March 02, 2015

FDOT's $39.6 billion work plan heads to Legislature

@mikevansickler

Never mind that Mapquest ranked Interstate 95 and Interstate 4 last out of 66 interstates in the U.S., or that driving in Tampa Bay, Orlando or Miami can be an endurance sport. 

According to the Florida Transportation Commission, the nine-member board appointed by Gov. Rick Scott that oversees the Department of Transportation, things will get better out there on the roads and highways.

But only after years of construction.

Before unanimously approving the DOT's $39.6 billion work program for the next five years on Monday afternoon, board members lauded the eight DOT secretaries and managers for their proposals that will be one of Scott's lasting legacies: a pro-growth transportation plan that's heavy on road widenings, tolls and public private partnerships.

"We have major challenges ahead," said board member Maurice Ferrer. "Miami in the last five to six years has really become a major American metropolitian area. It’s wonderful to see, but it’s also frightening to see that 60,000 construction units are either underway or about to be on their way."

In all, the work plan will construct 708 additional lane miles of roadway, resurface 6,917 lane miles of existing roadway, repair 208 bridges and replace 87 bridges.

All of that means more roadwork. And more roadwork means more of those orange construction cones that will help slow traffic.

"Almost every commuter in Jacksonville will be passing through an active construction zone in their daily commutes," said Greg Evans, secretary for DOT's District 2, which covers Jacksonville and northeast Florida. "We've got to try to stay ahead of that and work with our media and local residents and businesses to help them understand that, hey, be patient with us. We don't work under a roof. We are subject to Mother Nature and everything she throws at us. And this (construction) job is going to be a great asset to you, it's going to improve commute times, but you got to be patient with us."

For those motorists who are already commuting through miles of construction zones, that might be a big ask.

The plan now goes to lawmakers for approval.

Here are some Tampa Bay highlights for 2015/16 - 2019/20:

$3.4 billion work plan

-- $446.9 million for Interstate 275/Howard Frankland Bridge replacement (FY 2019) between Hillsborough and Pinellas.

-- $350.6 million automated people move project at Tampa International Airport Gateway Center (FY 2016-2019) in Hillsborough.

-- $329.7 million for Gateway Expressway, from SR 690 at US 19 and SR 686 at County Road 611 to west of Interstate 275 in Pinellas County. (FY 2017)

-- $78.1 right-of-way for Tampa Bay Express interchange improvements (FY 2016-17) in Hillsborough.

-- $44.2 million in construction, $6 million for right-of-way for US 19 from north of SR 580/Main Street to Northside Drive in Pinellas. 

-- $54.6 million in construction of SR 52 from west of Suncoast Parkway to east of U.S. 41/SR 45; and $15 million in construction of SR 52 from west of CR 581/Bellamy Brothers Road to east of Old Pasco Road in Pasco County; $52 million in construction, $4 million in right of way, and $5.7 million in planning and engineering of SR 52 from east of McKendree Road to east of Fort King Road. (2016-2019)

-- $21.8 million in construction of SR 50 from Windmere Road/Bronson Boulevard to U.S. 98/McKethan Road in Hernando.

-- $21.3 million for County Road 578 at the Hernando/Pasco border from Suncoast Parkway to U.S. 41 at Ayers Road.

 

Excerpts from Rick Scott's State of the State

Tomorrow, Gov. Rick Scott will address both chambers of the Legislature with his priorities for the coming session. Here are a few excerpts from the speech:

· Certainly, we all have our own ideas, and we debate with vigor. But I do believe it is important to acknowledge that we all have common goals for the families that live in our great state. We want every person in Florida to have the opportunity to live the dream of America.

· I believe we are the best place in the country and the world to make dreams come true. I call this Florida Exceptionalism.



· Florida has long been a place where dreams come true. But, this is not just our past – it is our future.

· We have to ask ourselves who has the next big dream for Florida?: Who are the inventors? The builders? The trailblazers?

· We want more people to chase their dreams in Florida.



· Students can spend their money better than government can.

· It should not require a federal loan and decades of debt for students to get a college degree.

· Price limits access – plain and simple.

...

· I want to work with you this year to pass a college affordability bill that will hold the line on graduate school tuition and bring transparency to university costs.

· Just like any business, we should expect education to become more affordable each year, not more expensive.

· Let us never again say that, “we have to raise tuition because tuition in other states is higher than ours.” We don’t raise taxes when other states have taxes higher than ours, and we shouldn’t raise tuition when other states have higher tuition.



