ethics complaint filed against Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes of California by government watchdog groups would be a “distraction” and that Nunes should no longer lead the probe.

Nunes has come under intense criticism for meeting secretly with White House officials to view intelligence regarding Trump associates.

Ryan says he is confident that Conaway “will oversee a professional investigation into Russia’s actions and follow the facts wherever they lead.”

___

9:49 a.m.

The chairman of the House intelligence committee says he will temporarily step aside from the panel’s probe into Russian meddling in the election.

In a statement on Thursday, Republican congressman Devin Nunes of California says that several left-wing activist groups have filed accusations against him with the office of congressional ethics.

Nunes says the charges are false and politically motivated. But he says it’s in the best interest of the committee to have GOP congressman Mike Conaway of Texas temporarily take charge of the committee’s investigation.

He says he will continue fulfilling other duties with the committee and wants to talk to the ethics committee as soon as possible to defend himself.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Analysis: For Donald Trump, the weight of world’s problems sink in

For Donald Trump, the reality of the world’s problems may be starting to sink in.

Standing in the sunny White House Rose Garden, the president said Wednesday that the gruesome chemical weapons attack in Syria had changed his views on the quagmire of a conflict that he’d previously indicated he wanted to steer clear of. He mourned the deaths of the youngest victims — “innocent children, innocent babies” — and said brutality had “crossed a lot of lines for me.”

“It is now my responsibility,” he declared.

The president’s words were far from a declaration that he intends to act, and he notably avoided discussing what retaliatory options he would be willing to consider. Ultimately, his rhetoric may well land among the litany of harsh condemnations of Syrian President Bashar Assad by Barack Obama and other world leaders that did little to quell the six-year civil war.

Yet Trump’s willingness to accept that he now bears some responsibility for a far-away conflict marked a significant moment for an “America First” president who has vowed to focus narrowly on U.S. interests. His comments also suggested a growing awareness that an American president — even an unconventional one like him — is looked to as defender of human rights and a barometer of when nations have violated international norms.

The bloodshed in Syria is just one of the intractable international problems piling up around Trump. North Korea appears intent on building up its nuclear program, despite vague threats from his administration. The Islamic State group is still wreaking havoc in Iraq and Syria, while a Pentagon review of U.S. strategy sits on his desk.

Trump conceded Wednesday that of all the world’s problems, the Middle East is one area he would rather avoid. His decision to at least rhetorically take a measure of responsibility was all the more striking given his frequent shoveling of blame for problems big and small onto anyone but himself.

In public, he faults Obama for leaving him “a mess” and says his campaign opponent Hillary Clinton is behind the flood of revelations possibly linking his campaign to Russia. In private, he berates his staff for failing to fix the self-made crises that have battered the White House, including his pair of travel bans blocked by the courts and the failure to pass health care legislation.

Trump initially took the same blame-shifting approach in addressing the deadly attack in Syria. In a short written statement Tuesday, he said the carnage was “a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution.”

In 2013, Obama pulled back from planned airstrikes against Syria following a chemical weapons attack, despite having declared that the deployment of deadly gases would cross a “red line” for him. Obama’s decision was widely criticized in the U.S. and by Middle Eastern allies, and undermined later attempts to compel Assad to leave office.

“The regrettable failure to take military action in 2013 to prevent Assad’s use of chemical weapons remains a blight on the Western world,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Still, foreign policy officials within the Trump administration were irritated by the president’s eagerness to focus on his predecessor in his first reaction. Some wanted him to focus more on condemning Assad and highlighting U.S. resolve.

Their objections did little to sway the president at the time. But just a day later, Trump appeared more willing to embrace the gravity of the situation and his new role in it.

His posture may well have been impacted by the fact that his remarks in the Rose Garden came after meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah, whose country has borne the brunt of the refugee crisis spurred by the Syrian war. Jordan is among Washington’s most important partners in the region and is significantly dependent on the United States.

Abdullah, who worked closely with Obama, enthusiastically embraced Trump’s condemnation of the chemical weapons attack. During a joint news conference, he said to Trump, “I believe under your leadership we will be able to unravel this very complicated situation.”

