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Associated Press

Donald Trump travel ban partly reinstated; fall court arguments set

The Supreme Court is letting a limited version of President Donald Trump’s ban on travel from six mostly Muslim countries take effect, a victory for Trump in the biggest legal controversy of his young presidency.

The justices will hear full arguments in October in the case that has stirred heated emotions across the nation. In the meantime, the court said Monday that Trump’s ban on visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen can be enforced if those visitors lack a “credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”

Trump said last week that the ban would take effect 72 hours after being cleared by courts.

The administration has said the 90-day ban was needed on national security grounds to allow an internal review of screening procedures for visa applicants from the six countries. Opponents say the ban is unlawful, based on visitors’ Muslim religion. The administration review should be complete before Oct. 2, the first day the justices could hear arguments in their new term.

A 120-ban on refugees also is being allowed to take effect on a limited basis.

Three of the court’s conservative justices said they would have let the complete bans take effect.

Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, said the government has shown it is likely to succeed on the merits of the case, and that it will suffer irreparable harm with any interference. Thomas said the government’s interest in preserving national security outweighs any hardship to people denied entry into the country.

Some immigration lawyers said the limited nature of the ban and the silence of the court’s liberals on the issue Monday suggested that the court had not handed Trump much of a victory. The White House did not immediately comment.

The court’s opinion explained the kinds of relationships people from the six countries must demonstrate to obtain a U.S. visa.

“For individuals, a close familial relationship is required,” the court said. For people who want to come to the United States to work or study, “the relationship must be formal, documented and formed in the ordinary course, not for the purpose of evading” the travel ban.

The opinion faulted the two federal appeals courts that had blocked the travel policy for going too far to limit Trump’s authority over immigration. The president announced the travel ban a week after he took office in January and revised it in March after setbacks in court.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, said the ban was “rooted in religious animus” toward Muslims and pointed to Trump’s campaign promise to impose a ban on Muslims entering the country as well as tweets and remarks he has made since becoming president.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the travel policy does not comply with federal immigration law, including a prohibition on nationality-based discrimination. That court also put a hold on separate aspects of the policy that would keep all refugees out of the United States for 120 days and cut by more than half, from 110,000 to 50,000, the cap on refugees in the current government spending year that ends September 30.

Trump’s first executive order on travel applied to travelers from Iraq and well as the six countries, and took effect immediately, causing chaos and panic at airports over the last weekend in January as the Homeland Security Department scrambled to figure out whom the order covered and how it was to be implemented.

A federal judge blocked it eight days later, an order that was upheld by a 9th circuit panel. Rather than pursue an appeal, the administration said it would revise the policy.

In March, Trump issued the narrower order.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Gov. Scott will travel state to tout Jimmy Patronis/CFO appointment

Gov. Rick Scott is traveling to three cities to tout his decision to tap a political ally and former legislator to a top position.

Scott will be in Panama City on Monday to announce that he’s appointing Republican Jimmy Patronis as chief financial officer. Scott will also visit Tampa and Pensacola to publicize the high-profile appointment.

Patronis, who helped his family run a well-known restaurant, currently sits on the panel that regulates utilities. Patronis was a member of the Florida Legislature for eight years.

Current Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater announced earlier this year that he was ending his term early to take a job at Florida Atlantic University.

Patronis backed Scott during his run for governor in 2010 when many in the GOP establishment were supporting another candidate.

On open records, half Florida’s legislators rate F or D

Half of Florida’s legislators failed or nearly failed in a review of their support for public records and meetings given by Florida newspapers and an open-government group after this year’s legislative sessions.

In a “scorecard” produced by the Florida Society of News Editors and based on information provided by Florida’s First Amendment Foundation — which tracked a priority list of public records exemptions — the 160 legislators totaled three Fs, 77 Ds, 71 Cs, and 9 Bs.

Each year FSNE completes a project devoted to Sunshine Weeka nationwide initiative to educate the public about the importance of transparent government. This year FSNE members created a scoring system to grade legislators on their introduction of bills and their final votes.

“As an advocate for open government, the grades of course, are disappointing,” said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, a nonprofit supported mostly by newspapers and broadcasters.

Several lawmakers contacted about their grades questioned the concept of fairly and accurately scoring how they addressed and decided on open records bills.

