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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Carlos Muniz tapped for top Trump job

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump will nominate Carlos Muniz, a Tallahassee veteran, for general counsel of the Department of Education.

From a release:

Mr. Muñiz is an attorney and consultant at McGuireWoods. His prior experience in government includes serving as Deputy Attorney General of the State of Florida and as Deputy General Counsel to the Governor of Florida. He earned degrees from the University of Virginia and from Yale Law School. After law school, he served as a law clerk to Judge José A. Cabranes of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and to Judge Thomas A. Flannery of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Mr. Muñiz and his wife reside in Tallahassee, Florida, with their three children.

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Times editorial: Bill Nelson and Democrats should not be obstructionists on Neil Gorsuch

A Tampa Bay Times editorial:

Democrats in the U.S. Senate, including Florida's Bill Nelson, have vowed to filibuster President Donald Trump's nominee to the Supreme Court. Being obstructionists would damage both institutions and serve no useful purpose other than to pacify the most liberal wing of the party. Federal appeals court Judge Neil Gorsuch is conservative, but he is competent and qualified to serve on the court. Democrats should allow his nomination to move forward, and the Senate should vote to confirm him.

...

Democrats should save their firepower for the next open Supreme Court seat — a more consequential fight that could come during Trump's term and tip the balance should someone like 84-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg retire. And if Democrats filibuster this time, it almost certainly won't work. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated he is willing to deploy the "nuclear option" — changing longstanding Senate rules to allow Gorsuch to proceed to confirmation with a simple majority vote — if Democrats insist on filibustering. With the outcome all but guaranteed anyway, why charge down that extreme path?

Full editorial here.

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Marco Rubio: I've spoken to Trump three times about Cuba

Sen. Marco Rubio has kept mostly tight-lipped about what he's discussed with President Donald Trump on the occasions the two Republicans have met -- including over dinner with their wives at the White House.

But Rubio disclosed in a Spanish-language interview this week that he's used those conversations with Trump to bring up Cuba.

"I've spoken to the president of the United States personally on three occasions," Rubio told Mega TV host Oscar Haza after Haza asked about the future of U.S.-Cuba policy. "I think without a doubt there will be changes in U.S.-Cuba policy."

Rubio said he and his staff are dealing "very closely" with the White House on the issue, which he expects Trump to address "strategically."

"If the Cuban government is going to behave like a dictatorship, well, then we're going to deal with them like a dictatorship," Rubio said, without going into specifics. "We're not going to pretend it's changing. There haven't been any changes -- on the contrary, we've seen more repression."

The topic of Cuba came up last week during White House health care discussions with Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.

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David Rivera files to run in Florida House -- again

This guy wants to come back

[Miami Herald]

This guy wants to come back

David Rivera wants to run for the Florida House of Representatives again, after having lost a narrow race in a recount last year.

Rivera, a former state legislator and congressman turned perennial candidate, submitted candidacy paperwork to the Florida Division of Elections on Wednesday. The Republican intends to run for House District 105, currently represented by term-limited Rep. Carlos Trujillo -- who, as it happens, holds the position that once made Rivera so powerful in Tallahassee: budget chief.

Trujillo is still holding out hope he might be named as an ambassador to Panama or Argentina under President Donald Trump -- something he has said would force him to vacate his two-year term after one year.

Another Republican, Ana Maria Rodriguez, has also filed to seek the seat.

A recount last November determined that Rivera had lost the House District 118 seat to a first-time candidate, Democrat Robert Asencio.

Rivera told the Miami Herald in a text message Thursday that he's running again "to continue serving my community." He later telephoned to add, "And I was asked to run by many constituents." …

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Fred Grimm: Tally's response to gun violence? More guns.

The bullet-riddled SUV and the man charged in the shootings.

[Miami Herald]

The bullet-riddled SUV and the man charged in the shootings.

The latest column from the Miami Herald's Fred Grimm:

After the ambush, the detectives’ van was reminiscent of those wretched vehicles strewn alongside roadways in the ongoing siege of Mosul. Except this was from the ongoing siege of Brownsville.

The unmarked Dodge Caravan, the unassuming minivan we once associated with soccer moms, had been sprayed with bullets from an AK-47, the same genre of military assault weapon wielded by ISIS terrorists at the Charlie Hebdo attack and the mass killing in Paris in 2015, at the Bardo National Museum and the Sousse beach massacre in Tunisia that same year. It was Islamist al-Shabaab killers who murdered 147 people, mostly students, in Garissa, Kenya, in 2015, but they too came armed with AK-47s.

