August 29, 2014

Florida Health Choices website aimed at the uninsured draws little interest

@tbtia

Last year, legislators allocated $900,000 to help Floridians find affordable health care through a new state-backed website.

At the same time, they refused to expand Medicaid or work with the federal government to offer subsidized insurance plans.

Six months after the launch of the state's effort, called Florida Health Choices, just 30 people have signed up. Another seven plans were canceled either because consumers changed their minds or didn't pay for services.

These numbers are dwarfed by the nearly 764,000 Floridians who are too poor to afford subsidized plans, yet can't qualify for Medicaid under Florida's stringent standards. They are supposed to be the target market for Health Choices.

But Health Choices doesn't sell comprehensive health insurance to protect consumers from big-ticket costs such as hospitalization. Instead, it has limited benefit options and discount plans for items like dental visits, prescription drugs and eyeglasses.

The plan's biggest backer in the Legislature blames the lack of business on the federal Affordable Care Act, which features comprehensive plans with varying subsidies for those who qualify.

Read more here.

August 28, 2014

Will Floridians be able to get endless supply of pot?

Opponents have made many arguments against Florida’s proposed medical marijuana amendment, but here’s a new one: They say patients would be able to get an unlimited amount of pot should the measure pass.

Dr. Rafael Miguel, director of the Sarasota Memorial Institute for Advanced Medicine's Pain Medicine Program, was one of three representatives for Drug Free America who visited the Tampa Bay Times editorial board on Aug. 20. He joined Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and Tallahassee attorney Susan Kelsey to discuss why the Sunshine State should shy away from Amendment 2 in November.

Miguel offered several reasons why the medical establishment did not like the constitutional amendment. He said there was an unreasonable focus on marijuana’s smokeable form in order to obtain psychoactive effects, and added that the process by which doctors help patients get cannabis flies in the face of the prescription model of doling out drugs.

Miguel focused on how "recommendations" to use marijuana are not prescriptions, and that they don’t allow doctors to control the amount and dosage patients consume, or for how long they consume it.

"You don't get refills -- you get it forever," Miguel said. "There's no regulation on consumption."

PolitiFact Florida has written about the amendment’s guidelines before, but we were curious in this case whether doctors who recommend medical marijuana to patients would indeed have no say in how much or for how long their patients could take it. See Joshua Gillin's full fact-check.

Rich shows her support for Crist at Broward rally

Former Gov. Charlie Crist and his Democratic primary rival former state Sen. Nan Rich of Weston put on a united front at a rallies Thursday in Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.

To show that longtime state Democratic politicians have fully embraced Crist as their own, several took the stage to praise the former Republican governore. Among them: U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, former U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant and Broward Democratic chairman Mitch Ceasar and state Sen. Chris Smith. Crist’s pick for lieutenant governor, Annette Taddeo of Miami-Dade, also spoke.

Crist, the Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat, defeated Rich, by nearly 49 percentage points inTuesday’s primary. Now he faces a a more expensive campaign and tougher foe in Gov. Rick Scott. The Democrats held the event next at the Urban League of Broward, next to Broward’s African-American library — a nod to the importance of the black and Democratic vote in Broward.

Rich introduced Crist and praised him for calling for increased education funding and Medicaid expansion.

“Charlie Crist will need all of our support to win,” she said. “He has mine."

Crist thanked “Nan Rich for being such a class act,” even though he all but ignored her during the primary and refused to debate her. He repeated campaign promises for equal pay for women, raising minimum wage and expanding Medicaid.

He sounded like the rest of the Democrats in the room when he trashedScott and saying of Scott's side “all they care about is their fat cat buddies.”

Also in attendance were George Sheldon, who easily beat state Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, for the Democratic nomination for Attorney General.

Sheldon worked as a deputy to Attorney General Bob Butterworth between 1999 and 2002. He followed Butterworth to the Department of Children and Families. In 2008, Crist, who was governor at the time, named Sheldon to lead the agency.

Thurston was one of the only speakers to acknowledge the low Democratic turnout in Tuesday’s primary: only 11 percent of Broward voted, the second lowest in the state. Part of the reason for low turnout in Broward was the ballot lacked any exciting countywide races and included mostly district contests for school board and county commission.

“We didn’t show up like we should have shown up, but we have a second opportunity,” he said.

The key challenge for Crist is to boost turnout in South Florida in November. When Democrat Alex Sink lost her race against Scott in 2010, turnout in Broward was only 41 percent.

