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

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" »

October 02, 2015

Florida Sen. Joe Negron's fundraising surges as he eyes presidency


You’ll have to forgive state Sen. Joe Negron if he’s feeling like a million bucks these days. That just happens to be how much money the Republican from Stuart has raised since May in his quest to lock up the race to be Senate President in 2017.

When official campaign finance reports are posted next week, Negron’s political action committee will report having raised over $500,000 in just September. In fact, in just three days earlier this week, Negron’s Treasure Coast Alliance pulled in $301,000 from various businesses and interest groups to complete his fundraising surge. Since May 1, he has raised $1.2 million.

“I am fortunate to have an extraordinary team,” Negron said about supporters in the Senate who are supporting his campaign to be the Senate president. “There is a lot of momentum.”

In August, Negron declared he had enough votes to secure the presidency and current Senate President Andy Gardiner has called a caucus vote for Dec. 2 to designate his successor. However, State Sen. Jack Latvala, the Clearwater Republican who is challenging him for the powerful position, has refused to concede and is raising money aggressively in his own political action committee called Florida Leadership Committee. Not to be outdone, Latvala has raised over $300,000 just in September and has pulled in more than $830,000 since May 1.

The money is critical for the two camps because money raised in the political action committees can be used to spread their influence, and more specifically help elect Republicans who will vote to make them Senate president. 

Analysis: 1 in 3 Florida legislators were elected without a single vote

@ByKristenMClark @MaryEllenKlas

When Florida lawmakers return to Tallahassee for another redistricting special session on Oct. 19, they will talk a lot about how to comply with court guidelines when redrawing state Senate districts, but they’ll say much less about how competitive to make them.

That’s because in 2012, lawmakers redrew the House and Senate maps to adjust for population changes in the decennial census and to comply with the new anti-gerrymandering amendments to the state constitution. The result: a third of all legislators were elected in their last election without a single vote. They got here by default.

Legislators wield tremendous power in Florida — from crafting the state’s annual budget and determining how much taxes people pay to deciding whether to implement environmental preservation spelled out in Amendment 1.

Drawing the political boundaries for the next decade through redistricting is like creating the rulebook for who calls the shots.

With that as the backdrop, the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times examined how many votes each legislator received in their last election, and assessed the intensity of competition and voter support for all 160 of them.

October 01, 2015

2 Florida state senators from Miami back Marco Rubio instead of Jeb Bush


The Florida Capitol has been Jeb Bush Country for months, something the former governor's presidential campaign noted this week by trumpeting that 20 of 26 GOP state senators have endorsed him. The list was first published by Politico.

Two of the senators not on the list are from Miami, Bush's hometown. And they're backing the other local Republican running for president, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

State Sens. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and René García say they're bucking their colleagues because they're closer to Rubio, the former state House speaker -- not because they have anything against Bush. (The third Miami Republican state senator, Anitere Flores, is on Team Bush.)

"I respect and admire both Jeb and Marco," Diaz de la Portilla said in a text message to the Miami Herald. "I share their political philosophy. But I particularly like Marco's vision for America's future; Marco's energy, optimism, and passion are contagious."

García, of Hialeah, said he has known Rubio since the 1996 Bob Dole presidential campaign.

"I really think he could bring this country together," he said. "I will never speak ill of Jeb -- he was a great governor. When you go to Tallahassee, you do feel everyone is supporting Jeb Bush.

"But I do feel some people are giving Marco a second look."

The other senators missing from Bush's endorsement list are Charlie Dean of Inverness, Alan Hays of Umatilla, Travis Hutson of Jacksonville, and Tom Lee of Brandon.

Here are the senators who endorsed Bush, per his campaign:

Continue reading "2 Florida state senators from Miami back Marco Rubio instead of Jeb Bush" »

September 25, 2015

House Rules chairman sets kick-off for Florida Senate run


Republican state Rep. Ritch Workman plans to celebrate the launch of his Florida Senate campaign on Oct. 10 with a bash at his Melbourne home.

Workman, who is chairman of the House Rules Committee and a noted part-time Uber driver, is one of many House members gearing up for state Senate campaigns in 2016. 

An invite for Workman's campaign kick-off fundraiser notes that Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, is on his host committee, as well as several local officials in Brevard County.  Download Invitation for 10-10-15 Kick Off

In inviting family, friends and political supporters to his home, Workman emailed his guests that he's not asking for any specific contribution amount. "Anything is welcome," he wrote.

September 23, 2015

VIDEO: Congressional redistricting maps back in court this week


Attorneys for the Florida House and Senate, as well as a group of plaintiffs, will be back in court tomorrow to make their case for which congressional redistricting map Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis should recommend to the Florida Supreme Court.

