Note: This blog's templates will be updated this afternoon to a responsive design bringing it in line with

At that time, we will also change to the Facebook commenting system. You will need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment.

December 01, 2015

'This is no reality show,' Medal of Honor recipient says in new TV ad for Jeb Bush


Jeb Bush's campaign is going on the air on New Hampshire and Boston TV for the next three weeks, wit a somber ad portraying the former Florida governor as a serious man ready for the difficult job of president.

The minute-long spot features several Medal of Honor recipients talking up the Republicans. "This is no reality show," says retired Marine Corps Maj. General James Livingston -- a reference to frontrunner Donald Trump, the former Celebrity Apprentice host.

The ad buy is for $600,000, the campaign said. There will also be a 30-second version of the spot airing.


Will Gov. Scott remember a small favor? Orlando's mayor hopes so

Orlando's Democratic mayor, Buddy Dyer, was in familiar territory Tuesday, walking the halls of the Florida Senate where he used to work. The mayor's mission is to get $15 million for the University of Central Florida's downtown Orlando campus in the next state budget.


It's a sore subject for Orlando's movers and shakers because of Gov. Rick Scott. With a boost from Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, the money was in the Legislature's budget last session, but Scott erased it with the stroke of his veto pen -- the biggest single-ticket item on his long list of $461 million in line-item vetoes. A ticked-off Gardiner went on Orlando TV to call Scott's veto "a shot at Orlando."

But the new year will bring a new session and new hope for UCF's campus. After all, as Dyer was quick to note Tuesday, he's a big-city mayor who two weeks ago endorsed one of Scott's top priorities: a bigger pot of incentive money for Enterprise Florida. It was an easy call, Dyer noted, because the ask came from "the man with the veto pen."


Obama on climate change in Miami: 'Fish are swimming through the middle of the streets'


President Barack Obama once again used Miami as an example of a place already feeling the effects of climate change, giving reporters Tuesday a somewhat exaggerated example about the city's high tides showing the costs of letting seas continue to rise.

"I think that as the science around climate change is more accepted, as people start realizing that even today you can put a price on the damage that climate change is doing -- you know, you go down to Miami and when it's flooding at high tide on a sunny day and fish are swimming through the middle of the streets -- you know, that there's a cost to that," Obama said at the Paris climate talks.

While Miami Beach has certainly suffered from sunny-day floods during high tides, recent reports about fish swimming in the street have come from further north in Broward County and are far from widespread. No one's pulling out their fishing rods on the road.

WSVN-FOX 7 reported in September that a mullet was spotted swimming in Fort Lauderdale. A member of the Miami Herald and WLRN radio's Public Insight Network reported in October that she saw fish in the streets of Hollywood during a king tide.

Former Vice President Al Gore told the public radio show The Takeaway last week: "I was in Miami last month and fish from the ocean were swimming on some of the streets on a sunny day because it was a high tide. In Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale, many other places -- that happens regularly." "Regularly" sounds a like a bit of a stretch.

Obama referenced Miami last year when he spoke about climate change to the United Nations. "Along our eastern coast, the city of Miami now floods in high tide," he said then. 

--with Jenny Staletovich

Does Jeb Bush want to raise social security retirement age to 70 as Annette Taddeo says?

Congressional hopeful Annette Taddeo warned Florida seniors preparing for a Thanksgiving feast that a Jeb Bush presidency could starve their plans for retirement.

Taddeo, the former chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, attempted to link Bush’s plan for Social Security to her Republican opponent, Carlos Curbelo of Miami, in a fundraising email PolitiFact Florida received Nov. 24, 2015 (click here to read the letter).

"Have you seen presidential hopeful Jeb Bush’s plan for Social Security? It’s disastrous for seniors and raises the retirement age to 70," the email read. "But Bush is the candidate Annette’s opponent, Congressman Carlos Curbelo, thinks should be leading our country. Not that that’s a surprise after Curbelo called Social Security a ‘Ponzi scheme’ and voted for Speaker Ryan’s devastating budget. South Florida needs someone who will fight for Social Security — not work to end it."

Curbelo did call Social Security a Ponzi scheme in his first bid for Congress. That is not an accurate description of the program, so we rated Curbelo's statement False.

For this fact-check, we wanted to know if Bush really released a Social Security plan for seniors that raises the retirement age to 70. (We won’t weigh in on whether it’s "disastrous.")

We found that Bush's plan doesn't suggest a specific age, and he also doesn't think the eligibility age should change for current seniors. 

