January 21, 2015

Miami-Dade mayor issues statement on Key Biscayne cyclist death


Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez issued a rare statement regarding a traffic fatality Wednesday, expressing his condolences for the death of a cyclist on the county's Rickenbacker Causeway  in Key Biscayne.

His administration has come under fire over bike safety on the Rickenbacker, which has seen other cyclist deaths and severe injuries. Cycling advocates want a protected bike lane installed, which could cost as much as $30 million, according to one plan's estimate

Gimenez's statement urges increased enforcement of speeding rules to protect existing bike lines, and notes Miami-Dade has spent more than $14 million on pedestrian and cyclist safety since he took office in 2011.

The full statement follows:

Our thoughts today are with the family and friends of the victim who lost his life this morning in a cycling accident on Crandon Park Boulevard.  A second victim is critically injured and we pray for him as well.  At this time, there is an active police investigation and we will know more in the days to come.  The Rickenbacker Causeway, its bridges and the roads leading into the Village of Key Biscayne are some of the County’s most beautiful assets and a favorite spot for outdoor activities.  I have prioritized improvements to these areas since my time as the Commissioner for District 7.  Our staff has collaborated with leaders from the cycling community through monthly meetings to work together to find solutions.

In addition, my administration, with the support of our Board of County Commissioners has invested over $14 million on pedestrian and bicycle improvements. We all remain committed to prioritizing the master plan for additional improvements as funding becomes available.

I join Vice Chairman Bovo, Commissioners Suarez and Diaz in asking our Police Departments in Miami-Dade County, City of Miami and the Village of Key Biscayne to continue their stepped up enforcement activities.

I want to reiterate that the safety of all of our pedestrians, bicyclists and our traveling public is of the utmost importance and is a top transportation priority.  We will work through our Transit and Mobility Services Committee of the Board to continue to address these issues.

AG Pam Bondi: FDLE scandal raises "serious questions," Cabinet should discuss "in sunshine"


Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said there are "serious questions" over how the state's law-enforcement chief was ousted from his job by employees of Gov. Rick Scott.

Bondi indicated she didn't know all the facts of what happened to former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey, who has alleged that Scott's employees meddled in law-enforcement business and used strong-arm tactics to pressure him to resign last month.

Bondi said she and the public have a right to know the truth, and that the matter should be discussed “in the sunshine” at the next Florida Cabinet meeting, Feb. 5.

"As Attorney General, and as a former prosecutor, I take the rule of law very seriously, especially in matters affecting the safety and security of the people of Florida. I believe the Governor, and every member of this Cabinet, share that view," Bondi said in a statement.

"But the recent process behind the appointment of a new FDLE Commissioner has raised serious questions, and those questions should be answered to ensure transparency, and the public’s right to know," Bondi wrote.

Coming from a fellow Republican who always publicly backs Scott, Bondi's statement was a rare show of political separation from the governor. Scott’s isolation has been building for a week with Bondi and the other Republicans who sit on the Florida Cabinet, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and state CFO Jeff Atwater.

Atwater yesterday raised concerns about the process of picking Bailey's successor, Rick Swearingen. But Atwater wanted to discuss whether to make a new FDLE appointment.

Bondi, who likes and voted for Swearingen, doesn’t want him replaced. She wants the underlying story of Bailey's ouster discussed.

The three Cabinet members last week were caught flat-footed when Bailey told the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times state capital bureau that Scott's former general counsel, former lobbyist Pete Antonacci, pressured him to resign by saying he had lost the confidence of the Cabinet. But the Cabinet members say that wasn't true.

Putnam was the first to publicly criticize what happened.

The allegations of political skullduggery surfaced as the Cabinet last week voted to appoint Swearingen. After that vote, Scott suggested that Bailey had willingly resigned.

Bailey called that a lie.

Among other allegations, Bailey then told the Herald/Times that Scott's former chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, had tried to get the FDLE to falsely name an Orange County clerk of court for a paperwork mix-up that led to an inmate escape -- an embarrassment to Scott's Department of Corrections in an election year.

Bondi said she didn’t know how to handle the controversy and finally decided that the best way to do it was to publicly discuss the issue in the open.

"Since the last Cabinet meeting on January 13th, my office has been vigorously discussing how to do just that,” Bondi wrote. "At the next Cabinet meeting, on February 5th, we will discuss these issues, thoroughly, and in the sunshine."

