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153 posts from December 2013

December 31, 2013

Scott vows to appeal latest ruling on drug tests for TANF


The U.S. District Court handed Gov. Rick Scott a defeat on Dec. 31 when it struck down a law requiring drug screening of welfare recipients unconstitutional.

Middle District of Florida Judge Mary Scriven granted summary judgment on behalf of Luis Lebron, who at the outset of the 2011 case was a 35-year-old Navy veteran, college student and single father from Orlando. Lebron refused to submit to a drug test arguing that requiring him to pay for and submit to one is unreasonable when there is no reason to believe he uses drugs. Lebron was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

Scott’s 2010 campaign promise to enact the drug tests is one of dozens of promises PolitiFact Florida is tracking on our Scott-O-Meter. On Friday Scott announced he will appeal to the 11th Circuit.

Scott signed a law in 2011 to drug test recipients of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. But the court issued a preliminary injunction a few months later.

While the law was in effect from July through October 2011, about 2.6 percent -- or 108 of 4,046 people -- tested positive for drugs, the most common being marijuana.

 The state continued to argue that it warranted an exception to the Fourth Amendment to ensure TANF participants’ job readiness, to meet child-welfare goals and to ensure that public funds are properly used.

But in the Dec. 31 ruling, the court agreed with the 11th Circuit’s conclusion that “There is nothing so special or immediate about the government’s interest in ensuring that TANF recipients are drug free so as to warrant suspension of the Fourth Amendment. The only known and shared characteristic of the individuals who would be subjected to Florida’s mandatory drug testing program is that they are financially needy families with children. Yet, there is nothing inherent in the condition of being impoverished that supports the conclusion that there is a concrete danger that impoverished individuals are prone to drug use or that should drug use occur, that the lives of TANF recipients are fraught with such risks of injury to others that even a momentary lapse of attention can have disastrous consequences.”

A 1998 study by the Department of Children and Families found researchers found a lower rate of drug usage among TANF applicants than the state’s population as a whole.

“This would suggest that TANF funds are no more likely to be diverted to drug use or used in a manner that would expose children to drugs or affect “family stability” than funds provided to any other recipient of government benefits,” Scriven wrote.


December 30, 2013

Golden Bear to raise campaign gold for Gov. Scott

Golf legend Jack Nicklaus, the "Golden Bear," will soon open his substantial checkbook to support Gov. Rick Scott's re-election campaign, and he's asking others to do the same. The invitations to a Jan. 15 evening event at Jack and Barbara Nicklaus' home in North Palm Beach ask for $10,000 donations to Scott's campaign organization, www.letsgettowork.net.

Nicklaus is a long-time Floridian and a dedicated Republican, and he and Scott have an interesting history.

They hit it off soon after Scott's election in 2010, and after conversations on how to promote tourism in Florida, Scott threw his support behind a legislation in the 2011 session that would have allowed Nicklaus-designed golf courses in state parks, as Nicklaus' lobbyist, Jim Smith, recalled. But the sponsor of the proposal in the House, Rep. Patrick Rooney, R-Palm Beach Gardens, dropped the idea following an avalanche of opposition as the Tampa Bay Times' Craig Pittman reported at the time. Environmental groups were wary of the proposal, and GolfWeek magazine did not think much of the Nicklaus golf trail proposal at the time, either.

-- Steve Bousquet

Movers & Shakers

Some Floridians will be celebrating new positions or continued appointments in 2014. If you know of any movers and shakers in the world of politics or state government, please send them to Rochelle Koff at [email protected]

Three picked for Florida Women's Hall of Fame

Dottie Berger MacKinnon, Sheriff Susan Benton and Louise Jones Gopher have all been selected for the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame. Gov. Rick Scott chose the three women from a list of 10 nominees chosen by the Florida Commission on the Status of Women.

MacKinnon, a former Tampa resident who died April 12, 2012, was a founder of Joshua House, a haven for children removed from their families, and she chaired the Friends of Joshua House Foundation board from 2003 to 2006. Most recently, MacKinnon founded A Kid’s Place, a group home in Brandon where siblings can live together after being taken from their homes over abuse or neglect.

Benton, 64, of Sebring, is the sheriff of Highlands County. In 2004, she became the first woman elected sheriff in Florida’s history. In 2012, Benton was named the first female president of the Florida Sheriffs Association in the organization’s 118-year history.

