Headlines – Florida Politics

Is insurrection erupting within statewide teachers union?

In a seeming act of civil war, the second-in-command of the state’s teachers union says he’s now vying to take over leadership of the Florida Education Association (FEA).

FEA vice president Fedrick Ingram, the first African American elected president of United Teachers of Dade, on Friday posted an announcement on Facebook that he was running for union president against incumbent Joanne McCall.

The issue: The union needs to be “better, more powerful and proactive,” he said. Teachers have long been upset about the Legislature encroaching on public education, saying it’s boosting private schools at their expense and starving county schools systems of needed funding.

Ingram (via Facebook).

His “team,” he added, includes Andrew Spar for Vice President and Carole Gauronskas for Secretary-Treasurer.

“It has always been my way to work out differences from the inside,” he wrote, never mentioning McCall by name.

“However, there comes a moment in one’s life when matters become so serious and challenges so steep that hard decisions must be made. The circumstances at FEA are just that serious.”

A request for comment was left Friday with a FEA spokesman.

The rest of Ingram’s letter follows:

“In 2015, I ran for FEA Vice President because I thought I could make a difference and help build FEA into a more powerful organization that would be a leader in the fight for our public schools. That’s still my intent. But time is an enemy.

“The unprecedented attack on our members from the passage of HB 7069 and HB 7055 in two consecutive years should cause us all to reevaluate and rethink our strategy, tactics and our goals.

“We are in the fight of our lives. Make no mistake about it. Our anti-union opponents are not coming after us because of who we are; they are coming after us because of who we can become. We simply can’t continue to conduct business as usual.

“We can win – for teachers, educational support professionals, higher ed, for those who will come after us and for those who have paved the way, and most of all for our students.

“But we cannot win with the reactive approach that has held our state organization back. That is why I’m announcing my candidacy today for President of the Florida Education Association.

“Two outstanding leaders join me. Andrew Spar, President of the Volusia United Educators, who also serves as the Florida AFL-CIO’s Secretary/Treasurer, is running for FEA Vice President; and Carole Gauronskas, the President of the St. Johns Educational Support Professional Association, is seeking the position of FEA Secretary-Treasurer.

“Together we launch this campaign, not because it’s easy but because it’s hard and because it’s necessary. The easy route for all of us would be to go with the flow and to pretend everything will work itself out – business as usual. We can’t do that …

“With your help and guidance we can build a better statewide union. This year we have seen an unprecedented organizing effort from our locals. You deserve the credit for giving us a foundation on which to build.

“Now we must shift to a long-range plan that includes strong support for locals under 50-percent membership and moving members to activists, and activists to leaders. We need to ensure that all of our locals, including those representing education support professionals and higher education faculty, are valued members in this team effort.

“In the coming weeks, we will continue this conversation about what FEA can become and how we can play offense instead of defense.

“These are challenging times, but challenges can be overcome. I give speeches all the time these days, but early in my life I had a stutter that was so severe that I couldn’t speak clearly until I was seven-years-old.

“A music teacher made a difference in my life. She told me to think about what to say (or sing), focus, take a deep breath and go for it. I overcame the stutter and went on after college to become a teacher, a school bandleader, and eventually Miami-Dade County Teacher of the Year and a Florida Finalist for Teacher of the Year, UTD President, and today FEA Vice President.

“What kind of union do you want? If you believe, as we do, that it’s time for a vision, a new strategy and tactics in order to survive and thrive, then focus, take a deep breath and go for it. Join us. Together we can build a better, more powerful and proactive FEA.

“In solidarity, Fed.”

Amendment supporters fear voter fatigue

Anticipated “voter fatigue” is already a concern of backers of a proposed constitutional amendment that would extend a property-tax cap, particularly because approval of the measure will require support from 60 percent of voters.

When they cast ballots in November, Floridians will decide the fate of the 13 proposed constitutional amendments, including the measure, known as Amendment 2, that would extend the tax cap on non-homesteaded properties.

The long list of ballot proposals worries supporters of Amendment 2, though the measure does not have announced opposition.

“We are in a non-presidential election cycle, so there’s going to be some voter fatigue and endurance issues, and we want to make sure when they get to Amendment 2 they’re going to vote ‘yes,’ ” Patrick Slevin, a spokesman for the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said this week.

The amendment, which also has backing from groups such as Florida Realtors, would extend and make permanent a 10 percent cap on annual increases in assessed values of non-homesteaded properties. Unless an extension is approved in November, the cap otherwise will expire at the end of the year.

