Ryan Nicol – Page 2 – Florida Politics

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to ryan.t.nicol@gmail.com.

Kristen Rosen Gonzalez now faces defamation lawsuit

Former Miami Beach City Commission candidate Rafael Velasquez has filed a defamation lawsuit against congressional candidate Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, after she accused Velasquez last year of exposing himself to her following a dinner.

Velasquez confirmed the filing with a post on Twitter.

In a statement on the lawsuit, Velasquez calls the Rosen Gonzalez accusations a “cheap political ploy,” saying she made the claims “to influence a close election and thrust her own congressional campaign into the middle of a discussion about sexual harassment and abuse, thereby manipulating the media to gain notoriety and sympathy as a champion of the #metoo movement.”

The allegations were first made by Rosen Gonzalez in October of last year. She says the two were together after a dinner when he began aggressively flirting with her before exposing himself. “He started to get really abusive, to say, ‘I know you want it,’ ” Rosen Gonzalez said. “And then he exposed himself.”

Following the accusations, Velasquez went on to lose his bid to serve on the Miami Beach City Commission. Rosen Gonzalez, who plans to step down from her own Miami Beach commission seat in order to continue her congressional run, had actually endorsed Velasquez’s candidacy before making the allegations.

Velasquez denied the claims at the time, saying, “The whole Weinstein thing is in the news. Maybe she thinks she can get some traction from it.” He added, “I don’t want to speculate but I know that she seeks national attention as she’s running for office herself.”

Velasquez was also accused by publicist Frances Alban of groping her and sending a text message afterward saying she “felt good.” He denied those allegations as well, saying he never groped her. However, text messages were produced by Alban confirming the message sent by Velasquez.

Prosecutors ultimately declined to charge Velasquez over his alleged actions regarding Commissioner Rosen Gonzalez. But Rosen Gonzalez claimed at the time it was she who decided not to pursue charges.

“When his repeated inappropriate behavior towards other women was also exposed and his commission opponent was elected, I thought the public trust was protected and advised the state attorney that I did not wish to press charges,” she said.

Velasquez calls her claims “a slap in the face to every true victim of sexual assault, and therefore, I will not rest until she is held accountable for her vile actions.”

Velasquez’s attorney, Jason Alderman, released a statement saying that they “fully expect a jury to hold Ms. Rosen Gonzalez accountable for all the damages she has caused to my client.”

Rosen Gonzalez is one of five Democrats running to replace the retiring Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, in Florida’s 27th Congressional District.

Manny Diaz Jr.

Miami Lakes mayor endorses Manny Diaz in SD 36

The mayor of Miami Lakes says he’s backing Manny Diaz in the race for Senate District 36.

Mayor Manny Cid becomes the fourth Miami-Dade mayor in recent weeks to endorse Diaz, following the mayors of Hialeah, Hialeah Gardens, and Doral.

Diaz has represented House District 103 since 2012, but now has his eyes on the Senate.

Mayor Cid says Diaz’s time in the House shows he’s ready to make the move: “Manny was an effective state representative, and there’s no question that he will be an outstanding state senator.”

Cid went on to note the work Diaz has done to help the Miami Lakes community.

“When residents in West Lakes and Royal Oaks needed help with flooding, Manny delivered much-needed funds to revamp their drainage system,” he said.

“When dozens of Miami Lakers saw their property lines being eroded into the public canal system, Manny responded by funding the stabilization project that saved millions of dollars worth of homeowners’ private properties. He delivered for Miami Lakes, and that’s why I am proud to endorse him.”

Cid was elected as Miami Lakes mayor in 2016 after serving on the city’s Town Council.

“Mayor Manny Cid is a great public servant, and I’m proud to have his support,” said Diaz. “He works hard for the people of Miami Lakes, and I look forward to working with him to maintain the high quality of life we enjoy in our community.”

The Diaz campaign also received a recent boost in fundraising, crossing the $500,000 mark in contributions. That should help him in his bid to replace outgoing state Sen. Rene Garcia, who is term-limited.

SD 36 covers parts of both Broward and Miami-Dade counties. No Republicans are currently challenging Diaz for the nomination. Only Muhammad Amin has filed as a Democrat, but so far he has reported no fundraising information with Florida’s Division of Elections.

