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March 06, 2015

The largest mall in America wants a bigger place in Miami



Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez dropped a bombshell Thursday: he had been negotiating a deal with the owner of Minnesota's Mall of America to build an even larger entertainment complex in the northwestern part of the county.

The plan was enough of a secret that it's too early to say what political and regulatory challenges developer Triple Five faces. It must win state approval, county approval and also secure support from Miami-Dade's school board, which holds a lease on some Florida property the company wants for its $4 billion project.

Read the story here

March 05, 2015

David Rivera should pay $58K in ethics penalties, judge recommends


IMG_IMG_rivera.JPG_2_1_A_8_1_OJ308QU5_L74973366 (1)Former U.S. Rep. David Rivera should be forced to pay $57,821.96 for breaking Florida ethics rules when he was a state legislator, an administrative law judge in Tallahassee recommended Thursday.

Judge David Watkins suggested Rivera, a Miami Republican who has been out of state office since 2010, pay a $16,500 fine plus $41,321.96 in restitution.

In 2012, the judge found that Rivera, who for two years served as the powerful budget chief in the Florida House of Representatives, failed to properly disclose his income and double-billed taxpayers by accepting state reimbursement for travel previously paid for by his campaign account.

The recommendation will go to the Florida Commission on Ethics, which will issue a final order. Any penalty would ultimately have to be imposed by House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican who never served with Rivera.

Rivera could not be reached for comment late Thursday night. He was elected to Congress in 2010 but lost in 2012. He has since proclaimed his intention to run for the Florida House again next year.

Rivera denied wrongdoing when he was initially charged with 11 ethics violations in October 2012. He successfully disputed four of the charges, bringing the number down to seven. His last appeal wound up at the ethics commission in September. Rivera sought to delay the case, but exasperated commissioners said they had had enough. They rejected his request and asked Judge Watkins to determine penalties.

Continue reading "David Rivera should pay $58K in ethics penalties, judge recommends" »

Florida lawmakers eye charter schools

Testing isn’t the only closely watched education issue state lawmakers will tackle during the 60-day legislative session.

The Florida House is moving swiftly on a proposal to create a statewide institute to assist with the opening of new charter schools.

The proposal (HB 7037) would also require the immediate termination of any charter school that receives back-to-back Fs from the state. And it would require charter schools to submit monthly financial statements to their school-district sponsors.

Former Republican Sen. Jim Horne, who lobbies for the school-management firm Charter Schools USA, called the bill "long overdue."

"The money saved will far exceed the amount of money you invest in this," he told lawmakers, noting that the institute would help new charter school operators more fully think through their proposals before opening.

The Senate version of the proposal (SB 1448) goes a step further, allowing students to attend any traditional or charter school that has not reached capacity.

Students would not be limited to schools in their home counties, said Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg, the bill’s sponsor.

Legg, who operates a Pasco County Charter School, said he included the provision because families should have the ability to transfer to specialized programs without jumping through bureaucratic hoops.

Read more here.

Dudley does wrong on water bill vote

There was no mistaking where Rep. Dwight Dudley stood on HB 7003, a bill that proposes an overhaul of the state's water management system.

On Thursday, Dudley told his colleagues what his intentions were before the vote.

"We need greater standards than this, and that's why I'm voting against the bill," Dudley said during the floor debate. (View it here: at the 30 minute mark).

Yet when House Speaker Steve Crisafulli called the roll and the votes were tallied, Dudley was down on the chamber's electronic scoreboard as a "yay."

Dudley changed his vote after roll. But what happened the first time around? After all, this was the ONLY bill lawmakers were voting on Thursday.

"It was a mistake," Dudley said. "A member wanted to talk about another bill and I was distracted."

Although he wouldn't say who distracted him, witnesses say Dudley told people it was Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach. 

Asked if Mayfield was the one, Dudley wouldn't say. But he described further what happened.

"She was a couple rows up and voted, then came down and engaged in a conversation," Dudley said. "I should have excused myself and made the vote. But she was talking about a different bill and I was almost out of time to push a button. I had only a few seconds. In my haste I pushed the wrong button."

There are two buttons. One is red for "nay." The other is green for "yay." Dudley said he mistakenly pushed the green button, and immediately realized his error.

