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Staff Reports

Rick Scott orders money for homelessness prevention

Gov. Rick Scott says he has told the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) to “file a budget amendment to redirect funding for homelessness prevention services.”

Scott announced the move in a news release Monday.

“The Florida Legislature provided DCF spending authority in the FY 2018-19 budget, but did not provide dollars needed to fund these important services,” the news release said. “DCF has identified $3.1 million in funding that may be redirected to help fill this gap — a process which requires legislative approval through the Legislative Budget Commission.”

“While it’s concerning that that this funding was not provided in this year’s budget, I am proud that DCF will be able to redirect money to combat homelessness,” Scott said in a statement. “I encourage the Legislature to quickly approve this budget amendment that will fund programs that served nearly 13,000 Floridians last year.”

From the news release:

“Challenge Grant” funds are directed to local agencies that coordinate homelessness services to provide housing and support to individuals and families in communities across the state. This grant served approximately 13,000 individuals last fiscal year, primarily through rapid rehousing and prevention, as well as case management.

Other services include emergency shelter and vouchers, housing management information system entry and employment services.

This funding, if approved by the Legislature, would be in addition to $1.7 million in federal Emergency Solutions Grant funding that will carry over and be allocated to the Challenge Grant for homelessness services.

There will also be approximately $5 million in Emergency Services Grant money that will be allocated to Florida from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at the beginning of the next federal fiscal year, October 2018.

Tasered teen sues FSU, campus cop

A Jacksonville man is suing Florida State University and FSU Police Officer Christopher Blair for a traumatic brain injury he says he suffered after being zapped by a stun gun.

William Wilcox filed his suit Friday in Leon County Circuit Civil court.

Wilcox was one of about 40 people who ran from Blair in July 2014 after he encountered a group breaking a “wooden parking lot barrier arm,” the complaint says. The suit did not make clear if Wilcox was a student at the time.

Blair singled out Wilcox, then 18, firing at him with an X26 Taser stun gun, the suit says.

“The X26, Taser’s most powerful stun gun, was removed from the sales lineup in 2014,” Reuters reported last September. “Behind the phaseout, a truth: The popular weapon posed a higher cardiac risk than other models …

“When its darts impale flesh, the X26 delivers more electricity than any other Taser and almost twice that of newer ‘smart’ weapons,” Reuters said.

Wilcox fell to the ground, his suit says, striking his head on pavement and suffering “brain bleeds as a result of head trauma.”

He now says he suffers “decreased coordination, strength, and communications skills, including writing,” and seeks compensatory and punitive damages from the university.

Wilcox “did not represent a danger … (and) the use of the Taser … was unreasonable,” the complaint says. He’s represented by Tallahassee attorney James V. Cook.

A complaint in a lawsuit tells one side of a story. FSU spokesman Dennis Schnittker said the university “does not comment on pending litigation.”

Teachers union sues over contentious education bill

The Florida Education Association (FEA) is asking a court to declare unconstitutional the Legislature’s controversial education bill that could lead to some teacher unions across the state being decertified.

Among other things, HB 7055, which took effect July 1, expands the use of voucher-like scholarships to send more public-school students to private schools.

But it also “unfairly targets teachers unions — and teachers unions alone — for decertification as local bargaining agents,” the association said in a news release.

Its suit, filed in Leon County Circuit Civil court, names members of the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission as defendants because they are charged “with implementing and enforcing the provisions” of the law.

Beside the FEA, plaintiffs include county teachers unions and individual teachers, both those who belong to a local union and those who do not.

“This law is a very targeted attack on public school teachers’ rights to organize, speak out as a group and advocate for themselves, their students and their schools,” an FEA news release said.

The suit is directed at the decertification provision in the law, which “it unfairly seeks to target public school teachers unions without touching other public-sector unions, such as those for police and corrections officers,” the news release explained.

It “only comes into play when a local union is up for registration renewal. When that annual renewal date falls varies from local association to local association.”

“Certain interests in this state want to shut our members up and shut us down, and we aren’t having it,” FEA President Joanne McCall said in a statement. “The Florida Education Association and our local teachers’ unions will continue to be the loudest defenders of public education in this state. We speak up for our students and our schools every day, and we will not be silenced.”

Jack Latvala prosecution decision will likely come next week

The capital area’s top prosecutor on Monday said a decision whether to press charges in the Jack Latvala investigation won’t come till next week at the earliest.

A spokesperson for State Attorney Jack Campbell said Friday a decision could have come as early as this week.

Campbell called Florida Politics Monday morning to say he was now “getting deeper” into the 90-page report.

“I am off the Fourth and taking off Thursday and Friday, so I can promise I will not offer an opinion before then,” he said.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has delivered its findings to Campbell, the chief elected prosecutor for the 2nd Judicial Circuit, which includes Tallahassee.

Latvala, a former state senator from Clearwater, was under investigation for months following complaints of sexual misconduct that led to his resignation from office in December.

Campbell previously said he would review the FDLE’s findings and decide whether to press criminal charges against Latvala, who first served in the Senate 1994-2002, then returned in 2010. He would have been term-limited this year.

Latvala has said that his “political adversaries have latched onto this effort to rid our country of sexual harassment to try to rid the Florida Senate of me.” He also admitted, however, that he “ … perhaps (had not) kept up with political correctness in my comments as well as I should have.”