Jason Pizzo

Jason Pizzo earns mayoral endorsements in SD 38 race

Former prosecutor Jason Pizzo announced he’s receiving support from several Miami-Dade County mayors in his race to challenge incumbent state Sen. Daphne Campbell.

Among those now supporting Pizzo are Aventura Mayor Enid Weisman, Bay Harbor Islands Mayor Stephanie Bruder, Miami Shores Mayor Mac Glinn, North Miami Beach Mayor Beth Spiegel, and Surfside Mayor Daniel Dietch.

“It’s time we have fresh leadership in Tallahassee fighting for our community, instead of their self-serving interests,” said Pizzo. “As we grow our coalition of support, I’m thankful to have the support of area Mayors who recognize a need for a new direction, and I look forward to continuing our service to the people of Miami-Dade County.”

Pizzo is running for the Senate District 38 seat after finishing second to Campbell in the Democratic primary in 2016. In addition to the endorsements, he’s also brought in more than $100,000 to help fund his primary challenge.

Campbell has also earned her fair share of endorsements, including that of incoming Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson.

Pizzo, who now works as an attorney in Miami, seemed confident in his chances following the latest round of support. “In the weeks ahead, our campaign will be working harder than ever as we meet with voters and get them engaged in this critical election.”

SD 38 represents a portion of northeast Miami-Dade County. The Democratic primary will be held on August 28, followed by the November 6 general election. Currently, no Republicans have filed to run in SD 38.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to Trump administration: Bring home Americans held by Iran

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called on the Donald Trump administration to secure the release of five American hostages held by Iran, following the release last week of hostages held by North Korea.

Ros-Lehtinen made the plea in a speech on the House floor, saying the time for talk from the administration is over.

All five captives were detained or imprisoned before Trump’s election. But Ros-Lehtinen says their release still deserves the president’s attention.

“The White House has said this is a priority, to release all unjustly detained persons in Iran,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “President Trump spoke about how this would not happen if he were president. So it is time for President Trump to make that a reality.”

Most of the hostages have been detained for about two to three years. Both Nizar Zakka and Siamak Namazi were taken captive in 2015. Siamak’s father, Baquer Namazi, was captured in 2016, as was Princeton student Xiyue Wang.

Bob Levinson, the fifth hostage identified by Ros Lehtinen, was taken back in 2007.

Ros-Lehtinen said she had spoken with the family of Zakka, who noted his struggles since being detained.

“Nizar has gone on hunger strikes about a dozen times since first being detained in 2015.” She noted the other prisoners were likely not faring much better. “The mental, physical, and psychological abuse that these individuals must be undergoing is beyond comprehension.”

Last week’s release of three prisoners held by North Korea was part of a larger series of negotiations happening with the reclusive regime, though those negotiations may be on the rocks as of now.

President Trump’s relationship with the Iranian government is even more tenuous, as he recently announced America’s withdrawal from the nuclear agreement negotiated under the Barack Obama administration.

Babak Namazi, brother of Siamak and son of Baquer, says he wasn’t sure how Trump’s move to pull out the agreement would affect the likelihood of the hostages’ release.

Speaking to NPR, he said, “I have no personal views on the [nuclear agreement]. When it was entered into, my brother was taken, and he remains taken with my father. And as we exit, my family’s still there.”

Ros-Lehtinen urged European countries who are still party to the agreement to make the hostages’ release a priority in all future nuclear discussions.

“We have to increase the pressure using all levers that we have, and we have to bring these brave individuals home.”

Florida representatives join bipartisan call to implement eating disorder prevention programs

South Florida Reps. Ted Deutch and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen signed onto a bipartisan letter from Congressional members urging the Department of Health and Human Services to implement tools to help treat eating disorders in the U.S.

The representatives took aim at HHS after what they say is a failure to promote training of health care workers to help identify symptoms of eating disorders in patients. They say resources were allocated for such training in the “21st Century Cures Act,” but HHS has stalled in its implementation.

The act was passed in 2016 to fund efforts to combat the opioid epidemic and aid research, among other goals. The law also aimed to increase the availability of certain treatment programs, including those to help alleviate eating disorders.

However, in a letter addressed to HHS Secretary Alex Azar, representatives say the Department dropped the ball.

