November 23, 2016

Broward lawmaker healing after spinal cord injury left him unable to walk

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@ByKristenMClark

In early October, Shevrin Jones abruptly lost the ability to walk.

The affable 33-year-old state representative from Broward County ruptured part of his lower spinal cord during an accident at the gym, causing a nerve injury that his doctors told him should have left him paralyzed.

After emergency surgery, a follow-up procedure and rigorous physical therapy, Jones not only walked again far sooner than expected — seven weeks later, he walks now with assistance only from a cane.

“I thought there was a point I’d never walk again,” Jones said. “Through my faith, my determination and by the grace of God, I’m much better.”

Jones is still recuperating, not yet cleared by his surgeon to travel. Reluctantly, he had to miss the Legislature’s organizational session on Tuesday for the 2016-18 term. It will be his third in the Florida House representing West Park and surrounding areas that stretch from parts of Miramar and Pembroke Pines to Hollywood and Hallandale Beach.

But Jones — known for his passionate and infectiously friendly personality — is determined to return to his legislative duties as soon as possible, so much so his friends in the Legislature have to remind him to focus on recovery first.

“I’m like, ‘Shev, just rest,’ ” laughed state Rep. Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale, who said Jones is still “constantly thinking” about his work waiting for him in Tallahassee.

Read more here.

Photo credit: Gregory Reed Photography

November 21, 2016

Oscar Braynon, Lauren Book named Florida Senate Democrats' top leaders

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@ByKristenMClark

A longtime legislator from Miami Gardens will lead the Democrats of the Florida Senate for the next two years.

Sen. Oscar Braynon’s ascension to Senate minority leader was made official Monday evening in advance of Tuesday’s organizational session for the 2016-18 Legislature. He’s now in charge of a 15-member Democratic caucus, of which 11 are newly elected senators.

“I’m happy to be taking on that role,” Braynon said. “We’re going to have a bunch of blank slates when it comes to what happens in the Senate. There’s a lot of potential there.”

One of those newcomers is freshman Broward County Sen. Lauren Book, whom the Democratic caucus also unanimously elected as Braynon’s No. 2 in the role of Senate Democratic leader pro tempore.

Book, of Plantation, is a prominent advocate for victims of childhood sexual abuse and the founder and CEO of Aventura-based Lauren’s Kids. She is also the daughter of powerful Tallahassee lobbyist Ron Book, whom she called “her best friend, rock and mentor.”

Although the Republican majority in the Senate will drive the agenda, Braynon said his goal as minority leader is to continue pushing for Democratic priorities, such as equal pay for women and raising the minimum wage, protecting the environment, improving access to health care and strengthening public education.

Read more.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

DuBose, Farmer named leaders of Broward County legislative delegation

@ByKristenMClark

A state representative entering his second term and a freshman senator in his first elected office have been named the leaders for Broward County's legislative delegation for the 2017 session.

State Rep. Bobby DuBose and state Sen. Gary Farmer, both Democrats from Fort Lauderdale, were elected as chairman and vice-chairman, respectively, by the 19-member delegation on Thursday.

The delegation's chairmen and vice-chairmen serve one-year terms.

DuBose was first elected to the Legislature in 2014 and was reelected this year without opposition.

Farmer is a consumer advocate attorney and former president of the Florida Justice Association. He won Broward County's District 34 Senate seat with 63 percent of the vote.

DuBose and Farmer, respectively, replace former Democratic state Rep. Gwyndolen Clarke-Reed and Sen. Chris Smith.

September 25, 2016

Hillary Clinton to campaign in Broward Friday

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Hillary Clinton returns to South Florida this week when she campaigns in Broward and St. Lucie counties Friday.

The locations of the events have not been announced but the public can RSVP for the Broward event here and the St. Lucie event here. Clinton will fundraise in Miami Beach Friday night. Former President Bill Clinton will hold a bus tour in Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Panama City Friday and Saturday.

Broward has about 581,000 Democrats -- the largest contingent in Florida. Clinton's last public event in Broward was at Broward College in October. Her running mate, Tim Kaine, will speak at Miami Dade College tonight.

July 16, 2016

PolitiFact: Florida Senate candidate never got an A from NRA

In a duel for state Senate, two Democrats are battling over bad grades.

Jim Waldman, a former four-term House member from Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, sees a bad grade from the National Rifle Association as a selling point. But Parkland lawyer Gary Farmer, his well-funded primary challenger for the newly redrawn District 34 seat, calls it a false advertisement. (Rep. Gwyndolen Clarke-Reed is also in the race.)

Farmer’s campaign sent out emails and fliers claiming Waldman received an A grade from the NRA. You can see how this might be a problem for a Democrat in a heavily Democratic district like Fort Lauderdale.

