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11 posts from September 17, 2013

September 17, 2013

Miami-Dade's GOP slaps down Common Core (takes stand against past chair, Jeb Bush)


Res1Miami-Dade’s Republican Party voted overwhelmingly Tuesday night to oppose the Common Core education standards as an unconstitutional “inappropriate overreach” by the federal government.

The two-page resolution, part of a grassroots conservative revolt sweeping Florida and the nation, was partly a stand against President Obama as well as former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, who helped build the Miami-Dade Republican Party and chaired it in 1984.

Bush, the “education governor,” has recently been a leading voice advocating for Common Core, a series of standards that are new national benchmarks outlining what students should know at each grade level in each topic.

Common Core does not prescribe specific teaching methods and reading lists.

But in today’s world of conservative Republican politics, the distinction is blurred between Common Core standards and the curriculum to achieve those standards. For many, there is too much Obama and too much big government involved.

And, according to the resolution approved Tuesday night by the Miami GOP, there’s lots of money to be made by those companies making Common Core-aligned curricula, software and tests. Republican Frank de Varona said Common Core had bad standards, wasn’t constitutional and could allow private companies to engage in “intrusive data mining” of children.

“There are sensors being contemplated to put them on children at public schools,” he said. “Sensors, cameras, looking at your face...  a bracelet to measure your blood flow. It sounds like 1984 George Orwell kind of stuff.”

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Acrimony at the state Board of Education meeting

In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the state Board of Education named interim Education Commissioner Pam Stewart to lead the department on a permanent basis.

It was a rare moment of harmony in an otherwise acrimonious meeting.

Earlier, outgoing board member Kathleen Shanahan blasted department leaders for not giving clear direction on the new Common Core State Standards, and delaying a decision on which exams will replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests.

Shanahan also addressed rumors that Gov. Rick Scott was planning to unveil education policy directives of his own, saying it would be “embarrassing” for the governor to circumvent the Board of Education.

“We’re in crisis time,” said Shanahan, a one-time chief of staff to former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Stewart tried to assuage the concerns, insisting the department was only in “a time of urgency.” “We are on track to get where we need to be,” Stewart said.

Read more here.

Did Prasad and DOT break Sunshine Law in ousting Orlando toll director?

What is it about toll road expressway authorities, the Florida Department of Transportation and the Sunshine Law?

About seven years ago, the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority nearly melted down when it ousted its legal counsel, Steve Anderson, with a vote that looked rather suspicious. After the authority’s seven-member board in 2006 voted 5-2  to replace Anderson with the Gray Robinson law firm, overruling a selection committee, Gov. Jeb Bush ordered an investigation, prompting calls from others to review how the contract was awarded. Even the FBI looked into it.

The Authority’s then executive director, Ralph Mervine, denied any violation of the Sunshine Law that requires all board decisions be made in the open. Audits found questionable spending, but found no illegal wrongdoing. Yet the Times reported that Mervine called the five members who voted for Gray Robinson the weekend before the vote, including Don Skelton, the secretary for DOT District 7 (which includes Tampa). Mervine said he regularly called members before meetings, but his cell phone records didn’t back him up.

He later resigned, but not for any violation of the Sunshine.

With the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority now showing record revenue, it’s a forgotten chapter from long ago.

But check out what’s happening in Orlando.

WESH 2, the NBC affiliate in Orlando, is reporting that questions have arisen regarding an Aug. 28 vote by the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority in which three of the board’s five members voted to replace executive director Max Crumit.

And, like with the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority, records show evidence of an effort to coordinate votes. This time, the three who voted against Crumit all happened to call or text DOT Secretary Ananth Prasad before the vote.

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Commissioners: Miami-Dade needs to get better at lobbying Tallahassee, D.C. lawmakers


How do Miami-Dade commissioners propose to get better at lobbying the federal and state governments? 

By asking for less.