Sheldon drew big cheers when he voiced his support for medical marijuana, which is on the ballot in November. He also called for automatic restoration of the right to vote for ex-offenders.

A similar rally was held earlier on Thursday in Orlando.

About 250 Democrats showed up at the Fort Lauderdale event and waved signs representing different liberal constituencies including blacks, the LGBT community and women. A few people also waved signs for NextGen Climate, the PAC of billionaire Tom Steyer who is attacking Scott on environmental issues.

Shortly before the Democratic event started in Fort Lauderdale, Republican Party of Florida chair Leslie Dougher spoke outside the event bashing the Democrats for low turnout. She hit on familiar themes including the fact that more than 800,000 jobs were lost when Crist was governor, omitting much of the United States was in a recession.

“Florida Democrats are uniting behind Charlie Crist’s record of failure, but Floridians are going to unite against Charlie Crist on November 4th,” she said in a statement released earlier in the day.

Panel rewards legislative ties, nominating Patronis and Murzin for PSC

The Public Service Nominating Council on Thursday included a current and former legislator, as well as a sitting commissioner, in the slate of seven candidates forwarded to Gov. Rick Scott to fill two positions on the five-person board that regulates Florida utilities. 

Gov. Rick Scott will now choose from the following list to fill two seats on the panel that will shape the direction of electricity and water rates in Florida, as well as the future of energy policy for the next four years: 

Julie Imanuel Brown  Download (Redacted) Applicant 11 - Julie Imanuel Brown
David J. Murzin  Download (Redacted) Applicant 20 - David J. Murzin
Gerardo B. (Jerry) Fernandez  Download (Redacted) Applicant 25 - Gerardo B. (Jerry) Fernandez
Stuart Wayne Pollins  Download (Redacted) Applicant 29 - Stuart Wayne Pollins
Kevin LeRoy Wiehle  Download (Redacted) Applicant 30 - Kevin LeRoy Wiehle

Jimmy T. Patronis, Jr.  Download (Redaction Not Needed) Applicant 33 - Jimmy T. Patronis, Jr.

Regulatory experience or utility industry background was not abiding criteria for the council, which is dominated by legislators whose voting record frequently aligns with the agenda of the state's largest electric utilities.

The panel, chaired by Sen. Joe Abruzzo, D-West Palm Beach, and Rep. Jose Feliz Diaz, R-Miami,  looked past the lack of experience of state Rep. Jimmy Patronis, a Panama City restaurant owner and Republican, and former state Rep. Dave Murzin, a Pensacola Republican and current aide to state Sen. Greg Evers, and included them on the list. Murzin once sat on the nominating council board.

Also on the list sent to the governor is Julie Imanuel Brown, a Tampa attorney and current PSC commissioner. The panel rejected others with years of experience in utility issues, such as Marshall Willis, a former 38-year veteran of the PSC who was fired without explanation as director of accounting and finance by PSC executive director Braulio Baez last spring.

 

Climate activists protest, but board nominating regulators ignores issue

@jenstaletovich
 
Scientists hoping to draw attention to Gov. Rick Scott's disregard for climate change and rising seas staged a press conference next door to a meeting of the Public Service Commission Nominating Council at the Miami International Airport Hotel Thursday.
 
But before they could even start, state Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-West Palm Beach, who chairs the council, announced, "I support climate change," as he walked by University of Miami climate scientist Harold Wanless and South Miami Mayor Phil Stoddard.
 
Abruzzo later walked into the press conference to urge Wanless and Stoddard to apply for a position on the advisory board that oversees Florida utilities, including Florida Power & Light, and noted that none of candidates for the regulatory board addressed climate change in their presentations.
 
"I'm a firm believer in global warming," Abruzzo said. "Renewables are important to me, especially solar power, because we're the Sunshine State."
 
Wanless and Stoddard have frequently criticized Scott for ignoring the dangers of climate change. They used the meeting of the nominating council to underscore what they say is a "cozy relationship" between the regulators and the utilities that have fought against increasing Florida's energy conservation mandates and wean Florida's energy market off fossil fuels. 

Continue reading "Climate activists protest, but board nominating regulators ignores issue" »

School voucher lawsuit sparks debate

Photo (46) Photo (45)

There were no surprises at a pair of Thursday press conferences addressing the legal challenge to the school voucher program.

