June 27, 2014

Bogdanoff's primary opponent withdraws from race

The race to represent Florida Senate District 34 is down to two candidates.

Republican Joseph Bensmihen dropped out of the contest Thursday, state records show.

That leaves just Maria Lorts Sachs, the Democratic incumbent; and Ellyn Bogdanoff, a Republican who served a previous term in the state Senate.

Bensmihen, a Palm Beach County businessman, had raised more than $12,000 for his campaign, records show. He loaned himself an additional $100,000. 

It was not immediately clear why Bensmihen withdrew. He did not return calls Friday.

Bogdanoff has said Bensmihen supported her in the past.

The Sachs-Bogdanoff race will be a rematch of the 2012 election. In that race, Sachs defeated Bogdanoff by five percentage points.

Senate District 34 includes parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties.

June 11, 2014

Bogdanoff is in -- rematch against Sachs and Sen prez fight awaits

Ellyn_Setnor_Bogdanoff_(R-25th)Former state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff announced Wednesday she's ready for a re-match against Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Boca Raton, in the Democrat-leaning district that straddles Broward and Palm Beach counties.

In a note to her followers, Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, said she expects the match-up will be hard work but wants "the opportunity to serve our community."

Sachs defeated Bogdanoff two years ago by five percentage points in one of the most bitterly-fought and expensive legislative campaigns of the 2012 election.

After sitting out for two years, Bogdanoff has been heavily recruited to run by Sen. Jack Latvala who is counting on her support to bring him the title of Senate president in 2016. Latvala, R-Clearwater, and state Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, are rumored to be locked in a 13-13 tie and Bogdanoff has pledged to support Latvala and be rewarded with a high profile post.

But before Bogdanoff faces off against Sachs she may have a primary challenger -- Joseph Bensmihen of Boca Raton, a wealthy owner of a home health company, is rumored to be ready to run in the GOP primary.

Negron said in a statement that,  contrary to previous reports, "I am not backing possible candidate Joseph Bensmihen in the District 34 Senate seat."

In an interview Bogdanoff said she will focus on jobs, the economy, children’s issues and criminal justice reform. Asked about her primary opponent, Bogdanoff said that he has financially supported her and volunteered for her in the past.

“I’m running against Maria Sachs,” she said.

Bogdanoff said the race will be different this time because it's not a presidential election year.

“I won’t have Obama on the top of the ticket,'' she said. "You can’t compare a presidential election race to an off-year race in terms of trying to overcome a national election and all the noise that is being made. ...  It was a banner year -- a Democratic sweep, everybody saw that.”

Bogdanoff wouldn’t cite a specific fundraising goal or estimate about what the race will cost but predicted it will be lower than two years ago since voter turnout will be lower.

The race already promises to be divisive. Sachs was a prime sponsor of legislation to report greyhound injuries at race tracks. On Wednesday, the Florida Greyhound Association put out an alert to its members urging them to contribute to Bogdanoff’s campaign. 

Sachs has already raised $193,000, according to campaign reports and has spent about $24,000.

Staff writer Amy Sherman contributed to this report.

Here's Bogdanoff's note: 

Continue reading "Bogdanoff is in -- rematch against Sachs and Sen prez fight awaits " »

May 13, 2014

ALF reforms fail again in Legislature

TALLAHASSEE -- Legislative leaders identified reform of Florida’s assisted-living facilities as one of their top goals this session, but once again lawmakers did not adopt measures to improve conditions in the 3,048 facilities around the state.

It is the third year the Legislature has not passed reforms proposed after a 2011 Miami Herald investigation that revealed the neglect, abuse and death of residents at some in ALFs.

The most recent Senate and House proposals fell apart in the final days when the House attached other health care related bills to the Senate’s ALF bill and they couldn’t resolve their differences.

“We still have the same antiquated, dangerous system that was in place when the Miami Herald wrote its series,” said Brian Lee, executive director of Families for Better Care. The state “has not fixed the abuse and neglect, and residents are still in trouble.”

Getting rid of the “bad apples” in the ALF industry and adding more oversight affects not only the elderly who live in facilities that can house a total of more than 80,000 residents, but also Florida’s economy and future generations, said Jack McRay, advocacy manager for AARP Florida.