If there had been more time, Dudley could have pushed the red button in time to change his vote. But the clock expired with him down as green.

"I'm disappointed it happened," Dudley said. "I'm going to be a lot more careful in the future."

Senate "at standstill" on budget, Chairman Tom Lee says

The Florida Senate is at a standstill when it comes to building the state budget, Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee said Thursday.

The reason: uncertainty over the future of the Low Income Pool program, a $2 billion federal-state program that helps Florida hospitals that treat large numbers of uninsured, under-insured and Medicaid patients.

"Until we get some clarity to this picture on how we are going address healthcare and unreimbursed care in the state of Florida, we are not going to be allocating large chunks of resources to any of the priorities, including individual member priorities,” Lee said.

The LIP program is set to expire on June 30 under a deal with the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a federal regulatory agency. CMS has said it won't continue the program "in its current form," but state officials hope to reach a deal to keep the money in place.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott's proposed budget assumes the funding will remain.

Lee, R-Brandon, called that approach "irresponsible."

"We are not going to leave them without the resources to address these problems if, at the end of the day, there is not a collaborative solution between Washington, DC and the state of Florida," he said.

The result will be a "very lean and mean budget," Lee said.

"Everything is on the table, including not being able to get allocations established for conference, and therefore being here in May," he added, suggesting lawmakers might have to return to Tallahassee for a special or extended legislative session.

The House is taking a different approach.

"We are going to move forward thinking that we are getting the money because that’s where the evidence is," House Appropriations Chairman Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, said after Thursday's floor session.

Corcoran said he had spoken with hospital executives who "seem to believe that the funding will be there."

"We were in this exact situation last year," he said. "It wasn't until the second week of April that we knew we were getting the LIP money, and we were fine."

The Senate could be posturing to force a conversation on Medicaid expansion, something the House has vehemently opposed for the last two years. (At a workshop on Wednesday, Senate leaders made the case that expanding Medicaid eligibility could help cover some of the health care costs for poor Floridians.) But it could also mean that the House and the Senate are building budgets that are as much as $2 billion off. Stay tuned.

Houses passes water bill by wide margin, despite concerns from environmentalists

Despite pleas from environmental groups, the Florida House on Thursday overwhelmingly passed an agricultural industry-backed overhaul of the state’s water management and preservation system that could force taxpayers to pick up more costs.

HB 7003 makes numerous revisions to the state’s oversight of water quality and quantity, including new action plans to protect natural springs that are impaired, an easing of regulations on landowners north of Lake Okeechobee and an expansion of a program that helps landowners near impaired waters to reduce fertilizer-polluted discharge.

Under the bill, landowners will be paid 75 percent of the costs in state or federal funds to implement “best management practices,” or BMPs, designed to reduce pollution. The Department of Agriculture is requesting $10 million for the BMPs in the northern Everglades and suggests another $15 million for larger scale water projects north of Lake Okeechobee, according to a staff analysis.

Sponsored by Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, the bill is the top priority of House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, both of whom work in their families agribusinesses.

“Florida’s most unifying feature is our water, and the House of Representatives has shown great leadership in passing a bill that will provide a comprehensive, long-term and flexible approach to protecting the supply and quality of our water now and in the future,” said Putnam in a statement.

Their bill passed 106-9, (though Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg later said he changed his vote from a "yes" to a "no") making it the first bill passed by the House in 2015.

It now heads to the Senate where its fate is much less certain. The Senate’s water bill, SB 918, provides broader protection zones for natural springs, an advisory board that will rank projects eligible for funding from Amendment 1 that passed in November, and nothing that eases regulations for Lake Okeechobee landowners. That bill is expected to pass the Senate next week.

While environmental groups say both bills have strong and weak points, they strongly prefer the Senate version sponsored by Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness.

The most controversial piece in the House bill focuses on a 3.5-million acre watershed north of Lake Okeechobee. This area is seen as critical because the runoff from farmlands feed into Lake Okeechobee, contributing to the overall health of the Everglades.

On page 66 of the 94-page bill, a Jan. 1, 2015 deadline to establish water quality standards to clean up the lake is taken out of statute. Caldwell said that didn’t eliminate the deadline. He said it will be up to lawmakers to fund the projects it will take to ensure Lake Okeechobee gets clean.