· Four years ago, I stood before you and said we would have to make some hard decisions. And, we did. We made reductions that dipped into education, knowing that when the economy improved we could invest again.

· Many of these decisions were unpopular, but by living within our means it created an environment for success. Few thought we could add 728,000 jobs, have the highest funding for education, and invest in our environment just four years later. But, we did it together – and we have more work to do.

· Now that our economy is thriving, it is time to make major investments in education.

· Let’s not squander our budget surplus on special interests. Our budget should reflect the principles we campaigned on or in other words, we should do exactly what we told voters we would do.

FDOT's $39.6 billion work plan heads to Legislature

Never mind that Mapquest ranked Interstate 95 and Interstate 4 last out of 66 interstates in the U.S., or that driving in Tampa Bay, Orlando or Miami can be an endurance sport. 

According to the Florida Transportation Commission, the nine-member board appointed by Gov. Rick Scott that oversees the Department of Transportation, things will get better out there on the roads and highways.

But only after years of construction.

Before unanimously approving the DOT's $39.6 billion work program for the next five years on Monday afternoon, board members lauded the eight DOT secretaries and managers for their proposals that will promote will be one of Scott's lasting legacies: a pro-growth transportation plan that's heavy on road widenings, tolls and public private partnerships, and 

"We have major challenges ahead," said board member Maurice Ferrer. "Miami in the last five to six years has really become a major American metropolitian area. It’s wonderful to see, but it’s also frightening to see that 60,000 construction units are either underway or will soon be on their way.

 

 

 

 

Pro-immigration activists protest outside Tallahassee fundraisers

Protest2

As Florida lawmakers made a last-minute fundraising push on Monday, a group of activists gathered outside the Governor's Club to support immigration reform.

The group, known as the Young American Dreamers, wants Florida to withdraw from a legal challenge to President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration.

"Somebody has to speak out and let [Gov.] Rick Scott and [Attorney General] Pam Bondi know that when they filed the [legal challenge], it wasn't on behalf of Florida, it was on behalf of their own agenda," Executive Director Daniel Barajas said. "Most Floridians support some kind of immigration reform."

The protesters included 15-year-old Alvaro Lara, of Winter Haven, a U.S. citizen who fears his Mexican-born father will one day be deported.

Alvaro traveled 5 hours and 40 minutes to participate in the protest.

"I've had lots of friends whose families have been broken apart," he said. "Humans are humans. We shouldn't be treated different because of where we were born."

Fourteen other Central Florida residents held signs and an American flag outside the Governor's Club.

There were at least two fundraisers taking place inside. One event sought to raise money for 11 Republican candidates for the Florida Senate. There was also a fundraiser for the Senate Democrats in the third-floor library.

Lawmakers cannot collect checks once the 60-day legislative session begins. The 2015 session kicks off Tuesday.

Photo by Scott Keeler of the Tampa Bay Times. Carlos Garcia traveled from Lakeland to Tallahassee Monday to protest outside the Governor's Club. Maribel Ramirez and her 4-year-old son Brian Chavez, of Auberndale, also participated.

Tribe launches counter push against gaming legislation

The Seminole Tribe of Florida has broken its silence.

On Monday, the same day the House unveiled a sweeping bill to allow for gambling expansion in South Florida with two destination resort casinos, the Tribe began airing a 30-second television ad in Tallahassee reminding the public about and the $1 billion in revenues the Seminoles have sent the state in the last five years.

The existing compact is "a partnership that works for Florida," states the ad by Adam Goodman of Tampa. It will air in media markets across the state in the next several weeks, said Tribe spokesman Gary Bitner

"The bottom line is what’s going to be best for the State of Florida,'' Goodman said. "We’re trying just to get basic information on the table about the compact and it’s a beginning of the effort to share this with the rest of the state.”

Under the proposal, filed Monday by Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, the state would forgo the estimated $260 million a year in revenue from the Tribe in exchange for an estimated $350 million in gaming revenues from two destination resort casinos.

 

As the Legislature weighs allowing guns at colleges, prof cites suicide stat

A shooting incident at Florida State University late last year has re-opened a debate in the Florida Legislature about whether to allow guns on college campuses.

Gunman Myron May, a former FSU student, wounded two students and a library employee before he was killed by police on Nov. 20, 2014.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Florida is one of 20 states that specifically ban firearms on campuses; seven others specifically allow them under state law. The rest leave the decision up to the university.