“It’s a little simplistic to think you can reduce this to a mathematical formula. It’s a little more complicated,” said Rep. Rick Roth, R-Wellington, who has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Emory University,

Roth, who was graded a D-minus, added, “The Sunshine Law is great in principle, but what it actually assumes is everybody is a crook. I just think it needs a little bit of tweaking.”

Florida’s Legislature established public records laws as early as the early 20th century, created the Government in the Sunshine Law in the late 1960s, and in 1992 established a “constitutional right of access.” Because of Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law, the state’s records and meetings are more accessible than in most states. But the Legislature has, year in and year out, instituted, or considered instituting, numerous exemptions. The body, on average, imposes up to a dozen a year.

Petersen said the recent session accounted for “a near record number of new exemptions created, but we see few bills that actually would improve access to either meetings or records.”

The 2017 Legislature created 26 exemptions and expanded another, then instituted yet one more exemption during its special session. Should Gov. Rick Scott approve all the 28 new exemptions, the grand total over the years would be 1,150.

Where does your legislator rank? See the scorecard

The three legislative Fs — actually F-minuses — were assigned to two representatives from southwest Florida and one from the Jacksonville area.

The single lowest score went to Rep. Bob Rommel, R-Naples, who sponsored House Bill 351, which would have made secret records of public college president searches; and House Bill 843, which would have allowed two members of a government board to meet privately. Both bills failed. Rommel also voted on the House floor against government openness in five of seven cases.

Rommel was joined in drawing an F by Rep. Byron Donalds, another Naples Republican; and Kimberly Daniels, a Jacksonville Democrat.

Daniels did not personally return a reporter’s call, instead providing a prepared statement that doesn’t directly address her grade but says that getting the two public records exemptions passed, as well as four others, as a freshman legislator, “exceeds more than I could have imagined accomplishing.”

And all five voted for HB 111, which hides the identification of murder witnesses — Harrell co-sponsored it — as well as SB 118, which hides criminal histories. Those two bills passed and were signed by Scott.

No legislator earned an A in the same way the others got the Fs. Rep. Joseph Geller, D-Aventura, voted for government openness in six of seven floor votes and earned a B-plus, the same grade given to Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana.

Despite his favorable score, Geller is bucking for “at least an A-minus,” pointing out that he so frequently asks about the First Amendment Foundation’s position on open government bills that he said he “got a pretty bad ribbing about it on the floor from other legislators.”

Just six Democrats and three Republicans earned a score of B-minus or better. And 17 Democrats and 63 Republicans drew grades of D-plus or worse.

For Democrats, the most common grade was a C-minus. Dozens of Republicans drew C-minus grades, but more got a D-plus.

Scores in the House were much more likely to be lower than those in the Senate. Some of that may be because of HB 111, which drew nearly two dozen sponsors and co-sponsors in the House. The bill, which hides information about witnesses to murders, was signed by Scott in May.

Roth, of Wellington, defended his position on secrecy for the process of hiring public college presidents, explaining that while he’d be OK with making candidates public once there’s a “short list” of finalists, he feared scaring away top-flight candidates who don’t want their respective college leadership to know they’re shopping for a new position.

On HB 843, dealing with talks between two officials, Roth said he voted for it — in fact he was a co-sponsor — but said it probably went too far and “I’m glad it failed.” He said he’d like to see a new bill with conditions that would satisfy opponents — such as requiring staff be present and notes be taken to be made public later. He said he supports trying to head off “skullduggery” but he said many elected bodies now are dominated by staffers who “pretty much drive the bus,” and since officials can’t talk in advance, “they don’t come to the board meeting fully informed.”

Roth also noted the bill to protect crime witnesses does require they’re eventually identified, and while he didn’t remember much of SB 118, he saw a desire to protect the privacy of people who had committed crimes in the past.

The First Amendment Foundation’s Petersen did note that, because the scorecard reflects only votes and sponsorship, it might skew perception of legislators’ attitudes toward open government.

For example, she said, Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Atlantis, who is in line to become Senate Democratic leader in 2018, “always has something to say about open government when something comes up on the (Senate) floor.”

But, she said, “what we would like to see is more awareness from some legislators, and we’re hoping that’s what this project will do.”

