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Democrats accuse Rep. Rivera of using budget for campaign purposes

TALLAHASSEE — A ban on embryonic stem cell research. A prohibition on Cuba travel. More money for Florida International University in Miami.

These hard-to-spot House budget add-ins inserted by Miami Republican Rep. David Rivera have a distinctly hometown flavor that might not survive the legislative session.

But if you lived in Miami, where you might be able to vote for Rivera in the primary contest he's entered to move to the state Senate, you probably would hear lots more about these efforts.

Democrats are bashing Rivera for promoting bad scientific policy and turning the state budget into a campaign document. Republicans are crediting him for crafty maneuvering. And his Republican Senate race rivals, Miami Reps. Anitere Flores and Marcelo Llorente, are staying out of the fray.

Rivera said he's fighting President Barack Obama's easing of restrictions on Cuba travel and funding of embryonic stem cells.

"With Obama in the White House," Rivera said, "it's particularly important that Florida be ready to exercise its prerogative in policy areas where he tries to impose his extreme leftist view of the world on our citizenry."

Rivera's budget language stops higher education institutions from using state money to conduct embryonic stem cell research or to plan travel to Cuba. The travel ban affects all countries federally listed as state-terror sponsor, such as Cuba and Iran.

The portion of the state budget Rivera oversees uses at least $1.3 billion of the $5 billion in federal money the Legislature will use to balance the budget.

Democrats are fighting the proposed embryonic stem cell ban. Democrats knew nothing of the language, which appears as two lines in the 111-page House bill, until it was reported on a Tallahassee blog called the Fine Print.

''He's using the state budget to push his own personal political agenda," said House Democratic leader Franklin Sands of Weston.

"It seems Rep. Rivera is determined to take us back to 19th century. Everyone's pushing forward, and he's pushing backward," Sands said. "Embryonic stem cell research has the ability to put thousands of Floridians to work, and he says no."

Even fellow Republicans are a little concerned with the stem cell language. Miami Republican Rep. J.C. Planas said that "for those of us with families suffering from diseases this research could cure, this isn't the way to debate this."

Rivera said the spending bans would save taxpayer money in such economically challenging times. Still, Rivera's budget found $11.7 million for an FIU medical school and $250,000 more for an FIU "Democracy Conference" he attended last year.

The Senate budget supports the FIU medical school issue. The Cuba-travel and stem cell bans aren't in the Senate budget. And it will likely stay that way, said Sen. Mike Bennett, a socially moderate Republican from Bradenton.

"This stuff is important to his political base," Bennett said, "but the rest of the state isn't as concerned about this."

Marc Caputo can be reached at mcaputo@MiamiHerald.com.

Democrats accuse Rep. Rivera of using budget for campaign purposes 04/11/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 11, 2009 8:32pm]
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