More alarming to environmental groups, however, is that bill eases the oversight of landowners who contribute to the pollution of Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades.

Currently, farmers north of Lake Okeechobee area are required to follow permits issued by the South Florida Water Management District that limits the amount of phosphorous they can discharge. Violators can be fined and have their permits to discharge water taken away. Under the bill, that system would be replaced and farmers would be asked to implement BMPs, which set goals for landowners to meet, not limits.

“We are disappointed to see the House pass a bill that does not provide a deadline or a full plan for cleaning up Lake Okeechobee,” said Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation, in a Thursday statement. “We have serious concerns about eliminating a mandatory permit-based system for controlling pollution and replacing it with a voluntary reporting program.”  

Eikenberg’s group joined the Sierra Club, Audubon Florida, 1000 Friends of Florida and Earthjustice in urging lawmakers to vote against the House bill.

"Our goal would be to get the Lake Okeechobee piece taken out," said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida. "And to get the Senate version of the springs’ issues."

But only nine Democrats voted against the bill, meaning the vast majority, some of whom had been lobbied heavily by U.S. Sugar, Florida Crystals and the Florida Land Council before the vote, supported it.

"Nothing in this bill serves to weaken the state’s ability to protect and restore the natural resources,” said Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation.

“It provides the proper focus and effort to improve water quality standards.”

“There is much yet to work on,” said Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg. “But it is a strategy to achieving positive accomplishments for our water quality and environment.”

Politico: When Jeb Bush took on Everglades restoration

From Politico Magazine's Michael Grunwald, who wrote a book on the Everglades:

Jeb Bush had an obvious reason to be in Washington on December 11, 2000. He was the Florida governor, and the Supreme Court was hearing a historic Florida case. It happened to be called Bush v. Gore, and it would determine whether his older brother, George, would win his state’s electoral votes and become the next president.

But that’s not why Jeb was in Washington. As the ultimate partisan battle played out at the court, Bush was attending a quiet bipartisan ceremony in the Oval Office, watching President Bill Clinton, the Democrat who had ousted Bush’s father from that office, sign a bill to save the dying Florida Everglades. The $8 billion plan to revive the so-called River of Grass was the most ambitious ecosystem restoration effort in history—and one of Bush’s key priorities. So while his brother fought Clinton’s vice president over Florida’s political swamp, Jeb stood beside Clinton to celebrate Florida’s literal swamp. After signing, the president handed Jeb the first ceremonial pen. “What a bizarre day,” recalls David Struhs, Jeb’s top environmental official at the time.

More here.

WaPo: Norman Braman all in for Marco Rubio

From the Washington Post:

Sen. Marco Rubio doesn’t have the huge numbers of Republican donors that have flocked to fellow Floridian Jeb Bush in anticipation of a presidential bid. But he will have Norman Braman, which could get him pretty far.

People familiar with his giving expect that Braman, a Miami billionaire auto dealer and longtime Rubio benefactor, will put as much as $10 million into a pro-Rubio super PAC if the senator decides to run.

“If there is a super PAC that’s founded, I will give substantially,” Braman said in an interview, declining to be more specific.

“I don’t pay any attention to that other distinguished Floridian,” he added. “I respect Jeb Bush, but I think we need someone who represents the next generation.”

More here.

Gov. Scott talks — briefly — about agency reviews, immigration, personal email, school testing, …

ST. PETERSBURG Gov. Rick Scott visited St. Petersburg's Jagged Peak Thursday morning as part of an ongoing, statewide campaign to highlight job creators. 


Afterward, in a brief, five-minute Q&A with the media, Scott addressed a few questions in the news, including a brewing disagreement with the Florida Cabinet about next week's process to review and possibly get rid of certain agency heads. Among those targeted by Scott: Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty:

"I'm not sure they (the agency heads) are going to be there," he said, addressing a bone of contention between his office and Cabinet member aides.

Asked directly whether agency heads like McCarty were being invited to sit in on their reviews, Scott said: "I don't know. I'm not sure." 

(In a statement later Tuesday, Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz explained the latest gameplan for the Cabinet meeting: "Those agencies do not have presentations scheduled, however, it would be beneficial for them to attend in the event Cabinet members have questions on their agency.”)

