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7 posts from February 25, 2014

February 25, 2014

Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen files Venezuela legislation in Congress


Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen filed legislation Tuesday in Congress deploring violence in Venezuela and calling for dialogue between the government and opposition protesters who have taken to the streets for two weeks.

The Miami Republican's measure is part of an effort by Florida politicians of both parties to try to bring attention to the turmoil and to pressure the Obama administration to continue condemning repressive tactics against the opposition.

According to a news release by Ros-Lehtinen's office, House Resolution 488 also urges the Organization of American States to convene its Permanent Council to seek a way to end the violence, which has resulted in the deaths of at least 16 people. Panama, an OAS member, requested Tuesday that the organization consider the Venezuela situation.

On the House floor Tuesday, Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the Middle East and North Africa subcommittee, criticized the detainment of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López, who was jailed a week ago.

"We cannot stand idly by while democracy and due process are trampled on in our own hemisphere," she said, adding that the U.S. and other countries have a "moral responsibility" to support peaceful student protests.

UPDATE: Among the bill's co-sponsors as of Wednesday are eight members of the Florida congressional delegation, including Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami and Democratic Reps. Joe Garcia of Miami, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston and Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens.


In wake of Incognito scandal, Miami Dolphins push anti-bullying law in FL legislature


The Miami Dolphins are heading back to the Florida Legislature – but this time, it has nothing to do with their aging stadium.

The Dolphins on Tuesday helped introduce the Safe Athletics Education and Training Act of 2014 – a bill that would codify suggestions made by New York University researchers on ways to combat bullying.

The initiative is the boldest move yet in the team’s attempt to move past the embarrassing abuse scandal that has dominated the last four months.

More here

FDP to Rick Scott: You're "the ultimate Medicare thief"


Gov. Rick Scott's Obamacare-bashing ad campaign over Medicare Advantage cuts has given the Florida Democratic Party the opportunity to play a familiar tune in this press release:

Rick Scott is best known to Floridians, Americans, and federal investigators as the CEO of Columbia/HCA, a hospital company fined $1.7 billion dollars for defrauding Medicare. Rick Scott attacking anyone about taking money from Medicare is the height of hypocrisy.

"Maybe Rick Scott should stick to pleading the fifth when discussing Medicare. Rick Scott is saying Democrats are committing Medicare robbery, when in fact he's the ultimate Medicare thief. He lost the right to accuse Democrats of raiding Medicare when he oversaw the largest Medicare fraud in the nation's history. Rick Scott's company stole money that should have gone to health care for seniors," said Florida Democratic Party spokesman Joshua Karp.

"The fact is that Medicare advantage was supposed to save taxpayers' money, and now it's costing them more than classic Medicare. The savings in the new health care law are being invested right back into our health care.

"Rick Scott's desperate attacks are laughable. And so are his attempts to pretend he's fighting for Florida's seniors."

Miami Rep. Joe Garcia: Oil sanctions from U.S. would play into Venezuelan government's hands


The U.S. government should grant more political asylum requests and reconsider deportation orders for Venezuelans in light of turmoil in their home country, a Miami congressman said Tuesday.

But Rep. Joe Garcia, a Democrat, stopped short of calling for sanctions against Venezuela, as other members of Congress and some Venezuelans in South Florida have suggested.

Venezuela's biggest oil client is the U.S., but Garcia said limiting oil imports from the South American country might give more political ammunition to the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who has tried to blame the U.S. for two weeks of street protests. 

"We have to be clear that we don't end up playing the Goliath to Mr. Maduro's search to be David," Garcia said at a news conference.

President Barack Obama's administration has denied any involvement in the unrest. Secretary of State John Kerry has called the government's use of force against peaceful protesters "unacceptable."

On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported the U.S. expelled three Venezuelan diplomats in response to Maduro's decision last week to throw out three U.S. consular officials from Caracas.

In Miami, Garcia said it would be "ridiculous" to push for a trade embargo against Venezuela, similar to U.S. policy against Cuba. "How well that's worked out, no?" he said sarcastically at one point in Spanish.

Continue reading "Miami Rep. Joe Garcia: Oil sanctions from U.S. would play into Venezuelan government's hands" »

Procurement team recommends AIR for state tests

The non-profit American Institutes for Research should develop and administer the state's new standardized tests, a Florida Department of Education procurement team recommended on Tuesday.

The recommendation is not binding, despite a unanimous vote from the five-member team. 

The final decision rests with state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart. 

The education department is looking for a contractor to create, administer and score new assessments. The tests will be aligned to the new Florida Standards, education benchmarks based on the controversial Common Core State Standards.

