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229 posts from October 2013

October 29, 2013

Gambling by the numbers: Final report does little to change conclusions

The final version of the Spectrum Gaming report is out and, while the numbers have been revised and the explanations made clearer, the conclusion remains the same: Florida's economy is so big that the expansion into casinos would have a little overall impact on the state.

The report, produced by the New Jersey-based company, analyzed 12 gaming scenarios provided by the Florida Legislature in anticipation of an attempt by lawmakers to rewrite the existing law. The Florida Senate Gaming Committee, for example, will conduct the second of four hearings on the issue, in Lakeland tomorrow afternoon.

It offers many insights for policymakers, including Gov. Rick Scott, who will be in charge of renegotiating the gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, if he choses to start the talks next year, before the portion of the company regulating table games expires in 2015.

Spectrum notes, for example, that allowing the tribe to continue to have exclusive operation of table games in Florida "could widen the revenue gap between the Seminole casinos and the pari-mutuel casinos, creating deterioration of operating performance for the pari-mutuels."

Here are some of the report's other conclusions:

Continue reading "Gambling by the numbers: Final report does little to change conclusions" »

Death Row lawyers challenge Florida's new execution drug

Tampa-based attorneys for a Florida Death Row inmate filed a legal challenge Tuesday to the use of what they call an "untested and unsuitable" new chemical used to sedate condemned prisoners at the start of a lethal injection. They say the new Florida drug, which was used in a U.S. execution for the first time two wweeks ago, could cause "unnecessary pain" during future executions and violate inmates' constitutional rights.

The new drug, midazolam hydrochloride, takes the place of pentobarbital, which prison officials say is no longer available. The new drug was used for the first time in the Oct. 15 execution of William Happ at Florida State Prison, who took longer than usual to lose consciousness, according to news reports cited in the legal arguments.

In papers filed in U.S. District Court in Jacksonville, attorneys for Death Row inmate Dane Patrick Abdool and several other inmates argue that the new drug could violate the inmates' Eighth Amendment constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment. Two federal judges are scheduled to hear arguments on the matter Nov. 6.

More broadly, the lawsuit claims, Florida's continuing reliance on a three-drug lethal injection mixture is inhumane and "violates the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society encompassed in the Eighth Amendment." The other two drugs, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride, are intended to induce paralysis and cardiac arrest.

The lawsuit was filed by Maria DeLiberato and Marie Louise Samuels-Parmer, both affiliated with the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel's office for the middle region, based in Tampa. 

-- Steve Bousquet

FMA survey: Doctors support Medicaid expansion, but reducing regulations are bigger priority


The Florida Medical Association has generally steered clear of the Medicaid expansion debate. But a recent survey of doctors from across Florida revealed that a majority -- 58 percent of respondents -- supported expanding the Medicaid program to include more low-income residents. But only 3 percent of respondents said it was the most important thing FMA should focus on right now.

Although House Republicans blocked a deal earlier this year to use $51 billion in federal expansion dollars to purchase private insurance for 1 million poor Floridians, advocates promised to bring up the issue again during the 2014 session. 

"I see lots of indigent patients. … This way, we will have more patients who will have access to better care — hopefully, away from ‘emergent’ care," wrote one doctor in favor of Medicaid expansion.

One who was opposed wrote, “It will flood emergency rooms with patients demanding services for non-acute care because they will not be able to find primary care physicians who accept Medicaid because of the low reimbursement rates.”

The FMA has begun a quarterly Business of Medicine survey, the first of which was conducted in July. The third quarter results released today includes responses from 562 doctors who responded to requests to fill out the survey (they are an estimated 48,000 practicing physicians in Florida).

In July, a slightly higher percentage of respondents -- 5 percent -- said FMA should make Medicaid expansion a priority. Reducing regulations was the top response then, as it is now.

Continue reading "FMA survey: Doctors support Medicaid expansion, but reducing regulations are bigger priority" »

Maria Sachs' claim about texting while driving is Mostly False

@via rkoff and @politifactfl

On the first day of Florida’s new texting-while-driving ban, state Sen. Maria Sachs, the Senate Democratic leader pro-tem, was already announcing a proposal to make the law tougher.

The new law makes texting while driving a secondary offense, which means an officer can’t ticket a motorist only for typing or reading messages while behind the wheel. Rather, the driver has to first commit another violation, like swerving or running a red light. 

Sachs, of Delray Beach, has filed a bill to make texting while driving a primary offense, which she argues will make it easier to enforce. The penalties -- $30 for a first violation -- will remain.

At a press conference with AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson to announce her proposed changes, Sachs recited several somber statistics. We decided to fact-check this claim: "In 2011, texting surpassed alcohol as the leading contributing factor in teen driving deaths."

There’s little doubt that texting is a danger in automobile safety. A 2006 study by David Strayer and Frank Drews at the University of Utah found that people are just as impaired when they drive and talk on a cell phone as they are when they drive intoxicated at the legal blood-alcohol limit of 0.08 percent.

The report, which looked at talking on handheld or hands-free cell phones and not texting, concluded that using a cell phone while driving "can be as profound as those associated with driving while drunk."

But is it true that in 2011, texting surpassed alcohol as the leading contributing factor in teen driving deaths? Read more from PolitiFact.



Atwater wants answers on why property insurance premiums aren't dropping

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater is asking for state insurance regulators to explain why property insurance companies don't seem to be passing along their cost savings to consumers.

At the heart of the issue is the drop in the cost of re-insurance, which has dropped in price after a series of legislative reforms. Atwater asked the same question to Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty in an August letter. McCarty responded in a letter, and at a recent Cabinet meeting, and said that rather than reduce the cost of premiums for consumers, insurers were purchasing more re-insurance.

