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359 posts from November 2015

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 Florida 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.

More here.

David 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 "David 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.