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10 posts from September 24, 2013

September 24, 2013

Miami Beach commissioner yells expletive at candidate in debate


As a comedian who’s done some standup, Steve Berke has no doubt handled a heckler or two. But the Miami Beach mayoral candidate he says he was taken aback Monday when during a public debate he heard shouts of “asshole” — from a city commissioner.

Berke, in a press release, said the “foul mouthed attack” at the Miami Beach Golf Club by Commissioner Jonah Wolfson was captured on film. Wolfson was sitting in the audience.

“I am incredibly disappointed that a Miami Beach Commissioner would stoop to such a low level of public discourse,” said Berke, who during his inaugural foray into Beach politics two years ago interrupted a city commission meeting with the help of a saxophonist playing George Michael’s “Careless Whisper.”

Reached by text, Wolfson — who recently dropped an F-bomb in a Miami New Times interview — said, “I stand by my description of Berke.”

“He’s a comedian trying to make a video and profit off of our local electoral process,” Wolfson said. “He’s not a legitimate candidate. He’s a clown.”

A Berke campaign representative said the video couldn’t be released Tuesday because it’s owned by MTV, which Berke says is going to run a documentary of his campaign. Expect Wolfson to make a cameo.


Rouson who? Williams and Pafford vie for House Dem top job

If House Democrats were hoping it would be easy after ousting a leader because he couldn't unify the party, they might be in for a disappointment.

At about 4:45 p.m., Rep. Alan Williams filed his candidacy for Florida Democratic House Leader.

The 38-year-old lawmaker, who is currently the House's black caucus leader, had been considering a run for Tallahassee City Council.

But a day after Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, was ousted as Democratic leader by a 24-17 vote, Williams decided to try for the post.

He's challenging Rep. Mark Pafford, D-St. Petersburg, who announced Monday night that he would likely run for the job. On Tuesday morning, he filed to run. A few hours later, Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville, threw her support to Pafford.

Willaims said he didn't want his candidacy to divide the caucus.

"It’s a selection but its still an election. Our goal is not to divide our caucus anymore I believe I could provide leadership to our caucus at a time when we need it the most. Whether it's ensuring that we first and foremost win the Amanda Murphy (candidate for District 35 in Pasco) seat or moving forward to having a productive session under leader (Rep. Perry) Thurston and going out and fundraising and recruiting candidates that we feel have a viable chance at winning some very competitive seats both open and sealed.

"When I came into this process in 2008 I believe that I had the ability to reach out to our traditional base as well as business groups and I believe those groups can coexist under the big tent of the Democratic Party and someone needs to bring those groups together. A vote for me doesn't mean they don’t support the leadership style of Mark Pafford. Mark is one of my dearest friends in this process and someone I believe is a very good Democrat.

"I’ve had several members come to me and ask me to put my name in the hat as early as late last night. That process has continued throughout the day and I have mediated on it. I’ve spoken with my family and we’ll see wha the outcome is. Whether its myself or Rep Pafford it will not divide our caucus.

"Early on when it was a three-way race prior to last session, we had an opportunity to put forth a message that resonated with a lot of our members.

Asked if he had the votes, Williams would't say. 

"We’ve had several members reach out. We’re not collecting cards in the traditional way."

-- with Mary Ellen Klas




Nelson to Scott: Help me lobby Republicans for flood insurance delay

With the Oct. 1 deadline bearing down on Florida homeowners who face hefty increases on their flood insurance, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson asked Gov. Rick Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater on Tuesday to help him lobby to win support for a delay in the next week.

Nelson included a copy of his proposed legislation and wrote, "but the current state of gridlock in Congress, caused by a small minority, has prevented us from getting much of anything passed."

Here is his letter: 

Continue reading "Nelson to Scott: Help me lobby Republicans for flood insurance delay" »

Bondi touts pill mill crackdown as drug deaths drop

In 2012, 805 fewer people died in Florida from drug-related deaths, a 9 percent drop from the prior year that includes decreases in deaths related to methadone, hydrocodone, and cocaine, according to a new report by the Florida Medical Examiners.