Waldman says it's not just a problem — it's wrong. He accused Farmer of being the liar, holding up his D from the NRA in 2010 and his voting record on gun legislation in the Florida House.

"Unfortunately, a political committee led by Gary Farmer is spreading lies about my record on guns," Waldman wrote in an email to his campaign subscribers. "They’re spending tens of thousands of dollars mailing a FALSE claim to voters that I received an ‘A’ from the NRA."

He continued: "Check the report card. Their claim is an absolute lie."

With both camps taking aim, Allison Graves of PolitiFact Florida stepped into the ring.

December 03, 2015

Just don't call it climate change in Tallahassee

Miami beach flood

@jenstaletovich

KEY WEST -- Climate change is still a dirty word in Tallahassee.

On the last day of a three-day Key West summit on climate change in South Florida, local lawmakers said they are chipping away at problems tied to rising sea levels and a host of ills linked to a warming planet, as long as they call it something else.

"You’re not allowed to talk about climate change. I don’t think that’s literally the policy, but because of the environment, you're not allowed to openly engage," said State Rep. José Javier Rodríguez, a Miami Democrat.

Rodriguez, along with State Rep. Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek, said in addressing woes projected for the state - from declining coral reefs to a six to 12-inch rise in South Florida seas in the next 15 years - they struggle to delicately describe it as something else. Finding money for projects, they say, is easier than changing policy. Just don't mention the dreaded C words.

"Everyday we’re seeing people accept things that I didn’t think they would," Jacobs said. "Who would have thought Republicans would be for passing marijuana?"

Continue reading "Just don't call it climate change in Tallahassee" »

June 30, 2015

Miami-Dade legislators to speak at Ramadan event

State Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, and State Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, will speak at a Sharing Ramadan event at the Al Ansar Mosque in Miami on Tuesday from from 7 to 9 p.m.

The events are sponsored by Emerge USA, an organization that aims to engage Muslim, Arab and South Asian American communities in the political process. Emerge USA has a federal political action committee that has raised small amounts of money for candidates.

The mosque is located at  5245 NW 7th Ave, Miami.

May 07, 2015

Broward legislators, hospital execs to discuss Medicaid fallout

Broward state legislators, hospital CEOs and community leaders will discuss the financial impact of the state budget fallout over Medicaid expansion.

The meeting will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at the Broward County Governmental Center, 115 S. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale

Participants include Broward legislative chairman Jeremy Ring, Mayor Tim Ryan, Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce President Dan Lindblade and officials from the county’s two public hospitals: Broward Health and Memorial Health Care.

Lawmakers plan on a three-week special session starting June 1 to finish the state budget by June 30. Broward's predominantly Democratic legislative delegation is unlikely to play any major role in hammering out a budget agreement in Tallahassee, but they can play the important role of the minority party in terms of raising issues.

Disagreement over how to handle the Low Income Pool money which hospitals use for charity care, which the federal government is phasing out, led to the stalemate last month. While Senate leaders want to expand Medicaid, the House leadership refused to do which led them to end the session a few days early in April.

Gov. Rick Scott met with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell on Wednesday in Washington D.C. to ask her to approve the state's proposal for LIP funding, but that meeting led to no resolution.

December 11, 2014

Rep. Alcee Hastings escapes sex-harassment ethics charge, gets rapped for bad behavior

via @learyreports at Tampa Bay Times Buzz blog:

The House Ethics Committee today said it was clearing Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, in a sexual harassment case, brought by a female employee of the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the
Helsinki Commission.

But the commission admonished Hastings anyway.

"Despite the fact that the conduct in this case does not rise to the level of actionable violations of the rules, the Committee does not want to leave the impression that Representative Hastings' behavior was at all times appropriate. He admitted to some conduct that, while not wrongful per se, certainly could be misunderstood. For example, Representative Hastings admitted that he hugged Complainant on a number of occasions. It is true that a hug, on its own, is not sexual harassment, and that a number of witnesses testified that (1) Representative Hastings hugs many people frequently; (2) when hugging others (including Complainant), Representative Hastings did not place his hands or body in such a fashion that indicated the hug was sexual or intimate in nature; and (3) given Representative Hastings' work with Complainant often occurred in Europe, such contact was within the customary forms of greeting for the relevant locale. Nevertheless, hugging is not the most professional way to greet coworkers, and different individuals have different comf01i levels for touching others.

"Similarly, Representative Hastings admitted to making two comments in the presence of Complainant: one about not being able to sleep after sex, and another about female Members of Congress wearing the same underwear all day. It is true that Complainant attempted to make more of these comments than appears to be supported by the evidence, and that on their own, they do not constitute sexual harassment. Nevertheless, the Committee finds it concerning that in the year 2014 it has to remind a Member that such comments show poor judgment."

