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15 posts from January 10, 2014

January 10, 2014

Bondi has a friend in Facebook

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi got quite a few “likes” in her campaign fundraising in December, including one from the social media giant, Facebook.

The Silicon Valley company chipped in $5,000 to Bondi’s “And Justice for All” on Dec. 13, which is an electioneering communications organization that raised $81,000 in December.

The political leanings of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg are much discussed among the chattering classes. Any 29-year-old with a $25.8 billion fortune would get people guessing about what causes he’ll get behind over the next 50 years.

Does he lean left or right? Registered to vote in Santa Clara County, he doesn’t give a party preference. Last year, he contributed to the campaigns of Florida’s Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, as well as Sen. Orrin Hatch of R-Utah and threw a fundraiser for Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, before “Bridgeghazi”. But he also contributed to Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, and Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey.

He also outlined some of his views in an April op-ed in the Washington Post, where he said he supported comprehensive immigration reform, higher school standards, and investment breakthroughs in scientific research.

Who knows why Facebook contributed to Bondi’s committee.

Continue reading "Bondi has a friend in Facebook" »

Atwater no longer in the running to become next FAU president

The committee tasked with choosing Florida Atlantic University’s next president turned down state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater on Friday.

Former U.S. Senator George LeMieux and two academics were named as finalists for the job.

The surprising decision ended days of speculation over who Gov. Rick Scott would choose to replace Atwater in the Florida Cabinet.

“As I said to my staff about accepting an invitation to apply, my passion for serving as Florida’s CFO and my commitment to working with my great colleagues for years to come remains undiminished,” Atwater wrote in a statement Friday.

The FAU selection committee had doubts about including a politician among the finalists.

“The perception out there might be that this is a politically arranged deal,” said member Dick Schmidt, president and CEO of Schmidt Companies.

Schmidt said an experienced politican would bring “baggage” to the university, and might struggle to win over the faculty and philanthropic community.

But FAU Trustee Abdol Moabery said experience in Tallahassee would be an asset.

“For 20 years, I have watched all the funding go to UF [the University of Florida] and FSU [Florida State University], and later USF [the University of South Florida] and UCF [the University of Central Florida], and frankly I’m tired of it,” Moabery said. “We do need a powerhouse. We need someone who knows this legislature.”

The other two finalists are John Kelly, vice president for economic development at Clemson University, and Christopher Earley, dean of the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University. 

Did this really happen? House committee moves to decriminalize adultery, co-habitation and a strain of marijuana

Word is today that people are still wondering if they existed briefly in an alternate reality Thursday as they watched the conservative House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice embrace a proposed committee bill that would decriminalize adultery, co-habitation and a strain of non-euphoric marijuana as part of a sweeping rewrite of the state's sentencing laws

Was this some parallel universe or is it possible that Florida -- and Florida's Legislature -- is progressing? 

Here's our story on the dramatic appeal by parents of children who suffer from rare forms of epilepsy to seek the legalization of a strain of marijuana for medical purposes. But it wasn't the only interesting development.

Continue reading "Did this really happen? House committee moves to decriminalize adultery, co-habitation and a strain of marijuana" »

Conservative Israel group to air TV ads bashing Debbie Wasserman Schultz over Iran sanctions


The Emergency Committee for Israel, a longtime critic of DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, is targeting the Weston Representative in a TV ad that accuses her of trying to block an Iran sanctions bill.

It's not clear if she is (we're awaiting comment).

Update: Wasserman Schultz's spokeswoman, Mara Sloan, said the claim isn't true: “Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been a strong supporter of sanctions against Iran and will continue to be. She has cosponsored and voted for the additional sanctions bill that has already passed the house. Currently, there is not a resolution on sanctions offered in the House. As soon as one is filed, she will review the language, as she does with any legislation and decide whether it helps to ensure that Iran will never have a nuclear weapon.” 

The conservative Washington Free Beacon, which leveled the charge three days ago, quoted anonymous Democrats advancing the claim and reported that Wasserman Schultz's office wouldn't comment.

