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December 01, 2015

Two doctors in the House clash openly over health care policy


Disagreement between two doctors in the Florida House over health policy flared up Tuesday, derailing a bill that would expand pharmacists’ role in health care.

The House Health Quality subcommittee was considering a proposal (H.B. 527) by Rep. Ed Narain, D-Tampa, to let pharmacists inject prescribed medications if instructed by a doctor. It had been put on the agenda by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, an emergency room doctor who serves rural patients.

Rep. Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice, an orthopedic surgeon, is not much of a fan.

Gonzalez started asking pointed questions of Narain — incidentally, not a doctor — about what kinds of injections he believed pharmacists should be allowed to give patients. Other issues cropped up: what the nature of a pharmacist’s relationship with a doctor should be, whether the bill was appropriate at all.

Several times, Pigman stopped the meeting so lawmakers could quickly write proposed amendments and discuss them with one another, an unusual scene in the state Capitol, where lawmakers’ votes are courted by advocates and lobbyists and where few bills are offered up for a hearing without a majority of committee members ready to vote in favor.

After about an hour, the committee was ready to vote, and Pigman sounded exasperated as he made a plea.

“If we had physicians to see patients, we wouldn’t be here today,” he said. “We wouldn’t be talking about legislation.”

But Gonzalez prevailed, at least in preventing a vote Tuesday, and the bill has been postponed. Pigman later tweeted that "we'll bring it back," a sign that behind-the-scenes negotiations will likely take place to make the bill something a majority of committee members will support.

It’s not the first sign of disagreement between Gonzalez and Pigman, two of just three doctors in the Florida House. Gonzalez and Rep. Fred Costello, R-Ormond Beach, laid out a health care plan in October, which Gonzalez described to the Times/Herald as an eight-year road map for what he would like to see accomplished in the world of health policy during his time in the House.

Continue reading "Two doctors in the House clash openly over health care policy" »

Proposal would allow schools to join FHSAA on per-sport basis


A Florida House committee advanced a proposal Tuesday that would regulate how much money in fees and dues that the governing body of Florida high school athletics can take in, and also allow schools to pick and choose what sports for which they're a member of that organization.

Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, says small, private schools suffer by having to follow rules set by the Florida High School Athletic Association because they have to comply with those rules for all sports, even though they might only offer a single sport. Private schools are not required to join the FHSAA.

"They have to comply with every single rule, every single regulation, every single tedious requirement and they have to provide the FHSAA with gate receipts. Even if they don’t participate in that sport, the FHSAA has their hand in their pocket," Spano said.

His legislation (HB 31) would allow schools to join the FHSAA on a per-sport basis and give them the option of joining alternative associations for other sports.

FHSAA executive director Roger Dearing said the organization provides infrastructure support to 805 member schools that smaller athletic associations can't match. He said allowing schools such an a-la-carte option could create problems for schools and student-athletes by forcing them to comply with various sets of rules, depending on the associations the schools want to be a part of.

With the potential for various associations overseeing particular sports in different ways, Dearing said it also could result in overlapping sports seasons, which would be problematic for multi-sport student-athletes.

However, the proposal has backing from one such alternative association, the Sunshine State Athletics Conference, which has 35 member schools that want more freedom in how they compete.

"We feel the best thing this legislature could do is offer choice and give control back to schools," president Stuart Weiss said.

Spano's bill would also restrict how much in fees and dues the FHSAA could charge to only as much as the organization needs to put on events. Spano describes it as a cost-accountability measure, and he also noted that the non-profit association has more than $5 million in the bank, or about the same amount as its annual budget.

Dearing said the language of the bill misunderstands the FHSAA's revenue stream and he said the association shouldn't be penalized for sound financing.

Having a 100-percent fund balance, in case something happens, is "a good business practice; I don't think we should be criticized for that," Dearing said.

Dearing added that only half of the FHSAA's $5.2 million annual budget comes from event fees, so already, "we don't collect more than what it costs to do it." The balance of the association's budget comes from sponsorships, he said.

