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12 posts from February 18, 2014

February 18, 2014

Weatherford's pension overhaul faces steep climb in Senate, despite Gaetz support

From the News Service of Florida:

Hopes seemed to evaporate Tuesday that exempting law-enforcement officials and emergency personnel would make changes to the state retirement system an easier sell this year, as a key senator signaled he had deep reservations about the measure.

The Senate Community Affairs Committee voted to introduce the bill (SPB 7046) by a 5-4 margin after Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, joined the panel's three Democrats in voting against the measure. Latvala was one of a handful of renegade GOP senators who sank a more-sweeping pension overhaul last year.

"I've got more convincing to do," said Senate Community Affairs Chairman Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, who sponsored the bill.

Continue reading "Weatherford's pension overhaul faces steep climb in Senate, despite Gaetz support" »

Scott hosts invite-only event at Biltmore with business elite on Wednesday

Gov. Rick Scott's public schedule was bereft of any activities on Tuesday and so, naturally reporters asked: Where is the governor?

"We don't know,'' was the answer repeatedly given by Scott spokesman Frank Collins and other members of his communications staff.

Now we have a clue. Was he campaigning? Fundraising? Prepping for his briefing of Miami execs on Wednesday?

His campaign on Tuesday sent out an exclusive invitation to Miami business elite to attend an invitation-only event at the Biltmore Hotel at 1 p.m. Wednesday as the governor "outlines his vision for our great state of Florida,'' it said. His trip coincides with the appearance Tuesday night of Democratic rival Charlie Crist, who held a book signing on Miami Beach.

"Governor Rick Scott will personally give a campaign briefing to a select group of Miami business leaders,'' wrote Ralph Garcia-Toledo, a Miami lobbyist, in an email to Republicans. "Lets make sure we have a strong showing for our Governor and our new home town Lt. Governor."

Garcia-Toledo added: "Due to vetting, your RSVP is required to attend..."  Download Scott Miami_Fly-In_2014(4)_

Stark cancels fundraiser on news of his intern's death

Rep. Richard Stark, the Weston Democrat whose intern was found dead Tuesday by Tallahassee police in an abandoned Tallahassee building, cancelled his scheduled fundraiser for his campaign in light of the developments. Story on Ryan Uhre here.

Here is Stark's note to his supporters:

Continue reading "Stark cancels fundraiser on news of his intern's death" »

Elder advocate blasts lawyers and nursing homes for self-serving accord

A Senate committee Tuesday gave swift approval to a bill that is being panned by elder care advocates as a “sweetheart deal” designed to help nursing homes and trial lawyers make money but do little to improve the quality of care for residents. 

The Senate Health Policy Committee voted 8-1 for SB 670 after unanimously approving an amendment that will shield nursing home investors from lawsuits when their homes are accused of abuse and neglect in exchange for giving trial lawyers easier access to documents.

“This benefits elders as well as their loved ones,” said Sen. John Thrasher, a St. Augustine Republican who is sponsoring the bill. He said that by shielding nursing homes from lawsuits it provides them with “extra economic protection so they can stay in business” which is good for residents.

But Brian Lee, executive director of the Florida Family Care Association who served as the state’s elder care ombudsman for eight years, said the bill was less about protecting elders and more about protecting profits.

Continue reading "Elder advocate blasts lawyers and nursing homes for self-serving accord" »

Expanded scope of practice for highly trained nurses gets first committee approval


A proposal that has been described as one of the most sweeping changes in history to Florida law regulating medical providers received bipartisan support today it its first committee vote.

The House Select Committee on Health Care Workforce Innovation agreed to officially introduce the proposed committee bill after another three-hour long meeting filled with testimony from workers on both sides of the issue. Highly trained nurses argued they have they skills to work independently to address the state's growing health care demands while medical doctors lobbied for the status quote.

In the end, all but two members of the committee approved the bill with a one person from each party casting "no" votes. Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, has been one of the most vocal members on the committee asking questions and casting doubt on giving nurses more independence and prescribing authority. Rep. Elaine Schwartz, D-Hollywood, indicated that she voted against the bill out of protest. If the House Republican leadership was truly worried about addressing the state's health care needs, they would support Medicaid expansion, she said. 

The bill now will receive a number and be referred to other House committees. Members of the committee who voted "yes" said they did so hoping there will be changes along the way, such as additional training and background checks for highly trained nurses before they are allowed to practice without a doctor's supervision.

MIA project dogged by Cuban exile politics to go before Miami-Dade commission


For more than two years, Cuban exile politics have dogged a major development project that, as it was conceived, could have brought more than half a billion dollars in revenue over the next five decades to Miami International Airport.

Odebrecht USA, the contractor that would build Airport City, has indirect ties to Cuba through its Brazilian parent company, which has an affiliate expanding the port of Mariel and trying to revive the island’s sugar industry.