Now, Atwater wants better answers and he is asking McCarty to prepare a report by Dec. 18.

"My question to you is simple: 'Why have rates not come down?',” Atwater writes. Here's his letter:  Download 10.29.2013 Letter to McCarty Regarding Property Insurance Costs (1)

Continue reading "Atwater wants answers on why property insurance premiums aren't dropping" »

After Twitterbomb, Nelson agrees to sign Employment Nondiscrimination Act


U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, the Florida Democrat, has signed on as a co-sponsor of ENDA, the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, reports HRC.

Last week, Equality Florida pressured Nelson to become a co-sponsor by Twitterbombing him. Last April, Nelson reversed his position and became the 51st U.S. senator to support marriage equality.

From Huffington Post:

There are now just two Democratic senators -- Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) -- who are not co-sponsors of the legislation, which would bar workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It is already illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, nationality, religion, age or disability.



Campaign workers for Miami commission candidate say they were paid in cash


Two women who have done work for the Rev. Richard P. Dunn’s campaign say they were paid in cash — a violation of state election law if true — and that they were not paid as many times as the front-runner for Miami’s District 5 seat claims on his most recent campaign finance report.

Loretta Richards and Regina Jackson told the Miami Herald on Monday that on some of the days they worked for the campaign, usually knocking on doors or handing out fliers, they were given $20 or $30 at the end of the day.

Richards, 52 and unemployed, said she worked for the Dunn campaign for about three weeks until mid October. Jackson, 51 and also looking for work, said she’s been with the campaign for about six months.

“I was paid maybe $150 or $180 altogether, $20 a day, maybe eight times,” said Richards. “I was paid in cash, never a check.”

Dunn’s most recent report filed with the Miami city clerk’s office on Friday shows his campaign paid a group of seven women a total of $18,283.60 in 43 installments between July 1 and Sept. 27.

Except for two occasions totaling $80 in cash, the payments were listed as being paid by check. Each payment is shown as being made to the whole group, not broken out by individual names.

The checks ranged in amounts from a low of $60 on Sept. 5 to a high of $3,000 on Sept. 27.

More here.

Three-year-old child suffocates while punished, after state sends him home

At his grandmother’s Lee County home, life was bleak for Michael McMullen and his three siblings. They slept in an animal’s cage, were apparently beaten, and may have been drugged as well to keep them manageable.

Child welfare workers are supposed to rescue children from such a home.

Except child welfare workers were the ones who put the kids in the home of grandma Gale Watkins — after deciding their mother’s home was too dangerous an environment.

By the time the Department of Children & Families grasped that things were even worse at the grandmother’s home, it was too late for Michael. The 3-year-old was dead. According to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, he died when he was wrapped tightly, straitjacket style, in various layers of blanketing, a form of discipline in the home of Gale Watkins.

The boy was trussed up so tightly he simply stopped breathing. More from Carol Marbin Miller here.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/10/28/3716608/despite-red-flags-3-year-old-under.html#storylink=cpy

October 28, 2013

Thurston and Sheldon play game of chicken in race to challenge Bondi

Although they announced they were running for the Democratic nod for Florida Attorney General in the same week, George Sheldon and Perry Thurston swear they won’t become bitter rivals.

“If we stay in the race, it will be positive,” said Sheldon, who until last week worked as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families.

“A primary isn’t the best thing for the party, and I’m a party guy,” said Thurston of Fort Lauderdale, who is the Democratic Leader in the Florida House. “I know the party will make the right decision.”

But the race to challenge incumbent Pam Bondi hasn’t begun yet and they are already disagreeing about what exactly the two talked about when they spoke by phone last week before Saturday’s Florida Democratic State Conference in Orlando.

Sheldon, who announced Oct. 21 that he was running for AG, said Thurston called him and the two spoke for about five to 10 minutes on Thursday. Subsequently, on Saturday, Thurston announced at the convention that he was running for AG.

“I would rather have known he was announcing to run when we talked,” said Sheldon, 66. “I had thought he had ruled it out. His announcement caught quite a few of us by surprise.”

Thurston, however, said he told Sheldon during the phone chat that he was running for AG.

“I’m pretty clear, I don’t stutter or mumble,” said Thurston, 52. “I told him I was running.”

Continue reading "Thurston and Sheldon play game of chicken in race to challenge Bondi" »

Rep. Williams to attend U.S. Senate hearing on Stand Your Ground

Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, announced Monday that he will attend the upcoming U.S. Senate hearing on Stand Your Ground laws.

Here's the press release:

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – On Tuesday, October 29, the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights will conduct a hearing on Stand Your Ground laws at which Florida state Rep. Alan Williams has been invited to attend.

Rep. Williams (D-Tallahassee) is the chairman of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus and is the sponsor of a Stand Your Ground repeal bill in the Florida House of Representatives, H.B. 4003.

Webcast and other information about Tuesday’s hearing under the leadership of Subcommittee Chairman Dick Durbin of Illinois can be found at this site: Stand Your Ground Laws -- Civil Rights and Public Safety Implications of the Expanded Use of Deadly Force.

“I am pleased to see Senator Durbin’s display of leadership in conducting a review of Stand Your Ground laws,” said Representative Williams. “The U.S. Senate hearing will be a significant step in the process toward repealing or reforming these laws that are in need of serious legislative review because vigilante justice must not be tolerated.

“In addition to Tuesday’s hearing, I look forward to a discussion about Florida’s Stand Your Ground law in the Florida House of Representatives that’s set for Thursday, November 7. Changes to these Stand Your Ground laws are necessary to ensure that we remain a society in which all citizens are treated equally, and to address any unjust application of our laws.”

The hearing in the U.S. Senate will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday, October 29. The location of the meeting has recently changed to Room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C.