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

Senate wants to call Braynon and Clemens and LWV's Ellen Freiden as redistricting witnesses

Screen shot 2015-12-01 at 8.50.36 AM

The Florida Senate's lawyers could call Democrat Sens. Oscar Braynon and Jeff Clemens and Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Bill Galvano to the witness stand in the upcoming redistricting trail, adding three senators to the list of seven already proposed by the challengers in documents submitted Monday to the court. 

The Senate's lawyers said it might call Braynon of Miami Gardens and Clemens of Lake Worth as witnesses in the five-day trial that begins Dec. 14 in Leon County Circuit Court. Each had submitted maps they said they had drawn during the redistricting session that ended last month. 

They also said they may call Ellen Freiden, the Miami lawyer for the League of Women Voters whose Fair Districts crusade helped to put the anti-gerrymandering rules into the Florida Constitution, and Galvano, the Bradenton Repubican who headed the Senate's redistricting effort for the last year.

They also said they may call Ellen Freiden, the Miami lawyer for the League of Women Voters whose Fair Districts crusade helped to put the anti-gerrymandering rules into the Florida Constitution.

"Ms. Freidin will testify about alternative maps submitted to the Legislature and the Florida Supreme Court and alternative maps submitted in this case, including the goals, process, and objectives of their creation, and all facts relevant to an intent to favor or disfavor a political party or incumbent in any alternative map,'' the Senate wrote. "Ms. Freidin will also testify about her efforts to influence the legislative redistricting process."

More likely to be called, the witness list said, is a list of experts lined by the Senate, including Stephen Hodge of the Florida Resources and Environmental Analysis Center at Florida State University and an unnamed "corporate representative" for Strategic Telemetry, Massachusetts-based company that hired John O'Neill to help the coalition plaintiffs in the lawsuit draw their proposed maps.

"The Corporate Representative of Strategic Telemetry Inc. will testify about John O’Neill’s participation in the creation of redistricting plans in 2011 and 2012,'' the witness list said. 

November 30, 2015

Private prison health care in doubt as Corizon contract collapses


After two years of complaints about healthcare in Florida’s prisons, the private company that has been responsible for the largest share of inmate care — Corizon Health — decided not to renew its $1.1 billion contract with the state Monday, leaving the future of care for 74,000 inmates in limbo when the company pulls out in six months.

The decision by the Tennessee-based company to exercise its right to terminate the contract that was scheduled to expire in 2018 came as the Florida Department of Corrections was attempting to renegotiate the agreement amid reports of inmate maltreatment, chronic understaffing and rising numbers of unnatural inmate deaths. 

"We appreciate the contracts for inmate health services permit very little of the flexibility that Secretary Jones would like in order to address issues such as staffing, mental health care, and electronic health records," Corizon Chief Executive Officer Karey Witty said in a statement. "We have tried to address the department's concerns but have found the terms of the current contract too constraining. At this point, we believe the best way to move forward is to focus our efforts on a successful transition to a new provider."

In February, Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones was ordered to renegotiate the contract by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, after a series of reports in the Miami Herald and other news organizations showed suspicious inmate deaths were covered up or never reviewed, staffing was inadequate, and inmate grievances and complaints of harmful medical care were dismissed or ignored.

Audits conducted by the state’s Correctional Medical Authority also found problems with inadequate medical care, nursing and staffing shortages, and hundreds of pending lawsuits against the state and the health care companies claiming inadequate medical care. 

Last year, 346 inmates died in Florida prisons — 176 of them listed with no immediate cause of death. It was the highest number on record, even though the number of inmates in Florida prisons has declined. 

Continue reading "Private prison health care in doubt as Corizon contract collapses" »

Are FL lawmakers ready to tackle for-profit college abuses?


After a year of repeated for-profit college scandals — including the recent closure of Dade Medical College — Florida lawmakers are poised to consider new, tougher rules governing the schools.

The change follows several years in which lawmakers loosened standards and opened up more public money to for-profits. For the moment, the buzz is about greater consumer protections at the schools, which rely heavily on taxpayer money but receive little government oversight.

For-profit colleges enroll nearly one in five Florida college students — close to 300,000 students in total.

Though lawmakers are talking about stronger regulations, the proposals so far aren’t as aggressive as what some other states have done to protect students. And some Florida lawmakers may be hesitant to take any action whatsoever against an industry that donates generously to political campaigns, and has many powerful friends.

That’s particularly true in the conservative House. Two House lawmakers who chair important education-related committees were previously honored as “legislator of the year” by the for-profit college industry.

