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141 posts from January 2017

January 19, 2017

Miami's Helen Aguirre Ferré gets White House post


Miamian Helen Aguirre Ferré, who took a rather thankless job during the presidential campaign as a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, won a post Thursday in incoming President Donald Trump's White House. 

Aguirre Ferré will be a special assistant to the president and director of media affairs, Trump's transition team announced.

Time is running out to apply to the Constitutional Revision Commission

Scott Negron CorcoranFriday is the last day to apply to be a member of what may be one of the most influential groups assembled in Florida in two decades — the Florida Constitutional Revision Commission.

The unique panel has the power to put proposals directly on the 2018 mid-term ballot to reform and update the state’s constitution, and shape Florida’s future. The list of applicants is long, and many have been carefully recruited by Gov. Rick Scott, the chief justice of the Supreme Court and Florida’s top two legislative leaders. Those four men will make the appointments.

The state has done this twice before: in 1978 — after the 1968 rewrite of the state Constitution — and 1998. If past experience is any indicator, the commission will be mostly political insiders.

Want to know who has applied this time? Read more here.

Report: Rick Scott is helping Trump craft Obamacare replacement



Gov. Rick Scott, a former hospital executive, is lending his friend President-elect Donald Trump a hand in dismantling the Affordable Care Act.

On Wednesday, he said he's working closely with Congressman Tom Price, Trump's pick to run the Department of Health and Human Services, to write legislation that would replace President Barack Obama's signature health care law, McClatchy D.C. reported.

“I’ve spent quite a bit of time already with Congressman Price, who I’ve known for a long time, to try to come up with a plan to repeal what doesn’t work and to replace it with something that’s going to drive down costs and improve access,” Scott told reporters, according to the report.

He did not provide specifics.

Scott --who ran the hospital company Columbia/HCA before becoming governor -- has been a vocal critic of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Scott was at Columbia/HCA during what was then the largest Medicare fraud case in U.S. history. The case was settled after he left the company, though Scott wanted to fight the accusations.

In 2015, he sued the federal government, saying the Obama administration was wrongly trying to coerce the state into expanding Medicaid. Scott fought hard against legislation expanding health care coverage to low-income Floridians that year.

He also launched a health care commission that dug into hospitals' billing practices and targeted what Scott termed "price gauging" practices.

This post has been updated to clarify details about the Columbia/HCA Medicare fraud case.

Photo: Gov. Rick Scott. (Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times)

Court overturns three death sentences, including cop killer's


OT_392168_KEEL_15_FLGOV0305The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday overturned death sentences for three men, including a convicted cop killer.

Lancelot Uriley Armstrong was convicted of killing John Greeney, a Broward County sheriff's deputy and Air Force veteran, during a 1990 armed robbery at a Church's Fried Chicken in Fort Lauderdale. The jury voted 9-3 to sentence him to death and gave another man involved in the armed robbery a life sentence. 

Now, Armstrong, as well as Donald Otis Williams, convicted of kidnapping and murdering an 81-year-old woman in 2010, and William M. Kopsho, sentenced for killing his wife in 2000 after learning she was having an affair, will have new sentencing hearings.

It's possible they could still be sentenced to death, but they could also see their sentences commuted to life in prison.

Courts will empanel new juries to decide how to sentence each of these men, though they will not determine whether they are guilty, as their first-degree murder convictions have not been overturned.

If the Florida Legislature updates the state's death penalty laws to require a unanimous vote for a death sentence -- as state Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, has proposed (SB 280) -- then a vote of all 12 jurors could put them to death. Anything less would lead to a life sentence. (The state Supreme Court threw out Florida's death penalty laws as unconstitutional last year because they did not require unanimous jury votes.)

By demanding new sentencing hearings in these cases, the court is putting into practice a Dec. 22 ruling that could lead to life sentences for some of the 200-plus death-row prisoners whose cases were finalized after a key U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2002.

It's likely similar decisions will continue to trickle out of the court in the coming months.

