October 24, 2016

South Florida a focus of Obama human-trafficking initiative



Secretary of State John Kerry hosted a White House meeting Monday of a high-level task force set up by President Barack Obama in 2012 to combat forced labor and prostitution.

Federal law enforcement agencies have initiated more than 6,000 human-trafficking cases and secured at least 4,000 convictions since Obama took office in January 2009.

"While more work is required to tackle the root causes and consequences of human trafficking, the United States continues to be a leader in the global movement to end modern slavery," the White House said in a statement.

Part of the Obama initiative is focused on Miami and New York, two national trafficking hubs.

The U.S. Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Justice are collaborating to provide job and training services in those cities for victims of human trafficking.

More than 1,200 instances of human trafficking were reported in the Sunshine State through the Florida Abuse Line in fiscal year 2014-15.

South Florida is the third-most-active region for sex trafficking in the country, with minors often the victims, according to the Justice Department.

Before it was cancelled because of Hurricane Matthew, Attorney General Pam Bondi had scheduled the Florida Human Trafficking Summit for Oct. 10 in Orlando. Five-hundred law-enforcement officers, service providers, healthcare professionals, educators, legislators and community leaders had signed up to attend, along with trafficking victims.

Obama's task force gave a presidential anti-trafficking award to Students Opposing Slavery, a network of high school and college students who raise awareness about trafficking among youth. The University of Central Florida in Orlando has one of the most active chapters of the group.

"Leaders in our state are committed to making Florida a zero-tolerance state for human-trafficking," Bondi said.

In a recent case, the drug-overdose death of a 14-year-old girl in Orlando led police to break open a human-trafficking ring based there.

Jose Ignacio Santiago-Sotomayor, 22, and Avorice Jeno Holman, 19, were arrested and charged with first-degree murder, human trafficking of a child and procuring a minor for prostitution. Police said they and other members of the ring drugged girls in order to have sex with them.

Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott declared January the Human Trafficking Awareness Month and signed four bills into law that stiffened penalties for human traffickers, established protections for past victims, and promoted efforts to help people recognize warning signs.

"It is unfathomable that this evil occurs in our state, but by expanding services and passing important legislation this year, we are helping to save and heal the lives of our state's most vulnerable," Scott said.

In July, police busted a human-trafficking ring in Seminole County with more than 20 victims, arresting Christian Pena Fernandez and Rachel Gonzalez.

Detectives said that Pena Fernandez ran a sophisticated organization in which he recruited and harbored women to provide sex. He ran ads seeking women on backpage.com, they said.

The couple used motels and hotels across Central Florida in their operation, detectives said.

Photo credit: Getty Images


October 19, 2016

Gov. Scott's pro-Trump super PAC raises $18 million

via @learyreports

Gov. Rick Scott's super PAC supporting Donald Trump pulled in nearly $18 million in the third quarter, including $6 million from Linda McMahon of WWE fame and a former U.S. Senate candidate in Connecticut.

McMahon has been critical of Trump --"He's not helping, certainly, to put women in the best light," she told Yahoo Politics in March -- but joined the team and her donations to Rebuilding America Now came in several installments starting in August, according to an FEC report.

The PAC had $3 million cash on hand, having spent the bulk of the money on a number of TV commercials supporting Trump and attacking Hillary Clinton.

Other big donors:

Marcus Bernard, a founder of Home Depot: $5 million

Ronald Cameron, the poultry billionaire  - $2 million

See all the donors here. Gov. Scott is not among them.

As Scott has taken on a growing role helping raise money for a super PAC supporting Trump, his own political action committee on the state level has dramatically slowed its fundraising.

Since the start of 2015, Scott had raised more than $7 million in his Let’s Get to Work political action committee which he has used to run television ads and support his legislative agenda. But since Aug. 27, Scott has received just one $100 check. It’s the least amount of money Scott has raised during a nearly two month stretch since early 2011 in his first six months in office.

