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March 23, 2015

Patrick Murphy to run for Marco Rubio's Senate seat

As expected, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, announced Monday morning that he will run for the seat held by Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

“I’m running for the U.S. Senate for the same reason I ran for Congress in 2012 — Washington is full of hyper-partisan politicians who can’t, or won’t, get anything done, and Florida deserves better,” Murphy said in a prepared statement. “I’m a consensus-builder who is working to boost the economy by cutting waste in government, raise the minimum wage, strengthen Social Security and Medicare, and protect the Everglades. I’ve done all of this by being an independent voice for Florida, and that’s what the Senate needs more of right now.”

Murphy’s prospects on the Democratic side recently improved when Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston and former Gov. Charlie Crist announced that they would not seek the seat. But Murphy could face a challenge from U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson of Orlando, who is popular with progressives.

Turn to the Miami Herald for our complete story and turn to PolitiFact Florida which has fact-checked several attacks about Murphy including his positions on the federal Affordable Care Act.


As brutality reigned at North Florida prison, DOC promoted officers who let it continue

James KirklandDepartment of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones has vowed to "fix what needs to be fixed" at the agency that has been the focus of intense scrutiny from legislators and federal law enforcement agencies.

But Jones has also steadfastly defended the officials at DOC, including Inspector General Jeffery Beasley, who have dismissed allegations that prison officials caused or contributed to several suspicious inmate deaths.  She has denied the unexplained deaths is a "crisis" and blamed the allegations of cover-up on "disgruntled employees."

Jones also told the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Feb. 2 that it was "absolutely not true" that the agency had "mismanaged inmate deaths." 

Do the facts bear this out?

An investigation by the Miami Herald into documents and testimony of current and former investigators has found that a culture of brutality was tolerated for several years at the Northwest Florida Reception Center. The prison recorded nearly 4,500 use of force reports from 2003-2013, ruled six of the 22 inmate deaths in eight years a homicide and four deaths in 2014 are under investigation.

The officials with the power to stop the brutal behavior -- wardens, assistant wardens and the inspector -- dismissed many of the allegations, the Herald found, some taking action only after federal authorities got involved. Many of those same officials have been promoted at DOC and are poised to be placed in higher positions of authority under Jones.

Here's the story by the Miami Herald's Julie K. Brown:

Few people knew the depths of terror, misery and pain inflicted upon Florida’s state prison inmates more profoundly than Capt. James Kirkland. 

During 14 years as a corrections officer, Kirkland was repeatedly accused — and not just by inmates, but by fellow corrections officers — of abusing inmates at the Northwest Florida Reception Center in Chipley. They said he contaminated inmates’ food, sprayed them with chemicals for no reason and threatened to break their fingers and to kill them, according to Florida Department of Corrections and court documents obtained by the Miami Herald.

These practices flourished under former Warden Samuel Culpepper, a tough disciplinarian brought in to clean up the troubled institution. Under Culpepper, inmates in confinement at Northwest Florida said they were stripped naked or down to their boxers at the whim of guards and had all their belongings and their mattresses taken away, then left around the clock on a cold metal bunk for 72 hours or more, with nothing to hold, not even a Bible.

DOC policy allows that to occur if an inmate in confinement — housed away from the general population — is impeding the institution’s normal operations. But inmates said the policy was taken to unheard-of extremes under Culpepper. Inmates complained that they would shiver, cold and petrified, waiting to be gassed. More here. 

Photo: Capt. James Kirkland


March 22, 2015

Marco Rubio picks up support from Miami-Dade lobbyist


Jorge Luis Lopez, a prominent Miami-Dade lobbyist, is raising money for Marco Rubio's potential presidential campaign.

In an email to clients and others, Lopez is pledging to raise $100,000 for Rubio and is seeking deep-pocketed donors to sign up for the same amount. "[J]oin us in standing with Marco at this critical time for Jeanette and Marco as they are discerning their family's future," Lopez wrote in an email Sunday, referring to Rubio and his wife, Jeanette.  The email was from Lopez and his wife, Marile

"Marile and I have committed to show them our gratitude for their sacrifice in public service and friendship by supporting them and by standing with Marco moving forward," Lopez wrote. 

The email, shared with Naked Politics, said Lopez is seeking nine others who will "donate and raise a total of $100,000 for the Rubio Victory Committee.

Lopez's email captures the team-picking underway among  Miami's political establishment as Rubio battles Jeb Bush for hometown dollars and support in the 2016 presidential race. Neither has formally declared as a candidate. 

March 20, 2015

Florida Senate releases $80.4 billion budget

The Florida Senate released its proposed 2015-16 budget, which highlights an $80.4 billion spending plan that's a whopping $4.3 billion more than what the House offered up this morning.  