The 2016 legislative session starts on Jan. 12. Committee meetings have already begun.

One for-profit college bill that’s being debated would shut down schools with student loan default rates over 40 percent — resulting in the closure of a handful of beauty schools and barber colleges. It easily passed its first Senate committee stop in mid-November.

Other proposals are directly linked to the fallout from the Oct. 30 closure of Dade Medical College.

Read more here.

Beckham's Little Havana soccer stadium on life support, but not dead yet


David Beckham's plan to build a soccer stadium across from Marlins Park isn't dead yet. But it's on life support, and it may be only a matter of time before someone pulls the plug.

On Monday, with an important Major League Soccer Board of Governors meeting just days away, Miami Beckham United acknowledged that negotiations to buy six private properties standing in the footprint of the proposed Little Havana stadium continue to flounder. The Beckham group has a deal outlined to purchase a majority of the stadium site owned by the city of Miami, but can't build unless it also purchases several apartment buildings, duplexes and a daycare.

Those negotiations have so far been unproductive at best going back to the summer. And that's a problem, considering Beckham's investors have warned publicly that if they appear before the MLS board on Dec. 5 without having secured those properties --or maybe a different stadium site -- Beckham's option to purchase an MLS franchise could be in jeopardy.

"While Miami Beckham United is still hopeful we can secure the necessary private properties adjacent to the Marlins Park site, we are faced with the fact that some owners are not interested in selling or are seeking completely unreasonable prices," Beckham spokesman Tadd Schwartz said in a statement issued Monday. "Fortunately, we have been receiving interest from a number of private land owners with sites across Miami-Dade County and we are now in the process of evaluating those alternatives. David [and partners] Marcelo [Claure], Simon [Fuller] and Tim [Leiweke] appreciate the strong support of our fans and we are doing everything in our power to make our dream of an MLS club in Miami a reality.”

Continue reading "Beckham's Little Havana soccer stadium on life support, but not dead yet" »

Florida senators who could go under oath for redistricting trial include Flores, Diaz de la Portilla

Senate Witness listTwo Miami senators and a long list of Republican political operatives join Senate President Andy Gardiner and Senate redistricting chairman Bill Galvano as potential witnesses in the week-long Senate redistricting trial that begins Dec. 14.

Sen. Anitere Flores and Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, both Miami Republicans, may be questioned under oath about the origins and development of the staff-drawn base maps approved by the Senate and submitted tp the court by Gardiner, R-Orlando, according to a lengthy witness list filed Monday with the court by the coalition of voting groups.

Also on the potential witness list are Republican Sens. Jack Latvala of Clearwater and Tom Lee of Brandon and House Redistricting Committee Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes. The plaintiffs list only Galvano, R-Bradenton, as a witness who will definitely be called. 

A five-day trial is scheduled before Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds and the plaintiffs, led by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida, say they will show that the map proposed by the Senate was rife with attempts to protect incumbents, in violation of the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the state constitution. 

Continue reading "Florida senators who could go under oath for redistricting trial include Flores, Diaz de la Portilla" »

Gov. Rick Scott orders 2nd execution for 2016 in Glades County case


Gov. Rick Scott has ordered the execution of a man who has been on Florida's death row for two murders in 1983.

The execution of Michael Ray Lambrix, scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 11, 2016, is the second already planned in the new year. Oscar Ray Bolin is scheduled to be executed Jan. 7 for murders in Tampa Bay.

Lambrix was convicted in Glades County in 1984 for killing Aleisha Bryant and Clarence Moore, Jr.

According to information from the governor's office, Lambrix and his girlfriend met the victims at a bar and invited them back to the trailer where they lived for dinner. Lambrix then beat Moore to death with a tire iron and strangled Bryant. He stole a gold chain from Moore's body and buried them in a shallow grave before taking Moore's car.

Lambrix had escaped from work release in December 1982 while serving a two-year prison sentence for violoating probation.

But outside groups, including Amnesty International, have contested the narrative that led Lambrix to spend more than 30 years on death row.

Continue reading "Gov. Rick Scott orders 2nd execution for 2016 in Glades County case" »

Florida abortion activists respond to shooting in Colorado Springs


After a shooting at Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs last week, anti-abortion activists in Florida are cancelling a rally planned at the state Capitol next week.

The Florida Family Policy Council, which was going to bus supporters from Miami and Orlando to picket the governor's office Dec. 7, has decided to push back the rally to the spring in response to the shooting that left three dead on Friday.

