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9 posts from July 22, 2013

July 22, 2013

State says feds lawsuit accusing state of warehousing disabled children is 'disruptive'

Liz Dudek, secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration, staunchly defended the state's handling of disabled children in nursing homes on Monday and called the lawsuit filed Monday against the state by the U.S. Department of Justice a "disruptive" lawsuit that is intended to take over "control and operation of Florida's Medicaid and disability programs."

The federal lawsuit alleges that the state is unnecessarily segregating 200 children in nursing homes who would better be served in community care and home-based settings. It is asking a federal judge to halt the practice.

Here is Dudek's statement and background:

Continue reading "State says feds lawsuit accusing state of warehousing disabled children is 'disruptive' " »

Obama to travel to Jacksonville port for economic development speech

President Obama will travel to Jacksonville Thursday and deliver remarks at the Port Authority as part of a series of events scheduled to focus on the economy, the White House announced today.

The larger trip, which was announced last week shortly after the president spoke about racism in the wake of the not guilty verdict in the Zimmerman trial, is intended as part of a nationwide campaign aimed at emphasizing the administration's attempt to build the economy by boosting the middle class. But in Florida, the president's remarks also are likely to be viewed in the context of the racial issues festering since the Zimmerman verdict.

At his surprise visit to the White House briefing room last week, Obama called on states such as Florida to reexamine Stand Your Ground laws and he invoked concerns that the laws may "encourage the kinds of altercations, confrontations, and tragedies as we saw in the Florida case, rather than diffuse potential altercations.”

Since then, dozens of protesters continue a sit-in outside Gov. Rick Scott's Tallahassee office, demanding the Legislature convene a special session to repeal the Stand Your Ground law and address the disparities in sentencing for black teens. The governor and legislative leaders have said they oppose changing the law and refuse to call a session.

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John McCain: 'it's just foolish' to write off Marco Rubio for president


Sen. John McCain told his hometown newspaper, The Arizona Republic, that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio would be a strong Republican presidential candidate should he run in 2016.

At the beginning of the year, tMcCain's comments would have been self-evident.

But, now that Rubio and McCain helped pass an immigration-reform plan through the Senate, many conservative commentators have trashed the "amnesty" and, to a slightly lesser extent, Rubio. Some in Washington have begun writing Rubio off.

“I think it’s just foolish,” McCain told The Republic on Friday. “I’m not endorsing anyone, but I can tell you Marco Rubio is an articulate spokesperson for what conservatives believe in, in principle. And if we pass immigration reform, which is certainly not clear, he would get enormous credit for it.”

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Poll shows vast racial divide between blacks and whites over Trayvon, Zimmerman, justice system


American public opinion about race, the justice system and George Zimmerman’s shooting of Trayvon Martin are as starkly different as black and white, a new poll shows.

African-Americans disapproved of Zimmerman’s not-guilty verdict 86-9 percent and  Hispanics disapproved 50-24 percent, according to Langer Research Associates national survey conducted for ABC News and the Washington Post.

Non-Hispanic whites approved of the jury’s decision 51-31 percent.

By an 81-13 percent split, blacks support brining federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman, 58 percent of Hispanics support the idea.

But whites are opposed to any civil-rights charge. Only 27 percent favor it, 59 percent oppose.

The poll of more than 1,002 people was being conducted at the same time President Obama unexpectedly gave a White House speech Friday in reaction to Zimmerman's not guilty verdict. Obama steered clear of talking about a federal civil-rights probe, launched by his attorney general, and focused instead on the realities and perceptions of race and justice.

"I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away," Obama said, noting the ravages of black-on-black crime and the problem of racial profiling.

The poll indicates that racial division is deep. It was also in general perceptions of the fairness of the justice system, with 86 percent of blacks and 60 percent of Hispanics saying minorities don’t receive fair treatment.

Only 41 percent of whites shared the view.

Younger people, liberals and Democrats tended to be more in line with African-Americans, a key Democratic constituency. The elderly were more in line with whites, Republicans and conservatives, who tend to be overwhelmingly white in the first place.

White public opinion shifted decidedly in favor of Zimmerman since the last poll on the topic in April 2012.

Back then, at the height of public pressure calling for Zimmerman's arrest, only 5 percent of whites felt Zimmerman’s shooting of the Miami Gardens teen was justified. That percentage soared in this poll to 33 percent – the same percentage of whites who now think the shooting was unjustified.

Here’s the poll Download 1150a1TheMartinZimmermanCase

Juvenile justice secretary meets with protesters, sit-in continues

WaltersThe head of Florida’s juvenile justice department cleared her calendar Monday to meet with the young activists camped outside of Gov. Rick Scott’s office.

Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters spent the morning and early afternoon fielding questions from the group -- and discussing the steps her agency has taken to prevent young people from entering the criminal justice system.

But the activists, known as the Dream Defenders, held firm on their commitment to remain in the Capitol until Scott convenes a special legislative session. They want Florida lawmakers to create a Trayvon Martin Civil Rights Act, which would repeal the state’s controversial Stand Your Ground law, end racial profiling and discourage zero tolerance policies in schools.

“We’re happy to engage in dialogue,” Dream Defenders co-founder Gabriel Pendas said. “But we don’t need any more talk. We need action.”

The Dream Defenders criticized Scott for not holding a public event Sunday, despite calling for a statewide day of prayer and unity.

“It seems like the day of prayer was just lip service,” Dream Defenders spokesman Steven Pargett said.

Melissa Sellers, a spokeswoman for the governor, said Scott spent Sunday morning at Bible Based Church in Tallahassee.

