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10 posts from September 25, 2013

September 25, 2013

Dems pick Pafford to lead Florida House caucus

After months of inner turmoil over who would lead them during the 2014 elections, Florida House Democrats on Wednesday chose Rep. Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach as their next minority leader.

By a 29-12 vote, with one person abstaining, Pafford, 47, beat Rep. Alan Williams of Tallahassee for a job that earlier in the week had belonged to Rep. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg.

"The first thing is getting everybody comfortable, understanding that we've hit the reset button and we are one," Pafford said to reporters after the vote, acknowledging the disarray that awaits him. "I have some work to do immediately."

Pafford heads a 44-member House Democratic caucus heavily outnumbered by 75 Republicans. Along with the removal of Rouson by a 24-17 vote Monday night, the staff director overseeing fundraising for 2014 House races was fired earlier in the month, leaving oversight of a critical special election in a New Port Richey district in question.

Rouson lost the confidence of a majority of the caucus after he opened a campaign account that only he could control without informing party leaders.

Much of the frustration with Rouson spilled out into the open via emails from members leaked to reporters and during Monday's closed-door meeting during which he was removed.

While not a proven fundraiser like Williams, who has raised twice as much money since both joined the Legislature in 2008, and more to the left of most Democrats, Pafford was viewed as someone who could bring the caucus together.

"Mark Pafford is a unifier," said Rep. Janet Cruz of Tampa. "He can make us the strong, dedicated Democrats that we are."

A graduate of Florida International University with a bachelor's degree in public administration, Pafford is a bit of a policy wonk.

But he's also steeped in party politics. He was Bill Nelson's driver during his campaign for governor in 1989, and in 1996 and 1997 served as the legislative aide for U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel when she served in the Florida House.

The media attention and ribbing from Republicans about their feuding left Democratic members eager to put on a happy face for the cameras during Wednesday's heavily scripted meeting.

Williams was the first to stand and applaud when the vote was announced, and the two men hugged each other. After thanking his wife and children, Pafford thanked Rouson, who nodded in support.

"We've had a rough week," said Rep. Katie Edwards of Plantation, a Rouson supporter. "It's unfortunate that we had to be here. But like The Godfather says, whatever this war is, it ends now."

 

 

Florida says farewell to Frank Brogan

BroganfrankBefore university system Chancellor Frank Brogan steps down at the end of the month, elected officials and educators turned out tonight for a reception in his honor at Gov. Rick Scott's mansion. House Speaker Will Weatherford, Senate President Don Gaetz, over a dozen lawmakers and a handful of university presidents were among the 200 guests who attended.

The speeches were mostly routine stuff. The top elected officials thanked Brogan for his decades-long career in public service. Brogan gave a humble speech about how much he'll miss the state and the people he will leave behind.

The funniest line of the night came from Scott in response to a comment by Gaetz about finally having a lieutenant governor back in the mansion.

"Is John Thrasher here?" Scott quipped, a nod to the rumors that Thrasher will serve as his re-election running mate.

Gaetz was making a joke about the six-months (and counting) vacancy since Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll resigned in March. He was actually referring to Brogan, who served as Gov. Jeb Bush's second-in-command.

Federal judge throws out FMA's 'ex parte' reform from 2013 session

A federal judge on Wednesday threw out a law aimed at making it easier for doctors to defend themselves in medical malpractice claims saying in a 17-page ruling that the attempt to allow a lawyer for a doctor talk to other doctors of the patient that is suing violates the federal health care privacy law.

"The Florida statute is an attempt not to comply with the federal requirements but to circumvent them—to allow ex parte interviews without consent and without the court or administrative order (or opportunity to obtain a ruling) that federal law requires," wrote U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in his order, referring to the federal Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act of 1996, commonly known as HIPAA.  Download Doe Order

The law, passed by the 2013 legislature with extensive backing by the Florida Medical Association, attempted to change the way "ex parte communications" are handled in medical malpractices cases.

The lawsuit was brought by a patient who wants to sue a doctor for negligence but believed his privacy rights were violated by the new law. The lawsuit was backed by opponents of the measure, the Florida Justice Association, a trial-lawyers group.

The plaintiffs alleged the law could lead to the improper disclosure of personal health information to defense attorneys representing doctors or other health providers. Supporters of the law argued that it was only fair that the law gave defense attorneys access to information that the plaintiffs' attorneys already can review.

But Hinkle disagreed.

"It is virtually certain that if an ex parte interview occurs, private information otherwise protected from disclosure by federal law—that is, information that could be disclosed in this setting only if the authorization is valid—will be disclosed,'' he wrote.

