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11 posts from June 5, 2013

June 05, 2013

Bondi, FDLE launch new law enforcement training to detect human trafficking

Just last month, state and local law enforcement officials broke up a human trafficking and prostitution ring based in Clearwater, but the case just scratches the surface of the state's trafficking problems, Attorney General Pam Bondi said at a press conference Wednesday. 

Bondi and FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey, flanked by other law enforcement leaders, said a search for new initiatives led to the development of a new, interactive video training program.

""It's becoming such a problem in our state," Bondi said. "We sat down and said 'What can we do together?' We've got to keep doing more, because what we're doing isn't enough. Everything we're doing -- it's still going on."

The U.S. Department of State estimates 27 million people are trafficked globally each year, and in 2011, Florida ranked third nationally in the number of calls the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s hotline received (3,949) --  California came in first, Texas second.

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Odebrecht polling on major project at Miami International Airport


How big is Airport City, the massive new project proposed at Miami International Airport?

Big enough that Odebrecht USA, the engineering and construction contractor that dreamed up and plans to carry out the development, has been conducting a poll to gauge its popularity.

The company has been waiting for weeks for Miami-Dade commissioners to take up the project. Its approval had been slowed by a lawsuit, but a federal appeals court ruled last month in the company's favor.

The lawsuit was over a controversial Florida law -- ruled unconstitutional and barred from taking effect -- that prohibited local governments from hiring firms with business ties to Cuba. A subsidiary of Odebrecht's Brazilian parent company is performing a major expansion at the Cuban Port of Mariel.

The telephone poll asks respondents if they are familiar with the company, the project and the number of jobs Odebrecht estimates would be created by the new construction.

"We did the poll to see how aware the public is about the project," said Ric Katz, Odebrecht's corporate relations consultant who is conducting the poll.

"Airport City is an important project for this community, and Odebrecht feels that we may want to inform the public more about it."

Democrats pounce on Scott's Dreamers veto as a 'step backwards' on immigration reform

Florida Democrats have seized on an opening Gov. Rick Scott has given them to make some noise about the governor's rocky relations with the Hispanic community.

The governor on Tuesday vetoed a non-controversial bill passed with near unanimous support by the Republican-controlled House and Senate that would have helped children of illegal immigrants who attend school in Florida obtain temporary driver’s licenses. 

The bill was seen as non-controversial because the Florida Department of Highway Safety had already been pursuing rules to allow documents obtained by children granted legal status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to be accepted as one of the forms of identification used to obtain a temporary drivers license in Florida.

The deferred action program was adopted by President Obama last year to allow children brought to this country illegally to be exempt from deportation. It received widespread praise from Hispanics on both sides of the aisle. 

Continue reading "Democrats pounce on Scott's Dreamers veto as a 'step backwards' on immigration reform" »

House immigration talks breaking down over public-healthcare for one-time illegal immigrants


Should current undocumented immigrants get some public-healthcare benefits if their status is legalized?

U.S. House Republicans say no. Democrats say yes.

The answer to that question is dividing the House immigration-reform working group and causing it to break down. The last meeting is today.

The catch: years ago, when the group began meeting, the bipartisan group agreed that the newly legalized would not be a "public charge." That is, that they wouldn't get social-services.

But then California Democratic Rep. Xavier Becerra appeared brought up an aspect of the issue, which Republicans and some other Democrats thought was already agreed to and closed. Becerra, a rising star in his party, belongs to the same California delegation as Democratic leader and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"I hope we can still reach an agreement," said Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a member of the immigration-working group. He declined to name names or divulge the contents of the agreement, but he blamed "Democratic leadership" for pressuring at least one member to withhold support.

"It's difficult," he said. "We've had agreements from long ago that all of a sudden wasn't agreed to by the Democratic leadership."

Frank Sharry, an activist with the America's Voices immigration-reform group, said it's tough to figure out what the dispute is. The talks have been in secret. So it's unclear who advocated for what and what the specific source of the disagreement is.

"As I understand it, they talked past each other," Sharry said. "Democrats assumed emergency Medicaid would remain, and Republicans assumed these people would get nothing."

Advocates are frustrated that such a big bipartisan agreement could die over such a relatively small thing. The issue only involves those who would qualify for a pathway to citizenship, which would be smaller than the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants currently estimated to be in the country.

ABC made it sound as if the deal was dead: "congressmen will meet for the last time today without reaching an agreement on a House bill."