“This violent and horrifying act by someone who has a troubling and violent past, is in complete opposition to the pro-life cause,” said the group's president, John Stemberger, in a statement Monday. “We believe that we must continue promoting the pro-life message and reiterate the concern we have for every human life including the victims of this tragedy."

Stemberger and his supporters have been calling on Gov. Rick Scott to cancel contracts with Planned Parenthood that require the state to match some federal Medicaid funds.

In total, it costs the state $45,000 a year, according to the Agency for Health Care Administration. And the governor doesn't plan to end the contracts, even as he has taken a hard stance against Planned Parenthood in the wake of videos of the organization's fetal tissue donation programs that have stirred outrage among conservatives.

Continue reading "Florida abortion activists respond to shooting in Colorado Springs" »

White House sends Florida Gov. Rick Scott more details on Syrian refugees vetting

11302015_132738_let1_8colvia @learyreports

The White House sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott on Monday defending the vetting process for Syrians and offering “more regular access to refugee resettlement information.”

“This proposal responds to governors’ input while protecting the privacy of refugee families,” Whitehouse Chief of Staff Denis McDonough wrote in the letter.

Scott has joined numerous other governors in opposing the resettlement of more refugees. Secretary of State John Kerry previously sent a letter to Scott explaining the vetting process as “extraordinarily thorough and comprehensive" -- language McDonough stood by Monday.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Obama's stalled promise to close Guantánamo Bay

President Barack Obama's 2008 promise to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay had another setback on Nov. 25 when he signed a law that makes it tougher to achieve his goal.

The National Defense Authorization Act prohibits the use of funds to close Gitmo. It also bans using funds to transfer or release detainees to the United States or to construct or modify facilities in the United States to house detainees from Gitmo. The administration had been crafting a plan to move at least some of the remaining captives to military prisons in the United States, potentially to Colorado, Kansas or South Carolina.

The law appears to make it impossible for Obama to close the facility where 107 captives remained as of Nov. 23.

In a statement when he signed the bill on the eve of Thanksgiving, Obama said that he was "deeply disappointed" that Congress failed to move toward closing the detention facility.

Keep reading from PolitiFact about Obama's stalled promise.

Tampa airport grants free parking to disabled veterans before new bill even passes


Disabled veterans will not have to wait for the Legislature to pass a new law to get free parking at Tampa International Airport.

Airport officials have already changed their policies to now allow any driver with a special disabled veterans license plate issued by the state to park for free up to a week.

The move comes after the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau reported that the Florida Legislature was considering a bill to make all airports give disabled veterans free parking, which some airports already provide as a courtesy. Some legislators thought they had already provided that in a law passed earlier this year. But some veterans with the disabled license plate reported that they were still being denied the free parking by airports that were citing a loophole that exempted them from the law. The law only allowed disabled veterans with ramps and lifts to have the free parking. Disabled veterans without that equipment were being charged full price for parking by many airports.

Florida has about 41,000 veterans who have the special disable veteran license plate.

Even with Tampa International Airport’s policy change, the bill to force airports to give the break on parking is headed for a pair of committee hearings this week in Tallahassee. On Tuesday, State Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, will present her bill (SB 222) to the Senate Community Affairs Committee. An identical bill (HB 235), sponsored by Rep. Ken Roberson, R-Punta Gorda, goes before the House Economic Affairs Committee on Thursday.

Disabled veterans license plates can only be obtained by drivers if they can prove they have a 100 percent disability designation by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and can show they were honorably discharged.

George Pataki won't be on Florida GOP primary ballot

FullSizeRender (8)@PatriciaMazzei

The Republican Party of Florida sent the state a list Monday of 14 candidates eligible for the March 15 presidential primary ballot. The only name missing: former New York Gov. George Pataki.

To qualify for the list, candidates had to attend a Florida GOP summit in Orlando earlier this month and sign an oath, or pay a $25,000 fee, or collect 3,375 voter petitions. Pataki did none of the above.

The list the party submitted includes Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has dropped out of the race. There's still time for candidates to withdraw their names, just not to be added on to the list.

The Florida Democratic Party says it submitted its three candidates -- former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders -- on Nov. 19.

Florida cities, 'on alert,' seek to defeat shift in election calendar

The Florida League of Cities is mobilizing opposition to kill a legislative proposal to revamp the state's elections timetable in advance of a House vote this week.

The House State Affairs Committee is scheduled to vote Thursday on a bill that would shift city elections to the same date as statewide November general election dates in even-numbered years and to similar dates in odd-numbered years. Most cities hold elections in the spring when they often have the ballot all to themselves. The change is being pushed by Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, the panel's chairman, who says his goal is to inprove voter turnout in city elections.

