September 15, 2014

Movers & Shakers

New official in emergency preparedness post

Cynthia Dick, a former city of Tallahassee fire chief, has been named the new state division director for Emergency Preparedness and Community Support.

She will oversee the the Bureaus of Preparedness and Response, Emergency Medical Oversight, Public Health Pharmacy, Public Health Laboratories and Radiation Control.

Dick brings more than 26 years of experience in emergency preparedness and response services to the job, according to a press statement.

"Cindy is a proven leader in emergency preparedness and incident command," Dr. Celeste Philip, deputy secretary for Health and Deputy State Health Officer for Children's Medical Services said in the release.

Dick served as Tallahassee's fire chief from 2005 to 2013, and previously served as a fire battalion captain, fire lieutenant and firefighter.

Scott appoints new judge in Monroe County

Key West attorney Tim Koenig has been appointed to replace David Audlin on the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit, which includes Monroe County.

Continue reading "Movers & Shakers" »

Scott rarely appoints blacks to Florida judgeships

Florida is the most diverse state in the U.S., but a review of Gov. Rick Scott's record of appointing judges shows that the bench has become whiter since he became governor nearly four years ago. Scott has appointed fewer African-American candidates to judgeships than his predecessors, Charlie Crist and Jeb Bush, did during a comparable 44-month period of time. 

Scott says he looks to appoint people to the bench who understand that there are three branches of government and "they don't get to legislate." If Scott is re-elected in November, it's likely he will have the opportunity to replace the two African-American justices on the Florida Supreme Court, Peggy Quince and James Perry. Both must retire in the next few years.

In one noteworthy case, Scott replaced the first and only black circuit judge who retired from his post in a Northeast Florida circuit with a white candidate, even though two of the six finalists sent to him were black and local political leaders lobbied him to appoint a black candidate. The Florida Bar and the Legislature's black caucus have criticized Scott's lack of diversity. The full story is here.   

Poll commissioned by Carlos Curbelo shows him ahead of Miami Rep. Joe Garcia


Jeffrey Garcia is hurting Joe Garcia.

That's the conclusion of a recent public-opinion poll conducted by Republican challenger Carlos Curbelo. Poll results were provided to the Miami Herald by the Curbelo campaign.

The survey has Curbelo leading Rep. Joe Garcia, a Miami Democrat, by 44 to 40 percent, with 16 percent of respondents undecided. The poll's error margin is 4.9 percent.

Curbelo's advantage grew to 51-38 percent among voters who have "seen, read or heard something" -- 61 percent of respondents -- about the congressman's former campaign manager and chief of staff, Jeffrey Garcia, no relation, being under federal criminal investigation into a suspected 2010 straw candidate. (Rep. Garcia has denied any involvement.)

That explains why Democrats have hounded Curbelo, a Miami-Dade County school board member, for failing to disclose a list of his government and public-relations firm, said the Republican's pollster, Jim McLaughlin.

"He's trying to go after Carlos on ethics because of his trouble on ethics," McLaughlin said.

Continue reading "Poll commissioned by Carlos Curbelo shows him ahead of Miami Rep. Joe Garcia" »

September 14, 2014

Unskewing and averaging the FL gov race polls, Pt. 2: Scott leads Crist 43-41%


Labor Day is over and now the real polling work is underway in Florida’s governor’s race. That means it’s time for another unskewing of the polls, in this case seven surveys released since Sept. 1 for which crosstab data were made available.*

Taken individually, each poll shows a close race, with either Gov. Rick Scott or Democrat Charlie Crist leading by an insider-the-error-margin amount. Taken together and aggregated, however, the polls indicate an even tighter contest.

Scott has the slightest of leads: about 43.3 percent to Crist’s 41.3 percent.

The rough 2 percentage-point margin isn’t a commanding lead. It looks even less-impressive considering the April average of the race’s polls: a Crist lead of about 0.4 percentage points.

Viewed one way, the race has moved a mere net 1.6 percentage points in Scott’s favor while he and his allies have outspent Crist’s campaign by nearly 3:1 on TV since March ($27 million to $10 million). A large number of those ads have been negative, attacking Crist more than boosting Scott. Some political consultants have been describing Scott’s campaign position as the result of some tactical genius – but it’s looking more like brute force right now, the equivalent of dropping an atomic bomb of manure. It’s gonna make Crist stink.

