November 03, 2015

Dade Medical College students demand answers

@MrMikeVasquez

The anger of Dade Medical College students boiled over on Monday, leading dozens of students to protest in the streets outside the school’s now-abandoned Coral Gables headquarters. Hundreds joined a new Dade Medical College Facebook group that seeks “justice for students.”

But while anger came easily, answers did not. What to do now? Where to turn?

Florida’s Commission for Independent Education, the state’s for-profit college watchdog, monitored the chaotic situation from 488 miles away at its Tallahassee headquarters. In an e-mail, the CIE informed students it was working “to arrange for the train-out of all students at their current locations.” It’s not clear who would teach those classes now that Dade Medical is out of business, but Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Cheryl Etters said the goal is “to arrange classes at the DMC campuses.”

Whatever school or schools step in could make millions of dollars from the displaced Dade Medical students. Those negotiations appeared to be moving quickly, and behind closed doors, on Monday — three days after the for-profit college unexpectedly closed.

In a separate e-mail to students, Lissette Paradela, Dade Medical-Homestead director of nursing, announced that “Management Resource College (MRC) has been approved for a teach-out program of DMC students and faculty.” Paradela instructed students to attend one of four meetings at their new school on Tuesday.

If that e-mail proves correct, Dade Medical students will end up going from one poorly performing nursing school to another. Dade Medical graduates for years struggled with low scores on the nursing license exam and Management Resource College also has low passage rates — in 2014, under the name Management Resources Institute, it had a passage rate of 51 percent.

The national average in 2014 was 82 percent.

More here.

October 30, 2015

For-profit Dade Medical College implodes

@MrMikeVasquez

Dade Medical College, the homegrown for-profit school that rose from humble origins to become an educational juggernaut, announced Friday it is closing its doors, effective at the end of the day.

Majority owner Ernesto Perez issued an afternoon memo informing employees and students.

Perez once wielded enormous political power both locally and in Tallahassee. But amid heightened federal scrutiny and mounting debts, he was unable to keep his college from going out of business.

All six Dade Medical campuses, stretching from Homestead to Jacksonville, are affected. Also closing are the two campuses of Dade Medical’s smaller affiliate school, the University of Southernmost Florida.

“Since the school’s opening in 1999, Dade Medical College contributed to the community through the training of thousands of Nursing and Allied Healthcare workers that graduated and are working in their field,” Perez wrote in his memo, adding “I, for one, will definitely miss working alongside you and witnessing all the positive outcomes we’ve built together.”

Some former Dade Medical students don’t consider their outcomes positive. They accuse the school of selling an overpriced, poor-quality education. And Dade Medical’s graduates have low passage rates for license exams in nursing and physical therapy assistance — the 2014 nursing passage rate at the Hollywood campus was 13 percent.

The bad news for Perez is likely to continue. As early as next week, he is expected to be arrested in connection with alleged campaign finance violations, multiple knowledgeable sources told the Herald. Perez also remains under criminal investigation for financial irregularities involving student loans.

Perez is a high school dropout and onetime rock musician who saw his colleges as an educational alternative for students who might not prosper at a traditional institution.

He made powerful friends along the way. Dade Medical has contributed more than $170,000 to state and federal candidates, through Perez’s companies, relatives and employees at various affiliated firms. Nearly a dozen South Florida politicians were either put on the college payroll or hired on a contractual basis.

More here.

October 09, 2015

Advocates urge Florida Legislature to take up death penalty sentencing reforms

Florida execution chamber

@ByKristenMClark

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in a lawsuit challenging the legality of Florida's death penalty sentencing procedures -- a case that could have far-reaching repercussions on past and present death penalty cases in the state, some fear.

A group of criminal justice advocates say the Florida Legislature could avoid such a chaotic outcome by simply updating state law to conform with the constitutional standard set by a prior U.S. Supreme Court opinion, one that most every other state follows.

At issue is the jury's role in determining whether a defendant should receive the death penalty. The Supreme Court previously ruled that it's the jury's responsibility, not a judge's, to decide that and that a jury must recommend that outcome unanimously on each count.