The commission agreed Tuesday to limit priorities for its Washington D.C. and Tallahassee lobbyists to 10 per legislative session. More than that, commissioners said, and Miami-Dade's wish list gets lost in the shuffle.

"They're telling us they can be more effective if we can do that," said Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa, citing conversations with lawmakers.

But the decision is also an effort to give the commission more power. By limiting the county's priorities, county departments controlled by Mayor Carlos Gimenez will no longer have their wants and needs widely distributed to legislators.

Commissioners said rogue department heads in the past have lobbied for legislation in direct conflict with the board's direction.

"They'd take a position for the county and then a department would come up and contradict it," said Commissioner Sally Heyman, a former state representative.

Still, a lingering problem remains: On occasion, commissioners are also at odds over legislation. "Sometimes, some of us have agendas that might not line up," Commissioner Dennis Moss said.

Sosa said county lobbyists should only fight for positions the majority of the commission approves.

"The reality is that this county is not getting back a fair share of what we give the state," she said.

Former House Speaker Bense hospitalized, will fully recover says Weatherford

Former House Speaker Allan Bense is being treated at Shands Hospital in Gainesville after getting admitted Monday, according to WJHG, Channel 7, the NBC affiliate in Panama City.

Bense, who served in the Florida House from 1998 to 2006 and was Speaker from 2004 to 2006, had a “serious bout with a pancreatic disease a few years ago” but there was no word on whether this current hospital stay was related, WJHG reported.

Bense, 61, currently serves as the chairman of the board for Florida State University’s board of trustees. A successful road contractor, he is the father-in-law of current Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, who married Bense’s daughter, Courtney, in 2006.

Weatherford released this statement about Bense:

“Speaker Bense is recovering at Shands. Tonie, Courtney, the entire Bense family and I are grateful for the tremendous care and expertise he is receiving. We hope that everyone will respect the family's privacy as he makes an expected full recovery. Let me tell you, Allan Bense is one tough man, and God is with him. Everyone’s prayers are appreciated.”

New university system chancellor could be in place by November

The state university system could have a new, permanent leader in place by Thanksgiving.

Following the lead of the Board of Education -- which decided to give the interim commissioner the permanent job today, just seven weeks after her former boss stepped down -- the Board of Governors wants to move quickly to find a replacement for Chancellor Frank Brogan, who steps down at the end of the month.

The Board of Governors' search committee will meet in the next two weeks to begin the process of finding a new chancellor. If the right candidate surfaces quickly, the full board could approve a new leader on Nov. 21 at its next in-person meeting.

Mori Hosseini, the board's vice chairman and leader of the search committee, said members will start off fielding candidates without the assistance of an outside firm. The search committee will advertise for the chancellor position and consider both internal and external candidates.

"The No. 1 requirement is the quality," Hosseini said today. "It is the person that is a proven leader that we absolutely know about this person, we know their record. We will not cut through anything just to get somebody quickly."

Vice Chancellor Jan Ignash will serve as interim chancellor when Brogan leaves to head up Pennsylvania's university system. If the initial search doesn't produce an applicant the board rallies around, the committee would recommend hiring a search firm and extending the timeline, Hosseini said.

Continue reading "New university system chancellor could be in place by November" »

Pam Stewart named state education commissioner

In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the state Board of Education tapped interim Education Commissioner Pam Stewart to lead the department on a permanent basis.

"I’ve spent 32 years in Florida’s public education system in one way or another, so I am fully committed to the students in the state of Florida and making sure we get it right," Stewart said after accepting the gig.

Stewart had been interim commissioner since Tony Bennett resigned in August. She also served as interim following the 2012 departure of former commissioner Gerard Robinson.

Board member John Colon made the motion to slide Stewart into the permanent job.

"Pam has served as interim commissioner now more than once and I think she’s been a steady hand, considering all of the handicaps she’s been going through," he said. "I, for one, would like some continuity here on this board and at the Department of Education."

Said board member Barbara Feingold: "Sometimes timing is everything, and the time seems to be right now for Pam. This is a critical year."