Though they have stalled the project, none of the political maneuvers targeting the Coral Gables-based Odebrecht USA — including a Florida law declared unconstitutional — have killed it. So this time, a Miami-Dade County commissioner is trying a different tack: Instead of going after the contractor, he’s going after the much-diminished project.

Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo, a Cuban-American Republican whose father is a veteran of the Bay of Pigs invasion, wants the county to consider potential alternatives to Airport City — essentially, trying to find a way to get Odebrecht USA out of the picture.

The airport recently asked to downsize the hotel and commercial development project to about nine acres from more than 33 acres, making it more of an airport village than a city.

More here.

Mayors in Miami-Dade County want gun manufacturers to disclose more information


A group of Miami-Dade mayors — some of them gun owners, all taking a politically risky stance — launched an effort Tuesday to try and sidestep state firearms laws by forcing gun distributors and manufacturers to disclose training techniques and methods used to keep firearms out of the hands of indicted traffickers.

The group pledged support to a nonprofit called Arms With Ethics, which is pushing for laws in cities throughout Miami-Dade that would force gun sellers to train staff to out straw buyers, and to admit if indicted traffickers buy their weapons.

The initiative is bound to be a tough sell in Florida, a gun-rights-favoring state with a controversial Stand Your Ground law, and other laws that allow firearms in public parks and homeowners to build firing ranges in their backyards.

“It isn’t about trying to infringe on everyone’s right to bear arms,” said Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert. It’s about “telling us what you’re doing, and trying to keep our children safe.”

Tuesday’s announcement sparked an immediate backlash from the gun lobby and Tallahassee lawmakers who advocate those laws. Only federal and state governments, they say, can set gun standards because of the Firearms Preemption Law.

More here.

State Board of Education approves Common Core tweaks

The state Board of Education on Tuesday approved revisions to the Common Core State Standards, ending a months-long debate over the controversial benchmarks.

“The vote that the board took [Tuesday] certainly does lay to rest where we are headed, the direction where we are going with our standards,” state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said.

Board members also expressed support for a simplified school grading formula, as well as Stewart’s plan to continue grading schools during the transition to new standards.

The state superintendents association had been lobbying for temporary suspension of the A-F grading system.

“We think it’s critical to get it right before we impose any penalties,” Orange County Superintendent Barbara Jenkins said, speaking on behalf of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. “Teacher pay for performance, administrative pay for performance, graduation, promotion -- all of those high-stakes measures need to be dealt with gently and precisely in any school grading system.”

But Stewart said even a brief hiatus from the accountability system would hurt children.

“If we don’t issue those grade that first year, what will happen [is] that same shock will just be delayed by a year,” she said.

Police not ruling out foul play in death of legislative intern in Tallahassee

Ryan Uhre

Ryan Uhre, 23, a former Florida State University student from Weston who went missing Feb. 2 , was found dead Tuesday morning in an abandoned buidling one block from the state Capitol, Tallahassee police confirmed.

Police said they found a body on the second floor of the College Avenue building and later confirmed it was Uhre. They have not ruled out foul play.

“Our thoughts & prayers are with the Uhre family,” the department tweeted just after noon.

Uhre, who served as intern for Rep. Richard Stark, a Weston Democrat, for less than a week at the end of January, was last seen missing on Super Bowl Sunday. Police have said that he spent part of the night at a Tallahassee bar, Clyde’s & Costello’s. His credit card also showed charges at nearby Andrews Capital Grill and Bar.

Tallahassee Police Spokesman Dave Northway said police have not ruled out foul play and the investigation is continuing. 

Police blocked off the entrance to a walkway between the abandoned buildings and the Governors Club restaurant. When Northway announced at the scene that the deceased body Story and updates here. 


Matt Gaetz wants to talk about his mug shot, but not his arrest


TALLAHASSEE — Rep. Matt Gaetz recently held himself out as a man who accepts responsibility for his mistakes.

He brought up his 20
08 DUI arrest during a meeting last week of the House criminal justice committee, which he chairs. The topic: a bill that would keep mug shots of people who are charged with crimes off the Internet until they are convicted.

Though he was never convicted, his booking photo is readily available online, Gaetz said.

"I'm of the view that that is part of who I am," said the Fort Walton Beach Republican, who in 2016 will seek the seat now held by his father, Senate President Don Gaetz. "I made bad decisions that resulted in an arrest, and that is sort of something that we all live with."

The bill passed the committee unanimously. Gaetz said such exposure could be a problem for those unaccustomed to publicity.

But as it turns out, notoriety is about the worst consequence Gaetz, now 31, has faced from the DUI arrest.

He didn't have his license suspended for a year when he refused the breath test — as Florida law dictates. And he didn't have that refusal used against him in a criminal proceeding. Charges against Gaetz were dismissed after events that included, among other things, the forced resignation of the arresting officer.

Read story here.