In January, a Florida House panel voted to advance a bill that would allow concealed-weapon permit holders to carry their guns on campuses. Then, on Feb. 16, a Senate panel approved the bill. Both votes broke along party lines, with Republicans in support and Democrats in opposition.

The bill in question would allow concealed carry permit holders, who must be 21, to carry their firearms into any college or university facility. About 1.3 million people have Florida concealed-carry permits, including about 250,000 between the ages of 21 to 35.

During the Senate hearing, college professors and students were among those who testified -- and they came armed with loads of statistics.

Marjorie Sanfilippo, an Eckerd College psychology professor who has researched youth access to firearms, expressed concern about allowing guns on campuses. One issue, she said, is that some college students have mental health issues, including depression and anxiety. In fact, college is sometimes the time of life when major illnesses, such as bipolar mood disorder and schizophrenia, first appear. (May, a 31-year-old lawyer who returned to the FSU campus with a gun, suffered from mental health problems.)

"What proponents of this bill won’t tell you is that 200,000 students attempt suicide every year on college campuses -- an all too common event. Is it a stretch to speculate that more of these suicide attempts would be lethal if students had firearms?"

Are suicide attempts that widespread on college campuses? We took a closer look at the available statistics.

Turn to PolitiFact Florida to see what we found.

School districts report testing troubles

Some school districts are reporting problems with the new Florida Standards Assessments, which made their debut Monday morning.

Miami-Dade school district spokeswoman Daisy Gonzalez-Diego said the new online platform was running so slowly that testing had been postponed in Miami-Dade County until Tuesday.

Hillsborough schools spokesman Steve Hegarty reported similar issues.

"It's slow," Hegarty said. "The volume seems to be affecting the online testing."

Hegarty said middle schools had been impacted in particular because they logged on later than other schools.

Hillsborough schools also have the option of delaying testing, he added.

The problems were not limited to Miami-Dade and Hillsborough. Students in Palm Beach County were having trouble, too, according to the Palm Beach Post.

Testing began Monday, with students in grades 4 through 10 sitting for the writing portion of the exam.

House to open door to destination resorts, gaming in Palm Beach and dog racing reforms

South Florida could become an even bigger gambling haven with two new destination resort casinos and four dog tracks operating slot machines -- instead of racing dogs -- under a sweeping gaming rewrite filed Monday by House Republican Leader Dana Young, R-Tampa.

The measure, filed in the traditionally gaming-averse House, takes a novel approach to gaming by requiring destination resort operators to buy out active gaming permits in order to operate the swanky casinos.

The bill also helps the powerful South Florida pari-mutuels, who have contributed heavily to GOP election coffers for the last several years, by reducing the tax rate for existing racinos, allowing dog tracks in Palm Beach and Naples to run slot machines, and ending the requirement that dog tracks race dogs in order to offer gaming.

Gaming options would also expand in other parts of the state, such as Jacksonville and Tampa Bay, where wagering on videos of "historical races" would be allowed as a new form of gambling. The seven casinos operated by the Seminole Tribe would also see expanded games as they could offer the full array of black jack, roulette, and craps that are available to the resort casinos.

Continue reading "House to open door to destination resorts, gaming in Palm Beach and dog racing reforms " »

House Speaker Crisafulli: 'Picked after I was proven'

Photo(7)House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, covered a wide range of topics in a pre-session Times/Herald interview in his Capitol office. Some highlights:

* Being speaker: As the replacement for the defeated Rep. Chris Dorworth, Crisafulli became speaker

by accident, but he says it was the right way. "My path to this position was exactly what most of y'all in the press say is what's wrong with the process, that you're picked before you're proven. I got picked after I was proven. So it should be, in y'all's minds, the conventional way of coming to this position."

* Gov. Rick Scott remains "laser-focused on getting things done" despite distractions involving a secret shakeup at FDLE, criticism from Cabinet members and a suit alleging Sunshine Law violations, and will have a good session. Crisafulli said he wants Scott to be more vocal on the need for pension fund changes to the Florida Retirement System. "I would like to hear more talk from his office on how important this issue is," Crisafulli said. 

* Claims bills: Unlike several recent predecessors, Crisafulli supports the claims bill process, in which the state and local governments must compensate victims for acts of negligence that result in serious injury or death. Crisafulli's first big splash as a freshman lawmaker was his sponsorship of a 2012 bill that compensated a Brevard County resident, William Dillon, who served 28 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit.

