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It got a little drafty in Florida Legislature this week with the release of preliminary redistricting maps offering the first glimpse into the political environment awaiting House incumbents and other would-be members of the delegation.
To the surprise of many national pundits, the staff-generated congressional maps from the Florida Senate appeared pretty (small “c”) conservative.
Unlike Florida’s state lawmakers, delegation members are not required to live in their districts. But if these first-draft maps become law, most won’t incumbents see major changes to their constituencies. And no sitting member of the delegation seems at risk of being left in a community unfamiliar with their representation.
The biggest question marks come for Palm Beach-Broward lawmakers. Two of the four drafts leave primarily intact the districts represented by Democratic Reps. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach and Ted Deutch of Boca Raton.
However, the other two districts are re-imagined.
Represented by Frankel, Florida’s 21st Congressional District would be a complexly inland district stretching from conservative Wellington to liberal Margate.
Under these drafts, Deutch’s seat, Florida’s 22nd Congressional District, would run the coastline from West Palm Beach to the Miami-Dade line.
In terms of swing districts, the proposals leave Central Florida seats represented by Reps. Stephanie Murphy, a Winter Park Democrat, and Charlie Crist, a St. Petersburg Democrat, largely intact. The same goes for a South Florida seat represented by Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Giménez.
A neighboring seat now held by Miami Republican Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar becomes more compact on the maps by losing coastal areas won by President Joe Biden in 2020. That’s likely good news for the incumbent, who represents the most heavily Democratic district in the state represented now by a Republican.
The greatest changes for an incumbent appear to be for first-term Rep. Scott Franklin, a Lakeland Republican. But it’s not all bad news. His Lakeland home community moves from Florida’s 15th Congressional District to a new Florida’s 28th Congressional District (numbers likely to change). The district swapped some Biden territory in Hillsborough County for Donald Trump country in Polk. That’s likely good for both Franklin and Eddie Geller, the Democrat challenging Franklin, who would now end up living in a significantly bluer CD 15.
The change also might help Rep. Darren Soto, a Kissimmee Democrat recently named a House Republican target in 2022 but who would lose some of the redder parts of his region while keeping his Kissimmee headquarters intact. But all this shifting around Tampa Bay could deliver a significant impact on Rep. Kathy Castor, as Florida’s 14th Congressional District suddenly becomes a potential battleground. An analysis by MCI Maps finds the imagined district, identical in all four drafts, would have been won by Biden in November but with less than 52% of the vote.
Of course, these maps represent just a first look at what the Florida Legislature could do. The Florida House has yet to publish its plans, and Senate drafts are just that, drafts. But some legal experts say if the Legislature wants to avoid landing in court, starting with a fair map and shifting to a more partisan one isn’t the way to do it.
On Wednesday, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parilla held a news conference asserting the anti-communist protests erupting on the island in July were not homegrown. Instead, he claimed it was the online Archipielago group — organized and underwritten by the U.S. attempting to overthrow the government.
“U.S. policy … is doomed to failure. It is unfeasible. It hasn’t worked for 60 years. It does not work now (…), and it will not work in the future,” he told a group of foreign diplomats, according to Reuters.
He also specifically accused Sen. Marco Rubio of interference in the nation’s governance. The Miami Republican, the son of Cuban immigrants to the U.S., has long openly criticized the communist regime and pressured the Biden administration to provide material support to dissidents this summer.
As most would expect, Rubio didn’t walk back his position, taking it as a badge of honor the Cuban government would single him out specifically.
“This dictatorship continues to impose a failed economic model on the people of Cuba because they prefer to have power than prosperity,” Rubio said. “They are evil, incompetent criminals, and I am proud of the fact that they hate me.”
During a swing through Miami, Sen. Rick Scott joined Giménez to present a national honor to a local hero. The lawmakers bestowed the Law Enforcement Congressional Badge of Bravery to Miami-Dade Police Lt. Benny Solis.
The honor cited actions taken by Solis that distracted an armed subject and helped save the lives of other officers and civilians. The recognition came for actions in 2019. After law enforcement tracked down homicide suspect Ronnie Angelo Churches, who fired upon police with a rifle before Solis arrived, Solis began shouting at Churches and giving commands before advancing police shot and killed the suspect.
The actions last year earned Solis recognition as the Florida Sheriffs Association’s 2020 Law Enforcement Officer of the Year and is now gaining notice in Congress.
“Every day, law enforcement officers across Florida are placed in dangerous situations where they show unmatched bravery and selflessly put their own lives on the line to save others and protect our communities,” Scott said.
“Today, I had the honor of recognizing a great example of this bravery in one of Florida’s own law enforcement officers, Miami-Dade Police Lieutenant Benny Solis, and present him with the Law Enforcement Congressional Badge of Bravery. Lieutenant Solis’ quick thinking and brave actions to diffuse a dangerous situation undoubtedly saved lives. I’m incredibly grateful for the service of Lieutenant Solis and all of our hardworking law enforcement, and will always support their tireless efforts to make our nation the safe America we know and love.”
