July 26, 2014

Federal judge: Miami-Dade should have delayed proceedings that led to demolition of soldier's home

@PatriciaMazzei

Fighting for his country in Iraq and Afghanistan, Jesus Jimenez helped fellow soldiers disarm enemy bombs. He made it back safely.

Fighting for his family in Miami, Jimenez was less fortunate. While he trained to ship overseas one more time, Miami-Dade County demolished his home.

His five-month-pregnant wife, Laura, was kicked out, along with his diabetic daughter, hearing-impaired brother and mother-in-law. Most of their possessions, including a beloved upright piano, were still inside.

Four year earlier, Jimenez had asked the county to delay the building-code violation proceedings against him because he was a soldier on active duty.

A Miami federal judge ruled last week that Miami-Dade violated U.S. law by failing to grant Jimenez’s request. Jimenez, now a U.S. Army staff sergeant in Fort Bliss, Texas, will pursue damages against the county and two building officials to compensate for the loss of his family’s home and the hardship they suffered.

“I feel relieved,” said Jimenez, a 49-year-old father of four. “But whatever I recover won’t be enough to do much.”

More here.

Attacks begin among GOP rivals in Miami congressional race

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami congressional candidate Ed MacDougall has begun to attack Carlos Curbelo, the establishment favorite in the District 26 Republican primary.

Targeting reliable Hispanic voters, MacDougall's campaign has mailed fliers and released radio ads -- both in Spanish -- portraying Curbelo as liberal.

"Charlie Crist's friend Carlos Curbelo headed up the opposition to Marco Rubio when he ran for Senate," the radio spot begins.

The ad also claims Curbelo opposes repealing Obamacare and "supported a school-tax hike of $1.2 billion," referring to a bond referendum Miami-Dade County voters approved in 2012.

"Doesn't Carlos Curbelo seem like a Democrat?" the back of the flier reads. (View the front here.)

Continue reading "Attacks begin among GOP rivals in Miami congressional race" »

July 25, 2014

Miami-Dade mayor lets higher library tax stand

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez won’t veto a higher property tax rate ceiling for libraries set by county commissioners.

Mike Hernández, Gimenez’s spokesman, said Friday that the mayor decided to let the commission’s 8-5 vote from last week stand, even though that means the county’s overall tax rate could go against Gimenez’s wishes.

“He will continue to insist that Miami-Dade County government — and our library system — operate as efficiently as possible,” Hernández said.

Gimenez had until Friday to veto the commission’s decision.

A veto appeared unlikely once the mayor declared victory after the June 15 vote in which commissioners mostly agreed with Gimenez’s proposed tax rates. With the exception of libraries, commissioners signed off on Gimenez’s plan for the tax rates that fund the fire department and all other county services.

Gimenez had requested to raise the library tax some, offsetting the increase with a lower fire department rate. Commissioners went with an even higher library hike — though not as high as advocates wanted — to avoid layoffs and program cuts.

Commissioners will vote on the final tax rates and budget after two public hearings in September.

Tallahassee Police: FSU professor shot in garage

Thirty-six hours before he was gunned down in his Tallahassee home, law professor Dan Markel was pondering the death penalty.

On that night, July 16, his thoughts drifted to the number of Death Row inmates whose sentences had been vacated in California. He posted an essay on the subject to his widely read legal blog before going to bed.

Around 11 a.m. on July 18, Markel, 41, was shot in the head. He died the following day.

Investigators say Markel was targeted by his shooter. He was killed in his garage, according to a police report released Friday. Markel’s black Honda Accord was being processed by the forensics unit, the keys still inside.

But police haven’t said much more about the crime, which happened in a quiet, upscale neighborhood known as Betton Hills. The mystery has rocked the legal community and spurred scores of blog posts and online tributes.

"It's not only gruesome, it’s spooky," said Doug Berman, a criminal law professor at Ohio State University whom Markel referenced in his final blog post. "He was someone who was constantly engaged with criminal justice ideas, and thinking about how to handle human tragedies in profound ways. His obviously criminal slaughter brings that all together."

Read more here.

Climate wars continue as Crist meets with FSU scientist

Democrat Charlie Crist said he’s already a “believer” in climate change but said he listened to a scientific presentation Friday partly to highlight the differences between him and Gov. Rick Scott.

 The presentation took place during a press conference as Jeff Chanton, a Florida State University oceanography professor, showed slide after slide showing the impact of global warming on Florida and the world. Chanton was one of 10 scientists who last week sent a letter to Scott requesting a sit-down to discuss climate change since the governor has often said he’s not a scientist when asked about global warming.