* Gaming: Crisafulli supports free market competition but as a lawmaker who lives in the shadow of Disney, opposes an expansion of casino gambling. "Do I want ... casinos on every corner? No."

* Rep. Richard Corcoran: The lawmaker seen by many as the power behind the throne in the House has Crisafulli's trust. "I put a lot of faith and trust in him to run the budget process. There's no learning curve for him," Crisafulli said. But with a laugh, he added that the speaker-in-waiting is often as powerful than the speaker himself. "I know that my power descends on a daily basis," he said. 

In South Florida, the business of government looks more and more like the business of politics

@PatriciaMazzei

The new operatives roaming the halls of local South Florida governments come from political campaigns and public-relations firms, not from high-powered law firms that usually supply big-name lobbyists. In some cases, the consultants aren't lobbyists at all. They don't write legislation. They care less about how elected officials will vote and more about what the public will think.

The shift might appear subtle. But appealing to public opinion –- more like an advertising firm launching a product or a political campaign promoting a candidate –- has become big business in the competitive world of Miami public relations.

Consider the most significant proposals that have come recently before local governments: David Beckham's Major League Soccer stadium. The Miami Dolphins' renovations to Sun Life Stadium. The Miami Beach Convention Center. Miami-Dade County's new sewer pipes. Uber's and Lyft's push to legalize rides-for-hire.

All have involved deep-pocketed companies hiring firms such as Schwartz Media Strategies, Balsera Communications and Kreps DeMaria not to speak to politicians but to shape public opinion to reporters and on social media.

There's still a role for attorneys and more traditional lobbyists, of course, and some have long mounted mini-campaigns of their own, appearing on television and radio shows to plug their clients. Elected officials still like to be catered to directly.

But with the rise of the Internet, public-affairscampaigns give politicians cover to have their constituents persuaded directly, too. And government appears to be in a perennial campaigning state.

Continue reading "In South Florida, the business of government looks more and more like the business of politics" »

Miami-Dade lawmakers seek to protect Jackson, public schools

Flores2Miami-Dade’s team of state lawmakers will return to Tallahassee next week with something they’ve been lacking in recent years: clout.

That could help the state’s largest legislative delegation accomplish its goals in 2015.

The delegation’s top priorities include shielding Jackson Health System from crippling budget cuts, helping the Miami-Dade school district avoid a $40 million tax collection shortfall, and securing funding for Florida International University and Miami Dade College.

Democrats and Republicans will also team up to increase funding for child welfare providers, and to eliminate a five-year waiting period that applies to lawfully residing immigrant children seeking subsidized health insurance (HB 829/SB 294).

"We’re focusing on issues like funding our institutions and ensuring our residents have affordable property insurance," said Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican who serves as delegation chair. "Those are not partisan issues. Those are South Florida issues."

The 60-day legislative session starts Tuesday.

Read more here.

Monday: Top five things to watch in Tallahassee

Monday is the calm before the storm: the day before the start of the 2015 legislative session. Here are five things to watch in Florida’s Capitol:

The date of Florida’s 2016 presidential primary will be debated in the House Rules Committee as the panel considers a bill to set the date for March 15 to comply with national political party rules. The nation’s biggest swing state could play a bigger role in 2016 with the expected candidacies of former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

Stores in poor areas with few grocery stores could reap a “food desert” tax credit under a bill before the Senate Agriculture Committee. That’s desert, not dessert. The bill (SB 610), by Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, could benefit chains such as CVS and Walgreen’s if they collect at least 20 percent of their gross receipts from sales of fresh fruits, vegetables and low-fat products.

The Department of Health will try again to set up a regulatory framework for nurseries to enter Florida’s pot-for-profit industry under a 2014 law that allows limited medical marijuana use for patients with severe spasms or cancer. The first proposed rule was tossed out by a hearing officer and an attorney for the Legislature says the new rule is too vague.

The day before the start of the session is the last day lawmakers can solicit and collect campaign contributions from lobbyists and their clients until the session ends. Dozens of them will have receptions, the Republican Party of Florida holds a fund-raiser, and Senate Democrats host a “drink, drop and dash” reception at the Governor’s Club. The “drop” refers to checks of up to $1,000 each.

Associated Industries of Florida, a lobby group for business, holds its traditional pre-session reception for lawmakers from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at its headquarters north of the Capitol. Platinum-level sponsors include Duke Energy, Florida Blue, Florida Power & Light and U.S. Sugar, and invitations carry a note that because of Florida’s gift ban, legislators have to pay their own way at $25 a ticket.