“It was his personal time of worship,” she said.

Sellers said Scott had participated in a conference call with 35 faith-based leaders on Friday. He asked each to include a call for peace and unity in their Sunday sermons.

The Dream Defenders, a coalition of college students and young professionals from around the state, have spent the past seven days and six nights outside of Scott’s office. Their sit-in demonstration is a response to George Zimmerman's recent acquittal in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager.

Feds sue Florida over 'warehousing' of children in nursing homes

Florida healthcare regulators have acted with “deliberate indifference to the suffering” of frail and disabled children by offering parents no “meaningful” choice but to warehouse their children in nursing homes along with elders, the U.S. Department of Justice says in a lawsuit against the state filed Monday morning.

The Justice Department’s civil rights division accused the state of violating the landmark 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act — which forbids discrimination against people with special needs — by funding and managing its community programs so poorly that hundreds of children have been forced to live — and sometimes grow up — in institutions for the elderly.

Two years ago, the Justice Department told state health administrators that Florida’s system of care for frail and disabled children was discriminatory, because it failed to offer parents meaningful opportunities to care for their medically fragile children outside large, segregated institutions. While the state made half-hearted reforms, the DOJ said, the discrimination persisted.

The Justice Department, the lawsuit says, “has determined that compliance with the ADA cannot be secured by voluntary means” by the state. The DOJ is asking a federal judge to declare the state’s program for disabled children in violation of federal law and to force the state to cease warehousing children in institutions.

“Unnecessary institutionalization denies children the full opportunity to develop and maintain bond with family and friends; impairs their ability to interact with peers without disabilities; and prevents them from experiencing many of the social and recreational activities to contribute to child development,” the lawsuit states.

It adds: “Many of the institutionalized children remain in facilities for very long periods of time, even when it is apparent that their medical conditions would permit return to the community with appropriate supports.” Full story here. 

-- Carol Marbin Miller and Katie Savchuk


School grade changes highlight Rick Scott-Jeb Bush split

The state Board of Education's decision last week to inflate school grades for a second year was widely praised by parents and educators, but it also exposed a hard-to-miss rift between the closest allies of former Gov. Jeb Bush and those who back Gov. Rick Scott.

The 4-3 decision to reduce the number of F schools in the state by nearly 60 percent was divided along Bush-Scott lines, with Bush allies against.

None of the seven board members nor Education Commissioner Tony Bennett would speak with the Times/Herald about Tuesday's vote.

Their silence, however, has fueled speculation about the motives on each side. Scott allies have been accused of padding grades to help Scott's re-election prospects.

Bush's closest allies — including former chiefs of staff Kathleen Shanahan and Sally Bradshaw, and John Padget, whom Bush appointed superintendent of Monroe County schools — face questions about trying to punish public schools to help make the case for private and charter school expansion. Bush's private Foundation for Florida's Future lobbied against the change.

Read more here.

FL Dems political director, Christian Ulvert, ties knot in DC with partner Carlos Andrade



Christian Ulvert, the Florida Democratic Party's new political director, married his partner Carlos Andrade in Washington, DC last week in a ceremony that they couldn't have in their home state.

"Getting married in DC was a natural choice for us because Carlos lived in DC for a year and my passion for politics made it a perfect choice," Ulvert said. "It also symbolizes how far we've come in a short period in moving forward with marriage equality."

But it has only gone so far in Florida, where voters overwhelmingly approved of a state-constitutional same-sex marriage ban in 2008. The ban remains on the books. Dislodging it will be tough because, though public sentiment appears to have shifted in favor of same-sex unions, the constitution can only be changed with 60 percent approval by voters.

Ulvert is keenly aware of the political challenges. He was tapped to be the Democrats' political director this April after he helped the party win nine seats in the Florida House last year. He has worked on statewide campaigns with Democrats and a Miami-Dade slot-machine referendum effort with Republicans.

Ulvert, 31, was born and raised in Miami and Andrade, 33, is native of Venezuela.

Together for three years, their relationship took a more-serious turn after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Joined by a few family members and friends, they were married July 19 at the Liaison Hotel, a block from the US Capitol.

"After the Supreme Court struck down DOMA, we decided to get married because it was the first time that we would be recognized as a married couple," Ulvert said. "Though living in Florida means our home state still lags behind in affording equal rights to every Floridian, knowing that the full weight of the federal government stood behind our marriage is why we decided to get married."

Governor directs juvenile justice chief to meet with protesters

Gov. Rick Scott met Monday with his juvenile justice secretary, Wansley Walters, and directed her to meet with a group of student protesters who occupy part of the state Capitol for a sixth straight day
in opposition to Florida's self-defense law.

Scott met with Walters at DJJ's Tallahassee offices on Monday morning and they emerged to speak to reporters afterward in a hastily-called media availability.

Scott  met with the protesters last Thursday night in his office and rejected their request that he call a special legislative session to repeal the self-defense law, known as "stand your ground." The law is widely perceived to be at the heart of George Zimmerman's decisions on the night he fatally shot an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, during an encounter in Sanford in February 2012. Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder.

"I believe in our stand your ground and our self-defense laws in our state," Scott said. "But I appreciate the fact that they expressed their concerns." The governor reiterated his suggestion that the young protesters should focus their concerns on state legislators who passed the self-defense law in 2005.

Walters is a former Miami-Dade child welfare official who was one of Scott's first agency head choices when he took office in January 2011.  "More than anything, I just want to listen to them, hear their specific concerns, see what we can do to address them, answer them, follow up on them," Walters said.

-- Steve Bousquet