September 26, 2014

Legislator asks prison secretary Michael Crews to turn over files on cover-up

Darren SotoA state senator is asking the Department of Corrections to turn over documents regarding the cover-up and investigation of suspicious inmate deaths at Florida prisons, warning that the use excessive force may have violated the constitutional ban on "cruel and unusual punishment."

Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, sent the letter to DOC Secretary Michael Crews in response to a Miami Herald report that chief investigators for both Gov. Rick Scott and the agency were told of the suspicious inmate deaths by an anonymous letter writer more than a year before news reports about the deaths prompted the agency to crackdown on abusive guards.  

"If they did receive information and nobody did anything about it, we may have to replace some of the auditors,'' said Soto, a member of the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee which oversees prisons. "I'm worried about the potential liability to the state and the potential of a federal takeover if we are violating the constitution." 

Soto asked for all documents relating to the September 2010 death of Randall Jordan-Aparo at Franklin Correctional Institution and Darren Rainey at Dade Correctional in 2012.

"Regardless of the crimes committee by these individuals, we have a constitutional obligation under the 8th Amendment of the United States Constitution to refrain from cruel and unusual punishment and to treat them humanely,'' he wrote to Crews. "These allegations may implicate a direct violation of these rights." Download 9.26.14 Soto Letter to Secretary Crews

Crews responded that a web site he has developed to post details about inmate deaths already provides much of what he is seeking.

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February 10, 2014

Legislators propose medical marijuana legislation as a "framework" for constitutional amendment

For the fourth year, Democratic legislators and advocates for medical marijuana are pushing for a measure to legalize the drug. What makes all of them more hopeful about success this session is the Florida Right to Medical Marijuana Initiative amendment, which will be on the ballot Nov. 4.

“We’ve seen a seismic shift in how the legislature is beginning to look at these issues,” said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, at a press conference Monday to announce his 157-page bill, the "Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act" (SB 962), with House sponsor Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando.

Clemens pointed to efforts by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, and Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, to decriminalize the strain of non-psychoactive marijuana known as “Charlotte’s Web” to help children with seizures, as a sign of bipartisan progress.

The medical marijuana measure proposed by Clemens and Saunders would be broader than the Charlotte’s Web effort, instead focusing on 24 specific “qualifying medical conditions,” including Alzheimer's Disease, cancer and chronic debilitating pain, plus treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Clemens called it a “tightly regulated framework of oversight” providing guidelines for both the licensing and permitting of dispensaries and medical cannabis farms, requiring registration identification cards, protections for doctors and protections to fight abuse, among other provisions.

"A blanket ban on access to medical marijuana is hurting Floridians," said Saunders. "We believe this bill represents the best course for implementing the constitutional amendment on this November's ballot but also gets help to those patients who simply can't wait."

Saunders and Clemens were flanked by families and patients who use medical marijuana to get relief from pain and disease, including Robert Jordan, whose wife Cathy has been helped by medical marijuana for decades while living with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Saunders was flanked by patients and family members, including Robert Jordan, a Vietnam vet whose wife Cathy has been helped by medical marijuana for decades while living with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. The bill is named for Cathy, who has been fighting to legalize marijuana from her wheelchair and was by her husband's side at Monday’s press conference.

This bill, said Robert Jordan, "puts patients before politics.” 

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February 07, 2014

Court affirms ruling that barrel racing is not a legit parimutuel sport in Florida

The First District Court of Appeal agreed with a lower court and on Tuesday ruled that the decision by Florida regulators to license barrel racing as a parimutuel sport was a misuse of the rulemaking powers of the state. Download 13-2660

“ . . . the narrow issue in this case is whether the (Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering’s) policy of treating barrel match racing as an authorized form of quarter horse racing is an unadopted rule,” the court said. 

Here are the statements from the United Florida Horsemen and the group representing the barrel racers: 

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January 13, 2014

Bill shielding taxpayer email addresses raises concerns

Pointing to a potential "slippery slope," an open-government group Monday requested that a Pinellas lawmaker withdraw a bill that would create a new public records exemption for email addresses used by tax collectors to send notices to taxpayers.

From The News Service of Florida: The Senate version of the bill, SB 538 by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, is scheduled to be heard Tuesday in the Senate Community Affairs Committee. A similar measure, HB 421 by Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, has been filed in the House. The Senate bill says, in part, that email addresses submitted to tax collectors are currently public records "and, when combined with other personal identifying information, can be used for identity theft, taxpayer scams, and other invasive contacts."

But the First Amendment Foundation, in a letter Monday to Latvala, said there is "no factual evidence to support" the assertion that a public-records exemption is needed to prevent identity theft and warned that the bill could have broader long-term implications.

"This particular legislation protects only those email addresses obtained by tax collectors," foundation President Barbara Petersen wrote. "If passed, it would create the proverbial slippery slope of Mt. Everest proportions, Senator, provoking similar unnecessary and unsubstantiated exemptions, affecting all government business conducted electronically, creating major problems with efficiency, and increasing costs associated with obtaining public records."

A separate, unrelated proposal to be considered by the 2014 Legislature would allow tax collectors to accept applications for concealed weapons permits.

-- Steve Bousquet

November 07, 2013

Former state Rep. Carl Ogden dies

Carl OgdenFormer state Rep. Carl Ogden, who represented Jacksonville in the House for 20 years, died Tuesday in Tallahassee. He was 84.

Ogden was dean of the House when he left the Legislature in 1988 and worked for former Gov. Lawton Chiles as director of the State Employees Insurance Division for three years. Ogden and his wife, Gage, moved to a 226-acre farm near Monticello, just east of Tallahassee, where they raised horses. Ogden also spent his years in semi-retirement lobbying for the PGA Tour, Ladies Professional Golf Association and Bert Rodgers Schools of Real Estate.

