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7 posts from November 13, 2012

November 13, 2012

Editorial: Florida privatization runs off rails with Blind Services

Another state agency, another privatization scheme off the rails.

The account of how the Florida Division of Blind Services has failed to monitor the agency's private vendors is just one more example for Republican Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who has been trying to bring sensible reform to the state's privatization spree.

Privatization only works well when the agency doing the hiring writes strong, service-oriented contracts and state employees provide effective oversight. Anything less is just government misfeasance.

Ever since then-Gov. Jeb Bush took office in 1999, state government has been moving more toward hiring private vendors to do state business — from handling state park reservations to opening private prisons.

And Gov. Rick Scott, a former health care executive, has only accelerated that push, for instance by making it easier for charter school companies to qualify for money that used to be dedicated to public schools. Nearly 60 percent of the state's budget now flows to private coffers.

The editorial is here and the original story is here.

Weatherford seeks to change tone as House Speaker, but will push conservative agenda

 TALLAHASSEE --  Incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford said Tuesday he wants to be known as an “inclusive reformer” for the next two years, one who works more with Democrats than his predecessor, Dean Cannon, but also continue to push a conservative agenda.

Top on his list is eliminating the state’s defined benefit plan for new employees. He said he wants to keep defined plans for existing employees, but that he would push to remove it as a choice for all new hires.

“The idea of a defined benefit plan is old and archaic,” Weatherford said. “We have to recognize it’s time for states to be fiscally responsible.”

Currently, employees can choose between a defined benefit plan, which pays out a guaranteed payment based on years of service times a percentage of average peak earnings; and a defined contribution plan, which is based on contributions the employee makes into investment accounts, which are considered riskier.

Weatherford said he didn’t know how much the change could save, but said states and cities facing mounting deficits have been pushed to the brink by the defined benefit plans. They are a “ticking time bomb” in state finances, he said.

Ethics and elections reform, such as eliminating powerful fundraising committees used by lawmakers, will be one of his top priorities, as well. Dubbed “Committees of Continuous Existence”, Weatherford said they have been misused by lawmakers and need to be eliminated to bring transparency to campaign finance. He said Florida’s law limiting campaign contributions to $500 per candidate were outdated and needed to be revised to reflect other states, some of which didn’t have any limits, such as Alabama, Indiana and Iowa.

Gov. Rick Scott's mother, Esther, passes away

Gov. Rick Scott just sent this tweet: "My Mom – one of the only constants in my life – has passed away. Ann and I are comforted by all the thoughts and prayers for our family."

Scott cancelled events last month and flew to Kansas City, Mo., to visit his mother, who was hospitalized and in intensive care. Esther Scott was a visible component of his election campaign in 2010.

Gov scott tweet

Florida's acting Education Commissioner calls Indiana's Tony Bennett "focused, very driven"

As Florida searches for a new state superintendent, there is growing buzz about Indiana’s former commissioner, Tony Bennett. He lost his reelection bid to run Indiana’s schools last week and chairs Chiefs for Change, which is part of former Gov. Jeb Bush’s education foundation.

Last week, the vice chair of the state's Board of Education, Roberto Martinez, told the Tampa Bay Times that he hoped Bennett would apply.

On Tuesday, during a visit at a Miami-Dade elementary school, the state’s interim Education Commissioner, Pam Stewart, told the Herald that she doesn’t know Bennett very well, but she feels she ought to get to know him better.

“I don’t know him real well, except for our work together on PARCC and some other initiatives,” Stewart said. (PARCC stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and is a group of states working to create a common set of K-12 tests in English and math.)

“He’s very focused, very driven and I think that serves, or has served, the state of Indiana very well. I think his skills are certainly transferrable and we’ll see what happens,” Stewart said.

In September, hoping to draw higher profile prospects, the state Board of Education extended the application deadline to Nov. 30. The board is slated to pick a new commissioner Dec. 12.