The first press conference was held by the plaintiffs: the state teachers union, the school boards association, the school administrators association, the PTA, the Florida League of Women Voters, and the Florida Conference of the NAACP, among others.

In her opening remarks, Florida Education Association Vice President Joanne McCall referenced the 2006 state Supreme Court ruling that declared the Florida's original school voucher program unconstitutional.

"Since that time, the Florida Legislature has gone down the path of making more voucher programs, in spite of the fact that the court said it was unconstitutional," McCall said. "The Florida Legislature is not above the courts. It is not above the constitution."

Later, school choice supporters gathered outside the union headquarters in Tallahassee to make the case for the keeping the program, also known as the Tax Credit Scholarship Program. The crowd included parents, about 50 schoolchildren from Leon County, and a handful of pastors from around the state.

"We must not eliminate this program," said Robert Ward, pastor of Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in St. Petersburg. "It is helping."

Read the lawsuit below.

Download McCall

Excerpts from the text messages that didn't exist

Text messagesFlorida Gov. Rick Scott's office has a no-texting policy for staff. It also has a policy that discourages the use of private email accounts and private cell phones for public business.

But as a result of a lawsuit by Tallahassee attorney Steven R. Andrews, documents have emerged that show both policies are routinely ignored by the governor's staff, agencies heads and countless others in state government. Here's today's story on how they kept details on a mansion plan under wraps. Here's last week's story on how the practice serves to put up barriers to public records.

Former members of the governors staff have also told the Herald/Times that two of the governor's former chiefs of staff, Mike Prendergast and Steve MacNamara, instructed employees to use personal emails and personal cell phone text messages to communication anything that was sensitive, creating a barrier to access when records requests were made.

Current chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth instituted the texting ban when he came to office and told reporters he doesn't use text messages to communicate, but that didn't stop him from accepting hundreds of messages from prominent Republicans seeking input with the governor.

Andrews' records show that in May 2013, Hollingsworth was texting FInkbeiner. First, Finkbeiner sent Hollingsworth a text that included only the word "PIN" and a number. Then Hollingsworth replied with this text:

"At the end of each bill summary, please give recommendation: we recommend signing the bill or we recommend a veto or we recommend additional due dilligrant and in that regard we will be doing the following."

Only after these messages were revealed did Hollingsworth turn off the text messaging function of his phone. 

When asked for text messages of state officials, the Office of Open Government has repeatedly told requesters that no text messages exist. But after a judge ordered documents in his property dispute with the state to be released, Andrews was able to break through that smokescreen. 

Photo: Excerpt from Chris Finkbeiner's text messages

Continue reading "Excerpts from the text messages that didn't exist" »

Why did more Republicans vote in the primary? They had 19 more legislative races than Democrats

@MarcACaputo

Democrats have good reason to worry that the base might not be enthusiastic about their party’s nominee, Republican-turned-independent-turned Democrat Charlie Crist.

Turnout in Democratic counties was low and more 114,000 more Republican ballots than Democratic ones were cast in the gubernatorial primary.

But you can’t pin this all on Crist or on some Republican love for Gov. Rick Scott, who has had to spend millions to get his poll numbers from bad to mediocre.

Republican voters had more reason statewide to go to the polls than Democrats. Compared to Democratic contests, there were 19 more Republican primary legislative races (that is, races for Congress and state Senate and House).

Continue reading "Why did more Republicans vote in the primary? They had 19 more legislative races than Democrats" »

Florida Supreme Court rules that PSC and FPL had right to cut out public counsel

The Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a unanimous decision that the Florida Public Service Commission did not violate the constitution when it approved a settlement agreement with Florida Power & Light that failed to include the legal offices that represents the public in rate cases.  Download Sc13-144

The case was argued in September of last year after the PSC approved a $350 million rate case with FPL in 2012 based on a settlement that was reached without the input of the Office of Public Counsel,  the legislatively appointed lawyer whose office represents customers in rate cases.

The settlement allowed for the initial rate increase to be expanded to include automatic rate increases of $236 million and $217.9 million, respectively, as FPL completed modernization projects for its Riviera Beach and Port Everglades plants in 2014 and 2016.

Public Counsel J.R. Kelly had opposed the rate increase, saying that FPL’s financial projections indicate that rates should be reduced not increased. He also objected to the settlement because it allowed the company to receive a future automatic boost in revenue without having to immediately justify its expenses.