Here are a few other questions the governor responded to:

-- On recurring technological programs this week with a school testing program statewide: 

"A couple things. We're looking at which tests we should have so our students are spending time learning rather than testing. We've already eliminated one test in the 11th grade and we're working with the Legislature to see which tests we might want to get rid of.  

Second, the tests that they're doing right now. Commissioner Pam Stewart is very focused to make sure 8th, 9th and 10th graders are going to be able to get their writing tests done in their 90-minute sessions. Many school districts are saying the system has worked for them.  The way this is set up they have two additional weeks to get all this accomplished. She's confident that timeframe will get all these tests done."

 -- On whether Hillary Clinton's use of a personal email account for business while Secretary of State raises transparency issues and his own issues over email disclosure:

 "I don't know; I'm not familiar with what she did... I don't use email for business; I  only use it for my family."

-- On the standstill with the federal government over continuing funding for a health care program that targests low-income Floridians:

"The federal government often starts a program, and remember they're funded with our state tax dollars. now what they're saying is they're not sure if they're going to continue it... This is for our low-income families so I'll be very, very, very disappointed if they don't continue it."

-- On President Obama's executive order with immigration:

"Everybody wants to have immigration reform - to have comprehensive immigration reform - but the president has failed us on that. What he's done by going around Congress is just the opposite of what you have to do; like I have to do. I work with my Legislature. If I want to get something done, I work with them; I can't just do an executive order and not work with them. By doing that he's slowed down what we need to get done. It starts with fixing our borders but all of us want to have comprehensive immigration reform."

 (Jeff Harrington, Herald/Times)

Marco Rubio asks John Kerry to keep Cuba on terror sponsors list


U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio asked Secretary of State John Kerry in a letter Thursday to keep Cuba on a list of states sponsors of terrorism.

The Florida Republican, who has been a leading critic of the Obama administration's review of Cuba's status on the list, said the U.S. should not even consider removing the island nation from the list, which also includes Iran, Syria and Sudan.

"The United States cannot in good faith remove Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism List while the Castro regime harbors terrorists who have killed Americans, actively supports designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations by harboring their members and continues to flout international law through clandestine weapon transfers with a rogue regime like North Korea," he wrote.

Rubio referred specifically to fugitives from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and the Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA). The senator has tried to distinguish himself in a crowded field of potential GOP presidential candidates by stressing his experience in the Senate foreign relations committee. 

Initially not on schedule, Hillary Clinton now slated to speak at University of Miami this weekend


Hillary Clinton was notably absent from the schedule released last week for Clinton Global Initiative's three-day conference for college students to be held this weekend at the University of Miami. But an updated lineup shows Clinton slated to speak to attendees Saturday afternoon.

The former secretary of state and all-but-certain Democratic presidential candidate is slated to speak at 5:30 p.m. at the BankUnited Center along with her daughter, Chelsea Clinton. The "conversation" will be hosted by Larry Wilmore, of The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, and will also feature former President Bill Clinton; Maria Alekhina and Nadezdha Tolokonnikova of the Russian band Pussy Riot; and Paul Farmer of Harvard Medical School.

President Clinton is still expected to address students participating in a day of service Sunday.

Activists: Say 'no' to guns on campus


Activists are launching an aggressive campaign against legislative proposals that would allow guns on Florida campuses.

The groups, Everytown for Gun Safety and the Florida chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, have a new television ad that will air across Florida. It features a clip of National Rifle Association Executive Director Wayne LaPierre telling the 1999 NRA convention that schools should be "absolutely gun free."

"What was true then should be true now," the ad says. "So why are Florida's lawmakers trying to allow guns into schools and force them onto college campuses?"

The TV spot references two pieces of legislation, one of which would allow permitted individuals to carry concealed weapons on college and university properties. The bill (HB 4005/SB 176) has already won the approval of one Senate panel, despite strong objections from Florida State University President John Thrasher and the state Board of Governors.

The other bill (HB 19/SB 180) would allow designated teachers and other school employees to carry concealed weapons on public school campuses.

The NRA has come out in support of both proposals, saying they will increase security on college campuses and at public schools. But Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America believes otherwise.

"Our kids' teachers enter the esteemed profession of education to teach, not to become sharpshooters," said Chryl Anderson, who volunteers with the organization's Florida chapter. "Florida lawmakers should do their jobs, too -- pass laws to keep Floridians safe from gun violence instead doing the bidding of the gun lobby."

