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June 06, 2017

Senate wants to expand session, restore $100 million in cuts to hospitals and override university vetoes

The Florida Senate is urging the House restore $100 million of the $200 million in cuts to hospitals, revise the K-12 proposal the House has drafted and override the veto of millions in cuts to university budgets.

In a memo issued by Senate President Joe Negron on Tuesday, Senate leaders said they are drafting legislation to restore some of the cuts agreed to with the House when they crafted the final $83 billion budget.  Download MEMO re Legislation for 2017 Special Session A 2017 06 06

Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala is filing legislation to add $215 million to the FEFP student funding formula, using $72 million in state funds ($66 million recurring; $6 million non-recurring) and $143 million RLE increase (new construction only), the memo said.

Latvala will also produce a Senate version of the economic development bill that "will include a requirement that DEO return to the state funds (approximately $107 million) held in escrow outside the state treasury to the SEED Trust Fund, which has been a bipartisan priority of the Senate for many years."

Sen. Anitere Flores is filing legislation to restore $100 million to Florida’s hospitals which were cut $200 million in the original budget. 

The cuts leave hospitals short more than $500 million because of the loss of federal Medicaid matching money. By restoring $100 million, hospitals could get about another $250 million in subsidized payments. 

"There was an acknowledgement that the Legislature and the governor didn't quite get the budget right,'' said Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, the Senate chair of the health appropriations committee, who will sponsor the legislation. "We said we need to come back and take a second stab" at the budget.

Negron said the money will come from reserves. 

"This is consistent with the Senate’s earlier action during 2017 Regular Session to reduce the anticipated $250 million general revenue cut to $200 million,'' he said in the memo. "Once approved, our Working Capital Reserve Account would remain over $1.2 billion and our total reserves would exceed $3.2 billion."

He said he also expects the Senate to "consider a proposal to override the veto of some university and higher education funding that represent major priorities of Senators." He did not specify which vetoes will be reconsidered. 

"There was an acknowledgement that the Legislature and the governor didn't quite get the budget right,'' said Flores, R-Miami, the Senate chair of the health appropriations committee. "We're saying we should also come back and fix other unfinished business of the people." 

Flores'  bill will also move the Senate closer to where it was on hospital funding and and reflects one of the Senate's priorities, she said. She acknowledged the proposals must get support from the House. 

"This is not a deal by any stretch of the imagination. Just like the first go-round wasn't a deal, this isn't either,'' she said. 

Exclusive: Legislature's financial sleuth, David Richardson, to run for Ros-Lehtinen's open congressional seat

David Richardson House floorState Rep. David Richardson, the Miami Beach Democrat and retired forensic auditor who has used his expertise to uncover financial abuse in the state prison system, will run for Congress in the Miami-based seat being vacated by U.S. Rep.Ileana Ros-Lehtinen who announced her retirement last month. 

"I'm ready for it,'' Richardson said in an exclusive interview with the Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau. "The most important thing is that anyone working Washington has got to work in a bi-partisan way and, for the last five years, I've demonstrated I've been able to get things done in the minority." 

Richardson, 60, entered a race that is already crowded with both Democrats and Republicans. He was first elected to the House In 2012. He starts with a strong base as his Democratic state House district is enclosed entirely within Congressional District 27, is 60 percent Hispanic and leans Democratic. 

"Ileana Ros-Lehtinen because of her tenure has been amazing and exceptional with constituent services,'' he said. "I really believe she could have won in 2018."

National Democrats consider the seat, which favor Clinton over Trump by 20 percentage points, a favorable pickup opportunity. Already announced are state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, Miami Beach commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn and Mark Anthony Person. 

Republican candidates who have announced former school board member and Miami-Dade mayoral candidate Raquel Regalado and Miami-Dade County commissioner Bruno Barreiro will run, and Maria Peiro, who unsuccessfully challenged Ros-Lehtinen in last year’s primary. 

Richardson said he has been considered a run for Congress for some time but expected Ros-Lehtinen to retire in 2020. Her unexpected announcement that she will retire in 2018 after 35 years in office, accelerated his timeline.