It was the first time the PSC had approved a settlement without the public counsel’s consent, so Kelly, and his office, filed suit. They asked the court to invalidate the rate increases and require the PSC to start over.  

Writing for the court in a 62-page opinion, Chief Justice Jorge Labarga concluded that state law allows the PSC to independently determine rates of public utilities and that is not dependent on the approval of the Office of Public Counsel.

Continue reading "Florida Supreme Court rules that PSC and FPL had right to cut out public counsel " »

Lee County opts out of state tests

As our friends at the Naples Daily News report, the Lee County school district on Wednesday became the first in the state to opt out of all state-mandated testing.

Hundreds of opt-out advocates showed up at the district headquarters to watch the 3-2 vote against the new high-stakes assessment.

The story notes that Lee schools superintendent Nancy Graham expressed "grave" concerns about the decision. Graham also told reporters the district would still be teaching the Florida Standards, education benchmarks based on the Common Core State Standards.

It's not yet clear what consequences -- if any -- the district will suffer. Stay tuned.

August 27, 2014

Climate activists to protest PSC at meeting to interview prospects for the utility board

The normally staid meeting of the Public Service Nominating Council could get a bit lively on Thursday as a group of climate change activists, including a scientist who met with Gov. Rick Scott, stage a protest at the Miami International Airport to complain about the utility board's "cozy relationship with Florida's utility companies."

There are two vacancies on the five-member PSC and the legislatively-dominated nominating council has a history of picking candidates that are endorsed and backed by the state's largest utilities -- which are among the largest contributors to legislative campaigns and non-profit causes promoted by legislators.

The nominating council will interview 16 candidates on Thursday and offer up as many three nominees for each of the two seats on the commission. Gov. Rick Scott will choose from the list of nominees and in the past has re-appointed candidates backed by the state's power companies. 

Seeking a second term is Commissioner Julie Immanuel Brown, who will be among those interviewed on Thursday. A second position was opened when Commissioner Eduardo Balbis decided not to seek a second term. He was an occasional critic of the industry on a board that has a record of embracing much of the agenda of the state's largest electric utilities in the past four years. 

Also to be interviewed is Rep. Jimmy Patronis, a Republican from Panama City, who runs the popular Captain Anderson's restaurant which is owned by his family. Patronis lists no utility-related experience in his resume but is a favorite for the job because of his political connections. Patronis dropped out of the 2016 state Senate race to replace Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, leaving Gaetz's son, Matt Gaetz, the frontrunner in the race and many expect him to be named by Scott to the utility board in return for dropping out.

Here's the press release from Florida For All: 

Continue reading "Climate activists to protest PSC at meeting to interview prospects for the utility board" »

Proposed FIU expansion could be on November ballot, if Miami-Dade commission approves

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami-Dade County has already endorsed the expansion of Florida International University onto the Tamiami Park fairgrounds. Now it wants the political backing of a far more powerful group: county voters.

Before continuing tricky discussions with the Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition, whichdoesn’t want to relocate and would not be required to pay for a potential move, the county plans to ask the electorate if it supports FIU’s proposal in the first place.

County commissioners are scheduled to decide Wednesday whether to put a question on the Nov. 4 general election ballot. The Miami-Dade elections department has said next week is the deadline for county charter amendments.

“I’m hoping that we have a serious discussion and put something in motion that clears the way for what I’ve said in many occasions is a win for our community,” said Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo, the legislation’s sponsor.

Support at the polls to turn over 64 county-owned park acres to FIU could give Miami-Dade and FIU more leverage over fair organizers, who oppose holding a popular vote before new fairgrounds — or relocation funds — are identified. County administrators want to keep looking for a suitable alternative for at least another six months.

More here.

Tortured pre-teen went from 115 pounds to 56 at death

Tamiya Audain@Marbinus

Tamiyah Audain, a sickly and severely disabled preteen under the care of state child welfare authorities, endured life-ending neglect so severe that it constituted “torture,” police say.

Twelve-year-old Tamiyah was left in the care of a cousin when her mother died of the same devastating disease Tamiyah battled. The relative, Latoya Patterson, was arrested Tuesday on charges of felony murder. An indictment handed up in Broward Circuit Court says Tamiyah died as the result of aggravated child abuse. She faces life imprisonment.