Eliot Cohen, a Trump critic who served in the State Department under President George W. Bush, said that whether Trump intended to or not, he now has put himself in the same position as Obama, raising the stakes for action in Syria, perhaps without having thought out whether he plans to follow through.

“The deep irony here is you may see a lot of the same failures that the Obama administration had except delivered with a different style,” Cohen said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Voters said yes, but Florida may change class size limits

Florida’s voter-approved class size limits could be eased under a bill now moving in the state Legislature.

The Florida House on Wednesday voted 95-22 for a bill (HB 591) that would change the way class sizes are calculated. If the bill became law, then schools would measure class sizes by a schoolwide average instead of measuring it at the classroom level. A similar bill is moving in the Senate.

Voters in 2002 first approved class size limits and rejected an attempt to change those limits in 2010. Those limits cap core classes between 18 and 25 students depending on the grade level.

Rep. Loranne Ausley, a Tallahassee Democrat, criticized the bill and said it ignored the will of voters.

Rep. Ralph Massullo countered that the legislation was a “pragmatic” way of helping school districts comply with limits.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida considers issuing certificates after miscarriages

Florida could begin issuing what’s essentially a fetal death certificate to women who’ve had miscarriages.

The House voted 115-1 Wednesday for what’s called the “Grieving Families Act.”

At a parent’s request, the state would issue “certificates of nonviable birth” to women whose pregnancies end after nine weeks and before 20 weeks of gestation.

Pregnancies that end at 20 weeks or later are considered stillbirths and death certificates must be issued. Parents can also request a birth certificate in such cases.

A similar Senate bill has one more committee stop before it’s ready for a full chamber vote. It has been unanimously approved in its first two committee stops.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Election supervisor’s Islam presentation causes alarm

The Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations wants an election official in Florida to cancel a presentation on Islam that he’s offering to voters and poll workers.

NBC-2 first reported that Charlotte County Supervisor of Elections Paul Stamoulis will present what he calls a “history of radical Islam” Thursday night. Stamoulis told the station his speech is an extension of something he calls “voter education.” He says he feels it’s an important issue for both voters and poll workers.

But CAIR says it’s inappropriate for an official to host such a polarizing event. In a news release sent Wednesday, CAIR spokesman Wilfredo A. Ruiz says Stamoulis’ job is to ensure fair and non-partisan elections.

Some groups are planning to protest the event.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Trump Taj Mahal

Guitars oust minarets as Hard Rock redoes Taj Mahal casino

Donald Trump, domes and minarets are out.

Rock ‘n’ roll and guitars — lots of guitars — are in as the Hard Rock chain re-does Atlantic City’s former Trump Taj Mahal casino.

The company owned by Florida’s Seminole Indian tribe on Wednesday unveiled its $375 million plan for the shuttered casino resort, which it bought last month from billionaire investor Carl Icahn, and plans to reopen by summer 2018.

It will draw on the world’s largest collection of music memorabilia to help brand the new resort, with a decided New Jersey slant.

Few things are more New Jersey than the mob and Bruce Springsteen, and Hard Rock rolled out someone who embodies both to help reintroduce the resort. Steven Van Zandt of Bruce Springsteen‘s E Street band and “Sopranos” TV fame, said he’ll periodically broadcast his radio show, “Little Steven’s Underground Garage” from there, and will help organize beach concerts.

“It’s a timeless place where you can come, and for the younger generations that feel like they missed the rock ‘n’ roll era when it first came along, we make sure that they get the experience,” said Van Zandt, who plays guitar with Springsteen and portrayed mobster Silvio Dante on the HBO mob series. “The spirit of rock ‘n’ roll is still alive; you didn’t miss it.”

Now-President Trump built the Taj Mahal in 1990, but lost control of it and two other Atlantic City casinos in a series of bankruptcies that happened before Icahn scooped it up last year from yet another bankruptcy.

Icahn shut the casino in October after a crippling strike that sought to restore workers’ health insurance and pension benefits that were eliminated in bankruptcy court.