Gopher, 68, of Okeechobee, is a longtime educator. From 2003 to 2007, she served as the director of education for the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Gopher was the first female Seminole Indian to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Executive director of Guardian ad Litem Program reappointed

Alan Abramowitz has been reappointed by Scott as the executive director of the statewide Guardian ad Litem Program.

Abramowitz, 51, of Tallahassee, has been the program’s executive director since 2010 -- his new term ends Dec. 29, 2016.

Abramowitz previously served as DCF’s state director for family safety, and as the chief legal counsel for DCF’s Central Florida region. He also served as the assistant general counsel for the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.

Other appointments

David Di PietroRocky Rodriguez and Darryl L. Wright have been appointed to the North Broward Hospital District’s Board of Commissioners.

Continue reading "Movers & Shakers" »

Despite population growth, Florida doesn't eclipse New York

New York will hang onto its claim of being the third most-populous state in the nation — for now, at least.

Some demographers had predicted that rapidly growing Florida would sail into the third-place spot in 2013. But the figures released Monday by the U.S. Census Bureau put the Empire State ahead of Florida by 98,267 people.

That isn’t to say that Florida won’t eclipse New York soon.

The Sunshine State has been growing at a rate of 3.75 percent since 2010, according to the latest Census data.

New York’s rate of growth over the same time period: 1.3 percent.

Read more here.

December 27, 2013

Miami Beach CDC director quits amid city probe


Roberto Datorre, longtime president/CEO of the Miami Beach Community Development Corporation, resigned earlier this month amid a city review that found "fiscal and operational discrepancies" including $300,000 in double billing.

On Dec. 5, Denis Russ, now the acting director of the CDC, informed city administration that Datorre submitted his resignation effective immediately. Datorre had been the executive director for about 10 years. He could not be reached for comment and no one at the CDC returned calls.

The city's review of CDC finances earlier this year turned up problems related to reimbursements for the London House Apartments, an affordable housing development that is supposed to be completed by March, according to a Dec. 16 memo written by City Manager Jimmy Morales. Three city employees resigned or were fired during the city's review.

The CDC does housing and community redevelopment programs in Miami Beach. The private nonprofit is not a city agency but the city is a pass through for federal funds including community development block grant (CDBG) dollars. 

Morales' memo stated that the CDC had been “unable to provide satisfactory explanations to issues raised” that related to the London House Apartments, an affordable housing development that is supposed to be completed in March.

The memo, sent to Mayor Phillip Levine, stated “we hope to inform you of actions that may need to be considered in the coming weeks to safeguard certain City assets and funds.”

According to Morales’ memo: in May, Anna Parekh, the city’s former director of Real Estate, Housing and Community Development, approached an employee asking him to sign timesheets for the Neighborhood Stabilization Program although he didn’t work for the program. Parekh was fired on May 23.

On July 31, staff met with Rocio Soto, an employee in the housing and community development division and was asked why she and Parekh routinely processed reimbursement requests from the CDC without back-up documentation such as cancelled checks. Some of her answers contradicted what the city found in emails and Soto quit after the meeting.

On Sept. 23, Brian Gillis, a community development specialist, submitted his immediate resignation. Gillis had administered the city’s CDBG program.

The city review focused on discrepancies in invoices submitted by the CDC in 2011 and 2012 for a grant related to the London House Apartments. The apartments, located at 1965-1975 Washington Ave, were acquired using city redevelopment agency funds. Among the receipts submitted by the CDC were architectural and insurances costs that dated back four years before the execution of the city’s contract for funding.

After finding that HUD rules were not followed, city staff met with representatives from HUD’s Miami office and told HUD that the city was working together with law enforecement. (The city's memo doesn't identify the law enforcement agency or agencies involved.) Records show that the city reimbursed the CDC for expenses also paid by the Florida Housing Finance Corproation if the amount of almost $300,000. The city has asked the CDC to return the London House Apartments to the city.

The city had awarded about $1.3 million in neighborhood stabilization funds to the CDC which has received about half that amount so far "and has yet to provide a full accounting of the funds advanced." If the project isn't completed by March, HUD could deem the city in default. The total amount of liability the city faces -- when all of the various federal pots of money toward the project are combined -- is about $1.8 million.

On Friday, Datorre remained listed as the president on the CDC's website and his email and voicemail did not indicate that he resigned. 