Florida TaxWatch said Tuesday that eliminating the cap would raise property taxes by more than $700 million on non-homesteaded properties like businesses, apartments and second homes. Lawmakers used a similar figure when they voted last year to put the measure on the 2018 ballot.

The Legislature also put two other proposals on the November ballot that could limit taxes. One measure, which will appear as Amendment 1, would expand the homestead property-tax exemption. The other, which will appear as Amendment 5, would require two-thirds votes by future legislators to raise taxes.

The ballot also will include two measures that are a result of petition drives. One of the measures, Amendment 3, would allow voters to decide on future expansions of gambling. Another measure, Amendment 4, would restore voting rights for felons who have served their sentences.

The Constitution Revision Commission added eight other amendments, with six of the measures featuring two or more topics.

Amendment 6 focuses on victims’ rights. Amendment 7 includes death benefits for first responders. Amendment 8 involves term limits for school-board members and other educational changes. Amendment 9 combines a proposed ban on offshore oil drilling with a proposed ban on vaping in the workplace. Amendment 10 deals with issues including the start date of legislative sessions in even-numbered years. Amendment 11 involves issues related to property rights and high-speed rail. Amendment 12 would impose a six-year lobbying ban on former state elected officials. And Amendment 13 would ban greyhound racing.

Now imagine reading the longer, more defined version of each of those while in the voting booth.

Kate MacFall, the Humane Society’s Florida state director, believes the greyhound-racing ban, which she supports, can avoid problems with voter fatigue.

“We think Amendment 13 is going to stand out and bring a lot of voter support,” MacFall said.

However, she understands other issues “about tax policy that could be more confusing” might become buried in the muddle.

Dominic Calabro, president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, said he “generally” doesn’t agree with “log rolling,” putting multiple topics into single amendments, but he understands the need to condense the ballot.

Along with the length of the ballot, a concern for backers of Amendment 2 is that voters commonly will vote “no” if they don’t want things to change. But a “no” vote on Amendment 2 would do away with the tax cap that property owners already enjoy.

Parkland students on Texas: They’re part of this now

Survivors of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, are expressing outrage and heartbreak after authorities said a student killed 10 people Friday at a high school in Texas.

The attack at Santa Fe High School is the deadliest school shooting since a former student was arrested in the killing of 17 people at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day, a massacre that mobilized a nationwide movement for gun reform. It also came on the last day of school for Stoneman Douglas seniors, who finish classes earlier than other grades.

She also directed her frustration at President Donald Trump, writing “Our children are being MURDERED and you’re treating this like a game. This is the 22nd school shooting just this year. DO SOMETHING.”

Classmate David Hogg, who helped start the #NeverAgain movement with Corin, predicted that politicians would descend on the Texas campus acting like they care to boost their approval ratings.

Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School react as more details emerge from the school shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas (May 18).

Cameron Kasky echoed their sentiments on Twitter: “Prepare to watch the NRA boast about getting higher donations. Prepare to see students rise up and be called ‘civil terrorists’ and crisis actors. Prepare for the right-wing media to attack the survivors.”

A handful of Twitter users did began to question the facts of the Texas shooting Friday, at least one accusing a Santa Fe student of being a #CrisisActor after she told a local television station she’d always felt like a shooting would eventually happen at her school.

Most of the victims of Friday’s shooting at a Houston-area high school were students, authorities said.

“Santa Fe High, you didn’t deserve this. You deserve peace all your lives, not just after a tombstone saying that is put over you. You deserve more than Thoughts and Prayers, and after supporting us by walking out we will be there to support you by raising up your voices,” tweeted Emma Gonzalez, one of the movement’s leading voices.

Monday marked three months since a former student with an AR-15 was charged in the attack in Parkland, Florida. The movement that resulted led to gun reform legislation being passed in Florida, and a continuing national debate over guns and school safety.

“I want to talk to them,” he added. “I’d like to say it gets better, but it actually gets a lot worse before it gets better.”

March For Our Lives released a statement urging Americans not to simply let this latest shooting pass without action. The group said some Parkland students had already reached out to the Texas survivors.

“This is not the price of our freedom. This is the most fatal shooting since the one at our school and tragedies like this will continue to happen unless action is taken,” the statement said.

Stoneman Douglas student Kayla Renert recalled how she traveled to Washington for the massive gun reform rally in March.

“On the bus in D.C., I said we continue to say never again but it keeps happening again. This was again. We worked hard to make Douglas the last mass school shooting and unfortunately three months later there was another,” said the 15-year-old sophomore.