Miami businessman Scott Fuhrman, the first Democrat to announce a challenge to Ros-Lehtinen before her resignated, announced Tuesday that he’s suspending his campaign. Richardson, who is spending Tuesday in D.C. meeting with pollsters and party strategists, said he has hired Eric Johnson, who managed Fuhrman's campaign, to be his campaign consultant.

"I've been looking at the seat for a couple of years but had decided I wasn't going to run against her,'' he said. "It's not going to be a cakewalk. I've spent a lot of time studying the race and weighing my options. I think this is the best way to serve folks in the State of Florida right now."

Read more: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to retire from Congress

Richardson ran for office after he retired as a forensic auditor. Drawing on a 30-year career unraveling corporate corruption and financial malfeasance, he turned his expertise into examining the financial records, policies and allegations of abuse in the state's troubled corrections system.

He investigated brutal “test of heart” hazing rituals used by prison gangs to extort money from young newcomers in return for protection and forced policy changes. He has learned how gangs avoid corrections officers, create lookouts and decoys, and rely on poorly designed prison spaces to exploit blind spots and prey on their victims.

He uncovered what he considers “ground zero for officer-on-inmate violence” at Sumter Correctional Institution. He dug out details about how new arrivals were routinely “punched, or choked, or hit or slapped by an officer” as they arrived on the prison bus, validating reports that elements of the state’s prison culture were failing to police their own.

Read more: A fix-it Miami lawmaker goes into prisons, talks to inmates ... but avoids 1 question

In the last year, he spent more than 700 hours interviewing 300 inmates at dozens of facilities across the state, Richardson discovered that the bifurcated oversight worked to the advantage of the private prison companies and to the disadvantage of taxpayers.

He revealed evidence of officer-on-inmate violence at youthful offender facilities, uncovered how gangs evaded officers, caught officers withholding food from inmates, and persuaded the Department of Corrections to close down Lancaster Correctional Institution, a youthful offender prison. He uncovered “horrific” conditions at Columbia Correctional, where toilets wouldn’t flush, showers didn’t work, a heating system didn’t heat and deafening sounds came from an exhaust fan.

And he has forced two investigations in Gadsden Correctional, where he discovered women housed lived for months without hot water or heat, faced flooded bathrooms daily and endured water rations when the septic tanks were jammed with food waste.

READ MORE: “Private prison deprived inmates of heat and hot water for months, lawmaker finds”

"I can't wait to get started looking at the federal prisons,'' Richardson said. 



Will the Florida Legislature's special session end with compromise or more confusion?

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@MichaelAuslen and @ByKristenMClark

When lawmakers open a special session Wednesday afternoon, they’ll be under a tight, three-day time limit to increase education spending and create a new economic development program for the governor.

The deal was inked behind closed doors last week by Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron in an effort to settle disagreements over the state budget. But the framework is already starting to show cracks brought on by a rocky relationship between the chambers, tight deadlines to reach agreement and the spectre of a controversial education bill passed last month that hovers over their proceedings.

“What was discussed and referred to as a ‘deal’ was really just an outline,” said Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, a close Negron ally. “The legislative process has to take place in a special session, just as it does in a regular session.”

Fail to reach agreement, particularly on education spending, and lawmakers could find themselves back in Tallahassee before month’s end.

The proclamation that Scott signed to bring the Legislature back this Wednesday through Friday at a likely cost of about $190,000 calls on them to do three things:

• Increase base spending for K-12 education. Lawmakers have promised to do so by $100 per student over the current year, whereas the budget they passed in May did so by just $24.

• Create a new economic development fund under Scott’s Department of Economic Opportunity, a replacement for the economic incentive work that has been done by Enterprise Florida in the past.

• Fund the state’s tourism marketing arm, Visit Florida, which they tried to gut earlier this year.

But a fourth issue that isn’t even on the agenda this week is playing an outsized role and threatens to derail the session: The sweeping education bill (HB 7069) that Corcoran championed, negotiated in private and passed in the final hours of the regular legislative session last month.

Among its effects, the 274-page bill would route more taxpayer dollars to charter schools and make it easier for them to expand in Florida, especially in areas served by traditional public schools that fail year after year.