"I would like to have someone explain the logic of monitoring dues and fees, when we can show you a direct history of how we’ve alleviated the costs from our schools and passed that on to third-party entities," Dearing said.

The House Education Appropriations Subcommittee advanced Spano's bill by a 12-0 vote on Tuesday, although some representatives said they had some concerns that they wanted Spano and the FHSAA to hash out before future committee stops.

The bill now goes to the full House budget committee.

A Senate bill by Republicans Don Gaetz, of Niceville, and Kelli Stargel, of Lakeland, includes similar provisions as Spano's bill but goes much farther by also relaxing eligibility requirements for student-athletes. That hasn't been heard in committee yet.

Pro-Jeb Bush Super PAC targets Republican absentee voters in Florida with mailers


Florida Republicans who typically vote mail may start seeing Jeb Bush appear in their mailboxes this week.

Right to Rise USA, the pro-Bush Super PAC, has sent "hundreds of thousands" of fliers to frequent voters who historically have requested absentee ballots, said Paul Lindsay, the group's spokesman. The flier focuses on Bush's plan to "defeat to destroy ISIS."

"Leadership is not about talking -- it's about doing," the piece says, showing a serious-looking Bush and plugging a website set up by the Right to Rise,

The Florida presidential primary isn't until March 15, but mail-in ballots will be sent to overseas voters beginning Jan. 30, and to domestic voters beginning Feb. 9.

"There's a lot of focus these days on the February primary and caucus states, but Floridians will also be voting that month," Lindsay said. "This is the first phase of our campaign in the state, and we'll continue to communicate Jeb's record and vision with them during what will be a very long primary process."

Right to Rise sent the same piece to voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, which hold their caucuses and primaries in February, and in Ohio, which holds is primary on the same day as Florida.


Bill to address untested rape kits in Florida passes first committee


A bill to force the state to analyze more than 10,000 untested sexual assault kits that have languished in police evidence rooms throughout the state for years passed its first committee in the Florida House on Tuesday.

Under the bill by state Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement would be required to create a plan by October 2016 to test all the kits by June 2017.

In early November, FDLE confirmed for the first time there are more than 10,000 untested kits throughout the state — and they're not done counting. By Jan. 1, the agency will make public the full number as part of a $300,000 survey to identify just how big the backlog is. Up until recently, the problem was only estimated as being in the "thousands."

Why kits stay on shelves for years — even decades — has long been debated. FDLE officials have said some legitimate reasons could have included victims no longer wanting an investigation to continue, a case is not being pursued by prosecutors or a suspect has already pled guilty. And technology is a big reason. Many kits have been on shelves for 25  years, before DNA analysis became as sophisticated as it is today.

But law enforcement officials, including Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, have been pushing the state to analyze the untested kits to recover evidence that could help solve other crimes or identify serial rapists.

Adkins told the House Criminal Justice Committee that other cities and states have tested older kits and solved other crimes. Specifically she pointed to Detroit where testing of 8,700 sexual assault kits and helped identify 188 serial offenders.

But testing the kits is a financial problem for the state. With a state crime lab already struggling to keep up with current caseloads, FDLE officials have said they do not have to staff to handle the 10,000 kits if they were suddenly to come into their labs. It would cost the agency and estimated $9 million to outsource all of the kits to be tested, FDLE officials told a Senate committee in early November.

Adkins bill still has two more committee stops in the Florida House, while a similar Senate bill has yet to be heard in any committees.

FPL argues for new $1.2 billion power plant in Okeechobee County

Florida Power & Light told state regulators Tuesday that it should be allowed build a $1.2 billion gas-fired power plant on land it owns in Okeechobee County to meet what it projects will be a growing demand for energy by 2019.

But the state agency that represents consumers, a coalition of large industrial users, and two environmental groups fiercely oppose the proposal and argued that it is unnecessary overbuilding designed to guarantee the utility's profits and suppress the need for conservation and renewable energy.

