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10 posts from October 8, 2013

October 08, 2013

State records show pattern of neglect in death of Lauderhill girl

DCFThe last time anyone from the state saw Tamiyah Audain alive, she was covered head-to-toe in clothing, “moaning” as she sat on the lap of her caregiver. The attire concealed a terrible secret: the severely disabled and sickly 12-year-old had lost more than half her weight, and her lower body was pocked with bed sores and wounds — one so deep her bone was exposed.

The apparent cause of her death in a Lauderhill apartment last month: suspected starvation. All right under the nose of ChildNet, the privately run Broward foster care agency paid by the state to protect her.

“It’s an awful way to die,” said Gwen Wurm, a University of Miami pediatrician who heads the medical foster care program for Jackson Health Systems. “People in that condition are usually groaning and writhing, unless they are so drugged that they don’t feel anything.”

An internal report released this week by the Florida Department of Children and Families shows that Tamiyah, who suffered from autism, mental retardation and seizures, apparently had lived a horrific last few months.

Her caregivers admitted locking her in a bedroom for hours — allowing her to emerge for meals. Still, the once chubby child who loved to eat had been reduced to about 50 pounds when she died. Three separate tranquilizers used to subdue Tamiyah’s difficult behavior left her so sedate that her foster care caseworker wrote the child was in a slumber during many monthly visits. More here.

-- Carol Marbin Miller and Audra Burch

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/10/08/3678478/state-records-show-pattern-of.html#storylink=cpy

State considers creating alternative to federal flood insurance

Flood insuranceWith thousands of homeowners locked in their homes because of spiraling flood insurance rates, Florida regulators are working on a program to lure private companies to write flood insurance in the state as an alternative to the federal program.

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation is talking to insurance companies who are interested in coming to Florida and writing expedited flood insurance policies, said Rebecca Matthews, the department’s deputy chief of staff at a meeting of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee on Tuesday.

“This is an issue that may need to be taken care of a little sooner than session,’’ she said, explaining that regulators do not plan to wait until legislators return to Tallahassee for the spring lawmaking session in March. “A handful of companies have shown interest.”

Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, chairman of the committee, said lawmakers must respond to the unintended consequences of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 which could harm the state’s economy.

“If there’s money to be made in this and the flexibility is given to private enterprise, then we can get that started,’’ he said. “The question, of course, is are we going to be able to do it fast enough.”

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Senators consider ways to address issue of illegal adoptions

Reports of Americans giving away children adopted from overseas on the Internet is so alarming that Floridians should be alerted, the new assistant secretary of the Department of Children and Families told a Senate committee Tuesday.

Stephen Pennypacker was discussing an investigation by Reuters, which found that Americans who couldn't handle children they adopted from Liberia, Russia, China and  other countries placed ads on websites advertising kids they wanted to give away. The children were often subject to horrible treatment in these new homes, and some were "rehomed" several times.

Pennypacker told senators on the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee that word needs to get out to anyone who might be considering abandoning a child to contact a licensed adoption agency.

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Senate committee vows to shut down unlicensed ALFs, improve regulated facilities

A Senate committee on Tuesday vowed to put an end to unlicensed assisted living facilities after a Miami Herald story revealed that homes have been using loopholes to escape state scrutiny.

The Herald story uncovered facilities that billed themselves as shelters, rooming houses or “sober homes”, but in actuality operated as ALFs. Many had deplorable conditions and at least one owner had a criminal history.

“I want to be equipped to go into those bad actors and shut them down now,” said Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, at a meeting of the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee.

Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla , R-Coral Gables, said that a lack of resources or funds shouldn't be an excuse to regulate the industry, which cares for roughly 80,000 residents.

"This has to be a priority to shut down unlicensed facilities as a public health hazard as a clear and present danger to the living conditions of a human being," Diaz de la Portilla said. "If there isn't money in the budget, then we need to find it." 

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Scott jobs czar Swoope to get pay raise, severance deal

Gray Swoope, the job-seeker recruited to Florida from Mississippi by Gov. Rick Scott nearly three years ago, is in line to receive a hefty pay raise in addition to a severance package, to cushion his fall in case Scott is not re-elected and the next governor fires him.

Swoope, who holds the title of Secretary of Commerce and is CEO of Enterprise Florida, got a $70,000 bonus just last month. His base salary would increase from $230,000 a year to $275,000 a year following a vote Tuesday by Enterprise Florida's Finance & Compensation Committee. The action must be ratified by EFI's full board at a meeting in Miami later this month.

Under his new contract, Swoope also is eligible for an additional $100,000 in bonuses if he meets performance benchmarks over the next year. He also would get a severance check of $137,500, or half a year's salary, if he's terminated "without cause." The new contract is through June 30, 2015, after the 2014 election for governor, so there's little question that the severance pay is essentially an insurance policy in case Scott loses the election and a new governor replaces Swoope.

Swoope's base salary is paid with taxpayer money, and his incentive pay is from private sources.

Fort Lauderdale attorney Alan Becker, chairman of EFI's finance committee, said Swoope is worth the money. "I think Gray is doing phenomenally," Becker said. "He's constantly on the road, constantly on the phone, and is very responsive. He's better than any of his predecessors." Becker noted that Swoope's predecessor, John Adams, walked out the door with a reported severance check of at least $132,000 after Scott fired him in 2011.

The other two board members who voted in favor of Swoope's raise Tuesday were Bob McAdam, a Darden restaurants executive, and Howard Halle, an executive vice president of Wells Fargo bank.

