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

May 07, 2014

Broward to seek voter approval for $800 million school bond issue


Broward’s school district will ask voters to approve an $800 million bond issue this fall — a referendum that will likely become a defining moment for the nation’s sixth-largest school system.

By unanimous vote, school board members on Tuesday began the voter referendum process by formally asking the state’s permission to put the issue on the November ballot. The state’s approval is expected to come quickly and easily.

It’s getting approval from county voters that will be the tricky part. The next six months will test Broward’s ability to community effectively and stay on-message — a task that historically has proven difficult for the district.

Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie is pitching the bond issue as an worthwhile investment — and one that pays dividends in a variety of ways.

“Everything that we do is linked to the quality of the schools in our community,” Runcie said. “Housing values, quality of life, the ability to attract businesses and families to our communities all rest on the quality of our schools, and our ability to invest and maintain them and provide our children with a world-class education.”

If the bond issue passes, Broward would receive a badly-needed infusion of cash for capital improvements and technology needs. Dozens of district schools are struggling with leaky roofs, for example, which creates mold risks.

More here.

April 23, 2014

In Broward home, Dems reject Rich's call to debate Crist

Last night the management committee of the Broward Democratic Executive Committee rejected a motion to encourage a debate between Nan Rich and Charlie Crist for governor.

The purpose of the resolution was to compel the Florida Democratic Party to call for a statewide debate between two major candidates -- understood to mean Rich and Crist.

That was a purely symbolic resolution -- the state party isn’t sitting around waiting for local DECs to dictate whether it encourages a debate or not. But it’s still a blow to Rich, a former longtime Democratic state senator from Weston, who appears not to have support of a group of her hometown activists. DECs in other counties including Palm Beach and Miami-Dade could follow with their own votes -- but such a vote is a bigger deal in Broward since that’s Rich’s county.

Broward Democratic chairman Mitch Ceasar wouldn’t reveal the breakdown of the vote that included about 18 people on the management committee which encompasses officers, area leaders and the heads of various caucuses including the black caucus.

“The philosophy was folks believed they should not be taking a position for one candidate or another in primary and in effect this is doing that, ....” Ceasar said. “As much as everybody in the room has respect for Nan -- tremendous respect for Nan -- many interpret this as being an indirect endorsement for one candidate.”

Maggie Davidson, a state committeewoman and Rich supporter from Pompano Beach, said she proposed the resolution. The vote “wasn’t really close,” she said.

“They were all pretty much in agreement that they didn’t want the DEC to be the one to put forth the effort for the debate,” she said. “They thought it should come from the candidates or the Florida Democratic Party. They felt it was going to be divisive.”

But Davidson said she believes in the principle of debates so that candidates have to answer to the voters.

“We have had primary debates in the past,” she said. “I don’t know why it’s any different -- why there should not be a debate.”

Davidson, a supporter of abortion rights, particularly wanted to hear Crist explain how he will handle abortion-related legislation if elected governor.

“He has been saying he is pro-life. I want to know he is pro-choice and will veto all the bad legislation that the Legislature has been putting forth the last four or five years. I haven’t heard that from him. The people of Florida, especially women, need to hear that from Charlie.”

Several Democratic activists -- including Ceasar -- and politicians were at Crist’s event Saturday to open his South Florida headquarters in Plantation. Broward has about 560,000 registered Democratic voters -- more than any other county in Florida. But the county has lagged behind in turnout in past non-presidential election years and only about 41 percent turned out to vote in 2010 when Democrat Alex Sink lost to Rick Scott. Sink was criticized for not spending enough time in Broward.

Crist has tried to boost his presence in Broward by opening his first field office there and renting an apartment on the beach. However he has not been as publicly visible as some Democrats would like in Broward -- the event Saturday was his first major public event here. Crist did not attend the Broward Democrats’ annual Unity Dinner last month where Rich spoke and he has not asked to speak to the DEC.


April 17, 2014

Dade Democrats' chair: I didn't break rules by endorsing

Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chair Annette Taddeo-Goldstein sent an email endorsing Joe Geller in his race for State House District 100.

“It's my great pleasure to announce my endorsement of my friend and longtime public servant Joe Geller for State House, district 100,” states the April 15th email from Taddeo-Goldstein. “Over his long career in public service, Joe served as Mayor of North Bay Village and Chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, and now he is our general counsel — volunteering his time to make sure every vote is counted.” (Geller is also the brother of former state Sen. Steve Geller, an adviser to Charlie Crist’s campaign.)  

Taddeo-Goldstein sent the email after Alexander Lewy, a Hallandale Beach city commissioner, dropped out of the race to take a job at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. (Lewy didn’t return our calls last week about his new gig, so here is some background from the Sentinel.)

