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October 05, 2015

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

Julie jones


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

If Jeb Bush were to dock Marco Rubio's pay for Senate absences

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Jeb Bush has said for months that members of Congress should get their pay dock for missing work. He hasn't mentioned him by name, but rival Marco Rubio has the highest absentee record in the U.S. Senate.

"Why is it that people miss votes in the United States Congress in such a rampant way?" Bush asked in a New Hampshire town hall last week. He first proposed the pay-docking idea in Tallahassee in July.

So how much would Rubio have lost so far this year under Bush's proposal?

Here's a back-of-the-envelope calculation:

According to GovTrack, Rubio missed 81 of 272 eligible Senate votes through Oct. 1, or nearly 30 percent. Multiply that by $130,500 -- Rubio's Senate salary -- and the Florida Republican would get docked $38,862.13. 

A Bush supporter running for Rubio's Senate seat, U.S. Rep. David Jolly of Indian Shores, poked Rubio on Monday over his vote record.

Rubio has dismissed criticism over his absences by saying he has been frustrated by the Senate's dysfunction and thinks he could better employ his political skills in the White House. He told CNBC on Monday, according to a CNN transcription, that "being a senator is more than just casting a vote," referring to his office's work for constituents.

"If there is a vote where my vote is going to make a difference or an issue of major national significance and importance, we'd do everything possible to be there. But I am going to miss votes -- I'm running for president," he conceded.

"When I miss a vote, it's not because I'm out playing golf. We're out campaigning for the future of America where I believe I can make more of a difference as president than I could as a senator."

Photo credit: Jessica Reilly/Telegraph Herald via AP

Heavy hitters introduce Carlos Lopez-Cantera in Washington

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Republican U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Lopez-Cantera has some influential Washington backers hosting a meet-and-greet for him later this month.

The Oct. 21 lunch will be held at the Capitol Hill Club and is hosted by Cesar Conda, former chief of staff to Marco Rubio, and Scott Weaver, a top bundler for Rubio’s presidential campaign

Special guests include Reps. Ileana Ros-LehtinenMario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo, an invite shows.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Democrats push Gov. Rick Scott to change position on Citizens veto


Homeowners hit with dramatically higher insurance premiums at the hands of new private insurance carriers would be able to return to the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp., under a bill proposed by a pair of House Democrats.

But the prospects of the bill (HB 289) already look dim in the Legislature given that four months ago Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the exact same bill because he worried it would lead to more people returning to the state-run insurance company. Scott has applauded the depopulation of Citizens, a process that has shrunk the carrier from holding more than 1.5 million policies in 2012 to under 600,000 now.

Still the Democrats say they are hoping Scott reverses himself on the issue because the measure passed unanimously in both the House and Senate back in April before Scott vetoed it. State Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, said Scott has changed his position on other big issues over the years, and hopes this will be another one.

“We’re hoping the governor flip-flops on this issue too,” Rodriguez said.

The new bill, like the one previously vetoed, would allow a person to return to Citizens if a private carrier that agreed to take on a policy charges more than 10 percent higher premiums than originally estimated. They could also return if a private carrier increases the rate more than 10 percent per year during 36 months after the policy is first shifted out of Citizens.

But while the bill is nearly identical, it has one key missing ingredient so far: Republican support. None of the co-sponsors of the House bill that passed in April have signed up to support the bill by Rodriguez and Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg.

Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, said he absolutely agrees that the governor was “mistaken” to veto the previous bill in June, but expects any new bill to come later in the legislative process after more discussion.

“I think it will come back up again,” Artiles said.

The state has been pushing to reduce the size of Citizens as more private insurance companies have returned to Florida’s market. The more policies in Citizens, the greater the financial risk for the entire state. In the event Citizens cannot cover all of its policy owners’ damage, all property owners with insurance can be subject to an assessment to cover costs.

When Scott vetoed the bill in June, he cited the burden Citizens is on all taxpayers when it is too large. He specifically objected to allowing people to return to Citizens.

“This perpetuates reliance on Citizens, which increases the potential for burdensome assessments on Florida families,” Scott said in vetoing the bill.

Some consumers have complained about how Citizens size has been reduced. Many have said notices warning them that they were going to be shifted to a private carrier were unclear and looked like junk mail. Others complain that premium estimates were far lower than what they were charged months later by private insurers once they were out of Citizens and could not return.

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



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" »

Gov. Scott issues statement in controversial 'warning shot' case

Gov. Rick Scott has issued a brief statement on his decision to deny mercy for a Polk County man serving 20 years for firing a warning shot in his home, but it sheds little new light on why Orville "Lee" Wollard, 60, must stay in prison until 2028.

Wollard fired a single shot, claiming his daughter's boyfriend was being abusive and making threats against his family. After he rejected a plea deal for five years of probation and no prison time, he was convicted of aggravated assault with a firearm, a crime that in 2008 carried a minimum mandatory 20-year prison term under Florida's 10-20-Life law. Several national groups have cited Wollard's case as a symbol of why minimum mandatory sentences are wrong, but the prosecutor in the case, Jerry Hill, urged Scott not to set Wollard free.