The League of Cities wants its 400-plus members to turn up the heat on all 18 committee members to defeat the idea. Cities say it would trample on their home-rule powers and could produce longer ballots (meaning longer lines at polling places) and even less voter participation, because city elections would be at the end of the ballot, after all federal, state and local contests and proposed constitutional amendments. A league "legislative alert" to its member cities also says the nonpartisan nature of municipal elections would be threatened by the change.

"What the proposal is attempting to do is standardize all the election dates and make all elections be in November," said David Cruz, assistant general counsel for the Florida League of Cities. "We believe that that would pre-empt home rule authority to choose election dates. We also feel it would affect several factors dealing with terms of office." 

A staff report on the bill says the change could increase the cost of government: "The (bill) may increase expenditures for municipalities that are required to amend their charters or amend ordinances to modify existing election dates," the analysis says.

Tampa Bay lawmakers on House State Affairs are Reps. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa, Jake Raburn, R-Lithia and Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey. The two South Florida members are Reps. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, and Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton.

Bill Nelson's longtime spokesman to retire

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson's longtime spokesman, Dan McLaughlin, will retire at the end of the year.

Nelson announced the news to staff today.

Dan McLaughlin, our Deputy Chief of Staff and Communications Director, is retiring at year's end after more than 21 years of outstanding public service, the last 15 of which were in the U.S. Senate.  He has decided to pursue opportunities in the private sector, including his passion for oil painting and Florida art. Dan has been my confidant and friend all these years, and is recognized in both journalism and communications as one of the best.

He is succeeded by Ryan Brown who, as Director of Communications, is hitting the ground running.

McLaughlin was a formidable reporter for the Tampa Tribunebefore entering politics. He was not shy about telling reporters where he thought a story was to be found -- or if he thought a story was bull. His art has become an increasing focus.

McLaughlin's decision follows recent news that Nelson's chief of staff, Pete Mitchell, is retiring -- but not before laying the groundwork for Nelson's 2018 re-election campaign.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Alan Grayson warns he may sue over Ted Cruz's eligibility for White House

via @adamsmithtimes

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was born in Canada to a Cuban father and American mother, That American mother, many legal scholars say, makes Cruz an American citizen, but the question of whether being born in Alberta, Canada disqualifies Cruz for president has dogged him for years. In May, 2014, he even formally renounced his Canadian citizenship.

PolitiFact has looked at this question repeatedly.

Now Florida's Alan Grayson is weighing in, saying he's prepared to go to court to challenge Cruz's eligibility.

"The Constitution says 'natural born American.' So now we're counting Canadians as natural born Americans? How does that work. I'm waiting for the moment that he gets the nomination and then I will file that beautiful lawsuit saying that he's unqualified for the job, he's ineligible," Grayson said the other day on “The Alan Colmes Show" on Fox News Radio.

"Call me crazy but I think the President of America should be an American," said Grayson, whose main rival for the Democratic U.S. nomination is fellow U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter. "Even the anchor babies actually were born here. He doesn't even meet that qualification."

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio dominate PolitiFact Florida's Top 5 for November 2015


Statements by South Florida’s GOP presidential rivals Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio led PolitiFact Florida’s website in November, touching on taxes and Rubio’s spending while speaker of the Florida House.

Here are the five most-read fact-checks from PolitiFact Florida in November, counting down to the most popular.

Pro-Marco Rubio super PAC to start airing TV ad in Iowa, New Hampshire


A Super PAC backing Marco Rubio will begin airing its first television ad Tuesday in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

The 30-second spot portrays the Florida Republican as an outsider, highlighting his long-shot 2010 U.S. Senate bid (and not that he was first elected to state office in 1999).

"He took on the Republican establishment and won," a narrator says in the ad. "Don't just send the establishment a message. Send them a conservative president."

Warren Tompkins, the head of Conservative Solutions PAC, said in a statement that his group has raised enough money to start its ad buy earlier for the primaries, which start in February. The Super PAC had raised about $16 million as of June 30, the last time it was required to disclose its finance.

"While the strong start we had in the first half of the year allowed us to pre-buy ad time in the weeks leading up to the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries, Marco's growing support and our continued fundraising strength has allowed us to move our timeline forward, going up with additional air support to capitalize on momentum in the early primary states," he said.

"Conservative Solutions PAC's fundraising success means that this ad is just the first in what will now be a continuous television presence for the PAC through the end of the GOP primary process."