- STEVE BOUSQUET, HERALD/TIMES TALLAHASSEE BUREAU REPORTER

Information from The News Service of Florida was used in this report.

March 01, 2015

Ken Plante, former state senator and lobbyist, dies at age 75

Former state Sen. Ken Plante died Sunday night after a three-year battle with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

 Plante, 75, was hospitalized last week as his condition worsened.

A Republican born in Orlando, Plante was elected to the Senate from Winter Park in 1967. He left the Legislature in 1978, but remained in Tallahassee as a lobbyist for a number of commercial clients and Gov. Jeb Bush.

Bush, now exploring a run for president,  visited Plante at his home last month during a fundraising trip to Tallahassee. Plante left his private lobbying clients to become director of legislative affairs for Bush after he became governor in 1999.

Bush said Sunday night that Plante met “the terrible diagnosis in the way he seemed to face all challenges – with great courage, incredible resolve, and unwavering faith.”  Bush noted that “Ken was a steady hand, and provided our team with the much needed reassurance that ‘everything would be okay in the end’ during our first legislative session. We were chaotic, but Ken was always calm, and his experience helped us navigate the process.”

Plante was an uncommon lobbyist, esteemed by legislators, governors and his fellow lobbyists. 

Plante often talked about his growing dislike of the influence of money in the political process where he worked for more than 30 years.  In the final years of his life, Plante worked with former Gov. Reubin Askew and others to try and draft a constitutional amendment to limit the money political candidates can raise and spend. They wanted to find a way to impose limits despite various U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have overturned many attempts to limit contributions.

With the death of Askew a year ago and Plante’s illness, the effort foundered and died.

“The money has become obscene,’’ Plante told the Times in 2012. “Somehow we have got to turn this thing around.’’

More here.

-- LUCY MORGAN, Tampa Bay Times

15 years of prison deaths in Florida: Here's map of where they happened and what we know

Prison deathsFlorida prisons are becoming deadlier. More than 3,900 inmates in 68 prisons have died, some by unusual circumstances, since 2000. For the last year, the Miami Herald has investigated suspicious deaths reported to the Florida Department of Corrections, including a Dade Correctional Institution inmate who was found dead in a small, enclosed shower at the prison in June 2012. State data released last fall showed inmate deaths have increased by 40 percent in the last 15 years. And that number continues to rise.

Here's our story on the cannibalization of Florida's prison system. Here is the interactive graphic. 

Here they come: Florida's latest round of standardized tests

via @cveiga

More students are expected to flunk. School districts warn they might not be ready. And parents are threatening to boycott.

Ready or not — and many school boards, parents and teachers have been screaming to lawmakers that they’re not — Florida will roll out its new, much debated standardized tests on Monday.

The Florida Department of Education is forging ahead, even with a host of unknowns hanging in the air. Students, for instance, don’t even know what score they’ll have to make to pass.

“We need to question if we have gone too far, too fast,” Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho recently told a Florida Senate education committee.

More here.

Diaz and Garcia bill would strip fees from rock miners

via @jenstaletovich

South Florida rock miners would be spared millions of dollars they now pay to protect wetlands and the state’s largest drinking water supply on the fringes of Miami-Dade County under a bill making its way through the Legislature.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. and Sen. Rene Garcia, both Hialeah Republicans, would cut fees by 83 percent, ending what was supposed to be an insurance policy for the county against the risk of contamination posed by rock mining. But now, after nearly a decade with no contamination detected in the water, the bill’s sponsors and rock miners, who contributed tens of thousands of dollars to politicians in the last two years, say it’s time to reduce the fee and simply monitor water quality.

The issue began when a chain of lakes was created along the county’s suburban flank in the 1950s as miners dug up rock for construction. South Florida’s water table is so close to the surface that the pits quickly filled with water. The state, trying to mitigate the damage to wetlands, began collecting fees in 1999 that have steadily increased over the years as concerns spread to water quality.

Under the legislation, fees now set at 60 cents for every ton of rock mined would drop to 10 cents. Story here. 

Jeb Bush, the non-candidate, rewrites campaign finance playbook

via @learyreports @adamsmithtimes

As Jeb Bush continues a torrid fundraising schedule across the country, he is pushing new boundaries of campaign finance law, exploiting his status as a noncandidate to avoid contribution limits and amass a cash pile already in the tens of millions.

