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April 27, 2016

Gov. Rick Scott highlights Florida's efforts to fight human trafficking

Gov. Rick Scott visited the PACE Center for Girls in Miami to highlight Florida’s efforts to combat human trafficking.

PACE, which has 19 centers throughout the state, is a prevention and intervention program that helps girls ages 11-17 who have suffered trauma and are failing in school or at risk of becoming involved in the juvenile justice system. It serves more than 2,300 girls every year.

Scott thanked PACE for helping to provide “countless young women with the opportunity to achieve their dreams.”

In March, Scott signed HB545 which establishes harsher penalties for those who commit human trafficking.

“Thanks to law enforcement we are able to identify more occurrences of human trafficking while working to ensure Florida’s most vulnerable are protected,” he said.

Scott said that Florida invested $19 million PACE centers and highlighted $2 million that is earmarked for after-school programs.

Was David Jolly only House Republican to vote against House Planned Parenthood investigation?

Seeking Marco Rubio’s soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat, U.S. Rep. David Jolly said during a debate in Orlando that he’s committed to sticking to conservative principles, even if it means voting against his own party.

Jolly met with U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, at an Open Debate Coalition event on April 25, 2016, to discuss the Senate candidates’ platforms. After a question about whether he would support defending or defunding Planned Parenthood, Jolly said he opposed abortion and could not support the group, which has been under fire after being accused of selling fetal tissue.

But he acknowledged other women’s health services deserved funding and decried government wasting too much time and money on attacking Planned Parenthood.

"When my side of the aisle asked for an investigation of Planned Parenthood, I actually voted no. I was the only Republican to vote no," he said. "Should the issue be looked at? Yes. But there were already three committees looking at the issue. We didn’t need a fourth. We’re either going to be the party of less government or not."

Technically, the investigation Jolly is talking about doesn’t mention Planned Parenthood by name, but the Indian Shores Republican was the lone member of his party to oppose it.

Keep reading Joshua Gillin's fact-check from PolitiFact Florida.


April 26, 2016

After waiting years, state cites FPL for threatening drinking water, wants clean-up plan in 60 days

FPL salt at turkey point

via @JenStaletovich


Days after issuing a controversial plan for managing the troubled cooling canal system at Turkey Point, state environmental officials have cited Florida Power & Light for threatening nearby drinking water supplies and ordered the utility to hammer out a fix to stop the spread of an underground plume of saltwater.

In a notice to FPL officials Monday, the Department of Environmental Protection gave the utility 21 days to provide any information about how the 40-year-old canals have seeped into the Biscayne aquifer over the years and enter negotiations to come up with a clean-up plan. If the two sides fail to agree, the agency may come up with its own measures in 60 days, the notice said.

DEP Water Resource Management Director Frederick Aschauer also warned FPL that a new problem — in March Miami-Dade County detected canal water in Biscayne Bay — may be violating other state laws, for which the utility may be liable for damages. Aschauer gave FPL 15 days to set up a meeting.

The two notices come years late for critics, who say there has long been compelling evidence that the massive one-of-a-kind cooling canal system was degrading water quality far beyond the borders of the nuclear power plant along southern Biscayne Bay.

After DEP signed off on a December 2014 uprating project that expanded power output from the plant’s twin reactors, rock miner Steve Torcise, Tropical Audubon and neighboring cities including Miami sued, saying state regulators did too little to address a growing underground plume that has pushed saltwater inland about four miles. An administrative judge in February agreed, faulting DEP for not citing the agency for violations and ordering state officials to redo the plan.

Last week, the Miami Herald reported that FPL knew about super salty canal water pushing inland since at least 2010 when it conducted its own in-house study. The study found adding fresh water alone, a fix FPL sought repeatedly as canals grew hotter after the expansion, would likely worsen the plume.

More here. 


House passes oil spill law pushed by Carlos Curbelo, Patrick Murphy


The U.S. House on Tuesday passed a bipartisan bill sponsored by two South Florida members of Congress that would make sure any foreign companies responsible for oil spills are on the hook for clean-up costs.

The Foreign Spill Protection Act, by Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Jupiter Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy, would close a loophole in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 that leaves the U.S. footing the bill when spills caused by foreign rigs or rigs in foreign waters exceed $1 billion in clean up. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill cost $54 billion.

"I thank the House of Representatives for passing this critical legislation for Florida and coastal communities all across the country," Curbelo said in a statement. "This is a victory not only for our environment but also for American taxpayers and may lead our foreign neighbors to improve their safety and oversight standards."

"As a native Floridian, protecting our environment remains one of my top priorities," Murphy said in a statement. "When our economy so greatly relies on the health of our waters, we must do everything we can to protect our coastline from devastating oil spills."

