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19 posts from January 23, 2014

January 23, 2014

Future Miami-Dade bond questions on ballot will have to note tax hike


In the past two years, Miami-Dade County voters have approved two major government bond programs to fund public schools and the Jackson Health System.

But did the voters know their “Yes” votes would hike their property taxes?

Some county commissioners think not. So next time, they want to make sure.

Commissioners agreed Wednesday to add new language to future bond questions noting that the debt would be “paid or secured by taxes derived from the assessed value of property in the County.” Altering or removing the language would require approval from two-thirds of commissioners.

“Government has a funky way of playing with ballot language that essentially confuses a lot of the residents,” said Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo, who sponsored the legislation. “When you tell them, ‘Well, you voted for this,’ … they’re clueless on the impact it has.”

The board signed off on the new language 10-2, with some commissioners saying the provision is too long. Ballot questions can only be 75 words long.

Opponents also said voters should assume that county funding comes from property taxes, the chief source of local government revenue.

And Commissioner Barbara Jordan worried that the addition will doom future bond efforts.

“When the community sees the word ‘tax,’ they’re not going to look at the issue,” she said. “The word tax says, ‘Vote no.’ So I vote no.”

Perhaps the school district and Jackson hospital should count their lucky stars.

Florida searches for common ground on new trauma center rules


Representatives from long-standing trauma centers sat down today with officials from new trauma centers in hopes of building consensus around the Department of Health rule that will determine how new trauma centers are established. Here is an excerpt from a story about the meeting:

The fight over who gets to operate Florida's trauma centers is far from over, but a marathon negotiating session Thursday identified some common ground the Department of Health says it will use to revise a proposed rule for granting new centers.

Long-established trauma centers have tried to limit the proliferation of new ones, which has led to dozens of legal and administrative challenges.

Many of the new trauma centers are at hospitals owned by the powerful for-profit chain HCA.

Both sides have criticized portions of the Department of Health's proposal, which uses a point system and a handful of criteria to determine if new trauma centers are warranted.

Thursday's negotiation session was intended to help build a consensus among stakeholders so the DOH could finalize its rule before an April 1 application deadline for new trauma centers.

"I don't think we're that far off," DOH general counsel Jennifer Tschetter said at the end of the seven-hour discussion.

Read more here.

Gov. Rick Scott says Justin Bieber welcome to visit Florida, but needs to follow rules

The Palm Beach Post caught up with Gov. Rick Scott as he visited the city to talk about flood insurance hikes. But the reporter did the rightful thing and asked the governor about the real news of the day, teen pop idol Justin Bieber's arrest early Thursday morning in Miami.

The following is what Scott said, according to the Post:

"Here’s the nice thing: People want to come to our state. We’ve had record tourism numbers it looks like again last year. So people want to come to our state, basically they like all parts of our state. But if you come here you’ve got to comply with the law."

Marco Rubio's weird DMZ-North Korea pics


Florida Sen. Marco Rubio finished up a trip to Asia, where he visited the Philippines, Japan and South Korea.

On his second-to-last day in South Korea, his office posted photos of Rubio near the demilitarized zone separating the democratic nation from North Korea, perhaps the world's creepiest, orwellian, brutal, starvation-plagued nuclear-armed nation run by a potential maniac.

In one picture provided by the office, Rubio stood in a DMZ conference room where he was photographed by a North Korean soldier.


In another photo, Rubio posed with a South Korean guard in front of the door that leads to North Korea.  



Report: FBI examining Sen. Bob Menendez's ties to fugitive Ecuador bankers in Coral Gables


The FBI is examining New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez's ties with a pair of fugitive bankers from Ecuador who now live in Coral Gables, NBC 4 New York is reporting.

Menendez's spokeswoman, Tricia Enright, downplayed the report, saying on Twitter "we're not aware of any inquiry here."

If the NBC report about the probe is true, it marks yet another Menendez investigation in South Florida or Latin America.