In the December rulings, the justices decided that death sentences finalized after June 2002 were unconstitutional because they did not require a unanimous jury vote and because the judge could impose a death sentence without the jury's approval. It's a standard critics, including Senior Justice James Perry, have criticized as "arbitrary."

Older sentences still stand. The court affirmed two of them Thursday, as well, including the case of Stanley McCloud, convicted of killing his wife with a .357 magnum in front of their two young children.

Photo: Florida Supreme Court. (Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times)

After Fort Lauderdale airport shooting, a look at how Florida lags behind on mental health funding

FLL Airportpeoplerunning


The suspect in the mass shooting at the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport told the FBI in Alaska in November that he was hearing voices.

Anchorage police confiscated Esteban Santiago’s handgun and took him for a mental health evaluation. Police returned his gun to him in December when he asked for it.

On Jan. 6, he flew to Broward County and is the suspected gunman in a rampage at the airport that left five dead and several others injured. Days later, Democratic state legislators held a press conference in Tallahassee to argue for gun control measures and more mental health funding.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, said that Republican legislators argue that the way to reduce gun violence is not through gun control but mental health care funding. But Florida, he said, has the worst record in the nation in terms of funding mental health care treatment.

"We see once again Florida is ranked 50th in the nation for mental health care funding — 50th," he said. "There is no one that is doing worse than we are when it comes to making sure we that we are providing comprehensive mental health care."

Florida is near the bottom of the pack in mental health funding, and one key ranking cited by many experts places the state at 51st in per capita spending. However, there are some caveats about the ranking.

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

Gov. Rick Scott's Sunshine Ball in Washington


via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Hundreds of guests packed Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium Wednesday for Gov. Rick Scott's Florida Sunshine Ball, which featured a Beach Boys performance and kicked off a days long celebration for incoming President Donald Trump.

"When Florida throws a party you have to show," said former U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Beruff.

Among those we saw in the crowd: U.S. Reps. Tom Rooney and Matt Gaetz, former Rep. Allen Boyd,  Blaise IngogliaAl Cardenas, Lew Oliver, Nick Diceglie, J.J. Beyrouti, Christian Ziegler, and Brian Ballard, who arrived in a Cadillac SUV with Joe Negron. Sen. Marco Rubio was apparently inside the room, which was lit up in neon.

January 18, 2017

Trump inauguration draws South Florida attendees from outside politics

Palmetto Ridge Band Sendoff

Tickets in hand for Friday’s main event — and for three nights of celebratory balls — Rachel Sapoznik packed her fur coat and boarded a JetBlue flight from Fort Lauderdale to Washington on Wednesday, prepared to bundle up to experience the pomp surrounding Donald Trump’s inauguration.

She arrived to a pleasant weather surprise at the nation’s capital: “It’s beautiful, absolutely beautiful!” she said by phone, coat in hand.

Sapoznik, who owns an employer health-benefits company in North Miami Beach, made big plans to attend her first presidential swearing-in, starting with Wednesday night’s Florida Sunshine Ball hosted by Gov. Rick Scott.

South Floridians of all stripes started trickling into Washington this week ahead of Friday’s inauguration and the many festivities leading up to it.

As always, there will be a robust contingent of Republican politicians. In addition to the governor and his wife, Ann (who is hosting a tea), Attorney General Pam Bondi, one of Trump’s closest allies, will be in town. So will Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, state House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O’Lakes and state Senate President Joe Negron of Stuart, as well as Miami state Reps. Jose Felix Diaz and Carlos Trujillo, who are splitting a two-bedroom apartment they found on Airbnb. Members of Congress will be welcoming constituents to their Capitol Hill offices — in U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s case, with donuts and cafecito.

A few Democrats — Reps. Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach, Darren Soto of Orlando and Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens — are skipping the inauguration.)

Some attendees already know how special inaugurations can be: Diaz attended President Bill Clinton’s second inaugural — and the Florida ball — as a high school student.