“We have concerns regarding progress toward early identification and intervention training programs for health professionals,” the statement reads. It goes on to urge HHS officials to allocate “resources to help health professionals identify the early warning signs of eating disorders, fight the stigma associated with mental health disorders, intervene quickly, and refer patients to specialized mental health professionals to help more Americans find the path to recovery.”

Eating disorders are significantly more common among women and typically result in high rates of impairment among those suffering. Less than 50 percent of those suffering from anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder ever seek treatment, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

That highlights the concern of Congress members that health professionals need better training to identify and treat these disorders, even when patients do not actively seek out treatment.

“Passage of the 21st Century Cures Act was a major bipartisan accomplishment, and now we are asking the Department to utilize all necessary resources to implement these health programs,” Deutch added in a statement. “We need to train our health professionals to learn how to detect, prevent, and treat eating disorders among their patients. With 30 million Americans affected by these illnesses over their lifetime, this demands the full attention and appropriate resources of our federal health agency.”

“It is unfortunate that programs to train health professionals to identify and treat these disorders have not been forthcoming from the Department of Health and Human Services,” said Ros-Lehtinen. “Along with my friend and colleague, Ted, I urge Secretary Azar to implement programs that will help those with eating disorders get the help they need.”

Ted Deutch calls out Trump administration over push to ease exporting of guns

South Florida Rep. Ted Deutch is calling out the Donald Trump administration, after a move expected to ease the export of guns.

Currently, the State Department is in charge of approving the sale of weapons overseas. President Trump has now started a process that would shift approval for small arms exports over to the Commerce Department, rather than State.

That move and its effects were outlined by The Washington Times. As it stands now, all weapons exports, from tanks to handguns, go through the same approval process at the State Department. On top of that, manufacturers are forced to register with State and pay an annual fee which starts at $2,250 per year.

Now, small arms manufacturers will no longer be forced to pay that fee, nor go through as rigorous an approval process. The export of semiautomatic rifles and weapons up to .50 caliber in size will now be covered by Commerce.

The move was made to help boost trade, but Deutch says it will make other countries less safe. He targeted the National Rifle Association and its new president in a statement condemning the move.

“Remember when Oliver North – now the head of the NRA – was caught illegally selling weapons to Iran?” reads Deutch’s statement. “After only a few weeks of being the gun companies’ point man in America, the Trump Administration is moving to make it easier for American gun manufacturers to sell weapons without Congressional oversight – weapons that could wind up in the hands of human rights abusers and dictators.”

Deutch rose to national prominence as a gun control proponent after February’s mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School. Deutch represents the 22nd Congressional District which covers Parkland, the site of the shooting.

Now, he says other countries are more at risk due to Trump’s move. He says the action “will make it easier for gun companies to export gun violence around the world. Congress must act to block this proposed rule.”

The move by the Trump administration will not be implemented until a 45-day comment period is completed. After that, Congress would be able to reverse the rule change by passing legislation. However, that’s a tough sell in a GOP-led Congress.

Perhaps surprisingly, this same shift was almost undertaken by the Barack Obama administration, who thought the oversight at State was excessive for small arms shipments. However, Obama backed off on approving the change after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Donna Shalala a no-show as CD 27 Democrats engage in first debate

She was coined “No-show Shalala” by one of her Democratic rivals, and sure enough Donna Shalala did not show up for Tuesday night’s debate between the Democratic candidates for Florida’s 27th Congressional District.

The organizers of the event, “Democrats of South Dade,” say Shalala originally committed to appearing at the event before backing out last week. State Rep. David Richardson, who introduced the Shalala moniker, started out the debate by noting the impressive turnout before adding, “I think everyone’s in the room but Donna Shalala.”

The turnout was larger than expected, with event organizers saying more than a hundred people were forced to stand inside the Unitarian Universalist Church in Coral Gables. That’s good news for a Democratic Party hoping voter enthusiasm ends up in a blue wave this November.

After Richardson’s jab at Shalala (which would not be his last of the night), the candidates began facing questions on the issues.

Richardson and his fellow Democrats, former Knight Foundation Program Director Matt Haggman, Miami Beach City Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, and former University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn, were in agreement for much of the night. The debate’s first section forced the candidates to answer “yes” or “no” to a rapid-fire series of questions such as “Do you support single-payer health care?” and “Do you support creating a gun registry of all guns currently owned or sold?” The candidates agreed on every question.