 

 

As vote nears on Pafford-Williams race, House Dems hope for unity

Heading into Wednesday night’s Florida House Democratic Caucus meeting to decide its next leader, there was consensus on one thing.

“All the members want this behind us,” said Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg.

“This” was a protracted battle for leadership of House Democrats in 2014-2016 that had dragged on since last year. On Monday, Rouson was deposed as incoming House Minority Leader by a vote of 24-17 after he angered party leaders by establishing a fundraising committee only he controlled without telling them.

But whether an overwhelming consensus on a new leader is reached among 44 House Democrats could depend on Rouson and those 16 members who supported him on Monday.

Rouson won’t be running this time.

Instead, it will be Rep. Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach and Alan Williams of Tallahassee.

Both are currently in leadership. Williams is leader of the House black caucus and Democratic Whip. Pafford is Democratic policy chair. Both got elected to the House in 2008. Both are likable and prominent speakers during House floor debates.

Unlike the race between Mia Jones and Rouson, which Rouson won in February by a 23-21 margin, Pafford and Williams are actually friends, or at least, friendlier.

“Mark is one of my dearest friends in this process and someone I believe is a very good Democrat,” Williams said after announcing that he would challenge Pafford, who is considered a favorite.

“It’s a slam dunk,” said Rep. Joe Gibbons of Hallandale Beach.

Gibbons is on the Democratic leadership team, which seems to be siding with Pafford. Minority Leader Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale, and Rep. Jones of Jacksonville, who was rumored to be running again herself, have both endorsed Pafford.

“What we need to do is come together and have unity in the caucus, I think Mark Pafford is the man who can make that happen,” Thurston said Wednesday afternoon. “Williams would do a good job, but Pafford is the man to make that happen.”

Williams, 38, surprised some by filing to run. He had been considering a run for Tallahassee city commission. But on Tuesday afternoon, he decided to challenge Pafford for the leader position.

“I kind of wish Williams hadn’t decided to run so we could have rallied around Pafford,” Gibbons said. “But unlike last time, I don’t think tonight’s meeting will devolve. It will be collegial.”

But don’t bet that Pafford, 47, has it locked up with leadership behind him. So did Jones. And his support among some members in leadership could be more of reflection of their attitude about his legislative style. Williams, like Rouson, is known within the caucus for often freelancing deals with House Republicans, sometimes to the chagrin of Democratic leaders. Pafford more often toed the party line on votes.

Continue reading "As vote nears on Pafford-Williams race, House Dems hope for unity" »

Oversight board plans for a speedy university chancellor search

@tbtia

The search committee tasked with selecting a new university system chancellor unanimously agreed on a timeline and job description during a brief meeting today.

Committee members are hoping to save money and still find a good candidate by handling the search process themselves. If the right applicant doesn't surface by December, the committee would then consider hiring a search firm to aide the process.

With the timeline now in place, a cancellor could be selected by the full Board of Governors as early as Nov. 21 but no later than June 19, 2014. Either way, it would be before the November gubernatorial election where incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Scott could face former Gov. Charlie Crist if Crist decides to run as a Democrat.

The chancellor job description puts a premium on finding someone with leadership experience and who knows how to navigate the political process. The new university system leader will replace outgoing Chancellor Frank Brogan, who steps down at the end of the month to take a similar job in Pennsylvania.

"The winning candidate will be a proven leader with executive-level experience in education, government, business or non-profit setting," the description reads. "A track record of involvement in complex higher educational and political environments is essential to effectively serve the Board of Governors as the system continues on a path toward greater coordination, collaboration and prominence."

The search committee will spend about $5,000 advertising for the job in various higher education publications. Members also will spread the word among Florida's business leaders in hopes that someone from the education, business or government sectors will decide to apply. The initial application deadline is Oct. 31.

Click here to read the timeline, job description and advertisement plan approved by the search committee.

Police investigating "tea party"-addressed powder-packed envelope sent to Rep. Garcia

@MarcACaputo

Authorities are investigating a suspicious envelope sent to U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia that was packed with white powder and had the words "tea party" printed as a return address.

The envelope was found this morning at the Democrat's Key West office in a Monroe County government building on Simonton Street, spokeswoman Nicole Cueto said.

"We notified police immediately," she said.

The Postal Service and U.S. Capitol Police will investigate the case along with Key West Police. None of the agencies comment on ongoing investigations.

Anonymous threats are somewhat common with members of congress. Last year, Sen. Marco Rubio received police protection at his West Miami home and in Washington over what authorities would only call "credible" threats he received.

