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224 posts from June 2012

June 26, 2012

Obama courts donors, Hispanics at Miami Beach fundraisers

President Barack Obama made a swing through Miami Beach on Tuesday evening to pursue two re-election campaign goals: raise money from well-heeled donors and lure Hispanic voters — on this night, with a little salsa music.

Both efforts are crucial for Obama, whose campaign has spent the past few days warning that it might be outspent by Republican rival Mitt Romney and aggressively courting Hispanic voters who could decide the election in swing states, including Florida.

Obama appeared at the Fillmore Miami Beach at Jackie Gleason Theater after pop star Marc Anthony, who sang with a 16-piece band for the crowd of about 2,300 before the president made his entrance, without the singer.

Obama spoke for about 35 minutes, framing the election not as a report card on his first term but as a choice of ideologies on how to heal the fractured economy.

“We understand how much work we have left, but the debate in this election is not whether we need to do better,” he said. “The debate in this election…is about how do we do better.”

He also gave a shout-out to the NBA champions Miami Heat, saying, “You guys earned it.”

More here.

Documents show South Florida gets modest share of incentive grants

Lisa McKerracher might set up a spinal-cord lab in Miami, or she might set it up in Massachusetts. Florida will pay her $83,000 to pick the Sunshine State.

“I’m not sure this is where I need to be,” McKerracher said from her temporary office in Dania Beach. “I’m going up to Boston in two weeks to look at space.”

McKerracher’s quandary captures the high and low stakes involved as Florida uses tax dollars to woo companies that may add jobs in the state. In the last two years, Florida’s economic-development agency pledged about $155 million in rewards for companies planning to add jobs in the state either with new locations or expanding their current ones.

BioAxone Biosciences, McKerracher’s fledgling company, hopes to create a new drug for paralysis victims, making it the kind of research firm South Florida pines for as it tries to move its economy away from depending on tourism and real estate. But McKerracher only plans on hiring 12 people tops for a small lab at the University of Miami’s new commercial research building, representing a tiny win for a region that has lost 134,000 jobs in the recession.

South Florida relied on modest deals like McKerracher’s for the nearly $12 million in pledges from Enterprise Florida, with smaller counties receiving larger grants. Of the 20 largest Enterprise grants since 2011, none were in Broward or Miami-Dade. The biggest was April’s $14 million pledge to Embraer Aircraft in Brevard for a new facility designed to add 650 jobs.

The largest payout in South Florida went to Saveology.com, an online discount site slated to get $1.5 million for moving from Fort Lauderdale to a larger headquarters in Margate. The relocation includes plans for 750 new employees, and prevented the company from accepting offers from other suitors, including San Francisco, said Bob Swindell, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, Broward’s economic development agency.

The incentive numbers were revealed late last week when an official from Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity inadvertently released a confidential database in responding to a public-records request from Integrity Florida, a nonprofit research group in Tallahassee focused on ethics reform. The database showed some pending offers that otherwise would have remained secret. South Florida’s list mostly involved companies already in the area, or moves that had been made public.

Story here by Doug Hanks.

Challenges ahead for new Florida surgeon general Armstrong

TALLAHASSEE — The state's new surgeon general says he has no delusions about the tough job before him.

Dr. John Armstrong leads an agency in transition, some even say turmoil. The Department of Health is in the middle of a massive reorganization and downsizing, and some public health advocates have criticized the changes. A long list of top department officials have resigned or been forced out.

Armstrong, hired away from the University of South Florida, is the second surgeon general since Gov. Rick Scott took office 18 months ago.

It's his turn to figure out how to navigate the state's rocky political waters.

"I'm a realist, and so, candidly, there was really no secret that our Department of Health had been under a magnifying glass for the past two legislative sessions," the 49-year-old said. "And the way I think about it is that if you're under a magnifying glass on a hot Florida day, not only can people see your issues, you also can feel the heat."

Read more here.

Video: Marco Rubio on The Daily Show

Sen. Marco Rubio was on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart last night. The first clip aired on TV; two more clips are online only (click on jump for video)





 - Alex Leary, Tampa Bay Times

President Obama calls Gov. Rick Scott, offers Tropical Storm Debby help

The White House says that this morning, President Barack Obama called Florida Gov. Rick Scott to "ensure the state had no unmet needs as the governor and his team continue to respond to extreme weather and flooding as a result of Tropical Storm Debby."

The President "expressed his condolences for the loss of life as well as the extensive damage to homes in Florida as a result of the storm," the White House said. He also reiterated that his administration, through FEMA, would remain in close contact with the state as they continued to respond to this event and "stood ready to provide additional assistance if necessary."

At the request of the State, a FEMA liaison officer is onsite at the Florida state emergency operations center to support state response efforts as needed, the White House said.

The White House said the president also asked Scott to continue to identify any additional support his administration could provide, and told the governor that "his thoughts and prayers are with the citizens of Florida and the emergency response officials at this difficult time."

June 25, 2012

Panel revives effort to reform residential care for the elderly

JACKSONVILLE -- After a failed attempt to pass legislation to protect the frail and elderly in assisted-living facilities, industry experts reconvened in Jacksonville Monday with the hope of hammering out measures to curb abuse while appeasing the powerful long-term care industry.

The panel was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott last year to address rampant wrongdoing in ALFs but lawmakers failed to pass any of the workgroup’s proposals in March. The meeting was the first attempt to revive the effort.