A special master’s report released by the Senate found Latvala “on multiple occasions” offered to trade his vote for sex with a female lobbyist. Special Master Ronald V. Swanson recommended the sexual harassment allegations against the veteran lawmaker be investigated by criminal prosecutors.

Another investigation into sexual harassment claims against Latvala, prompted by a POLITICO Florida story, turned up a witness who bolsters an allegation that the senator would offer to trade sex for favorable votes on legislation.

Tallahassee attorney Steve Andrews, who represents Latvala, declined comment Monday.

Campbell, first elected in 2016 after serving as an assistant prosecutor for years, is a Democrat. Latvala is a Republican.

Delegation for 6.29.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Kennedy retirement sets stage for epic confirmation fight

As expected, the Supreme Court ended the week, and its term, with a bang. They handed down decisions that favored anti-abortion services providers, upheld President Donald Trump’s so-called travel ban, and kneecapped public employee and teachers’ unions,

If progressives and Democrats thought that was bad, the announcement of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement rocked the Capitol. Republicans and Democrats headed for their battle stations.

Kennedy was the court’s “swing vote” and had the respect of both sides other than the fringes of both. But the very prospect of President Donald Trump nominating another Neil Gorsuch-type of jurist had Republicans giddy Democrats and progressives in a fighting mood.

Anthony Kennedy stirs things up. (Image via Bloomberg)

This week’s decisions ripped the scab off the wound inflicted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to hold a hearing for President Barack Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, in 2016. Democrats correctly point out this week’s decisions would have been the opposite had Garland been underneath the black robe instead of Gorsuch.

MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews tweeted Democrats must do to Trump and McConnell what McConnell did to Obama. If another conservative goes on the court, Democratic leadership “will have hell to pay.”

With McConnell still around, that might be difficult. Within a couple of hours after Kennedy’s announcement, McConnell said on the Senate floor “we will vote to confirm Justice Kennedy’s successor this fall.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said such a step by McConnell would be the “height of hypocrisy” after what transpired with Garland.

“With Justice Kennedy’s retirement, the Senate has the opportunity to confirm someone who is committed to protecting (God-given) rights through the principles of original intent and judicial restraint,” said GOP Sen. Marco Rubio. “I look forward to a fair and thorough confirmation process this fall.”

The controversy will play a prominent role in the U.S. Senate race between three-term Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Gov. Rick Scott. Nelson opposed Gorsuch, and if he wants to keep his base in November, he will have no choice but to oppose whomever Trump appoints. For individual and party reasons, he wants to wait.

“I believe the American people should be given a chance to express their views in the upcoming election, before the Senate exercises its constitutional duty,” he said.

Republicans will likely have only 50 possible votes with Arizona Republican John McCain’s health likely preventing him from voting. McCain’s Arizona colleague, outgoing GOP Sen Jeff Flake, would surprise no one by siding with Democrats if for no other reason than to spite Trump. Retiring Tennessee Republican Bob Corker could be another.

But Democrats have problems of their own. West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp, and Indiana’s Joe Donnelly, among others, are running for re-election in states where Trump won big in 2016. Voting against his nominee would not help their prospects for another term.

It will be an epic confirmation battle. The stakes are that high.

Rubio, Warner: Reinstate ban on ZTE

Whether or not China will come to the table to negotiate a better trade arrangement with the U.S., Rubio wants sanctions on Chinese telecom giant ZTE reinstated. In the run-up to Trump’s summit with Kim Jong Un, the sanctions, which would likely have doomed the company, were lifted after a leadership change and a stiff fine.

Rubio and Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner are urging Trump to reverse course and sanction ZTE again. Several Capitol Hill Republicans and Democrats, along with the intelligence community, describe ZTE as a national security threat, especially after they were caught violating U.S. sanctions against Iran and North Korea.

Marco Rubio and Mark Warner look to keep the pressure on ZTE.

In a joint letter to Trump, the Senators urged Trump to support the ban approved in the Senate.

“ZTE, though publicly traded, is a state-backed enterprise that is ultimately loyal not to its shareholders, but to the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese government,” they wrote. “This patronage relationship poses unacceptable risks to American sovereignty; risks that will only increase if the company is permitted to establish itself deeply in America’s telecommunications infrastructure.”

They ominously asked Trump “to heed the leaders of the U.S. Intelligence Community, supported by a strong bipartisan consensus in the Senate, that we must pursue policies that prevent the widespread use of ZTE products in the U.S.”

Both Senators are members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Warner is the vice chairman.

Nelson holds small lead in new poll

Most expect the Senate race between Scott and Nelson to be close all the way to November. The polls are already showing that to be the case.

Last week, a CBS poll showed the two-term governor leading the three-term Senator by five points, 46-41. This week, an NBC/Marist poll shows Nelson up by four, 49-45.

New polling gives Bill Nelson a slight lead in his re-election bid. (Image via Facebook)

The NBC poll surveyed registered voters while the CBS numbers reflect likely voters. When considering only registered voters, the CBS survey showed Scott leading by only 42-40.

The latest Real Clear Politics average of polls shows Scott with a slight lead of two points.

Supreme Court leans toward Florida in ‘Water Wars’ case

Many thought Wednesday, the final day of the Supreme Court’s 2017-18 term would bring closure to the 20-year battle between Florida and Georgia over water flow into the Apalachicola River. In a 5-4 ruling, the court agreed that Florida was harmed and that Special Master Ralph Lancaster, Jr. was “too strict” on Florida.