Scott is still spending money out of the account though. Earlier this month Let’s Get to Work sent a $200,0000 contribution to Florida Jobs PAC, a political action committee affiliated with the Florida Chamber of Commerce. It was his largest single donation in more than 6 months.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times, with Jeremy Wallace

October 18, 2016

Obama discredits Trump's charges of 'rigged' election citing Florida

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Blasting Donald Trump's complaints about a "rigged" election, President Obama today invoked the state of Florida and Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

"I have never seen in my lifetime or in modern political history any presidential candidate trying to discredit the elections and the election process before votes have even taken place.  It's unprecedented.  It happens to be based on no facts. Every expert, regardless of political party, regardless of ideology -- conservative or liberal -- who has ever examined these issues in a serious way will tell you that instances of significant voter fraud are not to be found; that, keep in mind, elections are run by state and local officials, which means that there are places like Florida, for example, where you've got a Republican governor whose Republican appointees are going to be running and monitoring a whole bunch of these election sites.  The notion that somehow if Mr. Trump loses Florida it's because of those people that you have to watch out for -- that is both irresponsible, and, by the way, it doesn't really show the kind of leadership and toughness that you'd want out of a President.

Continue reading "Obama discredits Trump's charges of 'rigged' election citing Florida" »

October 13, 2016

Rick Scott mistakenly wished Jewish Floridians a 'Happy Yom Kippur'


Florida's Republican governor made a notable misstep Wednesday evening while trying to mark the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur.

In a Facebook post published after 5 p.m., Rick Scott -- on behalf of himself and First Lady Ann Scott -- wished Jewish Floridians a "Happy Yom Kippur," which isn't the appropriate well-wish to offer, because the holiday isn't a "happy" one.

Yom Kippur is a solemn holiday -- the Day of Atonement -- when Jews fast, reflect on their sins and ask for forgiveness.

Read the full story here.

October 10, 2016

Congress more stingy on providing disaster relief than it once was


NP-HurricaneMatthewAid-101016-Dan08 MathewNFL NEW PPP


The final damage tally from Hurricane Matthew across Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas isn't yet known, but it’s certain those states will ask Congress for billions in disaster aid.

President Barack Obama, after speaking with their governors, suggested that he’ll be seeking emergency funds for damage from Matthew and earlier storms when lawmakers convene after the Nov. 8 election, and Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio said Florida was certain to seek assistance.

“While the state has yet to commence an assessment of damage due to unsafe conditions remaining in many areas, we must be prepared for the long road of recovery ahead,” Rubio wrote Friday in a letter backing up a request from Scott that Obama declare Matthew a “major disaster” for his state, a designation that would allow it to seek more emergency aid from Washington.

For more, read here.

Photo credit: Pedro Portal, El Nuevo Herald


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/national/article106789687.html#storylink=cpy


October 09, 2016

Florida Democrats sue Gov. Rick Scott over voter registration deadline


Florida Democrats filed a lawsuit Sunday against Gov. Rick Scott asking that the voter registration deadline be extended by a week because of disruptions caused by Hurricane Matthew.

Democrats went to U.S. District Court in Tallahassee and cited Scott’s demand on Thursday that coastal residents flee the approaching storm and his refusal that day to extend the registration deadline beyond Tuesday. The suit seeks a new deadline of Oct. 18.

“Defendant Scott refused to extend the voter registration deadline for the very citizens heeding his orders to evacuate — forcing voters to choose between their safety and the safety of their families, on one hand, and their fundamental right to vote, on the other hand,” the lawsuit states. “Many Floridians who would have registered to vote prior to the Oct. 11 registration deadline have been displaced or otherwise prevented from registering.”

Scott’s office said it was reviewing the lawsuit. On Thursday, Scott flatly rejected calls by Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager to extend the voter registration deadline.

“I’m not going to extend it,” said the Republican governor, who chairs a pro-Donald Trump super PAC. “Everybody has had a lot of time to register. On top of that, we have lots of opportunities to vote: early voting, absentee voting, Election Day. So I don’t intend to make any changes.”

The Democrats’ lawsuit also names Secretary of State Ken Detzner, the state’s chief elections official, as a defendant.

More here.

President Obama signs new disaster declaration for Hurricane Matthew's impact in Florida


@ByKristenMClark & @JeremySWallace

President Barack Obama signed a new disaster declaration for Florida on Saturday, freeing up additional federal funding and resources to help with clean-up and recovery efforts after Hurricane Matthew.

The White House announced Obama's act early Sunday morning.

While Obama already granted a preliminary disaster declaration before the storm, a second one after the storm is required to trigger post-storm recovery funding.

The new declaration makes available federal funding to state and eligible local governments and certain non-profits on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work in eight Florida counties. Those counties span the east coast from the Treasure Coast to northeast Florida -- areas which felt the brunt of Matthew in the state: Brevard, Duval, Flagler, Indian River, Nassau, St. Johns, St. Lucie and Volusia.

