Posts Tagged ‘headlines’

Florida prison chief: State losing corrections staff to ‘Wal-Mart,’ creating insecurity in system

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

More than three-quarters of Florida’s corrections officers have less than two years’ experience. In some state prisons, a single CO will be left alone to supervise 150-200 inmates in a jail block.
Contraband has become so bad, one random search of (just half) a Dade facility turned up $15,000 in street value of cocaine, seven knives, 46 cellphones and an array of other drugs and illicit materials, said Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones Thursday.
The state’s prisons chief was in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee, having to explain just how bad the situation was, even though the state’s inmate population dropped by 3,000 from the year before.
Three main problems, she said, were safety, recidivism, and operational deficiencies — all due to a lack of funding. Corrections officers are paid so little, and have such a high stress in a dangerous job, she can’t keep them on the payroll.
“I’m losing state and local officers to state and local businesses — even to Wal-Mart,” she told the committee. “We hire thousands of new corrections officers every year. We’re a hiring machine. The problem is we can’t keep them.”
She said turnover for COs has increased 95 percent since 2009.
Entry-level base pay for a corrections officer before completion of on-the-job training hovers around $29,000. It goes up, slightly, when a combination of certifications and on-the-job training are completed, but for working 12 hour shifts — sometimes doubles due to the lack of staffing, especially at correctional facilities specializing in mental health issues, Jones said — it’s no wonder why she can’t keep anyone on for more than a year or so.
That tempts some COs to earn a little extra money on the side.
Jones said, unfortunately, some of the ones securing the facility are the ones bringing in the contraband or are looking the other way

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Donald Trump adviser Roger Stone involved in hit-and-run

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone says a car he was riding in this week in Florida was struck by a hit-and-run driver.
In a statement to The Associated Press, Stone described the incident as “suspicious,” coming as he is under scrutiny for his communication with the Russian-linked hacker Guccifer 2.0.
Stone tweeted that he was uninjured in the crash except for blurry vision in his right eye.
Stone says the car he was riding in was “T-boned” by a large, gray four-door car with a tinted windshield.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office says the driver the vehicle did not stop or make any attempt to exchange information. Police says Stone was a passenger in a car driven by John P. Kakanis, 29, of Hallandale Beach, Florida.
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.
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Constitution Revision Commission to hold first meeting

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

The Constitution Revision Commission has launched a website and announced an organizational meeting next Monday.
The meeting will be 2-4 p.m. in the Capitol’s Senate chamber, with a brief agenda of “Welcoming Remarks, Oath of Office, Rules of the Commission, Ethics Briefing.”
The panel, which convenes every 20 years, will review and suggest changes to the state’s governing document after holding public meetings across the state.
Its newest hire is Meredith Beatrice, who was spokeswoman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner, and is now the CRC’s “external affairs” director.
The 37-member board is chaired by Carlos Beruff, a Manatee County homebuilder and unsuccessful Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in 2016.
The commission has met twice before, in 1977-78 and 1997-98, but this is the first to be selected by a majority of Republicans. 
Any changes the commission proposes would be in the form of constitutional amendments, which would have to be approved by 60 percent of voters on a statewide ballot.
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Florida Supreme Court rules sex is sex, no matter who’s doing it

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

A law that requires someone with HIV to notify a potential sex partner beforehand applies to same-sex relationships as well as between a man and a woman, the Florida Supreme Court unanimously decided Thursday.
The defendant, Gary Debaun, has been trying to have a charge dismissed under a 1986 state law designed to prevent the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus.
Debaun is HIV-positive, according to records.
The case, argued last February, involved the definition of “sexual intercourse.” In 2011, Debaun, a man, lied to a male sex partner that he was HIV-negative, “forg(ing) his doctor’s signature on the lab report,” the opinion said. It did not state whether the other man acquired the virus from having sex with Debaun.
Lawyers for Debaun had argued the law says it’s illegal not to disclose an HIV infection before “sexual intercourse,” but that definition only appeals to traditional sex between a man and a woman—not two men.
The law itself does not define sex, and two different appellate courts had disagreed over the definition.
Justice Charles Canady, who wrote the decision, said: “We first consider the plain and ordinary meaning of the term ‘sexual intercourse’ and conclude that it is not limited to only penile-vaginal intercourse.”
He then notes that “HIV can be spread through vaginal, anal, and oral sex, but anal sex presents the greatest risk of transmitting the infection,” and “gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men … are the population most severely affected by HIV.”
Including forms of sex other than penile-vaginal in the definition of intercourse is “a reasonable result, which gives full effect to the Legislature’s intent to reduce the incidence of HIV,” Canady wrote.
“As used in a statute directed at curtailing the spread of HIV(, )it would be absurd for the term ‘sexual intercourse’ to apply only to the act of heterosexual penile-vaginal intercourse,” he added.
As of

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School recess, in disarray statewide, to become uniform under Senate bill