“This child died of apparent deprivational abuse, or torture,” said a sworn statement written by Lauderhill Police Sgt. Atina Johnson. “The caregiver made active steps to isolate her from therapists, who would have intervened in her nutritional and general neglected state.”

Patterson, 33, was one of four women indicted in connection with Tamiyah’s death, which occurred last fall. Also charged was Jabeth Moye, a child welfare caseworker with Broward’s private foster care agency, ChildNet, which operates under contract with the Department of Children & Families. Moye, 34, who was fired by ChildNet last month, is charged with child neglect causing great bodily harm, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years’ imprisonment.

Also indicted were two professional psychologists, Juliana Gerena, 42, and Helen Richardson, age not immediately available. The two face sentences of five years’ imprisonment on charges of failing to report suspected child abuse or neglect — charges that are filed very rarely across Florida and the United States.

Tamiyah suffered from a neurological condition called tuberous sclerosis, as well as both physical and cognitive disabilities. But a specialist from the University of Miami’s Leonard Miller School of Medicine, neurologist Michael Duchowny, told authorities that Tamiyah most likely was neglected to death. When Tamiyah succumbed on Sept. 25, 2013, she had been ravaged by several deep wounds, including at least one that exposed her bone. Such sores can lead to sepsis, a life-threatening systemic infection. Story from Carol Marbin Miller here. 

 

 

Culture of secrecy extended to governor's 'legacy' Mansion project

Florida Governor's MansionThe idea made sense: create a “governor’s park” around the Florida Governor’s Mansion to spruce up the entrance by buying up shabby commercial property on the adjacent street and replace it with a grand boulevard and a visitors commons.

But it was an idea that was going to take cash. Lots of cash: $2.3 million for the project and $2.7 million more to acquire an old house, a pawn shop, a tire store and three other properties nearby, records from 2011 and 2012 show.

First Lady Ann Scott embraced the project. Mansion director Carol Beck was on board, the governor’s deputies coordinated the effort with donations from the state’s top industries and persuaded Republican legislative leaders to dedicate $2.5 million in the state budget. A lavish party at the Mansion was held to recognize the generosity of the corporate donors.

But while records show that everyone involved was using state time to do the work, they wanted to avoid creating a public records trail, so they used private email accounts and private cell phones to keep what they were doing out of the public eye.

The practice was part of the culture in the new governor’s office. The governor’s first two chiefs of staff, Mike Prendergast and Steve MacNamara, instructed employees to use personal emails and personal cell phone text messages to communicate anything that was sensitive, creating a barrier to access when records requests were made, former employees have told the Herald/Times. More here.

Photo: FloridaGovernorsMansion.com

Continue reading "Culture of secrecy extended to governor's 'legacy' Mansion project " »

Study: States with medical pot see drop in overdoses from narcotic pain meds

MarijuanaFrom Stephen Nohlgren, Tampa Bay Times

In a finding that could ripple through Florida, a study released this week reported that the average number of narcotic painkiller overdoses in medical marijuana states is 25 percent lower than would be expected if pot use weren't legal.

The study, published in theJournal of the American Medical Association,estimated a reduction of about 1,700 overdoses in 2010 in the 13 states that had medical marijuana systems up and running then.

The association seemed to strengthen as years passed. Overdose rates averaged 20 percent lower than expected a year after medical marijuana was allowed and 33 percent lower by the sixth year.

"This suggests an unexpected public health benefit from medical marijuana laws,'' said lead author Marcus Bachhuber, a researcher at Philadelphia's VA Medical Center.

The numbers did not prove cause and effect. In fact, the authors said that unrelated factors — like cultural shifts — might account for the lower overdose rates.

But they theorized that marijuana might lead people to take fewer painkillers. Or perhaps pot relaxes people, so they take fewer anti-anxiety drugs and anti-depressants that can lead to "drug cocktail" overdoses. Story here.

Continue reading "Study: States with medical pot see drop in overdoses from narcotic pain meds" »

Florida court ask state Supreme Court to address gay marriage questions

From the Associated Press:

Florida's highest court is being asked to decide whether or not the state's ban on gay marriage is constitutional.

In an unusual decision, the state's 2nd District Court of Appeal on Wednesday asked the Florida Supreme Court to settle the question due to "great public importance." If the high court takes up the case, it could result in having the issue settled even before the U.S. Supreme Court acts.

The ruling is connected to a Hillsborough County divorce case involving a same-sex couple who had been married in Massachusetts but since relocated to the Tampa area. Their petition to dissolve their marriage was rejected by a Florida judge who noted that state law does not recognize gay marriage.