Lewy had raised about $86,000 and was seen as Geller’s main opponent, so now that he dropped out Geller -- who has raised about $104,000 and loaned his campaign $25,000 -- is the front runner.

Taddeo-Goldstein says Geller is now the only viable Democrat -- and the only one from Miami-Dade County for the seat that also stretches into Broward.

But Geller still faces two primary opponents: John Alvarez of Hallandale Beach who has raised about $9,000 and loaned his campaign about $9,000 and Benjamin Sorensen of Hollywood who has raised about $18,000 and loaned his campaign about $8,000. The seat in the left-leaning district is being vacated by term limited state Rep. Joe Gibbons.

Privately, some Democrats said Taddeo-Goldstein was breaking an unspoken party rule or tradition that often keeps Democratic party chairs from endorsing in primaries.

Asked about that unofficial rule, Taddeo-Goldstein said she did nothing wrong.

“It doesn’t break any rule,” she said. “We can endorse in primaries as individuals, and I was happy to do so.”

Taddeo-Goldstein said that the endorsement came from her individually -- not the Miami-Dade Democrats, which as a group hasn’t made an endorsement.

But since the email came from Taddeo-Goldstein, the chair of the party and has the Miami-Dade Democrats logo on it, couldn’t readers interpret that as an endorsement from the group?

“I understand they could read it that way if they don’t pay attention to the first sentence, but I was very clear in my first sentence I was the one endorsing,” she said.

The members of the county party group sign a loyalty oath that is intended to prevent members from endorsing Republicans, Taddeo-Goldstein said. The oath states: “I will not support the election of the opponent of any Democratic nominee, I will not oppose the election of any Democratic nominee, nor will I support any non-Democrat against a Democrat in any election other than in judicial races....”

The word “nominee” refers to the Democrat who emerges from the primary as the winner, so that doesn’t mean members can’t endorse in the primary, Taddeo-Goldstein argues.

Geller says there is nothing unusual about the party chair making an endorsement.

“I used to be the chair of the party. I did it all the time. .... I endorsed Bill Clinton in the primary -- there were five or six Democrats running.”

April 11, 2014

Charlie Crist to open Broward office Tuesday

Charlie Crist will open his first field office in the state in Broward County Tuesday.

The campaign’s South Florida headquarters will be located at 320 South University Drive, Plantation. Crist is expected to attend the 5 p.m. opening.

Crist has also rented an apartment on Fort Lauderdale beach.

Broward has about 563,000 registered Democrats -- the highest number of any county in Florida. But the county has produced sluggish turnout in recent non-presidential statewide elections -- only 41 percent bothered to show up at the polls in 2010 when Democrat Alex Sink lost the governor’s race to Republican Rick Scott. Democratic activists grumbled that Sink didn’t failed to put in enough time in Broward during her campaign. So far in his race for governor, Crist hasn’t had many large group public appearances in Broward either -- he didn’t attend the Broward Democrats’ annual Unity Dinner last month. Broward is also home to Crist’s underdog primary competitor former state Sen. Nan Rich of Weston.

Crist has been in Broward for fundraisers including at the law firm of former state Sen. Steve Geller and the home of Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Dean Trantalis.

“Floridians deserve a Governor who will work with Republicans, Democrats, and Independents to strengthen small businesses that create jobs, cut wasteful spending, and restore deep cuts to public schools,” said Crist in a press release. “We are committed to having the boots on the ground to make that happen and that starts in Broward County.”

To follow attacks in the race, check out PolitiFact Florida’s full file on Crist and Scott.




Guns banned at Broward hurricane shelters

Today the Florida House is expected to vote on a bill that would allow people with clean criminal backgrounds to conceal firearms without a permit during emergencies including hurricane evacuations.

When the House debated the bill Wednesday, some legislators including state Rep. Elaine Schwartz, D-Hollywood, and Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami, asked if evacuees could then bring their guns into hurricane shelters. Bill sponsor Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, said that would not be allowed.

We checked in with Miguel Ascarrunz, Broward’s interim emergency management director, about the rules for shelters -- which are all at public schools -- in Broward.

“According to the Broward School Board’s Safety Department, no weapons are allowed on school property, including schools designated as evacuation shelters,” Ascarrunz said in an email.

Depending on the strength of an expected hurricane, up to about 143,000 residents live in a mandatory evacuation  zone in Broward.


April 04, 2014

Broward Teachers Union on mend after bruising election


After a bruising internal election, the Broward Teachers Union is moving forward -– with incumbent President Sharon Glickman successfully holding on to her post.

