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14 posts from August 27, 2014

August 27, 2014

Climate activists to protest PSC at meeting to interview prospects for the utility board

The normally staid meeting of the Public Service Nominating Council could get a bit lively on Thursday as a group of climate change activists, including a scientist who met with Gov. Rick Scott, stage a protest at the Miami International Airport to complain about the utility board's "cozy relationship with Florida's utility companies."

There are two vacancies on the five-member PSC and the legislatively-dominated nominating council has a history of picking candidates that are endorsed and backed by the state's largest utilities -- which are among the largest contributors to legislative campaigns and non-profit causes promoted by legislators.

The nominating council will interview 16 candidates on Thursday and offer up as many three nominees for each of the two seats on the commission. Gov. Rick Scott will choose from the list of nominees and in the past has re-appointed candidates backed by the state's power companies. 

Seeking a second term is Commissioner Julie Immanuel Brown, who will be among those interviewed on Thursday. A second position was opened when Commissioner Eduardo Balbis decided not to seek a second term. He was an occasional critic of the industry on a board that has a record of embracing much of the agenda of the state's largest electric utilities in the past four years. 

Also to be interviewed is Rep. Jimmy Patronis, a Republican from Panama City, who runs the popular Captain Anderson's restaurant which is owned by his family. Patronis lists no utility-related experience in his resume but is a favorite for the job because of his political connections. Patronis dropped out of the 2016 state Senate race to replace Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, leaving Gaetz's son, Matt Gaetz, the frontrunner in the race and many expect him to be named by Scott to the utility board in return for dropping out.

Here's the press release from Florida For All: 

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Proposed FIU expansion could be on November ballot, if Miami-Dade commission approves


Miami-Dade County has already endorsed the expansion of Florida International University onto the Tamiami Park fairgrounds. Now it wants the political backing of a far more powerful group: county voters.

Before continuing tricky discussions with the Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition, whichdoesn’t want to relocate and would not be required to pay for a potential move, the county plans to ask the electorate if it supports FIU’s proposal in the first place.

County commissioners are scheduled to decide Wednesday whether to put a question on the Nov. 4 general election ballot. The Miami-Dade elections department has said next week is the deadline for county charter amendments.

“I’m hoping that we have a serious discussion and put something in motion that clears the way for what I’ve said in many occasions is a win for our community,” said Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo, the legislation’s sponsor.

Support at the polls to turn over 64 county-owned park acres to FIU could give Miami-Dade and FIU more leverage over fair organizers, who oppose holding a popular vote before new fairgrounds — or relocation funds — are identified. County administrators want to keep looking for a suitable alternative for at least another six months.

More here.

Tortured pre-teen went from 115 pounds to 56 at death

Tamiya Audain@Marbinus

Tamiyah Audain, a sickly and severely disabled preteen under the care of state child welfare authorities, endured life-ending neglect so severe that it constituted “torture,” police say.

Twelve-year-old Tamiyah was left in the care of a cousin when her mother died of the same devastating disease Tamiyah battled. The relative, Latoya Patterson, was arrested Tuesday on charges of felony murder. An indictment handed up in Broward Circuit Court says Tamiyah died as the result of aggravated child abuse. She faces life imprisonment.

“This child died of apparent deprivational abuse, or torture,” said a sworn statement written by Lauderhill Police Sgt. Atina Johnson. “The caregiver made active steps to isolate her from therapists, who would have intervened in her nutritional and general neglected state.”

Patterson, 33, was one of four women indicted in connection with Tamiyah’s death, which occurred last fall. Also charged was Jabeth Moye, a child welfare caseworker with Broward’s private foster care agency, ChildNet, which operates under contract with the Department of Children & Families. Moye, 34, who was fired by ChildNet last month, is charged with child neglect causing great bodily harm, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years’ imprisonment.

Also indicted were two professional psychologists, Juliana Gerena, 42, and Helen Richardson, age not immediately available. The two face sentences of five years’ imprisonment on charges of failing to report suspected child abuse or neglect — charges that are filed very rarely across Florida and the United States.