Regardless, starting Sunday, the committee plans to air the ad that just happens to feature a fellow Jewish Democrat as a counterpoint, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer. The size of the buy is unclear, but the committee says it'll air on all the Sunday news shows and be visible enough to cable viewers who watch sports in South Florida.

The text of the ad:

“Why is Debbie Wasserman Schultz trying to block a bipartisan Iran-sanctions bill? Pro-Israel Democrats support new sanctions.

“[Voice/image of Chuck Schumer, D-NY]: ‘Democrats and Republicans believe the best way to avoid war and get Iran to give up nuclear weapons is by ratcheting up sanctions, not by reducing them.’

“She says she’s pro-Israel. She says she’s tough on Iran. Then why is she against bipartisan Iran sanctions? Call Debbie Wasserman Schultz and tell her: ‘Stand with Israel and stop standing in the way of Iran sanctions’”

Students stranded, late after hundreds of Miami-Dade school bus drivers miss work in protest


Scores of Miami-Dade students were late to school Friday — and some briefly stranded at their bus stops — when hundreds of bus drivers declined to show up for work in an apparent protest over wages and benefits.

It’s not immediately clear how many students weren’t picked up at their bus stops, or which schools were affected. But a number of confused parents received calls from their children about no-show buses, and were told in some cases they may have to pick up their children in the afternoon.

“We had some slowdowns this morning because there was a larger than normal number of bus drivers who were absent today,” said district spokesman John Schuster.

Schuster said 242 out of about 1,300 bus drivers — about one in six — failed to show up to work, causing problems at roughly 80 schools. He said schools served by the central, west and southwest transportation centers were primarily affected by what appeared to be a strike over a breakdown in union negotiations and increase in benefits costs that kicked in Jan. 1.

“Some of the employees are saying people should work, others are saying they should not,” Schuster said. “What we do know is that in this state, striking for them would be illegal. We have people who have called in sick and are not sick, who are actually demonstrating near the bus depots. So that’s not what we would quantify as a sick day.”

More here.

Next to be interviewed for FAU presidency: former U.S. Sen. LeMieux

Former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux took his turn in the hot seat Friday, as the Florida Atlantic University presidental selection committee continued its first round of candidate interviews.

LeMieux is among nine candidates being considered for the university's top job. Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater had his interview Friday morning.

LeMieux spoke about the need to increase the graduation rate. Making better use of education technology, he said, would help.

"With all due respect, you have a graduation problem," he said. "Your four-year graduation rate is 15 percent. Your six-year graduation rate is 41 percent."

LeMieux also stressed the importance of growing the medical school. He proposed building a research park In Jupiter and hospitals on the campuses in Jupiter and Boca Raton.

"I want your medical school to be in the top 50 in the country," he said.

LeMieux had other suggestions for increasing funding while keeping tuition affordable. 

"Take a page from what University of Miami is doing an attract international students," he said, noting that international students pay higher tuition rates.

The selection committee is expected to name its three finalists on Friday evening.


Marco Rubio warns of "clear signs" of impending Obamacare insurer "bailout"

From a press release:

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today commented on new evidence of the increasing likelihood of a taxpayer-funded bailout of health insurance companies under ObamaCare. This week, insurance companies began making material filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regarding projections for their ObamaCare risk pools.

Already, one company has disclosed that “as a result of the December 2013 federal and state regulatory changes allowing certain individuals to remain in their previously existing off-exchange health plans, the Company now expects the risk mix of members enrolling through the health insurance exchanges to be more adverse than previously expected.”

“American taxpayers should not be on the hook for bailing out health insurers, especially because ObamaCare is not working the way it was sold,” said Rubio. “Congress should take an ObamaCare bailout off the table by passing legislation I’ve introduced to repeal the so-called risk corridor provision under the law.

“If ObamaCare can only survive through a taxpayer bailout of insurers, it’s yet another clear sign that it can’t survive and isn’t worth saving,” he added.