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

In the decades before tablets and standardized testing wormed their way into primary and secondary schools, school playgrounds were a familiar place for children and adolescents.
Up to an hour a day was spent running around, throwing balls to, or at, one another.
But with all the technology and pressure to make the academic cut, with extracurriculars lumped in, recess somehow got lost in the mix.
However, one Florida state senator is looking to change that, even if only by setting a minimum standard for schools to follow.
Sen. Anitere Flores, vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, moved her proposal, SB 78, passed its third hurdle on the path to becoming a law. She proposed all teachers at K-12 public schools across the state get their students outside every school day — no books, no pencils.
“We are facing a bit of an issue across the state in that there is not any uniformity when it comes to recess in our schools,” she said to her colleagues on the committee. “Research has shown this can have incredible academic benefits.”
The measure requires each district school board to provide students in certain grades with a minimum number of minutes of free-play recess per week and with a minimum number of consecutive minutes of free-play recess per day, in this case, she said, a minimum of 20 minutes.
None of the committee members argued the point — each having grown up in a time when recess was the norm.
According to a study by Stanford University, “a high-quality recess program can help students feel more engaged, safer and positive about the school day.”
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights recognizes the right of all children to play, regarding it as an essential part of their well-being, especially for the economically disadvantaged.
In the Convention on the

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Winners and losers in Donald Trump’s first budget plan

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

Military spending would get the biggest boost in President Donald Trump’s proposed budget. Environmental programs, medical research, Amtrak and an array of international and cultural programs — from Africa to Appalachia — would take big hits, among the many parts of the government he’d put on a crash diet.
The budget proposal out Thursday is a White House wish list; it’ll be up to Congress to decide where money goes. If Trump gets his way, there will be more losers than winners among government departments and programs.
Some programs would tread water: WIC grants — money to states for health care and nutrition for low-income women, infants and children — are one example. Monday for states grants for water infrastructure projects would be held level as well.
Some others would lose everything: Trump proposes to eliminate money for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the national endowments for the arts and the humanities and more than a dozen other independent agencies financed by the government.
A sampling:
WINNERS
—The Pentagon. Trump proposes a 10 percent increase in the massive defense budget, adding $52 billion in military spending in one year top expand personnel, equipment and capability. Another $2 billion would go to nuclear weapons.
—Veterans Affairs. Up 5.9 percent. That’s an additional $4.4 billion, driven by ever-growing health care costs.
—Homeland Security. Up 6.8 percent. That’s $2.8 billion more. Most of the increase, $2.6 billion, would be to help kick-start Trump’s promised border wall. The president has repeatedly said Mexico would pay for the wall; Mexican officials are adamant that they won’t. Trump also wants an extra $1.5 billion for more immigration jails and deportations, and $314 million to hire 1,500 immigration enforcement and border patrol agents.
—The National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the maintenance and safety of the nuclear arsenal and its research labs. The agency would grow

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Florida House Democrats demand Rick Scott speak up on CBO’s scoring of GOP health care plan

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

Since the Congressional Budget Office said the Republican health care plan would raise the ranks of the uninsured by 14 million people next year earlier this week, Gov. Rick Scott has been silent.
Florida House Democrats are now calling him out for his sudden reluctance to weigh in on a subject he’s never been shy about talking about before.
The governor has been a major critic of the Affordable Care Act and traveled to Washington last week to meet with President Donald Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio, and House Speaker Paul Ryan to discuss the American Health Care Act.
Scott told reporters later he was “encouraged” about the Act, adding that it was still a “work in progress.”
But after the CBO came out with their score card earlier this week that said that the GOP plan would raise the number of uninsured to 24 million over a decade and could have a huge impact on Florida’s Medicaid program, the governor has been silent.
Florida House Democrats now say it’s time for him to speak up.
“Rather than acting as a leader, the Governor took the path of a typical politician and ducked the question entirely,” says House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz. “If Governor Scott isn’t prepared to defend ‘Trumpcare,’ he at least owes Floridians an explanation about what exactly he’s been discussing with Republican leadership during his taxpayer funded trips to Washington DC.”
“Trumpcare would rip the rug out from under the millions of Floridians who have gained access to quality, affordable health care under the ACA,” says Coral Gables Rep. Daisy Baez. “This would be incredibly harmful to the overall health and well-being of all Floridians, and they deserve to know where Governor Scott stands on this issue.”
Democrats note that Florida leads the nation in those finding coverage through the insurance exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act, with over 1.6 million Floridians signing up during this year’s

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Online poll finds majority of Floridians want ACA expansion, oppose GOP proposal

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

A majority of Floridians would like to expand the Affordable Care Act, or keep the law as is.
Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed in a new statewide poll released Thursday are concerned that people would lose health insurance if the law is repealed, according to the Florida Atlantic University Business and Economics Polling Initiative.
FAU asked 500 Floridians over the course of four days in the past week, including Monday, when the Congressional Budget Office reported that under the proposed “American Health Care Act,” the ranks of the uninsured could increase by 14 million people next year and over 24 million over the next decade.
When asked about the Affordable Care Act, 46 percent of respondents said they approve of the health care law, while 39 percent said they disapprove. Similarly, 39 percent of Floridians stated that they would like to expand Obamacare and 14 percent want to keep it as is; 18 percent want to repeal the law, and 29 percent reported that they would like to replace the law.
Overall, 73 percent were concerned that people would lose their health insurance if Obamacare were repealed. When asked if the government should be responsible for ensuring all Americans have healthcare coverage, 64 percent said “yes” while 19 percent disagreed.
Respondents also were asked about six specific health care proposals put forth by Republican lawmakers. Only one of the proposals, lifting the $2,600 cap on flexible spending accounts to allow workers to set aside more pretax money to pay out-of-pocket healthcare expenses, had net positive support with 43 percent approving and 29 percent opposing.
As for the repeal of the 3.8 percent tax on investment income, which helps fund Obamacare and affects households making more than $250,000, it garnered 31 percent support compared with 40 percent opposition. Likewise, a proposal to replace health care subsidies with a