If this fails, it's a big blow to the immigration-reform effort, but it's not a killer. Republicans control the House and they can pass pretty much what they want. Of course, the Democratic-controlled Senate might not agree to the House bill and the House doesn't like the Senate bill.

Immigration reform was put a little more in doubt Tuesday when Sen. Marco Rubio, another leading Republican from Miami, raised doubts about the bill he had helped craft. He said there needs to be more border security in the Senate plan, and he's drumming up support for amendments in the Senate.

"If those amendments don’t pass," Rubio told radio-show host Hugh Hewitt, "then I think we’ve got a bill that isn’t going to become law, and I think we’re wasting our time. So the answer is no."

Gov. Scott signs first abortion-related bill in two years

Gov. Rick Scott today signed the only abortion-related bill that passed this session, requiring that doctors must offer emergency medical care if a baby is born alive during a failed abortion or face criminal charges.

Scott was joined by his wife Ann and pro-life supporters from around the state as he signed HB 1129 Wednesday afternoon at the Florida Baptist Children’s Home’s Pensacola campus in Cantonment, a nonprofit organization that supports pregnancy resource centers and children who are neglected, abused or abandoned.

Scott applauded the commitment of sponsors Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, and Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami. Pigman, a freshman legislator and emergency room physician, took part in the event via Skype -- he’s a U.S. Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who is currently serving in Kuwait.

The new law, which takes effect July 1, calls for care “appropriate for the gestational age of the infant.” It states that an infant born alive “during or immediately after attempted abortion is entitled to the same rights, powers, and privileges as any other child born alive in course of natural birth” and ensures an infant is “transported to a hospital.”

A violation of the law is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail, a $1,000 fine or both. Health care practitioners, as well as employees of hospitals, physicians’ offices and abortion clinics, must report all known violations to the Department of Health.

Florida is the 29th state to enact similar legislation, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute,  a research and advocacy group that supports women’s access to abortions and collects abortion data. More than 450 bills restricting access to abortion and family planning were introduced in 46 states so far this year, said Elizabeth Nash, the institute’s state issues manager.

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Fla. jobs agency claims it was 'target' of 'politicized' federal investigation

Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity is accusing the federal government of targeting it with a politically driven investigation, after the U.S. Department of Labor slammed the jobs agency for denying access to jobless benefits.

Perhaps building upon the IRS's targeting scandal, DEO is asking for Congressional hearings and an Inspector General investigation into “improper politicization at the United States Department of Labor.”

“DEO has concluded that the USDOL investigation appears to have relied on insufficient evidence, fell far below professional standards, and may have been politically motivated,” the state jobs agency said in a statement.

DEO is objecting to the findings of an “initial determination” by the Labor Department, which found that Florida had made it difficult for the disabled and those who struggle with English to access jobless benefits they were eligible for.

In 2011, Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature slashed jobless benefits and created new requirements for applicants, including an online-only application and a 45-question skills review. DOL initially approved of the changes, which eventually led to a sharp increase in the number of rejected applications.

Civil rights groups filed challenges with the federal government over the changes, and the first ruling came in April. DOL’s Civil Rights Center sided with the pro-worker groups, finding that DEO’s unemployment aid program discriminated against people who speak Spanish and Creole, as well as those who were blind or otherwise disabled.

DEO is now saying that the DOL findings were “flawed” and based on politics rather than facts. In letters to Congress and the U.S. Inspector General’s Office, DEO general counsel Robert Sechen accuses DOL of collaborating with the group that filed the challenge (the Miami Workers Center). Sechen also accuses a key DOL official of admitting to having a political agenda, citing a biography that states the official had worked to “keep the evil overseers of the Bush administration from dismantling U.S. federal civil rights laws.”

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Gov. Rick Scott on the "precious.. special" reason he signed Infants Born Alive Act

Few places are as conservative as Cantonment in Florida.

And that makes it a perfect dateline for the following press release on Gov. Rick Scott's signing of the Infants Born Alive Act.

The Florida bill was being debated this spring during the gruesome Philadelphia trial of Kermit Gosnell. No cameras were allowed in that courtroom. But cameras are always rolling in the Florida Legislature, site of this cringe-worthy exchange between Planned Parenthood lobbyist Alisa Snow and Hialeah Republican state Rep. Jose Oliva and others:

The press release:

Continue reading "Gov. Rick Scott on the "precious.. special" reason he signed Infants Born Alive Act" »

Liberal group bashes Charlie Crist's NRA A-rating, lauds Fs of Nan Rich, Alex Sink


Florida's fertile ground for the National Rifle Association, and the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida has a problem with that and wants to make gun control a Democratic gubernatorial primary issue in 2014.