December 26, 2013

It's official: The Juice has been purged


The case of O.J. Simpson the Miami-Dade voter is officially closed -- the Miami-Dade County Supervisor of Elections removed him earlier this month.

The supervisor sent Orenthal James Simpson a letter on Nov. 4th and didn't receive a response and removed him on Dec. 10th. The supervisor sent Simpson a final notification that he is not eligible to vote on Dec. 16.

Simpson is in prison in Nevada as a result of a robbery and kidnapping conviction in 2008 -- that is unrelated to his acquittal in the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.

Read more about Simpson the voter in our earlier post.


December 23, 2013

Al Lawson joins 43 other FAMU president hopefuls


As he promised, former state legislator Al Lawson has applied for the Florida A&M University presidency. He joins a crowded field with 43 others who want the job, including many who applied before the search was suspended in March. And there could be even more by the time the Board of Trustees starts reviewing candidates on Jan. 6. 

Here is the field of candidates in alphabetical order. We put an asterisk by those who were listed as candidates in March, meaning the rest applied since the search resumed last month.

The Board of Trustees hopes to select a winner at its Jan. 9 meeting. Meanwhile, alumni continue to campaign in favor of allowing interim President Larry Robinson to stay on the job.

Here is a list of all 44 candidates in alphabetical order:

Continue reading "Al Lawson joins 43 other FAMU president hopefuls" »

Deloitte defends its work on state unemployment website


Florida hired Deloitte to overhaul its unemployment-benefits website, and the roll out has been a disaster resulting in a multi-million dollar penalty for the contractor. The company issued an official response to the widespread criticism of its work late Friday.

Here is the full statement from Deloitte spokesman Jonathan Gandal:

"Throughout this project, Deloitte has worked in good faith to meet or exceed DEO’s criteria for acceptance of our work. We have successfully completed the tasks and activities outlined in our contract and all subsequent amendments. In just 60 days, the new system has surpassed the performance of the unsustainable systems it replaced, meeting or exceeding longer term key performance indicators by reducing average time to adjudicate separation issues, reducing the number of claims requiring staff intervention, and decreasing average time to implement lower authority appeals.  Performance will continue to improve as the system matures and as both departmental users and claimants become acclimated to its new functions.

"The vast majority of eligible claimants are successfully accessing the CONNECT system and receiving the Reemployment Assistance benefits to which they are entitled.  As we have communicated to DEO, we believe that any remaining issues deemed ‘high impact’ by DEO’s own definition either require Departmental actions or are otherwise beyond Deloitte’s control.  We will continue to provide warranty support to DEO, in accordance with our contract, and work diligently to resolve any warranty items as they are identified. We will also continue to work with DEO to clarify the true nature of the remaining issues and will hold ourselves strictly accountable for fixing anything within our control as quickly as possible."

Rick Scott not just losing the race, but expectations game as well


Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign team thought it had something to brag about last week.

Scott is still losing his reelection bid — but by less than some expected.

That’s according to the campaign’s own survey, which shows Scott loses to former Gov. Charlie Crist by 4 percentage points and trails Sen. Bill Nelson by only 2 points. To Scott’s Washington advisers, who trumpeted the poll last week, it was a sign of progress.

Whoo-hoo! We’re still No. 2!

Bragging about it, however, made little sense to Scott’s Florida supporters.

Continue reading "Rick Scott not just losing the race, but expectations game as well" »

December 21, 2013

The power of the pick: Next governor could leave mark on the Supreme Court for years

Florida Supreme CourtFlorida’s 2014 governor’s race may become an expensive popularity contest over who steers the state in the next four years but one little discussed job – the power to appoint – could give the next governor a legacy that could last much longer.

Four members of the seven-member state Supreme Court reach their mandatory retirement age during the next four years and, depending on how the retirements play out, the next governor may have the power to pick their replacements.

The prospect of choosing the men and women who serve as a powerful check on legislative and executive power is so potent it has already become a significant fundraising draw in the governor’s race for both Democrat Charlie Crist and Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

But, in addition to the power of the pick, there is palace intrique: Florida law is so unsettled about the exact timing of the retirement that some suggest that three of the justices could wait out the next governor until the last day of his term in January 2019, and it could take a lawsuit to resolve it -- which could be decided by the retiring justices. Our story here.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/12/21/3831648/with-four-justices-retiring-control.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/12/21/3831648/with-four-justices-retiring-control.html#storylink=cpy