Almost a year ago to the date, the feds raided the West Palm Beach offices of Menendez's pal, Salomon Melgen, in a Medicare fraud scam. They also began investigating an underage prostitution scandal (likely false) involving the two in the Dominican Republic. Then the FBI gave a look at Menendez's involvement in a Dominican port-security contract connected to Melgen and a former Menendez aide. The AP uncovered a natural-gas deal that could have benefitted Melgen as well.

Now this from NBC:

The Department of Justice is investigating Menendez's efforts on behalf of two fugitive bankers from Ecuador, multiple current and former U.S, officials tell NBC 4 New York. The probe into Menendez’s dealing with the bankers comes as federal authorities are also investigating his relationship to a big campaign donor from Florida.

The criminal investigation is focusing in part on the senator’s ties to William and Roberto Isaias and whether the senator crossed a line in trying to help the two brothers stay in the United States.

The Isaias brothers have been fugitives from their native Ecuador for more than a decade -- sentenced in absentia for embezzling millions as the bank they ran there was collapsing.

State suspects dog tracks of using steroids on greyhounds

GreyhoundsSteroids: They’re not just for professional athletes. They’re also for race dogs.

A dog trainer at the Flagler and Hollywood greyhound tracks has been charged with illegally possessing performance-enhancing drugs, raising the prospect that drugs are being illegally used to enhance racing results.

The Florida Division of Parimutuel Wagering charged James “Barney” O’Donnell, the operator of the Florida Kennel Compound in Hialeah, with violating state laws that prohibit the possession of the drugs where racing animals are kept. The facility, which houses hundreds of dogs, is jointly owned by Mardi Gras and Flagler dog tracks.

O’Donnell, 84, is one of the industry’s largest greyhound operators in the nation. He owns and trains dogs in multiple states and runs the compound shared by South Florida’s racinos.

State regulators say it is illegal to use any anabolic steroids on racing dogs, but the state does not test for their presence when dogs are tested after a race.

“This calls into question the integrity of the race,’’ said Carey Thiel, executive director of GREY2K USA, a Massachusetts-based greyhound protection organization that monitors animal treatment in Florida. “We don’t know whether this was an attempt to prevent estrus (heat) in female greyhounds or enhance the performance in racing dogs — either of those are troubling.”

Dan Adkins, owner of Mardi Gras Racetrack and Casino in Hollywood, said he learned of the investigation on Thursday from a Herald/Times reporter.

“Congratulations. You beat the state,’’ he said. “We’re going to follow up on it and take whatever action is necessary.’’

Although the drugs were first discovered at the kennel in August, the state has not taken any disciplinary action against the trainer or the track. More here.   

Will the Fresen ethics saga come to an end on Friday?

Will Friday be the day the state Commission on Ethics ends its ongoing feud with state Rep. Erik Fresen?

The saga dates back to December 2012, when the commission determined that Fresen had failed to properly report his income and liabilities on his annual financial disclosure.

Fresen conceded there had been some mistakes and amended the forms.

But even after Fresen reached an agreement with ethics commission advocate Diane Guillemette in October, the commission wasn't ready to move on.

The commissioners were irked that Fresen had never paid a $1,500 ethics fine assessed to him in 2003. (The penalthy was the result of his not filing a financial disclosure while working as a legislative aide the year before.)

Fresen said he had no knowledge of the fine until 2012, when was no longer required to pay.

Ethics commissioners wanted Fresen to cut a check as a show of "good faith."

Fresen refused.

When he failed to pay by December, the commission rejected his stipulation with the chief advocate, and likened the situation to bank robbery.

Fresen's attorney J.C. Planas and Guillemette will return to the commission on Friday with a revised version of the agreement. The new agreement will note Fresen's refusal to pay the $1,500 fine, Planas said.

Planas stressed that the commission has no authority to collect the fine.

