February 17, 2015

FDLE seeks 17 agents for prison investigations but new agreement raises questions

The constant volume of suspicious inmate deaths in Florida’s prisons prompted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on Tuesday to ask legislators for 17 additional investigators and $2.3 million.

The money, which was not included in Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed budget, is needed to allow the agency to comply with a newly-updated agreement between FDLE and the Florida Department of Corrections, said Jennifer Cook Pritt, FDLE assistant commissioner.

Under the agreement, signed by new FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen and DOC Secretary Julie Jones earlier this month, FDLE must investigate all prison deaths in which medical personnel are not in attendance to determine if criminal activity was involved.  

FDLE expects to investigate at least 60 prison deaths next year, based on the fact that the agency investigated 15 suspicious deaths in the last quarter of 2014, Pritt said.

The new “Memorandum of Understanding”  updates a previous agreement between former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey and former DOC Secretary Michael Crews which required law enforcement to investigate all deaths, even those in which inmates died of cancer or other natural causes.  Download 2015 MOU - FDLE and DOC Inves of Specified Incidents- Signed (2) (1)

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Miami-Dade schools chief to push testing agenda in Tallahassee


Miami-Dade County schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho will talk testing at a Senate education committee in Tallahassee on Wednesday.

Expect to hear Carvalho ask for another year until new state tests are used to judge schools and teachers, and to delay implementation of end of course exams. He'll also push to nix the new state writing exam for juniors, since it only counts for teacher evaluations, as well as other changes to the state testing and accountability system.

“It’s too far, too fast,” said Carvalho, reflecting the feelings of a growing number of parents and educators.

None of these demands are new, and Carvalho has not been alone in pushing for the changes. But his testimony is another opportunity for the state’s largest school district to advocate for testing changes ahead of a legislative session that’s bound to see action on the controversial issue.

Testing is especially on the minds of parents and educators since students begin taking the Florida Standards Assessments, which replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), in March.

The Committee on Education Pre-K - 12 meeting begins at 2 p.m.

Following Sunshine lawsuit, Putnam stresses transparency

With a lawsuit filed alleging that Gov. Rick Scott and other Cabinet officials violated the Sunshine Law in the forced resignation of the FDLE commissioner, the watchword has become transparency.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam had this to say:

"Everyone is operating in a way that makes sure that there's as much oppportunity for public input and transparency as possible."

He said the public will see a transparent Cabinet in the form of training for aides and the broadcast of Cabinet aide meetings on the Florida Channel.

The lawsuit in question was filed by a St. Petersburg lawyer, the owners of most of Florida's newspapers, including the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald, and the Associated Press, among other groups. It alleges that open meeting laws were violated when Cabinet officials, who are subject to the Sunshine Law, communicated privately by way of their aides.

The members of the Cabinet are Scott, Putnam, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Jeb Bush's immigration position wins GOP donors' praise

via @learyreports

Jeb Bush was held up by top Republican donors today as one of the party’s best voices to champion immigration reform in the coming presidential election.

Both Mike Fernandez, a major GOP donor in Florida, and Spencer Zwick, who national finance chairman of Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, singled out Bush during a conference call this afternoon.

“Certainly Gov. Bush has decided to lead on this issue,” Zwick said, adding any candidate needs to clearly say where they are on the issue and not try to say the “most outrageous thing so that they can make national news.”

“We have to have someone who is willing to take on this issue,” he said. “We have to nominate a candidate who is willing to let action be stronger than inaction. Because as Republicans, we’ve let inaction be our model for too long."

The call was arranged by the Partnership for a New American Economy, a Republican group that has tried to push for reform. At the outset Fernandez talked about his own immigrant story, arriving from Cuba in 1965.

“Had you met me back then you would have seen me cleaning animal cages at a hospital,” the billionaire healthcare CEO said. “I could have easily been confused with one of the 11 million undocumented residents we have in this country today.

