White nationalist speech at UF: Should I stay or should I go?

Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and University of Florida President Kent Fuchs are urging students, faculty and others to shun firebrand white nationalist Richard Spencer, who’s speaking at the college tomorrow.

But Florida Democrats issued a press release this morning saying they support peaceful protestors and it’s incumbent on those who disagree with Spencer to speak out.

“The Florida Democratic Party reiterates its support for all peaceful protesters who are standing up and speaking out,” Florida Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittel said in the release. “We have a moral obligation to refute hate and bigotry whenever they present themselves. White supremacy is an evil we cannot ignore. When leaders like our governor fail to challenge the President for embracing white supremacists, it becomes all the more urgent that the rest of us speak out—clearly, unequivocally, and loudly. We must let it be known that we reject hatred in all its forms.”
Responding to a request by Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell, Scott on Monday declared a state of emergency for the county. The executive order allows for coordination between state and local law enforcement agencies. Darnell said her request wasn’t based on any heightened security risks, but was a preventative measure.

Speaking to reporters after a Cabinet meeting this morning, Bondi said she was praying “nothing happens” and urged students not to go to the event, while saying “there is no place for espousing these horrible, horrible views.”

Bondi said law enforcement will be well-prepared.

But, she added, “There is just no place right now for this, but you know with free speech, if he’s going to get up there and do it, then he’s going to do it. But we are going to make sure that our students and our citizens are protected.”

Spencer, the head of the National Policy Institute, was among the speakers at a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., that turned deadly when a car plowed into a group of counter-protestors. Heather Heyer was killed and dozens of others were injured.
Clashes between Spencer supporters, some of whom are white supremacists and others who back his white separatist ideology, and “Antifa,” or anti-fascist, groups have taken place on other campuses where Spencer has spoken.

Alt-right speech in Hogtown: “It’s just words”

Tension continues to build in advance of alt-right activist Richard Spencer’s appearance at the University of Florida Thursday,.

Speaking to reporters after a Cabinet meeting this morning, Attorney General Pam Bondi said “there is no place for espousing these horrible, horrible views.”

Yesterday, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in Alachua County. County Sheriff Sadie Darnell said she requested the emergency declaration so she could make sure she had the necessary resources, just in case.

Spencer was one of the key organizers of an August “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., that turned deadly when a car plowed into a group of counter-protestors. Heather Heyer, 31, was killed, and dozens were injured.

Appearances by Spencer in other college towns also sparked melees, causing concern by state and local officials who fear similar clashes in Hogtown.

Bondi defended Scott’s emergency declaration when asked if it might worsen an already tense situation.

“This guy’s out there espousing violence and hatred and anger and if we know that he’s going to be doing that, it’s our duty as a state … to have the resources available up front,” she said.

Spencer supporters point the finger at counter-protestors, who’ve pledged to show up en masse on Thursday, as the reason for the precautions.

Cameron Padgett, a Georgia State University student who helped organize Spencer’s speech in Gainesville, posted a video on Twitter yesterday, with an update about how to get tickets for the event at UF’s Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

The center was originally supposed to distribute the tickets for the 2:30 speech, Padgett said.

But organizers quashed that after learning that tickets could have been turned in for free drinks, or even money, Padgett said in the video.

“It almost seems to me that people don’t want to hear Richard Spencer speak. You know, they’re just words. We’re not even there yet, in Gainesville, at all and they’re already enacting a state of emergency based on protestors already there,” Padgett said. “What’s the state of emergency being enacted on? It’s the protestors that are there at the event, or at the venue right now. So we’re there to peacefully show up and speak, you know, words only, and if you want to debate and engage in a conversation, then I welcome everybody to be there. I think it will be a good event. I have full faith in the police to do whatever they need to do to make sure that the speech is delivered properly and safely.”

All Aboard! Derailment fuels train wars

A Treasure Coast derailment in February that was kept hidden from state lawmakers is fueling the battle over All Aboard Florida‘s “Brightline” passenger train.

Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida (CARE FL) issued a press release yesterday regarding the derailment, which happened during a test run in February and resulted in more than $400,000 in damage.

The passenger line will connect Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, with service to Orlando eventually.

According to the press release, the derailment was confirmed by the Federal Railroad Administration. The derailment came days before All Aboard Florida officials testified before a state committee.

“Soon after this incident, AAF officials attended not one but two state legislative hearings about rail safety and never once disclosed facts about the derailment, while they sought to table the safety legislation under consideration,” Brent Hanlon, Chairman of CARE FL, said in the release.

Here’s more from CARE FL’s release:

Since CARE FL’s inception it has served as a watchdog in the Treasure Coast region, shining a light on AAF’s less-than-transparent approach to building this ill-conceived and dangerous rail project.

A May 30, 2017 letter from CARE FL’s legal team notified the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the FRA about the incident, inquiring whether AAF filed the proper notifications within the appropriate time frame, and requesting that DOT/FRA publicly address whether the derailment occurred, so that our community would know the facts.

“It is unfortunate that Martin County is forced to spend taxpayer money to make sure our safety concerns are addressed at the state and federal levels. A simple confirmation of a derailment took three months to get from DOT, but six months after the derailment itself. We would have never known about this significant public safety issue had we not demanded to know the facts,” said Ruth Holmes, Senior Assistant Martin County Attorney.

According to the FRA’s response letter dated August 21, 2017, “a Brightline locomotive derailed its trailing truck while negotiating a switch at four miles per hour within the Brightline yard facility.” The letter also states that Brightline and FEC “promptly” notified FRA officials of the February 11, 2017 incident.

Hanlon commented, “All you have to do is look at numerous opportunities they had to share this important and relevant information.”

February 11, 2017 – date of derailment according to FRA letter
February 22, 2017 – Florida House Workshop on High Speed Passenger Rail. Myles Tobin, General Counsel of AAF testifies but fails to mention the derailment of train.
March 2017 – CARE FL receives information from knowledgeable rail source that derailment occurred. CARE FL searches for but is unable to find a derailment report. FRA safety staff is unaware of the incident.
March 12, 2017 – Florida Senate Transportation Committee hearing on High Speed Passenger Rail Safety legislation. AAF Vice President Rusty Roberts testifies and, again, fails to mention derailment.
April 4, 2017 – Michael Reininger, then President of Brightline, authors opinion editorial, “All Aboard Florida goes extra mile to address rail safety,” touting AAF going the extra mile to address rail safety. Again, no discussion of the incident.

CARE FL, Martin County and Indian River County have repeatedly expressed their public safety concerns and have worked diligently to address ways to keep the residents of the Treasure Coast community out of harm’s way.

“The disconnect between the derailment and AAF’s failure to make it public is disturbing,” said Dylan Reingold, Indian River County Attorney. “The safety and well- being of our communities require greater transparency.”

The FRA also pledged to “continue to provide oversight of this railroad, as it has from its inception, to ensure that the operation meets or exceeds the safety requirements set by Federal regulations.”

We will hold the FRA to that commitment.

Baez: “You’re my army!”

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State Rep. Daisy Baez, under investigation by a House committee, is using her military experience to raise money for a re-election campaign.

The picture above accompanied a fundraising email sent out by the campaign of Baez, a Miami Democrat.

As a soldier I wore this nation’s uniform to give my life for the cause of freedom, justice, and democracy. Soldiers never give up, and I will never waver on my commitment to continue fighting for you.

You’re my army, and I need you to join this battle today with your support and contributions. Will you contribute $50, $25, or any other amount today?

A state House committee Tuesday found “probable cause” to proceed with an investigation of whether Baez violated residency requirements when she was elected to her Miami-Dade County seat in 2016.

After hearing an investigative report that alleged Baez used residences outside House District 114 for a homestead exemption, a driver’s license and voter registration, the Select Committee on Member Conduct voted to move the investigation forward to the House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee, which will likely conduct a broader inquiry into the allegations.