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House committee advances lobbying ban; impeachment power for attorneys, public defenders

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

Florida lawmakers advanced two key pieces of legislation through the House Thursday, including one to lengthen the period before elected officials could begin lobbying after their time in office.
The other bill would make state attorneys and public defenders in each judicial district eligible for impeachment under the governor’s power.
In an overwhelming vote, the House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee passed PCB PIE 17-01 and HJR 999, though there was thorough debate by both the public and committee members on each measure.
PCB PIE 17-01, which has yet to be given a bill number and was introduced by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, vice chair of the committee, leaps forward from two years to six years before a former Florida lawmaker can be compensated for through connections and inherent benefits legislators reap while employed in such positions.
The intention, Sullivan said, was to hedge off corruption while re-establishing integrity in elected officials. By waiting six years, those supposed connections in the Statehouse may no longer be there, she said.
“I think it’s really important that we instill trust in this process again,” she told the committee in closing the measure after debate. “I think we owe that to the (constituents).”
For years, corruption scandals have plagued Florida lawmakers, bringing about wide skepticism among the voters of the Sunshine State.
Rep. Chuck Clemons, Sr., agreed with the amendment in debate, referencing the widespread practice of lawmakers becoming lobbyists on behalf of special interest groups due to the close connections they typically still have after leaving office.
“How do you stop the revolving door unless you stop the revolving door,” he said. “This is the ‘kill the certain perks’ bill. This is the ‘no longer fresh’ bill. You’re serving because you believe in the rock bottom idea that you are serving to serve, not to gain anything.”
But Rep. David Richardson, while in favor of the measure, had concerns it

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Rick Scott launches TV ad taking aim at ‘politicians in Tallahassee’ over tourism, jobs

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

The fight between Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida House is continues to heat up, with the governor taking to the airwaves to bash “the politicians in Tallahassee.”
The Naples Republican released a 30-second advertisement Thursday. The ad — paid for by Let’s Get to Work, his political committee — is expected to air across the state beginning next week, according to Gary Fineout with The Associated Press.
The advertisement comes one week after the Florida House voted overwhelmingly to approve a bill to eliminate Enterprise Florida. The House also voted to approve a measure to slash Visit Florida funding.
“The politicians in Tallahassee don’t get it. They don’t understand how jobs are created,” the governor is shown saying in the advertisement. “If the politicians in Tallahassee say they don’t want to market our state and we lose tourists, then we’re going to lose jobs. If we lost 2 percent of the jobs in tourism, that’s 28,000 jobs.”
Scott continues by saying the “politicians are wrong.”
“There is not a job that is expendable,” he says. “Every job is important. Florida will compete.”
Scott has been traveling the state rallying support from business, economic development and tourism leaders. He held a tourism rally in the Capitol, and hosted round table discussions in Tallahassee and Sarasota this week.
https://youtube.com/watch?v=YUps8wZwKZI%3Fversion%3D3%26rel%3D1%26fs%3D1%26autohide%3D2%26showsearch%3D0%26showinfo%3D1%26iv_load_policy%3D1%26wmode%3Dtransparent
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Report: Brian Mast linked to Florida company under investigation by federal regulators

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

Rep. Brian Mast has been linked to a Florida marketing company under investigation by federal regulators, according to POLITICO.
World Patent Marketing and its owner has been accused by the Federal Trade Commission of defrauding clients of millions of dollars. On Thursday, POLITICO reported Mast, a Treasure Coast Republican, was appointed to the company’s advisory board in February 2016, before the   company’s owner, Scott J. Cooper, donated more than $5,000 to his campaign.
Mast told POLITICO he never received compensation from the company, and became aware he became a member of the board through a press release someone else sent him.
According to POLITICO, a Florida district court agreed with an FTC request to temporarily free the company’s assets earlier this month. The Federal Trade Commission claims Cooper, through World Patent Marketing and Desa Industries, charged customers thousands of dollars to patent and market their inventions.
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House GOP health bill facing fresh House committee test

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

The White House and Republican leaders are talking to rank-and-file lawmakers about revising the GOP health care overhaul, hoping to keep a rebellion by conservatives and moderates from snowballing and imperiling the party’s showpiece legislation.
Four days after a congressional report projected the bill would pry coverage from millions of voters, signs of fraying GOP support for the legislation were showing. The measure would strike down much of former President Barack Obama‘s 2010 overhaul and reduce the federal role, including financing, for health care consumers and is opposed uniformly by Democrats.
In a fresh test of Republicans’ willingness to embrace the legislation, the House Budget Committee was considering the measure Thursday. Republicans expressed confidence the bill would be approved, but the vote could be tight. The panel can’t make significant changes but was expected to endorse non-binding, suggested changes to nail down votes.
The bill would eliminate the tax penalty that pressures people to buy coverage and the federal subsidies that let millions afford it, replacing them with tax credits that are bigger for older people. It would cut Medicaid, repeal the law’s tax increases on higher earning Americans and require 30 percent higher premiums for consumers who let coverage lapse.
Overt GOP opposition grew after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected Monday that the legislation would push 24 million Americans off coverage in a decade and shift out-of-pocket costs toward lower income, older people. Obama’s law has provided coverage to around 20 million additional people
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters Wednesday that leaders could now make “some necessary improvements and refinements” to the legislation. But he declined to commit to bringing the measure to the House floor next week, a schedule Republican leaders have repeatedly said they intended to keep.
At a late rally in Nashville Wednesday, President Donald Trump said: “We’re going