Glickman took about 54 percent of the vote in the BTU’s recent election, surviving a heated race against two challengers. The testy campaign included accusations of election committee improprieties, and candidates were sometimes put on the defensive over their past financial troubles.

But the union is now doing its best to heal, Glickman said, with an upcoming retreat planned for its executive board.

“It’s gonna take some time to mend fences,” Glickman said. “But the most important thing is that we work together for our members.”

The union has plenty of work to do:  endorsing candidates in the upcoming School Board election; negotiating raises for some employees, such as technical support personnel; and fighting Broward’s plan to privatize its facilities department.

Next Saturday will provide a feel-good moment, when the union gives away 45,000 books for students at high-poverty schools.

“Can you imagine 45,000 books?” Glickman said “They came in by the truckload.” 


April 03, 2014

Broward debates bed tax dollars for Panthers vs. beaches

Panthers CEO Rory Babich wouldn’t play ball when we asked him today what his Plan B is -- and if it includes relocating the team --- if the Broward County Commission rejects his request for a hike in bed tax dollars.

“In my view that is a hypothetical ....,” Babich said in an interview after a Tower Forum event in Fort Lauderdale Thursday. “It’s my belief we will reach an appropriation resolution.”

The Panthers, which lose about $30 million a year, are seeking an increase in bed tax dollars paid by tourists to help pay off the debt on the county-owned arena. On the other side of the debate was Kevin Speidel, area management director for Hilton Worldwide and Broward’s president of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. The county’s hotel and tourism industry wants money devoted to the county’s main tourism draw: the beaches.

The Panthers -- and the arena which hosts other events -- is not one of the main tourism attractions in Broward.

The county’s tourism czar Nicki Grossman  said in an email: “We estimate that about 30,000 room nights are related to all events at the arena (concerts) annually. We have over 8 million room nights per year sold.”

The Panthers get $8 million a year from a 2 percent bed tax. Preliminary estimates indicate that the Panthers’ request would cost the county about $5.6 million “however, the proposal lacks any meaningful consideration to the county in return,” county auditor Evan Lukic wrote in February.

Currently the Panthers get 16 percent of the bed tax -- their request would raise that to one-third, Speidel said. The team’s lease is through 2028 -- the remaining debt is more than $200 million.

Babich argued that the bed tax has generated more than the county originally predicted and therefore the Panthers should get a “portion of that excess.”

Broward County Administrator Bertha Henry said in an interview that the County Commission may not vote on the Panthers’ request before the commission starts it’s summer break in late June. Commissioners are divided on the bailout request and it’s unclear at this point if it will pass, the Sun-Sentinel shows.


April 02, 2014

From the Miami Herald archives, a tale about Carlton Moore

An interesting anecdote about Carlton Moore -- the former Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner who died today -- from a Feb. 3, 1985 Miami Herald article shortly after he became the local NAACP president:

During a meeting with Fort Lauderdale Mayor Robert Dressler, Moore sat patiently while other blacks complained mildly about trash, abandoned houses and drug dealers in their neighborhoods.

Then it was Moore's turn. He blasted Dressler for the city's neglect of its black neighborhoods.

He had his say, then walked out.

"I felt (Dressler's meeting with black residents) was a political stunt, and I didn't want to accept it," said Moore, relaxing in a recliner in his modest Fort Lauderdale duplex.

"The mayor doesn't have a white leaders' meeting. Why do we need a black leaders' meeting? What we want is to be part of the mainstream."

As for walking out, Moore said he wasn't angry. He had to rush to another appointment.

March 20, 2014



Broward LGBT activists held a fundraiser March 19 at the home of Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Dean Trantalis for Florida gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist.

2014-03-19 Charlie Crist fundraiser in Fort Lauderdale 020After his five-minute speech, which you can watch here, Crist stated why electing him governor would be good for LGBT people in Florida:

"One of the most important things we can do is get a law on the books in Florida that recognizes the kind of things that President Obama is talking about. And that simply is why not have marriage equality throughout our country," Crist said.

"Certainly, we ought to have it in Florida and I believe that we win this election Nov. 4, we get some other progressives elected in the Florida House and Florida Senate, we’re going to have a great opportunity to get that done, and I look forward to the day we do."

Attendees included South Florida Gay News publisher Norm Kent; Florida Agenda publisher Bobby Blair; Ken Keechl, who's seeking to regain his Broward County Commission seat; former Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti; and Lauderdale Lakes Commissioner Commissioner Levoyd L. Williams, a state House candidate.

Crist’s Democratic rival is former state Sen. Nan Rich of Weston, a longtime LGBT rights advocate.

To view a photo gallery from the fundraiser, visit Steve Rothaus' Gay South Florida blog.