More here.


Photo credit: Kevin Dietsch, Bloomberg

October 07, 2016

Democratic lawmakers ask Florida governor to reconsider moving voter-registration deadline


Eleven Democratic members of Congress from Florida asked Republican Gov. Rick Scott on Friday to reconsider pushing back the state's voter-registration deadline because of Hurricane Matthew.

In the letter, spearheaded by Weston Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the lawmakers thank Scott for his handling of the powerful storm -- and then urge him to change his mind on the deadline.

"We respectfully request an extension of the voter registration deadline so that we may ensure the franchise, the integrity of our democracy, and the rights we as Americans hold dear, are fully protected," they wrote.

Scott said Thursday he planned to keep the Tuesday deadline, after Hillary Clinton's campaign urged for an extension. The storm canceled plans from Democratic-leaning groups to sign people up at the last minute; there's typically a surge of interest right before the deadline. An attorney for a firm that does work for the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party suggested on Twitter late Thursday that the campaign could sue Florida if Scott doesn't budge.

White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz told reporters who asked about the dispute Friday that "generally speaking, the president thinks we should be making it easier for people to vote, not harder."

"Any steps that impede on citizens' ability to exercise that right to vote is a step in the wrong direction," Schultz said.

Two liberal organizations, Project Vote and People For The American Way, also released statements Friday imploring Scott to delay the deadline.

Among the lawmakers who signed the congressional letter were U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, whom Scott is considering challenging in 2018. The others who signed -- several of whom are on the Nov. 8 ballot themselves -- were U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville, Kathy Castor of Tampa, Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, Alan Grayson of Orlando, Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach and Patrick Murphy of Jupiter.

U.S. Rep. Robert Brady of Pennsylvania, the ranking Democrat on the Committee on House Administration, also wrote Scott, making the same deadline-extension request. So did the ACLU of Florida.

Read the full letter below:

Continue reading "Democratic lawmakers ask Florida governor to reconsider moving voter-registration deadline" »

October 06, 2016

Gov. Scott says no to extending Florida voter-registration deadline

via @ByKristenMClark

Florida rejected a request Thursday from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief to extend the state’s voter-registration deadline due to Hurricane Matthew.

“I’m not going to extend it,” Gov. Rick Scott told reporters in Tallahassee. “Everybody has had a lot of time to register. On top of that, we have lots of opportunities to vote: early voting, absentee voting, Election Day. So I don’t intend to make any changes.”

Clinton’s team had asked for more days earlier, after Democratic-leaning political groups said they had to cancel planned registration drives in the last frenzied days ahead of the deadline because of the storm. Tuesday is the last day for new voters to sign up ahead of the Nov. 8 presidential election.

“The one thing that we are hoping and expecting is that officials in Florida will adapt deadlines to account for the storm,” campaign manager Robby Mook told reporters. “Our hope would be that a little bit more time would be given for people that were expecting to get registered before the election.”

Elections supervisors typically see a surge in voter interest immediately before the registration closes. About 50,000 people registered during the final five days in 2012, according to University of Florida professor Daniel A. Smith, who studies Florida voting trends.

More here.


Gov. Scott's office talking with FSU, U-F about Saturday football games


As Hurricane Matthew bears down on Florida with the potential for catastrophic damage to coastal areas, state and university officials are potentially re-evaluating a couple major college football games still scheduled for Saturday.

Rick Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said the governor spoke directly today with Florida State University President John Thrasher about the status of the Seminoles' game against the University of Miami Hurricanes, where kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. in Miami Gardens.

Schutz said the governor did not express an opinion about whether the game should continue as planned, be cancelled or be relocated, rather Scott was "reaching out to learn more about the university's process" for making such a decision.

Schutz said staff in Scott's office have also been in touch with University of Miami officials, as well as officials at the University of Florida -- which is scheduled to play Louisiana State University at home in Gainesville at noon Saturday.

University leaders told Scott's office they would let the governor know soon about how they'll move forward with Saturday's games, Schutz said.

Earlier Thursday, Louisiana U.S. Sen. David Vitter tweeted that Scott should move the Florida-LSU game out of Gainesville, using the hashtags #CmonMan, #GeauxTigers and #StaySafe.