The panel’s recommendations, and the resulting bills, would have yielded the most sweeping reforms in a generation for the state’s 2,850 living facilities, but fell through at the last minute amidst heavy lobbying by the industry and political infighting.

Continue reading "Panel revives effort to reform residential care for the elderly" »

Miami federal judge blocks new Florida anti-Cuba law

A Miami federal judge on Monday blocked Florida from enforcing a new state law that prohibits governments from hiring companies with business ties to Cuba.

A temporary injunction, ordered by U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore, prevents the law from taking effect on Sunday as scheduled. And it deals a blow to the politicians who backed the legislation, which was sponsored by Miami-Dade lawmakers, approved by a near-unanimous majority of the Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott.

After an hour-long hearing late Monday, Moore ruled from the bench in favor of Odebrecht Construction, the Coral Gables-based subsidiary of a Brazilian engineering and construction giant.

“It’s not as if there isn’t some precedent there and there hasn’t been a run at this effort in the past,” the judge said, referring to previous failed legislative efforts to make it difficult to conduct business with Cuba.

Odebrecht USA sued the Florida Department of Transportation earlier this month over the new law, which would ban state and local government agencies from awarding future contracts worth at least $1 million to U.S. firms whose foreign-owned parent companies or affiliates conduct business in Cuba or Syria. A subsidiary of Odebrecht USA’s parent company is expanding the Cuban Port of Mariel. Full story here.

SCOTUS leaves Florida's research travel ban to 'terrorist' nations intact

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday left intact a controversial Florida law that restricts researchers at state colleges and universities from traveling to Cuba and other “terrorist states,” despite indications last year that the court would consider a review.

Amid the flurry of rulings from the high court on Monday was a denial of certiorari on Florida’s “Travel to Terrorist States Act.” The action effectively lets stand a lower court ruling upholding the 2006 law that bars public schools and universities from using state money for travel to countries such as Cuba, Iran, Sudan, Syria and other nations considered “sponsors of terrorism.”

The court decision deals a “devastating blow” to Florida universities, said Howard Simon of the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union which challenged the law, along with faculty at Florida International University, the University of South Florida and the University of Florida. He predicted it will lead to an exodus of faculty and research dollars from Florida schools.

“The research is not going to end. It will just be done by universities elsewhere outside of Florida,’’ Simon said. “It will keep us in an enforced state of ignorance.”

Continue reading "SCOTUS leaves Florida's research travel ban to 'terrorist' nations intact" »

Lawsuit filed to throw Supreme Court justices off the ballot

Two Seminole County men filed suit Monday in Leon County asking the secretary of state to remove the three Florida Supreme Court justices who are seeking merit retention from the November ballot.

Bernard Long and Veronco L. “Ron” Flores claim that Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince broke state law when they halted a court hearing on the state Senate’s redistricting plan so they could complete the required paperwork to qualify for merit retention.

“The delay caused by the justices cost Florida taxpayers thousands of dollars in additional legal fees for private outside counsel who were forced to wait while the justices worked on their campaign documents,’’ the lawsuit alleges. “Upon information and belief, the justices campaigns have not reimbursed the State of Florida or any private litigant for their costs and expenses caused by the delay.” Download COMPLAINT%20-%20FL%20Justices%20File%20Stamp%20Final%206-25-12

Gov. Rick Scott, who would appoint the replacements if the three justices are removed from the court, has ordered an FDLE investigation into whether the judges violated the law when they used court personnel to notarize their paperwork.

Continue reading "Lawsuit filed to throw Supreme Court justices off the ballot" »

Gov. Scott declares storm emergency; 'Be careful,' he says

Gov. Rick Scott flew back to Tallahassee Monday after cancelling two official events in Tampa, where rainfall from Tropical Storm Debby was among the heaviest in the state.

At a news conference at the state Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee, Scott advised Floridians to be safe, avoid non-essential driving, pay close attention to weather reports and stay away from downed power lines.

"I think the most important thing is, one, just use common sense. Be careful," Scott said. "If you're close to a beach, be very cautious. Look at all the beach advisories. If there's any standing water, if there's any flooding, don't drive into it. Be very, very, very cautious."  

Emergency managers said Debby, a dense, slow-moving storm, plans to stick around for awhile, and that rains could last until Thursday. No National Guard troops have been activated and the state has not yet asked for any federal disaster assistance.

Scott said the storm is 75 miles off the coast and is moving in a northeasterly direction at 3 miles an hour. He said the low-lying counties of Taylor and Dixie were in the storm's path, and that both counties could sustain from 10 to 20 inches of rain in the next couple of days.

"We could be seeing 10 to 20 inches of rain in parts of the state that could lead to some fairly severe flooding," said Bryan Koon, the state's chief of emergency management. Heavy winds have forced the closing of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Bradenton and the causeway bridge to St. George Island, south of Tallahassee, he said. "Wind primarily. They're just not safe to cross when it gets about 40 miles an hour," Koon said.

Koon said power outages are scattered and widespread and he estimated that 35,000 people were without electricity. Three hundred stranded Boy Scouts, on a camping trip in Hernando County, had to be moved to a shelter, officials said.

The next state update from the National Hurricane Center will be at 5 p.m. Monday. The state's first storm briefing came about 30 hours after sustained rains from the storm began falling on the Tampa Bay region. Of the timeliness of the state's official response, Scott said: "This is the right time to respond ... We're prepared."  

-- Steve Bousquet