Its literally over-the-top decor of Indian-inspired domes and minarets soon will be a thing of the past; the purple carpet that Trump loved was ripped out long ago.

“There will not be one — and underscore the word ‘one’ — piece of design, architecture, minaret or anything left over from the Taj Mahal,” Hard Rock CEO Jim Allen said. “We are removing it all.”

In its place will be items from the world’s largest music memorabilia collection. Hotel guests will even be lent Fender electric guitars to play in their rooms.

Republican Gov. Chris Christie, whose administration seized Atlantic City’s assets and major decision-making power last November, said Hard Rock’s investment in Atlantic City shows that the state’s tough love is working in the cash-strapped city.

“Hard Rock’s willingness to come in and invest in Atlantic City shows you that they appreciate the hard things that have been done to restructure the city and make it a place where investing makes sense,” Christie said.

Since the takeover, Christie’s administration has negotiated a tax settlement with the Borgata casino that will save the city nearly $100 million. It also is seeking drastic cuts to the police and fire departments.

Others feel that recent encouraging developments such as the Hard Rock purchase, the planned reopening of the former Atlantic Club casino as a water park, and the rebirth of the former Showboat casino as a non-gambling hotel, are due more to market forces in a less competitive environment than to anything Christie has done.

Allen resisted getting drawn into a political debate, but he did say that if Atlantic City had declared bankruptcy — something that loomed as a real threat before the state takeover — Hard Rock would not have invested there.

Assemblyman Chris Brown, a fellow Republican, was less reticent.

“Tell me something the governor has done” to make Atlantic City better, he said. “Off the top of my head, I can’t think of anything.”

Reprinted with permission of The Associated Press. 

‘Winter White House’ a winning brand for Donald Trump’s business

No doubt Florida’s oceanfront Mar-a-Lago resort is an impressive site for a summit between the presidents of the U.S. and China. And it’s a pretty nice business advertisement, too, for the owner of the luxurious, members-only private property.

That would be Donald J. Trump.

Even before this week’s summit, President Trump and his aides had begun referring to Mar-a-Lago as the “Winter White House,” a marketing coup for a man who has made millions selling his personal brand. Now the president is writing his property deeper into American history books by meeting there with China’s Xi Jinping.

In this Monday, April 3, 2017 photo, traffic passes the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla. The transformation of President Donald Trump’s resort into the “Winter White House” is the ultimate marketing project. The president is writing his members-only Palm Beach property into the history books by hosting China president Xi Jinping there this week. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

The two-day summit, partly to discuss sensitive trade issues, follows five previous weekend trips that Trump has made to Mar-a-Lago in the 12 weeks he has been president. On his fourth weekend in office, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe joined him there, and the two heads of state huddled on the restaurant’s patio before making headlines with a televised joint response to a North Korean missile test.

VIP visits to presidential homes are a tradition dating to shortly before World War II, when Franklin D. Roosevelt began inviting dignitaries to his Hyde Park estate north of New York City, according to the U.S. State Department’s historical website. More recently, George H.W. Bush brought leaders to the family’s Kennebunkport, Maine, compound, and his son George W. Bush invited them to his Crawford, Texas, ranch. President Barack Obama hosted Xi at Sunnylands, an estate in the California desert formerly owned by late philanthropists Walter and Leonore Annenberg.

But Mar-a-Lago isn’t just a vacation home for Trump. It’s a for-profit part of his global real estate empire. That makes “Winter White House” more than a charming phrase; it’s good for business.

Breaking with presidential precedent, Trump held onto ownership of his businesses when he took office, meaning he makes money when his properties do well. The resort doubled its membership fee to $200,000 after he was elected. And “Winter White House” is working its way into marketing materials. When Trump is in town, Mar-a-Lago’s hotel rooms and restaurant reservations fill up fast.