The ruling means Lancaster has the case back in his hands with the “guidance” from the majority. This was good news to elected officials who have been directly involved in the saga known as “Water Wars.”

Supreme Court water wars decision is a “great day for North Florida,” says Neal Dunn.

“Today is a great day for North Florida and the future of the Apalachicola River and Bay,” said Republican Rep. Neal Dunn, who represents the Apalachicola region. He called the decision “a fundamental shift“ in the direction of the dispute.

Rubio called it “a clear victory for Florida” as the court brought the region closer to having the long-term damage mitigated.

Scott, who made the call to bring the lawsuit was obviously pleased.

“(Wednesday’s) ruling is a huge win for the entire state of Florida,” he said. “As governor, protecting the families whose livelihoods rely on the Apalachicola Bay has been a top priority.”

Despite not being a part of the lawsuit, the Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for carrying out any direction in altering water flow. They were a significant part of the ruling anyway.

“The United States has made clear that the Corps will cooperate in helping to implement any determinations and obligations the Court sets forth in a final decree in this case,” said Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority. “While the Corps must take account of a variety of circumstances and statutory obligations when it allocates water, it cannot now be said that an effort to shape a decree here will prove ‘a vain thing.'”

Joining Breyer was Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader GinsburgSonia Sotomayor, and Kennedy,

The case is officially known as Florida v. Georgia.

Delegation seeks to preserve drilling safety rules

Most of the Florida delegation has joined to protect offshore drilling safety rules. In a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the members voiced their opposition to “weakening the Well Control Rule” put in place after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The rule was crafted to prevent the kind of blowout that killed 11 workers in the 2010 explosion.

The letter to Zinke was led by Democrats Charlie Crist and Darren Soto, along with Republicans Vern Buchanan and Francis Rooney. The Trump administration first began to propose changes last December.

The Interior Secretary gets another “Dear Ryan” letter from the Florida Delegation.

“This proposal to weaken the Well Control Rule will not only risk lives, but could inflict devastating consequences on our environment and economy,” they wrote. “The weakening of these safety regulations is compounded by the Interior Department’s plans to dramatically expand offshore drilling in nearly all U.S. waters, including the South Atlantic, the Straits of Florida, and the still-recovering Gulf of Mexico. This underscores the need for robust safety standards to protect our coasts from another needless accident.”

Among Florida’s 27 delegation members in the House, 21 signed the letter.

Hannity to join North Florida Republicans on campaign trail

During the past month, Republicans Matt Gaetz and Ron DeSantis have campaigned together in North Florida. On Monday, they will be together again, but with a special guest.

Fox News commentator and syndicated radio host Sean Hannity will join the two conservatives for their joint rallies in Fort Myers, Tampa and Pensacola. Both Congressmen are personal favorites of not only Hannity, but also Trump, who dubbed the pair “absolute warriors.”

Sean Hannity to make the rounds in North Florida for Ron DeSantis, Matt Gaetz.

Gaetz is seeking re-election to the First Congressional District, while DeSantis is campaigning to become Florida’s 46th governor. Both Trump and Hannity have endorsed DeSantis over Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the GOP primary.

There will be plenty to discuss. Both lawmakers had their chance to grill Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Thursday, when he appeared before the House Judiciary Committee, a committee on which they both serve.

DeSantis will have Thursday night’s gubernatorial debate with Adam Putnam as part of his agenda.

House passes Posey bill pushing space-related businesses

With the space industry now heavily reliant on the private sector, the opportunity for more small and medium-sized businesses now exist. A bill by Republican Rep. Bill Posey of Rockledge seeks to attract those businesses to the Florida Space Coast.

On Wednesday, the House unanimously passed the Commercial Space Support Vehicle Act, sets federal regulatory and licensing framework for private companies doing everything from training private astronauts in high-flying aircraft to launching spacecraft from underneath airplanes for subspace research and technology development.

Bill Posey is pushing space-related businesses.

Posey has pushed the legislation for a couple of years because companies in the fledgling private space industry, including the Kennedy Space Center-based Starfighters, discovered there were insufficient federal regulatory frameworks for such operations, and so the Federal Aviation Administration was reluctant to grant licenses.

“Companies would like to utilize space support vehicles to train crews and spaceflight participants by exposing them to the physiological effects encountered in spaceflight or conduct research in reduced gravity environments,” Posey stated in a news release. “This legislation creates a foundation for more companies to engage in human spaceflight activities and support commercial space operations.

Among the bill’s four co-sponsors was Democratic Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee.

Democrats’ newest star endorses Murphy’s primary opponent

Not long after political neophyte Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s shocking upset victory over New York Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley, she began to make endorsements. Less than 24 hours after that win, she endorsed another upstart — District 7 candidate Chardo Richardson.

Richardson is challenging first-term Democrat Stephanie Murphy, who herself won in a 2016 upset over longtime incumbent John Mica. Ocasio-Cortez and Richardson met previously through progressive groups formed to find and recruit candidates.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Democrats’ newest star.

“We were the original Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats,” Richardson said. “Alexandria and I always had a great relationship and supported each other.”

Even with the support of the Democratic Party’s new national star, it will be a tough road for Richardson. Murphy has raised $1.7 million and gained several endorsements, including this week’s announcements from the AFL-CIO and the Florida Education Association.

Ocasio-Cortez won Tuesday, despite not accepting corporate money, but still raised $300,000 to get her message out. She hopes her support will help Richardson do the same.