She said the last bill that improved access to meetings was pushed three years ago by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, now Senate President. And, she said, “We haven’t seen anything passed by the Legislature to enhance the right of access to public records since 1995. We did see a couple of bills that would improve access, but they didn’t even get a committee hearing.”

Some South Florida lawmakers also argued the scorecard’s narrow focus on open government doesn’t leave room for considering good policy.

On HB 111, for example, “It’s not that hard of a reach to say this law will keep others from being murdered,” said Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, who earned a C-minus. ” I realize they (the First Amendment Foundation) are a one-issue, one-note organization. But at a certain point, reality comes crashing in to any philosophy.”

And Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, who also earned a C-minus, said, “It’s not that I don’t respect the First Amendment Foundation. It’s that I’m going to do whatever I can do as a legislator to begin to bring justice to individuals who are being murdered senselessly.”

Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat and another of those who earned a C-minus, said, “People are trying to get good grades from these organizations, instead of looking at whether it’s fair policy. The only grade that matters is the one that my residents give me when they decide to re-elect me into office.”

Two of the top four grades went to Republican senators from Tampa Bay: Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg and Bill Galvano of Bradenton.

“Our goal is that there be a completely transparent and open government,” Brandes said. He, along with Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg — who received a B-minus — sponsored legislation that protects court clerks from being sued if they release confidential information due to an error committed by a lawyer involved in a case. Current law isn’t clear on the issue.

Diamond called HB 843, the proposal to let two elected officials meet, an “existential threat” to open government in Florida.

Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, who earned a D-plus, supported HB 843.

“In the Legislature, we can meet with another legislator one-on-one, so I thought that the state government shouldn’t be treated any differently than the local government,” he said.

Thirteen Tampa Bay area lawmakers scored below a C.

“This ‘scorecard’ was created by a special interest group that thinks legislators should cater to the group’s own political agenda rather than do what is in the best interest of the people of Florida,” said Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, who scored a D-plus.

Fred Piccolo, a spokesman for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Lutz — who scored a D-plus — called inclusion of HB 111, the witness-identity bill, in the scorecard, “just plain silly.” And Latvala said, “If I have to vote on that bill 100 more times, I will vote 100 more times for that bill.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Former Florida Supreme Court justice dies at age 93

Parker Lee McDonald

A former Florida Supreme Court justice who wrote a decision that prevented lawyers from excluding jurors because of their race has died.

Court spokesman Craig Waters announced that Parker Lee McDonald died Saturday at his home in Tallahassee. McDonald was 93.

McDonald, who was born in Sebring, was appointed to the state Supreme Court in 1979 by then-Gov. Bob Graham. McDonald served 15 years on the court and retired from the court after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.

He authored the decision regarding jurors in 1984.

He was nicknamed the “Whistling Justice” because a security guard stopped him on his first day and told him no whistling was allowed in the court building. McDonald told the guard he could do what he wanted since he was a justice.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

No tapes: Donald Trump says he didn’t record meetings with James Comey

President Donald Trump said Thursday on Twitter that he “did not make” and doesn’t have any recordings of his private conversations with ousted former FBI Director James Comey.

“With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information,” Trump said he has “no idea” whether there are “tapes” or recordings of the two men’s conversations. But he declares he “did not make, and do not have, any such recordings.”

The tweets are the latest chapter in a high-stakes guessing game after Trump hinted that he might have recordings of his private conversations with Comey at the White House and over the phone.

The tale of mystery began last month, just days after Trump fired Comey, who was then leading an investigation into contacts before and after the election between the president’s campaign and Russian officials.

The absence of recordings almost certainly elevates in significance to investigators the notes made by Comey right after his conversations with Comey.

A New York Times report cited two unnamed Comey associates who recounted his version of a January dinner with the president in which Trump asked for a pledge of loyalty. Comey declined, instead offering to be “honest.” When Trump then pressed for “honest loyalty,” Comey told him, “You will have that,” the associates said.

Trump tweeted the next day that Comey “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

Trump’s tweets on Thursday raised questions about why the president would have staked his reputation and political capital on promoting something that wasn’t real.

His earlier suggestion about tapes immediately evoked the secret White House recordings that led to Richard Nixon’s downfall in the Watergate scandal. Under a post-Watergate law, the Presidential Records Act, recordings made by presidents belong to the people and can eventually be made public. Destroying them would be a crime.