Even after raising concerns about the bill, which would cost $419 million if signed into law, some senators voted for it to ensure a delicate budget agreement between the House and Senate succeeded.

Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, acknowledged that some senators opposed to the bill may have voted for it thinking that Scott would veto it, though Flores said she was not one of them. Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, also said he has heard senators say they had been assured a veto.

The odds of changing HB 7069 this week are almost zero. Two-thirds of both the House and Senate would have to agree to do so.

But angst over the education bill could seep into other areas of the session, particularly in the Senate, where Republican lawmakers are less likely to fall in line with a deal agreed to by leadership and Democrats control 15 of 39 seats.

“Let’s put it this way,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, a close ally of Scott who has been critical of House pushback against the governor’s job incentives and of HB 7069. “I think we’ve made it clear that we’re putting the issues up for a vote in the Senate and we need (20) votes to pass it.”

Latvala plans to file his own economic development bill — a competing proposal to language the House filed. That gives lawmakers just three days to iron out the differences.

Can they do it?

“We’ll just have to wait and see,” he said.

Members of the House are more optimistic that the session will be smooth sailing.

"I think both chambers have worked well together to this point and I think we'll continue to work well this week,” Corcoran said.

Rep. Clay Ingram, R-Pensacola, says the time away from Tallahassee has hopefully calmed the rancor between the chambers.

“My hope is that maybe there's less politics now that everything has been refined to a few points of contention,” said Ingram, a Corcoran ally, who said of the brokered compromise between the speaker and governor: “It seems like a win for everybody.”

Democrats, meanwhile continue to bemoan being left out of negotiations, particularly in the House. Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, who first heard about the special session via Twitter, said he still isn’t sure about the details of proposals lawmakers will be asked to approve.

“We were not included, not involved, not counseled,” he said.

Photo: Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. (Scott Keeler | Tampa Bay Times)

- Times/Herald staff writers Steve Bousquet and Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.

Democrat running for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s open seat drops out

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Miami businessman Scott Fuhrman, who jumped into politics last year and took on longtime Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, announced Tuesday that he’s suspending his campaign for Ros-Lehtinen’s open congressional seat in 2018.

Fuhrman said a lack of support from donors was the primary reason behind his decision.

“Running these campaigns costs an exorbitant amount of money, it’s really insane,” Fuhrman told the Miami Herald. “I spent over a million dollars of my own money in 2016 and this year. I couldn’t really get the support among the Democratic donor community without having to put in a huge amount of my own money in the race.”

Politico first reported Fuhrman’s decision on Tuesday morning.

“I really want to see a good representative in that seat,” Fuhrman said, adding that he plans to support state Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, in the Democratic primary. Richardson hasn’t officially announced he’s in, but is seriously considering a run.

“I do think he’s the best candidate among a crowded field,” Fuhrman said. “There are a lot of political opportunists seeking the path of least resistance. Where were they in 2016? I don’t want to throw stones at anyone in particular but I do think there’s some who wouldn’t take that tough vote in Congress.”

Fuhrman was the first Democrat to announce that he would challenge Ros-Lehtinen in 2018, before Ros-Lehtinen announced in April that she will retire from Congress. In the wake of the announcement, a slew of Democrats jumped in the race, further complicating Fuhrman’s path to the Democratic nomination.

Read more here. 

Miami Rep. Baez hit with residency complaint


A Coral Gables voter said he has filed a complaint against state Rep. Daisy Baez, accusing the Democrat of violating a Florida requirement that lawmakers live in the districts they represent.

Christian Rodriguez asked House Speaker Richard Corcoran and the Florida Commission on Ethics to investigate Baez’s residency, according to a copy of the complaint obtained by the Miami Herald. The complaint, dated May 29, was received by the ethics commission; it did not comply with House complaint rules, House spokesman Fred Piccolo said Wednesday. Enforcing residency requirements is up to each legislative chamber.

“Baez is ineligible to represent the district in the Florida House of Representatives and should be removed immediately upon a finding that she either never established her permanent residency within House District 114 or she relinquished her permanent residency,” the complaint says.