“There are more of us, too,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “We need to elect a corporate PAC-free caucus if we’re going to get things done.”

Murphy to serve on defense appropriations conference committee

Murphy has been tapped to serve an essential role in national defense appropriations. On Wednesday, she was appointed to serve on the conference committee tasked with developing final legislation that will be the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Stephanie Murphy gets a major committee role. (Image via Aaron Berger/Vogue)

She was appointed by House leadership to work with House colleagues and conferees from the Senate to reconcile the competing versions of the NDAA. When completed, Congress will vote to spend between $650 billion to $700 billion.

“I am extraordinarily grateful for this unique opportunity to advocate for our nation’s service members in this year’s defense authorization bill,” Murphy said. “As a conferee, I’ll work hard alongside my House and Senate colleagues to ensure we provide our military with the resources it needs to keep our nation safe. I look forward to serving as central Florida’s voice on the NDAA conference committee.”

Deutch, Curbelo announce Posey, other new members to climate caucus

The Climate Change Caucus has again expanded with the addition of 6 new members representing both parties. In a joint announcement, caucus co-chairs Carlos Curbelo, a Kendall Republican, and Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton, welcomed the additions that now bring the membership to 84 members, equally divided among Republicans and Democrats.

“Now 84 Members strong, the Climate Solutions Caucus is evidence there is a growing, diverse, and bipartisan coalition of Members of Congress willing to put partisan stereotypes aside to work toward meaningful solutions to the challenges posed by sea level rise and climate change,” Curbelo said.

Ted Deutch, Carlos Curbelo add new names to the Climate Caucus.

Among the new members is Rockledge Republican Bill Posey, one of the more conservative members of the House. He joins fellow Republicans Gaetz, Brian Mast and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, along with Democrats Crist and Murphy.

“Climate change is an urgent global issue with severe local ramifications,” said Deutch. “As more and more Americans face the impacts of climate change, they are demanding action from Congress. I welcome these new members to our Caucus and look forward to finding bipartisan solutions to address the effects of climate change facing communities across our country.”

Curbelo blasts colleagues after immigration bill’s defeat

Over the last week, two Republican immigration bills were defeated in the House. Last week, 191 Republicans voted for the so-called “Goodlatte bill,” but it wasn’t enough.

On Wednesday, the House leadership compromise bill could muster only 121 votes in an embarrassing defeat. That means no DACA fix or funding for a border wall. Those within the GOP advocating for DREAMers and seeking a solution to family separation at the border, including Curbelo, criticized their colleagues for killing the latest bill.

Carlos Curbelo is decrying the failure to pass the “Goodlatte bill.”

“Today a coalition of shortsighted House Members shamefully came together to preserve the broken, inefficient, unfair immigration system that misgoverns our country,” Curbelo said in a statement. “By rejecting sensible immigration reform, a minority of Republicans voted with all Democrats against stronger border security, against a future in our country for young immigrants in the DACA program, against closing loopholes that are exploited by drug and human traffickers, and against permanently ending the horrible policy of separating children from their parents at the border.”

Curbelo has been a leader in bringing immigration legislation to the floor through a process known as a discharge petition. The effort was near its goal before it was temporarily halted to allow votes on these two bills. There appears to be no other option.

“There’s no unicorn — nothing that (Freedom Caucus member) Jim Jordan would vote for that Carlos Curbelo could ever support,” said one senior GOP aide to CNN, referring to a nonexistent bill that could bridge the gap between the conference’s most conservative and moderate members. “And vice versa.”

This could mean the return of the discharge petition and the probable passage of the more liberal DREAM Act, which House leadership was desperately trying to avoid by calling for the truce. Curbelo, one of 203 co-sponsors of the bill, seemed to prepare his colleagues for such a move.

“I will not stop working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to deliver an immigration system all Americans can celebrate — one that is fair, compassionate, and respects the rule of law,” Curbelo said.

On this date in the headlines

June 29, 2000 — Clearing its first big hurdle in Congress, a bill that would launch a $7.8 billion plan to restore the Everglades passed easily out of a Senate committee. The vote in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee was 17-1.

“We are going to save this world treasure for future generations,” said Democratic Sen. Bob Graham. “We need to move forward expeditiously.”

Gov. Jeb Bush previously signed into law Florida’s contribution of $2 billion over the next 10 years.

June 29, 2012 — Florida’s challenge, led by Attorney General Pam Bondi, to the Affordable Care Act was derailed by the U.S. Supreme Court as it found President Barack Obama’s signature legislation was constitutional. Florida filed its challenge shortly after it was signed into law in 2010. One newspaper blazed a banner headline “Bondi, Scott thwarted.”

Democrats and proponents hailed the 5-4 decision as a victory for the uninsured. Gov. Rick Scott zeroed in on the distinction that the individual mandate was a tax, contrary to the previous arguments of Obama and his administration. Scott said Congress needs “to work actively to get rid of that tax.”

Travis Hutson’s political committee now at $500K cash-on-hand

Elkton Republican Travis Hutson followed up strong May fundraising with a six-figure June haul that pushed his two political committees over $500,000 cash on hand, asserts his political operation.

Hutson, who is pursuing the Senate Presidency in 2022, is raising money and spending money at the committee level, with an eye toward consolidating support statewide.

His First Coast Business Foundation has $203,552 on hand, and his Sunshine State Conservatives has $310,687 on hand, adding up to $514,239.