The effort, which supporters call “shock and awe,” is designed to assert Bush’s dominance in the 2016 Republican presidential field, but it also represents a new chapter in the era of unlimited money in politics and raises numerous questions, beginning with the most basic:

How can Bush, who acts and sounds every inch the candidate for president, not be a candidate?

The former Florida governor says he is merely exploring the idea of possibly running for president. He drops disclaimer after disclaimer — If I decide . . .

That may seem laughable given Bush’s actions — including campaign-style speeches and visits to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, courting the wealthiest donors and best political talent in the country, and resigning from corporate boards that pose potential conflicts of interest — but it is part of a carefully planned strategy.

It also underscores campaign finance regulations awash in loopholes and lax enforcement in the fast-evolving world of Super PACs unleashed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision.

More here.

February 28, 2015

Venezuela bans 'terrorists' Marco Rubio, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart

@PatriciaMazzei

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Miami Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen have been banned from traveling to Venezuela.

President Nicolás Maduro announced Saturday that his government has created an "anti-terrorist list headed by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, ex-CIA chief George Tenet, ultra right-wing Congressman Bob Menendez, by Marco Rubio, by the she-wolf Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, by Mario Diaz-Balart."

"The won't be able to come to Venezuela for being terrorists!" Maduro told raucous supporters in a speech. "Out of here, terrorists!"

All will be unable to obtain travel visas to the country. Maduro also unveiled the visa program for U.S. citizens Saturday, along with restrictions on U.S. diplomats. Menendez is a Democratic senator from New Jersey.

Nicaragua, a Venezuelan ally, said in December that it would ban Rubio and Ros-Lehtinen, both Republicans, from the Central American country to protest U.S. sanctions on members of the Venezuelan government. Rubio took to the Senate floor Friday to push for full implementation of the law, signed by President Obama in December.

Diaz-Balart, who is also a Republican, and Ros-Lehtinen took to Twitter on Saturday to characterize Venezuela's decision as an honor.

Columnist Fred Grimm: The morning docket in the Broward County court of tears

via @grimm_fred:

Coos and giggles of two toddlers added a kind of harmony to the babble of lawyers, clients, social workers, guardians, all whispering among themselves, scurrying in and out of a chaotic little courtroom.

Applause broke out as the smiling judge pronounced their adoption official. He descended from the bench to pose for photographs with the happy parents and the squirming twin boys with the new last name.

The happy parents were teary — a contagious condition in the courtroom. Even an old cynic like me, there to see about another case on the morning docket, could feel emotion nibbling at his composure.

It wouldn’t be the last weepy moment in Broward Circuit Judge Kenneth Gillespie’s courtroom that morning. But the subsequent tears were elicited by wretched circumstances suffered by children. One heartbreak after another.

We heard prison inmates (one serving a life sentence) connected to the courtroom by speakerphone, telling the judge from their various lockups that they intended to contest efforts to terminate their parental rights. Despite the inevitable outcome. Despite the best interest of their children. Maybe because some future hearing in Judge Gillespie’s child welfare court would break up the monotony of prison life. “I don’t know why we’re playing games here,” the judge wondered aloud.

More here.

Rand Paul wins CPAC straw poll, Jeb Bush 5th, Marco Rubio 7th

via @LightmanDavid

Rand Paul won the Conservative Action Political Conference straw poll Saturday, but Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker continued his surge to the top tier of potential Republican candidates with a strong second place showing.

Paul, a U. S. senator from Kentucky, won for the third straight year. But his 25.7 percent total was lower than his 31 percent showing last year. Walker won 21.4 percent.

Walker was a favorite of the audience here, along with Paul. Some 3,007 people voted in the survey, conducted during the final three days of CPAC, which ended Saturday.

The result is another boost for Walker, who vaulted into national prominence in January with a fiery speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit, a gathering of Republican activists. He has since led Iowa Republican presidential surveys.

Paul, though, retains a sizeable following. His father, former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, won the straw poll in earlier years.

Finishing third and fourth were Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, 11.5 percent, and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, 11.4 percent.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who was often booed by the audience, was fifth at 8.3 percent.

No one else got 5 percent. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum got 4.3 percent, followed by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, 3.7 percent, real estate developer Donald Trump, 3.5 percent, former business executive Carly Fiorina, 3 percent, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, 2.8 percent, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, 1.1 percent and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, 0.9 percent.

--DAVID LIGHTMAN, McClatchy Washington Bureau