FPL’s proposal “will result in the uneconomic generating capacity and add cost to ratepayers under the guise of reliability,’’ said James Whitlock, lawyer for the Southern Alliance of Clean Energy, which advocates for renewable energy in Florida. 

Testimony showed that for the average FPL customer, who is expected to use 14,118 kw hours in 2020, the additional cost for the plant will be $17.22.  

The two-day hearing, known as a "determination of need," is the first step to approving a power plant in Florida. FPL said it will need an additional 1,052 megawatts of power generation by 2019, another  1,409 megawatts in 2020 and demand continuing to grow in the future.

But opponents want regulators to require utilities to increase energy conservation to reduce demand while also opening the state to more solar and renewable energy options to reduce Florida’s reliance on carbon-based fuels.

The hearing offered a glimpse into the arguments that are at the forefront of the state's energy dilemma as the state’s legacy utility companies face competition from solar and other renewable forms of energy. Meanwhile, FPL's dependence on natural gas, by contrast, is increasing -- 68 percent in 2014 and estimated to rise to 72 percent by next year. 

In recent years the PSC, however, has allowed FPL to reduce its focus on conservation and instead approved controversial requests that were promised as cost savings to customers, but instead resulted in higher costs.

Continue reading "FPL argues for new $1.2 billion power plant in Okeechobee County" »

Alan Grayson's campaign staff shakeup

Alan Grayson’s U.S. Senate bid took a blow this week with a top staff shakeup that included the departure of his campaign manager.

Doug Dodson’s last day with Grayson, a Democratic congressman from Orlando, was Monday, according to a source familiar with the campaign.

Senior adviser Kevin Franck will leave by the end of the year. Deputy campaign manager David Keith has already left the campaign’s day-to-day operations but will remain as an informal adviser.

The source said that all of the departures were mutual and that no one was fired. No new hires were announced yet.

“Staffing changes are normal in the course of a campaign,” the source said. “As we approach the start of a new year, we will begin to add staff, and some of the people who were critical to the launch of Rep. Grayson’s campaign will transition into other roles, or move on to other opportunities.”

Grayson, who is known for his fiery personality, is running in the Democratic Senate primary against fellow U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter. They are competing for the seat being vacated by Marco Rubio, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination.

Reached by phone, Grayson declined to comment on the high-profile staff departures, and dismissed a question about whether it signaled trouble for his campaign.

“I’m doing my job here,” he said of his post in Congress.

Continue reading "Alan Grayson's campaign staff shakeup" »

Jeb Bush to fundraise for Florida GOP

12012015_115559_121115_tampa_fundraiser_page_1_8colvia @adamsmithtimes

You might think Jeb Bush has enough on his own plate, but Florida's former governor and struggling presidential candidate is stepping up to raise money for the Florida GOP.  That's more than even current Gov. Rick Scott is doing for his state party these days, as Scott  is raising money only for his own political committee.

Bush will attend a Republican Party of Florida fundraising reception in Tampa Dec. 11 - helping state party Chairman Blaise Ingoglia raise money to help the GOP in America's biggest battleground. Polls right now suggest the Florida GOP is more likely to be working to deliver 27 electoral votes to Donald Trump or Marco Rubio than Bush.

Keep in mind that Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran is currentlly the only top elected official in Florida helping raise money for the state GOP, and Corcoran is a Bush supporter, even though he had been Rubio's top adviser in the legislature.

"Jeb has always supported the RPOF," Bush campaign spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said. "The Chairman asked the Governor a little while back to help raise funds for the party and he is glad to. A strong party infrastructure Florida is critical to Republicans’ success in 2016."

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

When Hillary Clinton thought 'Mittens' Romney might lose 2012 Florida primary

via @learyreports

An email from the latest State Department release of Hillary Clinton communications show she was concerned that Mitt Romney, whom she called Mittens, could lose Florida's 2012 GOP primary to Newt "Grinch" Gingrich.