Added Giménez on Twitter, “Lieutenant Solis saved multiple lives with his service and sacrifice, and makes our entire South Florida community proud!”
Veterans Day prompted Scott to again devote time to honoring Floridians. He visited a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Naples with Hialeah Republican Mario Diaz-Balart to thank several local individuals in a small ceremony.
“I’m a proud Navy veteran and the son of a World War II veteran who was one of the few who did all four combat jumps with the 82nd Airborne,” Scott said. “His service and the values he instilled in me inspire me to this day. Our veterans, like my dad, are American heroes who give everything to our nation, making countless sacrifices to protect the freedoms and opportunities of the America we know and love, and ask for nothing in return. Veterans Day serves as an opportunity to reflect and honor those who have served, and say thank you for your service. As a United States Senator, I’ll always do everything I can to support and give back to our nation’s veterans.”
Diaz-Balart released a video from the event. “Our freedoms, which is the most important thing that we have, we owe to these men and women, our veterans who put everything on the line so that we can live in freedom,” he said. “We can never forget, and we can never thank them enough.”
When veterans become disabled during service and develop new needs, the federal government has a program to help improve accessibility to their homes as needed. Tallahassee Democrat Al Lawson said the amount allotted must be updated. He’s filed legislation to increase the amount eligible veterans can receive from the Home Improvements and Structural Alterations.
The legislation would grow the maximum amount veterans with service-connected disabilities can receive from $6,800 to $10,000 and make that amount adjustable with inflation. It would also increase the maximum for a single grant to $5,000.
“Support for our veterans is more crucial than ever in these challenging times,” Lawson said. “The pandemic, coupled with the outdated HISA grant, leave our veterans particularly vulnerable, which is why we must work to make amends. To ensure continued usability and with the inevitability of inflation, HISA grant maximums must be increased for veterans with service-connected and non-service-connected disabilities. The Autonomy for Disabled Veterans Act enables them to make improvements and structural alterations furnished as part of home health services. This critical funding provides our veterans the independence and comfort that all Americans deserve.”
Lawson filed the bipartisan Autonomy for Disabled Veterans Act just before Veterans Day, with Pennsylvania Republican Daniel Meuser and Maryland Democrat David Trone as co-sponsors.
Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan took the Veterans Day holiday as an opportunity to push for research into deaths by suicide among those who served.
The longtime veterans’ advocate wants explicitly to explore the connection between deaths by suicide among veterans and addition to opioids, an issue that has ravaged his Southwest Florida district. “The high rate of suicide and drug overdose deaths among veterans is unacceptable,” Buchanan said. “This legislation is critical to learning if prescription drugs, particularly opioid painkillers, are a contributing factor in veteran suicides. I encourage my colleagues on the House Veterans Affairs Committee to pass this bill to further address these untimely deaths.”
Buchanan’s Veteran Overmedication and Suicide Prevention Act (HR 67) would require the Veterans Affairs Administration to study all veteran deaths by suicide and drug overdose in the past five years. That could help identify trends and solutions, Buchanan’s office said.
VA statistics available now show a high rate of suicide among former soldiers than the population at large. At least 60,000 veterans died by suicide between 2008 and 2017, constituting 15% of all suicides in that time and averaging 17 deaths a day.
Buchanan and Virginia Democrat Gerald Connolly, the prime Democratic co-sponsor on the bill, issued a letter to the House Veterans Affairs Committee urging the bill be heard. “It is clear we must do more to end this crisis and help reduce this needless and preventable loss of life,” the letter reads.
Crist continued a fight against conservatorship abuse with new legislation opening up the avenue for criminal charges against those who abuse positions of trust. The Guardians Aren’t Above Prosecution Act would allow designated guardians and conservators to be criminally prosecuted for abusive and fraudulent behavior.
“It’s shameful that some of our most vulnerable Americans in conservatorships or guardianships have so few safeguards to protect them from malicious fraudsters,” Crist said. “It’s simply unacceptable — and why I’ve now introduced my second guardianship reform bill in just the last few months. The Guardians Aren’t Above Prosecution Act fills a critical gap in guardianship reform by making sure the law unequivocally recognizes that conservators or guardians who commit fraud or abuse are just as punishable under the law as any other person. It’s past time we hold these fraudsters fully accountable for their crimes.”
Crist previously filed legislation with Palm Harbor Republican Gus Bilirakis and Kissimmee Democrat Soto to tighten protections for mostly disabled, mostly-elderly people under the control of legal guardians. And in July, he filed legislation with South Carolina Republican Nancy Mace to establish federal safeguards through a four-pronged approach to protect Americans under guardianship and conservatorship.
His latest legislation already has advocates for high-profile individuals under controversial guardianships, such as Peter Max and Britney Spears. He is also working with legal experts pushing for national reforms.