By the end of June the money raised will be over $100,000, per Hutson’s political operation. And the money going out includes $75,000 to the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The fundraising highlight of the month: a golf tourney at Sawgrass late last week, which raised in the high five figures, with telecom money being strong.

Lawmakers demand answers on questionable civics test results

On the heels of a Duval County School Board member claiming that his district is “gaming the system” with artificially inflated civics test scores at a struggling school, six Republican lawmakers demanded answers Thursday from Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

Reps. Jason FischerMichael BilecaJames GrantBob Rommel, and Jennifer Sullivan, along with Sen. Dennis Baxley, raised concerns about “Duval, Manatee and Polk County school districts potentially undermining the integrity of our state’s public school accountability system through employing questionable testing practices on the state end-of-course exam in civics.”

This threatens, per the lawmakers, the “integrity” of the process, and the school grade system itself.

“As parents of public school students and taxpayers, we share skepticism of the three counties’ testing practices with the public, and now we want to know more,” the six assert.

The questions boil down to ones of who was prevented from taking the test, how test takers were determined as eligible, who made the decisions, and how Stewart’s department will address this “manipulation of the system and avoidance of accountability.”

The full letter is here: manipulation of the system and avoidance of accountability. The lawmakers promise corrective legislation to ensure said manipulation of the system doesn’t happen again.

In a statement offered this week, the Department of Education said it had no record of a request for an investigation. Clearly, that’s not the case now.

The group’s letter is below:

Appellate court mostly finds for lawmakers in matching-gift case

Florida’s Legislature largely won in an appellate decision out Thursday in a case alleging lawmakers failed to match at least $384.5 million in private donations to universities and state colleges that were made under the state’s matching-gift laws.

A unanimous panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal found that Circuit Judge Charles Dodson overstepped when he declared “that the Legislature’s failure to appropriate funds constitutes a violation of the single-subject requirement (in) the Florida Constitution.”

Dodson also didn’t have “jurisdiction to grant one of the remedies sought in the complaint — an injunction prohibiting the Legislature from adopting future appropriations bills that do not contain specific appropriations for matching donations — because doing so would violate the separation of powers doctrine,” the opinion says.

“The message is clear. Courts cannot interfere with the process of another branch of government to perform its constitutional duties. Because it would prohibit the performance of a solemn constitutional duty, the proposed injunction would be illegal.”

The court, however, ruled for the plaintiffs on breach of contract and declaratory relief claims and sent the case back down, adding a caveat.

“While we share many of the misgivings raised by counsel for the Legislature (on) whether the circuit court will ultimately be able to fashion a remedy that (does not violate) separation of powers principles, we cannot determine at this stage of the litigation that the circuit court lacks jurisdiction to adjudicate these claims,” it said.

Still, that was enough for plaintiffs’ attorney Grace Mead to tell the state to “stop litigating and start keeping promises.”

“Affordable and excellent higher education is critical for Florida’s families and the State’s future,” said Mead, who practices at Stearns Weaver Miller. “Private citizens stepped up to the plate to help the state meet its obligation to provide affordable education.

“Having induced those contributions with promises that gifts would be matched, it was fundamentally dishonest for our elected officials to turn their backs on the donors and the institutions they chose to support. A great state is not built on broken promises.”

University of Florida graduates and Florida State University donors filed separate class-action lawsuits, which were consolidated, seeking to force the state to come up with millions of dollars in matching funds for the gifts.

Lawyers for the state said the matching-gift laws are subject to annual budget decisions by the Legislature and it would violate the constitutional separation of powers if the judiciary ordered lawmakers to spend the money.

University of Florida alumni Ryan and Alexis Geffin first filed a lawsuit alleging their undergraduate education was harmed because matching funds weren’t provided for construction projects at the school.

The programs cited in that lawsuit included two construction-related funds, the Alec P. Courtelis University Facility Enhancement Challenge Grant Program and the Florida College System Institution Capital Facilities Matching Program, as well as the Dr. Philip Benjamin Matching Grant Program and the University Major Gifts Program.

A second lawsuit was filed by two Florida State University law-school graduates, Tommy Warren, a former FSU football player, and his wife, Kathleen Villacorta.

Their suit cited their $100,000 donation to the FSU law school for a scholarship fund that was never matched by the state and their $100,000 donation for a scholarship program for students studying marine conservation that was also never matched by the state.

In a statement, Warren and Villacorta said: “We’re excited and look forward to our gifts and other donors’ gifts being matched.”

But under a 2011 law, the programs cannot be restarted until a backlog of $200 million in donations for the Courtelis program as well as the other three matching-grant programs have been matched.

Thursday’s opinion was authored by Judge James R. Wolf, with Judges Ross L. Bilbrey and M. Kemmerly Thomas concurring.


Background from the News Service of Florida, republished with permission.

FSU says it qualifies for nearly $100M in ‘performance funding’

Florida State University says it’s “improved in every performance metric outlined by the Florida Board of Governors and will receive $98.7 million in performance funding this year in recognition of its continuing excellence.”

The school made the announcement in a Wednesday press release. The funding is subject to confirmation Thursday by the full Board of Governors.

The funds will allow Florida State to “continue making investments in targeted areas as it strives toward its goal of becoming a U.S. News & World Report Top 25 public university.”