Tamiyah suffered from a neurological condition called tuberous sclerosis, as well as both physical and cognitive disabilities. But a specialist from the University of Miami’s Leonard Miller School of Medicine, neurologist Michael Duchowny, told authorities that Tamiyah most likely was neglected to death. When Tamiyah succumbed on Sept. 25, 2013, she had been ravaged by several deep wounds, including at least one that exposed her bone. Such sores can lead to sepsis, a life-threatening systemic infection. Story from Carol Marbin Miller here. 



Culture of secrecy extended to governor's 'legacy' Mansion project

Florida Governor's MansionThe idea made sense: create a “governor’s park” around the Florida Governor’s Mansion to spruce up the entrance by buying up shabby commercial property on the adjacent street and replace it with a grand boulevard and a visitors commons.

But it was an idea that was going to take cash. Lots of cash: $2.3 million for the project and $2.7 million more to acquire an old house, a pawn shop, a tire store and three other properties nearby, records from 2011 and 2012 show.

First Lady Ann Scott embraced the project. Mansion director Carol Beck was on board, the governor’s deputies coordinated the effort with donations from the state’s top industries and persuaded Republican legislative leaders to dedicate $2.5 million in the state budget. A lavish party at the Mansion was held to recognize the generosity of the corporate donors.

But while records show that everyone involved was using state time to do the work, they wanted to avoid creating a public records trail, so they used private email accounts and private cell phones to keep what they were doing out of the public eye.

The practice was part of the culture in the new governor’s office. The governor’s first two chiefs of staff, Mike Prendergast and Steve MacNamara, instructed employees to use personal emails and personal cell phone text messages to communicate anything that was sensitive, creating a barrier to access when records requests were made, former employees have told the Herald/Times. More here.

Photo: FloridaGovernorsMansion.com

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Study: States with medical pot see drop in overdoses from narcotic pain meds

MarijuanaFrom Stephen Nohlgren, Tampa Bay Times

In a finding that could ripple through Florida, a study released this week reported that the average number of narcotic painkiller overdoses in medical marijuana states is 25 percent lower than would be expected if pot use weren't legal.

The study, published in theJournal of the American Medical Association,estimated a reduction of about 1,700 overdoses in 2010 in the 13 states that had medical marijuana systems up and running then.

The association seemed to strengthen as years passed. Overdose rates averaged 20 percent lower than expected a year after medical marijuana was allowed and 33 percent lower by the sixth year.

"This suggests an unexpected public health benefit from medical marijuana laws,'' said lead author Marcus Bachhuber, a researcher at Philadelphia's VA Medical Center.

The numbers did not prove cause and effect. In fact, the authors said that unrelated factors — like cultural shifts — might account for the lower overdose rates.

But they theorized that marijuana might lead people to take fewer painkillers. Or perhaps pot relaxes people, so they take fewer anti-anxiety drugs and anti-depressants that can lead to "drug cocktail" overdoses. Story here.

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Florida court ask state Supreme Court to address gay marriage questions

From the Associated Press:

Florida's highest court is being asked to decide whether or not the state's ban on gay marriage is constitutional.

In an unusual decision, the state's 2nd District Court of Appeal on Wednesday asked the Florida Supreme Court to settle the question due to "great public importance." If the high court takes up the case, it could result in having the issue settled even before the U.S. Supreme Court acts.

The ruling is connected to a Hillsborough County divorce case involving a same-sex couple who had been married in Massachusetts but since relocated to the Tampa area. Their petition to dissolve their marriage was rejected by a Florida judge who noted that state law does not recognize gay marriage.

"Resolution of the constitutional questions will no doubt impact far more individuals than the two involved here," states the unsigned opinion. "And there can be little doubt that until the constitutional questions are finally resolved by the Florida Supreme Court or the United States Supreme Court, there will be a great impact on the proper administration of justice in Florida."

