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250 posts from August 2014

August 29, 2014

Miami-Dade commissioner reveals 'hate' for Florida's open-government law

@PatriciaMazzei

A Miami-Dade County commissioner let it be known in a public meeting Thursday that she’s no fan of the state law that required the meeting to be public in the first place.

Sally Heyman bemoaned Florida’s Government in the Sunshine law, which among other things forces policy meetings between two or more commissioners to be advertised in advance and open to all.

“We still hate this,” she said at an aptly named “sunshine meeting” with Commissioners Esteban “Steve” Bovo and Xavier Suarez. They spoke about an upcoming vote on a ballot question to finance a new civil courthouse.

She and Suarez pointed fingers at Bovo, a former state legislator, and his ex-colleagues for the law. He answered that it predated him.

It was also already in effect when Heyman was in the Florida House of Representatives, from 1994 to 2002.

So she mentioned another commissioner, Javier Souto, who was not present and who served in the state Legislature from 1984 to 1992. “We can blame Souto,” she concluded.

Except Souto had nothing to do with it, either. The law, considered a model of government transparency for the rest of the country, has been in effect since 1967.

NextGen says Rick Scott trying to "hide from" donation

NextGen climate has unleashed another attack on Gov. Rick Scott as it relates to a drilling project that the state ultimately shut down.

"The Collier family, owners of the company that leased their land for oil exploration to the drillers that threatened drinking water for seven million Floridians," stated the narrator in the TV ad. "Rick Scott took $200,000 from them and now he is trying to hide from it. Sound familiar?"

At that point, the screen shows a photo of Scott while the text states, "He took the 5th 75 times."

The ad then replays video footage of Scott at a 1995 legal deposition saying, "I don’t recall. I have no idea. What’s your question?"

PolitiFact Florida previously fact-checked aNextGen ad about that $200,000 donation, rating it Half True. And we have fact-checked a Florida Democratic Party ad about Scott taking the 5th 75 times and rated it Mostly True. Scott's pleading the 5th was related to a Medicare case, though, not oil drilling. 

But this new ad tacked on another allegation that we will fact-check here: Is Scott trying to hide from this donation? Turn to PolitiFact Florida for the answer.

Florida Health Choices website aimed at the uninsured draws little interest

@tbtia

Last year, legislators allocated $900,000 to help Floridians find affordable health care through a new state-backed website.

At the same time, they refused to expand Medicaid or work with the federal government to offer subsidized insurance plans.

Six months after the launch of the state's effort, called Florida Health Choices, just 30 people have signed up. Another seven plans were canceled either because consumers changed their minds or didn't pay for services.

These numbers are dwarfed by the nearly 764,000 Floridians who are too poor to afford subsidized plans, yet can't qualify for Medicaid under Florida's stringent standards. They are supposed to be the target market for Health Choices.

But Health Choices doesn't sell comprehensive health insurance to protect consumers from big-ticket costs such as hospitalization. Instead, it has limited benefit options and discount plans for items like dental visits, prescription drugs and eyeglasses.

The plan's biggest backer in the Legislature blames the lack of business on the federal Affordable Care Act, which features comprehensive plans with varying subsidies for those who qualify.

Read more here.

August 28, 2014

Will Floridians be able to get endless supply of pot?

Opponents have made many arguments against Florida’s proposed medical marijuana amendment, but here’s a new one: They say patients would be able to get an unlimited amount of pot should the measure pass.

Dr. Rafael Miguel, director of the Sarasota Memorial Institute for Advanced Medicine's Pain Medicine Program, was one of three representatives for Drug Free America who visited the Tampa Bay Times editorial board on Aug. 20. He joined Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and Tallahassee attorney Susan Kelsey to discuss why the Sunshine State should shy away from Amendment 2 in November.

Miguel offered several reasons why the medical establishment did not like the constitutional amendment. He said there was an unreasonable focus on marijuana’s smokeable form in order to obtain psychoactive effects, and added that the process by which doctors help patients get cannabis flies in the face of the prescription model of doling out drugs.

Miguel focused on how "recommendations" to use marijuana are not prescriptions, and that they don’t allow doctors to control the amount and dosage patients consume, or for how long they consume it.

"You don't get refills -- you get it forever," Miguel said. "There's no regulation on consumption."

PolitiFact Florida has written about the amendment’s guidelines before, but we were curious in this case whether doctors who recommend medical marijuana to patients would indeed have no say in how much or for how long their patients could take it. See Joshua Gillin's full fact-check.

Rich shows her support for Crist at Broward rally

Former Gov. Charlie Crist and his Democratic primary rival former state Sen. Nan Rich of Weston put on a united front at a rallies Thursday in Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.

