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176 posts from July 2013

July 31, 2013

Another DCF horror story: child sex-trafficking victim raped after going to Miami "safe house"

via @defede of CBS 4

A child sex trafficking victim, placed under the care of the Department of Children and Families, was raped just days after being sent to a newly opened Miami “safe house,” CBS4 News has learned.

The “safe house” quietly closed after the April assault and child advocates say they are now rethinking their plans to house trafficking victims together in an unsecure group home setting.

“We need to regroup,” admitted Gilda Ferradaz, the regional administrator for DCF in Miami. “We decided not to put any more kids into the safe house until these issues were resolved.”

A state legislator who sponsored last year’s bill creating the safe houses told CBS4’s Jim DeFede he was unaware the house had been closed and dismayed to learn a child was assaulted.

“It’s incredibly sad to me that this girl, that this child really, who had already suffered the trauma of being trafficked sexually went through the system and then for whatever reason ended up a victim again,” said State Representative Erik Fresen.

Fresen’s bill, House Bill 99: The Safe Harbor Act, was passed unanimously by the Legislature last year. Gov Rick Scott signed the law amid great fanfare during a bill signing ceremony in Miami.

“We must do everything possible to protect the victims of this detestable practice and offer them a chance for a healthy and safe future,” Scott said.

Shortly afterward, Senator Marco Rubio and his wife toured what would be South Florida’s first safe house and held a press conference declaring it a significant advancement in the efforts to help victims of human trafficking.

But ten days after that safe house opened one of the girls wandered away from the house without supervision and was raped.

Full story here

**Note: prior headline changed

Dolphins owner recruiting candidates to run against Miami lawmakers who opposed stadium bid


Stephen Ross, the Miami Dolphins owner who vowed to avenge his political loss in Tallahassee earlier this year, is recruiting candidates to run against two lawmakers who opposed using public dollars to partly fund a $350 million renovation to Sun Life Stadium, the Miami Herald has learned.

Ross' political group, Florida Jobs First, is reaching out to potential candidates to pose primary challenges to GOP state Reps. Michael Bileca and Carlos Trujillo. They were perhaps the most strident opponents to the football club's proposal, which died when the Florida House failed to take a floor vote on Dolphins-backed legislation.

A spokesman for Ross' group confirmed to the Herald that the group is actively looking for candidates, though he would not identify the candidates.

"After hearing from many in the community who were upset by those who stood in the way of jobs for Miami-Dade, we have been talking to several potential candidates to challenge Trujillo and Bileca," Eric Jotkoff said.

So far, Ross' group has focused its efforts on Hispanic women in Southwest Miami-Dade, particularly members of the county's community councils that handle zoning issues, the Herald has learned.

"It's a free country," Trujillo said. "It's a democracy. Hopefully they'll find a good candidate and raise them lots and lots of money, and we'll let the voters decide."

In the past two months, Ross' group has mailed fliers attacking Bileca, Trujillo and a third Miami Republican, state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, accusing them of blocking jobs for local residents. The pieces make no mention of the Dolphins or their short-lived proposal to raise the hotel-tax rate and obtain a state sales-tax subsidy to upgrade the team's Miami Gardens stadium.

On Wednesday, House Speaker Will Weatherford, the Wesley Chapel Republican who has publicly criticized Ross for targeting the Miami trio, announced that Trujillo next year will chair the chamber's economic development and tourism subcommittee. The appointment effectively ensures that if the Dolphins intended pursue their legislative agenda again in Tallahassee in 2014, those efforts will go nowhere.

FL black lawmaker: Jesse Jackson's "apartheid comments" are a "disgrace."

A press release from state Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola, regarding the Rev. Jesse Jackson's comments about Florida being an apartheid state:

Continue reading "FL black lawmaker: Jesse Jackson's "apartheid comments" are a "disgrace."" »

From Tallahassee to Miami, protestors dog Rick Scott


Protestors in his Tallahassee office, protestors at his Miami-Dade press conferences – Gov. Rick Scott is facing a state of opposition after the George Zimmerman verdict.

On Wednesday, as protestors gathered inside and out, Scott made a quick exit from a Kendall Walmart media event touting new school-supply debit cards of teachers and the upcoming school-supply sales-tax.

The protestors, mostly young Hispanic and African-Americans, want a special legislative session to address the Stand Your Ground self-defense law implicated in Zimmerman’s shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last year. Zimmerman, acquitted July 13, didn't plead a Stand Your Ground defense, but was covered by its protections, which appeared in the jury instructions.