Delaney Tarr tweeted: “I should be celebrating my last day of high school, but instead my heart is broken to hear of the tragedy at Santa Fe. We cannot let this continue to be the norm. We cannot.”

Material from the Associated Press and other sources was used in this post.

Gwen Graham vows to get housing money into communities

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham accused the Republican-led Florida government of neglecting the needs of affordable housing and vowed to change that with full funding of the state’s Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund and efforts to get housing money quickly into communities.

“When I get into office I am going to take a hard look at where we are spending our resources, and what we need to do. I’m not naive. I know it’s going to be tough. There are going to be a lot of challenges Florida has not faced in a very long time, and housing is one of them,” she said. “We’re going to have to be creative about how we get resources into communities to begin to immediately address these shortages.”

As part of her ongoing “WorkDays” program that has her work in someone else’s job for a day, Graham spent Friday installing windows, calking floor baseboards and painting for a Habitat for Humanity of Greater Orlando housing construction project in Apopka. The Arbor Bend subdivision will include 34 new affordable homes when it is complete. Many already are finished and occupied.

While praising Habitat for Humanity, she conceded “It is a drop in the bucket” as a response to the state’s affordable housing needs.

Graham stressed the affordable housing crisis in the greater Orlando area, saying it ranked third worst in the nation behind Los Angeles and Las Vegas, adding, “and it’s only getting worse.”

It’s a topic that her rival Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King, an Orlando entrepreneur whose projects include affordable housing, has pushed from the first day of his campaign last year. Like King, Graham expressed frustration that the state’s fund for affordable housing has been raided annually for other budgetary purposes, rather than spent on affordable housing.

They also face Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine in the August 28 Democratic primary. The leading Republicans are Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

“The Republicans who control Tallahassee have stolen more than $2 billion of Floridians’ tax dollars from the affordable housing trust to pay for their own special projects,” Graham stated in a news release. “If more of the politicians in Tallahassee spent a day working to construct affordable housing, they’d see just how much more we could accomplish working together on progressive solutions to help Florida families. They’d quit stealing from the trust fund and invest in Florida.”

State files to block effect of ‘home grow’ ruling

The state’s Department of Health says a trial court made an “erroneous conclusion” that Tampa strip club mogul Joe Redner has a constitutional right to homegrown, juiced (medical) marijuana.”

But Redner’s attorney says the state simply continues to argue – also erroneously – that the state’s constitutional amendment on medical marijuana doesn’t mean what it says.

The department filed a response Friday to Redner’s request to the state’s Supreme Court to allow him to immediately pursue growing and juicing his own marijuana.

He won a decision, now under appeal, from Tallahassee Circuit Judge Karen Gievers last month that Redner — a 77-year-old lung cancer survivor — has an immediate right to ‘home grow.’ His doctor says juiced marijuana is the best way to keep his cancer in remission, though the state countered he “also acknowledged the lack of scientific research to support this claim.”

But the state appealed to the 1st District Court of Appeal, which reinstated a delay of the effect of the ruling while the case is under review there. Redner asked that court to expedite the appeal.

The Health Department regulates medicinal cannabis through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

In its response, the department’s lawyers in part argued that under the “definition of ‘medical use,’ a qualifying patient is not entitled to cultivate (i.e., grow) or process marijuana because the words ‘cultivate’ and ‘process’ are not included” in the constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2016.

“Instead, the right to cultivate and process medical marijuana is reserved for” authorized medical marijuana providers, it says.

But the state’s definition of “cannabis” says it’s “all parts of any plant of the genus Cannabis, whether growing or not (and) the seeds thereof,” which Redner says bolsters his case.

While he awaits the appeal, he’s also asking Gievers to order the state to reimburse his legal costs — including $16,000 for PowerPoint presentations — because he won the lawsuit. The state later asked that the costs request be held “in abeyance” pending the appeal.

Health spokesman Devin Galetta has said the agency “fully expects Judge Gievers’ ruling to be reversed on appeal.”

Luke Lirot, Redner’s attorney, said he “disagrees with the department’s arguments” and said the stay should be lifted. 

“We have an important constitutional issue that will invariably be before them, coupled with (Redner’s) emergent medical condition,” he said. “… Time is of the essence.”

Redner, owner of the Mons Venus nightclub, also is a vegan. Gievers’ order limits him to no more than eight ounces or raw marijuana daily, based on his doctors’ recommendations. It applies only to Redner and allows him to “possess, grow and use marijuana” only for juicing.

Friday’s full 22-page filing is here.