Times/Herald bureau chief Mary Ellen Klas and reporter Michael Auslen break down the latest in this first installment of the "Times/Herald Tallahassee Update."


September 22, 2015

Senate chairman wants data, info on driver's license suspensions


Sen. Jeff Brandes

Taking the next steps in an effort to "produce a substantive bill to reform the inequities in the practice of driver license suspension," the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday asked two state agencies and court clerks statewide to gather information and provide it to senators.

The requests by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, come about a week after the first of what is expected to be several committee hearings on the topic before the 2016 legislative session starts in January.

A report last month by The Miami Herald found that 77 percent of all license suspensions in Florida between 2012 and 2015 occurred because of a failure to pay fees. In Miami-Dade County alone, 29 percent of all drivers had their licenses suspended, many of them the working poor who can't pay the high fees to get reinstated.

In letters to the heads of the Departments of Corrections and of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and the president of the Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers, Brandes asked for data including:

Continue reading "Senate chairman wants data, info on driver's license suspensions" »

September 18, 2015

House, Senate education panels react differently to FSA review


Call it a tale of two education committees.

Both the House and Senate had hearings this week to discuss the results of an outside study to evaluate the new Florida Standards Assessments, and specifically whether the glitch-ridden roll-out last spring affected the accuracy of the test results.

The contrast in the tenor of both hearings was stark, as was the reception of Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart who spoke before both panels. (She had only a couple minutes before the Senate committee, but more than 90 minutes before the House committee.)

The Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee on Thursday afternoon was concerned and skeptical, questioning the mixed results of the independent review and whether the Department of Education had a hand in crafting the final report, because the agency had the chance to review two drafts in a "fact-checking" effort. More here.

Meanwhile, the House Education Committee on Friday morning repeatedly thanked Stewart for her work, saying she isn't thanked enough for the "tough" job she's had. Their questions didn't focus much on the FSA review, but rather the future - such as how collective results of last spring’s Florida Standards Assessments will be used in the coming months to help determine school grades and evaluate teachers across Florida. More here.

Photo credit: The Florida Channel

May 26, 2015

Is it really a $1 billion budget hole? Scott/AHCA and Senate disagree

Tensions continued to mount Tuesday between Gov. Rick Scott and the Senate as the governor blasted a Senate compromise and the governor’s Agency for Health Care administration issued a letter to the federal government suggesting that the state would not lose the $1 billion in federal money to reimburse hospitals for serving the uninsured under the low income pool as legislators previously suggested.

Agency for Health Care Administration deputy director Justin Senior sent a letter to the federal Department of Health and Human Services suggesting that “there is no need to infuse additional state general revenue to maintain current Medicaid hospital funding levels” in the 2015-16 budget year because local governments could draw down matching funds to offset the $1 billion not coming to the state.

He quotes the May 21 letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services which suggests that the state will get $1 billion and notes that "this level of funding for the LIP coupled with the options the state may elect at its discretion described in this letter would enable Florida to retain Medicaid investment in the state at or above the current $2.16 billion level of LIP funding.”

Senior concludes: "Based on this communication and our subsequent clarifying conversations, we understand that the renewed LIP will provide us with enough money to maintain current Medicaid program funding levels."  Download Wachino 526

He then attached a funding proposal that assumes local governments will draw down another $906 million and therefore eliminating the need for legislators to fill the funding gap for hospitals with general revenue funds.  Download Proposal

Senate President Andy Gardiner's response: not so fast.

He called the approach “shortsighted and only kicks the can down the road” because it fails to address the reforms the federal government wants the state to adopt in order to provide insurance to the uninsured.

“The plan proposed by AHCA relies on a particular premise—it assumes that CMS will approve a LIP plan or distribution model that devotes all or most of the LIP spending authority to incentivizing IGT [Inter-governmental transfers] donations and does not advance any of the reforms required for compliance with CMS principles,'' Gardiner said in a statement. "This assumption must be verified by CMS before the Legislature acts on this proposal.

“Using LIP exclusively as a financing mechanism in FY 2015-16 appears to minimize the amount of general revenue needed in rates or other provider payments for the coming year, but that approach is shortsighted and only kicks the can down the road, pushing the general revenue need to subsequent budget years.

“Any proposed spending plan should be a multi-year plan that establishes a foundation for comprehensive solutions. Specifically, the LIP cap declines by another $400 million in the next year and distribution of LIP payments must align with uncompensated care costs in the second year. Additionally, stricter guidelines on distribution of LIP payments take effect in the next year.

"“We believe any proposal must also be accompanied by a full LIP model in order to evaluate the specific impacts.”