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269 posts from November 2012

November 26, 2012

For 20 state senators, it's almost campaign time again

The 2012 election campaign may have just ended, but for half of the members of the Florida Senate, it will soon be time to reload and run again. That's because 20 senators who received two-year terms in the new reapportionment plan face re-election in 2014. The two-year anomaly occurs only in a once-a-decade redistricting year, to maintain the constitutional requirement for staggered Senate terms. 

Every senator in an even-numbered district received a two-year term in 2012. Those who were just elected for the first time will be eligible to serve for 10 years, through 2022, if they subsequently win re-election to two additional four-year terms in 2014 and 2018.

The district numbers were randomly assigned to Senate districts last March. The Senate secretary drew balls from a basket in a drawing similar to a  lottery.

Sixteen of the 20 senators who will face voters in 2014 are Republicans. They are Greg Evers, Aaron Bean, John Thrasher, Dorothy Hukill, David Simmons, Thad Altman, Wilton Simpson, Jack Latvala, Jeff Brandes, Tom Lee, Bill Galvano, Nancy Detert, Lizbeth Benacquisto, Joe Negron, Rene Garcia and Miguel Diaz de la Portilla. 

Of that group, only Brandes has opened a re-election campaign account for 2014.

Negron and Thrasher could have the most longevity of all senators in that even-numbered group because both were first elected to fill unexpired partial terms in special elections in 2009.

The four Democratic senators who are up for re-election in 2014 are Geraldine Thompson, Darren Soto, Maria Sachs and Oscar Braynon.

And speaking of legislative longevity, the new "Dean" of the Legislature is Democratic Sen. Gwen Margolis of Coconut Grove, who served six years in the House and is starting her 21st year in the Senate, with one two-year break from 2008-2010.

-- Steve Bousquet

November 25, 2012

Legislative leaders are ready to shelve $5 million budget-transparency program

Florida’s new legislative leadership team and the 44 new legislators who took the oath of office in Tallahassee last Tuesday pledged to keep close tabs on the state budget and weed out waste in government contracts.

"Let’s make sure we’re getting value received and the best price," said Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, shortly after being sworn in as the Senate’s new president.

But if history is a guide, few will master the task because access to budget information across numerous agency platforms is notoriously complicated and difficult to access.

That could change if a software program quietly developed by a former House budget staffer, licensed by the state Senate under former Senate president Mike Haridopolos, and financed with $5 million of taxpayer dollars, is launched instead of allowed to expire at the end of the year.

Knowledge is power in Tallahassee and the software program, Transparency 2.0, developed and patented by Spider Data Systems, has the power to level the budgetary knowledge game. It also packs another powerful punch: the potential to expose the secrets of government officials and lobbyists who trade in these transactions.

Continue reading "Legislative leaders are ready to shelve $5 million budget-transparency program" »

Marco Rubio, Earth and the Elections Industrial Complex

Don’t let the calendar fool you. It’s already 2016.

Like it or not, the Elections Industrial Complex has unofficially declared it so.

We are in a state of constant campaigns brought to you by the political-consultant class, polarizing bloggers, cable TV personalities, political reporters and the ubiquitous partisan trolls who patrol Twitter in search of the latest outrage.

And they’re eying and arguing nonstop over people like Marco Rubio, Florida’s junior senator.

Continue reading "Marco Rubio, Earth and the Elections Industrial Complex" »

November 24, 2012

Florida's Medicaid increases hinge on legislative ruling -- now or later?

The first crucial date is a mere six weeks away for Florida to obey a requirement to start paying Medicaid providers higher rates, but even with the recent softening tones of the state’s Republican leadership, it’s unclear whether the state will approve the payments.

Under the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid payments to primary care doctors increase starting Jan. 1 to the much higher rates paid by Medicare, with the feds picking up the total cost of the increase for two years.

“In the state of Florida, where payment rates are very low, this is huge,” said Julia Paradise, a Medicaid specialist with the Kaiser Family Foundation, a Washington nonprofit studying healthcare issues.

