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14 posts from March 12, 2014

March 12, 2014

CONNECT not so bad after all: DEO chief Panuccio clears 1st round confirmation


By any account, it’s been a rough stretch for Jesse Panuccio, the embattled executive director of Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity.

Since mid-October, Panuccio has had to explain to state lawmakers what went wrong with the launch of CONNECT, a $63-million unemployment benefits website plagued with glitches that has prevented thousands from collecting their weekly jobless payments in a timely manner.

But such issues didn’t interfere with Wednesday’s unanimous confirmation of Panuccio by a senate appropriations committee that not only overlooked the disastrous rollout of the project, but rewrote some of the history surrounding it, as well.

By an 11-0 vote, the Senate’s appropriations subcommittee on transportation, tourism, and economic development confirmed the 33-year-old Panuccio to the $141,000 job that oversees an agency with 1,621 employees and an $872.7 million budget. He started the job 15 months ago after a stint as Gov. Rick Scott’s general counsel. He has two more committees and a floor vote in the Senate before he’s fully confirmed.

If Wednesday is any indication, however, Panuccio appears to have weathered a crisis with a landmark project overseen by his agency that has led to the January intervention from the U.S. Department of Labor and left thousands of unemployed without weekly payments of up to $275 because of problems with CONNECT.

“I’m not just going to support you, I’m going to do everything I can in the process to make sure you get to the end,” said the committee chair, Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando. “I think what helps me is when this issue happened with the website, unlike some other areas in the state and Washington that just pointed fingers...we took ownership of it and we fixed it. And we addressed it. And I think that that, in my opinion, is leadership.”

There are many things incorrect and misleading in Gardiner’s statement.

Continue reading "CONNECT not so bad after all: DEO chief Panuccio clears 1st round confirmation" »

Former Gov. Reubin Askew in 'very grave condition'

Former Florida Gov. Reubin Askew, who in recent months has battled pneumonia and hip replacement surgery and suffered a stroke, is in "very grave condition" in a Tallahassee hospital with family members by his bedside.

He was admitted last Saturday to Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare. A family spokesman, Ron Sachs, issued a statement confirming his condition. Askew's wife of 57 years, Donna Lou, has been at his hospital bedside along with their son Kevin and daughter Angela White.

Askew, 85, was one of the most popular and effective governors in Florida history. From 1971 to 1979, the Democrat from Pensacola directed an an ambitious legislative agenda that included stronger ethics laws, merit retention for judges, the state's first corporate profits tax and regional water management districts. He also guided the state through a period of explosive population growth and school desegregation and in 1978, his last year in office, he led a statewide campaign to prevent casino gambling in South Florida.

An advocate of racial tolerance in the mold of his mentor, former Gov. LeRoy Collins, Askew appointed the first African-American woman to head a state agency, Athalie Range at the state Department of Community Affairs, and appointed the first black justice to a Southern state Supreme Court: Joseph Hatchett of Clearwater in 1975. In recent years, the two men shared their recollections with Leadership Florida audiences in what they called "The Joe and Rube Show."

Askew made several public appearances in the fall of 2013, and appeared increasingly frail. Of his latest health setback, long-time friend Talbot (Sandy) D'Alemberte, the former president of Florida State University who served with Askew in the Legislature, said: "We are pessimistic."

Askew, a native of Muskogee, Okla., came with his mother, brothers and sisters to Pensacola in the 1930s, where he grew up and attended FSU. He spent more than two decades there as a teacher of courses in government and public policy and holds an eminent scholar chair at the Reubin O'D Askew School of Public Administration and Policy.

He served as former President Jimmy Carter's U.S. trade representative in 1979 and 1980 and was an unsuccessful candidate for president in 1984.


Senate offers up package aimed at fixing 'porous' child welfare system

After a year of damaging news reports about child deaths from abuse and neglect, a Florida Senate committee on Tuesday passed a package of proposals intended improve the quality and quantity of regulation over the state’s child welfare system.

The wide-ranging bills proposed by the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee are intended to improve what Senate President Don Gaetz called “a porous system” that has led to hundreds of child deaths under the state’s watch.

“We need to professionalize and make more effective our approach to child welfare in the state and then plug the side doors and the holes and windows, which I think make for a system that’s way too porous,” Gaetz told reporters Tuesday.

Under the proposals, the state Department of Children and Families would be required to increase the educational expertise of the child abuse investigators, create a website to report basic facts about child deaths reported to the child abuse hotline and mobilize a trained team to analyze the cause of deaths.

The bills would also increase the coordination of children deemed “medically complex” and require the state to place many of these children — who are now housed in a small number of nursing homes — in medical foster homes when possible.

“Back in the summer, we were all shocked and concerned about child abuse deaths brought to our attention by the Miami Herald newspaper,” said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, chairman of the committee. “We’ve identified several problems and our bills contain recommended solutions.”

Gaetz said that the bills will also require “tens of millions more in recurring funding” but did not say how much the Legislature’s proposed budget will include. Gov. Rick Scott has proposed adding $42 million for additional child protective investigators and another $8 million for sheriff’s investigations.

“Oftentimes you get what you pay for and I think in child welfare we have gone on the cheap and I think that’s been a mistake,” Gaetz said. More here.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/03/11/3989160/legislators-propose-improvements.html#storylink=cpy

Today in Tallahassee: Five Things To Know

TALLAHASSEE Florida Legislative leaders will get new insights into how much extra money they will have this year as economists meet Wednesday to put the final estimates on the revenue projections for the next fiscal year. Five things to watch for Wednesday:

* The Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee will consider three significant bills aimed at holding down the cost of tuition, including (SB 1148) that would eliminate inflation-based tuition increases and reduce what are known as “differential” tuition increases.

* The Senate Rules Committee will consider several bills, including a proposal (SB 220), filed by Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, that would make clear that discrimination is prohibited against pregnant women in such issues as employment.

* Gov. Rick Scott will travel to Panama City to highlight money for early childhood education in his budget at the Science and Discovery Center of Northwest Florida.

* Embattled Department of Economic Opportunity Secretary Jesse Panuccio has his confirmation hearing before the Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee.

* State economists meet to revise general-revenue estimates and provide legislators with new projections for building their 2014-15 fiscal year budget.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com. Follow her on Twitter @MaryEllenKlas