Comey says any recordings that might exist would support his version that Trump asked him to pledge loyalty and urged him to drop the investigation into Trump’s former national security adviser.

“Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” Comey declared at a congressional hearing.

But the president has steadfastly refused to clarify whether any tapes existed.

Two weeks ago, he teased reporters in the White House Rose Garden by saying that he’d explain “maybe sometime in the very near future.” He cryptically added: “You are going to be very disappointed when you hear the answer.” White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters said Wednesday that an answer would be provided this week, presumably by the Friday deadline set by the House intelligence committee for turning over any tapes.

The Secret Service had said it had no audio copies or transcripts of any tapes recorded within Trump’s White House, according to a freedom of information request submitted by The Wall Street Journal. But that didn’t exclude the possibility that recordings were created by another entity.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Protests over Confederate street names prompt city council melee, arrests

Five people were arrested after a clash about streets named after Confederate generals spilled over into a Hollywood, Florida city council meeting.

News outlets report the protesters were charged with disrupting the Hollywood commission meeting Wednesday night.

The disagreement involves three streets – Lee Street, named after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee; Hood Street, named after Gen. John Bell Hood; and Forrest Street, named after Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan member Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Jim Odel, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, told commissioners the street names honor an important piece of history. Resident Benjamin Israel called Lee, Hood and Forrest traitors.

Five of seven commissioners must back the plan to have the names changed. So far only three agree.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump returning to Iowa, where he may find remorseful independent voters

Iowa independents who helped Donald Trump win the presidency see last year’s tough-talking candidate as a thin-skinned chief executive and wish he’d show more grace.

Unaffiliated voters make up the largest percentage of the electorate in the Midwest state that backed Trump in 2016, after lifting Democrat Barack Obama to the White House in party caucuses and two straight elections. Ahead of Trump’s visit to Iowa Wednesday, several independents who voted for Trump expressed frustration with the president.

It’s not just his famous tweetstorms. It’s what they represent: a president distracted by investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and a court battle over his executive order barring refugees from majority-Muslim countries at the expense of tangible health care legislation and new tax policy.

“He’s so sidetracked,” said Chris Hungerford, a 47-year-old home-business owner from Marshalltown. “He gets off track on things he should just let go.”

And when he does spout off, he appears to lack constraint, said Scott Scherer, a 48-year-old chiropractor from Guttenberg, in northeast Iowa.

“Engage your brain before you engage your mouth,” Scherer advised, especially on matters pertaining to investigations. “Shut up. Just shut up, and let the investigation run its course.”

Scherer said he would vote again for Trump, but pauses a long time before declining to answer when asked if he approves of the job the president is doing.

Cody Marsh isn’t sure about voting for Trump a second time. The 32-year-old power-line technician from Tabor, in western Iowa, says, “It’s 50-50.”

“People don’t take him seriously,” he said.

Unaffiliated, or “no party” voters as they are known in Iowa, make up 36 percent of the electorate, compared with 33 percent who register Republican and 31 percent registered Democrat. Self-identified independents in Iowa voted for Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton by a 13-percentage-point margin last year, according to exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and television networks

They helped him capture 51.8 percent of the overall vote against Clinton.

Nationally, exit polls showed independents tilted toward Trump over Clinton by about a 4-percentage-point margin in November, but an AP-NORC poll conducted in June found that about two-thirds of them disapprove of how he’s handling his job as president.

In North Carolina, Republican pollster Paul Shumaker says he has seen internal polling that has warning signs for his state, where Trump prevailed last year. Independent voters are becoming frustrated with Trump, especially for failing so far to deliver on long-promised household economic issues such as health care, said Shumaker, an adviser to Republican Sen. Richard Burr.

Inaction on health care and any notable decline in the economy will hurt Trump’s ability to improve his numbers with independents, with broad implications for the midterm elections next year, Shumaker said. At stake in 2018 will be majority control of the House. A favorable map and more Democrats up for re-election make the GOP more likely to add to its numbers in the Senate.

“How the president and members of Congress move forward and address the kitchen-table issues facing the American voters will determine the outcome of the 2018 elections,” he said.

In Iowa Wednesday, Trump will be rallying his Republican base in Cedar Rapids.