Rodriguez, a registered Republican who lives in District 112, said in an email to the Herald he did not consult with the GOP before filing his complaint, though he did seek legal advice from a lawyer he did not name.

“Rep. Baez’s actions and flagrant disregard for the law are just one more example of why voters like myself have a dim view of elected officials and believe that the political process is broken,” Rodriguez said.

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times

Head of Florida Supervisors Association: there's been no hacking of U.S. voting systems

ChrisChamblessIn a letter to members of the Supervisors of Elections Association, Clay County's election head Clay Chambless sent out the following email this morning. Stay tuned for Florida details here:

Fellow Supervisors et al.,

By now I’m sure you’ve read the numerous reports of the recently leaked NSA report on Russian Hacking and hopefully you have taken the time to read the statement released by VR Systems.  First, I want to remind you that contrary to the headline of many of the published reports, there has not been a verified report of any “hacking of US voting system.”  

As VR stated, these news reports detail an attempt to gain information through the use of Phishing (The fraudulent practice of sending emails purporting to be from reputable companies in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers.) or Spear Phishing (The fraudulent practice of sending emails ostensibly from a known or trusted sender in order to induce targeted individuals to reveal confidential information.) and highlights the fact “that none of VR systems products perform the function of ballot marking, or tabulation of marked ballots.” However, there is a very important lesson to be learned from this event; the importance of the use of enterprise grade Antivirus, email SPAM filtering.  It is also vitally important to routinely apply the latest patch or updates to ensure the greatest threat protection available. I cannot stress this too much, as our office receives thousands of fraudulent phishing and spam emails daily, which could cripple our organization without the use of these email resources.

In Summary, I would like to quote a recent blog entry by Mike Ertel, Seminole County Supervisor of Elections.

“2016 Debunk the Bunk (long, but important epilogue): You will be reading news reports today of a purported attempt to access Florida voter registration records by the Russian military. A couple of core facts about this story:

1) Florida voter registrations are public records. Anyone can get them by simply asking their local elections office.

2) The data and physical security measures our office employs for our technology infrastructure are top-notch. We have dug a cyber moat around the data so we can ensure access of sensitive information and systems by only those granted access.

3) We were aware of the cited phishing email the very moment it happened and took measures to ensure we were not impacted.

4) Like everyone who uses email, we are subject to dozens of phishing email scams daily -- we're sophisticated enough to catch them.

5) Important: Even if the bad guys would have accessed our local registration files (which they didn't), those files are in no way connected to vote counting.

6) I've said it hundreds of times, "you can't hack paper." Seminole County votes on trusted paper ballots.

7) In summation: Our election was not hacked by Russians. This whole exercise, however, does highlight two vital tenants of our republic: Elections are best run in our decentralized manner, allowing a greater obstacle for shenanigans; and competent, savvy, independent and principled elections administrators are looking out for you.

8) Like I always close... if anyone is trying to scare you into thinking your legitimate vote won't (or didn't) count, contact your local elections administrator.”

Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions you might have on this report.  I look forward to seeing each of you soon!

Kindest Regards,

Chris H. Chambless, CERA, MFCEP

Supervisor of Elections

Because it's the Florida Keys: Activists send Curbelo message with coconuts

From Miami Herald news partner WLRN public radio:

They called themselves the "coconut caravan." 

The Upper Keys Action Network, or UKAN was formed after the 2016 election as a way for people in the Keys to stay politically engaged. This week, 10 women from UKAN drove an estimated 300 coconuts to Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo's Miami office.

The women and many others had painted the coconuts with messages like "Save ACA [the Affordable Care Act]," "country over party," and "Climate change is real." 

It's all to call on the congressman, whose district includes the Keys,  to hold an in-person town hall in the Keys.

"The overall message is ‘Hey, come to the Keys. Come meet with us. Come hear what your constituents have to say,'” says Lindsey Crews, an organizer with UKAN who helped coordinate the coconut project. She says this isn't the first time coconuts have been used to send a political message.

Curbelo is in Washington DC, so he wasn't there to receive the coconuts in person.