“Florida seniors pay more in taxes than they get back in services,” McRay said. “It’s essential that they are able to remain and stay in Florida... We need to get it right.”

What happened this session “is a classic example of politics again trumping policy,” McRay said. “It became part of a healthcare ‘train’ that became a train wreck.”

The Senate unanimously passed SB 248 early in the session. The House passed its version, HB 573, at the end of April. While House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz identified ALF reform as one of their session goals in their “Work Plan 2014” program, it failed to make any progress.

Gaetz blames the House, and the ALF industry, for the bill’s demise.

“It wasn’t the trains that killed the bill. It was the House that killed the bill,’’ he  told the Herald/Times. “Speaker Weatherford gave me his commitment they would try to do this. The ALF industry lobbied very hard against reforms. They lost a lot of credibility. It’s a real shame.”

He said that when the House bill began to be “picked apart” in that chamber, he urged the Senate prime sponsor, Sen. Eleanoer Sobel, D-Hollywood, to start attaching it to several high priority House bills. In retaliation, the House attached language to the ALF bill that the Senate didn’t want -- language about surgery centers and visitation rights for grandparents.

“Healthcare is a complex issue, and we just weren’t able to get agreement between the two chambers,” Weatherford said after the session ended May 2.

Gaetz said he vowed to be Sobel’s first co-sponsor and will work to pass the bill next year.

"Frankly,’’ he said. “Those of us who support her efforts need a little bit more enthusiastic help.”

Sobel and House sponsor, Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, both vowed to renew their efforts next session.

"I’m very disappointed,” said Sobel, who also blamed “special interests” for the bill’s failure. “I believe we were very close and got further than we have in previous years,” she said.

Ahern said the important thing for next year “is to agree on something the first month of session and get this done early.”

Among the provisions, the ALF bill would have required facilities with one or more, rather than three or more, state-supported mental health residents obtain a limited mental health license; authorized ALF staff members, with increased training, to perform additional medication-related duties; and to assist with the self-administration of medication with increased training.

The most contentious issue was a new rating system for all licensed ALFs, similar to the system used for nursing homes. It would help consumers pick the best home for their loved ones. Family members often find themselves in a quandary when the hospital discharges a patient who cannot go home, McRay said.

“The consumer doesn’t know where to go or which ALFs are good and which are bad. A rating system has worked very well with nursing homes.”

The idea of a ratings system rankled the ALF industry. One industry group, the Florida Assisted Living Association (FALA), raised objections that people could post anonymous, possibly damaging comments on a website that would be managed by the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration.

The ratings system, along with a change in the fine structure that FALA said could affect smaller homes, were among the group’s key objections, said  Shaddrick Haston, its CEO, but he contends that members were not trying to sabotage the bill.

“Actually, most of the bill had great things to help residents age in place,” said Haston, who is AHCA’s former head of licensing for assisted-living facilities. “The industry wanted an ALF bill this year.”

One concern of Lee's, director of Families for Better Care, was a change that would reduce monitoring visits for homes that met certain criteria. Even a home that has had a good reputation can falter, he said.

In the fall, he noted, the state fined the Royal Palm Retirement Centre, an ALF in Port Charlotte, $22,500 for several violations found during a visit. AHCA’s inspection report noted that among resident-care problems, the facility “failed to provide adequate nursing supervision in providing care for four insulin-dependent diabetic residents.”

AHCA, Lee said, “needs to put more boots on the ground in ALFs, not fewer.”

Herald/Times staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report. Contact Rochelle Koff at rkoff@miamiherald.com

April 06, 2014

Session at midpoint: Election year squelches controversy, aids harmony and rewards contributors

The Florida Legislature has passed the halfway point of its 60-day session and the fruits of its labor can be summed up in two words: election year.

With Gov. Rick Scott struggling in the polls as he seeks a second term in November, the Republican-led legislature has worked to send him bills to bolster his image while avoiding issues that could complicate the governor’s political prospects.

In one month, lawmakers swiftly passed a repeal of the 2009 auto tag fee that will save most drivers $25 a year and touted it as the largest general revenue tax reduction in a decade. They enacted tuition credits for returning military in an effort to make the state friendly for veterans. They strengthened penalties for perpetrators of sex crimes in response to newspaper reports on repeat sex offenders.