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Two formerly troubled teens now represent Florida agency as model adults

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

Two young adults were honored by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Wednesday for the lives they left behind, and were named the agency’s 2017 Youth Ambassadors, according to a statement.
Secretary Christina K. Daly, head of the DJJ, and the Florida Juvenile Justice Foundation, along with members of the Florida Juvenile Justice Association and partners, honored the two new ambassadors at a reception at Florida’s Historic Capitol Building in Tallahassee, the statement said.
Jesus Mendoza and Alyssa Beck have unique backgrounds.
Mendoza was court-referred to the Empowered Youth program after committing a felony at the age of 15. He completed the program in the required six-month period and continued to graduate from high school. Mendoza was just accepted into college, where he plans on majoring in criminal justice. He once even stood for Empowered Youth at the White House, according to the statement.
He has not had a run-in with law enforcement since turning his life around, statement said.
Beck is a survivor of sex trafficking, now advocating for other survivors, becoming a voice for those silenced and not yet rescued, the statement said. She has dedicated her life to the eradication of human trafficking.
She works at two organizations committed to the anti-trafficking movement: the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center and at Rethreaded, a nonprofit organization founded to provide work for those escaping addiction, violence, human trafficking and prostitution.
“It is important that we take a closer look at the individual youth that come across our juvenile justice system and let their stories inspire us,” Daly said in the statement. “Their stories push us forward in doing the best we can for all youth and remind us that when we come together to make a difference in the lives of others, we all achieve success.”
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Kathy Castor one of six Democrats calling on EPA IG to probe potential conflicts of interest with Scott Pruitt

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

Tampa Representative Kathy Castor is one of six Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee who reached out to the EPA inspector general earlier this week, calling on him to investigate the agency’s conflict of interest policies and procedures in the wake of reports of a close relationship between industry groups and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
The letter to Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins, Jr comes in response to Pruitt’s rejection of scientific evidence that human activity is a significant contributor to global warming, as well as reports that he coordinated closely with the oil and gas industry while serving as attorney general of Oklahoma, and the fact that he has sued the government because of environmental rules in the past.
“It is critical that EPA and all federal agencies maintain effective conflict of interest policies and ethics requirements in order to ensure government operates in an honest and transparent manner,” the letter said. “Your investigation will help us better understand the role your office will play in ensuring strict adherence to such rules and guidelines, and how EPA and its new management will address these concerns.”
In addition to Castor, the letter was signed by New Jersey’s Frank Pallone, the ranking member of House Energy and Commerce Committee; Illinois’ Bobby Rush, the energy subcommittee ranking member; New York’s Paul Tonko, the environment subcommittee ranking member; Oversight and Investigations Ranking Member Diana DeGette of Colorado and Maryland Representative John Sarbanes. 
As part of the investigation, the Democrats say that they want the answers to these questions:
What conflict of interest policies, procedures, and laws exist to ensure Pruitt and all other current political appointees do not have conflicts of interest with their positions at EPA or with EPA enforcement actions?
Do these policies specifically consider whether Pruitt or other political appointees or their spouses maintain any financial holdings (including but not limited to stock holdings or mutual

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Citizens Insurance buying back $300 million in catastrophic coverage

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

Citizens Property Insurance Corp. can buy back some $300 million in reinsurance against a catastrophic storm because the risk of that happening is now projected to have fallen.
The company’s board of governors voted unanimously to approve the move during a conference call Wednesday.
Citizens, Florida’s property insurer of last resort, bought the coverage from Everglades Re II Ltd. in 2015.
The company will repurchase catastrophic coverage at prices keyed to the new estimates of the threat, spokesman Michael Peltier said.
“It allows us to go into the market with more flexibility,” he said. “It no longer makes sense for us to insure against that exposure level.”
It isn’t clear yet how much Citizens could save.
“We won’t know until our 2017 buy,” Peltier said.
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Florida adds nearly 17K private sector jobs in February

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

Florida added 16,800 private sector jobs in February, says national payroll firm ADP, which raises the state’s workforce to 7.34 million people.
Despite the gain last month, the numbers show a 20 percent from the 20,902 jobs created in February 2016.
As for the sector breakdown, ADP says the sunshine state added 2,000 goods-producing and 14,800 service-providing jobs. Professional and Business Services gained the most jobs (3,700), followed by Natural Resources/Mining and Construction (2,500); Trade, Transportation and Utilities (1,400) and Manufacturing (a decrease of 500 jobs).
In contrast, Florida added 30 percent more jobs in January than the same month a year ago.
The monthly ADP report is produced in partnership with Moody’s Analytics, Inc.