The Kaiser website shows that primary care Medicaid rates in 2008 were 55 percent of Medicare rates. That means a doctor who had been getting $50 to see a Medicaid patient would likely get about $90 under the new plan.

Medical associations complain that Medicaid rates in Florida are so low many doctors don’t accept the state-federal insurance that covers the poor. Federal policymakers want the increased payments to provide better primary care to keep people out of expensive visits to emergency rooms, and to increase the number of doctors taking Medicaid to prepare for a large expansion of the program slated for 2014.

“It is a federal law,” Paradise said. “There isn’t a provision for the statute not to be followed.”

Federal officials are telling journalists in Washington that the funds will flow automatically and don’t require any state action, but a Tallahassee spokeswoman says the state needs to take actions that are far from automatic.

“The Florida Legislature must provide authority for the Medicaid program to draw down federal funds to cover the fee increase,” said Shelisha Coleman, spokeswoman for the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.

That process can happen during the two-month legislative session — which starts in March, two months past the federal deadline — or could be considered earlier by the Legislative Budget Commission, Coleman said.

Several former legislators told The Herald that the commission generally considers only items presented to it by the governor. Story by John Dorschner here.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/11/16/3100686/florida-facing-quick-deadline.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter#storylink=cpy

November 21, 2012

Christian group worked behind-the-scenes to reinstate prayer at Miami-Dade meetings

The Miami-Dade County Commission is poised next month to reinstate nondenominational prayers to kick off their meetings, after a group of commissioners approved the policy shift last week.

But the change was not spontaneous: The conservative Christian group pushing to restore prayer has been laying the groundwork for nearly a year and a half.

The Christian Family Coalition saw an opportunity to promote its agenda after Commissioner Katy Sorenson retired in late 2010, according Anthony Verdugo, the group’s executive director. Sorenson had been one of two board members who years earlier — in 2004, Verdugo said — changed the county’s practice to begin meetings with a moment of silence instead of a prayer.

Sorenson was replaced by the more conservative Lynda Bell, whom the Coalition had endorsed. There was other commission turnover as well.

Before then, “we didn’t feel we had enough votes on the commission to get it through,” Verdugo said. “We didn’t want it to be a divisive item for the community — we don’t need that.”

More here.

Gov. Scott, DOE respond to complaints about new teacher evaluation system

Teachers across the state have long voiced concerns about the new "value-added calculations" that will become part of their evaluations. And in recent weeks, Florida Education Association President Andy Ford has taken an even more vocal lead on this campaign, asking Gov. Rick Scott to delay implementation of the new evaluation system.

We now have copies of letters that Scott and Department of Education Interim Commissioner Pam Stewart sent to Ford, responding to his Nov. 5 requesting more time to perfect the "value-added model."

In his letter, Ford outlines several concerns about the methodology used for the "value-added model" and said it could have negative consequences on teachers' scores. Specifically, he said there were issues with the availability of sufficient data, inaccuracies in scores, students linked incorrectly to teachers and unworkable timelines for schools and districts.

Stewart's letter to Ford, written at Scott's request, addresses many of his concerns from an education policy standpoint. Scott's letter to Ford expresses the governor's efforts to make nice with the teachers union while also moving forward with policies the union has fought against.

"Elevating the teaching profession and showing respect for our educators is critical in order to make sure theat every Florida student is prepared for college and careers," Scott wrote. "This is the purpose of revising evaluation systems for teachers and school administrators and for moving toward performance compensation to rward outstanding performance in the future, both of which are key reforms of President (Barack) Obama's Race to the Top program that I strongly support."

Continue reading "Gov. Scott, DOE respond to complaints about new teacher evaluation system" »

November 20, 2012

Miami-Dade mayor names election advisory group

Two weeks after Election Day, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced Tuesday night the 13 members of his election advisory group.

Gimenez convened the group after the election was marked by long voting lines, both during early voting and on Election Day. The group will begin meeting at 9 a.m. next Wednesday.