To show that longtime state Democratic politicians have fully embraced Crist as their own, several took the stage to praise the former Republican governore. Among them: U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, former U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant and Broward Democratic chairman Mitch Ceasar and state Sen. Chris Smith. Crist’s pick for lieutenant governor, Annette Taddeo of Miami-Dade, also spoke.

Crist, the Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat, defeated Rich, by nearly 49 percentage points inTuesday’s primary. Now he faces a a more expensive campaign and tougher foe in Gov. Rick Scott. The Democrats held the event next at the Urban League of Broward, next to Broward’s African-American library — a nod to the importance of the black and Democratic vote in Broward.

Rich introduced Crist and praised him for calling for increased education funding and Medicaid expansion.

“Charlie Crist will need all of our support to win,” she said. “He has mine."

Crist thanked “Nan Rich for being such a class act,” even though he all but ignored her during the primary and refused to debate her. He repeated campaign promises for equal pay for women, raising minimum wage and expanding Medicaid.

He sounded like the rest of the Democrats in the room when he trashedScott and saying of Scott's side “all they care about is their fat cat buddies.”

Also in attendance were George Sheldon, who easily beat state Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, for the Democratic nomination for Attorney General.

Sheldon worked as a deputy to Attorney General Bob Butterworth between 1999 and 2002. He followed Butterworth to the Department of Children and Families. In 2008, Crist, who was governor at the time, named Sheldon to lead the agency.

Thurston was one of the only speakers to acknowledge the low Democratic turnout in Tuesday’s primary: only 11 percent of Broward voted, the second lowest in the state. Part of the reason for low turnout in Broward was the ballot lacked any exciting countywide races and included mostly district contests for school board and county commission.

“We didn’t show up like we should have shown up, but we have a second opportunity,” he said.

The key challenge for Crist is to boost turnout in South Florida in November. When Democrat Alex Sink lost her race against Scott in 2010, turnout in Broward was only 41 percent.

Sheldon drew big cheers when he voiced his support for medical marijuana, which is on the ballot in November. He also called for automatic restoration of the right to vote for ex-offenders.

A similar rally was held earlier on Thursday in Orlando.

About 250 Democrats showed up at the Fort Lauderdale event and waved signs representing different liberal constituencies including blacks, the LGBT community and women. A few people also waved signs for NextGen Climate, the PAC of billionaire Tom Steyer who is attacking Scott on environmental issues.

Shortly before the Democratic event started in Fort Lauderdale, Republican Party of Florida chair Leslie Dougher spoke outside the event bashing the Democrats for low turnout. She hit on familiar themes including the fact that more than 800,000 jobs were lost when Crist was governor, omitting much of the United States was in a recession.

“Florida Democrats are uniting behind Charlie Crist’s record of failure, but Floridians are going to unite against Charlie Crist on November 4th,” she said in a statement released earlier in the day.

Panel rewards legislative ties, nominating Patronis and Murzin for PSC

The Public Service Nominating Council on Thursday included a current and former legislator, as well as a sitting commissioner, in the slate of seven candidates forwarded to Gov. Rick Scott to fill two positions on the five-person board that regulates Florida utilities. 

Gov. Rick Scott will now choose from the following list to fill two seats on the panel that will shape the direction of electricity and water rates in Florida, as well as the future of energy policy for the next four years: 

Julie Immanuel Brown  Download (Redacted) Applicant 11 - Julie Imanuel Brown
David J. Murzin  Download (Redacted) Applicant 20 - David J. Murzin
Gerardo B. (Jerry) Fernandez  Download (Redacted) Applicant 25 - Gerardo B. (Jerry) Fernandez
Stuart Wayne Pollins  Download (Redacted) Applicant 29 - Stuart Wayne Pollins
Kevin LeRoy Wiehle  Download (Redacted) Applicant 30 - Kevin LeRoy Wiehle

Jimmy T. Patronis, Jr.  Download (Redaction Not Needed) Applicant 33 - Jimmy T. Patronis, Jr.

Regulatory experience or utility industry background was not abiding criteria for the council, which is dominated by legislators whose voting record frequently aligns with the agenda of the state's largest electric utilities.

The panel, chaired by Sen. Joe Abruzzo, D-West Palm Beach, and Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami,  looked past the lack of experience of state Rep. Jimmy Patronis, a Panama City restaurant owner and Republican, and former state Rep. Dave Murzin, a Pensacola Republican and current aide to state Sen. Greg Evers, and included them on the list. Murzin once sat on the nominating council board.

Also on the list sent to the governor is Julie Immanuel Brown, a Tampa attorney and current PSC commissioner. The panel rejected others with years of experience in utility issues, such as Marshall Willis, a former 38-year veteran of the PSC who was fired without explanation as director of accounting and finance by PSC executive director Braulio Baez last spring.