In this Nov. 27, 2016, file photo, Mar-A Lago is seen from the media van window, in Palm Beach, Fla. For a president who happens to be an expert at branding, the transformation of his Mar-a-Lago resort into the “Winter White House” is the ultimate marketing play. This week President Donald Trump writes his members-only oceanfront property deeper into American history books by meeting there with Chinese President Xi Jinping. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

The Trump Organization has agreed not to exploit any aspects of the presidency, but those who lease and visit the properties are more than happy to do that work. When the Distressed Investing Summit convened in Palm Beach last month, its brochure noted the opening reception would be “at the famed Mar-a-Lago club, one of the most highly regarded private lairs in the world and the new Winter White House.”

Trump hasn’t been shy about mentioning his Florida property, either. A few days before he took office, he tweeted a photo of himself with the message, “Writing my inaugural address at the Winter White House, Mar-a-Lago, three weeks ago.”

While the president and vice president are exempt from the promotional prohibitions facing other government employees, there’s an overarching principle that all public officials should avoid using their offices for private gain, said Kathleen Clark, a former ethics lawyer for the District of Columbia and a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

“The president’s recurrent trips to Mar-a-Lago and other properties he owns, particularly with leaders that make the visits newsworthy, means he is in effect using the presidency to promote his business,” Clark said. “He’s a very effective marketer, and he’s using the presidency as though it’s just part of him being famous and doesn’t come with other moral, if not legal, obligations.”

Trump’s presidential visits to his commercial properties go beyond Mar-a-Lago. Since his Jan. 20 inauguration, Trump has made 17 trips to three of his golf courses (two in Florida and one in Virginia) and twice dined at his new hotel in Washington, just down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.

Trump’s son Eric, who is helping to lead the Trump Organization in his father’s absence, said the Florida property is “his Crawford, Texas.”

“You go back at it — all these foreign leaders remember their time in Crawford. They all talk about being there,” Eric Trump said. He said his father similarly forges strong relationships at the Florida property.

“That’s how you get a deal done,” he said. “Mar-a-Lago is an impressive place; it makes sense to be there. He’s working. This is how he works.”

That’s just fine with local Trump supporters and others who say the visits bring welcome attention, drawing tourists and business.

“I think we are all proud here in Palm Beach that we have a president who lives here. We are glad to have him,” says Sid Wrightman, retired owner of an import-export business.

But others are unhappy about the detours and extra cars clogging roads during Trump’s frequent visits — and the local money that goes for law enforcement overtime and other expenses.

“If this was Barack Obama,” says attorney Tim Morell, the Trump supporters “would be yowling. I would like to see what would happen if the town of Palm Beach and the county said, ‘We aren’t paying, we aren’t sending our guys.'”

Trump’s use of the property is a version of what the original owners always imagined.

Cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post and her financier husband, E.F. Hutton, built the property in the 1920s and had hoped future presidents and dignitaries would use it as a winter retreat. Upon her death in 1973, Mar-a-Lago was donated to the government, but when presidents declined to use it, it fell into disrepair and was returned to her estate.

Trump bought it for $10 million in 1985 and later turned it into a 500-member club in addition to a private vacation home.

So far, Trump has not expressed any interest in using Camp David, the government-owned Maryland mountain retreat 62 miles northwest of the White House. Just as the positive P.R. from Trump’s visits to his properties may boost his own bank account, Camp David would be less costly for taxpayers.

Trump could eventually face blowback from voters over that, said Clark, the former ethics lawyer.

“The combination of a perceived abuse of office to enrich himself and the irony of it happening while he is recommending deep budget cuts for public services — I think resentment will build,” she said.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer dismisses that possibility. Asked during a recent briefing whether the president is concerned about the pushback on the cost of his trips, Spicer said, “No, he feels great.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida may spend money to boost security at Jewish schools

Florida may help beef up security at Jewish day schools around the state.

House and Senate budget committees on Wednesday voted to set aside money for security in spending plans being drawn up by the Legislature.

The amounts that legislators set aside range between $254,000 and $500,000.

Rep. Randy Fine, a Brevard County Republican, says the money would go to pay for security upgrades at day schools now serving around 10,000 children. Budget documents say part of the funding go to fences and installing bulletproof glass.

Since Jan. 9, there have been more than 150 bomb threats against Jewish community centers and day schools in 37 states and two Canadian provinces, according to a report issued late last month by the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish group that battles anti-Semitism.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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