Putnam says no to a do-over of vote to name Swearingen as Bailey's replacement

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Wednesday that he does not believe the solution to the botched dismissal of former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey is to start over and redo a vote on the new commissioner. 

“Our collective concern has been focused on the way Gerry Bailey’s dismissal was handled, not on the way Rick Swearingen’s hiring was handled,’’ Putnam told the Herald/Times, a day after Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater hand-delivered a letter to Gov. Rick Scott asking to reopen the search for a new commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

“I’m not sure that this proposed cure matches the disease that we’re concerned with.”

Putnam and his fellow Cabinet members, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Atwater, have been stung by their decision to let Scott and his staff mislead them into thinking that Bailey voluntarily resigned from the post on Dec. 16. Scott initially claimed it was voluntary and then, when pressed last week, admitted he forced Bailey out.

The Cabinet unanimously voted to replace Bailey last week with Scott's hand-picked choice, Rick Swearingen, a former FDLE agent who served on the governor's security detail often during much of the governor's first term.

Putnam said he is concerned about the disruption of a vote to backtrack on Swearingen’s unanimous election by the Cabinet last week.  

Continue reading "Putnam says no to a do-over of vote to name Swearingen as Bailey's replacement" »

Corrections chief retracts criticism of private prisons

Florida corrections secretary Julie Jones on Wednesday retracted previous statements she made to a Senate committee in which she said private prison operators selectively pick and choose inmates by housing non-violent offenders and avoiding those with expensive substance abuse and mental health problems.

The process has a catchy name in the halls of the Capitol -- "cherry picking" -- but Jones testified Wednesday that it simply isn't true.

"I misspoke," Jones told the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee during a lengthy presentation about her goals and priorities as Gov. Rick Scott's fourth prisons chief in four years. "Those low-level offenders are in private prisons by design."

In fact, Jones said, it's the Department of Corrections' classification unit that decides which inmates are housed in which prisons. Those decisions are also governed in part by the per-diem (per inmate) rates that DOC negotiates with the private prisons.

The straight-talking Jones was well-received by the panel, chaired by Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, and the ranking Democrat, Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg. She and her budget chief, Mark Tallent, went through details of her request for nearly $100 million more in the next prison budget, including $37 million to fill 654 vacant correctional officer positions.

"Some people have questioned why I wanted this job," Jones told lawmakers, promising major changes in the troubled third-largest U.S. prison system. "It's not going to stay the way it is."

Jones later told the Times/Herald that she opposes the prison system's decision three years ago to shift most correctional officers to 12-hour work shifts. She said she hopes to negotiate a return to eight-hour shifts with the Teamsters, the union representing officers.

UPDATE: Tallahassee watchdog groups calls for criminal probes into FDLE


(UPDATE: At 5:26 p.m., Gov. Rick Scott's office issued a response to this post: "These allegations are false," said Tim Cerio, General Counsel, in an email from spokeswoman Jackie Schutz.)

Two Tallahassee non-profits, the non-partisan watchdog group Integrity Florida and the liberal advocacy group Progress Florida, are asking for criminal investigations into Gov. Rick Scott's oversight of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

On Wednesday, Integrity Florida asked the FBI to investigate allegations that Scott's office pressured the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to falsely name the Orange County Clerk of Courts as a target of a criminal investigation.

Gerald Bailey, who was forced out as FDLE commissioner in December, told the Times/Herald last week that Scott's office pressured him to claim that the acting clerk of court in Orange County, Colleen Reilly, was the target of a 2013 FDLE criminal inquiry. Bailey said that when he refused, a Scott aide stormed out of his office.

In an interview Tuesday, officials with the Orange County Clerk of Courts office said the FDLE never considered charging anyone in the 60-person criminal division in the investigation. The FDLE won't comment.

"The allegations made by former Commissioner Bailey are troubling," said Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida said in a release.  "While the public should not rush to judgment, this is a serious matter that merits a federal investigation."

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Progress Florida began circulating a petition asking Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs to investigate

"Scott may have violated federal and stae laws, including misusing his official position as governor," Mark Ferrulo, Progress Florida's executive director, said in an email. "A thorough independent investigation is clearly warranted."

Here's a copy of the releases:

Continue reading "UPDATE: Tallahassee watchdog groups calls for criminal probes into FDLE" »

GOP's Reince Priebus stumbles on immigration, Democrats crow: "WTF?"