Four groups that monitor Enterprise Florida's actions were highly critical of the decision. They include Integrity Florida, the Tea Party Network, Progress Florida and Americans for Prosperity. Speaking for all four, Integrity Florida's Dan Krassner said: "We object to any taxpayer-funded entity that rewards an underperforming staff with excessive bonuses. Floridians are depending on Enterprise Florida to generate jobs, not IOUs.  How is Enterprise Florida going to justify a Commerce Secretary’s exorbitant pay increase to the more than 600,000 Floridians who are out of work? We’re talking about a salary that would be eight times the pay of our Florida teachers. Swoope’s new contract also guarantees a six-figure golden parachute should a future governor want a new person for the job.  It was just two years ago that Enterprise Florida’s board was forced to pay $132,000 in severance to their last CEO."

-- Steve Bousquet

Senate Dems say Legislature's gaming study 'a waste of money'

The results of a $400,000 gaming study commissioned by the Florida Legislature, as a precursor to a debate next session about expanding gambling, produced predictable results and was a "waste of money,'' several members of the Senate Democratic caucus said on Tuesday.  Download Spectrum Gaming Group 3rd draft

"It just confirms whatever your already held opinion was,'' said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. "It's not going to change anybody's mind." 

Clemens and Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami, said the decision by Senate Republican leaders to hire Spectrum Gaming Group was a poor use of state resources and they raised doubts about the expenditure of money for a four-city statewide tour to conducted by the House and Senate Gaming Committees later this month, to get local community input on expanded gambling. 

Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Sunny Isles, noted that the committee will be traveling to Coconut Creek in Broward County, Lakeland, Pensacola and Jacksonville but won't come to Miami-Dade, where Genting, one of the largest casino operators, has already purchased property with the hopes of bringing a resort casino to downtown Miami. 

"People are really bent out of shape that it's coming to their community,'' Margolis said. Miami-Dade residents should not have to "drive one to two hours to some place in West Broward that I wouldn't even know how to find,'' she said. 

Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale and chairman of the caucus, last week asked Senate leaders to consider holding a hearing in Miami-Dade and they have not as yet agreed to change the dates.  

DNC targets shutdown 'architect' Marco Rubio in robo calls


The Democratic National Committee is robo-calling voters in Florida to remind them of Republican Sen. Marco Rubio's support of tying budget talks to defunding, degrading or delaying Obamacare, which has led to a partial government shutdown. Other Republicans are targeted in other states.

Rubio's fellow South Floridian, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, issued a press release noting that poll after poll shows Republicans, who precipitated the shutdown, are generally more vulnerable than Democrats. But Democrats have helped prolong the shutdown by refusing to negotiate with the GOP.

Who should give what (if anything) probably depends on your political persuasion, though Quinnipiac University's poll last week showed a majority of Americans want generic "compromise."

Rubio prefers the term "slowdown" to shutdown, as we noted recently when a passenger on his DC-bound plane relayed to us the concerns that some shared with the senator. Technical note: as a member of the minority in the Senate, Rubio's no vote on the Democratic senate's budget bills has less effect on the shutdown than the votes of the Republican House.

Here's the robo script:

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Report: Florida among the states that uses foreclosure settlement $ for other uses

Florida is among the state's that has used its millions received from the multi-billion dollar settlement with major mortgage lenders to put augment the general fund, according to a new report from Stateline.org, a project of Pewstates.org.

Florida recieved $334 million from the legal settlement stemming from state charges that banks used improper mortgage lending practices. Florida used about $260 million of it to benefit homeowners. The remaining $74 million went into the general fund, according to the report.

Jennifer Meale, spokeswoman for Attorney General Pam Bondi, said that the states that entered the settlement could designate up to 10 percent of the $2.5 billion paid to the states as a civil penalty.

The settlement also allowed for the money paid as civil penalty to be sent to the general fund, which could be used to balance the budget or be used for other needs. Florida decided to designate $74 million as a civil penalty and the money went into the general fund.   

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Accused Hialeah ballot broker accepts probation


Hialeah absentee ballot broker Deisy Cabrera, accused of voter fraud in an investigation that roiled Miami-Dade politics last year, will serve one-year probation as part of a plea deal.

Police said Cabrera illegally collected at least 31 absentee ballots for the Aug. 14 primary election and filled out a ballot for an elderly woman who was unresponsive with a brain tumor in a Miami Springs nursing home.

Cabrera was arrested after a private eye, Joe Carrillo, in July 2012 learned that Cabrera was handing out business cards to voters around Hialeah offering to pick up their ballots. Carrillo said he tipped off Miami-Dade police detectives, who then followed Cabrera as she collected ballots from several apartment buildings.

Under a Miami-Dade County ordinance, no one may possess more than two absentee ballots of voters. Following Carrillo’s tip, Miami-Dade detectives stopped Cabrera on July 25 and found her with 12 ballots.

Cabrera was charged with absentee-ballot fraud, a third-degree felony, and two misdemeanor counts of violating a county ordinance that makes it illegal for anyone to possess more than two ballots belonging to other voters.

Developing story here.

Senate panel to consider Stand Your Ground revisions

A Senate panel on Tuesday will consider two proposals to amend the Stand Your Ground self-defense law that would require law enforcement agencies to set guidelines for neighborhood watch programs.

One of the bills was filed by Sen. David Simmons, the Republican senator who drafted the original statute nearly a decade ago.

“The Stand Your Ground law is an excellent law, but there are some improvements that can be made,” said Simmons, of Altamonte Springs.

Tuesday’s hearing marks the first time state lawmakers will consider revising the self-defense law since George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said he supports moving forward with modifications “in a bipartisan way.”

But whether a similar proposal would gain traction in the Florida House of Representatives remains to be seen. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican tasked with chairing a House review of the law, has said he will not change “one damn comma” in the existing statute.

Gaetz did not return calls seeking comment.

Read more here