House committee: overhaul of child welfare system will be focus

Florida’s child welfare system needs an overhaul, and repairing the cracks that allowed more than 20 children to die this summer will be the focus of legislation next spring, the head of the oversight committee of the Florida House of Representatives said Tuesday.

”I’m looking for concrete ideas, solutions,’’ Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, told the House Healthy Families Subcommittee at the conclusion of what will be the first of several hearings on the issue. “Let’s take this on as a major challenge this year.”

Since mid-April, at least 20 children known to the Department of Children & Families have died, mostly from abuse or neglect, some of them in particularly brutal ways, a review of state files by the Miami Herald found.

After four children died over a stretch of six weeks, DCF Secretary David Wilkins resigned and was replaced by interim secretary Esther Jacobo.

Harrell said the goal is to find ways to “change the culture” of the child welfare system as well as examine the need for additional funding and eliminate the counterproductive laws that “create bottlenecks.”

Harrell’s counterpart in the Senate, state Sen. Eleanor Sobel, a Hollywood Democrat, who conducted a legislative hearing on the child deaths in Broward County in August, is also expected to pursue legislation during the regular session that begins in March.

Jacobo, who had previously been DCF’s regional director in Miami-Dade County, told the House committee Tuesday that she has embarked on a sweeping change in the way the agency handles abuse cases. The goal is to shift from an incident-driven review of reported threats to children to one that provides a comprehensive assessment of a family’s needs and gets them immediate assistance.

In the department’s review of the recent child deaths, she said they have found a recurring theme: “There are chronic issues that we’re not addressing that may leave a bad result later on.” Story here. 


Scott urges Obama to visit Lake Okeechobee to 'see federal shortcomings'

In what is becoming a weekly habit, Gov. Rick Scott sent another letter to President Obama today; this time, urging him to come visit Lake Okeechobee to accelerate the federal financial and policy response to the threatened region. 

Here's his letter: 

Continue reading "Scott urges Obama to visit Lake Okeechobee to 'see federal shortcomings'" »

It's morning again in America for Marco Rubio

Timing is everything in politics. Eloquent speaking ain't bad, either.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is adept at both.

And at 6 a.m., just as most people were waking up on the East Coast and just in time for the morning news programs, Rubio took to the Senate floor to relieve Sen. Ted Cruz quasi-filibuster (it's not a real filibuster) over Obamacare.

For nearly an hour, as the semi-buster entered its 16th hour, Rubio spoke without notes and gave a standard but impassioned stump speech that hopped from the American Dream to broken schools to free enterprise to Obamacare to debt. In tone and style, it recalled the spirit of Rubio's childhood hero, Ronald Reagan, and his "Morning in America" TV ad.

But Rubio wasn't all positive. He says Obamacare is a disaster, and that moves like Cruz's are needed to draw attention to it.

"Here comes Obamacare," Rubio said. "Now SeaWorld has announced, instead of 32 hours we're going to move you to 28 hours. That's real money. That is real money...

"All the uncertainty created by this healthcare law, Obamacare....Is it making America the easiest place or an easier place to start a business? No. Does Obamacare make it easier to grow an existing business? Absolutely not," Rubio said. "Does Obamacare encourage innovation in the marketplace? Of course not. On the contrary, it undermines innovation in medicine."

Continue reading "It's morning again in America for Marco Rubio" »

After Broward, Miami-Dade gets ready to defy Rick Scot's anti-Obamacare order

@MarcACaputo @PatriciaMazzei @ChuckRabin

Miami-Dade, Florida’s largest county and the one with the largest number of uninsured, is making plans to join Broward and defy Gov. Rick Scott’s decision banning Obamacare coordinators from operating at local health departments.

Miami-Dade’s mayor and commissioners began weighing the decision Tuesday as Broward County voted overwhelmingly to allow the so-called “navigators” at health departments to spread the word about, and sign people up for, new Affordable Healthcare Act plans that could come online Oct. 1.

“We welcome the federal government doing that,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said. “From my understanding, it’s just helping people navigate the new laws. I don’t see any problems with that.”

Gimenez, a Republican like Scott, and Broward’s Democratic mayor, Kristin Jacobs, said they don’t share the governor’s concerns that the navigators would compromise people’s personal information.

“My concern is really about privacy. Taking personal information and sharing it,” Scott said last week. “They ought to tell us what they are going to do.”

Unlike Broward, Miami-Dade’s 13-member commission is majority Republican, though the board and mayor serve in nonpartisan posts. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in Miami-Dade.

More here.


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/09/24/3648527/miami-dade-weighs-gov-rick-scotts.html#storylink=cpy