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Joe Gruters says he’s a long shot for CFO position, but appreciates the mention

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

Sarasota Republican Party Chairman and House District 73 Representative Joe Gruters said on Wednesday that he’d be a “long-shot” to be selected by Governor Rick Scott to succeed Jeff Atwater as Florida Chief Financial Officer once Atwater leaves the office in May.
Gruters appeared on Tampa Bay area radio station News Talk 820 WWBA on Wednesday afternoon with guest host David Jolly. The former CD 13 Representative said that Gruters had shown his loyalty to Scott and President Trump when he backed both candidates when both were considered outliers within the GOP, and that Scott would reward such loyalty by picking Gruters to succeed Atwater later this year.
“Well Congressman, that’s so nice off you to say,” Gruters responded, as Jolly laughed.
“Even to be mentioned with some of these other names that are being popped up is an incredible honor,” Gruters continued. “I don’t know who it’s going to be. My guess is that I’m a long shot candidate, there’s other great candidates like (Jacksonville Mayor) Lenny Curry, Pat Neal, who’s a great friend of mine in Manatee County who would be a strong 2018 contender. But here’s the deal: you never know. Listen, I’m going to continue to fight for jobs and economic development no matter what the position I’m in, whether it’s state House or anything else.”
“Joe, you’re a winner in Florida politics,” replied Jolly, guest-hosting for regular host Dan Maduri. “It wouldn’t surprise me if either now or in the future we’re talking about Joe Gruters in a Cabinet position.”
Atwater says he will leave the CFO position after the regular legislative session ends in May. Scott has given no indication about who he will select to replace him.
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Bill to revamp community college system sparks mission debate

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

A Florida Senate bill aimed at making what all involved said was a great community college system even better opened a debate Wednesday about how much of the colleges’ missions should be about granting four-year degrees.
The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education unanimously approved Senate Bill 374 creates a new governing system for the state’s 28 community colleges and sets new rules on how they operate.
The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Dorothy Hukill, the Port Orange Republican, expressly re-affirms the colleges missions as providing two-year degrees that students can use either as is, or as automatic bridges into one of the state’s 12 universities to complete four-year degrees. In particular, the bill builds on Florida’s highly-praised 2+2 program that requires and fosters partnerships between colleges and universities to make that seamless.
But there is emerging a new mission in the past 15 years that also generally drew across-the-board praise, yet it competes with the 2+2 model. Increasingly, community colleges own four-year programs are attracting students.
The bill – and the committee – seek to put a cap on that, and that drew numerous objections from witnesses, who argued that community colleges are a major source of four-year degrees for older, working, non-traditional students who don’t have the opportunities to move to a university.
“No one is taking back any four year degrees,” said Chairman Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who presented SB 374 in Hukill’s absence Wednesday. “Let’s just make sure we review them properly and keep an eye on it as a Legislature. That’s what we do.”
An amendment from Sen. Gary Farmer, a Democrat from Fort Lauderdale, raised the cap, essentially to 15 percent of all students in a college, unless the college seeks special permission from the Florida Legislature. While critics of the cap applauded that move, they remained concerned about any limits on

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Ophthalmologists ‘disheartened’ by House advancing bill for optometrists to practice surgery

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

Cary Pigman, the Avon Park Republican and emergency care physician who chairs the Health Quality Subcommittee.
Optometrists enjoyed a narrow victory Wednesday in Florida’s renewed Eyeball Wars when a House committee advanced a bill to allow optometrists to perform certain types of eye surgery.
After a two-hour hearing, the House Health Quality Subcommittee approved HB 1037, sponsored by Rep. Manny Diaz and opposed by both the Florida Society of Ophthalmology and the American College of Surgeons.
Diaz, a Republican from Hialeah, argued the bill gives patients in rural areas better access to eye surgery, as well as helping lower-income patients since ophthalmologists rarely accept Medicaid.
“We have a responsibility to make sure everyone has access,” Diaz told the committee.
Dr. Ken Lawson, chair of the Florida Optometric Association, told lawmakers that the laser-based surgical procedures were non-invasive and did not involve actually cutting into the eye.
Ophthalmologists have always maintained that optometrists do not have the same medical training or qualifications to perform eye surgery.
For the past four years, optometrists and ophthalmologists have held a truce in the so-called “Eyeball Wars,” which optometrists are now actively seeking to break.
Signed into law in 2013 by Gov. Rick Scott, HB 239 had allowed optometrists to prescribe a limited number of oral medications and forbid them from prescribing Schedule I and II controlled substances. It also said optometrists must complete 20 hours of added training, pass an examination, and carry medical malpractice coverage at the same level as medical doctors. The bill also needed optometrists to report all adverse medical incidents – the same as ophthalmologists and other practitioners.
Optometrists would also have to refer patients with severe glaucoma to an ophthalmologist within 72 hours.
Dr. David Hoyt, executive director of the American College of Surgeons, sent a letter of protest Tuesday to Rep. Cary Pigman, the Avon Park Republican and

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Mexico Consul, ACLU, Civil Rights groups blast immigrant crime bill