Clinton, who thought a loss could bring changes to ballot access, sent the email to confidant Sidney Blumenthal. Romney won the primary in a blowout.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Florida Senate's top lawyer seeks appeals court judgeship

George Levesque, the chief counsel to the Florida Senate, is one of 30 candidates for two upcoming vacant judgeships on the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee. He'll be interviewed next week by a nine-member DCA nominating commission that will send at least three names for each position to Gov. Rick Scott, who will make the appointments. 

Levesque has the full support of Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, Senate spokeswoman Katherine Betta said Tuesday.

Other candidates include Mark Kruse, who works for Scott in the Office of Planning and Budgeting; Trisha Meggs Pate, an assistant attorney general and daughter of Tallahassee-area state prosecutor Willie Meggs; Assistant Attorney General Allen Winsor; J. Daniel McCarthy, who directs the 1st DCA marshal's office; and Leon County Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey.

DCA judges Simone Marstiller and Robert Benton are both retiring from the court, which routinely hears appeals in cases involving state laws and state government agencies. A DCA judgeship pays $154,140 a year. Scott's most recent appointment to the 15-member DCA, in June, was Thomas "Bo" Winokur, who was an assistant general counsel in Scott's office.

Florida Sen. Aaron Bean pushing to grow state's medical tourism industry


Medical tourism -- traveling for specialized or lower-cost health care procedures -- is a $100 billion a year industry globally. And state Sen. Aaron Bean wants Florida to have a bigger piece of it.

So Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, is proposing a new program to more aggressively market Florida as a destination for health care.

Under a bill (S.B. 178) that Tuesday passed the Health Policy committee Bean chairs, the state's tourism and economic development arms would be tasked with bringing in more medical tourists to the state.

Enterprise Florida -- the public-private group that lures businesses to the state and focuses on economic devleopment -- and VISIT Florida would be responsible for showcasing bundled health care and support packages and upping marketing in medical tourism.

"It's low-hanging fruit that can be picked to diversify and super charge Florida's economy," Bean said.

Bean's proposal, which does not currently have a sponsor in the Florida House, would build on work done by the Florida Chamber of Commerce to build Discover Florida Health, a marketing plan.

Judge warns redistricting challengers that their maps could be 'contaminated too'

Judge ReynoldsLeon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds warned the challengers in the Senate redistricting case Tuesday that they will have to show that the maps they have submitted were not tainted by improper partisan intent, as they are accusing the Senate leadership of doing. 

"You should be held to virtually the same standard out of fairness,'' Reynolds told the lawyers for the League of Women Voters and Common Cause at a 30-minute scheduling hearing in preparation for the five-day trial that begins Dec. 14.

The two groups have sued the Legislature along with a coalition of Democrat-leaning voters for violating the anti-gerrymandering standards of the state constitution when they drew the 2012 map. 

The lawyers for the GOP-led House and Senate say that the four maps submitted by the plaintiffs were drawn by a redistricting consultant with ties to Democrats and were designed to intentionally pack Republicans into districts.

Based on the results of the 2014 presidential election, the Legislature says the plaintiff maps give Democrats a 21-19 advantage in the Senate. Other analyses suggest that the plaintiffs' four proposed maps each create a 20-20 partisan split as Republicans retain the advantage because of incumbency and money. 

Continue reading "Judge warns redistricting challengers that their maps could be 'contaminated too'" »

Florida lawmakers urge consideration of enhanced penalties for texting-while-driving



A bipartisan push to crack down on texting-while-driving by making it a “primary” offense in Florida is back for the 2016 session, and along with it comes a stern message for Republican legislative leaders: Let the bills be heard.

Efforts in the 2015 session to enhance enforcement of texting-while-driving stalled, with bills in both chambers failing to make it to the floors for up-or-down votes.

Legislation (HB 537/SB 328) filed for 2016 by Sen. Thad Altman, R-Rockledge, and Rep. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, has yet to be considered. This is the final week when legislative committees meet in preparation for the session that begins in January.

