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19 posts from January 23, 2014

January 23, 2014

Top 10 most fact-checked people on the Truth-O-Meter


We suspected that President Barack Obama was the most fact-checked person on the Truth-O-Meter, but we confirmed it when we compiled data to mark the 500th time we’ve fact-checked him.

Curious about who else has been fact-checked most often? We were, too. So we created a list of the Top 10 most fact-checked people on the Truth-O-Meter, which includes our state affiliates. Numbers are accurate as of Jan. 22, 2014.

As you might suspect, we fact-check presidential candidates the most frequently. Since our 2007 launch, we’ve fact-checked Obama the most, followed by 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney and 2008 nominee John McCain.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott came in at No. 6 while Sen. Marco Rubio came in at No. 10. Read the full report from PolitiFact.

Group inflates cost of noncitizen voter purge in 2012


At the start of a statewide election year,Democrats and the NAACP launched new attacks on the state’s plan for a new round of searching for noncitizens who registered to vote.

House Democratic leader Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach and the NAACP held a press conference Jan. 13 to criticize Florida’s Republican administration for preparing to send a new batch of names of potential noncitizens to county election supervisors. Secretary of State Ken Detzner, an appointee of Gov. Rick Scott, is leading the project.

In a press release, the left-leaning group Florida for All criticized the state’s spending on the effort in 2012:

"Rick Scott’s Administration spent over $100,000 of taxpayer money during their first voter purge attempt in 2012, producing lists with hundreds and hundreds of citizens that local Supervisors of Elections proved were legally registered voters. Over 80 percent of those on the purge lists were people of color and more than 6 in 10 were Hispanic. It was a costly embarrassment that Floridians fear will be repeated."

Florida for All is a political action committee that is at least in part funded by the Democratic Governors Association. The group’s main target appears to be Scott, who faces a re-election this year and could face his predecessor, former Gov. Charlie Crist who is now a Democrat.

At PolitiFact Florida we have fact-checked multiple claims about the state’s 2012 effort to search for noncitizens who registered to vote. But we had never researched the total dollar figure attached to that effort: Did Florida spend "over $100,000" for that initiative? Turn to PolitiFact for the answer.

DEO still unclear on why it waited to pay overdue claims


It took two days for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to explain why it waited more than three months to pay delinquent unemployment benefits for more than 10,000 Florida residents.

On Thursday, DEO spokeswoman Jessica Sims delivered an answer via e-mail. Here it is:

"In so far as the timing of the payments is inconsistent with past practices of Florida and other states, DEO felt it appropriate to seek authority to move forward with temporarily issuing benefit payment to individuals whose continuing claims have been on hold for adjudication for more than seven days. States do not often take this action because some ineligible claimants may be paid and such overpayments must be recovered by the state. This measure was discussed and agreed upon in partnership with USDOL as the federal agency charged with funding and oversight of state unemployment programs."

What this response seems to be saying is that DEO’s executive director Jesse Panuccio and other officials hesitated in paying a growing backlog because of concerns with paying some claims for people who weren’t eligible. They discussed the decision to pay the overdue claims with U.S. Department of Labor officials, who agreed with it.

That's different than what Panuccio said on Saturday when the DEO first announced that it was going to pay the claims.

“The U.S. Department of Labor today granted DEO the authority to move forward in temporarily issuing benefit payment to individuals whose continuing claims have been on hold for (review) for more than seven days,” a statement issued quoting Panuccio on Saturday said.

That strongly implies the DEO first needed “authority” from the feds before issuing the payments. (It also ignores that federal officials came to Tallahassee at the request of Sen. Bill Nelson, not DEO officials).

The Times/Herald asked Sims on Tuesday if it was indeed “necessary for the USDOL to ‘grant DEO the authority’ to issue these payments.”

From Thursday’s clarification provided by Sims, the DEO only “felt it appropriate to seek authority.” So it wasn’t necessary, then?

Continue reading "DEO still unclear on why it waited to pay overdue claims" »

Artiles pushes for moratorium on red-light cameras

Rep. Frank Artiles is taking aim at red light cameras.

"If it's about safety, then let's make it about safety and remove the profits for the governments," he wrote on his Facebook wall Tuesday.

Artiles, a Miami Republican, is championing a bill that would put a moratorium on new cameras.

The bill would also slash the penalty from $158 to $83 by removing the $75 that goes to government agencies. (The money either goes to the county, municipality or state Department of Revenue, depending on which agency installed the red light camera.)

Municipalities would be able to impose a surcharge to fund existing cameras. But it would have to be discussed at a public hearing and approved by majority vote.

The language is included in PCB THSS 14-01, a much larger transportation bill being proposed by the House Transportation & Highway Safety Subcommittee.

Artiles sits on the committee.

Artiles said his staff crunched the numbers and determined that the cities of Miami and Tampa had collected an estimated $5.8 million and $2.8 million, respectively, in red-light camera revenue between 2012 and 2103.

"Cities make millions of dollars," he said. "It is wrong to use red light cameras to balance your budget."

Crusading against red light cameras is a popular thing to do in Miami-Dade County.

But Artiles can expect a good fight in Tallahassee. Supporters (who are well funded and represented in the Florida Capitol) say the cameras change driver behavior and can help reduce accidents at intersections. 

Convicted ex-Sweetwater mayor sentenced to 40 months in federal prison


Manuel Maroño, once a powerful local politician who counted Florida’s governor among his friends, was sentenced to 40 months in prison on Thursday for using his position as the mayor of Sweetwater to dole out official favors in exchange for tens of thousands of dollars in bribes.