Who really won Florida's Cuban vote? Analysts have conflicting results

A claim that nearly half of Cuban-American voters favored President Barack Obama continued under dispute Monday, with one side claiming it had new evidence that it was true and the other insisting it was false.

FIU professors Dario Moreno and Kevin Hill reported Monday their analysis of tallies from selected precincts in Miami-Dade County indicated GOP candidate Mitt Romney won up to 59 percent of the Cuban vote. University of California Riverside Professor Ben Bishin raises a similar argument in a blog post here.

Miami Democratic pollster Bendixen & Amandi International, however, reported Monday its own analysis of the county’s 48 largest Hispanic districts showed Obama won the Cuban vote, 51-49 percent over Romney.

The dispute involves competing visions of whether the Cuban-American vote has moved beyond its half-century-old support for the GOP. But while the two sides disagree on the numbers, it appears clear that Obama received more Cuban votes last week than he did in 2008.

Bendixen sparked the argument Friday when its initial analysis, based on exit polls of 3,800 Florida Hispanic voters and phone calls to 1,000 others who cast absentee ballots, showed Obama with 48 percent of the Cuban vote statewide — a historic high — and Romney at 52. Story by Juan Tamayo here.


Below is the Summary Memo of Moreno/Hill findings:


Continue reading "Who really won Florida's Cuban vote? Analysts have conflicting results" »

State courts struggle with Supreme Court ruling on young killers

Five months ago, the U.S. Supreme Court banned mandatory sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole for juveniles convicted of murder.

But since the Miller v. Alabama decision, Florida courts have struggled to apply the ruling — and two Miami-Dade cases may help settle key lingering legal questions.

Does the ruling apply to past cases? A Miami appeals court, ruling on a South Miami-Dade killer convicted in 2000, doesn’t think so. That decision, which affects at least 180 cases statewide, is likely bound for higher courts.

When a judge last month gave convicted killer Benito Santiago 60 years in prison — making him the first South Florida juvenile sentenced afterMiller — prosecutors immediately vowed to appeal, saying the sentence was illegal.

The nation’s high court in Miller, and a companion case, struck down laws in 28 states that handed out mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for minors convicted of murders. The ruling, while hailed by civil rights activists, doesn’t mean Florida judges can’t still impose a life sentence for murder. But they now must at least consider a defendant’s age.

The opinion follows the high court’s 2010 decision in a Jacksonville case that ruled that sentencing minors to life without the possibility of parole in non-homicide cases constituted “cruel and unusual punishment.” The reasoning: science has shown that youth’s brains are not fully developed, and they are susceptible to impulses and the influences of others. More from David Ovalle here.


Tampa socialite becomes next focus in Patraeus scandal

KelleyTAMPA — When Dr. Scott T. Kelley moved from the Northeast to become one of Moffitt Cancer Center's most distinct specialists, his wife, Jill, threw herself into the South Tampa social scene.

She volunteered for committees to organize galas and fashion shows benefiting the American Red Cross and the Tampa Museum of Art. But she didn't seem to find her calling in those circles. Then she focused her efforts on helping the military.

Just miles from her Bayshore Boulevard home, representatives from scores of nations that make up the military coalition united to fight terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks were stationed at MacDill Air Force Base. Before long, the Kelley mansion became the place to be seen for coalition officers. Gen. David Petraeus, leader of U.S. Central Command at MacDill, marked his first celebration of the Gasparilla pirate parade on the Kelleys' lawn.

Just three months after they posed with David and Holly Petraeus, strands of Gasparilla beads hanging from their necks, the Kelleys were hit with a foreclosure lawsuit. In the decade since the Kelleys arrived from Pennsylvania, it proved one of several examples of court cases seeking payment of real estate and credit card debts intermingling with catered parties and A-list guests as the couple sought to establish themselves in Tampa.

And now the Kelleys have a national scandal to contend with — one that is quickly growing more and more curious. More from the Tampa Bay Times here