The Herald/Times asked Scott's office to explain his decision.

"These cases are often difficult to decide and Gov. Scott takes them very seriously," the statement said. "All the facts on these cases are closely evaluated and he makes the best decisions to keep families safe and ensure we are operating justly.”

In brief remarks after his denial last Wednesday, Scott hinted that a confidential report by the staff of the Florida Commission on Offender Review had incriminating information about Wollard.

"The commission has done an absolute thorough review and we have a lot of information that you don't get to hear," Scott said, addressing a crowded Cabinet room of people seeking pardons or restoration of civil rights. "Often you'll think, 'Gosh, that sounds pretty good.' But you read the record and you look at things like there is domestic violence, some things other people have said, and it makes it pretty easy to make a decision."

Under state law, clemency staff reports are confidential, but Scott has the power to make them public.

The law states: "All records developed or received by any state entity pursuant to a Board of Executive Clemency investigation shall be confidential and exempt ... However, such records may be released upon the approval of the governor."

The Herald/Times has asked that the report be made public.

Former Broward emergency manager Chuck Lanza to run against former state Sen. Steve Geller for County Commission

Former state Sen. Steve Geller will face a challenge from the former Broward Emergency Management director Chuck Lanza for a Broward County Commission seat in 2016.

The race will create a rare partisan battle on the left-leaning County Commission: Lanza is a Republican while Geller is a Democrat. Currently the lone Republican on the County Commission is Chip LaMarca who ousted Democrat Ken Keechl in 2010 and fended off a rematch in 2014.

Lanza announced his candidacy in a press release and said he will officially file his paperwork Tuesday morning at the county’s elections office. The District 5 seat is currently held by Lois Wexler who is retiring. Both Lanza and Geller live in Cooper City -- a city within the district.

When Geller was contacted by the Miami Herald to ask his thoughts on Lanza running against him he replied: “Who is that?”

Geller was unaware that he would face an opponent.

Lanza left his position as the Emergency Manager for Broward County in 2014 and has been consulting since then -- he currently consults for the city of Dania Beach. He previously served as emergency manager for Miami-Dade counties as well as the fire chief for the Broward Sheriff's Office and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.  

Lanza told the Herald that he had wanted to enter politics for many years but didn’t because of the jobs he held.

Continue reading "Former Broward emergency manager Chuck Lanza to run against former state Sen. Steve Geller for County Commission" »

AP: The Twitter ties among the 2016 presidential candidates

From the Associated Press:

TALLAHASSEE -- Jeb Bush follows Donald Trump on Twitter but that's a one-way street: Trump mainly follows people with a connection to himself. Ted Cruz's follow list is a big tea party, though he keeps an eye on President Barack Obama, too.

Marco Rubio seems open to following everyone under the sun — Democrats, fellow Republicans, insiders of every type and an odd assortment of outliers who offer advice on body-piercing, playing craps and getting out of debt.

Using Twitter to get a message out is now a must-do for presidential candidates, but looking at the accounts they follow can be instructive, too. Their follow list can reflect not only their personality and interests, but sometimes their strategy. In Rubio's case, it seems to reflect a bit of a problem with spam, too.

Overall, their choices reflect an interest in people who think like they do. Few Republicans or Democrats want to follow what people on the other side say. And most — Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bernie Sanders among them — don't follow most or any of their party rivals.

More here.

Chris Christie, Rand Paul to attend Florida Sunshine Summit


The Republican Party of Florida announced Monday that two more presidential contenders will attend a November conference.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul confirmed their attendance, bringing to eight the number of GOP candidates who have said they'll be at the two-day Sunshine Summit in Orlando. 

"As our list of participating candidates continues to grow, we are excited to welcome Gov. Christie and Sen. Paul to the Sunshine Summit in Orlando," RPOF Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said in a statement. "With eight candidates announced to attend, and more to come, the Sunshine Summit is turning out to be the can't-miss event of the primary election."

The other candidates who have RSVP'ed are former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and developer Donald Trump.

October 04, 2015

Marco Rubio invites donors to Las Vegas for football-themed summit

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Marco Rubio has channeled his football love -- frequently displayed on the campaign trail -- into a planned two-day event for political donors. 

The "Quarter Four Strategy Summit," complete with a flag football game, will take place Thursday and Friday in Las Vegas, according to an invitation obtained by the Miami Herald and first reported by the Washington Post. The fourth fundraising quarter of the year began Oct. 1.

Rubio, a Florida senator and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, played football in  high school and college and, needless to say, remains a fan.

The agenda for the reunion, at the posh Bellagio Hotel, includes transportation to an off-site Rubio campaign rally, a picnic dinner, a "breakfast and team talk," a strategy session titled "Quarterbacking Victory" and a wrap-up lunch titled "Talking the Playbook."

Rubio has edged up in early polls after two strong primary debate performances. He's become the recent target of GOP frontrunner Donald Trump and, more subtly, of his one-time mentor Jeb Bush.

While he's in Las Vegas, a city where Rubio lived several years growing up in what happens to be the fourth early state to hold a caucus or primary, Rubio will hold four public events over three days.