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

The Consul of the Mexican Consulate in Orlando and several groups blasted a Florida senate bill Wednesday that would make one set of criminal codes for undocumented immigrants and another for everyone else.
Mexico Consul Juan Sabines Guerrero called Senate Bill 120 “condemnable by society as a whole” as he and representatives of the ACLU and several Civil Rights organizations called, at the Mexican Consulate in Orlando, for the Florida Legislature to stop the bill.
SB 120, sponsored by Republican Travis Hutson of Palm Coast, would require that any criminal charges against undocumented immigrants be upgraded. A first-degree misdemeanor charge brought against someone who turned out to be an undocumented immigrant would be prosecuted as a third-degree felony; a third-degree felony charge would be prosecuted as a second-degree felony; etc.
Hutson was not immediately available to respond. He has promoted the bill by arguing that undocumented immigrants already have committed another offense by being in Florida illegally.
“Any legislation that forgets basic principles of law, disregards basic human rights, and forgets the contribution of immigrants is to be condemnable by society as a whole,” Sabines said.
Sabines and others, including activists Philip Arroyo and Lawanna Gelzer, argued that the proposed law clearly violates the equal protection principle of American justice, which has been established to say that immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, are to be treated in court like anyone else.
“We think it’s racist, it’s unconstitutional, it’s a violation of human rights, and as a law student I have to say I am disgusted and embarrassed,” said Arroyo, representing the ACLU of Central Florida and the Immigrant Rights Task Force.
Arroyo said the bill is unconstitutional and said, “If this passes, expect a legal battle.”
SB 120 has cleared both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice, by one vote in each panel. It

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Brian Mast, Carlos Curbelo call for ‘American innovation’ on climate change

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

A group of Republican members of Congress including U.S. Reps. Brian Mast and Carlos Curbelo have introduced a climate change resolution calling for ‘American innovation’ efforts to address it.
Curbelo and Mast, along with Elise Stefanik of New York, sponsored the resolution declaring that climate change is a real and growing problem, but espousing conservative principles to work on economically viable solutions.
“If we’re going to make progress to protect our environment, it’s critical that people on both sides of the aisle speak out about the serious impact that climate change will have on our environment and our economy,” Mast stated in a news release issued by his office. “Treasure Coast residents know all too well about the crippling impact on both the quality-of-life and economy when environmental disaster strikes. We must act now to find economically-viable solutions to address the risk of climate change.”
“Our goal with this resolution,” Curbelo added, “is to shift the debate from whether climate change is real toward the tangible efforts to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate its effects.”
The trio, along with U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who cosponsored the resolution along with 13 other Republicans, are members of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus. However, no Democrats in that caucus have signed on to cosponsor this particular measure.
The language of the resolution may keep many of them away, as it cautions against any solutions that would constrain the U.S. economy.
Yet the decisive language in the resolution, declaring climate change as a threat and identifying manmade pollution as a contributor, may give the GOP Climate Solutions Caucus members as much trouble seeking support from their own party.
Among the stipulations in the resolution: “Whereas, if left unaddressed, the consequences of a changing climate have the potential to adversely impact all Americans, hitting vulnerable populations hardest, harming productivity in key economic sectors

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Sean Shaw and Darryl Rouson attempt to deal with Florida’s ban on voting rights for ex-felons on the front end

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

Under current Florida law, those who are convicted of any felony lose the right to vote, the right to sit on a jury, the right to hold public office, and the right to possess a firearm, unless they are granted the restoration of their civil rights by the state Office of Executive Clemency.
Legislation being sponsored by Tampa Bay area Democrats Darryl Rouson and Sean Shaw would end the automatic suspension of civil rights for those convicted of a non-violent felony.
“Even if the sentence has been served, a felony conviction in the State of Florida is a lifelong punishment,” says House District 59 Representative Sean Shaw in a statement released by the Florida House Democrats on Wednesday. “It is unreasonable to expect someone to fully reintegrate back into society when they are being treated as a second class citizen. If we are serious about sustaining a fair system of justice, we must send a message that if a person is convicted of a non-violent crime, their rights won’t be permanently taken away.”
St. Petersburg’s Daryl Rouson is sponsoring an identical bill (SB 848) in the Senate.
The bills are part of a whole series of criminal justice reforms that are being debated this session in the Florida Legislature, but whether they can get GOP buy-in is another story.
Florida is one of just a handful of states that does not automatically restore voting rights once a felon has paid his or her debts to society, a fact of life in the Sunshine State for decades. There are 1.6 million Floridians currently disenfranchised — the highest state total in the nation — and over 10,000 are waiting for a hearing on their restoration applications.
A class-action lawsuit filed earlier this week aims to automatically restore former felons’ voting rights and eliminate Florida’s rights restoration process.
The Fair Elections Legal Network and the law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC filed the lawsuit on behalf

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Report: Gwen Graham transfers $250K to state political committee

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

Former Rep. Gwen Graham appears to be laying the framework for a 2018 gubernatorial bid.
POLITICO Florida reported Tuesday that Graham moved $250,000 from her congressional account, Graham for Congress, to Our Florida, a state political committee created on Feb. 2. State records show the money was given to Our Florida on Feb. 3.
Records show the committee’s chairwoman is Stephanie Toothaker, an attorney with Tripp Scott. According to POLITICO Florida, she served as special counsel for former governor and Sen. Bob Graham, the former congresswoman’s father.
The Tallahassee Democrat announced she would not run for re-election after one-term in Congress after her seat was redrawn to favor Republicans. She’s long been listed as one of several likely Democratic gubernatorial candidates, along with Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and attorney John Morgan.
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has already announced his run. So has Chris King, an Orlando area housing investor.
The post Report: Gwen Graham transfers $250K to state political committee appeared first on Florida Politics.

