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11 posts from February 4, 2013

February 04, 2013

Emails show legislative staff talked with party consultants over redistricting maps

Florida’s legislative leaders appear to have authorized their staff to use private email accounts, secret “dropboxes” and to engage in “brainstorming meetings” with Republican Party of Florida consultants in attempting to draw favorable political districts, despite a constitutional ban on such coordination.  Download E-mails (Bainter, Reichelderfer & Heffley)

The allegations arise from a lawsuit challenging the Senate and congressional redistricting that include emails showing how top deputies of Senate President Don Gaetz, House Speaker Will Weatherford and several of Gaetz’s consultants were in frequent contact with consultants who drafted and analyzed maps. Redistricting is done every 10 years to redraw boundaries of legislative and congresssional districts to ensure equal representation.

The emails show that just a month after voters approved the amendment banning all coordination between the party and lawmakers in 2010, Rich Heffley, the RPOF political consultant who served as a close advisor to Gaetz, called a redistricting “brainstorming” meeting to be held in the chairman’s conference room at RPOF headquarters in Tallahassee.

Heffley listed the expected participants, which included Weatherford’s redistricting chief of staff, Alex Kelly; Gaetz’s redistricting general counsel Andy Bardos; Gaetz’s district aide Chris Clark, and the political consultants running the House and Senate 2012 Republican election campaigns: Frank Terraferma, Joel Springer, Andy Palmer, Marc Reichelderfer, and Pat Bainter. Also attending: the lawyers advising the House and Senate on their redistricting efforts, George Meros and Ben Ginsberg. Story here.

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Sen. Menendez bashes prostitution "smears," defends friendship with eye-doc donor

CNN's Dana Bash and a few reporters caught up with Sen. Bob Menendez over allegations, which he vehemently denies, that he consorted with prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. Menendez questioned why the mainstream press is covering the "smears" and (to use a previous term of his) "fallacious allegations."

The answer: the FBI raided the South Florida office of his donor and friend Salomon Melgen. And the Senator recently reimbursed Melgen $58,500 for flights to the Dominican Republic.

Here's our wrap-up of the two-day raid on Melgen's office. And here's today's column on the dead ends, twists, turns and mysteries of the case.

Rush transcript from CNN is below the video


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Task force releases final report on 'epidemic' of newborns addicted to drugs

The Statewide Task Force on Prescription Drug Abuse & Newborns, chaired by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, released its final report on Monday, laying the groundwork for a “holistic approach” to the “epidemic” of babies born addicted to pain-killing medication.

 The task force was created during the 2012 legislative session to examine the scope of prescription drug abuse by expectant mothers, the costs associated with caring for babies with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), the long-term effects of the syndrome and prevention strategies.

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State gave tax break to company Bondi was investigating for foreclosure fraud

While attorney general Pam Bondi was investigating Lender Processing Services for foreclosure abuses, the state of Florida was preparing a sweet tax break deal for the Jacksonville-based company.

Last week, Bondi announced a national settlement with LPS, and the company agreed to pay $120 million to settle allegations that it operated as a so-called foreclosure mill, making use of fraudulently signed court documents.

Money kicked in from Florida taxpayers could help pay that fine. LPS received a tax incentive award of at least $1.15 million, with some of the payments going out even as Bondi’s fraud inquiry was ongoing.

“This settlement reflects the efforts of the states to work together to remedy the widespread abuses occurring in the residential mortgage industry in the past few years,” Bondi said in a statement last week. “The proposed judgment holds LPS and its subsidiaries accountable and requires reforms that ensure the proper handling of residential mortgage-related documents.”

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In Sen. Menendez saga, donor's cousin calls hooker claims false, a "diabolical plot"

From our man in Santo Domingo, Ezra Fieser:

SANTO DOMINGO -- Prominent Dominican lawyer Vinicio Castillo on Monday said allegations that linked U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez to sex parties with prostitutes in the Dominican Republic were part of a “dirty campaign” aimed at discrediting his cousin, a Florida eye doctor who has a stalled multimillion-dollar contract for security at Dominican ports.

Castillo said Monday he will formally request Dominican authorities open an investigation into the source of allegations that claimed Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, and Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen had sex parties with prostitutes, including some that were underage.

Those allegations first surfaced last year on a conservative U.S. website. The scandal gained prominence last month when the FBI raided Melgen’s South Florida offices, and Menendez’s office said he had repaid the doctor $58,000 for trips to the Dominican Republic on his private jet. The FBI is investigating the doctor and his relationship with Menendez, including their trips together.