It’s the first full year of reporting since “Statewide Drug Enforcement Strike Force” teams were created in March 2011 to crackdown on so-called “pill mill” doctors who over-prescribe powerful drugs.

The FDLE reports that is has had a 50 percent reduction in oxycodone-related deaths in the last two years.

“Our relentless effort is finally starting to pay off,” said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi during a Tuesday news conference. “When I took office, there were more than 7 Floridians dying a day from prescription drug overdoses….of the top 100 oxycodone dispensers, these are doctors, 98 of them lived in Florida. Now we’re down to zero...There used to be pill mills on every corner and now they’re virtually gone.”

Of Florida’s 178,000 deaths in 2012, 8,330 were drug-related deaths. The report distinguishes between drug caused death and whether the drug was merely present at the time of death. The vast majority of cases had more than one drug occurrence.

Continue reading "Bondi touts pill mill crackdown as drug deaths drop" »

Scott refuses to say he backs Common Core, give cases of "federal intrusion"

In a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan Monday, Gov. Rick Scott called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers a "primary entry point for the involvement of the federal government in... state and local decisions."

Scott was so concerned that he called on the Florida Department of Education to withdraw from the multi-state consortium, which is developing student assessments around the new Common Core State Standards.

But when pressed by a reporter to explain how PARCC was an example of federal intrusion, Scott was short on details.

"If you look at it, it's their entry point into having more involvement in our education system, and my goal is, let's make sure we continue to raise our standards," Scott said. "I want to thank [former] Gov. [Jeb] Bush for his focus on that. He really led that effort and he's led it around the country, but I want to continue that focus on education, but we don't need the federal government intruding in our lives."

Asked a second reporter: "How can a test that's developed by a consortium of states be federal intrusion? How is that their entry point?" 

Replied Scott: "It was their entry point to intrusion and their involvement in our system. What I believe in, is we should be able to come up with an assessment that works for us. Again, we want high standards but we don't need their involvement."

A third try from another reporter: "But governor, you haven't given us any examples. Give us an example of what you mean by federal intrusion. What specifically has happened?"

Scott: "It's the entry point to where the federal government would be more involved in our education system, and I oppose that. That's what I talked to Secretary Duncan about."

Scott also declined to say whether he supports the Common Core Standards, a set of new national benchmarks being taught in schools across the state. The governor returned to his talking points instead.

"A lot of people want to say, 'Is it 'yes' or 'no' to Common Core?'" he said. "That's not the right way of looking at it. It's 'yes' to high standards because that's what going to pay off in a global exconomy, and we say 'no' to federal intrusion."


St. Pete mayor, Realtors urge action on flood insurance rates

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster joined with state and local realtors Tuesday in urging Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet to take additional steps to delay implementation of federal flood insurance rate increases.

They said that unless Congress halts scheduled rate hikes for grandfathered and newly purchased properties, it could have serious negative economic effects and undermine steady progress in sales of new and existing homes
in Tampa Bay and throughout the state .

"Just hit pause," Foster testified. "It will have a devastating impact on St. Petersburg and Pinellas County." Foster specifically suggested that Attorney General Pal Bondi file a lawsuit in attempt to force a moratorium, but Bondi did  not address the issue during the meeting.

Also testifying was Brandi Gabbard, incoming chair of the Pinellas Suncoast Association of Realtors. She said about one third of all properties in Pinellas would be affected by the rate hike -- more than any other county in the United  States. The effects would not just affect wealthy coastal properties, but inland homes as well, many owned by seniors living on fixed incomes.

Scott and Cabinet members listened but did not take any action. "We all have to be very aggressive in letting our Congressional leaders in Washington know how this is going to affect us," Scott said. The governor has
already sent letters to U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, expressing concerns that the rate hikes could have on Florida's economy.

Craig Fugate, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), recently testified before Congress that legislative action was required to forestall the rate hikes.