Baez, a Democrat in her first term, attended the meeting but did not testify, although she said she has not violated the requirement that she live in District 114 at the time of her election and subsequently as she represents the area.

“I just want to reiterate that I believe I am a resident and I have evidence to support that I am a resident of District 114,” she said, adding she would cooperate with the investigation so it can be resolved “in an expedient way.”

Being in the Legislature really cuts down on college fun

16906979_1917457831811450_6226071917556662272_a“I Got Rejected From Harvard. Then I Won a State Election.”

That’s the catchy headline on a chatty piece in Cosmopolitan mag by Florida state Rep. Amber Mariano, as told to Tess Koman.

The Hudson Republican talks about her decision to run for office, what it was like to win a state House contest at the tender age of 21 (while she was a student at the University of Central Florida) and being a millennial — without using the word — and a politician at the same time (spoiler alert: You have to trash your social media accounts and can’t hang out at bars with your buds).

“I can’t just like post a selfie anymore, which is super annoying. When I first got elected, I had a personal Instagram, then I had a private one, then I also had a campaign one. But I realized really there’s no private anymore anyway. I was like, ‘Well, I have 100 followers on my campaign one and 1,000 on my personal one. So I should probably just make my personal one my representative one and delete the other one.’ I try and post some things, but I can’t just post a picture of me and my friends having a drink. I posted a picture of me hiking this summer.”

Mariano, who turns 22 on Wednesday, also shares what it was like to campaign for office when you’re too young to belly up to the bar.

I turned 21 about two weeks before the election, so for most of the campaign I couldn’t even drink. And I look really young, especially when I’m campaigning and my hair’s up, I have no makeup on, and I’m sweating. That was tough because I’d knock on people’s doors and they’d be like, “How old are you? Thirteen?” And I’d be like “Uh, no?” But once someone would hear me talk, they’d be like, “Oh, OK, I’m not worried about her being young.” People were encouraged and excited because, obviously, with Trump’s election, they wanted something new and different than what they’re used to seeing, so for them, I fit that bill.

And she reveals that she was “star-struck” when she got an election-night call from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

I don’t think anything will ever top that night. I was crying the entire time because, what the heck, I just became the youngest person to ever be elected to the Florida House. I got a phone call from the governor congratulating me and then a few minutes later, I got a call from who I thought was Marco Rubio’s staff director, but it was actually Marco himself. I think he said he’s proud of me, but I was too star-struck to remember. My sister took a Snapchat of me after we hung up: I was on the ground uncontrollably sobbing I was so happy.

Being the youngest state legislator while trying to finish up your college degree isn’t such a picnic because Mariano said she “can’t be seen at one of those bars” where her pals hang out.

Since being elected, I really haven’t had a college life. I finished up my final semester during the first week of June, which was really tough because I was trying to write papers while I was trying to write my bills, so this past spring semester, I only went [to school] part-time and I took online classes while I was in Tallahassee. A lot of my friends are turning 21, and at UCF you go to the local college bar and you do all these dares and you have a little party to celebrate. I haven’t really been able to go to any of my friends’ birthdays, because I really can’t be seen at one of those bars, but honestly, I really don’t like that scene anyway.

Read the full story here.

By Jim Turner and Dara Kam

State pot czar: No idea when new marijuana operators will be chosen

budOffice of Medical Marijuana Use Executive Director Christian Bax got a friendly reception from a House panel yesterday, even though his office missed a legislatively mandated deadline earlier this month.

Bax’s office was supposed to hand out five new medical marijuana licenses by Oct. 3, including one to a black farmer who met certain requirements.

The deadline was a component of a sweeping measure , designed to implement a voter-approved constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana for a broad swath of patients with debilitating medical conditions, passed by lawmakers during a special session in June.

Bax late last month told legislative leaders his office wouldn’t be able to grant the licenses in time, blaming Hurricane Irma and recent litigation for the delay.