While almost every other death-penalty state changed its laws in the wake of that 2002 decision, Florida did not. Florida law allows for a death-penalty recommendation if only a simple majority of a jury -- seven of 12 jurors -- supports it.

State lawmakers have, for years, been trying to change the law to require a unanimous jury recommendation, but they've been unsuccessful. Some legal experts fear the 2016 session is the legislature's last chance to make changes before the Supreme Court takes hold of the situation.

Continue reading "Advocates urge Florida Legislature to take up death penalty sentencing reforms" »

October 08, 2015

Confederate Flag in Florida Senate seal on its way out

@ByKristenMClark

Citing historical inaccuracies and a need to reflect modern values, a Senate committee unanimously recommended Thursday that the Confederate flag be removed from the Florida Senate’s official seal.

The vote came after little discussion and no opposition from the bipartisan panel. A two-thirds majority vote of the full Senate, or support from 27 of 40 members, is needed to complete the change.

Sixteen different flags have flown over Florida in its long history, and the state shouldn’t endorse flags of illegitimate governments, he said, referring to the Civil War rebellion of the southern states.

For others, the rule change embodies something more personal: a desire to rid the Senate’s insignia of a controversial symbol that has a widespread effect, “especially [for] those of us who have African ancestry as it relates to a dark period in our history that still has a profound effect upon many of us,” said Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner of Tampa.

More here.

October 06, 2015

Open-carry bill passes Florida House subcommittee

@ByKristenMClark

Gun owners in Florida with concealed-carry permits are one step closer to getting the right to openly carry those weapons in public, under legislation that cleared a House subcommittee today by a 8-4 vote.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, who introduced HB 163, said it “restores and vindicates” Second Amendment rights and promotes public safety. But critics of the proposal said it should, at a minimum, include better training requirements and also better protect property owner’s rights if they don't want weapons in their homes or businesses.

Those who are in total opposition said an open-carry law in Florida would instill fear, rather than calm.

“When I am out at Starbucks and there’s a cop there with his gun, it’s intimidating and it’s scary,” said Shawn Bartelt, a retiree and mother of two teenagers from Orlando. “I do not want to walk around when I walk my dogs and know that somebody’s carrying a gun out there. … I don’t want my kids raised in a world where we’re being less civilized.”

Gaetz argued that fighting for gun-owners’ rights has the opposite effect, and he said federal crime statistics are on his side.

“While we will certainly hear from shrill voices on the left that open carry will lead to the wild, wild west, that is not borne out by any of the data we have,” Gaetz said. He said U.S. Department of Justice statistics from 2012 actually show less violent crime in states with open-carry laws.

Florida is one of only five states and the District of Columbia, which prohibit openly carrying firearms and other restricted weapons.

Continue reading "Open-carry bill passes Florida House subcommittee" »

October 05, 2015

Jones: ‘No performance issues’ with corrections’ I.G. who resigned

Julie jones

@ByKristenMClark

Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones told a Senate committee Monday that the re-assignment of her agency’s inspector general was of his own choosing, not because of performance issues.

Jeffery Beasley announced last week that he is stepping down to head up the department’s intelligence division. Beasley’s job change comes as the corrections department has been plagued for more than a year by widespread criticism and allegations that Beasley and his office failed to investigate or may have even hindered investigations into suspicious deaths, beatings and medical neglect of inmates in the state prison system.

While giving an update to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Monday afternoon, Jones spoke about ways she's trying to improve the environment within the agency by focusing on values, such as supervisory accountability. Senators had one question about Beasley's job change -- specifically, how Jones' vision jibes with Beasley's re-assignment.

“I’m trying to understand how someone goes from being an I.G. that perhaps they didn’t perform well or something, and then they get integrated in the system,” said Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, vice-chairwoman of the committee. “What kind of signal does that send?”

Jones said there were “no performance issues” with Beasley.

“He did four years’ worth of good duty and has elected to step away from his position and do something different,” she said.