Where disagreement did pop up, it was mostly regarding fundraising and campaign spending. Richardson again jabbed at Shalala here, saying, “While I was fighting the good fight in Tallahassee, she was giving tens of thousands of dollars to Republicans.”

But Richardson also received some pushback from Rosen Gonzalez, who tried to tie him to the fundraising operation of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

“When I went to the DCCC and I sat down and I spoke to Nancy Pelosi, I said I wasn’t going to buy into it. I said I was not going to fundraise all day. I was not going to pay one of these fancy email fundraising firms, like David has, a large amount of money.”

Richardson responded by saying he has more than 40 thousand online contributions and has rejected the idea he’s received any support for the DCCC, saying he hasn’t received one dollar from the group.

That was not the last time these two would tussle.

The most puzzling answer of the night came from Rosen Gonzalez during a section of the debate dealing with criminal justice reform. The moderators had spent much of the night asking open-ended questions, allowing candidates to fall back on their talking points if need be. But when they quizzed the candidates on how they would address criminal justice issues differently than their opponents, Rosen Gonzalez, the only woman on stage, got the first chance to answer and seemed to struggle.

“Well I think being a woman, there’s a big power difference there because men think in terms of power.” Her solution? “I would take men out of corrections, stop the abuses. I would.”

That answer was met with confusion in the audience, even some chuckles. And Richardson, who answered next, pounced.

“You know, I wasn’t sure what I was going to say until Commissioner Rosen Gonzalez started speaking. I would absolutely not take men out of the prison system because that’s called discrimination. Next somebody will say let’s take the gays out and not give them a job.”

It’s not clear whether Rosen Gonzalez really backs the idea of barring men from prison jobs or simply just stumbled in her answer, but when given a chance to rebut Richardson’s comments, she did not address them directly or revisit her original point.

The moment was clearly noticed by her campaign staff, who after the debate could be overheard urgently making plans to get the candidate on message in the future. “We are going to have to sit her down every night,” one staffer exclaimed to another.

Richardson also set his sights on Haggman, calling him out for accepting money from corporate executives. “When somebody says they won’t take corporate PAC money, I want to ask you to consider the difference between a corporate PAC check of $5,000 or going to a senior executive, the CEO of that same company, and getting them and their wife to write $2,700 checks.”

Haggman maintained throughout the night he would take no money from corporate PACs, federal lobbyists, or state utilities.

He addressed any donations he received from executives by saying, “These were all individuals through 16 years of work as a reporter and six years of the Knight Foundation where I reached out.” Haggman said he merely pitched them him message, and that “they have decided individually to contribute to the campaign.”

These disputes will likely continue throughout the primary, as again, the candidates were in virtual lockstep on the issues. All agreed on legalizing marijuana. All agreed on ending cash-based bail systems. All agreed to increase gun control, though all also acknowledged that owning guns is a right and they would not make any move to ban all guns.

The final point of contention came at the close of the debate. The moderators wrapped up by asking the candidates whether they would agree to support the eventual winner of the primary. All quickly answered “yes” except for Hepburn. “If I don’t believe the person believes in the values that I’m hearing from the thousands of houses that we’ve visited, no.” That was in character for Hepburn, who positioned himself as someone trying to shake up Washington throughout the debate.

As for Shalala? She had no answer to that question, nor any others.

South Florida congressmen endorse Tina Polsky in HD 81 race

Tina Polsky has pulled in support from two South Florida congressmen, as Reps. Ted Deutch and Alcee Hastings announced they’re backing her bid for House District 81.

HD 81, which covers parts of Palm Beach County, became an open seat after state Rep. Joe Abruzzo announced he planned to retire at the end of his term. Right now, Polsky is matched up in the primary against fellow Democrat Mindy Koch.

Deutch, whose district covers portions of Broward and Palm Beach counties, highlighted Polsky’s policy proposals in his endorsement. “I’m supporting Tina to serve as the next state representative for District 81 because I’m confident that she’ll deliver real results for the people of Palm Beach County on everything from sensible gun safety measures to quality public education to economic development.”

Deutch has gained some national attention after the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School. His district covers Parkland, where the shooting took place. Deutch is now using that platform to push voters toward Polsky. “She has proved to me that she’s the right woman for the job. I’m excited to help her campaign in any way I can.”

