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213 posts from August 2013

August 28, 2013

Crist will headline Marion County Democrats' dinner

Former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist will headline the Marion County Democratic Party's fifth annual "Proud to be a Democrat" fund-raising dinner on Sept. 8 at the Hilton in Ocala, as the calendar creeps toward October and his anticipated declaration as a Democratic candidate for governor in 2014.

Sally Smith of the Marion Democratic Party says about 200 tickets have been sold, and the ballroom's capacity is 340. The dinner will be preceded by a silent auction and cocktail hour. Tickets are $50.

Medium-sized Marion, bisected by Interstate 75 and home to Florida's vibrant thoroughbred horse industry, used to have a reputation as a bellwether county in statewide elections, but it has been very unfriendly to Democrats in recent cycles. It is solidly Republican by voter registration, and Crist, as a Republican, carried it by a slightly bigger margin against Democrat Jim Davis in 2006 than Scott did in 2010. Scott got about 57 per cent of the vote against Democrat Alex Sink in Marion.

Last year's keynote speaker at the county's big Democratic bash was Grace Nelson, wife of three-term U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who won Marion by about 1,000 votes last fall as he easily defeated Republican Connie Mack IV statewide.

-- Steve Bousquet

Marco Rubio’s deafening silence on Syria


**Update: Rubio issued a statement hours after this blog was posted.

From threatened oyster habitats to the problems with Obamacare, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has commented on the headlines of the day recently.

Except one: Syria.

Though a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Rubio hasn’t issued any statements about this most-important of topics now that President Obama is weighing military action after what appear to be chemical-weapons use in Syria.

Should Obama strike Syria? How? And does the president need Congressional authorization to do so? Rubio (or his office) isn’t ready to say. It's a notable silence because not only is Rubio voluble, he has made an effort to showcase his chops on foreign policy.

We've asked for two days for a statement, but nothing. Rubio's Reclaim America PAC, though, just sent out a message from Rubio about the need to help Ken Cuccinelli, a Virginia candidate for governor.

Meantime, other Florida congressional members are weighing in on Syria policy.

Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chair of the House’s Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, said in a just-released statement that Obama needs congressional authorization for a strike on Syria. Ros-Lehtinen sounds willing to vote for “multi-lateral airstrikes” as long as the United States exercises “extreme caution when weighing our options in Syria. Putting boots on the ground is not an option.. At this point there’s no easy decision. We’re stuck with the least worst option.”

Continue reading "Marco Rubio’s deafening silence on Syria" »

Scott announces commitment to fixing water flow in Everglades with new bridge

Gov. Rick Scott announced today that he will dedicate $90 million over the next three years to draw down federal matching funds to build a 2.5 mile bridge along the Tamiami Trail in Miami to reduce water flows from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.

Scientists have identified the need to reduce water flows from the lake as crucial to repairing the damaged ecosystem that 7 million Floridians depend on for water. The existing bridge on the Tamiami Trail blocks water flow from Lake Okeechobee into the Everglades and the money would go into the Department of Transportation to build a new bridge.

The project would deconstruct a section of the berm that Tamiami Trail road is currently built on, and replace it with a bridge so that water north of the road could flow into the Everglades, providing needed water to the Everglades National Park, the governor's office said. The end effect would be to keep more high nutrient water from entering the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Estuaries.

“This $90 million investment will be a huge step forward in our efforts to restore water quality throughout South Florida,'' Scott said in a statement. "Every drop of water that we can send South and keep out of the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Estuaries is a win for Florida families. My message to families being impacted is that we will not give up on you. We are putting forward strategies each and every day to address the water quality issues that are impacting families in our state.”

Continue reading "Scott announces commitment to fixing water flow in Everglades with new bridge" »

Gov. Scott seeks new ethics opinion on Florida's blind trust law

Gov. Rick Scott placed his extensive portfolio of personal investments in a blind trust in 2011, even though he was not required by law to do so.

Now, Scott is asking the Commission on Ethics for advice on whether the blind trust he created then complies with a new law passed by the 2013 Legislature. A draft legal opinion from the agency says Scott is in compliance -- now that he has provided specific information the law requires, including the name of his trustee, a two-year-old list of assets and a statement that the trust meets state law.