Scott’s response was that he’d have someone from his administration meet with the scientists. On Friday, Crist said he’d personally meet with the scientists who authored the letter. And Scott’s campaign later released a statement saying the governor would be “happy to meet with them.”

Chanton said he hasn’t personally been contacted by Scott, but the governor’s campaign spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said an appointment would be set up.

The so-called climate wars created an opportunity for Crist who said he not only wanted to “meet with Chanton to learn “but also to indicate there’s a distinction between the two of us running for governor this year.

“I noticed that my opponent, Rick Scott, would not meet with this wonderful scientist,” Crist said, adding that Scott “was not going to meet” with Chanton until “I accepted the opportunity to do so. It makes a great statement about the two different views of the world by the two of us, myself and Rick Scott.”

Scott’s campaign provided a little drama of its own. Schutz dashed into the press conference before Crist arrived and passed out copies of a picture of a private plane and a graph that said Crist flew on a plane owned by James Finch, owner of Phoenix Construction. A group of 15 Scott volunteers carried signs with messages like “Crist flies with polluters.”

When asked about the flying to the press conference, Crist said "Listen, I’m trying to win this race and Florida's a big state. And if the Republicans don’t think that I should be allowed to fly and have to drive everywhere when their candidate has his own private airplane that he got from the ill-gotten procedures he had at Columbia/HCA, I got another thing coming for em. I'm going to fly and I'm going to get around Florida as fast as I can to talk to as many people as I can to tell them the truth about what this  guy isn't doing on climate change and education and other issues."

 

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Charlie Crist flies to enviro press conference -- on jet of developer fined for pollution

@MarcACaputo

Democrat Charlie Crist flew to an environmental press event Thursday on the private jet of a developer fined for pollution.

Almost as soon Crist stepped off the 2005 Cessna 560XL, Gov. Rick Scott's campaign had photographed its tail number and traced its ownership to developer James Finch, whose company Phoenix Construction was fined at least twice for violating environmental rules (more here, here and here).

Scott's campaign quickly informed reporters awaiting Crist at his press conference concerning climate change

Crist, not commenting about the irony of flying to an environmental press conference on the plane of someone busted for violating environmental rules, partly blamed his troubles on the remoteness and difficulty of traveling to Tallahassee.

"Listen, I’m trying to win this race and Florida's a big state. And if the Republicans don’t think that I should be allowed to fly and have to drive everywhere when their candidate has his own private airplane that he got from the ill-gotten procedures he had at Columbia HCA, I got another thing coming for 'em," Crist said. "I'm going to fly and I'm going to get around Florida as fast as I can to talk to as many people as I can to tell them the truth about what this guy isn't doing on climate change and education and other issues.".

Was there a better way to travel to Tallahassee?

"Perhaps there is, but that's really not the issue of today," Crist said. "The issue of today is who really cares about Florida."

No one asked how much carbon he blew into the atmosphere by deciding to hold a climate-change press conference in Tallahassee instead of his home base of Tampa Bay. Or maybe he could have held the event in Gainesville, where the governor had flown from.

That's less than a three hour drive from Tallahassee.

It would've saved fuel. And the drive would've spared Crist a bad headline he didn't need.

-- Rochelle Koff contributed

Flori-duh Rep. Curt Clawson thinks U.S. officials of Indian descent represent Indian govt.

@MarcACaputo

They don't call us Flori-duh for nothing.

The latest inductee to the Sunshine State's face-palming club: U.S. Rep. Curt Clawson, the Bonita Springs Republican who replaced Trey Radel, the cocaine congressman busted for buying blow in Washington last year.

The scene: The House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday.

The players: Clawson and two congressional witnesses named Nisha Biswal and Arun Kumar.

"I am familiar with your country; I love your country," Clawson told them, speaking about India, which he thought was their land. "And I understand the complications of so many languages, and so many cultures, and so many histories, all rolled up in one…"

Yes. All those languages. Like the English language. Spoken primarily in the United States. English is also a written language and, in plain English, the witness list said Biswal and Kumar, respectively, hold senior positions at the State Department and Commerce Department.

That is, Biswal and Kumar work for the U.S. government. They don't work for India. They are Americans. 

But Clawson apparently didn't read the witness list's plain English. Nor did the freshman probably know that it's rare for foreign-government officials to testify before Congress, according to Foreign Policy's blog, The Cable. The Cable reports that Clawson had been busy talking about his knowledge of India and his favorite Bollywood movies.

