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15 posts from April 25, 2014

April 25, 2014

Miami-Dade commissioner wants stray pets sent to loving homes, by UPS


That meowing in the UPS box might be from Miami.

Well, only if Javier Souto can get a pet project off the ground.

At a budget hearing on animal shelters Wednesday, the Miami-Dade commissioner urged the county to launch a cross-country adoption service that could ship pets to people’s doors.

“I guarantee you there are places in America that want to adopt a dog or a cat from here,” Souto said.

Alex Muñoz, the county’s animal-services chief, noted the shelter already lists its adoptable animals online but didn’t sound eager to start shipping them to willing homes. “You’re talking about a major fulfillment service,” he said.

Souto suggested recruiting Palmetto High graduate and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to help work out the details. “I’m willing to call,” Souto said.

Douglas Hanks

Anti-soccer port groups begins an ad blitz


The anti-soccer group, backed Royal Caribbean and cargo operators, unveiled a collection of television and radio ads on Friday. Spoiler: they compare the proposed David Beckham soccer stadium in PortMiami to the Marlins Park deal. 

 Miami-Dade County and Miami borrowed more than $400 million for the baseball park, and provided the land, while Beckham said he's only seeking land and a state subsidy for his stadium. And his negotiators have promised MIami-Dade will receive market rent for the county-owned site will pay.

The anti-stadium group, the Miami Seaport Alliance, insists the port can't handle the traffic and crowds from a soccer stadium and that Beckham risks damaging a major economic engine for the county.

The English-language version of the ad:


Unskewing, averaging, rejiggering the FL governor’s race polls, Pt. 1


Yeah, it’s April, but it sure doesn’t feel like spring-training season in the race for Florida governor.

Gov. Rick Scott is on pace to spend $6.5 million from mid-March to mid-May on TV ads. He and Charlie Crist are pulling in major-league money. And the fans have their box scores: myriad polls, many of which show Crist has a decent lead. But that’s either not really the case now or it likely won’t be so by Election Day.

Crist leads Scott by about 2.4 percentage points, based on averaging six polls released since Scott began advertising in March.*

Continue reading "Unskewing, averaging, rejiggering the FL governor’s race polls, Pt. 1" »

House stadium funding package advances with Cuban baseball player provision

A bill that would enable professional sports franchises to compete for sales tax subsidies cleared a major hurdle Friday, winning overwhelming support in the Florida House.

The tax breaks would be available to professional football, basketball, hockey and soccer teams, as well as professional rodeos and NASCAR-sponsored events. 

But baseball teams would have to stay on the bench — unless Major League Baseball changes its rules about Cuban baseball players.

Lawmakers added the stipulation in response to media reports that Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig had been held hostage by human traffickers while trying to establish residency in Mexico in 2012.

Under Major League Baseball rules, players from Cuba must live in another country before they can become free agents. Cuban players who come directly to the United States are forced into the amateur draft, which limits their salaries.

"Major League Baseball [has] inadvertently created a market for human smuggling and the unequal treatment of Cuban baseball players," said Rep. José Félix Díaz, R-Miami, who introduced the provision with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach. "We’re not going to give away our taxpayer dollars until this ill is corrected."

In response, the MLB issued the following statement: "While the sponsors of the bill in Florida blame MLB policies for the role of human smugglers, they do not provide any support for their premise that Cuban players must rely on traffickers to defect to countries other than the U.S. such as Mexico or the Dominican Republic, but would not need the assistance of traffickers to reach U.S. soil."

"However, we will meet with the Players Association (union) to determine whether changes can be made to our international signing rules to reduce or eliminate the reliance of Cuban players on criminal organizations when leaving Cuba,” the statement continued. “We also intend to speak to the U.S. State Department about actions that the U.S. government can take to reduce or eliminate the trafficking of Cuban baseball players. We hope that the legislators in Florida will do the same.”

Read more here.

..now about Marco Rubio's NRA gun-rights rating, national press....


Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was invited by the National Rifle Association to speak Friday at its annual gala in Indianapolis along with other potential Republican candidates for governor.

No surprise there.

But this sentence in the Associated Press story about the event stands out: "Rubio opposed limiting gun rights after Sandy Hook, but he also saw his NRA grade drop from an A to a B+ amid criticism of his stance on some gun-rights legislation."

No qualms with the first half of that, but the second part is odd. And, national reporters who cover Rubio might want to know that it doesn't tell the full story about Rubio's positions or the NRA's system.

The national NRA only gives out grades to federal candidates in cycle. Wouldn't it be strange if it invited a senator who 1) pressed its agenda at the least of popular times (Sandy Hook) and 2) got docked a grade anyway?

The state NRA did, however, give Rubio a B+ in 2010, despite an otherwise A-rated gun-rights record.