Why the difference?

As the beautiful and talented Kathleen McGrory pointed out in this cogent piece, the Senate version includes $2.8 billion in federal money to pay for expanded health care coverage, something the House adamantly opposes. It also includes a $2.2 billion program known as the Low Income Pool (or LIP) that helps hospitals treat uninsured, under-insured and Medicaid patients.

“Our budget reflects the Senate’s commitment to providing pro-active, bipartisan solutions to the tremendous health care challenges facing our state and increases our investment in the next generation of Floridians with unprecedented funding for our K-12 and higher education systems," Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said in a statement. "We believe our budget addresses concerns the federal government has outlined regarding the current hospital funding partnership, which comes to an end on July 1.  Coupled with our new market-driven approach to offering private health insurance options to Floridians in the coverage gap, we believe the federal government has every reason to approve the Senate Plan for Medicaid Sustainability."

Here's a comprehensive summary by the Florida Senate.

Senate Budget Offers Innovative Health Care Solutions, Unprecedented Investment In Education


Continue reading "Florida Senate releases $80.4 billion budget" »

Testimony from campus police chiefs riles NRA lobbyist

After university police chiefs testified against the so-called campus carry bill (HB 4005/SB 176) earlier this week, the National Rifle Association's Florida lobbyist Marion Hammer sent an alert to NRA members and friends.

"State university campus police are using your tax dollars to lobby against the Second Amendment rights of Florida citizens," she wrote.

Hammer said two Democratic lawmakers who oppose the bill had asked the chiefs to testify before the Senate Higher Education Committee on Monday and the House Higher Education and Workforce Subcommittee on Wednesday.

"All of these chiefs filled out appearance cards and said, in writing, that they are AGAINST SB 176," Hammer wrote to her members. "That clearly is lobbying -– they were there to influence the votes of legislators."

What's more, she said, the police chiefs were on the clock when they spoke.

Hammer urged NRA members to write House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, and Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, to oppose "state funds -- your tax dollars -- being used to lobby against your constitutional rights."

But Andy Pelosi, president of the Campaign to Keep Guns off Campus, called the move hypocritical.

"It's interesting to note that when law enforcement [officers] like sheriffs, for example, testify in opposition to a gun violence prevention bill, that's okay with the gun lobby," he said.

Miami congressman pays election fine for sloppy financial reports


U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo has paid a $3,200 fine to the Federal Election Commission for omitting $26,700 in political contributions from his finance reports last year, his campaign said Friday.

Candidates are required to quickly disclose large donations -- over $1,000 -- they receive in the days before an election. Curbelo's campaign failed to report 18 such contributions on time, amounting to $26,700. The campaign did report 92 other contributions that totaled more than $186,000, it said.

The Miami Republican has blamed a computer-software "glitch" for various problems in his finance reports, including mislabeled donations from political action committees. In all, some $93,000 were either misreported or initially unreported. The violations became public days before Curbelo defeated incumbent Rep. Joe Garcia last November.

"We are glad this issue has been resolved," Curbelo's 2014 campaign manager Nicole Rapanos told the Miami Herald on Friday. "The campaign has always made every effort to be transparent and forthcoming.

"We recently overhauled our compliance team to prevent this from happening in the future," she added.

Obamacare turns 5: What came true and what didn't

Predictions about the health care law were a dime a dozen back in 2010. Supporters contended that virtually everyone around the country would soon have access to affordable insurance. Opponents said the law would cost a fortune by adding to the national debt and killing jobs.

Actually, none of those things have happened.

As the Affordable Care Act makes its way to its fifth anniversary on Monday, the law has taken twists and turns, moving off course from where everyone thought it would be.

Once expected to insure 32 million new Americans by the end of the decade, the projected target has been downgraded to 27 million — far from the universal coverage many proponents hoped for.

Unforeseen developments, like significant changes in health cost trends and a sweeping Supreme Court decision on Medicaid expansion, have meant the insurance provisions in the law will cost $139 billion less over the next five years than it was supposed to back in 2010. That has quieted some critics who expected massive, deficit-inflating costs.

In five years, the law has steadily navigated toward its overall goal of decreasing the number of uninsured Americans, without dramatically disrupting the overall health care industry, for better or worse. Yet.

"The whole thing has been in much slower motion that what was predicted," said Michael Tanner, health care analyst with the libertarian Cato Institute. "Whether you thought something good was going to happen or something bad, you sort of thought it would have happened by now. Instead, it’s just been creeping along."

For the rest of the article by Angie Drobnic Holan and Steve Contorno, check out PolitiFact.