You know, most of his friends are Indians. Oh, and he's also concerned about U.S.-India trade relations.

So the congressman plowed on in error. None of his colleagues stopped him to point out his mis-identification of the U.S. officials sitting before him.

"Just as your capital is welcome here to produce good-paying jobs in the U.S., I'd like our capital to be welcome there. And there to be freedom of capital," he said. "And I ask cooperation and commitment and priority from your government in so doing. Can I have that?"

One second passed.

Two seconds.

Three seconds.

And then, four long seconds later, Biswal tried to be as diplomatic as possible while Kumar smiled broadly.

"I.. I think," she stammered, "your question is to the Indian government and we certainly share your sentiments. And we certainly will advocate that on behalf of the U.S."

Clawson didn't appear to catch the context of what she said.

"Of course. OK," he grinned. "Let’s see some progress."

Yes. Let's.

But first someone needs to explain the congressional ropes to the politician from that sometimes-alien land known as Flori-duh. 

The exchange lasted but a few moments. But by Friday it was rehashed over and over again in Twitter's echo chamber, where Adam Goldstein, a management consultant with the account @A_H_Goldstein, managed to find a parallel between Clawson and Radel, who was arrested in October for buying a large amount of personal-use cocaine from an undercover agent. 

"You know who else didn't realize when they were talking to a U.S. government employee?" Goldstein said on Twitter.

SurveyUSA/NRDC poll: 71% of FL voters concerned about climate-change

@MarcACaputo

Nearly eight in 10 likely Florida voters want limits on power-plants’ carbon pollution and as many as 71 percent say they’re concerned about climate change, according to a new poll conducted for an environmental group during the hotly contested governor’s race.

“The takeaway from this poll is simple: People think carbon pollution is a problem, and they think our political leaders should take action and fight pollution,” said Susan Glickman, a spokeswoman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which chartered the 1,005-likely voter poll by SurveyUSA.

The survey’s timing has both a policy and political dynamic:

* It gauges voter sentiment on a range of environmental issues, including opinions about a draft U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule limiting carbon emissions, which the poll says 59 percent strongly favor.

* It’s an election year in which Republican Gov. Rick Scott faces former Gov. Charlie Crist, a believer in man-made climate change due to carbon emissions. A separate SurveyUSA poll this week indicated Crist leads by as much as 5 percentage points, but a Quinnipiac University survey at the same time found the race essentially tied.

Scott, who once said he didn’t believe in anthropogenic climate change, now won’t comment on the matter, saying only that “I’m not a scientist.”

In response, a group of climate scientists asked to personally meet with Scott. After initially demurring, Scott said through spokespeople that he’d soon meet with the researchers himself. No date has been set.

Crist met with one of the climate scientists, FSU oceanography professor Jeff Chanton, at the Florida Press Center Friday in Tallahassee.

Scott’s campaign called it a “publicity stunt,” and Crist supporters say Scott is hiding from the issue.

The NRDC poll, however, doesn’t specifically address a core political controversy over climate change – whether voters believe it’s driven by man-made carbon emissions.

More here

What Crist omits from his ad about Bright Futures cuts

Former Gov. Charlie Crist continued his attacks on Gov. Rick Scott’s education funding record in a TV ad set at St. Petersburg High School, Crist’s alma mater.

"This isn’t just a doorway to a school. It was my doorway as a public school kid to opportunity. And I want to make sure every child has that same chance for a better life," Crist says in the ad. "But Rick Scott's education cuts are closing that door on Florida's kids, spending almost $200 less per student than when I was governor and cutting Bright Futures scholarships in half."

Here we will fact-check whether Scott cut Bright Futures scholarships in half. Turn to PolitiFact Florida for our rating.

Bondi calls on emergency medical workers to help fight human trafficking

Attorney General Pam Bondi is turning to emergency medical workers to help fight human trafficking in Florida, which is the third highest ranked state for the crime.

Emergency medical providers are at the “front line to help to identify possible victims of human trafficking,” Beth Brunner, CEO of the Emergency Medicine Learning and Resource Center in Orlando, said in a press release.

But the emergency workers don’t always recognize the signs, according to healthcare officials.

A study from the Family Violence Prevention Fund found that “28 percent of trafficking survivors said they came into contact with a healthcare provider during the trafficking situation, and were not recognized.”

“Medical treatment during an emergency may be one of the few opportunities that emergency medical personnel have a chance to help save a human trafficking victim,” said Bondi, who announced the plan to involve emergency personnel at a press conference in Orlando.

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