Continue reading "..now about Marco Rubio's NRA gun-rights rating, national press...." »

Senate may put brakes on trauma center 'train' bill


House members found enough to like in a massive health care bill that -- including provisions to end a lengthy trauma center battle -- that the measure was approved 74-42 Friday. But House Bill 7113 may have a hard time gaining approval in the Senate in its current form.

Senators are talking about peeling off unpopular portions of the legislative "train" or ignoring the nearly 100-page bill all together. In addition to the trauma center fix, HB 7113 combined about a dozen different health care topics into one omnibus bill, such as regulations for virtual doctor visits and independence for highly trained nurses.

Senators will determine which parts of the bill are worth keeping, Senate President Don Gaetz said.

"If a majority of the Senate feels that there is an issue that is A) germane and b) is well enough understood by the Senate so that we can cast an informed vote, then they may agree to include another germane issue," Gaetz, R-Niceville, said. "... It's going to depend on each individual issue as to how the Senate feels about it."

There was no clear party-line division when the House approved HB 7113 Friday as members of both parties landed on each side. Those who voted "no" said they disapproved of certain parts of the bill, though they couldn't build a large enough coalition to kill the legislation.

"This is the train of ultimate trains," Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Port St. Lucie, said. "There is the good, the bad, and, oh boy, the ugly."

The Senate is schedule to debate its version of the "trauma drama" legislation, SB 1276, on Monday. Unlike the House bill, the Senate proposal deals with trauma centers and trauma centers only. It would allow three disputed HCA-owned centers to remain in operation, creates a one-year $15,000 cap on trauma activation fees and a one-year moratorium on new centers.

500,000 reasons why Bill Nelson isn’t running for governor


There are many reasons that U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson isn’t running for governor of Florida: he just won a safe U.S. Senate seat, it actually won’t be an easy race against new Democrat Charlie Crist, it could harm the party more than it helps and he and his top people have told top Democrats over and over and over again that he’s not running.

The most recent case came with the Democratic Governors Association, the Washington fundraising group that, you guessed it, tries to get Democratic governors elected nationwide.

It’s betting big on Crist, giving him $500,000 last week. More is to come.

“We talked to Bill Nelson’s people. They told us he’s not running,” said a top figure who works with the DGA in Washington.

“We wouldn’t have given Crist this money if we thought Nelson was running.”

Continue reading "500,000 reasons why Bill Nelson isn’t running for governor" »

Governor is asking legislators to consider returning for special session on gambling compact

With a week to go before the end of session, Gov. Rick Scott’s deputies are taking the pulse of the Florida Legislature about their interest in coming back to ratify a compact with the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

The details of a proposed agreement are sketchy, and legislators who have discussed it with them say they don’t have details, but it does appear that the proposed deal would not expand options for the state’s pari-mutuel industry.

“President Gaetz and Lt. Governor Lopez-Cantera recently discussed the ongoing negotiations,'' said Katie Betta, Gaetz's spokeswoman in a statement. "President Gaetz told the Lt. Governor that he would be interested in learning more, if negotiations are finalized. He did not ask, nor was he informed of specific details, as the negotiations are ongoing." 

Working on behalf of the governor is his chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth, his general counsel Pete Antonacci and his Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera. In addition to Gaetz, House Speaker Will Weatherford has been approached to agree to a special session in May to ratify the deal.

Any agreement the governor reaches with the tribe must be ratified by the Florida Legislature, where Republican proponents of gaming have joined with their Democratic counterparts to push for an expansion of gambling options at Florida’s pari-mutuels and to bring resort casinos to South Florida.

Still unknown is what it would take to get an agreement through the House and Senate, where sympathies are strong for the state’s pari-mutuel industry.

Many legislators say that to get the votes for a compact, the governor will have to find a way to help Florida’s gaming establishment compete with the tribe — or unify the anti-gambling lawmakers to support a compact that is close to status quo. For most of his term, the governor has not been an aggressive negotiator in the face of a divided Legislature.

“I will lead the effort to defeat ratification of the compact if it’s a sellout to the Indians the way the last one was,’’ said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who supports expanded gambling. “We penalized a lot of other facilities that had been in business in Florida for 60 and 80 years and gave the Indians a monopoly. I think that’s wrong.”

As we reported earlier this month, the strategy the governor may employ is to call the special session after he has received the budget and then hold off on his vetoes until he gets the vote to get it passed.

Under that scenario, the governor or legislators would call a special session to ratify the deal after he receives the state budget and the governor would strategically use the power of his veto pen to help win approval from reluctant lawmakers. The most politically powerful time for a governor to have a special session is before he has issued his vetoes.

But to do that, the governor would need an assurance that he could get the votes and avoid an embarrassing defeat on a controversial issue. 

Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, said he has asked the governor office for details about the proposed compact but has received no answer. 

"To not be keeping us in the loop is in my opinion a lack of leadership,'' Waldman said. "Why do we have to do it in the next week. The compact doesn't expire until next year. It is something that should take quite a bit of deliberation. That's what took place with the first one."