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Illeana Ros-Lehtinen turns thumbs down on GOP health care plan

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

As conservatives mount pressure on Republicans in Congress to support the GOP health care plan, more moderate U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen became the first to announce she is breaking ranks.
Ros-Lehtinen, of Miami, announced late Tuesday that she is concerned about the affects the American Health Care Act would have on the poor and elderly, and cannot support it, and saying, “this plan is not the replacement South Florida needs.”
“I have decided to vote no on the bill as currently written,” she stated. “The bill’s consequences for South Florida are clear: too many of my constituents will lose insurance and there will be less funds to help the poor and elderly with their healthcare. I voted to repeal Obamacare many times because it was not the right fix for our broken healthcare system and did not live up to its promise to the American people but this plan is not the replacement South Florida needs.
We should work together to write a bipartisan bill that works for our community and our nation without hurting the elderly and disadvantaged among us,” she concluded.
Her lost vote comes as the conservative American Action Network has begun a nationwide cable TV ad campaign targeting at least three Republican Florida members of Congress, urging people to urge them to vote yes.
The ads so far have appeared targeting U.S. Reps. Bill Posey of Rockledge, Carlos Curbelo of Miami, and Ted Yoho of Gainesville.
 
The post Illeana Ros-Lehtinen turns thumbs down on GOP health care plan appeared first on Florida Politics.

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Bill to require high-school students to take financial-literacy courses advances in Florida Senate

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

A proposal by Port Orange Republican Dorothy Hukill to require high-school students to take a half-credit of instruction in personal financial literacy and money management easily won approval in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Pre-K-12 Education on Wednesday. However, several lawmakers expressed reservations about the fact that unless lawmakers extend the hours of the school day or school year, the inclusion of this necessary course will eliminate another course, and potentially expose how Florida students are behind the curve compared to others around the nation and the world.
The quest to get Florida high school students more financially literate began in 2013, when the Legislature approved a feasibility study conducted by the Department of Education about implementing such a course in Florida high schools.
Tallahassee Democrat Bill Montford said he strongly supported the legislation, but he expressed concerns that by requiring that such a class be part of the regular curriculum in Florida high schools, another program may have to be jettisoned.
“We’re still stuck on the same number of hours a day, 180 days a year, and everytime we add something in as a graduation requirement, something else has got to fall out, and in the past that has usually been art, music and physical education,” said Montford, a lifelong educator.
Montford said that if students in Florida are going to have to compete nationally and even internationally in 2017, “we’ve got to bite the bullet” and begin adding more time in the classroom over, mentioning that children in other countries go to school for eight hours a day and “200 something days out of a year.”
Eastern Hillsborough County Republican Tom Lee agreed in party, saying that the Legislature has also been working on other bills that would be added to the regular curriculum, such as making computer coding a second language to study, as well as

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South Florida NPR station staves off takeover by school board

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

A dispute between South Florida’s NPR-affiliate and the Miami-Dade County Public School Board has raised questions about fiscal mismanagement and the role of the school system in moderating WLRN’s news content.
Normally, a school board wouldn’t have any say in what a local news station produces. But in the case of WLRN, the school board is the licensee for WLRN’s radio and television stations.
The Federal Communications Commission initially issued the WLRN radio license to Dade County schools in 1948. The station is currently managed by South Florida Public Media, which employs the news personnel, and funded by Friends of WLRN.
The Miami-Dade school board disrupted the long-standing balance between MDCPS, as the license owner, and the WLRN reporting staff in January, when the school board sent WLRN a new operating agreement. Under its terms, WLRN’s reporting staff would need to be re-hired as school district employees.
In addition, the proposal reminded the non-profit groups Friends of WLRN and South Florida Public Media that WLRN is a registered trademark of the school board, and thus its brand perception reflects on the board. It exhorts them to “always present the brand in a positive manner.”
It’s a move that has been characterized by other local news outlets as a “power grab,” and sharply contested by advocates for WLRN and independent reporting. However, between revelations of financial misconduct and fears of a loss of journalistic freedom, both sides are left looking a little worse for the wear.
Frank LoMonte, former Florida journalist and current executive director of the Student Press Law Center, told Watchdog that any type of direct elected official control over a news organization creates the potential for abuse and overreach.
“School authorities are notoriously image-conscious, and the temptation may become overwhelming to use the board’s authority to influence the tone of news coverage,” LoMonte said. “Schools need rigorous and independent

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House Speaker Richard Corcoran making good on transparency, accountability promises

