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229 posts from January 2013

January 28, 2013

Group, DCF launch campaign to report sexual abuse

TALLAHASSEE -‑ The state’s Department of Children and Families is launching a new public awareness campaign with Lauren Book, a sexual abuse survivor and advocate, to ensure more people are reporting abuse, even if the suspect is not a direct caregiver.

The campaign is part of a new state law, which took effect in October, that was sparked by the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal at Penn State. In addition to bolstering penalties for unreported crimes, the law clarifies that it’s everyone’s moral and “legal obligation” to report abuse, said DCF Secretary David Wilkins at a Monday press conference with Book, president and CEO of the Lauren’s Kids Foundation.

The state hired 47 new workers to handle more calls to the child abuse hotline, Wilkins said, noting that the number of calls jumped 16 percent from September to October. The hotline receives more than 300,000 calls a year, and of that number, 80 percent are referred for investigations.

The $262,000 public awareness campaign, called “Don’t Miss the Signs” will be a multimedia and educational approach featuring public service announcements, billboards and printed materials to highlight the age-appropriate physical and psychological clues to abuse, which include regressive behavior like thumb sucking and bed-wetting, being easily startled and missing school.

Among the reasons for concern:
   * One in three girls and one in five boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18.
   * 95 percent of sexual abuse is preventable, Book says.
   * In 2011, 126 children and infants died in Florida from verified abuse and neglect – the biggest causes were drowning and unsafe sleeping.

Book, who was a victim of sexual abuse by her family’s nanny from the time she was 11 to 17,  said she also wants victims of abuse to call the hotline.

“If you are having somebody touching you and it makes you feel uncomfortable, make the call,” said Book. “I know what it is to be a victim in that position, where you feel like you are all alone and no one has your back … I think it’s important kids know they’re not alone.”

Under the new law, the hotline will also accept calls about suspects who aren’t direct caregivers – in the past those callers were told to call their local law enforcement agency, which discouraged some reporters.

The multimedia effort is part of $1.5 million that Book’s foundation received from the Legislature to create an educational and outreach campaign, which includes the Safer, Smarter Kids curriculum distributed to every public kindergarten in Florida.

But Book says there’s a greater need for a “standardized educational plan”.  “It’s just as important as reading and writing.”

“Prevention is key,” Book said. “We spend zero time, before Safer Smarter Kids came along, educating our kids on prevention. Pedophiles spend 100 percent of their time thinking about how they’re going to offend against our children … We need to do more.”

To report abuse call 1-800-962-2873 or go to www.floridaabusehotline.com.

To learn more about the campaign and signs of abuse: www.dontmissthesigns.org

Rochelle Koff, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

House also creates gaming committee, puts Schenck in charge

House Speaker Will Weatherford on Monday followed the lead of the Senate and announced the creation of a Select Committee on Gaming to study the path of the state into the perilous territory of gambling reform.

Named to head the effort: Rep. Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill, who also serves as Weatherford's powerful Rules Committee chair.

“The House Select Committee on Gaming will be charged with looking Florida’s gaming activity holistically to determine ways to improve the state’s oversight of the industry,” Weatherford said in a statement. “Under Representative Schenck’s leadership, I’m confident we can determine what changes – if any – are needed to develop a comprehensive policy for gaming in Florida.”

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, has created a similar committee and assigned Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, to head it. Richter, a newcomer to gambling regulation issues, has decided to move ahead by the end of February to hire an outside consultant to do a study of the impact of gaming in Florida and assess what economic and revenue impact any changes would have. 

Weatherford has agreed to split the cost of the study -- which Richter estimates could be as high as $400,000. His statement said the goal of the committee will be to establish a "unified, long-term policy for the future of gaming in Florida that serves the best interest of all Floridians" by the 2014 session.

Gambling issues have traditionallly been one of the most perilous hot potato issues for lawmakers to handle.

Legislators in both urban and rural areas of the state represent legacy parimutuel industries of horse and dog racing whose owners perenially ask the state to expand their gaming options to include the now-popular slot machines in order to preserve the jobs and revenue from their declining industries.

But legislative leaders and Gov. Rick Scott have also acknowledged the appeal of the resort-gaming industry, led by the Las Vegas Sands and Genting, which promise handsome tax revenues and swanky resorts if the state allows them to bring full casinos to South Florida. 

Finding the balance between the two arguments -- as well as deciding what to do with the exploding growth of Internet cafes and online poker -- has been stumped lawmakers in the last three legislative sessions.