Board member Kathleen Shanahan also gave her support, but asked Stewart to speak to the chain of command. 

"We all know that we serve many masters," Stewart replied. "But ultimately, this board is the boss."

Kathleen Sebelius in Miami: FL lawmakers, Gov. Scott have put people "at risk," hide public info


The Obama Administration's top health official, Kathleen Sebelius, swiped at Florida Republicans during a Miami event today for "keeping information from people" and putting them "at risk" when it comes to the Affordable Healthcare Act.

Led by Florida Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP-led Legislature, Republicans have questioned the security of the new Obamacare system, refused to help implement it or expand Medicaid under the law, tried to block some healthcare-outreach workers from county health departments and stripped the state insurance commissioner’s authority to negotiate or refuse rates for plans on new Obamacare marketplaces for two years.

"It isn’t about my job being more difficult. It really is a conversation about Florida citizens who have a right to know what the law is and what benefits they may be entitled to receive," Sebelius, the Health and Human Services Secretary said.

"It’s unfortunate that keeping information from people seems to be something of a pattern here in this state," she said.

Continue reading "Kathleen Sebelius in Miami: FL lawmakers, Gov. Scott have put people "at risk," hide public info" »

On Fox News, Pam Bondi talks tough (but wrong) about 'navigators'

This post has been updated (at bottom).

Attorney General Pam Bondi was back on Fox News this morning, repeating her criticisms of the health care law and concerns about "navigators" hired to help the uninsured sign up for coverage. In the process, she contradicted what she heard at last month's Cabinet meeting about the licensing and training of these enrollment advisors.

"Now we have navigators coming into our state and they're not doing background checks, they're not doing fingerprints," she said this morning. "Census takers have better background checks than the navigators."

But Bondi heard otherwise at the Aug. 20 Florida Cabinet meeting, where Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty gave an overview of the training and standards the state outlined for "navigators."

"In Florida, the Legislature has healed those gaps in the federal program by passing Senate Bill 1842, whcih requires navigators to be registered," McCarty said. "The registration process is set up much like agent licensing, except the federal government provides the training. Senate Bill 1842 requires fingerprinting and gives authority to the state to revoke a navigator's registration."

Click here to watch the Florida Channel video of the Cabinet meeting. McCarty's presentation begins at the 63:00 mark; the quote above comes at 66:30.

We emailed a Bondi spokeswoman to ask about the inconsistencies in her comments this morning but haven't heard back. Scroll to the bottom to see how Bondi's office explained her comments.

Continue reading "On Fox News, Pam Bondi talks tough (but wrong) about 'navigators'" »

W. Dexter Douglass, veteran Tallahassee lawyer and public servant, dies

Dexter Douglass May 2011 -  Jack LevineWilliam Dexter Douglass, a wily Tallahassee lawyer and gentleman farmer who served four governors, two presidents and was revered for his legal mind, died Monday. He was 83.

Douglass had recently undergone aggressive radiation and chemotherapy as treatment for bladder cancer. He is survived by his wife, Therese, three daughters and several grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his son, William.

Born Dec. 6, 1929, in Holmes County, Douglass was among the last of a breed of Florida public servants who guided the state from its rural roots to the diverse, multicultural mega-state that it is today.

Douglass served as chairman of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission in 1997-1998, working to update and reshape the Florida Constitution. As general counsel to former Gov. Lawton Chiles, he was instrumental in putting together the legal team that led to the landmark legal settlement against Big Tobacco. During the 2000 election year recount in Florida, Douglass served as lead counsel to former Vice President Al Gore.  

His last big job: redrafting a proposed state constitutional amendment that would legalize medical marijuana.

“Whether he was drafting an enlightened constitution or representing someone’s yard man for free because he needed help, Dexter worked always to make life better for regular folks,’’ said John Newton who served with Douglass on the legal team. “His brilliance and strategic insight quickly converted the entire Gore Re-Count legal team into admirers.”

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