‘Thin blue line’ to be honored at The Capitol

Current and former law enforcement officers from all over Florida will be honored Saturday at the Law Enforcement Officers’ Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Tallahassee.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) announced the event Friday.

“The Florida Law Enforcement Officers’ Hall of Fame was created by the 2014 Florida Legislature to recognize and honor law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line for the safety and protection of Florida’s citizens and visitors through their works, service and exemplary accomplishments,” a press release said.

The 2018 inductees are:

Robert E. Blackburn, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

— Donald F. Eslinger, Seminole County Sheriff’s Office.

Ernest W. George, West Palm Beach Police Department.

Frederick A. Maas, Sunny Isles Beach Police Department.

James W. Smith, Miami Beach Police Department.

FDLE Assistant Commissioner Jennifer Pritt will preside over the ceremony, which is at 2:30 p.m., in 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.

For more information, call FDLE at (850) 410-7001.

Report says changes will increase health premiums

Premiums for health insurance plans sold on the federal marketplace are expected to increase by nearly 16.9 percent in Florida next year due to changes in the Affordable Care Act, according to a new analysis released Friday.

Released by the Center for American Progress, the analysis estimates that a decision by Congress and President Donald Trump to repeal the mandate that people buy health insurance, coupled with proposed changes to the types of policies that can be sold, will increase premiums for Floridians by $1,011.

The report by the left-leaning group estimates that the average unsubsidized health insurance premium for a 40-year-old male buying a marketplace policy in 2019 will be $6,995.

The Affordable Care Act has provided subsidies for many people buying coverage, reducing their costs. More than. 1.7 million Floridians enrolled in the health insurance marketplace this year, with more than 1.5 million receiving subsidies either in the form of advanced premium tax credits or additional cost-sharing reductions that help lower co-payments and coinsurance requirements.

The new analysis accounts for the impact of repealing the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that individuals buy health-insurance policies as well as a Trump administration proposed rule to rescind limits on the sale of short-term insurance plans.

The individual mandate, one of the most controversial parts of the federal health care law commonly known as Obamacare, was repealed as part of a tax overhaul that passed in December.

In a prepared statement, Topher Spiro, vice president for health policy at the Center for American Progress, blasted Trump and Congress for what he called “sabotage of the insurance marketplaces.”

“First they passed massive tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, and now they’re asking middle-class Americans and people with pre-existing conditions to pick up the tab,” Spiro said. “They should be focused on lowering health care costs, not increasing them and intentionally undermining the stability of the insurance marketplaces that millions of Americans benefit from.”

The analysis came a day after Florida Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott urging him to take steps to protect Floridians from spikes in health insurance premiums. They also asked that Scott — who adamantly opposes the Affordable Care Act — require health plans to provide for essential health benefits, like hospital care or prescription drugs, and raised concerns that consumers could end up buying low-benefit plans.

“These junk plans would return patients to the days where only upon illness did they discover their plans imposed limits on coverage and excluded vital benefits,” said the letter, signed by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, Congresswoman Kathy Castor and 10 other Democratic members of the delegation. Nelson faces an election challenge in November from Scott.

The letter asked Scott to work with state Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier to take steps to make sure consumers are kept safe. Democrats also asked that Scott consider investing in outreach and enrollment efforts and help provide funding to navigators who can connect patients with the federal marketplace. Floridians buy coverage through the federal marketplace because the state decided against setting up its own exchange.

John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott, said the governor’s office received the letter, adding that “Congress hasn’t controlled the nation’s health care costs or passed a balanced budget in decades.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Former Verizon executive appointed to state university board

Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday appointed the former chief financial officer of Verizon and former New York higher education authority Fred Salerno to the State University System Board of Governors.

Salerno, 74, fills a vacant seat on the board for a term effective immediately and ending January 6, 2019. His appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.

Of Hobe Sound, Salerno is a longtime veteran of the telecommunications industry. He received his bachelor’s degree from Manhattan College and his master’s degree from Adelphi University. His C.V. is extensive, packed with various leadership positions including stints as Verizon’s CFO and top spots at Viacom.

Between 1990 and 1996, Salerno chaired the Board of Trustees for the State University of New York, according to his Bloomberg profile, which also claims he’s held trustee positions with the Inner City Scholarship Fund, his alma mater Manhattan College, and the Archdiocese of New York’s Partnership for Quality Education.

He at one point also was appointed by a New York governor to head the Salerno Commission, a task force to examine the equity of state-funded education policies and practices.