The different Republican State of the Union responses about immigration (nada in English, un poquito en Español) was so tough for national GOP Chairman Reince Priebus to explain Wednesday that he tried to blame.....President Obama.

What about the Republican-controlled House that blocked the measure from a full vote in the chamber for years? Priebus didn’t go there.

“I’m not a policy guy,” Priebus said at one point after stammering on MSNBC to give a response.

The Democratic National Committee loved it, and almost mockingly swore at Priebus by asking in a press release headline: "Reince, WTF are you talking about?" By using the "What The Fuck" text abbreviation, the DNC ensured that Republicans could avoid the topic by pointing to the snarky crudity of the Democrats’ take-down rather than the substance of it.

But as Priebus' response to the original question shows, there's not much of a major credible response anyway. That left Priebus blame-shifting and evading questions asked by the Huffington Post's Sam Stein and ABC's Cokie Roberts on "Morning Joe:" 

Continue reading "GOP's Reince Priebus stumbles on immigration, Democrats crow: "WTF?"" »

Florida House panel approves guns on college campuses

The Florida House is moving quickly on a proposal to allow guns on college campuses.

The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee approved the measure (HB 4005) in a party-line vote Tuesday, making it the first bill to advance in the Florida House this year.

Still, it faces a significant hurdle in the Senate. Former Republican Sen. John Thrasher, who left the upper chamber in November to become the president of Florida State University, adamantly opposes the idea.

Thrasher's hesitancy "carries a lot of weight with a lot of senators," Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Don Gaetz said Wednesday.

Read more here


Rubio: Interest in Cuban freedom must trump any business gains


Sen. Marco Rubio (photo: Bryan Dozier/The Christian Science Monitor)

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, gave an impassioned defense of his position on the White House’s new Cuba policy, saying he had strong support in Congress for his views – and that even of the views of fellow South Florida Cuban-American leaders didn’t persuade him otherwise.

His comments came in a Wednesday breakfast with reporters sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor. Touching on his presidential ambitions, the sagging American Dream and other national topics, he spent some time articulating his position on the White House’s plans to ease tensions with Cuba and open trade with the island nation vital to the family histories of Rubio and much of South Florida.

It came a few days after several dozen national, Florida and Cuban-American leaders wrote the White House encouraging its efforts and saying they “will advance our national interests and our values by empowering the Cuban people’s capacity to work toward a more democratic and prosperous country.”

Among the letter signers: George P. Shultz, who was Ronald Reagan's secretary of state, and key South Florida leaders such as businessmen Mike Fernandez, Carlos Saladrigas, Alfonso and Andres Fanjul, Paul Cejas and Ricky Arriola.

“I certainly respect a lot of those folks, and they have a right to their opinion,” Rubio said when asked to contrast his views with those who signed the letter. “And I have no doubt that they sincerely desire freedom for Cuba. My problem is I can’t think of a single contemporary example where a reluctant tyranny has become a democracy as a result of an economic opening."

Continue reading "Rubio: Interest in Cuban freedom must trump any business gains" »

Scott reveals more details of proposed education budget

Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday released new details on his proposed education budget.

Among his latest recommendations:

  • $1 million for paid summer residencies for teachers in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math)
  • $5 million to encourage $10,000 STEM degrees at state colleges
  • $30 million for workforce training programs in STEM-related fields

"We want Florida to be the global leader for jobs, and we must have a skilled workforce to reach that goal," Scott said. "By investing in science, technology, engineering and math education, we are ensuring our students are prepared for the jobs of the 21st century."

Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg, R-Trinity, said he was encouraged to see the governor's focus on education.

"It is a positive direction, as long as it is linked to measurable goals," he said.

But Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, said Scott was missing the larger picture. "If we are going to be smart about it, we have to spend time picking apart the current budget and putting the money in the proper places," he said.

Scott has already unveiled a plan to increase K-12 spending to $19.75 billion.

He wants to spend $7,176 per student -- the highest amount ever, not accounting for inflation.

POLITICO: 4 GOP hopefuls, including Sen. Marco Rubio, expected to attend Koch event


Four leading Republican presidential prospects are expected to appear this weekend in the California desert before an exclusive gathering of rich conservatives convened by the Koch brothers’ political operation, several sources tell POLITICO.

Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida, and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin received coveted invitations to speak to the vaunted network assembled by the billionaire industrialist megadonors Charles and David Koch, the sources said.