Basically, the campaign looks frozen, which the following poll track of SurveyUSA/WFLA-TV shows. Neither candidate is pulling consistently ahead.

SurveyUSA Sept

Continue reading "Unskewing and averaging the FL gov race polls, Pt. 2: Scott leads Crist 43-41%" »

Homestead mayor heads to trial in corruption case

By @DavidOvalle305 and Melhor Leonor

One year after his arrest plunged Homestead into turmoil — and capped a string of headlines about South Florida politicians getting busted for corruption — suspended Mayor Steven Bateman heads to trial Monday insisting he did nothing wrong.

The allegation: that Bateman took a secret and illegal $125-an-hour consulting job with a healthcare company while using his mayoral position to help grease the wheels of government to complete construction of the chain’s new clinic.

His defense: Bateman’s gig as a Community Heath of South Florida “consultant” was perfectly legit and, yes, completely separate and distinct from his duties as mayor.

“I had to wear two hats,” Bateman said Friday. “I think I did a good job separating the hats, and we’ll prove that.”

Bateman, 59, is charged with two felony counts of unlawful compensation, plus three misdemeanors relating to violations of the county’s ethics code.

Jury selection begins Monday before Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Robert Luck.

More here.

Healthcare costs in South Florida and the nation are often shrouded in secrecy


At a hearing to discuss the rising costs of healthcare benefits for Miami-Dade County employees this year, a labor union consultant raised his hand to ask what seemed like a basic question.

Could the committee charged with reducing Miami-Dade labor’s healthcare expenses look at the spreadsheet showing the rates that the county pays local hospitals and doctors for medical services to employees?

“We really need to understand where the money is being spent in order to be insightful about benefit design changes,’’ said Duane Fitch, a healthcare consultant for SEIU Local 1991, which represents physicians and nurses at the county-owned Jackson Health System.

But the answer to Fitch’s question at that inaugural meeting of the Miami-Dade Labor Healthcare Committee last March was the same response he would receive every time he repeated the question during the panel’s next six meetings through July.

Essentially, no.

“Contracts are proprietary,” said Patricia Nelson, regional head of strategic accounts for AvMed Health Plans, the county’s health benefits administrator that negotiated the payment rates for medical services for county employees. She noted that both the insurance company and the healthcare providers agree to keep such payment rates confidential.

Fitch and others who asked for the information never got to see precisely how Miami-Dade spends more than $400 million a year to pay healthcare claims for nearly 60,000 employees, retirees and dependents in the health plan.

That’s because Miami-Dade — like many employers across the country — isn’t allowed to know the prices their own insurance plan administrators negotiate with healthcare providers, even when they’re self-insured, like Miami-Dade County, and the claims are paid with taxpayer dollars.

More here.

The politics, paradoxes and polling of pot


Tallahassee’s conservative political establishment is about to embark on a multi-million ad campaign to kill a popular, proposed constitutional amendment for medical marijuana.

Paradoxically, more money and more message could mean more problems for the opponents.

That’s because one of the best ways to motivate older and conservative just-say-no voters is to frame the amendment as a “smokescreen” for outright legalization. But that message (questionable though it is) can motivate younger and more liberal voters.

And those younger voters, typically less likely to show in mid-term elections, are probably more enthused about outright marijuana legalization rather than medical cannabis.

Not only could these less-likely voters show, polling and demographic trends indicate that they’d be less likely to vote for Gov. Rick Scott, the standard bearer of the Tallahassee political establishment.

So conservatives could unwittingly fund their own demise by unwittingly ginning up young voters.

“Medical marijuana will probably drive up turnout among lower-propensity voters by a point or two,” said Daniel Smith, a University of Florida political science professor who has authored numerous peer-reviewed articles on ballot initiatives and voter performance.

“It’s not going to be a lot, but in a close election like this, a little is a lot,” Smith said. “Now who medical marijuana helps politically is much less clear.”

The conventional wisdom, therefore, about Democrat Charlie Crist getting a major boost from medical marijuana could be dead wrong. Crist, Democrats and the campaign led by People United for Medical Marijuana face their own conflicts when it comes to cannabis.

Welcome to the tricky politics, paradoxes and polling of pot.