Ogden attempted a return to the legislature in 2000, when he unsuccessfully ran for the sprawling rural North Florida district then held by Rep. Janegale Boyd, who was running for the Senate. He lost in the primary.

A memorial service is set for Tuesday, Nov. 12, from 5-7 p.m. at Culley’s Memorial Funeral Home in Tallahassee. 

Photo: Florida Memory Project

October 29, 2013

Gambling by the numbers: Final report does little to change conclusions

The final version of the Spectrum Gaming report is out and, while the numbers have been revised and the explanations made clearer, the conclusion remains the same: Florida's economy is so big that the expansion into casinos would have a little overall impact on the state.

The report, produced by the New Jersey-based company, analyzed 12 gaming scenarios provided by the Florida Legislature in anticipation of an attempt by lawmakers to rewrite the existing law. The Florida Senate Gaming Committee, for example, will conduct the second of four hearings on the issue, in Lakeland tomorrow afternoon.

It offers many insights for policymakers, including Gov. Rick Scott, who will be in charge of renegotiating the gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, if he choses to start the talks next year, before the portion of the company regulating table games expires in 2015.

Spectrum notes, for example, that allowing the tribe to continue to have exclusive operation of table games in Florida "could widen the revenue gap between the Seminole casinos and the pari-mutuel casinos, creating deterioration of operating performance for the pari-mutuels."

Here are some of the report's other conclusions:

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October 01, 2013

State Rep. Darryl Rouson hit with $155,000 tax lien

State Rep. Darryl Rouson and his wife failed to pay more than $155,000 in federal income taxes from 2008 through 2010, according to a lien filed by the Internal Revenue Service.

In one of those years, Rouson, a St. Petersburg attorney, made $565,000 working for the powerhouse law firm of Morgan & Morgan.

The IRS lien is the latest setback for Rouson, who recently came under fire from fellow House Democrats for creating a party-related fundraising committee only he could control. His colleagues ousted him as incoming Democratic leader on Sept. 23, the day before the IRS filed its lien in Pinellas County circuit court.

“I don’t take this lightly,’’ Rouson said Tuesday. “I am working with my CPA and my tax attorney, and I’m very optimistic this will all get resolved.

“It’s been a tough summer,’’ he added. 

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September 23, 2013

Latvala says state law needs to tighten definition of residency

The 2014 Legislature will take up needed changes in state law to tighten the legal definition of residency, a key senator said Monday. That will possibly include a new provision to bar legislators from claiming the homestead exemption on homes outside their districts.

Sen. Jack Latvala, the Clearwater Republican who chairs the Senate Ethics & Elections Committee, said the law is needed in the wake of media reports that "from 12 to 14" lawmakers may have been living outside their districts, in apparent violation of state law. 

Latvala's committee had a brief and muted discussion of the issue Monday. "We've got a long way to  go on this, but I believe they are taking it seriously," he said in reference to Senate leaders. "I will tell you I believe there is going to be a bill on residency."

Latvala said Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, wants to file a bill dealing with the homestead-exemption issue, and Latvala said he has agreed to sponsor the Senate version.

Much of the media coverage involving lawmakers' residencies has focused on Democratic House members in South Florida.

Latvala, speaking generally, told reporters: "If you're abiding by the Constitution and taking a homestead exemption somewhere else, or if you're supposed to represent a district and get the homestead exemption somewhere else, that ought to be illegal."

He said the issue would be handled largely by Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who also faced residency questions in 2011 when he won a special election. But none of that was discussed
publicly Monday. Democratic senators were silent after a staffer outlined at least 10 different ways to define legal residency, from a driver's license address to a voting address to where someone gets mail.

-- Steve Bousquet

August 28, 2013

With state under fire from feds, nursing homes are quietly closing kids wings

Even as Florida health regulators vigorously defend against two federal lawsuits accusing them of warehousing sickly and disabled children in geriatric nursing homes, the homes themselves are quietly getting out of the kids business.

The most recent nursing home to abandon the pediatric market is Orlando Health & Rehabilitation Center, which operates a 40-bed pediatric wing called “Grandma’s House.” Orlando Health & Rehab, in Orlando, notified the state Agency for Healthcare Administration last week that it will voluntarily close the wing, said Michelle Dahnke, an AHCA spokeswoman in Tallahassee. Earlier this year, a troubled Miami Gardens nursing home, Golden Glades Nursing & Rehabilitation, shuttered its pediatric wing after the Miami Herald reported extensively about the deaths of two children who had been admitted there.

In July, the Lakeshore Villas nursing home in Tampa announced it would shut its doors after the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services cut off all federal funding. At the time, AHCA had also announced its intention not to renew the home's license. Lakeshore Villas had been one of the state’s most troubled nursing homes, racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

The latest closure comes at a time of significant change and controversy over Florida’s methods for financing the care of severely disabled and medically complex children, whose housing and treatment can be enormously costly. More here from Carol Marbin Miller.


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/08/27/3589764/florida-nursing-homes-under-fire.html#storylink=cpy

August 09, 2013

On SYG, Democrats no match for Republican unity

Friday came and went without Democrats filing the necessary 32 letters, a first step state law requires from lawmakers for a special session on Florida’s stand your ground law.

They have until October to get the letters in, but the House Democratic Leader, Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, predicted last week that at least 32 letters would be filed at the Secretary of State’s office by now, enough to trigger a poll of the lawmakers to order a special session. (It's a longshot, with 96 lawmakers needed to agree to it).

Instead, according to Secretary of State spokesman Mark Ard, the department had received 28 letters, all Democrats.

They are:

 

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