"There's been a divide, and many people have asked me: 'Can you explain why somebody would be against this?' ... I cannot defend or explain why anyone would feel that way," Altman said. "It really is beyond explanation."

Texting-while-driving has been illegal in Florida since 2013, but it’s only a “secondary” offense, which means a driver has to commit some other infraction -- such as driving recklessly, running a red light or even causing an accident -- in order for a law enforcement officer to ticket them.

Making texting-while-driving a primary offense would improve safety on Florida's roadways by reducing crashes and traffic-related deaths, say supporters, like AAA, the Florida Police Chiefs Association and the Florida Sheriffs Association.

Only 1,800 citations were given for texting-while-driving last year in Florida, Altman said.

Continue reading "Florida lawmakers urge consideration of enhanced penalties for texting-while-driving" »

'This is no reality show,' Medal of Honor recipient says in new TV ad for Jeb Bush


Jeb Bush's campaign is going on the air on New Hampshire and Boston TV for the next three weeks, wit a somber ad portraying the former Florida governor as a serious man ready for the difficult job of president.

The minute-long spot features several Medal of Honor recipients talking up the Republicans. "This is no reality show," says retired Marine Corps Maj. General James Livingston -- a reference to frontrunner Donald Trump, the former Celebrity Apprentice host.

The ad buy is for $600,000, the campaign said. There will also be a 30-second version of the spot airing.


Will Gov. Scott remember a small favor? Orlando's mayor hopes so

Orlando's Democratic mayor, Buddy Dyer, was in familiar territory Tuesday, walking the halls of the Florida Senate where he used to work. The mayor's mission is to get $15 million for the University of Central Florida's downtown Orlando campus in the next state budget.


It's a sore subject for Orlando's movers and shakers because of Gov. Rick Scott. With a boost from Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, the money was in the Legislature's budget last session, but Scott erased it with the stroke of his veto pen -- the biggest single-ticket item on his long list of $461 million in line-item vetoes. A ticked-off Gardiner went on Orlando TV to call Scott's veto "a shot at Orlando."

But the new year will bring a new session and new hope for UCF's campus. After all, as Dyer was quick to note Tuesday, he's a big-city mayor who two weeks ago endorsed one of Scott's top priorities: a bigger pot of incentive money for Enterprise Florida. It was an easy call, Dyer noted, because the ask came from "the man with the veto pen."

Obama on climate change in Miami: 'Fish are swimming through the middle of the streets'

Obama France Climate Countdown@PatriciaMazzei

President Barack Obama once again used Miami as an example of a place already feeling the effects of climate change, giving reporters Tuesday a somewhat exaggerated example about the city's high tides showing the costs of letting seas continue to rise.

"I think that as the science around climate change is more accepted, as people start realizing that even today you can put a price on the damage that climate change is doing -- you know, you go down to Miami and when it's flooding at high tide on a sunny day and fish are swimming through the middle of the streets -- you know, that there's a cost to that," Obama said at the Paris climate talks.

While Miami Beach has certainly suffered from sunny-day floods during high tides, recent reports about fish swimming in the street have come from further north in Broward County and are far from widespread. No one's pulling out their fishing rods on the road.

WSVN-FOX 7 reported in September that a mullet was spotted swimming in Fort Lauderdale. A member of the Miami Herald and WLRN radio's Public Insight Network reported in October that she saw fish in the streets of Hollywood during a king tide.

Former Vice President Al Gore told the public radio show The Takeaway last week: "I was in Miami last month and fish from the ocean were swimming on some of the streets on a sunny day because it was a high tide. In Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale, many other places -- that happens regularly." "Regularly" sounds a like a bit of a stretch.

Obama referenced Miami last year when he spoke about climate change to the United Nations. "Along our eastern coast, the city of Miami now floods in high tide," he said then. 