Maroño, 42, who will surrender to serve his term on March 31, apologized for misdeeds that led to a fraud conspiracy charge stemming from an FBI sting operation involving a government grant scheme.

About 100 family members, friends and colleagues showed up in Fort Lauderdale federal court to support the disgraced former mayor. They heard U.S. District Judge William Zloch pronounce the sort of public corruption that Maroño engaged in “a cancer” plaguing South Florida.

The former mayor’s defense attorneys said federal prosecutors had joined them in recommending that Maroño receive the low end of the guidelines — three years — calling such punishment “reasonable and fair.” Zloch added an additional four months to that recommendation.

“Mr. Maroño has readily admitted his guilt, and while he should be punished for that crime, he should not be judged exclusively by it,” his attorneys, Armando Rosquete and Kendall Coffey, wrote in court papers.

More on this developing story here.

On gay marriage, Democrat Nan Rich to Pam Bondi, Rick Scott: "let this law die."

From a press release:

Weston, FL—Calling it “a critical human rights issue for Florida,” Democratic candidate for Governor Nan Rich today called on Governor Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi to stop defending Florida’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

“I opposed this discriminatory amendment when it was proposed because I believe all Florida families deserve to be treated fairly,” Rich said. “The federal courts are making it clear that marriage equality is a fundamental right, and we shouldn’t waste the time and resources of the state defending this unconstitutional law.”

Six South Florida families filed suit this week challenging the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Then-Republican Governor Charlie Crist endorsed the ban and personally signed the petition to put it on the ballot. 

“Florida’s same-sex marriage ban will ultimately lose in court, and it should,” Rich said. “Governor Scott and Attorney General Bondi should embrace equality for all Florida families and let this law die.”

Scott: Spend $30 million on worker training

Gov. Rick Scott is in Jacksonville Thursday promoting yet another aspect of his "It's Your Money Tax Cut Budget."

Scott wants the Legislature to allocate $30 million next year for a new workforce training initiative focusing on careers related to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) occupations. He made the announcement at Greencore USA, a company that makes convenience foods. The firm plans to expand its Jacksonville-area work force in the coming years.

"Pursuing a great career often means having the skills needed by employers who are creating jobs – especially in STEM-related fields," Scott said in a news release. "With these dollars, we will provide access to training resources for both job seekers and employers, while also providing scholarships to Floridians wishing to pursue STEM and other great careers at Florida’s state colleges and vocational centers. This strategic investment will no doubt provide Florida families with even more job opportunities so they can live the American dream.”

Scott's proposal includes taxpayer-funded scholarships for students seeking training in STEM-related fields at a Florida state college or post-secondary vocational center. Many credentials necessary for eligible in-demand careers can be obtained in two years or less.

Scott will propose the next state budget next Wednesday in Tallahassee in conjunction with the annual AP planning seminar for reporters and editors. A governor's budget recommendations mark a starting point in negotiations with the Legislature, which writes the final budget.

The Workforce State Training Program mirrors similar programs in economic competitor states and provides Florida a competitive advantage in attracting new business as well as retaining workers at existing Florida companies.

One of several leaders applauding Scott's idea is a president of an IBEW union local, Rodney Wickham, who is also on the board of Workforce Florida. Through Scott's office, Wickham said: “One of the keys to attracting new businesses to Florida is ensuring we have the skilled workforce to get the job done, and Gov. Scott is demonstrating his commitment once again by investing in our workers so we can compete not just nationally but globally.”

-- Steve Bousquet

Judge questions $1 billion contract awarded to Miami-based healthcare firm

In September, Prestige Health Choice won a $1 billion contract to provide Medicaid coverage in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties as part of a push to put Medicaid patients into managed care plans.

But four months later, an administrative law judge is urging the state to rescind the award.

In a non-binding recommendation, Judge John Van Laningham said Prestige should not have qualified for the contract because the Miami-based company is not technically a “provider service network.”

To be considered, Prestige would have to be controlled mostly by healthcare providers, Van Laningham said.

Read more here.

CNN targets Gov. Scott in report on 'pay to play' politics

CNN devoted nearly 15 minutes in prime time Wednesday evening to a report on what anchor Anderson Cooper called "the extortion game" of pay-to-play politics -- and a case study in the piece was Gov. Rick Scott.

Reporter Drew Griffin did a "pay up or else" piece on the endless practice of Washington politicians soliciting money from lobbyists, and a former Shell Oil executive repeatedly used the word "extortion." Even though the piece was D.C.-centric, Scott was featured at the beginning and the end. The report focused on a November K Street fund-raiser for Scott's soft-money committee, Let's Get to Work, where the price of admission was $2,500 (for $10,000, donors could have a photo-op with Scott).

The host of that Scott fund-raiser, CNN reported, was The Principi Group, a D.C. lobbying firm headed by Anthony Principi, a former secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, who in 2012 landed a $1.8 million contract with the state to safeguard Florida military bases from closures. The Principi Group has donated $10,000 to Let's Get to Work.

"It's all just a coincidence," Griffin said, his voice fairly dripping with sarcasm.

Scott was shown at a Cabinet meeting, blandly deflecting questions about the money. "You'll have to talk to Let's Get to Work,"he said. CNN then quoted the Republican Party of Florida as saying: "Gov. Scott makes all decisions based on what is best for the people of Florida and what will create jobs, careers and opportunities for its citizens."

-- Steve Bousquet