In addition to the ad, the group will hold a rally at the Capitol on Monday.

Florida House rolls out testing proposal

The Florida House plans to move quickly on its testing bill, leaders said Thursday.

"We're going to try to get this to the floor as soon as we possibly can so we can alleviate all of the stress and uncertainty in the field," House Education Committee Chairwoman Marlene O'Toole said.

Her goal: to ensure "the teachers can teach, the students can learn, and the parents can be assured that we know what we're doing." 

The 70-page draft proposal is similar to the version in the Senate. It eliminates a new 11th grade language arts exam, removes the requirement that school districts test every student in every subject, and reduces the extent to which student test performance factors into teacher pay.

It also gives local school districts the flexibility to start school as early as August 10. (Current law says school may start no earlier than two weeks before Labor Day.)

The House education panel took some testimony on the proposal Thursday morning.

Orange County Schools lobbyist Scott Howat called the bill "an excellent start," but raised questions related to this week's bungled administration of new online tests.

"We know students are rushing through the process, and they are trying to get their work done quickly, thinking they could get kicked off, they could lose their work..." Howat said. "There are some things we could look at, [such as] should we use this as a baseline year or a beta year?"

O'Toole said schools would still be graded based on student performance, though they would not be penalized.

"That is the position at this point in time," she said. "We are going to grade the schools just so we can see where we are at."

The committee plans to vote on the bill Monday.

The House Education panel also heard from state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, who the software problems plaguing the new Florida Standards Assessment had been resolved. She noted that testing was ahead of schedule.

"We expect everyone to be completed by the end of next week," she said. 

Florida Association of District Schools Superintendents lobbyist Joy Frank noted that some large school systems were still facing intermittent problems. "These are problems that will be resolved," she said. "I'm confident about that."

THURSDAY: Top five things to watch in Tallahassee

Thursday marks the third day of the Florida legislative session. Here are five things to watch:

* The Senate Fiscal Policy Committee holds a hearing on a bill to restrict cities from relying on their police departments to issue ticket quotas to balance their budgets. The bill (SB 264), by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, is a reaction to ticket-writing policies by the North Florida cities of Hampton and Waldo.

* Speaking of transportation, the Senate Transportation Committee receives a report on the effectiveness of red-light cameras in Florida.

* Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, holds a press conference on discrimination in Florida.

* The Senate Appropriations Committee holds a hearing on the subject of funding of charter schools.

* The full 120-member House holds a floor session and will take up a bill (HB 7035) setting March 15, 2016 as the date of Florida's next presidential preference primary.

(Steve Bousquet, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau)

Florida House Republicans eager to rebuke Obama on new Cuba policy


A rebuke to President Obama for reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba received the full-throated support Thursday of a committee in the conservative Florida House of Representatives.

The legislation, which expresses "profound disagreement" with the president's decision and opposes the opening of a Cuban consulate or diplomatic office anywhere in Florida, is largely symbolic. If approved by the full House and Senate, it would formally petition Congress to act but not require it to do so.

Tampa is pushing for a consulate, after the Miami city mayor said he doesn't want one. Miami-Dade County Republican Reps. Manny Diaz Jr. and Jeanette Nuñez are sponsoring the House bill, HM 727, with a companion, SM 866, filed by Sen. Anitere Flores.

A separate, softer measure filed by Miami Democratic Rep. José Javier Rodríguez, HM 745, would also oppose a consulate but only go as far as urge Obama to limit U.S. engagement with the Cuban government to strengthening civil society in Cuba. That legislation has yet to get a hearing.

On Thursday, the first time the GOP bill was heard, Republicans who legislate state policy on the House Local & Federal Affairs committee eagerly weighed in on federal foreign policy. The bill passed 9-4 along party lines.

Continue reading "Florida House Republicans eager to rebuke Obama on new Cuba policy" »

Florida Senate panel votes to scale back testing

A plan to scale back testing in Florida schools cleared its first hurdle in the Florida Legislature on Wednesday, winning the approval of the Senate Education Committee.

Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican and former schools superintendent, said the bill would "place a lid on too much testing."

But the vote did little to satisfy parent and teacher groups, who say state lawmakers need to take more dramatic action — especially in light of this week’s problem-plagued rollout of the new Florida Standards Assessments.