“I’m pleased that our achievements are reflected in the performance metrics,” FSU President John Thrasher said in a statement. “This performance funding will help support the university’s preeminence in ways that will benefit our students and the state as we prepare career-ready graduates.”

Performance funding is based on university progress on a variety of metrics, from four-year graduation rates to student success after graduation, the school said.

FSU’s year-over-year progress was highlighted by a four-year graduation rate of 68.4 percent. That’s nearly three percentage points higher than the previous year’s cohort, placing FSU first among all State University System of Florida institutions. It’s the highest four-year graduation rate in the State University System’s history.

“Even as costs decrease for students, university quality continues to improve,” said Marshall Criser III, chancellor of the State University System.

“That combination is why U.S. News & World Report recently ranked Florida the No. 1 state for higher education for the second year in a row, and it’s why we continue to insist that student success is at the center of everything we do.”

In addition, FSU was awarded $6.1 million from the Florida Legislature in recognition of the university’s preeminence status.

Delegation for 6.26.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

CBS poll holds some good news for GOP

Voters or candidates should not be overly concerned or excited over the results of one poll. In competitive races, one side is up and one side is down.

For example, the most recent CBS News poll shows Republican Gov. Rick Scott with a five-point lead over Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson (see below) among likely voters. In another poll conducted just a few days ago, Nelson had a slight lead.

Consultants and politicos often talk about the “crosstabs” featuring questions on issues and political opinions outside the “horse race.” While the head-to-head always gets the most attention, the treasure trove of data contained within the crosstabs offers insights into the voting public and indicators of where several races might be heading.

New polling gives some good news for the GOP.

There are many things in this poll that should encourage Republicans and concern Democrats. It shows that if Nelson and Florida Democratic Congressional candidates want to make this a referendum on President Donald Trump, they are going to need more.

Among poll respondents, 52 percent approve of the job the president is doing, while 48 percent disapprove. Around the country, Trump is still 7 points underwater in this category, but Floridians who voted for him are still with him.

Floridians are pleased with the economy. A total of 77 percent said the economy is good or somewhat good, while 23 percent say it is bad or somewhat bad.

Among the Senate candidates, Scott holds a 62 percent job approval rating, while Nelson is at 54 percent. On the question on what voters want from their Senator, a whopping 76 percent is looking for a conservative, or if a progressive, one that will try to work with Trump.

Nelson is clearly counting on a high turnout of Puerto Ricans to help get him over the top and the avalanche of criticism of the Trump administration’s efforts following Hurricane Maria are thought to help the incumbent. But this poll shows 53 percent of Floridians either strongly approve or somewhat approve of the way the administration responded.

Regarding the recent controversy of separating children of illegal immigrants from their parents, 43 percent somewhat approve or strongly approve, and 57 percent somewhat disapprove or strong disapprove. Whether voters were more likely to base their vote on this issue, Democrats hold a 9-point lead.

Nelson leads among Hispanic voters, but only by a margin of 37-36 percent. Respondents also said by a 57-43 percent majority that Trump’s border wall is a good idea.

Finally, Scott’s lead over Nelson is only 42-40 percent among registered voters. It grows to 46-41 among those likely to vote.

The pollster’s analysis credits, apparently for the first time this cycle, a slightly higher voter intensity among Florida Republicans than Democrats. While this does not predict intensity in other states such as California, this is good news for incumbents such as Carlos CurbeloBrian Mast and Republicans in open seats like District 6 (Ron DeSantis), District 15 (Dennis Ross) and District 17 (Tom Rooney).

Democrats were counting on high intensity to roll over Republicans in a blue wave. If they are still on fire in places like California or other blue states, that can still happen.

It will be interesting to see polling over the next two weeks. Again, this was just one poll.

At the same time, clear-thinking Democrats had to cringe at the tactics of California Democrat Maxine Waters. Recounting the recent harassment of White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi will not help gain many persuadable voters.

Inciting confrontations has the very real possibility of backfiring and increasing Republican intensity. It could be a long, hot summer.

Did Nelson lead Scott to a change of heart on high-speed rail?

Soon after Scott was inaugurated in 2011, he told the Obama administration Florida was not interested in more than $2 billion in federal money to help build high-speed rail between Tampa and Orlando. Scott expressed concerns over cost overruns and who would make up the difference.

On Saturday, Nelson tweeted while sitting in congested I-4 traffic.

“On I-4. Traffic is bad. Again. I am officially calling on Gov. Scott to let us build high-speed rail. We would be riding at 180 mph between Orlando and Tampa right now had he not turned away $2.4 billion in 2011.”


Less than two hours after the tweet, Scott announced his administration was seeking proposals for the rail connection along the I-4 corridor. The difference between, 2018 and 2011, Scott says, is private funding now as opposed to public dollars 7 years ago.

“Instead of placing taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars, our goal is for the private sector to invest in this project,” Scott said. “Through private investment, we ensure that this major project has zero financial risk to Florida taxpayers,” Scott said.

Rick Scott does an about-face on high-speed rail from Orlando to Tampa. (Image via Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

In response, Nelson chose to revisit Scott’s original reasoning for refusing the federal money. He insisted taxpayers would not have been on the hook.

“That wasn’t true then, and it’s still not true now,” Nelson said in a statement. “The federal government would have paid 90 percent of the cost to complete this project, while private companies would have paid the rest. And the governor’s own FDOT had a study that showed it would have made money in its very first year.”