Adding urgency to this issue now is the state's gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which expires in 2015. Gaetz and Weatherford have acknowledged that they plan to renew or alter that before their terms end in 2014. 

“Gaming is an issue that requires a careful consideration of existing law before any decisions are made regarding the industry’s future in Florida,” Schenck said in the statement.  “I look forward to conducting a comprehensive review to set a long term vision for the future of gaming in Florida.”


White House on Gang of 8/Rubio pathway to citizenship plan: "This is a big deal."

By @MarcACaputo

During a press conference today, White House spokesman Jay Carney sounded encouraged about the new immigration plan pushed by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and other members of the so-called "Gang of 8."

Of particular interest: the pathway to citizenship that the proposal would allow. (Today's story here)

"This is a big deal," Carney said. "This is an important development."

The pathway to citizenship is a big deal for some Republicans, too, and it looks like amnesty to them.

Carney also noted the plan, as we previously reported, mirrors one offered up by President Obama in 2011

Asked about the finer points of the proposal, Carney said it was too early to discuss it all. There's no legislation yet. It won't be ready until March. And legislation, specifics, matter.

"We’re not at the stage… where we are going to negotiate details of legislations that doesn’t yet exist," Carney said.

Carney wouldn't comment on the idea of linking border security to the eventual citizenship for newly legalized undocumented immigrants. Under the plan, ultimate citizenship wouldn't be granted until the border is declared "secure" by a task force of Southwestern officials. But The Washington Post's Greg Sargent reported that anonymous Senate staffers drafting the legislation said the declaration from the task force was "advisory" and "nonbinding."

Carney also rejected "a suggestion that the Senators trumped Obama who plans to give an immigration speech tomorrow in Las Vegas.

"This is not a new issue for the president," he said.


Mario Diaz-Balart likes Gang of 8/Rubio immigration plan

From U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican and key House member on immigration:

“Although we have not seen the legislation text, the principles released today are compatible with the discussions in the House. The prospect of true immigration reform can only happen with bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress, and today’s news is a step in that direction. I commend the dedicated efforts of the group. We look forward to working with the Senate and President Obama to find a real, permanent solution.”

Note: If Diaz-Balart, a longtime friend of Sen. Marco Rubio's didn't support the plan of his fellow Republican, it would be big news. Diaz-Balart was on CNN talking about the issue.

"If this was an easy lift it would have been done a long time ago," Diaz-Balart said. "We've been hammering out our differences, we've been hammering out what needs to be fixed."

Florida's other Senator, Bill Nelson, lauds 'principles' of Marco Rubio, Gang of 8's immigration plan

By @MarcACaputo

Sounds like senior Florida Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat, likes what Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is doing with immigration:

“I support the principles of a bipartisan group of senators seeking immigration reform and U.S. border security.  We simply cannot deport 11 million people.  That would be unreasonable.  It would ruin our economy.  But anyone who is here must follow the rules, pay taxes, learn English and go to the end of the line.  If they do that, they should have a shot at citizenship.  And those who are unwilling to do that, they should be sent home.   We also need to make sure that children who through no fault of their own know no other country but ours can stay here to go to college or serve in the military.  The bottom line is: we’re talking about fairness."

Story here on the plan so far.

State demands showdown with high-salaried DJJ vendor

Gov. Rick Scott's administration is demanding a face-to-face meeting to seek "immediate cost concessions" and refunds of "excessive administrative costs" with a state vendor that pays its top executive $1.2 million a year.

The showdown follows this report by the Times/Herald on the compensation a non-profit Tallahassee foundation pays its chief executive.

Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters called for the meeting, at 10 a.m. Monday at DJJ headquarters, with officials of the Henry and Rilla White Foundation, a non-profit that has more than two dozen contracts across the state to care for troubled juveniles in state custody. 

DJJ is protesting what it claims is a dramatic increase in compensation for White Foundation CEO William Schossler -- most of it paid by Florida  taxpayers. The foundation's most recent 990 filing with the Internal Revenue Service, for 2010, shows that it paid Schossler $1.2 million, more than half of it in deferred compensation.

The state's highly unusual action also comes at a time when the leadership of the Senate is calling for intensive review of long-term contracts embedded deep in the state budget which are not usually reviewed or questioned by state legislators.