"Resolution of the constitutional questions will no doubt impact far more individuals than the two involved here," states the unsigned opinion. "And there can be little doubt that until the constitutional questions are finally resolved by the Florida Supreme Court or the United States Supreme Court, there will be a great impact on the proper administration of justice in Florida."

A panel of judges with the Lakeland based appeals court earlier this summer rejected a request to forward the case up the state Supreme Court. But that ruling was overturned in a 10-3 decision by the entire appeals court. More here. 

 

CFO candidate William Rankin not scheduled to campaign with Democrats

@tbtia

Democrat William Rankin wants to be taken seriously as a challenger to incumbent Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, a Republican.

But Rankin has raised very little money going into the 70-day general election campaign period and is getting no love from the establishment. The Florida Democratic Party has ignored Rankin's campaign thus far, and he hasn't been asked to make appearances alongside other Democratic candidates for statewide office.

Compare that to George Sheldon, who won Tuesday night's primary to become the Democrat's candidate to run against Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi. Sheldon is to be featured at Thursday's party unity events in Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.

Rankin is not.

Meanwhile his campaign has raised just $15,210.99. Compare that to Atwater's $2.5 million treasure chest.

Rankin says he continues to fill his calendar with campaign stops -- a food giveaway on Thursday, Labor Day picnics over the weekend --and has tried to reach out to party leaders to talk about his campaign. He says he has not had good luck raising money from folks who often finance Democratic campaigns.

Still, his name is on the ballot in November he he says his grassroots campaign is at full speed.

"In politics, money is what people focus on too much," he said.

Why Charlie Crist's tepid North Florida Dixiecrat support makes him a typical Democrat

@MarcACaputo

Here's another sign that Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist is a real Florida Democrat: conservative North Florida Dixiecrats aren't crazy about him.

Had it not been for the rural counties, Crist's 74-26 percent statewide win over longtime Democrat Nan Rich would have been bigger. It's not as if the conservatives up north loved what the liberal from down south stood for -- they just don't like the frontrunner, even a fellow Southerner.

Look at what happened in the 2010 Democratic governor’s race: then-Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink ran against a complete unknown named Brian P. Moore, who earned 23 percent of the vote – only 3 percentage points more than Rich four years later -- thanks in great part to strong North Florida support.

Continue reading "Why Charlie Crist's tepid North Florida Dixiecrat support makes him a typical Democrat" »

Teachers union to take "legal action" against voucher program

The statewide teachers union plans to announce new "legal action" against Florida's school voucher program at a press conference Thursday, union leaders said.

The voucher program, also known as the Tax Credit Scholarship Program, enables corporations to fund private-school scholarships for low-income children. The businesses receive dollar-for-dollar tax credits in exchange for their contributions.

The cap on tax credits for the program is set by state law.

About 69,000 students statewide are currently receiving tax credit scholarships. Supporters say the program provides choices for students who might not succeed in a traditional public school. But opponents argue the dollars would be better spent within the public school system, where there is more oversight and accountability.

The lawsuit is separate from the union's recent challenge to a 2014 law expanding the voucher program. That litigation, which is pending in Leon County, raises questions about the way the legislature approved the voucher expansion -- not the program itself.

Suspended Homestead mayor's corruption trial pushed back until next month

@DavidOvalle305

Suspended Homestead Mayor Steven Bateman was supposed to be in trial this week on corruption allegations -- but he can thank acquitted Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi for a bit of a delay. 

The reason: Both men are represented by bow-tie-wearing lawyer Ben Kuehne

A jury on Aug. 14 acquitted Pizzi in a corruption case that ran longer than expected in a Miami federal court. The next day, Kuehne asked a state court judge, Robert Luck, to push back the trial to give the defense more time to prepare. 

"We didn't anticipate the enormity of the Pizzi trial," Kuehne told the judge.

After a few more days of schedule wrangling, a new date for Bateman's trial has been set: Sept 15. Kuehne will be defending Bateman along with Michael Davis, who was also part of Pizzi's defense team. 

Pizzi, who is still technically suspended by the governor's office, is suing to be returned to his post as mayor of MiamiLakes. 

Bateman has pleaded not guilty to state allegations he secretly worked as consultant for a health-clinic company that was seeking government approval for a construction project.

 --DAVID OVALLE