The group's members include attorneys Kendall Coffey and Robert Fernandez, who represented Gimenez and newly elected Property Appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera in recent elections challenges. Also on the committee: the Rev. Victor Curry; Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert; former County Attorney Murray Greenberg; C.J. Ortuño, executive director of SAVE Dade, a gay rights advocacy group; Gepsie Metellus, executive director of Sant La, a Little Haiti-based social services agency; Alice Ancona of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, and Lovette McGill, an activist who has been involved with African-American trade unionists.

The mayor had already named four commissioners -- Lynda Bell, Sally Heyman, Dennis Moss and Rebeca Sosa -- to the group.

"I'm excited to get to work, and our objective is clear: now is the time to for us to take stock of what we did right, what needs to improve, take appropriate action and move forward to make our elections process the best in the nation," Gimenez said in a statement announcing the group's membership. "I want to incorporate the latest technology to make voting fast and easy in our community."

Florida teachers campaign against new evaluation system

From the Times' Gradebook blog:

The Florida Education Association on Tuesday kept up its full-court press on state leaders to back away from value-added calculations in teacher evaluations. The union conducted a news conference at which teachers talked about their concerns in using student test results crunched through VAM to count for half their performance reviews.

FEA president Andy Ford called upon Gov. Rick Scott to delay implementation of the new evaluation system, imposed two sessions ago in Senate Bill 736 -- the first bill Scott signed into law. Scott has not responded. So the teachers continue to portray the evaluations as "not ready for prime time."

Dawn Chapman, president of the St. Johns teachers union, said her organization supports education accountability. But she said the evaluation system was "extremely flawed, had no input from educators, and as a result has not produced a fair evaluation process." 

Here is an excerpt of her remarks:

Good morning. My name is Dawn Chapman and I am a teacher and the President of the St. Johns Education Association and I am proud to say that the St. Johns School District is the number #1 performing county in the State of Florida for the past four years. 

As President of the St. Johns Education Association I have become all too familiar with the concerns, confusion and reservations regarding the implementation of the value added model, which we call VAM, and the impact it has created with the teachers of the St. Johns School District. 

For the record – St. Johns teachers, as well as all teachers, strongly support having an accountability system in place; however it needs to be a system that is fair, reliable, and educationally sound.

The current system under SB736 is extremely flawed, had no input from educators, and as a result has not produced a fair evaluation process. 

Read more here.

Exclusive: Citizens Insurance plagued by laundry list of office scandals

At Citizens Property Insurance Corp., a corporate culture plagued by inter-office scandals, sexual impropriety, lavish spending, alleged cover-ups and big severance checks for disgraced employees has simmered under the radar for years, according to hundreds of internal documents obtained by the Herald/Times.

The corporate cauldron of misconduct boiled over this year when internal investigators tracked the trail of scandal up to the highest levels of the company, drafting a scathing 73-page report that highlights a laundry list of improprieties.

Last month, the investigators were terminated, their report was gutted, and Citizens’ Office of Corporate Integrity was abruptly shut down.

Read more here


Newly sworn in Miami-Dade mayor plans to tackle 'big-picture changes'

Sworn into his first full term on Tuesday, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez promised big things from his administration by aiming to lift the county into “the ranks of the world’s leading global cities.”

“We’ve got work to do if we want to be mentioned alongside the New Yorks, the Londons and the Hong Kongs of the world,” Gimenez said. “But I know that we can get there, because we already have so much going for us.”

Gimenez spoke Tuesday morning at a swearing-in ceremony for himself and seven commissioners who were elected in August and November. At a regularly scheduled meeting later Tuesday, the board elected Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, seen as a Gimenez ally, to serve as chairwoman beginning in January. Commissioner Lynda Bell was chosen vice-chairwoman.

The leadership votes in the County Hall commission chambers came after a morning of pomp and circumstance at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center in Cutler Bay, where the mayor and commissioners took the oath of office surrounded by family, staff and friends. Then they each gave brief remarks.