Both congressmen spoke on the House floor about the bill, and in their written statements, they thanked each other for working together, and the House in general for its unanimous approval. Murphy is running for U.S. Senate in the nation's largest swing district, while Curbelo is seeking re-election to his own swing district that includes the Florida Keys.

The legislation has yet to be taken up by the Senate.



Corrine Brown says tells SCOTUS she'll appeal redistricting ruling. What grounds? We have to wait

Corrine BrownU.S. Rep. Corrine Brown filed a one-page motion with the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday saying that, yes, she's going to appeal the federal court ruling that upheld the redrawing of the district.

Brown, D-Jacksonville, sued the state last year after a court approved a map drawn by a coalition of voters was adopted. The League of Women Voters, Common Cause of Florida and a group of Democrat-leaning voters successfully challenged the Florida Legislature's map and, when lawmakers couldn't agree on a plan to redo it, the court approved the plaintiff's plan.

Brown, who was joined by dozens of black voters from north and central Florida, argued that the new district’s east-west configuration across the top of the state violates the federal Voting Rights Act by making it less likely that the district would elect a candidate preferred by black voters. A three judge court panel of the Northern District of Florida rejected her claims. 

Brown's motion filed this week indicates that she will appeal but does not indicate whether she will ask the court to enjoin the implementation of the map in November or not.  Download Brown redistricting appeal

In a landmark case, the Florida Supreme Court ruled last July that Brown's Jacksonville-to-Orlando district was in violation of the "Fair Districts" amendments to the state constitution because it was drawn to carve out Democratic-leaning African-American voters from districts in Northeast and Central Florida to benefit Brown and to make the surrounding districts more hospitable for Republican candidates.

Brown, who had been elected twice from the map drawn by the Florida Legislature in 2012, announced last week that she would seek re-election to the reconfigured east to west district.

The ruling was the latest in more than four years of legal challenges over Florida’s redistricting maps. Meanwhile, the court-approved map will remain in place unless Brown seeks an injunction and the U.S. Supreme Court approves. 



Joe Negron: Rick Scott and I 'strongly aligned' on goals for Florida universities


After meeting for about a half hour with Republican Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday, incoming Florida Senate president Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said he and the governor seem to be in general agreement about their future goals for Florida's 12 public universities.

Enhancing the State University System -- and adding $1 billion in funding to it over two years -- is a priority for Negron as he's poised to take over the Senate in November. Last week, Negron and a handful of other senators toured all of the universities to learn about each institution's needs and goals.

"I updated the governor on some of the things that we learned during the university tour," Negron told reporters after the meeting at the Florida Capitol. "I think there’s a strong alignment of policy and budget goals, with my commitment to universities."

Scott's spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said Negron "requested a meeting to discuss his priorities." She had no comment on what they discussed, because the governor typically doesn't talk about private meetings.

But the universities have been on Scott's mind, also.

Negron said Scott has a summit planned next month in Orlando, "where he's bringing in large employers, boards of trustees and university and community college presidents."

Schutz confirmed the event will be called the "Degrees to Jobs" Education Summit. It will be held May 25-26, and a list of speakers should be announced later this week, she said.

Negron's policy goals for the university system include: Recruiting and retaining top faculty, improving graduate schools, and "making sure that every student can attend the university to which they've been accepted regardless of their financial background," he said.

"That may require them to work part-time and contribute themselves or their families, but we want to make sure that financial insecurity doesn’t keep students from going to a university or keep them from graduating on time," Negron said.

For example, he wants to improve funding for Bright Futures scholars to cover 100 percent of tuition and $300 a semester for books. He said he hopes lawmakers will approve that in the 2017 session, so next year's graduating high school seniors can start enjoying those benefits the following fall.

Here's why Florida's CFO won't accept Jeffrey Bragg as the new state insurance commissioner


After the Florida Cabinet again deadlocked over who to make the new insurance commissioner, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said he is just not certain that the man Gov. Rick Scott is committed to for the job has the right background for the post.

Moments after Scott and Atwater, both Republicans, declared another impasse in picking a commissioner, Atwater told reporters that he doesn't know if Pinellas County resident Jeffrey Bragg has the required private sector experience or regulatory experience to even legally hold the position of Florida Insurance Commissioner.

"I don't know the answer to that," Atwater told reporters.

Bragg, a 67-year-old Republican who lives in Palm Harbor, ran the nation's terrorism risk insurance program from 2003 until his retirement in 2014. In the early 1980s, he worked under the Reagan Administration, serving in the Federal Emergency Management Agency where he was the administrator for the national flood insurance program. 

