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153 posts from December 2013

December 19, 2013

Safety advocates slam bill to raise highway speed limit

Raising the speed limit even five miles on rural stretches of Florida’s roads could lead to more fatalities and injuries, according to a law enforcement official, consumer group spokesman and safety council official, who held a press conference Thursday to oppose a bill that would increase limits in certain areas.

“If this law passes and 100 more people die in Florida as a result of a higher speed limits, that would not surprise me,” said John Ulczycki, vice president of strategic initiatives for the National Safety Council.

Ulczycki was joined by Walter Dartland, executive director of the Consumer Federation of the Southeast, and Wakulla County Sheriff Charlie Creel, who all want to block SB 392, which was proposed by Senators Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth and Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.

The legislation, said Clemens, allows engineers at the Florida Department of Transportation to evaluate highways in rural areas, “basically where there are no population centers of more than 5,000 people,” to determine whether the speed limit could be increased by five miles per hour.

The proposed law, for instance could raise the speed limit from 70 to 75 miles per hour on interstates and other limited access highways. The measure, said Clemens, “bases speed limits on science rather than emotion. ... Traffic fatalities have reduced markedly since we did away with the national speed limit in the 90s.”

Clemens and Brandes say the law would better reflect the speed that motorists actually drive and that traveling with traffic is safer for motorists, while opponents say raising the speed limit would just cause motorists to drive faster.

Continue reading "Safety advocates slam bill to raise highway speed limit" »

Florida and Texas were responsible for majority of the 40 executions in 2013

From the Death Penalty Information Center:

With 39 executions in 2013, this year marks only the second time in nearly two decades that the United States executed less than 40 people, according to a report released today by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). One of the reasons for fewer executions in 2013 was states' inability to obtain lethal injection drugs. 

Executions declined about 10% compared to 2012 - from 43 last year to 39 this year - and by 60% since 1999.  There were 79 new death sentences in 2013, about the same as last year (77), which was the lowest number since 1973.  Death sentences have declined by 75% from 1996, when there were 315.

"Twenty years ago, use of the death penalty was increasing.  Now it is declining by almost every measure," said Richard Dieter, DPIC's Executive Director and the author of the report. "The recurrent problems of the death penalty have made its application rare, isolated, and often delayed for decades.  More states will likely reconsider the wisdom of retaining this expensive and ineffectual practice."

Read DPIC's "The Death Penalty in 2013: Year End Report" at http://deathpenaltyinfo.org/documents/YearEnd2013.pdf.

Continue reading "Florida and Texas were responsible for majority of the 40 executions in 2013" »

Democrats to Gov. Rick Scott: Call off latest budget slashing at Department of Children and Families

By Carol Marbin Miller

With less than a year to go before voters choose the state’s next governor, Florida Democrats are tipping their hand on an issue they think could move the needle in the election: the failures of the state’s child welfare system.

The leader of the Democratic Caucus in the state House of Representative, Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale, delivered a letter to Gov. Rick Scott Thursday morning blasting the governor for proposing cuts to the budget of the agency that has failed to prevent the deaths of scores of children whose families had been on the state’s radar because of prior complaints. Scott is seeking re-election, but faces unfavorable poll numbers.

“In view of your abject failure to protect these vulnerable children, I plead with you to avoid in your forthcoming budget recommendations any additional spending cuts to your Department of Children & Families,” Thurston wrote. “When you have failed to protect Florida’s most innocent residents, it would be abhorrent to ask the agency you have tasked with their protection to make budget cuts.”

The shortcomings at DCF first came to light this past summer, when the Miami Herald reported on the deaths of four children DCF had previously investigated. Amid a loud outcry from children’s advocates and community leaders, then-DCF Secretary David Wilkins resigned.

But the deaths continued. At the urging of interim Secretary Esther Jacobo, who had headed the agency’s Miami outpost before being tapped for the job, a team of consultants from Seattle-based Casey Family Programs reviewed 40 child death cases from this year.

More here.

Florida Supreme Court approves new execution drug

From the Associated Press: 

The Florida Supreme Court is giving its approval for the state's new lethal injection procedure and the execution of a man who killed a prison guard while on death row can proceed.