Last year, Rubio introduced S.1726, The ObamaCare Taxpayer Bailout Prevention Act, a bill that would eliminate a provision of ObamaCare that allows for taxpayer-funded bailouts of insurance companies at the Obama Administration’s sole discretion.

Under ObamaCare’s section 1342, so-called risk corridors were established for the law’s first three years as a safety net for insurers who experience financial losses. Rubio’s bill would fully repeal the risk corridor provision, thereby ensuring that no bailout will occur under ObamaCare’s section 1342.

The big question: Is he right?

We probably won't know for another three or four months as more data comes in about the insurers' risk pools and the companies' expectations.

And, since risk corridors were built into the Affordable Care Act legislation, it's debateable about whether this is a "bailout," at least not in the sense of TARP, or the auto industry bailout. The word bailout implies an emergency spend for some unforeseen circumstance. Still, one man's bailout is another man's safety net.

Also, these payouts won't make insurers whole. So if it is a "bailout," it won't keep an insurer from going bankrupt. 

-- with Daniel Chang

Sweetwater commissioner - and suspended mayor's mom - complains to police about reporter's work


Though elected officials don’t like journalists snooping around in their cities, they eventually accept it or prepare themselves to answer their questions.

But that is not exactly the style of Sweetwater commissioner Isolina Maroño.

Maroño on Wednesday reported to the Sweetwater Police Department as an offense the fact that a local television reporter was making inquiries about an investigation of embezzlement.

Maroño apparently didn’t like that Erika Carrillo, from Channel 41 America Teve, was asking people at a city elderly center their opinion about funds allocated to their programs being used to buy vehicles for other city departments. (Watch Carrillo's piece, in Spanish, here.)

According to the report, Carrillo had asked “if anyone knew that Jennifer Maroño, who oversees the elderly center programs, had taken money from the center to purchase vehicles for the City of Sweetwater.”

Carrillo, who taped her interviews, denies that version.

At first sight, Isolina Maroño could have just been protecting a department head of her city. But in Sweetwater the lines separating family, employees and elected officials are blurry.

More here.

Miami approves settlement that would water down homeless rights


A landmark federal settlement that granted Miami's homeless more rights than the general public is a judge's signature away from being watered down for the first time in almost two decades.

Miami commissioners on Thursday voted unanimously to approve a new agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union that will make it easier for police to arrest the city's homeless for what have long been considered life-sustaining activities.

The homeless will no longer be permitted to build fires in parks to cook or to build makeshift tents to sleep in. They can still sleep on sidewalks, but only if they don't block the right of way of pedestrians.

Exposing themselves to go to the bathroom or to clean up would still be allowed, but not if they're within a quarter of a mile of a public restroom. Also, convicted sex offenders who are homeless would no longer receive the same life-sustaining benefits as other homeless people.

The city petitioned the courts for changes to the 16-year old so-called Pottinger settlement last summer, arguing the old rules were antiquated because of a dramatic shift in demographics in downtown Miami the past decade, as the population more than doubled and dozens of restaurants and cultural venues opened. The city and its Downtown Development Authority contend the remaining homeless are a constant bother to restaurant patrons and nearby homeowners.

The ACLU rejected the position, saying even with the demographic changes, nothing has changed for the 500 or so chronic homeless people who remain in Miami, and who for years have fought any help that has been offered.

In December the two sides came to terms after an intense mediation process.

More here.

In bridge-scandal's wake, Chris Christie fundraising for Rick Scott in FL

National Journal:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the new chief of the Republican Governors Association, one of the most popular governors in the country and a potential presidential candidate, is poised to be a superstar surrogate for as many as 20 Republican chief executives seeking re-election in 2014.

But revelations that his top allies engineered a massive traffic jam to get back at a local mayor could diminish his appeal as a top headliner at fundraisers for fellow Republicas. A test looms next Saturday, when he is slated to headline fundraisers for Gov. Rick Scott in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando.

"We always welcome Gov. Christie to Florida," said House Speaker Will Weatherford, one of the highest ranking Republicans in the state. "An unfortunate situation has taken place and he's addressed it. He's not hiding from it. I think he handled it well."

More here