He said the booming Hispanic population in the U.S. is a “game changer” and that it would be unwise for Republicans not to embrace the community. “We need to welcome these individuals. These individuals are risk takers. They did not come here for anything else other than improving their lives and we need them in order to improve our economy.”

GOP donors and leaders such as Grover Norquist, who was also on the call, have long called for immigration reform.

But those calls stand against a conservative base that has demanded a hardline position that forced Romney to talk about self deportation and figures such as Sen. Marco Rubio to move off calls for a comprehensive approach.

North Miami councilwoman who settled ethics case won't seek reelection

via @LDixon_3

A North Miami council member has announced that she won't seek re-election in the city's upcoming May election.

Marie Steril, who has represented District 4 since 2005, will not run to extend her term on the council. In a press release Tuesday she said she wants to return to the private sector, calling it a difficult decision.

"I have tirelessly worked to address concerns that impair residents' well-being," she said. "I have embraced District 4's many challenges and transformed them into opportunities for the betterment of the community."

Unmentioned: that Steril, the first black woman and first Haitian-American woman elected to the city council, has also faced her share of ethical issues during her time in office.

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Thousands demand probes of Scott's FDLE shakeup

Petitions signed by more than 10,000 people will be delivered Wednesday to the Tallahassee offices of  State Attorney Willie Meggs and U.S. Attorney Pamela Marsh, calling for investigations of Gov. Rick Scott's forced ouster of former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey.

The petitions were collected by the left-leaning advocacy group Progress Florida, which has been consistently critical of Scott's policies during his four-plus years in office. Progress Florida, based in St. Petersburg, will deliver copies of its petitions to Meggs' office at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday and to Marsh's office at 11 a.m.

"One of two things happened," the group said in a release. "Either Rick Scott got approval from his fellow Cabinet members to fire Commissioner Bailey, or Rick Scott fired Bailey unilaterally." The group said the former action would be a violation of Florida's Sunshine Law and the latter would violate Florida's Constitution, which requires at least one Cabinet member to vote to remove Bailey from office. "So where's the investigation?" Progress Florida's Mark Ferrulo asked.

RPOF set to raise big bucks day before session


If there's a Coachella festival for Florida GOP fundraising, it just might be the one March 2 at the Governor's Club.

Perhaps in an effort to put up a united front to blunt rumors of dysfunction within the party since Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, was elected its chair, the Republican Party of Florida has come up with a star-studded lineup.

Jeb Bush? Check. U.S. Senator Marco Rubio? Got it. Rick Scott? Yep. Commissioner Adam Putnam? Done.

The date is no accident. March 2 is the last day lawmakers can raise money before the 60-day legislative session begins on March 3. So expect a flurry of last-minute cash to flow into RPOF coffers from lobbyists hoping to make a good impression before the gavel drops.

It's also the coming-out party for Ingoglia, who took over the reins of the party last month, pushing aside Scott's choice, Leslie Dougher. Should be interesting to see him mingling with Scott, who pulled out $580,000 of his money from the RPOF the day before Dougher lost, and Senate President Andy Gardiner, another guest, who has moved the Senate's campaign money out from under RPOF control.

On Tuesday, Gardiner downplayed any tensions in the RPOF.

"We're going to be very supportive and helpful of Blaise," Gardiner said. "We want him to be successful. I had a chance to sit down with him and discuss his vision for the 2016 cycle. So I think we're going to be a partner with him."

But Gardiner also made it clear that there's no rush in returning the Senate's campaign staff and money back to party headquarters.

"The reality was, we were a renter, we were leasing that space (in RPOF headquarters)," Gardiner said. "Prior to 2000, the Senate was always out on its own. Eventually (former RPOF Chair) Tom Slade brought in everyone in-house to one location. We're just kind of looking at it. Obviously, we're focusing on other things, specifically session. I don't see any changes until after session. 

"Could we end up back at the party? Absolutely. But it's not something I'm focused on." 