While Nelson cannot take credit for forcing Scott to come up with something that quickly, he may be somewhat responsible for Scott moving up the timetable for Friday’s announcement. In Florida’s recent history, successful candidates running statewide must do well in the I-4 corridor.

Scott leads Nelson 46-41 among likely voters in CBS poll

As many Democrats feared, Sen. Bill Nelson has a fight on his hands from the challenge of Gov. Rick Scott. Another poll, this one issued Sunday, shows Scott with a small lead on the three-term Democrat.

According to the survey by CBS, Scott holds a 46-41 lead among likely voters. Earlier this month, a Florida Chamber poll showed a three-point lead for Scott, while a May Florida Atlantic University poll had the challenger with a 44-40 lead.

New polling proves Bill Nelson has a real fight on his hand.

A recent survey by Public Policy Polling had Nelson with a two-point lead.

The poll shows the race tighter among registered voters, who unlike “likely voters” aren’t as committed to showing up in November. More of those voters were Democrats and independents than Republicans. At least according to this poll, the Democratic voter excitement seems to have ebbed.

Rubio touts GOP Senate immigration bill

As the week began, some of the rhetoric surrounding the separation of children and families at the border, seemed a bit quieter on Capitol Hill. Trump administration officials were the target of poor behavior, but some are trying to address the situation.

While the House is struggling to get anything out of that chamber that would address the multiple immigration issues, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is touting a GOP Senate bill that would keep families together at the border and direct more resources toward ensuring due process.

Marco Rubio defends the GOP immigration bill. (image via Andrew Harnik/AP Photo)

Rubio went to the Senate floor (remarks begin at 2:44:00 mark) to advocate for the Keep Families Together and Enforce the Law Act. The two-term Senator joined with several Republican colleagues to try to move a possible solution forward.

“It is cruel to separate families, but it is also cruel and irresponsible to return to a policy that encourages parents to bring their children on a dangerous journey,” said Rubio. “This bill will allow us to change the law so that families will remain together while awaiting prioritized proceedings. We should pass it immediately and reunite families.”

While the House bill includes a DACA fix and construction of a border wall in addition to family reunification, the Senate bill address only the latter.

Farm Bill passes House; 2 delegation Republicans vote no

With no room for error, the delayed Farm Bill passed the House of Representatives late last week. The final vote of 213-211 finally got the controversial bill on to the Senate for consideration.

Last month, disputes with conservatives on immigration led many of them to band together and torpedo the farm legislation.

The 746-page bill includes farm subsidies, but the provision that adds additional work requirements for able-bodied recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as “food stamps”) benefits made the bill another divisive issue. Delegation members on the House Agriculture Committee had differing views on the bill’s passage.

Neal Dunn was one of two Florida Republicans to reject the Farm Bill, which passed along partisan lines. 

“From improving crop insurance and preserving the farm safety net, to addressing unfair international trade practices and modernizing the food stamp program, we created a Farm and Food Bill that works for today’s producers,” said Panama City Republican Neal Dunn in a newsletter to constituents, “With this bill, our farmers now have some certainty during times of recession and loss; they know that the United States will continue to have a strong and robust agricultural economy.”

When the bill passed out of committee, Democrat Al Lawson of Tallahassee said the bill will “take food away from millions of seniors, veterans, persons with disabilities and our most vulnerable citizens struggling to make ends meet. As a nation, we should be steadfast in eradicating hunger. This bill does not do that.”

Among the 20 Republicans voting against the bill was Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami. All Democrats voted against it.

Gaetz praises House’s path to balanced budget

Late last week, the House Budget Committee approved a fiscal year 2019 budget resolution that sets the federal government on a path to balance the budget and actually produce a budget surplus in later years. The resolution was approved by the committee on a 21-13 vote, including Gaetz.

The first-term Republican, a committee member and one of the House’s committed budget hawks, praised the proposed budget for addressing what he routinely calls “generational theft.” Reductions in entitlement spending are part of the measure.

Matt Gaetz pushes for a balanced budget. (Image via Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

“This budget is a strong statement of conservative principles: it fully funds our military, ensures the social safety net for America’s most vulnerable citizens is kept intact, and reduces our national debt by eight trillion dollars,” Gaetz said in a statement. “With the greatest reduction in entitlement spending in decades, this budget helps put an end to the generational theft of unbalanced budgets and borrowed foreign money and helps keep the American dream alive for future generations.

Of the $8 trillion in budget reductions in the coming years, $5.4 billion of that comes from entitlement programs.

To that end, Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schulz, also a member of the committee, said she had “offered an amendment to prevent Congress from cutting Social Security benefits (but) zero Republicans supported it.”

Sounds like a campaign commercial in the making.

Crist pushes accountability for family separation

After an exchange with a senior Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official, Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg believes administration officials need to be held accountable for any violations of federal immigration law. To that end, Crist filed the Reunifying Separated Families Act of 2018.

Along with ordering the immediate reunification of families separated while crossing the border illegally, Crist’s bill would impose penalties on those who violate its provisions. As an example, for each child that is not reunited within 30 days, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Nielsen would be fined $1,000 per child per day.

Charlie Crist is proposing the Reunifying Separated Families Act to hold the Trump administration accountable until they return these children to their parents. (Image via Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

“This was a heartless policy and a nightmare for the children and families involved,” Crist said. “More than 2,300 kids were ripped from their parents, yet the Trump Administration still has no plan for reuniting them with their families. It’s unacceptable.”