Citing the new blind trust provisions in the ethics law (SB 2) Scott signed May 1, the draft opinion says: "The law recognizes that a certain lack of knowledge, a 'blindness,' of a public officer as to the particular nature of his holdings inherently fosters an objectivity, or lack of conflict, as to public responsibilities or decision making he may have, which possibly would be affected if the officer personally managed his investments."

The opinion also notes that law prohibits officeholders such as Scott from trying to influence trust decisions. Previous reporting on Scott's investments is here.

Scott's general counsel, Pete Antonacci, requested the opinion along with an outside counsel for the governor, James Fuller of Williams & Connolly in Washington. The ethics commission will formally vote on the opinion at its next meeting Sept. 13. Five of the commission's nine members are Scott appointees.

Scott's trustee is Hollow Brook Wealth Management LLC in New York City. Attached to Scott's letter is a list of "substantially all of" his financial assets he placed in the blind trust in April 2011 when he created it, with a total value at that time of more than $72 million.

As his letter reads, "Any public reporting of the current assets in the trust would be contrary to the purposes and terms of the blind trust, this new legislation, and the Commission's advisory opinions." 

-- Steve Bousquet

With state under fire from feds, nursing homes are quietly closing kids wings

Even as Florida health regulators vigorously defend against two federal lawsuits accusing them of warehousing sickly and disabled children in geriatric nursing homes, the homes themselves are quietly getting out of the kids business.

The most recent nursing home to abandon the pediatric market is Orlando Health & Rehabilitation Center, which operates a 40-bed pediatric wing called “Grandma’s House.” Orlando Health & Rehab, in Orlando, notified the state Agency for Healthcare Administration last week that it will voluntarily close the wing, said Michelle Dahnke, an AHCA spokeswoman in Tallahassee. Earlier this year, a troubled Miami Gardens nursing home, Golden Glades Nursing & Rehabilitation, shuttered its pediatric wing after the Miami Herald reported extensively about the deaths of two children who had been admitted there.

In July, the Lakeshore Villas nursing home in Tampa announced it would shut its doors after the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services cut off all federal funding. At the time, AHCA had also announced its intention not to renew the home's license. Lakeshore Villas had been one of the state’s most troubled nursing homes, racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

The latest closure comes at a time of significant change and controversy over Florida’s methods for financing the care of severely disabled and medically complex children, whose housing and treatment can be enormously costly. More here from Carol Marbin Miller.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/08/27/3589764/florida-nursing-homes-under-fire.html#storylink=cpy

FL education chair and Rick Scott pick: I didn't call for screening books about homosexuality, socialism


File this one under the perils of reporting, politics, education and maybe bad acoustics.

On Tuesday, during a day-long education summit, politicians and educators grappled with an increasingly divisive political issue: the Common Core standards. It's opposed by a vocal group of conservatives as well as a few liberals and libertarians.

Sometimes, however, it was tough to hear exactly who said what during the meeting in Clearwater. The acoustics were bad. So there's no recording.

In the midst of a good explanatory piece, the Tampa Bay Times wrote this State Board Chairman Gary Chartrand recommended that reading lists for students be screened to avoid potentially upsetting subjects such as socialism and homosexuality. Later, his group suggested that instructional materials be "aligned with Florida's values and culture."

But Chartrand is adamant: He never said this.

Instead, Chartrand said, he was explaining to the group why some others oppose aspects of Common Core.

"Some people are anti-Common Core, and particularly on the far right, because they object to some of the reading materials that would reference such things as homosexuality or socialism or some contentious issues," said Chartrand, recalling his comments. "That’s all I said. That was my comment."

A major reason Chartrand wanted to clear the air is that he's a solid supporter of equal treatment for gays and lesbians. His group, The Chartrand Foundation, has supported JASMYN, devoted to ending bullying of LGBT kids. And he backed a Jacksonville human-rights ordinance as well.

But the Times stands by its story as well, specifically that Chartrand used the word "screen." Indeed, the group recommendation implicitly calls for screening by saying the state should "proactively look for ways to provide curriculum and instructional materials (eg reading lists) that align with Florida's culture and values while allowing local control."

Of course, if there were a recording, this wouldn't be a mystery. So who knows?

**Note: blog has been updated, headline changed.


Homestead's Bateman becomes 3rd Miami-Dade mayor busted for corruption this month


First, Miami Lakes Mayor Mike Pizzi and Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño were busted in a federal corruption case this month.