The court ruled Thursday that a new drug used to render condemned prisoners unconscious works effectively.

Askari Abdullah Muhammad, formerly known as Thomas Knight, was scheduled for execution Dec. 3. The court delayed the execution and ordered hearings on a claim that the sedative midazolam hydrochloride doesn't prevent pain after being administered.

The 62-year-old Knight has been on death row for nearly 40 years. He was convicted of fatally stabbing Corrections Officer Richard Burke with the sharpened end of a spoon in 1980.

Knight was originally condemned for the 1974 murders of Sidney and Lillian Gans of Miami Beach. 

Nativity scene, Festivus pole and atheists ... but no Satanist display for the Capitol


Capitol holiday displaysReligious holiday symbols are nothing new to Florida's Capitol; Christmas trees and a menorah during Hanukkah are tradition.

But one overtly Christian display has launched a firestorm of free speech activity this year. The Florida Prayer Network erected a Nativity scene in the rotunda on Dec. 2. A second group pledged to add a tribute to the Three Wise Men at a later date.

Probably anticipating complaints of religious favoritism, the state's Department of Management Services that oversees public buildings issued a notice to media saying the religious display was approved because it met guidelines for use of state property and was free speech protected by the First Amendment. By doing so, the state essentially opened the floodgates for other religious or anti-religion displays.

So far, DMS has approved posters from two atheist groups, a "Happy Winter Solstice" banner from the Freedom From Religion Foundation and a Festivus pole by an atheist using the holiday made popular in a "Seinfeld" episode to push for separation of church and state.

There is also the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or the Pastafarians, who have fake noodles in a chair. The religion was created to highlight opposition to the "intelligent design" theory some Christians have pushed in public schools. (Full photo gallery on The Buzz.)

So far, only one group's winter display has been denied: the Satanists' proposed poster was deemed "grossly offensive" by DMS.

Here is more from the News Service of Florida about the Santanists being turned down and the other Capitol displays:

Continue reading "Nativity scene, Festivus pole and atheists ... but no Satanist display for the Capitol" »

December 18, 2013

Reps Garcia, Murphy to Sebelius: expand "commonsense solutions" for Obamacare

A letter from Democratic U.S. Reps Joe Garcia, Patrick Murphy and others:

Dear Secretary Sebelius,

As supporters of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), we write today to request that the Department of Health and Human Services prioritize fixing and expanding the direct enrollment process through health plan issuers and allowing enrollment through web-based entities (WBEs) as options for consumer who are shopping for health insurance.

The successful implementation of the ACA will provide millions of Americans across the country with the opportunity to purchase affordable quality healthcare coverage for the first time. While we commend the Administration for its recent efforts to address many of the technical issues facing HealthCare.gov, we continue to be concerned by ongoing technical challenges, specifically those associated with the transfer of enrollment information to insurance providers. These technical challenges create the real possibility that health plan issuers will not have records for people who believe that they have enrolled for coverage and, therefore, may not be able to effectuate coverage on January 1, 2014.

In light of this, we believe that additional commonsense solutions must be pursued to ensure that individuals have access to the information they need, can purchase coverage smoothly, and have their coverage available when they need it. Toward this end, we believe that HHS should fix and expand the Direct Enrollment process to create an alternative path for enrollment that is not dependent upon the receipt of information from HealthCare.gov or the accuracy of that data. Health plan issuers and WBEs could gather all of the information needed to initially provide coverage directly from the individual at the time that they select a plan.

We believe that prioritizing this alternative path is an effective interim solution for enrolling consumers while the Administration continues to resolve the issues that have limited the ability of health plan issuers to enroll individuals into the coverage that they have selected. Additionally, in keeping with the aim of the marketplaces to promote consumer choice and private competition, this alternative path has long-term advantages by providing Americans with multiple ways to find and sign up for the health care coverage that best meets their needs and the needs of their families.

We know that millions of American families will benefit from the successful implementation of the ACA. That is why it is important that we embrace reasonable fixes that make the law work for more hardworking Americans. Thank you for your consideration of this important issue, and we look forward to working with you.