The attack in Brownsville, a tough neighborhood in northwest Miami-Dade, is a more mundane kind of terrorism. We call it something else, of course. Gang violence. Youth violence. Street violence. But the firepower unleashed was just as fearsome. …

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Bill Nelson steps up fundraising tonight in Miami

flier

Bill Nelson

flier

Sen. Bill Nelson has been aggressively fundraising online, jumping on every twist that Donald Trump brings. "Is it just me, or does every day in Washington feel like a month? One controversy after another — Russia, China, immigration, women's rights, voting rights, health care," a campaign aide wrote in an email solicitation last month.

Now the Democrat up for re-election next year is going for the big bucks, and tonight in Miami, Nelson has his first fundraiser.

On Saturday, Nelson will have another fundraiser. This one will be in Tampa with New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker. Hosts on the invite include Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa, Bob Buesing. Event chairs for the 6 p.m. cocktail reception include Ana Cruz and Jane Castor, Alex Sink, and Rosemary Armstrong and Sandy Winberg. 

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Steve Bannon won't be charged in Miami voter reg probe

Steve Bannon

[Evan Vucci | AP]

Steve Bannon

From the Miami Herald's David Ovalle:

White House chief strategist Steve Bannon won’t face any criminal charges related to his mysterious voter registration in Miami-Dade County.

Prosecutors announced Thursday that they could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Bannon, President Donald Trump’s special assistant, broke the law when he signed up to vote in Miami-Dade County after leasing homes in Coconut Grove — even though he seemed to spend most of his time outside of the state.

“To ‘reside’ at a location is a nebulous concept that depends on a person’s actions and their subjective state of mind,” according to a final memo released by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. “The Florida case law interpreting [voter residency] is both sparse and antique.”

Investigators were looking at a narrow question: whether Bannon lied to the elections department about his residency when he twice filed to be a voter in Miami-Dade. …

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Adam Putnam no fan of Richard Corcoran, either

"So let me tell you what Corcoran did to me..."

[Scott Keeler | Tampa Bay Times]

"So let me tell you what Corcoran did to me..."

Gov. Rick Scott isn't the only one dissing cuts that Florida House Republicans are proposing.

Agriculture Commission Adam Putnam is sounding off, too.

The Florida Department of Citrus stands to lose $5 million for marketing programs under the House budget, according to the Ledger's Kevin Bouffard. The proposed budget also slashes spending by more than 84 percent for the Fresh From Florida marketing program run by Putnam's Florida Department of Agriculture. For next year, Putnam requested $12.86 million. The House budget set aside only $2 million.

"This is a political assault on a good program that will have real consequences on real people," Putnam said in a statement to the Ledger. "Gutting the Fresh From Florida program will hurt Florida's small farms the most -- their ability to raise awareness for the high quality of their locally grown products and compete against lesser quality products from foreign countries."

The disagreement pits Putnam, who is likely running for governor, against the House Speaker, Richard Corcoran, who is also likely running for governor. Or U.S. Senate against Scott. Or, for something that Corcoran isn't saying yet.

Here's the Ledger story:

 

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Richard Corcoran: Rick Scott is 'a governor who won't help us'

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes

Tampa Bay Times

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes

Workers' comp is not a very sexy issue, but it's a major concern for Florida businesses.

As the 2017 legislative session reaches the midway point, it's unclear whether businesses and workers will get real help from the Legislature in response to court decisions that led to a double-digit increase in rates and struck down parts of the comp law as unconstitutional.

The Senate Banking & Insurance Committee on Monday will hear Sen. Rob Bradley's bill (SB 1582) in the fifth week of session, at the end of a long agenda. That's too late for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, who says the Senate needs pressure from Gov. Rick Scott on the issue but has gotten only silence. Corcoran says Scott is fixated on saving Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida when the bigger threat to jobs are workers' comp rates and the rise in property insurance premiums arising from abuses in a system known as assignment of benefits.  …

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'It’s more bullying. Stop bullying teachers,' Democrats say of 'union-busting' bill

House Republicans have proposed a law to ensure labor unions are financially supported by at least a majority of the workers the union is supposed to represent.

Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

House Republicans have proposed a law to ensure labor unions are financially supported by at least a majority of the workers the union is supposed to represent.

A highly controversial measure opponents describe as “union-busting” legislation meant to target Florida public school teachers passed the Republican-led House Thursday along a near party-line vote, although it’s unlikely to have any life in the Senate.

Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, said his proposal, HB 11, “provides greater transparency, democracy and accountability to public-sector labor unions,” but Democrats lined up on the House floor to question Republicans’ motives for endorsing the bill.

“This bill targets teachers, state and local government employees, nurses, bus drivers and many others who serve us and care for us every day,” Rep. Loranne Ausley, D-Tallahassee said. “And we’re targeting them, because these organizations make political decisions that some people don’t like. That is wrong.”

More here.

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Florida House backs protections for murder witnesses' identities

Miami-Dade police and fire rescue investigate a shooting scene at Northwest 6200 Street and 20th Avenue in Brownsville on Monday, March 27, 2017. A large area was blocked off after two officers were shot.

Matias J. Ocner / For the Miami Herald

Miami-Dade police and fire rescue investigate a shooting scene at Northwest 6200 Street and 20th Avenue in Brownsville on Monday, March 27, 2017. A large area was blocked off after two officers were shot.

The examples of tragedy in Rep. Cynthia Stafford’s district are almost too many for the Miami Democrat to list, but she offered a few to the Florida House on Thursday:

▪ “A 10-year-old retrieving his basketball in his front yard, shot and killed.”

▪ “An 8-year-old girl shot and killed, walking out of her front yard.”

▪ “A straight-A student on her way to college — the valedictorian of her class with a full scholarship — shot and killed riding in her car.”

“In each of these instances, someone knows what happens, but they’re afraid to come forward,” said Stafford, who represents areas that include Opa-locka, Liberty City and parts of Miami Gardens.

Stafford hopes legislation she proposed will give murder witnesses more incentive to talk with police, and the Florida House endorsed her bill Thursday by a near-unanimous vote.

More here.

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Lawmakers seriously considering making liquor available at gas stations

Sen. Frank Artiles, R-Miami.

[Scott Keeler | Tampa Bay Times]

Sen. Frank Artiles, R-Miami.

From our friends at News Service of Florida: …

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Marco Rubio says his presidential campaign was subject to hacking attempts from Russia

Sen. Marco Rubio revealed today that members of his former presidential campaign team were the subject of an apparent Russian hacking attempt yesterday.

AP photo

Sen. Marco Rubio revealed today that members of his former presidential campaign team were the subject of an apparent Russian hacking attempt yesterday.

Sen. Marco Rubio revealed today that members of his former presidential campaign team were the subject of an apparent Russian hacking attempt yesterday. 

“In the first panel, one of the individuals who appeared before us mentioned me in connection with efforts in the 2016 presidential primary,” Rubio said during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.

"In July of 2016, shortly after I announced that I would seek reelection to the United States Senate, former members of my presidential campaign team, who had access to the internal information of my presidential campaign, were targeted by IP addresses with an unknown location within Russia. That effort was unsuccessful.

“I'd also inform the committee that within the last 24 hours, at 10:45 a.m. yesterday, a second attempt was made, again against former members of my presidential campaign team, who had access to our internal information, again targeted from an IP address from an unknown location in Russia, and that effort was also unsuccessful.”

 

 …

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Federal officials: Manatees no longer classified as an endangered species

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Thursday that the federal government are taking manatees — which have long been considered endangered since the first endangered species list came out in 1967 — down a notch to merely "threatened."

Federal officials called it a success story for the Endangered Species Act. The action was driven by a lawsuit by the libertarian group Pacific Legal Foundation, representing a group in Crystal River that opposes new protections for manatees there.

This is a developing story. Check tampabay.com updates.

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Orlando prosecutor Aramis Ayala's allies rally at the Capitol

Outside the Florida Capitol, more than 100 people bussed in from around the state gathered Thursday to show support for State Attorney Aramis Ayala.

Ayala, elected the top prosecutor in Orange and Osceola counties last November,  is playing the starring role in the latest controversy over Florida's death penalty. On March 16, she said she would not seek the death penalty while in office.

That prompted a firestorm of criticism: Gov. Rick Scott reassigned a high-profile case to another state attorney; House Speaker Richard Corcoran called for Ayala to be suspended from office; House and Senate budget proposals call for more than $1 million to be cut from her budget.

But her supporters at Thursday's rally say she was acting within her rights.

"She wasn't afraid to speak the truth about how broken the death penalty is," said Christine Henderson, national organizer for Equal Justice USA. "And what does she get in return, y'all? Florida's governor overstepping his authority, trying to put her in her place, trying to take away the power that the people gave to her to fulfill." …

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