Five groups submitted proposals in hopes of winning the contract: ACT, the American Institutes for Research, CTB/McGraw-Hill, McCann Associates and Pearson.

The proposals won't be made available to the public until Stewart makes her final selection. But some details were aired Tuesday, when members of the DOE negotiation team met to make their joint recommendation.

Among them: ACT and McCann Associates did not make the final round of negotiations.

Team members said CTB had submitted a competitively priced proposal. But they worried the plan would require students to spend more time taking tests than they currently do under the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test system.

There was also some hesitation to choose CTB because the company has not developed high-school tests yet, team member and Deputy Education Commissioner Juan Copa said.

The team considered Pearson's experience in Florida a plus. (Pearson held Florida's previous testing contract, worth more than $250 million.) Members were concerned, however, that Pearson would have to develop a completely new exam, and that the company wanted field tests in the fall. 

AIR, on the other hand, did not need a "stand-alone field test," Copa said.

Another feature the committee seemed to like: AIR's tests could be given later in the school year. (Critics of the FCAT say the exams take place too early in the year, discouraging the teaching of new material once testing is over.)

Copa said the cost was "high," but added that AIR provides "a number of opportunities for cost savings."

It is too soon to say if Stewart will take the recommendation or choose another vendor.

There is also a wild card to consider: the Partnership for Assessment of College and Career Readiness, or PARCC. The multi-state consortium is creating new assessments that can be used to measure mastery of the Common Core State Standards.

Florida had initially planned to use the so-called PARCC tests. But Tea Party groups complained about federal overreach last year, prompting Gov. Rick Scott to push for other options.

PARCC officials said funding issues prevented the consortium from participating in the competitive bidding process. PARCC did however, submit 51 pages of information on its exams, as well as a letter to the Florida Department of Education asking to be considered.

Stewart could not select PARCC as part of the procurement process. But there has been some speculation that she could reject the five proposals, and then decide to go with PARCC.

She plans to make a decision in March.


In new online ad campaign, Rick Scott hits an old foe: Obamacare's Medicare cuts


Gov. Rick Scott is kickstarting an online ad campaign that hits an old, but target-rich, opponent: Obamacare.

In a testimonial-style video geared toward the elderly (women over 60 are the likeliest of all voters in Florida), Scott talks about the state's seniors and highlights the cuts and reductions in Medicare Advantage spending under the Affordable Care Act.

"Seniors retire based on a belief that they’re going to have a healthcare system that’s going to be there," Scott says in the 30-second clip, which many will see on Facebook, paid for by his campaign. "These Medicare cuts that the president has caused are the wrong thing for Florida seniors."

The Florida Democratic Party issued a blistering response pointing out that Scott once led the Columbia/HCA hospital chain, which was socked with a record Medicare-fraud fine of $1.7 billion.

"He lost the right to accuse Democrats of raiding Medicare when he oversaw the largest Medicare fraud in the nation's history," Democratic party spokesman Joshua Karp said in a statement.

Continue reading "In new online ad campaign, Rick Scott hits an old foe: Obamacare's Medicare cuts" »

Broward Democrats lose keynote speaker


Broward Democrats suddenly have no keynote speaker with less than three weeks to go until their annual fundraising event after MSNBC’s Ed Schultz backed out.

The Huffington Post reported Monday that Schultz cancelled his March 15 speech after Huffington Post had contacted the network about his planned speech. 

"He was not told it was a fundraising event," network spokeswoman Lauren Skowronski told Naked Politics this morning.

That however makes no sense since the Unity Dinner is regularly described by media as the main fundraising event for the Broward Democratic Executive Committee.

Chairman Mitch Ceasar said Tuesday he is working to fill the slot. In the past, the group has drawn some high profile names including Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Howard Dean, Cory Booker and Terry McAuliffe.

The main draw for reporters may not be the speaker: it’s whether former Gov. Charlie Crist who hopes to unseat Republican Gov. Rick Scott appears and speaks and whether he wins over the crowd. As of Tuesday, Ceasar said that Crist had been invited to speak for a few minutes but had not yet confirmed. (We will update this post if we get a response from Crist’s campaign about his plans.)

Broward is the home turf of former state sen. Nan Rich of Weston who is running an underdog campaign against Crist in the Democratic primary. Rich describes herself as the “true Democrat” in the race unlike the GOPer-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Crist. While many Broward Democratic activists are publicly loyal to Rich, they want Scott ousted by a Democrat and are certain to line up behind the primary winner.

In 2010, the Democrats' candidate for governor Alex Sink was criticized for not appearing in Broward early enough and often enough -- and they repaid her with a lousy 41 percent countywide turnout and she lost to Scott.