'That's not leadership,' Jeb Bush says of Obama's executive action on immigration


Jeb Bush took to Facebook Tuesday to criticize President Obama's executive action on immigration last year, following the ruling by a federal judge in Texas late Monday temporarily blocking Obama's move.

"Last year, the president overstepped his executive authority and, in turn, hurt the effort toward a commonsense immigration solution," Bush wrote. "That's not leadership. The millions of families affected across the country deserve better.

"Now, more than ever, we need President Obama to work with Congress to secure the border and fix our broken immigration system."

Bush's support of an immigration overhaul -- he co-authored a book about it, Immigration Wars -- doesn't sit well with some of the GOP's conservative grassroots. By calling out Obama for the way he has gone about letting millions of immigrants in the country illegally stay, Bush has found a way to oppose the president, at least when it comes to process.

Proponents of immigration reform have noted that Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush, allowed 1.5 million unauthorized immigrants to stay in the U.S. with a 1990 executive action. That's far fewer than the nearly 5 million people affected by Obama's latest action.

Obama first allowed immigrants brought illegally as children to remain in the country. That original policy, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was unaffected by Monday's ruling in Texas. 

But Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement Tuesday that the department won't begin to accept DACA extensions tomorrow, as planned, and won't be accepting applications for the new policy, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, known as DAPA. 

The Justice Department plans to appeal the Texas decision, which resulted from a lawsuit filed by a coalition of 26 states, including Florida.

Nancy Pelosi leads congressional delegation to Cuba


A group of Democratic members of Congress, led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, is scheduled to arrive Tuesday in Cuba as part of the first formal U.S. House of Representatives trip since President Obama moved toward closer diplomatic ties with the island's communist regime.

The group will meet with "Cuban government officials, Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino, local community leaders and representatives, and American officials at the U.S. interests section," according to a news release from Pelosi's office. It's unclear whether the local community leaders and representatives will include any dissidents.

"This delegation travels to Cuba in friendship and to build upon the announcement of U.S. normalization of relations and other initiatives announced by President Obama," Pelosi said in a statement. "This delegation will work to advance the U.S.-Cuba relationship and build on the work done by many in the Congress over the years, especially with respect to agriculture and trade."

None of the representatives on the trip are from Florida.

In addition to Pelosi, they are: Reps. Eliot Engel, Steve Israel and Nydia Velázquez of New York; Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, Rep. Anna Eshoo of California, Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, and Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island.

Three Democratic senators -- Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Mark Warner of Virginia -- wrapped up a four-day visit to Cuba on Tuesday.

Miami Beach mayor hires new chief of staff


Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine has tapped an experienced Florida lobbyist and public policy advisor to be his next chief of staff.

Fátima Perez, who starts Feb. 23, has worked in Florida governmental affairs for more than 15 years. She worked as a senior advisor to former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and as a senior legislative aide in the both chambers of the Florida Legislature. She's also worked in corporate communications for BellSouth/AT&T, Inc., as a lobbyist with law firm Akerman Senterfitt and, more recently, with Southern Strategy Group.

Levine made the announcement in an email Tuesday morning.

"I am confident Fátima's work ethic and professional experience will be an asset to our office and our city," he wrote.

The move comes after his current chief of staff, Alex Miranda, decided to go to Tallahassee to work for the Republican Party of Florida.

Miranda, who managed Levine's mayoral campaign in 2013, also wants to return to pursuing a law degree at Florida State University.

On Tuesday, he told the Miami Herald he'd been thinking about making the move for a while. 

"It was always something that was in the back of my mind,” he said."I put law school on hold about a year and a half ago. Then the right opportunity came up to work in Tallahassee."

Miranda said he'll be working on Republican Florida House campaigns until December 2016. His last day in Miami Beach is Feb. 27, and he said he feels "truly blessed" to have worked for Levine.

Levine thanked Miranda in his statement.

"I want to thank Alex for all his dedication and commitment to the City of Miami Beach and wish him the very best in all his future endeavors," he wrote.