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Florida receives permission to privatize long-term care Medicaid

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has granted Florida permission to transfer management of a part of its Medicaid program to private companies. Seniors who utilize Medicaid for their long-term care coverage, mainly nursing home stays, will begin working with managed care companies.

The state first asked HHS to grant the waiver needed to privatize Medicaid back in 2011. The federal government had until the end of the week to say what it was going to do about this long-term care request. The bigger goal of privatizing the general Medicaid population requires a different waiver, which is still pending. 

 “I am appreciative that HHS approved one of our two important Medicaid waivers, and that they have done so before the February 7th deadline," Gov. Rick Scott said in a news release. "The additional flexibility provided through this waiver helps improve our current system, and HHS approval allows us to begin implementing changes to our current Medicaid program."

Recently, Scott has attempted to fuse these managed care waiver requests with the debate on whether Florida will opt to expand Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. He said the privitization plan will help reduce program costs, which could make it more feasible for Florida to agree to allow more uninsured residents to join Medicaid.

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Did Univision really talk to suspected prostitute in Bob Menendez case?

There's an interesting Spanish-language report from Univision, in which it interviewed a young woman possibly tied to the Sen. Bob Menendez saga.

Menendez was accused of consorting with prostitutes, some underage, in the Dominican Republic. According to the anonymous/pseudonymous tipster, who said that, among "the girls Senator Menendez prefer the most are Yaneysi Fernandez, a high-class prostitute who is white, thin, 6.6 5.6 feet tall, light eyes, pointed nose, big exciting mouth. Her cell phone was (829) 258 4606."

We looked for prostitutes matching this and other descriptions and had no luck, although there's evidence that some of them existed.

But Univision apparently found a Yaneisi Fernandez (slightly different spelling although she looks like a Yaneisy Fernandez on Facebook) in the Dominican Republican town of Matanzas. And she says she's no hooker, never has been and her mom says she has a certificate to prove her daughter, about to be wed, is a virgin (really, she says that).

"I’ve never been to Casa de Campo, I’ve never participated in those activities, don’t know those people or that man," the young lady says.

So this is either a bombshell of a scoop. Or it might be the height or irresponsible reporting.

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State: Number of prisoners who re-offend is dropping because of 'culture change'

From the News Service of Florida: Fewer Florida prison inmates are re-offending after their release, Corrections Secretary Mike Crews said Monday. 

The percentage of inmates who commit another crime within three years of release has dropped from 33 percent for those freed as of 2003 to 27.6 percent for those freed as of 2008. 

The drop in re-offenders contributed to a reduction in the total number of inmates admitted, which decreased from 41,054 in Fiscal Year 2007-08 to 32,279 for Fiscal Year 2011-12.  

Crews said DOC had put new emphasis on correcting some of the conditions that land an overwhelming number of inmates behind bars to begin with – a lack of education, vocational training, mental health and/or substance abuse treatment. 

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Older voters want text driving ban, no nukes recovery and sales tax parity

Banning texting while driving, providing adequate home and community-based long-term care services and closing the loophole that allows online retailers to have an unfair advantage in their competition against bricks-and-mortar stores are three of the top legislative priorities for Florida voters age 50 and over, regardless of party affiliation,  according to a new AARP survey.

The most “eye-popping” figure: Ninety-three percent of older voters want to prohibit texting while driving, AARP Florida State Director Jeff Johnson said at a press conference with reporters on Monday. The AARP survey of 880 voters 50 and over found that “everyone’s in agreement,” on this issue.

The Legislature will again be considering efforts to ban texting while driving. A measure on the ban (SB 52) is scheduled for discussion at the Senate Transportation Committee meeting on Wednesday.

 “We hopeful that as our elected officials see the results of this survey, and as I’m sure they’ve been hearing from their constituents, they think about ways that they can work together on these issues rather than letting things resolve into partisan bickering,” Johnson said.

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Rick Scott's elections chief unveils plans to restore "voter confidence"

From a press release:

TALLAHASSEE – Secretary of State Ken Detzner today released his recommendations for increasing accessibility and efficiency in Florida elections. The recommendations, which include extending the early voting schedule, adding new and larger early voting sites and limiting ballot length, were made after Governor Rick Scott tasked Secretary Detzner with seeking out and receiving input from elections experts throughout the state on how to improve Florida elections.

“Voter confidence in Florida’s election system must be restored,” said Secretary of State Ken Detzner. “It was very clear after the 2012 General Election that our elections needed to be run more efficiently, and after meeting with elections experts throughout the state, I am confident that we have identified the right adjustments to ensure our system is improved.”

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