The bill also contains a provision that would launch an investigation into the Customs and Border Patrol, ICE and DHS to discover “why the federal agencies have lost children.”

Trump tweets frustrate Ross

Trump is well-known for his morning tweets on the top issues of the day. Sometimes they are designed to attack his attackers, but they are just as likely to provide his blunt assessment of ongoing debates on Capitol Hill.

On the issue of immigration, Lakeland Republican Dennis Ross is growing frustrated. Last week, after the House defeated a conservative immigration bill, House Speaker Paul Ryan said Republicans would continue working on a more moderate bill, but Trump tweeted the House should “stop wasting time on immigration” until after November.

Donald Trump’s tweets are starting to get on Dennis Ross’ nerves.

“We’ve reached, I think, a good consensus, and suddenly we wake up to another tweet,” Ross said. “And it’s like, I think he’s with us, but he’s got to really come out for us. This is the opportunity.”

Republican House leaders said a vote on the compromise bill that would include a DACA fix and end family separations at the border would come this week. Trump is not the GOP’s only problem as conservatives are resisting the granting of what they call “amnesty” to large numbers of undocumented immigrants as well as the lack of a system to force employers to hire only documented immigrants.

South Florida Democrats visit Homestead facility

A trio of South Florida Democrats and Nelson visited the Homestead Detention Center over the weekend to inspect the conditions for the young people being housed there. While they were mildly complimentary of the facility’s arrangements, Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston and Ted Deutch of Boca Raton pointed out shortcomings.

The facility is housing undocumented juveniles who arrived unaccompanied and some of those who were separated from their parents upon entry. Nelson and Wasserman Schultz tried to inspect the facility late last week but were turned away.

Bill Nelson, with Debbie Wasserman Schultz, speaks during a news conference in front of the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children. (Image via AP/Brynn Anderson)

Saturday’s delegation visit coincided with a large protest involving 23 advocacy groups called the “March to Keep Families Together.” The barracks-style facility holds more than 1,100 children with more than 1,000 of those falling into the unaccompanied child category.

Outside, chants of “Hey, Trump, leave those kids alone,” could be heard, recycling the Pink Floyd classic “Another Brick in the Wall.”

The delegation described the facility as clean and indicated the minors were being properly cared for. However, they claim the center is understaffed with only one person overseeing the reunification process, and she does not work on weekends

“If it is the goal to reunify these families,” Deutch said, “then the instructions should come down from the White House to dedicate whatever resources are necessary to ensure that there are officials at every facility where these kids are being housed [and] to work round-the-clock.”

Brogan confirmed for top-level DOE position

Former Florida Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan is now officially a member of the Trump administration, joining the Department of Education (DOE) as assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education.

On Monday, the Senate officially confirmed Brogan in a non-controversial voice vote. He was originally nominated for the position by Trump in December.

Former Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan gets the nod as DOE assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education.

Brogan comes to his new job with experience as an elementary school teacher, principal and school superintendent in Martin County. In 1994, he was elected as Florida’s Commissioner of Education before joining Jeb Bush’s ticket in Bush’s successful run for governor in 1998.

Shortly after re-election in 2002, Brogan left Tallahassee to become President of Florida Atlantic University. He would later go on to serve as Chancellor of the State University System in Florida and later in Pennsylvania.

Brogan has long been a proponent of school choice, supporting charter schools and “opportunity scholarships” that provide funds for parents of children in failing schools to enroll students in private schools.

His boss, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, has generated significant controversy through her outspoken advocacy for school choice.

On this date in the headlines

June 26, 1995 — The National Rifle Association, engaged in a vigorous struggle against gun control, has operated in the red for four years, depleting its cash reserves and investments drastically. Documents prepared for the NRA board of directors show the powerful gun lobby ran total deficits at $69 million between 1991 and 1993. An additional $3 million deficit is projected for last year.

NRA officials, including President Thomas Washington, Treasurer Wilson Phillips and executive vice-president Wayne LaPierre, declined to comment. NRA spokesman Bill Powers said “There is not much of a desire to weigh in on this.”

June 26, 2015 — The Supreme Court has ruled that President Barack Obama’s health care law allows the federal government to provide nationwide tax subsidies to help poor and middle-class people buy health insurance, a sweeping vindication that endorsed the larger purpose of Obama’s signature legislative achievement.

The 6-3 ruling means that it is all but certain that the Affordable Care Act will survive after Obama leaves office in 2017, and has a greater chance of becoming an enduring part of America’s social safety net. The high court rejected a challenge, based on the semantics of an ambiguous text in the law, that threatened the health insurance for 1.3 million Floridians who receive coverage through the federal exchange.

McCaskill: Sore ribs never felt so good

Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill attended a Democratic Party fundraising dinner in her home state Saturday. While glad-handing with well-wishers, hugs were at a minimum as she spoke of sore ribs.

The soreness can be blamed on West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin. At a luncheon for Senate Democrats on Thursday, McCaskill began choking, prompting Manchin to get up and perform the Heimlich maneuver.

Ouch: Joe Manchin cracked Claire McCaskill’s rib performing the Heimlich Maneuver.

The good news is, Manchin’s actions worked, while the bad news was the after effects.

“I’m really grateful to Joe,” McCaskill said. “A little bit of a sore rib for a couple of weeks is no big deal.”

Both McCaskill and Manchin join Nelson as Democrats in tough re-election fights in states won by Trump in 2016.

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