“It’s probably one of the coolest trips I’ve ever taken in my life,” he said. “It’s probably one of the reasons I’m in politics today.”

But Trump was an unusual candidate who did not cozy up to the political establishment. So while his inauguration is attracting the usual plugged-in crowd, it’s also drawing the same grassroots believers who lifted him to victory.

More here.

Photo credit: Nicole Raucheisen/Naples Daily News via AP

Florida members of Congress ask Trump to save federal hospital funding


Seven Florida members of Congress from both political parties want incoming President Donald Trump's administration to renew -- and perhaps grow -- federal hospital funding for the state.

Florida's Low Income Pool, which helps pay for a hospital safety net across the state, is set to expire June 30. Gov. Rick Scott sued the Obama administration over recent cuts to the funding, alleging it was attempted coercion to get Florida to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

"The State of Florida has chosen not to expand Medicaid," the lawmakers write, and add that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service's "prescribed policy change has had unintended and detrimental consequences for children’s hospitals including Nicklaus Children’s, Joe DiMaggio Children’s, and St. Joseph’s Children’s, among others."

"Floridians should not be held hostage in healthcare policy reform negotiations between the state and federal governments," they added. "Regardless of the form that future federal healthcare reform efforts may take, a robust and improved LIP should be in place to ensure that Florida’s healthcare safety net is strengthened and secure."

According to the office of Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who put the effort together, the letter has been signed by fellow Republican Reps. Gus Bilirakis of Gainesville, Carlos Curbelo of Miami and Dan Webster of Clermont, as well as Democratic Reps. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg and Darren Soto of Orlando.

Read the letter below.

Continue reading "Florida members of Congress ask Trump to save federal hospital funding" »

Obama: Wet foot, dry foot 'was a carryover of an old way of thinking'


At his final White House news conference Wednesday, President Barack Obama made his first remarks about ending the special immigration policy for Cubans last week. Here is his answer in full, to a question about why he did away with wet foot/dry foot:

We underwent a monumental shift in our policy towards Cuba. My view was, after 50 years of the policy not working, it made sense for us to try to reopen diplomatic relations to engage the Cuban government, to be honest with them about the strong disagreements we have around political repression and treatment of dissenters and freedom of the press and freedom of religion. But to make progress for the Cuban people, our best shot was to suddenly have the Cuban people interacting with Americans, and seeing the incredibly  success of the Cuban-American community, and engaging in commerce and business and trade, and that it was through that process of opening up these bilateral relations that you would see over time serious and significant improvement.

Given that shift in the relationship, the policy that we had in place, which treated Cuban émigrés completely different from folks from El Salvador or Guatemala or Nicaragua or any other part of the world, one that made a distinction about whether you got here by land or by foot, that was a carryover of an old way of thinking that didn't make sense in this day and age, particularly as we're opening up travel between the two countries. And so we had very lengthy consultations with the Department of Homeland Security, we had some tough negotiations with the Cuban [government], but we arrived at a policy that we think is both fair and appropriate to the changing nature of the relationship between the two countries.

Photo credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press

Florida Gov. Rick Scott won't say if he's looking for potential Pam Bondi replacement

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - If Attorney General Pam Bondi is preparing to take a job in the Trump administration, Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday gave not an inch in acknowledging the task of appointing a replacement.

"She's been a good partner in our governor and cabinet meetings," Scott said. "I hope she doesn't leave. I hope she stays in Florida."

But if she does leave, do you have plans in place?

"I'll worry about that when it happens," he said. "I hope she doesn't leave."

This post will be updated with responses Scott gave to a number of issues, from Obamacare to the pardons President Obama has given drug offenders, many of them in Florida.

Scott declined to comment on that, saying he didn't know details of individual cases, but pivoted to yesterday's commutation of Chelsea Manning. "There is no question in the world this guy, or this person, committed treason. ... It's despicable. We have got to decide as a country that we're going to support our military."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times