July 30, 2014

Rep. Grant the winner in Florida ethics commission ruling

In a closed-door session, the Florida Commission on Ethics ruled in favor of Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, after an investigation into whether he misused his position to benefit a company that allegedly funded a grant awarded to his personal business venture.

The nine-member panel also decided there was no probable cause concerning an allegation that Grant had a conflict when he voted on legislation that related to excise taxes on phosphate mining.

The decision was announced Wednesday after the commission's investigator spent more than a year examining a complicated case stemming from complaints filed by Henry Kuhlman, a retired military pilot from Hardee County.

"My reaction is that they missed the mark and politics are involved," Kuhlman said.

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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

March 20, 2014


BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

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.

February 07, 2014

Crist says he'll meet with UF students over state's rejection of campus center as early voting site

Criticizing the state's decision to block the University of Florida's student union as an early voting site, Charlie Crist posted a Facebook notice Friday stating he'll meet with students and voters at 12:45 p.m. Wednesday at Turlington Plaza to discuss the issue. 

The posting follows a tweet from the Democratic candidate at 6:15 p.m. Thursday:  "This is an outrage," Crist tweeted. "Stay tuned on how we can protest Rick Scott's awful insult to every student & voter in the state."

To address complaints of long waits at polling sites in 2012 that attracted national attention, legislators last year expanded the list of early voting sites to include fairgrounds, civic centers, courthouses, county commission buildings, stadiums, convention centers and government-owned community centers.

In response to a request by the city of Gainesville to use the Reitz Union for early voting in March's municipal elections, Maria Matthews, director of the state Division of Elections, which is run by a Scott appointee, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, wrote in an advisory opinion that "the terms 'convention center' and 'government-owned community center' cannot be construed so broadly as to include the Reitz Union."

Crist joins the growing number of critics blasting the state's decision, including the League of Women Voters, election supervisors and Democratic legislators.

In a statement Friday, House Minority Leader Perry Thurston (D-Fort Lauderdale) said  “Governor Scott and state elections officials seem once again to be trying to suppress the vote of university students and other Floridians. I urge him to stop laying roadblocks to voting. The governor should do more to encourage, not discourage, voting among young people who are interested and engaged citizens.”

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October 30, 2013

Alex Sink to run for U.S. Congress


Alex Sink is running for Congress.

Florida’s former chief financial officer and Democratic gubernatorial nominee on Tuesday confirmed exclusively to the Tampa Bay Times that she is jumping into the race to succeed late Republican U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young in a district covering much of Pinellas County.

Sink, 65, has begun looking for a Pinellas home and said she will move “imminently” into the district from her east Hillsborough home 45 minutes away.

“Washington’s broken. And I, like everybody else I know, is angry and mad about the logjam, about shutting down the government, about not understanding the impact it was going to have on small businesses and people. The people up there just don’t seem to be able to work together,” said Sink, who had considered running for governor again but ruled that out in late September.

“I’m somebody who’s solved problems, has a long history of working with Republicans and Democrats to get things done,” said Sink, who used to run Bank of America’s Florida operations and was CFO from 2007-2011. “I believe I can be an effective advocate for the people of Pinellas County and get to Washington and make a difference.”

The special election campaign for one of the country’s most competitive seats won’t last long.

More here.

October 09, 2013

"Yoho'd:" The newest contribution to the political lexicon and FL's cast of congressional characters


Oh, Florida, land of Allen West, Alan Grayson, Katherine Harris, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Marco Rubio and so many more. Thank you for our latest news-making member of Congress, Ted Yoho.

The Gainesville Republican and political newcomer has jokingly called Obamacare's tanning tax "racist," said he put his face on bumper stickers so no one thought he was Japanese, flirted with birtherism, and suggested his opposition to the Affordable Care Act was akin to the struggles of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks.

And that's in less than a year's time.

The left has worked itself up in a lather, with Esquire dubbing him a "wing nut congresscritter."

Then came Yoho's latest in the Washington Post, where Yoho put himself in the vanguard of conservatives who suggest that not increasing the debt ceiling might be a good thing. The left has a name for them "debt denialists," which incidentally is what the right calls the left when it comes to government spending.

Continue reading ""Yoho'd:" The newest contribution to the political lexicon and FL's cast of congressional characters" »

October 08, 2013

Senate committee vows to shut down unlicensed ALFs, improve regulated facilities

A Senate committee on Tuesday vowed to put an end to unlicensed assisted living facilities after a Miami Herald story revealed that homes have been using loopholes to escape state scrutiny.

The Herald story uncovered facilities that billed themselves as shelters, rooming houses or “sober homes”, but in actuality operated as ALFs. Many had deplorable conditions and at least one owner had a criminal history.

“I want to be equipped to go into those bad actors and shut them down now,” said Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, at a meeting of the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee.

Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla , R-Coral Gables, said that a lack of resources or funds shouldn't be an excuse to regulate the industry, which cares for roughly 80,000 residents.

"This has to be a priority to shut down unlicensed facilities as a public health hazard as a clear and present danger to the living conditions of a human being," Diaz de la Portilla said. "If there isn't money in the budget, then we need to find it." 

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August 26, 2013

PolitiFact Florida looks at pro-marijuana ad

Just as fans were filing into the Brickyard 400 NASCAR race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a big television screen by the entrance displayed a pro-pot ad with the headline "A new beer?"

The ad, which opens with smiling young adults hoisting their brew mugs, drew outrage from lots of sources, including the St. Petersburg-based Drug Free America Foundation. The TV screen company, Grazie Media, pulled the ad after a few hours.

The ad said: "If you’re an adult who enjoys a good beer, there’s a similar product you might want to know about, one without all the calories and serious health problems. Less toxic so it doesn’t cause hangovers or overdose deaths. And it’s not linked to violence or reckless behavior. Marijuana. Less harmful than alcohol and time to treat it that way."

The ad is interesting in the context of an effort in Florida to get a proposed medical marijuana constitutional amendment on the 2014 ballot. People United for Medical Marijuana has collected enough voter signatures to trigger a Florida Supreme Court review of the proposed amendment language.

The ad addresses many issues, but in this fact-check, we decided to focus on the idea that marijuana is "less toxic" than alcohol.

Read on for the fact-check and rating.  Leave a comment here.



July 18, 2013

Lee wants to give Senate presidency another whirl

Sen. Tom Lee said when he decided earlier this month to run for president, he did so because other lawmakers in Tampa Bay were running for the same post.

“I’ve been calling a few members, which is actually when I learned a couple have made a commitment to Sen. (Wilton) Simpson,” Lee said. “I know Simpson is running very hard, and so is Bill Galvano.”

Lee, R-Brandon, was Senate president in 2004 to 2006 and was elected back to the Senate last year for a two-year term after the former incumbent, Ronda Storms, left the seat to run unsuccessfully for Hillsborough County property appraiser.

The 51-year-old homebuilder said he he was seeking the presidency in 2020 (where he would preside over the 2021 and 2022 sessions). Even though he concedes it’s too early to run for such a far out date (Lee would have to win next year’s election, plus a second in 2018), but said since others were doing so, he felt compelled to announce now.

“They’ve forced me to run,” Lee said.

Tampa Bay hasn’t had a Senate president since Lee in 2006. With Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, currently locked in the race for 2016 (for the 2017 and 2018 sessions) with Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, Lee is laying out a scenario in which four Tampa Bay lawmakers are now in the mix for the job (if one includes Manatee County as part of Tampa Bay).

According to our friends at The Bradenton Herald, Galvano, R-Bradenton, is being coy about his plans for the presidency in 2018 (for the 2019 and 2020 sessions).  As for Simpson, R-Trilby, the Times/Herald asked him on July 11 if he was running for the presidency and he said he was too busy being a regular senator.

“I would be very humbled if my colleagues suggest I can do that job,” Simpson said. “I’m working very hard to be a humble public servant. If that adds up to more than me representing Senate District 18, I would be honored. But right now, all I’m focused on is representing my constituents.”

June 10, 2013

Movers & Shakers

Former Romney spokesman new press secretary for the Republican Party of Florida

 Susan Hepworth, who served as director of the national traveling press for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney during the 2012 campaign, is the new press secretary and deputy communications director for the Republican Party of Florida.

The Kansas City native traveled full time with former Gov. Romney and the press corp during his race for president.

During the 2010 election cycle, she directed the day-to-day political operations at the RNC. Prior to that she was at Majority Strategies, a mail firm in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

Hepworth began her political career in 2007 in Iowa on Romney’s first presidential bid right after graduating from the University of Kansas with a degree in journalism.

“I graduated on a Sunday, drove to Des Moines on Monday and I started working on the campaign on Tuesday,” said Hepworth, who started her new job June 7. “And that’s been my life.”

Winsor new state solicitor general

Allen Winsor succeeds Timothy Osterhaus as Florida’s solicitor general,  the state government’s top appellate lawyer. Osterhaus was appointed to the 1st District Court of Appeal May 20th.

Winsor, 36,  has been the principal deputy solicitor general since January. Prior to that, he was a member of the Tallahassee office of GrayRobinson, most recently as a shareholder. He’s a 2002 graduate of the University Of Florida College Of Law, where he was editor-in-chief of the Florida Law Review.

The Florida solicitor general represents the state throughout Florida's appellate courts and in the U.S. Supreme Court. The solicitor general also serves as the Richard W. Ervin Eminent Scholar Chair and a visiting professor of law at Florida State University College of Law.

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