More here

FCIR: Rick Scott's quiet shift to a driver-tax road system as freeways become tollways across Florida

Scott and PrasadThe Florida Center for Investigative Reporting shines a light on Gov. Rick Scott's little-discussed move to a driver-tax, exposing the administration's elaborate plan to install tolls on most major highways in Florida. The plans, conceived initially by the libertarian think tank the Reason Foundation, are now underway and have been executed quickly and with little local input, the report by Eric Barton shows. Here's an excerpt:

In the next decade, Florida’s biggest cities will add toll lanes to the state’s busiest highways. Nobody knows exactly how much it will cost. Maybe as little as $3 billion. Maybe double that.

What's clear is that when the toll lanes across the state are complete, they will become one of the largest infrastructure projects in state history.

There’s little debate that these toll lanes, also called express lanes or managed lanes, make commutes quicker for those willing to pay as much as $10 to use them. But there has been little debate about the need for the projects – not one resident will cast a vote on the lanes or the billions spent to create them.

Instead, 169 miles of toll lanes will arrive as part of a Rick Scott administration initiative. A series of projects that will be under construction until 2021 will add multiple toll lanes in Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando, and Tampa.

An analysis by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting has learned that the toll lane projects began thanks to state-funded reports produced by a think tank funded in part by toll lane developers. In addition, Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad used to work for one of the state’s largest toll lane builders before approving billions of dollars in toll lane projects, some of which have gone to his former employer.

Prasad says toll lanes effectively create a free market highway system, where only those who use them have to pay for them. “It’s about trying to efficiently move traffic,” Prasad said. “It’s about how we use existing lanes most efficiently.” More here.

Photo: Gov. Rick Scott and DOT Secretary Anath Prasad announce fast-track funding for elevated tollway in Pinellas County. Cherie Diaz, Tampa Bay Times.

Regulatory neglect: 140 investigations into abuse at home for disabled = zero discipline

Paige Lunsford tombstoneFor five days and five nights, Paige Elizabeth Lunsford — a severely disabled teen — retched “like a waterfall,” could not eat and thrashed about in an “educational center” staffed with teachers, nurses and a doctor.

Paige was sick, and getting sicker. But caregivers did not send her to a hospital. Instead, they bound her wrists, ankles, biceps and waist with restraints to keep her from flailing.

Paige, nonverbal due to autism, could not ask for help. And none came.

Blond, pigtailed Paige, the child of Margate residents, died at the Carlton Palms Educational Center in July 2013, baking with fever, 10 days after she was sent there. A victim of medical neglect, according to the Department of Children & Families, she now rests beneath a small grave marker etched with musical notes and linked hearts.

An autopsy determined that the 14-year-old succumbed to dehydration, the result of a severe but treatable infection.

Her death spawned the 140th DCF neglect or abuse probe involving the Lake County home since 2001 — there have been eight more reports since then — and yet, the facility has never paid a fine and never been disciplined. Story by Carol Marbin Miller here.

Read more here:

September 13, 2014

Fred Grimm: State overlooks abuse and props up 'anachronistic...moribund' dog racing industry

Fred GrimmFlorida allows convicted criminals to meddle in dog racing. Known animal abusers can own or train greyhounds. The state abides cheaters who pump performance-enhancing drugs and pain killers into their animals.

Not even the ghastly, now infamous discovery back in 2002 that Florida greyhound trainers were paying a farmer in Baldwin County, Alabama, $10 a head to “dispose” of aging, slow or gimpy dogs had much affect on their ability to operate in Florida.

Baldwin County authorities reported that the old farmer had admitted killing between 2,000 and 3,000 greyhounds over the years, shooting them in the head with a .22 caliber rifle, then tossing their remains into a long ditch cut across his property. “This case shows what was going on in the greyhound-racing industry in Florida,” Baldwin District Attorney David Whetstone had said. “It opens up the eyes to how sinister it was.”

But sinister didn’t seem to matter all that much to the bureaucrats running the Florida Division of Parimutuel Wagering. Ursula O’Donnell, one of the Florida trainers implicated in the mass extermination deal, managed to keep her license even after investigators found her signature on a check made out to the dog killer.

My colleague Mary Ellen Klas found that a long list of rogue operators have been allowed to train and own racing dogs by Florida parimutuel regulators — though the term “regulators” in that particular state agency seems to be a wild embellishment. “Abettors” might be more accurate. Fred Grimm's column here.