“Special session! Special session!” a group of 12 chanted from a sidewalk as Scott left out a backdoor.

Continue reading "From Tallahassee to Miami, protestors dog Rick Scott" »

Bullard: Education commissioner should resign

Add Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, to the list of state lawmakers calling for Education Commissioner Tony Bennett's resignation.

Bullard wrote the following in a letter to Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday:

"In light of the recent reports from the Associated Press and other news outlets on Department of Education chief Tony Bennett’s grade changing activities in Indiana, I find it necessary to call on you to request his immediate resignation as Florida’s Commissioner of Education. Given the contentious and on-going debate over quantifying and qualifying education in our state, I believe Commissioner Bennett’s involvement in these issues could be looked upon questionably with respect to his objectivity. Certainly, big money is also no stranger to education in Florida and I fear what appears to have happened in Indiana may repeat itself here should Commissioner Bennett be allowed to remain at the helm."

Bennett has come under fire for his role in a school grade scandal in Indiana.

In other developments, Indiana Schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz has called for a review of that state's school grades.

And Indianapolis Star columnist Matthew Tully said Bennett blew it with his bluster.

UPDATE: Dems call for Education Commissioner Bennett's ouster


Two Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday called for the resignation of Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett, saying the school grades scandal in Indiana had called Bennett's integrity into question.

"It’s time for [Gov. Rick Scott] to accept another resignation," said Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach. "I don’t care how he does it. He needs to basically wipe the chalkboard clean and start again."

Bennett found himself at the center of a media storm on Monday, when the Associated Press reported that he had changed the school grading formula in Indiana last year to benefit a charter school. The school, Christel House Academy in Indianapolis, is run by influential Republican donor Christel DeHaan.

Bennett took over as Florida's top education official in January.

Bennett has said politics played no role in the decision to change the formula in Indiana. He wanted the formula tweaked, he said, because it unfairly penalized schools like Christel House that weren't traditional elementary, middle or high schools.

Christel House, Bennett explained, enrolled children in kindergarten through 10th grade. In the initial calculation, the school was docked points for not having a graduation rate or strong enrollment in college-level classes. In the revised calculation, he said, Christel House was treated like a K-8 center.

Some Florida lawmakers, however, are not convinced.

State Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, said Bennett had engaged in "pay-to-play tacticts." She called for a review of the school grades in Florida, which were released Friday and showed a dramatic increase in the number of failing schools.

"How can we trust Florida school grades with Bennett in charge?" Cruz asked.

Pafford added that Bennett's meddling in Indiana was further evidence of Florida's pro-charter-school agenda.

Gov. Rick Scott made his first public comments about Bennett on Wednesday during an early news conference in West Palm Beach. The governor said Bennett was "doing a great job," but did not address the AP report or Bennett's future.

"He is very focused on accountability," Scott said of the education commissioner. "He is very focused on making sure we have the number one school system in the country."

The remarks were nearly identical to a press statement released late Tuesday by Scott spokeswoman Melissa Sellers.

Scott wants Jackson to apologize for calling Florida "the Apartheid State"

It didn't take long for Florida's Republican leaders to lash out following comments made Tuesday by Rev. Jesse Jackson during his visit with the Dream Defenders at the Capitol.

Gov. Rick Scott asked that Jackson apologize for calling Florida the "Selma of our time" and "the Apartheid State."

"Jesse Jackson owes every Floridian an apology for his reckless and divisive comments," a release from Scott's office said Wednesday. "It is unfortunate that he would come to Florida to insult Floridians and divide our state at a time when we are striving for unity and healing. Floridians are a strong, resilient people. We are fortunate to live in a great state where all Floridians enjoy opportunities to get a great job and world class education."

Jackson, like the Dream Defenders, wants Florida to revisit the “stand your ground” law that was passed in 2005 and has been blamed in a number of homicides. Scott has said he supports the law and won’t call a special session to address the law. 

Jackson said Florida's post-Trayvon Martin environment was "toxic".

"Stand your ground laws must end," Jackson told reporters. "The manipulation of African-Americans here is disgraceful."

“We’ve seen Southern governors before change their minds,” Jackson said Tuesday. “Wallace said we couldn’t go to the University of Alabama. he had to change his mind.”

Wallace is a reference to former Alabama governor George Wallace, who in 1963 famously stood in the door of Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama to block the entry of two black students. In the late 1970s, he apologized to black leaders for his stance on segregation. In his final term as governor in 1983-1987, Wallace made a record number of black appointments.