A panel of judges with the Lakeland based appeals court earlier this summer rejected a request to forward the case up the state Supreme Court. But that ruling was overturned in a 10-3 decision by the entire appeals court. More here. 


CFO candidate William Rankin not scheduled to campaign with Democrats


Democrat William Rankin wants to be taken seriously as a challenger to incumbent Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, a Republican.

But Rankin has raised very little money going into the 70-day general election campaign period and is getting no love from the establishment. The Florida Democratic Party has ignored Rankin's campaign thus far, and he hasn't been asked to make appearances alongside other Democratic candidates for statewide office.

Compare that to George Sheldon, who won Tuesday night's primary to become the Democrat's candidate to run against Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi. Sheldon is to be featured at Thursday's party unity events in Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.

Rankin is not.

Meanwhile his campaign has raised just $15,210.99. Compare that to Atwater's $2.5 million treasure chest.

Rankin says he continues to fill his calendar with campaign stops -- a food giveaway on Thursday, Labor Day picnics over the weekend --and has tried to reach out to party leaders to talk about his campaign. He says he has not had good luck raising money from folks who often finance Democratic campaigns.

Still, his name is on the ballot in November he he says his grassroots campaign is at full speed.

"In politics, money is what people focus on too much," he said.

Why Charlie Crist's tepid North Florida Dixiecrat support makes him a typical Democrat


Here's another sign that Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist is a real Florida Democrat: conservative North Florida Dixiecrats aren't crazy about him.

Had it not been for the rural counties, Crist's 74-26 percent statewide win over longtime Democrat Nan Rich would have been bigger. It's not as if the conservatives up north loved what the liberal from down south stood for -- they just don't like the frontrunner, even a fellow Southerner.

Look at what happened in the 2010 Democratic governor’s race: then-Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink ran against a complete unknown named Brian P. Moore, who earned 23 percent of the vote – only 3 percentage points more than Rich four years later -- thanks in great part to strong North Florida support.

Continue reading "Why Charlie Crist's tepid North Florida Dixiecrat support makes him a typical Democrat" »

Teachers union to take "legal action" against voucher program

The statewide teachers union plans to announce new "legal action" against Florida's school voucher program at a press conference Thursday, union leaders said.

The voucher program, also known as the Tax Credit Scholarship Program, enables corporations to fund private-school scholarships for low-income children. The businesses receive dollar-for-dollar tax credits in exchange for their contributions.

The cap on tax credits for the program is set by state law.

About 69,000 students statewide are currently receiving tax credit scholarships. Supporters say the program provides choices for students who might not succeed in a traditional public school. But opponents argue the dollars would be better spent within the public school system, where there is more oversight and accountability.

The lawsuit is separate from the union's recent challenge to a 2014 law expanding the voucher program. That litigation, which is pending in Leon County, raises questions about the way the legislature approved the voucher expansion -- not the program itself.

Suspended Homestead mayor's corruption trial pushed back until next month


Suspended Homestead Mayor Steven Bateman was supposed to be in trial this week on corruption allegations -- but he can thank acquitted Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi for a bit of a delay. 

The reason: Both men are represented by bow-tie-wearing lawyer Ben Kuehne

A jury on Aug. 14 acquitted Pizzi in a corruption case that ran longer than expected in a Miami federal court. The next day, Kuehne asked a state court judge, Robert Luck, to push back the trial to give the defense more time to prepare. 

"We didn't anticipate the enormity of the Pizzi trial," Kuehne told the judge.

After a few more days of schedule wrangling, a new date for Bateman's trial has been set: Sept 15. Kuehne will be defending Bateman along with Michael Davis, who was also part of Pizzi's defense team. 

Pizzi, who is still technically suspended by the governor's office, is suing to be returned to his post as mayor of MiamiLakes. 

Bateman has pleaded not guilty to state allegations he secretly worked as consultant for a health-clinic company that was seeking government approval for a construction project.