Because the House and Senate are likely to need Democratic votes to ratify any gaming agreement, Waldman told Weatherford that he expects the governor to give them more information. 

"If we are not involved in any of the discussions, the liklihood of us going along is very slim,'' he said. 

Scott spokesman Frank Collins confirmed, "There is no deal." He also said, "there has been no request for a special session,'' although he couldn't answer why the governor's staff was asking legislators to consider a special session in May. 


Governor urges Congress to reject Internet gambling expansion

Gov. Rick Scott may be in the midst of deciding whether to allow the expansion of gambling in Florida with his negotiations with the Seminole Tribe, but this week he made it clear he vigorously opposes Internet gambling.

In a letter to congressional leaders on the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, the governor urged Congress to clarify that the federal Wire Act bars online state lottery sales and reverse a Department of Justice ruling last year that opened the door to internet gambling.

“Allowing Internet gaming to invade the homes of every American family, and be piped into our dens, our living rooms, our workplaces, and even our kids’ bedrooms and dorm rooms is a major decision,’’ the governor wrote in the three-page letter. “We must carefully examine the short and long-term social and economic consequences before Internet gambling spreads.”  Download INTERNET GAMING LETTER

He urged Congress to “step in now and call a ‘time-out’ by restoring the decades-long interpretation of the Wire Act.”

While many existing casino companies are behind the online gambling push, a key opponent has been Sheldon Adelson, head the Las Vegas Sands gambling empire who asked the governor to write the letter. He has bankrolled a group, the Coaltion to Stop Internet Gambling and has personally persuaded other GOP governors to join the cause.

Congress enacted the Interstate Wire Act of 1961, also known as the Federal Wire Act, to prohibit sports betting through wire communication.  For years, the Justice Department interpreted the wire act to include all forms of internet gambling but in 2011, the Justice Department released a formal legal opinion on the scope of the wire act and concluded that “interstate transmissions of wire communications that do not relate to a ‘sporting event or contest’ fall outside the reach of the Wire Act.”

That opened the door to off-shore gambling operators, and U.S.-based casino giants, to invest in state-based Internet gambling operations. Three states, New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada, have since passed legislation authorizing Internet gambling and it is available throughout Europe.

The Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling warns that if these efforts are allowed, there will be little to no control over who is exposed to gambling. Children and gambling addicts could have unlimited access to games as they play in the comfort of their homes on lap tops and tablets, the group warns, and organized crime and international terrorists could use the enterprises to hide capital and launder money.

While many existing casino companies are behind the online gambling push, a key opponent has been Sheldon Adelson, head the Las Vegas Sands gambling empire who asked the governor to write the letter. He has bankrolled a group, the Coaltion to Stop Internet Gambling and has personally persuaded other GOP governors to join the cause.

“We appreciate you consideration of our views,’’ Scott wrote, “and look forward ot working with you on developing a sensible policy that protects Americans and preserves the traditional role of the states in controlling gambling within their borders.”

Governor's office behind amendment to weaken provisions in child safety bill

UPDATE:  A last minute amendment to SB 1666, the Senate's overhaul of the child welfare laws, shopped by the Department of Children and Families and the governor's office late yesterday, was withdrawn and the Senate passed the bill unanimously to applause.
Sponsored by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, the 135-page amendment so late in the process was significant enough to prompt Sen. Andy Gardiner to call for a time out to give members time to absorb what the proposal would do. 
The "strike-all" amendment would make several signficant changes aimed at tamping down some of the provisions and oversight over the department, according to a document obtained by the Herald/Times. The summary of the amendment says many of the reforms would cost too much money. The proposed amendment would do the following:
* Eliminate the requirement that members of DCF's Rapid Response Teams travel to the site of a child's death in order to conduct a case review. The idea is to save money.
* Give the response teams more time to conduct the review and eliminates an outside review committee intended to provide oversight to DCF's work. The department says this is "redundant."
* Eliminates the requirement that the Death Review Committee provide training. The department considers this an onerous requirement since the committee is made of volunteers. 
* Eliminates a loan forgiveness program intended to encourage people with social work and other social services degrees to work as child protective investigators. The department and governor consider this "expensive and will require additional staff and infrastructure within the department."
* Deletes a requirement the Community Based Care organizations post their executive salaries on the web site. 
* Changes the liability limits on CBCs by requiring them to obtain less insurance in the event they get sued for malpractice, . The measure reduces the caps on liability to their 1999 levels by resetting them form $1 million per person, $3 million per incident for economic damages, $200,000 for non-economic damages and removes the cost of living adjustment that allows damage caps to rise according to the consumper price level industry. The current bill sets the damage caps at $2 million per claim; automobile liability cap at $200,0000 per claim and the non-economic damages cap at $400,000 per claim.   
* Eliminates the Institute on Child Welfare at FSU because it "will drain resources from child welfare services."