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford reacted strongly, as well. He objected to Jackson's comparison of Scott to Wallace. On Tuesday night, Weatherford tweeted this:

Will Weatherford ‏@willweatherford16h

Rev. Jackson’s latest comments about @FLGovScott went too far. I am embarrassed for him and his irresponsible statement. #sayfie

It was retweeted 15 times, including once by Lenny Curry, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

Weatherford taps Crisafulli as new House Majority Leader

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford on Wednesday announced a changing of the guards, and they're both named Steve(!)

Out goes Rep. Stephen Precourt, R-Orlando as House Majority Leader. In comes Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, who is scheduled to become the House Speaker in 2014. Weatherford also announced the creation of a new committee, Health Care Workforce Innovation. He chose Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, to be its chair. Oliva is slated to become speaker in 2018.

The promotion will raise the profile of Crisafulli, who only became speaker designate last year when Chris Dorworth lost his reelection. The majority leader is the second most senior official in the House and the day-to-day manager of business on the House floor.

"The Speaker thought it's a great opportunity that will prepare Speaker-designate Crisafulli to be Speaker of the House by leading our caucus," said Weatherford's spokesman. "Also, it's an opportunity for Rep. Precourt to focus on what he loves - policy - in his last year in the Florida House."

Precourt couldn't be reached for comment. But from Weatherford's release, it sounds like Crisafulli is pretty stoked. 

House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) today announced the appointment of Steve Crisafulli (R-Merritt Island) as the Florida House Majority Leader and has released the 2014 chairs and vice chairs of substantive committees for the Florida House of Representatives.
“Speaker-designate Crisafulli has already earned the support of the Republican caucus as a future Speaker; as Majority Leader, he will help to articulate our party’s vision for less government, education reform, low taxes and economic freedom in the next year," said Weatherford.  "I want to thank Leader Precourt for doing a tremendous job in the Majority Office this year and I look forward to his leadership as the new chair of the State Affairs Committee.” 

 “Under Leader Precourt’s leadership, our members had a great session in 2013, and I’m looking forward to more success in the next year,” said Crisafulli.  “I appreciate Speaker Weatherford’s confidence in me and thank him for the opportunity to serve as House Majority Leader.”



Dream Defenders face the Truth-O-Meter about school arrest data

From @amysherman1 and www.politifact.com/florida:

Meet the Dream Defenders -- a group of young people camped out in front of the office of Gov. Rick Scott seeking to overturn Florida’s "stand your ground" law and draw attention to issues such as racial profiling and arrests of school children.

The group has been attracting national attention in the wake of the July 13 acquittal of George Zimmerman, a white Hispanic neighborhood watchman, in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager in Sanford on Feb. 26, 2012.

Martin’s case has shined a spotlight on the intersection of race on the criminal justice system and school discipline. (Martin was serving an out-of-school suspension when he was shot while walking to his father’s home after buying Skittles and a drink.)

On July 22, Florida’s Secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice, Wansley Walters, met with the Dream Defenders to talk about how to keep children out of the criminal justice system.

"Over 12,000 school kids were arrested in Florida," said Monique Gillum, one of the leaders of Dream Defenders during the meeting. "It makes Florida the nation's leader in that area."

Read PolitiFact to read how we rated this claim.

July 30, 2013

Gov. Scott silent regarding future of his education commissioner


Nationally celebrated education reformer Tony Bennett was wooed to Florida in January to bring stability to the state education department.

But barely eight months later, his tenure as education commissioner could be in trouble.

Scathing emails obtained by the Associated Press suggest that Bennett, while serving as education commissioner in Indiana last year, intervened to raise the grade for a charter school run by an influential Republican donor. Bennett was already under fire in Florida, where influential superintendents and state Board of Education members have raised questions about the validity of school grades.

Gov. Rick Scott has been silent on the scandal engulfing his education commissioner. He declined two opportunities to speak publicly on the matter Tuesday, saying he had not read the AP report.

Scott spokeswoman Melissa Sellers later said Bennett was “clearly committed to making Florida’s education system the best in the nation.”

But with the 2014 governor’s race on the horizon, observers say Scott has a tough decision to make.

“If the governor wants to appeal to moderates across the state, he has to get rid of [Bennett],” said Brian Peterson, a professor at Florida International University and editor of the Miami Education Review online newsletter. “If he doesn’t, the message is that the game is rigged, and that public schools are going to be treated from charter schools.”

Read more here.