Hastings, who serves in Florida’s 20th Congressional District which also includes parts of Palm Beach County, also spoke highly of Polsky. “Tina has been a dedicated and hardworking candidate, and I have been extremely impressed by the campaign she has run. Her commitments to economic development, education, and agriculture — particularly in the communities of Belle Glade, South Bay, and Pahokee — have greatly impressed me.”

Hastings went on to say, “I know she’ll be an outstanding advocate for the people of Palm Beach County in Tallahassee. I’m excited to work with her once she is elected to the state legislature.”

The HD 81 seat skews heavily Democratic, with Democrats running unopposed in the last two elections. No Republicans have yet filed to contest the seat in 2018. That means the winner of the Democratic primary will likely have smooth sailing to the state House.

Polsky was thankful for the pair of endorsements, saying, “Reps. Deutch and Hastings are men I have long respected, and I’m so grateful to have their support in this race. Both have been bold and outspoken leaders on some of the toughest issues we face as a nation, including gun safety and civil rights. I’ll be very fortunate to have them as partners on the federal level, and I look forward to developing close working relationships with them in order to serve the people of District 81.”

Polsky has already earned the endorsement of Abruzzo, who she is running to replace. She has a significant fundraising advantage over Koch as well, raising more than $35,000. Koch has managed just over $6,000.

The HD 81 primary is August 28.

Medicaid fraud stalls enrollment of autism therapists in South Florida

Florida regulators have barred enrollment of new autism therapists after an investigation uncovered widespread Medicaid fraud by some current providers.

The focus of the investigation was a therapy called behavioral analysis, which aims to help the development of children with autism. Among other violations, a report by the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration showed behavioral therapy providers billing for more than 24 hours in a day, billing for 31 consecutive days, and falsifying their qualifications.

That means not only were taxpayers funding potentially nonexistent treatment, the treatments that were carried out were potentially offered by unqualified providers.

As a result, AHCA has asked new therapists be barred from enrollment to “prevent significant fraud that impacts taxpayers and potentially compromises the quality of care patients receive.”

The move has prompted concern from families seeking treatment for children with autism worried they may not be able to get access to much-needed services as the state tried to weed out bad actors from the system. Behavior analysis is one of the most effective treatments for children with autism. Numerous medical and governmental organizations endorse the treatment, including the U.S. Surgeon General and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, state regulators say without a moratorium, “the pervasive fraud and abuse will increase. Increased fraud and abuse would contribute to an inability to effectively screen, and subsequently enroll, highly qualified providers to serve the Medicaid program.”

The AHCA says it has reviewed the data and that “Florida Medicaid presently has more providers than are necessary to render services to the existing recipient population.”

The goal of AHCA is to review current behavioral analysis providers to ensure only legitimate providers are able to participate in the Medicaid system. Regulators also say they expect to sanction any providers who have abused the system.

The moratorium on new enrollment is set to expire after six months. In the meantime, AHCA says it will work with several federal agencies, including Health and Human Services and the Office of the Attorney General, to implement the moratorium.

Manny Diaz Jr.

Manny Diaz campaign crosses $500K mark in contributions

Manny Diaz‘s campaign had an impressive fundraising month in April, with now more than $500,000 raised between his campaign and political committee.

Diaz, a Republican candidate for the Senate District 36 seat, brought in more than $35,000 to his campaign in April. That puts his total raised to just over $325,000, with more than $200,000 still on hand.

Combine that with more than $200,000 brought in by his committee, “Better Florida Education,” and Diaz is sitting on a serious amount of money to help him move from Florida’s House to the Senate.

“These numbers represent real momentum for our vision for Florida,” said Diaz. “I’m grateful and encouraged by the strong support we’re seeing from so many friends and concerned citizens who are investing in our campaign. We’re going to keep working hard to grow our team, and I look forward to continuing to work hard to strengthen and expand educational opportunities in Florida.”

Those totals will only increase this month, as Diaz is set to hold a fundraising this evening at The Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. Diaz’s only declared opponent, Democrat Muhammad Amin, has not yet filed any fundraising information with the Florida Division of Elections.

The impressive fundraising numbers for Diaz come just as several South Florida mayors have decided to endorse the Diaz Campaign.

Diaz has served in the Florida House since 2012, representing House District 103. He’s moving to SD 36, which covers parts of Miami-Dade and Broward counties, to replace term-limited state Sen. Rene Garcia.

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