“The Guardians Aren’t Above Prosecution (GAAP) Act would make it a federal crime when guardians commit constructive fraud to exploit a vulnerable adult through guardianship or conservatorship,” said Rick Black, director of the Center for Estate Administration Reform. “We thank Congressman Crist for his leadership in recognizing guardianship frauds and the often-hopeless reality of its victims and their loved ones. His sponsorship of this bill, the FREE Act, and the Guardianship Accountability Act of 2021 demonstrates that now is the time to address this long-standing issue.”
One answer to rising food costs, suggests Sarasota Republican Greg Steube, is to ease the cost of farming in America. He filed the Keep Food Local & Affordable Act, which, if passed, would put a temporary stay on H-2A Adverse Effect Wage Rate hikes. That would allow agriculture to pay lower wages to foreign workers than anticipated.
“Inflation has risen rapidly over the past year, increasing food and labor costs for Americans and farmers,” Steube said. “Biden’s inept leadership and reckless economic policies have created historic inflation and an unemployment and supply chain disaster that is leaving our grocery store shelves and wallets empty. The temporary stay placed on the H-2A AEWR will help address the rising input costs crippling our farmers and consumers.”
Basically, the AEWR for H-2A workers means those on work visas must be paid a minimum rate that differs by state. As of February, the rate in Florida sat at $12.08 an hour for non-range occupations, while range workers must be paid at least $1,727.75 per month in any state.
Steube noted that food prices jumped 4.6%, which affects moderate-income families’ ability to buy groceries. But hard costs for farmers paint a grimmer picture, as fertilizer jumps 60% and fuel (in some areas) has doubled.
The AEWR is one more expense, Steube said, which has jumped 20% in five years, far above the inflation rate. He wants any further increases stopped, at least for the moment, in wage increases.
The American Farm Bureau Federation threw its support to the legislation, saying it could provide relief at a critical juncture. The Florida Farm Bureau also endorsed the bill.
“Labor issues remain the major challenge facing Florida farmers today. That’s why we have come to rely heavily on the H-2A program,” said Florida Farm Bureau President Jeb Smith. “Coupled with rising costs across the farm, it creates an untenable position for agriculture. Florida’s farmers and ranchers commend Mr. Steube for this effort to rein in out-of-control costs and preserve domestic food production.”
A wealth manager by trade, Naples Republican Byron Donalds said Biden’s various tax proposals to fund the Build Back Better plan will negatively impact many of his constituents. He filed legislation that would prohibit taxes on unrealized capital gains, like those proposed by the administration.
“Democrats have become so desperate to find the means to fund their multi-trillion-dollar spending spree, they’ve now resorted to taxing wealth that technically doesn’t exist,” Donalds said. “An unrealized capital gains tax will empower the federal government to access the private transactions of Americans, needlessly expand bureaucracy in Washington, and will stifle economic prosperity for Americans.”
The Tax Foundations says Biden’s proposal would effectively tax long-term capital gains for those with taxable incomes greater than $1 million and raise the top marginal tax rate to 39.6%.
Diaz-Balart was joined by National Republican Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel at an economic roundtable in Doral this week. There, the GOP leaders took the chance to thrash Biden’s economic policies.
“This country was founded on freedom, not on government control,” Diaz-Balart said. “We’re going to step up, we’re going to do our job, and we’re going to remind people this is no longer theory; it’s happening here.”
On heels of strong Republican performance in off-year elections this month, McDaniel hit on a message that inflation significantly impacts everyday Americas.
“We’re seeing our grocery stores empty, we’re seeing we can’t get our gifts for our kids for Christmas, we’re seeing our local businesses shut down,” she said. “If you love this country, this is not a time to be silent … this is our moment to be on the front lines of determining the future for our children and let them have the America that we know and love.”
And Diaz-Balart brought in members of the community to drill that message. “I’m the daughter of Cuban immigrants,” said constituent Lina Sierra. “All the stories they told me growing up about the scarce supplies in Cuba … I’m seeing it now.”
On this day
Nov. 12, 1968 — “Court rules barring evolution in schools violates First Amendment” via Britannica — Arkansas enacted a statute that made it illegal for teachers in state-supported schools or universities “to teach the theory or doctrine that humanity ascended or descended from a lower order of animals” or “to adopt or use … a textbook that teaches” such a theory. Those who violated the statute could be charged with a misdemeanor and dismissed. Susan Epperson, a biology teacher, was confronted with the task of teaching from a new textbook. She sought a declaration that the Arkansas statute was void. She also sought to enjoin the state and school officials from dismissing her for violating the statute.
Nov. 12, 1979 — “Jimmy Carter shuts down oil imports from Iran” via History.com — Earlier that month, 66 Americans at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran had been taken hostage by a radical Islamic group. The alarming event led Carter and his advisers to wonder if the same or other terrorist groups would try to strike at American oil resources in the region. The U.S. depended heavily on Iran for crude oil, and Carter’s cultivation of a relationship with Iran’s recently deposed shah gave the radicals’ cause, in their view, to take the Americans hostage. Not knowing if future attacks were planned involving American oil tankers or refineries, Carter agreed with the Treasury and Energy Departments that oil imports from Iran should be discontinued immediately.