The Board of Governors acts as the governing body of the State University System. Its authorities include operation, management, control and regulation of the state’s 12 universities. The 17-member panel has 14 gubernatorial appointees, along with Chair of the Advisory Council of Faculty Senates Gary S. Tyson, Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart, and the Chair of the Florida Student Association Kishane Patel.

NRA appeals judge’s decision against pseudonyms in Parkland lawsuit

The National Rifle Association is appealing a federal judge’s ruling against shielding a plaintiff’s name in its litigation against the state’s new school safety and mental health law.

The NRA filed a notice of appeal Thursday to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, court dockets show.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker earlier this week turned down the association’s request to use a “Jane Doe” pseudonym for a 19-year-old Alachua County woman.

She’s been portrayed in court documents as seeking to remain anonymous due to fear that public exposure could result in “harassment, intimidation, and potentially even physical violence.”

In late April, the NRA filed a motion to add “Jane Doe” as a plaintiff to the lawsuit, which contends the age restriction in the new Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act “violates the fundamental rights of thousands of responsible, law-abiding adult Florida citizens and is thus invalid under the Second and Fourteenth Amendments.”

The lawsuit, filed March 9 by the NRA, came just hours after Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a sweeping school-safety measure that included new gun-related restrictions.

The legislation was a rapid response to the Feb. 14 shooting at the Parkland, Broward County high school that left 17 students and faculty members dead and 17 others wounded.

The law raised from 18 to 21 the minimum age to purchase rifles and other long guns.

It also imposed a three-day waiting period on the sale of long guns, such as the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz last year legally purchased, without any waiting period, and is accused of using in the Valentine’s Day massacre at his former school.

While acknowledging that false names may sometimes be used in litigation, Walker cited federal court rules that complaints “must name all the parties,” and referred to case law that lawsuits are “public events” and that the public has a “legitimate interest in knowing all of the facts involved, including the identities of the parties.”

“The NRA must file its amended complaint—without pseudonyms—no later than May 21,” Walker ordered.

Attorney General Pam Bondi had opposed the move, saying the woman’s desire for anonymity was not justified. “The amended complaint also includes allegations about a 19-year-old male identified as John Doe,” Walker’s order notes.

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Background provided by The News Service of Florida. 

Putnam Ad 5.17.2018

Adam Putnam promotes voc-ed, bashes ‘liberal elites’ in new ad

Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam put out a new ad Thursday promising to strengthen vocational education in the Sunshine State and bashing so-called “liberal elites” who don’t respect trade workers.

“As a fifth generation Florida farmer, I know what it’s like to sweat for your paycheck,” Putnam said in the 30-second ad, which features shots of him walking through a factory and shaking hands with workers.

“Today, liberal elites look down on people who work with their hands, pressuring too many kids into student loan debt, leaving them with degrees they can’t use and bills they can’t pay. We need to get back to honoring and respecting experts of a trade,” he said in the ad. “I’ll make vocational training a top priority. Our kids should be career-ready, not debt ridden. College is not the only path to success, and it’s okay to say it.”

A campaign release said the ad will begin running on cable and broadcast statewide beginning tomorrow. The closing frames of the TV spot indicate it was paid for by Florida Grown, Putnam’s affiliated political committee.

The ad follows the campaigns recent release of its “Florida Jobs First Agenda,” which includes a plan to boost vocational and technical education in middle and high schools. When it was released, Putnam said if Florida is going to continue job growth, it needs to better prepare students who don’t pursue a four-year college degree to get jobs in trades.

“As Governor, Putnam’s top priority will be to build a robust education pipeline that puts vocational and technical education back into middle schools and high schools, providing Florida’s students with the tools and practice necessary to find their piece of the American Dream here in Florida,” a Monday press release announced.

Democrats aren’t buying the rhetoric.

“Adam Putnam is a multi-millionaire career politician who spent ten years in Congress voting to make it more expensive for students to go to college and against vocational education. Putnam’s latest ad is another absurd election year attempt to hide his long record of hurting Florida students and working families,” Florida Democratic Party spokesperson Kevin Donohoe said in a Thursday press release.

The FDP release included more than a dozen clippings on past votes Putnam made during his decade in Congress, including his vote against interest rate reductions for federal student loans in 2007. A Lakeland Ledger article from the time said the bill was supported by “all but the staunchest of White House lapdogs.”

Putnam, currently in his second term as Agriculture Commissioner, faces Northeast Florida U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis in the Republican Primary to succeed termed-out Gov. Rick Scott. Four major Democrats are also running.

Putnam sits atop the field in fundraising, with $28.88 million raised including $2 million in April.

The ad is below.

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