And, in one of many bills pushed by the National Rifle Association, they sent the governor a measure Thursday to allow people to fire warning shots in self-defense.

Before the session began, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said his goal was to help Scott “put points on the board” by passing popular legislation.

This week, Weatherford declared that the goal is “not to worry about elections this session. We’re here to do what we think is right.” Story here.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/04/05/4041743/at-session-midpoint-legislature.html#storylink=cpy

March 17, 2014

Sobel wants child welfare bill revised to strengthen child protection

Twenty-four hours after the Miami Herald published the first part of a series detailing the deaths of almost 500 children, the Florida Senate’s top child-welfare legislator said she would overhaul a bill designed to reform the Department of Children & Families.

Sen. Eleanor Sobel said the bill her committee drafted  — which passed unanimously through its first committee last week — would have to be rewritten in light of the “Innocents Lost” series, which chronicles the deaths of 477 children whose families had a history with DCF.

“When I started reading it, I had to put it down. It’s death in your face," said the Hollywood Democrat who chairs the Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs. “We will not sleep or rest until every vulnerable child is rescued from dysfunctional families and guardians. The stories are tear-jerkers. It’s unacceptable this has happened to Florida’s children.”

The number the children who died of abuse or neglect during the past six years increased dramatically as Florida child welfare administrators implemented an intensive family-preservation program that reduced the number of children in state care while slashing services and oversight for children who remained with troubled families.

DCF officials have maintained that family preservation does not trump safety, but conceded that communities may not have enough resources — yet — to assist families struggling with issues such as drug addiction, mental illness and domestic violence. In a statement released late Monday, a spokeswoman said initiatives are underway to improve the agency’s work. More here. 


March 12, 2014

Senate offers up package aimed at fixing 'porous' child welfare system

After a year of damaging news reports about child deaths from abuse and neglect, a Florida Senate committee on Tuesday passed a package of proposals intended improve the quality and quantity of regulation over the state’s child welfare system.

The wide-ranging bills proposed by the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee are intended to improve what Senate President Don Gaetz called “a porous system” that has led to hundreds of child deaths under the state’s watch.

“We need to professionalize and make more effective our approach to child welfare in the state and then plug the side doors and the holes and windows, which I think make for a system that’s way too porous,” Gaetz told reporters Tuesday.

Under the proposals, the state Department of Children and Families would be required to increase the educational expertise of the child abuse investigators, create a website to report basic facts about child deaths reported to the child abuse hotline and mobilize a trained team to analyze the cause of deaths.

The bills would also increase the coordination of children deemed “medically complex” and require the state to place many of these children — who are now housed in a small number of nursing homes — in medical foster homes when possible.

“Back in the summer, we were all shocked and concerned about child abuse deaths brought to our attention by the Miami Herald newspaper,” said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, chairman of the committee. “We’ve identified several problems and our bills contain recommended solutions.”

Gaetz said that the bills will also require “tens of millions more in recurring funding” but did not say how much the Legislature’s proposed budget will include. Gov. Rick Scott has proposed adding $42 million for additional child protective investigators and another $8 million for sheriff’s investigations.

“Oftentimes you get what you pay for and I think in child welfare we have gone on the cheap and I think that’s been a mistake,” Gaetz said. More here.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/03/11/3989160/legislators-propose-improvements.html#storylink=cpy

February 03, 2014

Richter: We should have a destination casino in Miami and/or Broward

Senate Gaming Committee Chairman Garrett Richter on Monday endorsed a Las Vegas-style gambling casino in Miami and indicated that the bill the Senate proposes next week will offer up the expanded games but not the rest of the state. 

"There's not a chance that this legislature will consider a bill that will provide for unlimited casinos statewide,'' said Richter, a Republican Naples banker. But, he added, "I happen to think that a destination resort in Miami would be a good thing for the state of Florida. I think it will attract new revenue dollars.''

Richter told the committee that he is also open to building a casino resort in Broward and that any requirement to ask voters to approve of any new games would apply only "after this legisalture acts."

In other words, Richter believes this Legislature should expand gambling and only changes that occur after this year would voters be asked to approve.