Earlier this month, Vice President Mike Pence attended Republican Sen. Joni Ernst‘s annual fundraiser, where he talked about job growth and low unemployment since the start of the year, although economists see much of it as a continuation of Obama policies.

Trump has only been in office five months.

It’s a message the Republican establishment is clinging to, especially those looking ahead to 2018.

Gov. Kim Reynolds, installed last month to succeed new U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad, said last week of Iowa voters: “I think they are confident that President Trump and this administration are doing the job that they said that they would do, going out there and making America great again.”

But Trump has to worry about people like Richard Sternberg, a 68-year-old retired high school guidance counselor from Roland, in central Iowa, who voted for Trump. But is Sternberg satisfied? “Not completely.”

He is bothered by Trump’s proposed cut to vocational education, an economic lift for some in rural areas.

“We, especially in Iowa, need those two-year technically trained people,” Sternberg said.

More broadly, Trump needs to act more “presidential,” he said.

“Trump speaks before he thinks,” Sternberg said. “He doesn’t seem to realize what the president says in the form of direct communication or Twitter carries great weight and can be misconstrued if not carefully crafted.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Capitol Hill buzz: Marco Rubio joke-investigates Ivanka Trump hug

Sometimes all you can do is surrender to Twitter.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio probably started out his day Tuesday thinking about paid family leave, child care tax credits and other deep issues. But when Twitter went wild over an awkward photo of him leaning in for a hug with Ivanka Trump when she arrived for a Capitol Hill meeting, Rubio was smart enough to play along.

The photo, taken by an Associated Press congressional reporter with an iPhone, appears to show Trump declining to hug Rubio back as the two greet one another just outside the Capitol.

Twitter users dissected the seemingly awkward moment endlessly. They compared Rubio to Ralph Wiggum from “The Simpsons” when he doesn’t get a Valentine’s Day card, and to Dr. Evil from “Austin Powers” asking his son for a hug.

Rubio responded in a series of joking tweets late Tuesday, announcing that he would be investigating what he termed the “alleged failed hug.”

“We believe we have our own unclassified photographic evidence that will shed greater details on this incident,” the Republican senator said, adding, “We are also attempting to acquire multi-angle video which we believe will provide greater insight into this important matter.”

Rubio then posted a blurry photo, taken at a different moment, showing Trump’s hand on Rubio’s shoulder as he smiles. “New photo emerges providing more insight into alleged failed hug. (Faces blurred for security purposes),” was the accompanying caption.

Several minutes later that was followed up by another photo showing Trump with her hand on Rubio’s shoulder, and the caption “BREAKING NEWS: Additional photo from moments right after today’s alleged failed hug provide new details to this developing story.”

Trump herself joined in Tuesday evening, tweeting: “Anonymous sources say @marcorubio planned the alleged failed hug. I have no comment (but I would have hugged him anyway!)”

She then added: “Fake news! Marco is an excellent hugger.”

The Associated Press stands by its photo.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Trial date set in murder-for-hire case of law professor

One of the men accused of killing a Florida State University law professor is heading to trial.

WCTV reports a judge on Tuesday set a January trial date for Sigfredo Garcia, who authorities say gunned down Daniel Markel in his garage nearly three years ago.

Three people were charged with killing the law professor and Toronto native, who was known internationally.

Katherine Magbanua pleaded not guilty to a charge of helping to orchestrate the plot and is awaiting trial.

A third defendant, Luis Rivera, has already pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. Rivera got seven years added to a 12-year sentence he was already serving in federal prison for an unrelated charge.

Police say the killing was sparked by a bitter divorce and family squabbles.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Cuba rejects new U.S. policy, saying pressure will not work

Cuba’s foreign minister has rejected President Donald Trump‘s new policy toward the island, saying “we will never negotiate under pressure or under threat” and refusing to return U.S. fugitives who have received asylum in Cuba.

In a hard-edged response to the policy announced Friday, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said from Vienna Monday that Trump’s restrictions on transactions with the Cuban military would not achieve their objective of weakening the government. He said they would instead create unity behind the communist leadership.

He described fugitives such as Joanne Chesimard, a black militant convicted of the murder of a New Jersey state trooper, as political refugees who had received asylum from the Cuban government and would not be returned because the U.S. has no “legal or moral basis” to demand their return.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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