Clearly, political leaders at all levels are worried about being blamed for the rate increases on homeowners, which Foster said was clearly the federal government's responsibility.

"Nobody can blame the mayor of St. Petersburg -- although people will try," said Foster, who faces a tough battle for re-election in November against former state Rep. Rick Kriseman.

-- Steve Bousquet

Did Marco Rubio use bogus excuses to scuttle judge's nomination over homosexuality?

From Herald columnist Fred Grimm, who questions Senator Marco Rubio's logic

Marco Rubio killed the nomination of William Thomas to the federal judiciary last week. Then he tried to murder the judge’s reputation.

His office raised the specter of the Miami-Dade circuit judge’s “judicial temperament.” Well, you know what that means.

Rubio’s flack, Brooke Sammon, told the Daily Business Review Thursday that the senator has blocked confirmation hearings for Judge Thomas, who is openly gay, because the senator has “questions about his judicial temperament and his willingness to impose appropriate criminal sentences.”

Column here

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/09/23/3646440/fred-grimm-rubio-stomps-on-judges.html#storylink=cpy

Sarasota GOP calls action by Scott "a conservative victory in education"


One day after Gov. Rick Scott directed state education officials to withdraw from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), the Republican Party of Sarasota County called the action "a conservative victory in education." 

Chairman Joe Gruters said the measure would "make the Florida K-12 education system one of the best in the nation."

"It is also a big win for conservative principles," he added. "Elimination of the PARCC assessment, executive orders to eliminate data mining in our schools, blocking federal intrusion and the commitment to raise Florida’s standards even higher all prove that he was listening to the people of Florida both during the Educational Summit that was held last month and from people across the state who were opposing the new Common Core Standards with the PARCC Assessments."

The Sarasota County Republican Party has been a vocal opponent of the new national benchmarks and the accompanying tests. They aren't alone. Earlier this month, Miami-Dade’s Republican Party voted overwhelmingly to oppose the standards, saying they represent an “inappropriate overreach” by the federal government.

Scott did not dismiss the Common Core standards Monday. But he did order Florida to pull out of the multi-state PARCC consortium, and move forward with its own plan for student assessments instead.

RPOF consultant, Frank Terraferma, won't have to turn over emails in redistricting case

A key Republican political operative will not be required to turn over his communications with other Republican Party operatives relating to redistricting, a court official has ruled.

Frank Terraferma, director of House campaigns of the Republican Party of Florida, will not have to release any more than documents than he already has, ruled Major Harding, the former Supreme Court justice assigned to become the special master in the lingering legal feud over the redistricting maps.

Harding was appointed Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis to referee the dispute between the Republican-controlled legislature  and the plaintiffs in the case, a coalition of Florida residents and the League of Women Voters.

Plaintiffs argued that Terraferma should be required to turn over internal communications he had with employees under contract with the party to help them assert that the legislature violated the constitutional ban against intentionally protecting an incumbent or political party.

Continue reading "RPOF consultant, Frank Terraferma, won't have to turn over emails in redistricting case" »

Debate over navigators heats up


As the Oct. 1 rollout of the new health insurance marketplace draws near, the controversy over the insurance outreach workers known as navigators is building to a crescendo in Florida.

But is the outcry warranted — or political theater aimed at hampering the Affordable Care Act?

Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi, both Republicans, have repeatedly blasted the navigator program, saying the outreach workers will have unreasonable access to private information. What’s more, the state Department of Health said privacy concerns prompted a decision to ban navigators from county health departments.

“We’re warning people to be careful because they’re going to have your personal information and we’re having a hard time getting answers,” Bondi told Fox News last week.

Supporters of the federal law, however, point out that a recently passed Florida law sets up some privacy safeguards for consumers by requiring navigators to undergo background checks. The law also enables state officials to establish rules and dismiss navigators who violate them.

“Elected officials, particularly Rick Scott and Pam Bondi, are going out there and making it seem like there is no protection for citizens,” said House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale. “The truth is, we put in some major regulations for who can become a navigator. They are creating a false sense of alarm.”

Read more here.