[Signed by representatives Garcia, Murphy, Kurt Schrader, Marc A. Veasey, Filemon Vela, Tulsi Gabbard, Ann Kuster, Ron Barber, John Carney and Kyrsten Sinema]


Miami-Dade plans to stop paying feds for immigration detentions


Fed up with underwriting the nation’s broken federal immigration system, Miami-Dade County plans to stop paying the cost of temporarily housing undocumented immigrants in its jails.

The dramatic shift in policy comes at a time when the cash-strapped county is coping with a tight budget, but some county commissioners say they are also calling attention to what they say is a serious human-rights issue.

“Not only is it about saving money,” said County Commissioner Sally Heyman, a Democrat in a nonpartisan post. “It’s about saving people.”

At issue are Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s requests to keep prisoners in custody for 48 hours after they are scheduled to be released so that they can be turned over to federal authorities. Detainees are often deported soon after.

The so-called “detainers” are part of the contentious federal Secure Communities program, which is intended to encourage police and ICE to share names, fingerprints and other information to identify non-citizens who have committed serious crimes. Miami-Dade has taken part since 2009.

Nationwide, ICE removed more than 400,000 individuals last year, according to the latest figures.

The feds say the program, which began in 2008, is key to protecting public safety and national security.

But immigration-rights activists say the program has ensnared foreign nationals who have been picked up for minor violations, such as traffic offenses, and extended their detentions even if charges are dropped or they have made bail.

More here.

MSNBC's Ed Schultz to speak at Broward Dems Unity Dinner


The Broward Democrats announced their keynote speaker for their March 15 Unity Dinner: MSNBC’s Ed Schultz. The dinner is the main fundraising event for county Democrats and will serve as an unofficial kickoff for activists to gear up for the 2014 election.

Broward’s dismal 41 percent turnout in 2010 was one of the factors in Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s victory over Democrat Alex Sink after she failed to excite the Democratic-dominant county.

Usually candidates aren’t the main attraction at the Unity dinner but Broward Democratic chairman Mitch Ceasar said if Charlie Crist or Nan Rich -- both Democrats running for governor -- want to speak he will allow them.

That will contradict the theme of “unity” as Rich often talks about being the true Democrat since Crist was previously an independent and Republican.

“I think this is a tradition worth breaking,” Ceasar said, explaining why he will let the candidates speak. “If either candidate for governor or both request a few minutes they will absolutely receive it.”


High school grades: no F's, more A's in Miami-Dade, Broward

@NewsbySmiley @MrMikeVasquez

The report card for Florida’s high schools is out, and the results bode well for South Florida schools.

The Florida Department of Education released its 2012-13 school grades Wednesday for high schools, and both Miami-Dade and Broward saw a far higher percentage of high schools score A’s. In Broward, 65 percent of secondary schools posted top grades, while 59 percent of Miami-Dade high schools earned A’s.

That compares with 48 percent statewide, a record number for Florida.

"With more high schools earning A’s, it is clear that our teachers are succeeding in providing Florida students with a quality education," Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement.

Combined, close to 90 percent of Broward and Dade high schools earned an A or a B.

The results were so positive around the state that they triggered a policy that requires the rigor of Florida’s grading scale for high schools to increase this year. According to state education Commissioner Pam Stewart, the State Board of Education voted two years ago to make the scale tougher should 75 percent of high schools earn an A or a B.

More here.

After the KKK: the future and history of Jacksonville's Forrest High


When Rodney Jones and Tremain McCreary walked to school on Tuesday morning, the brothers were headed to the same classrooms, to sit next to the same students, in a building with the same façade it had on Monday.

But it was not the same school they had gone to the day before.

“It’s a relief to me to know the school name had changed. I was thinking about it: How do we have a KKK leader’s name for our school?” Jones says.

“Things are changing around this school,” says McCreary.

On Monday night, the Duval County Public School Board voted unanimously to rename Nathan B. Forrest High School.

Forrest High was originally named for Nathan Bedford Forrest — the Civil War general and first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

More here.