The proposed constitutional amendment would be used to "approve anything after this legislative session, not as a result of this legislative session,'' he said. 

House Speaker Will Weatherford told reporters last week that he will not support any legislation that does not allow for a statewide voter approval of any gambling expansion. When asked by the Herald/Times what he meant by expansion, Weatherford said: "new games."

Richter said the agreement he believes the Senate leadership has with the House is that any requirement for voter approval would apply to when the industry comes back to the Legislature asking for more games in the future. "If you require something more, it's going to require a constitutional amendment,'' he said.

He disagreed that his position means he supports more casinos. "I'm not opening the door to casinos, we already have casino gambling,'' he said.

Richter, who is serving on the committee for the first time, will dictate what gets into the draft bill to be released Feb. 10 and said he will work to get a destination resort casino, as proposed by Las Vegas Sands and Genting in Miami.

"As I’ve gone through the learning curve, I would be in favor or one or more licenses that would be competitively bid -- either by the existing casino operators or the Seminole Tribe," he said.



Senate committee proposes elements of a gambling overhaul in Florida

The Florida Senate is in the midst of drafting a sweeping overhaul of the state's gambling legislation and, judging by the committee's checklist, it will include a grab bag of goodies for many seeking to restructure, and expand, gambling in Florida. Whether any of it will pass this election year, is another story.

"I'm not sure when we cross the finish line,'' said Sen. Garrett Richter, chairman of the Senate Gaming Committee on Monday. He said the bill to be released Feb. 10 will be at least 300 pages long and the Senate's effort is "a signficant endeavor." The committee today will discuss what elements it would like to include.

Among the likely components in the bill:

Continue reading "Senate committee proposes elements of a gambling overhaul in Florida" »

January 14, 2014

Sen. Gaetz says he's 'studying' medical marijuana exception

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said he is "looking at" supporting legislation to decriminalize non-euphoric strains of medical marijuana but there is no Senate proposal yet to address it.

He noted, however, that his wife "had tears running down her cheeks" as she recalled the testimony at a hearing of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee last week conducted by his son, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar. Parents told legislators how the strain is their last, best hope of treating their children who suffer from debilitating seizures and, if Florida doesn't legalize it, many will move to Colorado to get treatment.

Gaetz said he has not yet made up his mind on the issue but, when he knocked on doors in a heavily-Republican district in the Panhandle town of Shalimar on Saturday and half of the people wanted to talk about the issue and all of them who talked about it supported it, he concluded: "it's certainly compelling,'' he said.

Gaetz noted that he has been on the opposite side of issues opposed by doctors, hospitals and the insurance industry before, citing his experience 30 years ago building the state's first for-profit hospice company and working to get legislation passed that allowed for palliative care.

"There were many in the traditional health care community who said, 'that's outrageous; you can't do that' and now palliative care is an accepted form of treatment,'' he said. "So, even in my lifetime, I've seen changes that are rather substantial. So, let's put it this way, I'm studying the issue...and being pummeled by my son." 


Sexual predator reforms gain momentum as legislators pass a flurry of bills

Senate and House committees on Tuesday speedily passed additional measures to tackle the issue of sexually violent predators, considered a major priority for the upcoming session.

Sen. Eleanor Sobel, chairman of the Senate’s Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee, said the proposed bills would “plug in the holes in the program and protect our vulnerable children and protect others from sexually violent predators.”

She held up a photo of 8-year-old Cherish Perrrywinkle of Jacksonville, who was murdered by a newly released sex offender, before the panel began reviewing two bills.

Senate Bill 522, sponsored by Sen. Denise Grimsley, would add a prosecutor, victim’s advocate and law enforcement officer to the multidisciplinary team that evaluates offenders considered for civil confinement. It would also expand the scope of inmates who can be evaluated under the predator law.

“The bill addresses the weaknesses in the current Sexually Violent Predator Program” that allows some violent predators to avoid evaluation and civil commitment, said Grimsley, R-Sebring.

The bills include recommendations made by Esther Jacobo, interim secretary of the Department of Children & Families after a September review of the Sexually Violent Predator Program.

Continue reading "Sexual predator reforms gain momentum as legislators pass a flurry of bills" »