Sen. Rob Bradley, the Fleming Island Republican who chairs the Senate budget subcommittee that includes DJJ, said he learned of Schossler's pay package through news coverage, and he agrees with the actions Walters is taking. "I agree with DJJ's approach to the issue. I think the compensation is clearly excessive," Bradley said. 

DJJ rejected a request by the Times/Herald that a reporter be allowed to sit in on the discussions. "We have concluded that it would set an inappropriate precedent to allow a third party to be involved in such a discussion with a contract provider, even if only as an observer," DJJ spokesman C.J. Drake said in an email.

-- Steve Bousquet, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

Forbes: Miami Marlins deal most costly stadium disaster, taxpayers 'hosed'


Miami-Dade county taxpayers must be wishing Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria had stuck with his original game plan.

For years Loria ran a low-budget baseball franchises and made a fortune by successfully maneuvering through Major League Baseball’s financial system. Loria’s strategy: rely on welfare from richer baseball teams and every now and then spend enough to have a contender (the Marlins defeated the New York Yankees in the 2003 World Series) so fans stay at least somewhat interested. During the five years through the 2011 season the Marlins posted a staggering $153 million in aggregate operating income.

But then Loria decided to switch to a different form of welfare: taxpayers. Last year the Marlines opened $639 million, publicly-financed  ballpark and parking complex. Usually teams thrive when they first move into a new stadium because of higher attendance, splashy amenities and luxury seating boost revenue. But the Marlins stadium has been a disaster and Mami-Dade county taxpayers are getting  hosed like nobody before them.

More here

Gang of Eight, including Rubio, to unveil bipartisan Senate immigration deal Monday

A group of eight Democratic and Republicans senators, including Florida’s Marco Rubio, will officially release a bipartisan immigration plan, just a day before the president addresses the highly charged topic in a Las Vegas speech.

The five-page plan from the Gang of Eight contains most of the key concepts Rubio has presented to conservative media figures over the past month. The senators want to draft legislation by March. Download Gang of 8 plan

Most controversially, the proposal would give a pathway to residency – and even citizenship – to many of the estimated 11 million immigrants unlawfully in the United States.

While some conservatives call it amnesty, Rubio says it’s not because the immigrants would have to pay fines, back taxes and undergo a criminal background check – a similar proposal made by President Obama in May 2011.

“We can't round up millions of people and deport them,” Rubio wrote Sunday in the Las Vegas Review Journal, the home paper of Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid.

“But we also can't fix our broken immigration system if we provide incentives for people to come here illegally - precisely the signal a blanket amnesty would send,” Rubio wrote.

Continue reading "Gang of Eight, including Rubio, to unveil bipartisan Senate immigration deal Monday" »

January 27, 2013

On immigration, Marco Rubio bashes "dysfunctional Congress" in Harry Reid's home paper

As he pushes for an immigration compromise plan, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has also been criticizing Senate leader Harry Reid as of late.

Now the Nevada Democratic boss can read all about Rubio's immigration principles in a new editorial in the Las Vegas Review Journal in which the Republican senator omits Reid's name but takes on the "dysfunctional Congress." Hmmmm, now who's a leader of that institution.....?

Here's Rubio:

As a nation of immigrants, Americans know how important immigration has been throughout our history. It's an indispensable part of our future.

Sadly, our immigration system is broken, and our dysfunctional Congress has been unable to put in place a new legal immigration system that honors our heritage as both a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws. To do this, we need to address three key areas.

First, we need a modern legal immigration system with an application and compliance system that relies on new technology to simplify the process of coming and staying here legally.

We need an agricultural workers program that allows us to bring in seasonal and long-term laborers to provide our agricultural industries with the workers they need.

Editorial here

Despite dismal poll numbers, Rick Scott still a challenge for Democrats

by MarcACaputo

Rick Scott’s poll numbers look dismal. His finances don’t.

"One number should worry you: $70 million. That’s how much Rick Scott spent in 2010," Annette Taddeo-Goldstein, Miami-Dade’s new Democratic chairwoman, told Democrats this weekend.

To be clear, she was referring to Scott’s personal money. And it was actually closer to $75.1 million.

Include the Republican Party, and Scott probably spent just under $100 million. He was worth at least $218 million at the time, but reports he lost net worth after becoming governor. His wife has millions more.

Scott is prepared to spend as much or more in 2014.

The money race is on. And Democrats are losing it. But they know it.

Continue reading "Despite dismal poll numbers, Rick Scott still a challenge for Democrats" »