Nan Rich is running. Charlie Crist probably will and Alex Sink probably won't (caveat: you never know).

The press release

TAMPA, FL – In response to a spate of recent shootings and the ongoing Treyvon Martin case, the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida issued a report that examines the voting records, statements and endorsements of former Senator Nan Rich, the only announced Democratic candidate, former Governor Charlie Crist and former CFO Alex Sink, who ran for the seat in 2010.

Continue reading "Liberal group bashes Charlie Crist's NRA A-rating, lauds Fs of Nan Rich, Alex Sink " »

Looks like Hialeah state Rep. Eddy Gonzalez doesn't live in his district

From Political Cortadito:

Once again, some lucky constituents have two, not one, elected fighting their battles in Tallahassee — while some unlucky schmucks have none.

State Rep. Eddy Gonzalez (R-Hialeah), senior member and chair of the Miami-Dade Legislative Delegation, is still living in his old home, which was drawn into his colleague buddy’s district, even though Gonzalez was elected in a new number to which he said he was moving.

After redistricting last year put his home in another incumbent’s district, Gonzalez, who is termed out in 2014, “volunteered” to move out of his home at 7625 W 14th Ct. — where he represented District 102 in West Hialeah for the last six years — and into a relative’s East Hialeah house in District 111.

Well, he sorta had to volunteer — either that or run against his ally and campaign cigar supplier, State Rep. Jose “Cigar Czar” Oliva (R-Miami Lakes), after his property was included in the newly-redrawn District 110, which would have been uncomfortable, especially seeing as how everyone is pushing to make Oliva a future House Speaker.

Marco Rubio and immigration-reform gamesmanship. Is he staying true or breaking his word?


Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said Tuesday he's ready to vote against the very bipartisan immigration-reform bill he crafted for months in the U.S. Senate with seven others.

Rubio's concern: border security. He said it's not strong enough and the bill needs to be amended on the Senate floor.

"If those amendments don’t pass, will you yourself support the bill that emerged from Judiciary, Senator Rubio?" conservative radio show host Hugh Hewitt asked him.

"Well," he said, "I think if those amendments don’t pass, then I think we’ve got a bill that isn’t going to become law, and I think we’re wasting our time. So the answer is no."

The Republican's position is another in a series of reversals, flip flops and evolution on immigration reform. He used to call a pathway to citizenship "amnesty." Now he supports it, but says it isn't "blanket amnesty."

As an early-poll frontrunner in the Republican race for president in 2016, Rubio won't be able to shake speculation that he's being motivated by political consideration, not merely policy. Shortly after the Senate bill was published, the conservative media elite and tea party members have criticized the bill and, by extension, Rubio.

Democrats have been waiting to define Rubio as a creature of political opportunity.

Here's President Obama's pollster, Joel Benenson, in February: “Marco Rubio has a long way to go..The challenge for someone like Senator Rubio is that if people view his efforts as genuine, authentic and an act of true leadership and he’s really able to play a significant role, that’s one thing..But if people view his efforts as a pattern of angling for political advantage — even on the issue of immigration where in the span of three years his position has gone back and forth and back and forth again – he’s got some explaining to do. And that makes his position harder.”

But Rubio always left himself somewhat of an out when it comes to immigration reform. He said from the get-go that the bill needed to be improved. And, from a conservative standpoint, the bill was made tougher in the Judiciary Committee.

So is Rubio staying true to his word (saying the bill needed to be improved) or is he breaking it (by saying he'd vote against the very legislation he helped write)?

And how much of this is legislative gamesmanship?

Like any politician, Rubio likes being the center of attention. The media spotlight brings power. Rubio wants to be an indicator species for the health of immigration reform in the nation's Capitol. He wants to be the conservative salesman-in-chief, the attention-center.

But after the Gang of Eight's bill was released, he lost a measure of force. In many conservatives' eyes, Rubio lost luster.

Rubio was considered a yes vote for the bill. Now that he's acting as if he's leaning no, he's in play again. He makes his voice more crucial, positioned to try to take credit for bringing more Republicans to the bill.

Rubio also knows and has said that the bill written in the Democratic-controlled Senate bill won't pass the Republican-controlled House anyway. The as-yet-unreleased House bill will have the very types of conservative goodies Rubio probably wants anyway.

So Rubio likely wins this one from a public-relations standpoint, at least in the short term. But at what cost?