--with Jenny Staletovich

Photo credit: Evan Vucci, Associated Press

Does Jeb Bush want to raise social security retirement age to 70 as Annette Taddeo says?

Congressional hopeful Annette Taddeo warned Florida seniors preparing for a Thanksgiving feast that a Jeb Bush presidency could starve their plans for retirement.

Taddeo, the former chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, attempted to link Bush’s plan for Social Security to her Republican opponent, Carlos Curbelo of Miami, in a fundraising email PolitiFact Florida received Nov. 24, 2015 (click here to read the letter).

"Have you seen presidential hopeful Jeb Bush’s plan for Social Security? It’s disastrous for seniors and raises the retirement age to 70," the email read. "But Bush is the candidate Annette’s opponent, Congressman Carlos Curbelo, thinks should be leading our country. Not that that’s a surprise after Curbelo called Social Security a ‘Ponzi scheme’ and voted for Speaker Ryan’s devastating budget. South Florida needs someone who will fight for Social Security — not work to end it."

Curbelo did call Social Security a Ponzi scheme in his first bid for Congress. That is not an accurate description of the program, so we rated Curbelo's statement False.

For this fact-check, we wanted to know if Bush really released a Social Security plan for seniors that raises the retirement age to 70. (We won’t weigh in on whether it’s "disastrous.")

We found that Bush's plan doesn't suggest a specific age, and he also doesn't think the eligibility age should change for current seniors. 

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

Senate wants to call Braynon and Clemens and LWV's Ellen Freiden as redistricting witnesses

Screen shot 2015-12-01 at 8.50.36 AM

The Florida Senate's lawyers could call Democrat Sens. Oscar Braynon and Jeff Clemens and Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Bill Galvano to the witness stand in the upcoming redistricting trail, adding three senators to the list of seven already proposed by the challengers in documents submitted Monday to the court. 

The Senate's lawyers said it might call Braynon of Miami Gardens and Clemens of Lake Worth as witnesses in the five-day trial that begins Dec. 14 in Leon County Circuit Court. Each had submitted maps they said they had drawn during the redistricting session that ended last month. 

They also said they may call Ellen Freiden, the Miami lawyer for the League of Women Voters whose Fair Districts crusade helped to put the anti-gerrymandering rules into the Florida Constitution, and Galvano, the Bradenton Repubican who headed the Senate's redistricting effort for the last year.

They also said they may call Ellen Freiden, the Miami lawyer for the League of Women Voters whose Fair Districts crusade helped to put the anti-gerrymandering rules into the Florida Constitution.

"Ms. Freidin will testify about alternative maps submitted to the Legislature and the Florida Supreme Court and alternative maps submitted in this case, including the goals, process, and objectives of their creation, and all facts relevant to an intent to favor or disfavor a political party or incumbent in any alternative map,'' the Senate wrote. "Ms. Freidin will also testify about her efforts to influence the legislative redistricting process."

More likely to be called, the witness list said, is a list of experts lined by the Senate, including Stephen Hodge of the Florida Resources and Environmental Analysis Center at Florida State University and an unnamed "corporate representative" for Strategic Telemetry, Massachusetts-based company that hired John O'Neill to help the coalition plaintiffs in the lawsuit draw their proposed maps.

"The Corporate Representative of Strategic Telemetry Inc. will testify about John O’Neill’s participation in the creation of redistricting plans in 2011 and 2012,'' the witness list said. 

November 30, 2015

Private prison health care in doubt as Corizon contract collapses


After two years of complaints about healthcare in Florida’s prisons, the private company that has been responsible for the largest share of inmate care — Corizon Health — decided not to renew its $1.1 billion contract with the state Monday, leaving the future of care for 74,000 inmates in limbo when the company pulls out in six months.

The decision by the Tennessee-based company to exercise its right to terminate the contract that was scheduled to expire in 2018 came as the Florida Department of Corrections was attempting to renegotiate the agreement amid reports of inmate maltreatment, chronic understaffing and rising numbers of unnatural inmate deaths. 