Beasley, 41, similarly told the Miami Herald last week that he elected voluntarily to move into the new role.

“This is a phenomenal move and opportunity," Beasley told the Herald. “This is not the secretary running me out of the position. This is not the governor forcing me out of the office."

Beasley is expected to continue as inspector general for a few more weeks. The intelligence division, which Beasley will now oversee, is tasked with probing inmate-generated crime, including identity theft and drug and tobacco trafficking.

Jones told reporters she will have no role in recommending Beasley's successor.

"That is not my responsibility," she said, adding that Melinda Miguel -- Gov. Rick Scott’s appointed chief inspector general -- will advertise the position and put together an interview board, which will make recommendations to Miguel and Jones.

 Photo credit: The Florida Channel

Bill allowing open carry of guns in Florida gets first hearing Tuesday

Guns

@ByKristenMClark

As the national debate over gun laws has resurfaced in the wake of last week's deadly community college shooting in Oregon, Florida continues to debate its own proposals here in Tallahassee.

Next up is a bill that would relax existing state law by allowing anyone who is licensed to carry a concealed weapon to also openly carry that firearm in public. The proposal gets its first hearing before the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Tuesday morning, and it's sure to draw input from both gun-rights advocates and gun-control supporters.

HB 163 is sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach. It's co-sponsored by Republican Reps. Neil Combee of Polk County, Brad Drake of Eucheeanna, Dane Eagle of Cape Coral, Jay Fant of Jacksonville and Charles Van Zant of Keystone Heights.  Van Zant and Fant both sit on the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. Download HB163_AsIntroduced

Gaetz's father, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, introduced the Senate companion (SB 300), which has yet to be referred to a committee in that chamber.

Matt and Don Gaetz are holding a press conference at 8 a.m. Tuesday to discuss their legislation at the Capitol.

Continue reading "Bill allowing open carry of guns in Florida gets first hearing Tuesday" »

September 25, 2015

House Rules chairman sets kick-off for Florida Senate run

@ByKristenMClark

Republican state Rep. Ritch Workman plans to celebrate the launch of his Florida Senate campaign on Oct. 10 with a bash at his Melbourne home.

Workman, who is chairman of the House Rules Committee and a noted part-time Uber driver, is one of many House members gearing up for state Senate campaigns in 2016. 

An invite for Workman's campaign kick-off fundraiser notes that Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, is on his host committee, as well as several local officials in Brevard County.  Download Invitation for 10-10-15 Kick Off

In inviting family, friends and political supporters to his home, Workman emailed his guests that he's not asking for any specific contribution amount. "Anything is welcome," he wrote.

September 23, 2015

VIDEO: Congressional redistricting maps back in court this week

@ByKristenMClark

Attorneys for the Florida House and Senate, as well as a group of plaintiffs, will be back in court tomorrow to make their case for which congressional redistricting map Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis should recommend to the Florida Supreme Court.

Times/Herald bureau chief Mary Ellen Klas and reporter Michael Auslen break down the latest in this first installment of the "Times/Herald Tallahassee Update."

 

September 22, 2015

Senate chairman wants data, info on driver's license suspensions

@ByKristenMClark

IMG_brandes.jpg_2_1_S34B3CH5_L112445816
Sen. Jeff Brandes

Taking the next steps in an effort to "produce a substantive bill to reform the inequities in the practice of driver license suspension," the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday asked two state agencies and court clerks statewide to gather information and provide it to senators.

The requests by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, come about a week after the first of what is expected to be several committee hearings on the topic before the 2016 legislative session starts in January.

A report last month by The Miami Herald found that 77 percent of all license suspensions in Florida between 2012 and 2015 occurred because of a failure to pay fees. In Miami-Dade County alone, 29 percent of all drivers had their licenses suspended, many of them the working poor who can't pay the high fees to get reinstated.

In letters to the heads of the Departments of Corrections and of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and the president of the Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers, Brandes asked for data including:

Continue reading "Senate chairman wants data, info on driver's license suspensions" »