The case file is here.

May 13, 2014

ALF reforms fail again in Legislature

TALLAHASSEE -- Legislative leaders identified reform of Florida’s assisted-living facilities as one of their top goals this session, but once again lawmakers did not adopt measures to improve conditions in the 3,048 facilities around the state.

It is the third year the Legislature has not passed reforms proposed after a 2011 Miami Herald investigation that revealed the neglect, abuse and death of residents at some in ALFs.

The most recent Senate and House proposals fell apart in the final days when the House attached other health care related bills to the Senate’s ALF bill and they couldn’t resolve their differences.

“We still have the same antiquated, dangerous system that was in place when the Miami Herald wrote its series,” said Brian Lee, executive director of Families for Better Care. The state “has not fixed the abuse and neglect, and residents are still in trouble.”

Getting rid of the “bad apples” in the ALF industry and adding more oversight affects not only the elderly who live in facilities that can house a total of more than 80,000 residents, but also Florida’s economy and future generations, said Jack McRay, advocacy manager for AARP Florida.

“Florida seniors pay more in taxes than they get back in services,” McRay said. “It’s essential that they are able to remain and stay in Florida... We need to get it right.”

What happened this session “is a classic example of politics again trumping policy,” McRay said. “It became part of a healthcare ‘train’ that became a train wreck.”

The Senate unanimously passed SB 248 early in the session. The House passed its version, HB 573, at the end of April. While House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz identified ALF reform as one of their session goals in their “Work Plan 2014” program, it failed to make any progress.

Gaetz blames the House, and the ALF industry, for the bill’s demise.

“It wasn’t the trains that killed the bill. It was the House that killed the bill,’’ he  told the Herald/Times. “Speaker Weatherford gave me his commitment they would try to do this. The ALF industry lobbied very hard against reforms. They lost a lot of credibility. It’s a real shame.”

He said that when the House bill began to be “picked apart” in that chamber, he urged the Senate prime sponsor, Sen. Eleanoer Sobel, D-Hollywood, to start attaching it to several high priority House bills. In retaliation, the House attached language to the ALF bill that the Senate didn’t want -- language about surgery centers and visitation rights for grandparents.

“Healthcare is a complex issue, and we just weren’t able to get agreement between the two chambers,” Weatherford said after the session ended May 2.

Gaetz said he vowed to be Sobel’s first co-sponsor and will work to pass the bill next year.

"Frankly,’’ he said. “Those of us who support her efforts need a little bit more enthusiastic help.”

Sobel and House sponsor, Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, both vowed to renew their efforts next session.

"I’m very disappointed,” said Sobel, who also blamed “special interests” for the bill’s failure. “I believe we were very close and got further than we have in previous years,” she said.

Ahern said the important thing for next year “is to agree on something the first month of session and get this done early.”

Among the provisions, the ALF bill would have required facilities with one or more, rather than three or more, state-supported mental health residents obtain a limited mental health license; authorized ALF staff members, with increased training, to perform additional medication-related duties; and to assist with the self-administration of medication with increased training.

The most contentious issue was a new rating system for all licensed ALFs, similar to the system used for nursing homes. It would help consumers pick the best home for their loved ones. Family members often find themselves in a quandary when the hospital discharges a patient who cannot go home, McRay said.

“The consumer doesn’t know where to go or which ALFs are good and which are bad. A rating system has worked very well with nursing homes.”

The idea of a ratings system rankled the ALF industry. One industry group, the Florida Assisted Living Association (FALA), raised objections that people could post anonymous, possibly damaging comments on a website that would be managed by the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration.

The ratings system, along with a change in the fine structure that FALA said could affect smaller homes, were among the group’s key objections, said  Shaddrick Haston, its CEO, but he contends that members were not trying to sabotage the bill.

“Actually, most of the bill had great things to help residents age in place,” said Haston, who is AHCA’s former head of licensing for assisted-living facilities. “The industry wanted an ALF bill this year.”

One concern of Lee's, director of Families for Better Care, was a change that would reduce monitoring visits for homes that met certain criteria. Even a home that has had a good reputation can falter, he said.

In the fall, he noted, the state fined the Royal Palm Retirement Centre, an ALF in Port Charlotte, $22,500 for several violations found during a visit. AHCA’s inspection report noted that among resident-care problems, the facility “failed to provide adequate nursing supervision in providing care for four insulin-dependent diabetic residents.”

AHCA, Lee said, “needs to put more boots on the ground in ALFs, not fewer.”

Herald/Times staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report. Contact Rochelle Koff at rkoff@miamiherald.com