When asked for an update yesterday, Bax couldn’t give the House Health Quality Committee an estimate of when the highly coveted licenses — in what he said could be one of the nation’s “most robust” cannabis markets — will be issued.

“I don’t have a date or date range to give this committee at this time,” Bax said, adding that “the application process has been complicated by the litigation which we are now involved in.”

Bax was referring to a lawsuit filed last month challenging the part of the new law that requires health officials to grant one license to a black farmer who was a member of settled class action lawsuits about federal officials’ lending practices that discriminated against black farmers. Under the law, the black farmer also has to be a member of the Florida Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association.

But the lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the statute, alleging that it is so narrowly drawn that only a handful of black farmers could qualify for the license. The association shut down membership after the law passed.

The lawsuit has complicated the process of hiring a vendor to rank applications, Bax said later.

To avoid past problems in the MMJ operator selection process that resulted in lengthy — and expensive — challenges, Bax is outsourcing the scoring of the applications. More than a dozen “subject matter experts” will grade the proposals, using a “blind-testing” method.

Bax issued a request for quotes, but hasn’t selected a vendor yet.

“So, the litigation has complicated the application process. The graders would be intimately involved in that process. As such, the selection of the graders has also been complicated by this recent round of lawsuits, constitutional challenges to the application provision,” Bax told a reporter when asked about the hold up.

“We’re currently reviewing the responses (from potential vendors) that we’ve got. Because it’s a procurement, I’m limited to what I can say about the details of that procurement. The department will be ready with its graders once we have moved forward with accepting the applications,” he said.

Bax couldn’t say when his office would begin accepting applications, something that won’t happen until the vendor is chosen.

Meanwhile, Bax’s office is in negotiations with a vendor to process medical marijuana patient ID cards. The new law also required that the ID cards be privatized.

Patients currently have about a 30-day wait before they get their ID cards, a requirement before they are able to purchase medical marijuana treatments ordered by their doctors.

Some of the delays are caused by incomplete applications for an ID card, Bax said — patients either forget to sign the forms, don’t attach a $75 check to pay for the ID cards, or provide a picture that can’t be used.

Patients are submitting selfies, photos with pets or pictures “with interesting background furniture,” Bax told the panel yesterday.

And that’s not all.

Like other marijuana-related businesses, his office is butting up against the banking world, because marijuana is still illegal under federal law, regarding payment for the ID cards.

“We have ironically run into our own issues of … banking reticence to be involved in this industry,” Bax said. “The system that most other state agencies (and) offices will use to accept online payment will not touch this money because they think it’s related to marijuana.”

Janet Cruz heads to Puerto Rico for relief effort

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Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, with Evelio Otero, on Oct. 4. Otero collected more than 2 million pounds of goods for Puerto Ricans.

House Minority Leader Janet Cruz is headed to Puerto Rico today in conjunction with a relief effort organized by Major League Baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays and Moffitt Cancer Center.

Today’s flight will be the second to Ponce by Cruz, a Tampa Democrat whose ex-husband has family members on the island. She returned from her previous tour in tears, saying she was horrified by the dire conditions Puerto Ricans were living after Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory.

Weeks after the storm ravaged the island, more than 80 percent of Puerto Rico remains without power and about a third don’t have water.

According to a press release issued by Cruz’s office this morning, the group will deliver 30,000 pounds of supplies, including food, water and medical necessities.

Cruz and the others also plan to bring back tissue samples “currently on the verge of spoiling that represent years of critical medical research” along with cancer patients and a group of nuns displaced by the storm.

“After disasters, it’s our duty as citizens to look out for each other,” Cruz said in the release. “We all must ensure we are doing everything we possibly can to help our Puerto Rican neighbors recover from the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria. I’m proud to have found such incredible partners in Major League Baseball, the Rays, and Moffitt to help aide in this effort.”

Last week, Cruz visited a Tampa warehouse where volunteers, led by Evelio Otero, were collecting items for Puerto Ricans impacted by the storm.