Between those appointments, Bragg worked in the private sector, including as a senior vice president for Zurich Risk Management from 2001 to 2003 and as executive vice president for IMSG in St. Petersburg from 1997 to 2000.

During a public interview with Bragg on Tuesday during the cabinet meeting, Atwater said he tried to probe him about his regulatory background to get answers as to whether Bragg really is qualified to regulate Florida's insurance market. 

"He wasn't regulating players offering products in the private sector market place or who the complied with his programs," Atwater said.

Continue reading "Here's why Florida's CFO won't accept Jeffrey Bragg as the new state insurance commissioner" »

Tampa businessman cautions against dismantling school choice in Florida

John kirtley _ c-o save our scholarships


Speaking to the Economic Club of Florida today in Tallahassee, Tampa venture capitalist John Kirtley likened the push for "school choice" in Florida's public education system to the Cold War divisions the Berlin Wall illustrated.

East Berlin, he said, was like today's traditional public school system -- "where decisions were made at the top" and a uniform system applied to everyone -- whereas West Berlin offered freedom and economic opportunities.

"I think that it’s just too hard, even if you have the best people, to manage a huge system from the top down and allocate resources that way," Kirtley told a crowd of about 150 people at the Economic Club luncheon. "If parents were empowered to choose, it would be better for teachers, better for parents and better for students."

Kirtley has been an influential voice in education in the Sunshine State. He fought 15 years ago for lawmakers to create the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program and now serves as chairman of Step Up for Students, the main organization that doles out those voucher-like scholarships to help poor children attend private school.

He has numerous other roles on the boards of national and state pro-"school choice" organizations and, in recent years, has given hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions to get "school choice" advocates elected to county school boards and the Florida Legislature.

Continue reading "Tampa businessman cautions against dismantling school choice in Florida" »

Meet the candidates Florida Democratic convention delegates


Florida Democrats will decide next month which delegates to send from each congressional district to the presidential convention in July.

The list of candidates vying for the coveted spots is split between potential delegates for Hillary Clinton and for Bernie Sanders. Because Clinton won the Florida primary, she will get 153 of the state's total delegates, and Sanders will get 79 (some of those are at-large and not selected at the congressional-district level).

The biggest difference between the two groups of candidates? Clinton's would-be delegates -- at least in South Florida -- include local politicians and well-known activists. Not so for Sanders.

Some of the pro-Clinton names: Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, Miami-Dade School Board member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco, United Teachers of Dade President Fedrick Ingram, political consultant Christian Ulvert, former North Miami Councilman Jacques Despinosse, Homestead activist Maria Garza, Miami-Dade communications director Mike Hernández, fundraiser Chris Korge and his son, state Senate candidate Andrew Korge...

Standoff worsens between Scott and Atwater over insurance post

The standoff intensified Tuesday over hiring a new state insurance commissioner, as Gov. Rick Scott's lone choice failed to win support of Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. 

AFter Scott and the Cabinet interviewed four finalists, Scott read a prepared statement in which he again nominated Jeffrey Bragg, a former federal official with expertise in flood insurance and terrorism risk insurance, as a "proven leader" to replace Kevin McCarty as director of the Office of Insurance Regulation.

A long and awkward silence ensued and Scott said: "It doesn't look like there's going to be a second."

Atwater has nominated Rep. Bill Hager, R-Delray Beach, an arbitrator and expert witness in insurance cases, for the post. Scott opposes Hager.

With the start of hurricane season five weeks away, Scott said someone has to be in charge. He rejected McCarty's offer to extend the date of his resignation and said he didn't know about McCarty's offer, even though McCarty's office hand-delivered copies of a letter to all four officials last week.

Scott then called a special telephonic Cabinet meeting for 9 a.m. Friday at which he said the group would interview two new candidates, David Altmaier, 34, and Richard Robleto, 65, both of them top deputies in McCarty's office who were not proposed as finalists previously. Florida could choose its next insurance commissioner at a call-in meeting on three days' notice. 

"What do we have to do, 48 hours notice? Oh, is it 24?" Scott asked an aide. "We'll just do it by phone."

Attorney General Pam Bondi chided both Scott and Atwater for being inflexible on their choices.

"Gentlemen, if you're not going to budge on one of these candidates, then you need to say that so we can strike them off the list and move on," Bondi said.

Atwater said the lack of a consensus on an insurance regulator shows that the system was working as intended. "This was what was actually meant to happen," said Atwater, whose agency works most closely with the insurance department. "I don't find after two meetings ... that we're doing anything other than serving the people of Florida just as this was designed to do."