"Carlos meets with constituents in-person in both Miami and the Keys during district work periods... and he held a tele-townhall for constituents in May," said Joanna Rodriguez, a spokesperson for Curbelo. She said that tele-townhall reached thousands, but the women of UKAN say they'd like to have the opportunity to ask questions face-to-face.

Listen to the radio story here.

Photo credit: Holly Pretsky, WLRN

Legislative Black Caucus chairman endorses Gillum for governor

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The chairman of the 28-member Florida Legislative Black Caucus is endorsing Tallahassee's Democratic Mayor Andrew Gillum to be the state's next governor, Gillum's campaign announced Tuesday.

"We can trust Mayor Gillum to be a fierce advocate for our community on so many issues -- from addressing climate change, to ensuring healthcare is accessible to the most medically-needy in our state, to protecting public education from for-profit charter schools and their friends in the Legislature," Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, said in a statement provided by Gillum's campaign.

Gillum, 37, is the only candidate for governor who is African-American. He would be Florida's first black governor if elected and is the second African American to make a serious bid for the job, following Daryl Jones who lost a primary in 2002.

It's unclear how much sway Thurston's support might hold for Gillum among minority voters. Thurston, a former Broward state representative who is now a state senator, is not well-known statewide outside of having run unsuccessfully for attorney general a few years ago.

By comparison, one of Gillum's Democratic primary opponents scored a big endorsement last month that could matter significantly more. Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham announced she had the formal support of civil rights icon and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, with whom she served during her one two-year term in Congress that ended in January.

Photo credit: Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times

Ohio sued drug companies over the opioid crisis. Will Florida?

Opioid workshop announcement


A large, Republican-controlled swing state is suing drug companies, claiming they played an outsized role in the opioid epidemic.

It’s Ohio.

The lawsuit, filed last week by Ohio’s Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine, claims that several drug companies misled doctors and patients through their advertising, ignoring some of the dangers of addiction and overdose. It follows similar suits in Mississippi, West Virginia, New York, California and Illinois, according to the New York Times.

But in Florida, where opioids like heroin and fentanyl played a role in 3,896 deaths in 2015, officials have been far from up-front about whether they plan to litigate the opioid epidemic in a courtroom.

Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office was vague in response to questions from the Times/Herald last week.

“We can neither confirm nor deny any similar investigations at this time,” a spokeswoman, Kylie Mason, wrote in an email, responding to whether Bondi has considered taking similar action to Ohio or would support doing so.

Bondi, a member of President Donald Trump’s Opioid and Drug Abuse Commission, has been vocal on the subject of the opioid crisis. So has DeWine, though he is not on the commission.

Gov. Rick Scott’s office said in a statement that the governor’s staff has not reviewed Ohio’s lawsuit. This came several hours after the Times/Herald inquiry.

However, spokeswoman Kerri Wyland noted that the governor is “committed” to fighting the opioid crisis by working with other levels of government. In May, Scott declared a state of emergency over the epidemic after seeking solutions from local officials and public health experts, though years after it started claiming the lives of Floridians.

Ohio’s lawsuit includes some of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the country.

Photo: Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi announce a statewide tour of workshops over the opioid epidemic in the state Capitol. (Michael Auslen | Times/Herald)

June 05, 2017

BSO report criticizes response to Fort Lauderdale airport shooting

FLL Airportpeoplerunning

@chabelih @amysherman1

Poor communication by the Broward Sheriff’s Office and the Broward Aviation Department, along with other mistakes, following a deadly January shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, led to mass chaos for the estimated 12,000 people trapped at the airport, according the sheriff’s office’s draft report on the incident.

The report, released Friday, assessed the agency’s response to the January 6 rampage by war veteran Esteban Santiago. He has been charged with emptying 14 rounds of ammunition into the airport’s Terminal 2 baggage claim area, killing five and injuring six others.

About 2,000 officers from different departments across South Florida responded to the incident, creating a massive influx that led to havoc at the airport and confusion about who was in charge. According to the report, the airport became an “impassible parking lot” after officers abandoned their vehicles.

Keep reading here.