 

Climate activists protest, but board nominating regulators ignores issue

@jenstaletovich
 
Scientists hoping to draw attention to Gov. Rick Scott's disregard for climate change and rising seas staged a press conference next door to a meeting of the Public Service Commission Nominating Council at the Miami International Airport Hotel Thursday.
 
But before they could even start, state Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-West Palm Beach, who chairs the council, announced, "I support climate change," as he walked by University of Miami climate scientist Harold Wanless and South Miami Mayor Phil Stoddard.
 
Abruzzo later walked into the press conference to urge Wanless and Stoddard to apply for a position on the advisory board that oversees Florida utilities, including Florida Power & Light, and noted that none of candidates for the regulatory board addressed climate change in their presentations.
 
"I'm a firm believer in global warming," Abruzzo said. "Renewables are important to me, especially solar power, because we're the Sunshine State."
 
Wanless and Stoddard have frequently criticized Scott for ignoring the dangers of climate change. They used the meeting of the nominating council to underscore what they say is a "cozy relationship" between the regulators and the utilities that have fought against increasing Florida's energy conservation mandates and wean Florida's energy market off fossil fuels. 

Continue reading "Climate activists protest, but board nominating regulators ignores issue" »

School voucher lawsuit sparks debate

Photo (46) Photo (45)

There were no surprises at a pair of Thursday press conferences addressing the legal challenge to the school voucher program.

The first press conference was held by the plaintiffs: the state teachers union, the school boards association, the school administrators association, the PTA, the Florida League of Women Voters, and the Florida Conference of the NAACP, among others.

In her opening remarks, Florida Education Association Vice President Joanne McCall referenced the 2006 state Supreme Court ruling that declared the Florida's original school voucher program unconstitutional.

"Since that time, the Florida Legislature has gone down the path of making more voucher programs, in spite of the fact that the court said it was unconstitutional," McCall said. "The Florida Legislature is not above the courts. It is not above the constitution."

Later, school choice supporters gathered outside the union headquarters in Tallahassee to make the case for the keeping the program, also known as the Tax Credit Scholarship Program. The crowd included parents, about 50 schoolchildren from Leon County, and a handful of pastors from around the state.

"We must not eliminate this program," said Robert Ward, pastor of Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in St. Petersburg. "It is helping."

Read the lawsuit below.

Download McCall

Excerpts from the text messages that didn't exist

Text messagesFlorida Gov. Rick Scott's office has a no-texting policy for staff. It also has a policy that discourages the use of private email accounts and private cell phones for public business.

But as a result of a lawsuit by Tallahassee attorney Steven R. Andrews, documents have emerged that show both policies are routinely ignored by the governor's staff, agencies heads and countless others in state government. Here's today's story on how they kept details on a mansion plan under wraps. Here's last week's story on how the practice serves to put up barriers to public records.

Former members of the governors staff have also told the Herald/Times that two of the governor's former chiefs of staff, Mike Prendergast and Steve MacNamara, instructed employees to use personal emails and personal cell phone text messages to communication anything that was sensitive, creating a barrier to access when records requests were made.

Current chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth instituted the texting ban when he came to office and told reporters he doesn't use text messages to communicate, but that didn't stop him from accepting hundreds of messages from prominent Republicans seeking input with the governor.

Andrews' records show that in May 2013, Hollingsworth was texting FInkbeiner. First, Finkbeiner sent Hollingsworth a text that included only the word "PIN" and a number. Then Hollingsworth replied with this text:

"At the end of each bill summary, please give recommendation: we recommend signing the bill or we recommend a veto or we recommend additional due dilligrant and in that regard we will be doing the following."

Only after these messages were revealed did Hollingsworth turn off the text messaging function of his phone. 

When asked for text messages of state officials, the Office of Open Government has repeatedly told requesters that no text messages exist. But after a judge ordered documents in his property dispute with the state to be released, Andrews was able to break through that smokescreen. 

Photo: Excerpt from Chris Finkbeiner's text messages

Continue reading "Excerpts from the text messages that didn't exist" »

Why did more Republicans vote in the primary? They had 19 more legislative races than Democrats

@MarcACaputo

Democrats have good reason to worry that the base might not be enthusiastic about their party’s nominee, Republican-turned-independent-turned Democrat Charlie Crist.

Turnout in Democratic counties was low and more 114,000 more Republican ballots than Democratic ones were cast in the gubernatorial primary.

But you can’t pin this all on Crist or on some Republican love for Gov. Rick Scott, who has had to spend millions to get his poll numbers from bad to mediocre.

Republican voters had more reason statewide to go to the polls than Democrats. Compared to Democratic contests, there were 19 more Republican primary legislative races (that is, races for Congress and state Senate and House).

Continue reading "Why did more Republicans vote in the primary? They had 19 more legislative races than Democrats" »