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

House Speaker Richard Corcoran began his two-year speakership in November by promising a “transformational leap” in government accountability and transparency.
“The Florida House will set the standard for others to emulate,” he declared.
Such pronouncements are often uttered by politicians, especially those who may aspire to higher office. But one week into Florida’s annual legislative session the hard-charging Republican reformer from Land O’Lakes has a lot to show for his audacious accountability talk.
While the final outcome is far from certain, under Corcoran’s leadership the House voted to kill Enterprise Florida, the state’s chief businesses recruitment organization, and restructure Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing corporation, while cutting its funding from $76 million to $25 million annually.
Enterprise Florida’s $350 million Sanford Burnham deal that failed to create 300 jobs over 10 years, and Visit Florida’s $1 million payment to rapper Pitbull for a “Sexy Beaches” tourism promotion are symbols of Corcoran’s “corporate welfare” outrage.
The House passed the tough accountability reforms 87-28, and 80-35, respectively, despite intense pressure from Republican Gov. Rick Scott and economic development and tourism marketing beneficiaries across the state.
Lobbyists are also feeling the pressure. On Friday, the House passed the toughest lobbying ban in the country.
By a vote of 110-3, lawmakers agreed on a 6-year lobbying ban for legislators and statewide elected officials once they leave public office. The measure extends a current two-year “revolving door” restriction, and applies to all state agencies and the government bodies the elected officers formerly served.
Corcoran previously said extending the ban would eliminate the “looking to lobby” mentality that can manifest in an official’s final term. After Friday’s vote, the Speaker tweeted, “Proud that @myflhouse just passed the strongest lobby ban for fmr. legislators in the nation with a bipartisan vote of 110-3.”
All three items are central to Corcoran’s legislative agenda. Whether the state Senate will emulate his efforts remains to be

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Rick Scott wants repeal but stays quiet on GOP health plan

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

Gov. Rick Scott, who urged President Donald Trump to move quickly on a health care plan, is sidestepping questions on a Republican health care bill that has set off an intense reaction in Washington.
But Scott is also so far refusing to endorse the measure crafted by top GOP legislators in the U.S. House as a replacement to President Barack Obama‘s health care law. Instead he said Tuesday, “I’m encouraged that there’s a real good conservation going on up in D.C.”
“I know there’s a debate about all the numbers, I’m going to continue to work on getting a good bill,” said Scott, who also met with House Speaker Paul Ryan last week to discuss the health care legislation.
Scott would not answer specific questions on the new study by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that estimates the GOP plan would increase the ranks of the uninsured by 14 million people next year alone, and 24 million over a decade. He is also refusing to delve into the possible impact the bill may have on Florida’s Medicaid program, which relies on billions in federal aid each year.
Scott’s reluctance to get into the debate over the legislation is a marked departure from just a few weeks ago where he was openly calling on Trump and Republican leaders to act. He has constantly called “Obamacare a mess” yet he has refused to say what should happen to the millions who are getting coverage under the plan. Nearly 2 million Floridians enrolled this year for health insurance coverage through the federal health care exchange.
Scott, who was first elected to office in 2010, launched his political career amid the initial wave of opposition to the Obama overhaul. The former health care executive launched a group called Conservatives for Patient Rights that ran television ads against the law.
During

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Richard Corcoran gets nod for dedication to term limits from U.S. Term Limits

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has been honored for his commitment to term limits.
U.S. Term Limits announced this week that it has presented Corcoran with the Champion of Term Limits Award. The Land O’Lakes Republican was honored for his commitment to term limits and citizen government.
“By supporting term limits, Speaker Corcoran has given a voice to Floridians who feel let down by corruption and careerism in government,” said Philip Blumel, the president of U.S. Term Limits. “People are tired of business as usual and term limits is the only way to change the status quo. We applaud Corcoran for his important work to get this done.”
Corcoran has pushed to impose term limits on Florida’s Supreme Court and appellate judges, which the organization supports. The organization also applauded Corcoran for his support of legislative term limits, which have been in place since 1992.
“Term limits have served as an effective check against unrestrained power in the Legislature,” said Blumel. “It will have a similar impact in bringing more discipline to our judicial system.”
The national organization is based out of Melbourne, Florida. The group aims to fight for term limits at all levels of government.
The post Richard Corcoran gets nod for dedication to term limits from U.S. Term Limits appeared first on Florida Politics.

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Law enforcement officials say that Anitere Flores bill to mandate civil citations for juveniles still ‘a non-starter’ for them

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

There are a number of bills floating in the Florida Legislature this year that deal with criminal justice reform, but one that has law enforcement completely flummoxed is a bill that would remove their discretion to charge a minor regarding a variety of first-time offenses.
Miami Republican Senator Anitere Flores bill (SB 196) requires a law enforcement officer to issue a civil citation or require the juvenile’s participation in a diversion program when that juvenile admits to committing certain first-time misdemeanor offenses.
Officials with the Florida Police Chiefs Association and the Florida Sheriffs Association are strongly opposed to bill, however, because it mandates that officers will no longer have the discretion to choose between offering a juvenile a civil citation for the offense, or making an arrest.
Among the eleven listed first-time misdemeanors that law enforcement would have to give a civil citation to a juvenile offense include battery, disorderly conduct, affrays and riots, theft and resisting an officer without violence.
At the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice last week, Flores said that a misdemeanor battery charge currently can result simply by individuals accidentally touching each other.
That’s not what officers charge juveniles with out on the streets, insists Butch Arenel, the Coconut Creek Chief of Police and president of the Florida Police Chiefs Association.
“We’re talking about a road rage incident where a juvenile gets out of a car, approaches another driver and punches him in the face,” says Arenal. “That is a misdemeanor battery, and to think we’re going to have an incident like that where’s it’s a violent crime against a victim, and we’re going to simply issue a noncriminal ticket, and let them walk away, sends a wrong message to our youth.”
Resisting an officer without violence is also problematic, Arenal says. He cites as an example a law enforcement officer encountering a juvenile after he or she

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