Now the State Attorney's Office has busted Homestead Mayor Steve Bateman in an unrelated case. Background is here and the breaking news story from David Ovalle is below:

Authorities early Wednesday arrested Homestead Mayor Steve Bateman in connection with a secret $125-an-hour secret consulting gig for a nonprofit organization.

Bateman, cuffed at his home, was charged with unlawful compensation.

The Miami-Dade state attorney’s office was probing Bateman’s deal with Community Health of South Florida Inc., which secretly paid the mayor $125 an hour while it needed the city’s blessing to help expand its chain of health clinics.

Bateman, who has a county license to install awnings, shutters and screen enclosures but is not a general contractor or registered lobbyist, never publicly disclosed the lucrative arrangement to his colleagues on the City Council, which holds sway over CHI’s plans.

Bateman also never informed the county of his employment with the nonprofit, even when he met with Mayor Carlos Gimenez and his top aides to personally plead for Miami-Dade to fast-track a multi-million-dollar Homestead sewer system expansion that would facilitate construction of a proposed CHI children’s clinic in downtown Homestead.

Bateman, 58, is running for reelection in November.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/08/28/3590925/homestead-mayor-bateman-arrested.html#storylink=cpy

August 27, 2013

Candidates qualify to replace Fasano in House

Now that qualifying has ended, the ballot is set to replace former Rep. Mike Fasano, who stepped down from his House seat to become Pasco County's tax collector.

The three-way Republican primary will be held Sept. 17. The candidates are: Bill Gunter, Jeromy Harding and Jim Mathieu. The winner will face Democrat Amanda Murphy in the Oct. 15 general election.

All of the candidates except Mathieu currently live outside of District 36 but must must move to the area by the general election to meet the requirement that legislators live in the district they represent.

Read more about the qualifying for Fasano's seat, including one candidate who was disqualified at the ninth hour, here.

ACLU says drug database fixes don't address privacy concerns

The Department of Health is working on new regulations for the state's prescription drug database program, hoping to address privacy concerns by limiting how and when outside agencies can access it.

Law enforcement says it needs the database to aide investigations of prescription drug abuses and trafficking. But the ACLU and others argue that the database should be tightly controlled, especially when used for non-medical reasons.

The new regulations, presented Tuesday for public comment, require agencies that want to access the database to put trained personnel in place to scrutinize requests and monitor for abuses or non-legitimate queries. It creates new penalties for sharing the database information with unauthorized people.

But that isn't enough, said a lobbyist for the ACLU of Florida, which became a vocal critic of the database when the medication history for 3,300 people was released to five defense attorneys as part of a prescription fraud investigation in Volusia County.

The new rules are "minor, inconsequential, and fail to address the privacy issues brought to light in June 2013," said Pamela Burch Fort. The changes won't prevent law enforcement agencies from going on a "fishing expedition" that breaches the privacy of law-abiding individuals, she added.

DOH officials said they are open to input because addressing these concerns are essential to the success of the fledgling Prescription Drug Monitoring Database program, launched in 2011 to curb the rise of prescription drug abuse. The Florida Police Chiefs Association said the concerns about confidentiality are valid, but the new rules should not impede access to the database.

"We also want to make sure that where there is criminal enterprise taking place, that we have access to the information so that we can in fact act appropriately," said Quincy Police Chief Walter NcNeil, representing the organization.

Candidate qualifies by petition to run for Miami Beach mayor


Miami Beach mayoral candidate Philip Levine has qualified to run for office by way of voter petition.

Levine -- a wealthy, self-made business man -- collected almost 1,500 certified petitions to earn a spot on the ballot. Most candidates simply pay a $1,300 qualifying fee to run for mayor.

The mayor's race in Miami Beach is wide open this year, with current Mayor Matti Herrera Bower term-limited.

Levine is running for the $10,000-a-year position, along with current Commissioner Michael Góngora and entertainer Steve Berke

Berke, who wants to make a documentary based on Miami Beach politics, has accused Levine of trying to buy the election. Levine has loaned himself $410,000 for his campaign, according to his most recent financial reports. 

A press release announcing Levine's petition drive took aim at Berke's accusation.  

"Opponents' claims of Levine attempting to buy this election have now been proven to be false. The voter signatures were collected without the use of paid workers. In fact, Levine personally collected over 85% of the signatures himself," the release said.

The qualifying period in Miami Beach doesn't start until Sept. 3 and lasts through Sept. 6.