"There is nothing for them to do but accept the stipulation and move it on to the House," Planas said. "Hopefully, the executive director has informed the commissioners of the limited options before them."

The commission could, however, reject the stipulation for second time.

That move would likely prompt the Division of Administrative Hearings to get involved.

Democrats slam Rick Scott's handling of CONNECT

Compared to how Republicans reacted to the failings of the federal healthcare.gov website under Pres. Barack Obama’s administration, Florida Democrats have been relatively polite in their critiques of the state’s $63 million unemployment website, CONNECT.

That pretty much ended Thursday in a conference call with state political reporters in which Democratic leaders depicted Gov. Rick Scott as being out-of-touch with unemployed Floridians who have waited weeks to get claims delayed by ongoing problems with the website.

“This governor, he’s sitting there like a king, King Richard or something, and he’s not talking to the people,” said Florida House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale. “If these people were writing a $3,000 campaign check, I assure you that their needs would not be going unmet. But these are real people, real Floridians, hardworking Floridians, who want to work.”

Thurston, Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant and Rep. Lori Berman of Boynton Beach accused Scott of abdicating his role in fixing the system, hitting upon a theme of attack on worker issues such as minimum wage that they will continue to highlight during this year’s gubernatorial battle between Scott and Charlie Crist.

“Rick Scott has never suggested that the original website consultant (Deloitte Consulting) be fired, he has not announced the need for outside help,” said Tant. “He’s demanded no change. He’s taken no responsibility despite this endless fingerpointing at everyone else. It is very clear that Rick Scott’s only goal here is to point the finger and not fix the problem.”

Continue reading "Democrats slam Rick Scott's handling of CONNECT" »

Gallup: uninsured rate drops. But Obamacare’s role unclear.


The percentage of uninsured Americans fell by 1.2 percentage points since a major part of the Affordable Care Act kicked in, Gallup Poll reported Thursday in a survey that quickly became mired in the partisan debate over the law.

Liberals were quick to suggest a causal link between the poll numbers and the implementation of the individual mandate that requires people to buy insurance. Conservatives called it coincidence.

Which is it?

Gallup’s editor in chief, Frank Newport, said it isn’t clear.

“We cannot establish for sure that there’s a causation. We need to be very careful to say that,” Newport said.

“It certainly is a reasonable hypothesis that it’s related to the act. But we certainly can’t say that with certainty,” he said.

A look at Gallup’s graph, showing the spikes and valleys of insurance rates, shows why Newport is so cautious.

Though the uninsured rate in the 9,000-person survey now stands at 16.1 percent – a decline from 17.3 percent in December – the rate has been declining since a record high percentage of 18.6 percent that occurred in mid-2013.

And the current 16.1 percent is almost exactly the rate in January 2011: 16.2 percent. The lowest uninsured rate in the survey was 13.9 percent, in the third quarter of 2008. It precipitously rose from there (before President Obama took office).

“There are ups and downs. That’s why we’re cautious,” Newport said.

“It [the uninsured rate] is moving in the right direction from the ACA proponents’ perspective,” Newport said. “But we’re going to have to wait for months to see what the long-term impact is.”


Blogger of Florida Festivus-Pole fame targets Sen. Maria Sachs in election, rules complaints


Chaz Stevens, "Inventor, Pabst Blue Ribbon Festivus Pole" (as his letters and blog note), is targeting his home-county state Sen. Maria Sachs for allegedly failing to disclose her fundraising and election activity.

He just announced he filed complaints with the state Senate's Rules Committee and the Florida Elections Committee (attached below).

Sachs has been steadily under fire for appearing to not live in her district, but Stevens notes that it's Republicans who have gone after the Broward Democrat. He's self-described "left....a Progressive Liberal." And, Stevens said by email, "I’m trying to prove I’m more than just a pile of beer cans!"

Sachs better hope the Satanists don't join in.

Maria Sachs - Moving Forward - Elections

 Maria Sachs - Moving Forward - Rules