"We appreciate the contracts for inmate health services permit very little of the flexibility that Secretary Jones would like in order to address issues such as staffing, mental health care, and electronic health records," Corizon Chief Executive Officer Karey Witty said in a statement. "We have tried to address the department's concerns but have found the terms of the current contract too constraining. At this point, we believe the best way to move forward is to focus our efforts on a successful transition to a new provider."

In February, Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones was ordered to renegotiate the contract by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, after a series of reports in the Miami Herald and other news organizations showed suspicious inmate deaths were covered up or never reviewed, staffing was inadequate, and inmate grievances and complaints of harmful medical care were dismissed or ignored.

Audits conducted by the state’s Correctional Medical Authority also found problems with inadequate medical care, nursing and staffing shortages, and hundreds of pending lawsuits against the state and the health care companies claiming inadequate medical care. 

Last year, 346 inmates died in Florida prisons — 176 of them listed with no immediate cause of death. It was the highest number on record, even though the number of inmates in Florida prisons has declined. 

Continue reading "Private prison health care in doubt as Corizon contract collapses" »

Are Florida lawmakers ready to tackle for-profit college abuses?


After a year of repeated for-profit college scandals — including the recent closure of Dade Medical College — Florida lawmakers are poised to consider new, tougher rules governing the schools.

The change follows several years in which lawmakers loosened standards and opened up more public money to for-profits. For the moment, the buzz is about greater consumer protections at the schools, which rely heavily on taxpayer money but receive little government oversight.

For-profit colleges enroll nearly one in five Florida college students — close to 300,000 students in total.

Though lawmakers are talking about stronger regulations, the proposals so far aren’t as aggressive as what some other states have done to protect students. And some Florida lawmakers may be hesitant to take any action whatsoever against an industry that donates generously to political campaigns, and has many powerful friends.

That’s particularly true in the conservative House. Two House lawmakers who chair important education-related committees were previously honored as “legislator of the year” by the for-profit college industry.

The 2016 legislative session starts on Jan. 12. Committee meetings have already begun.

One for-profit college bill that’s being debated would shut down schools with student loan default rates over 40 percent — resulting in the closure of a handful of beauty schools and barber colleges. It easily passed its first Senate committee stop in mid-November.

Other proposals are directly linked to the fallout from the Oct. 30 closure of Dade Medical College.

More here.

David Beckham's Little Havana soccer stadium on life support, but not dead yet


David Beckham's plan to build a soccer stadium across from Marlins Park isn't dead yet. But it's on life support, and it may be only a matter of time before someone pulls the plug.

On Monday, with an important Major League Soccer Board of Governors meeting just days away, Miami Beckham United acknowledged that negotiations to buy six private properties standing in the footprint of the proposed Little Havana stadium continue to flounder. The Beckham group has a deal outlined to purchase a majority of the stadium site owned by the city of Miami, but can't build unless it also purchases several apartment buildings, duplexes and a daycare.

Those negotiations have so far been unproductive at best going back to the summer. And that's a problem, considering Beckham's investors have warned publicly that if they appear before the MLS board on Dec. 5 without having secured those properties --or maybe a different stadium site -- Beckham's option to purchase an MLS franchise could be in jeopardy.

"While Miami Beckham United is still hopeful we can secure the necessary private properties adjacent to the Marlins Park site, we are faced with the fact that some owners are not interested in selling or are seeking completely unreasonable prices," Beckham spokesman Tadd Schwartz said in a statement issued Monday. "Fortunately, we have been receiving interest from a number of private land owners with sites across Miami-Dade County and we are now in the process of evaluating those alternatives. David [and partners] Marcelo [Claure], Simon [Fuller] and Tim [Leiweke] appreciate the strong support of our fans and we are doing everything in our power to make our dream of an MLS club in Miami a reality.”

Continue reading "David Beckham's Little Havana soccer stadium on life support, but not dead yet" »