"What's happening in public schools is criminal, and this bill doesn't do much to help our kids," said Florida Education Association Vice President Joanne McCall.

More here.

Under new budget pressures, Florida Senate debates Medicaid expansion

A potential budget crisis is fueling a new conversation about Medicaid expansion in Florida.

The issue was a non-starter in 2014, largely because House Republicans oppose expanding Medicaid as envisioned under the Affordable Care Act. But Florida now risks losing a separate pot of federal money known as the Low Income Pool that helps hospitals like Jackson Health System treat uninsured patients.

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said the potential $1.3 billion loss in funding has given lawmakers a reason to reconsider Medicaid expansion.

"We have an obligation to look at this issue," Gardiner said.

It will still be a tough sell in the Florida House.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli on Tuesday said the federal government wasn’t offering enough flexibility on how to spend the $51 billion available to extend health insurance coverage in Florida to cover an estimated 800,000 people.

"We feel like some progress has been made in that arena," said Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island. "But at this point in time, we are not interested in expanding Medicaid as we know it."

More here.

Quinnipiac poll: Scott Walker, Jeb Bush top competitive GOP presidential field


Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush lead a crowded field of Republicans in a new poll of potential 2016 potential presidential contenders. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a far wider lead among Democrats.

The survey, conducted by Quinnipiac University, shows Walker and Bush at 18 percent and 16 percent, respectively. Six other candidates drew less than 10 percent each, with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida placing sixth with 5 percent. If Bush doesn't run, Rubio would move up a couple of notches and draw 8 percent.

A potential problem spot for Bush: He also topped the list of which candidate Republicans "would definitely not support," drawing 16 percent along with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. The poll's error margin is 2.7 percentage points.

On the Democratic side, Clinton received 56 percent, with 14 percent for U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. If Clinton doesn't run, Vice President Joe Biden would lead the field with 35 percent, compared to Warren's 25 percent. Warren has said she's not running. The poll was conducted before revelations this week that Clinton used a private email account at the State Department.

The closest general-election match-up pits Clinton vs. Bush, 45-42 percent. Clinton vs. Rubio? 46-41 percent.

It's still very early for national polls on the race to mean much at all. The election is 20 months away, none of the possible candidates are formally running yet and the voters who matter most at first are the ones in early primary states, not across the country.

Tampa angles for Cuban consulate Miami doesn't want


Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado might think putting a Cuban consulate in Miami would be a mistake, but Tampa officials are actively hoping Cuba will plant a consular office in the city on Tampa Bay.

The board of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce recently unanimously passed a motion in favor of reestablishing a Cuban consulate in the Tampa/Hillsborough County area once the United States and Cuba complete the process of reestablishing diplomatic relations, perhaps as early as next month.

Until the United States broke off relations with Cuba on Jan. 3, 1961, there was a Cuban consulate in Tampa’s Ybor City neighborhood, and Tampa and Cuba have a long shared history.

“We think a lot differently on the issue [than Miami],” said Bob Rohrlack, president and chief executive of the Greater Tampa chamber. “We think after 50-plus years of isolation [of Cuba], we tried it and it didn’t work.”

When President Barack Obama announced Dec. 17 that the United States and Cuba were on a path toward renewing diplomatic ties and reopening embassies, Regalado said, “We certainly would not support ” having a Cuban consulate in Miami.

More here.

March 04, 2015

Federal judge throws out whistleblower lawsuit filed by prison inspectors

via @jknipebrown

A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit filed by five prison inspectors and a probation officer who claimed that their bosses at the Florida Department of Corrections threatened them after they tried to expose corruption and cover-ups.

The inspectors, Aubrey P. Land, David Clark, Doug Glisson, John Ulm and James Padgett — all of whom are still employed — filed the federal whistle-blower complaint in July.

Among other things, the inspectors alleged that their boss, FDOC Inspector General Jeffery Beasley, told them at a December 2013 Christmas party that he would “have their asses” if they didn’t back off an investigation into the death of a 27-year-old inmate they believed had been covered up.

Beasley subsequently filed an internal affairs complaint against them that accused them of misconduct. They were later exonerated.

The inspectors turned to Chief Inspector General Linda Miguel to ask for whistle-blower protection, but she declined.

More here.