« February 5, 2014 | Main | February 7, 2014 »

13 posts from February 6, 2014

February 06, 2014

Ashton Kutcher slams Miami for keeping out Uber


Actor Ashton Kutcher slammed Miami on national television this week  for snubbing the Uber car service.
Kutcher, an Uber investor, told late-night host Jimmy Kimmel Wednesday that the fast-growing company has been shut out of some cities, thanks to "bizarre, old antiquated" legislation. He compared the restrictions to tactics used by the "mafioso." Then he added: "In Miami, it doesn't exist because of some dumb regulation that says it can't." 
Kutcher's comments, as noted by  the305.com and Curbed Miami blogs, followed Miami-Dade commissioners shelving a rewrite of the limousine ordinance that would have allowed Uber to operate in the county. Uber matches passengers with private-car drivers using cellphone apps, and operates outside of the regulatory process that limits the number of taxis and limousine providers in Miami-Dade.

House proposal would grant independence, prescribing authority to highly trained nurses


The House is out with a sweeping proposal for expanding the scope of practice for highly trained nurses, allowing them to operate independently and prescribe controlled substances for the first time in state history.

The proposed committee bill, which will get its first hearing at Monday's meeting of the House Select Committee on Health Care Workforce Innovation, is already controversial. The powerful Florida Medical Association, representing doctors, says it will oppose the legislation.

The measure would allow highly trained nurses to apply for a license to practice independently after they have three years of experience working under a physician's supervision. Proponents say it will help address the state's doctor shortage and point out that Florida has some of the most restrictive scope of practice regulations in the nation.

But opponents who do not want certified registered nurse anesthetists, certified nurse midwives and certified nurse practioners to operate independently say patients will be safer and receive better care if a medical doctor with more extensive training and skills has the final authority. The House proposal would also allow highly trained nurses to sign death certificates and other paperwork that currently requires a physician's signature.

Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, said she will eventually file a companion bill in the Senate but is waiting to see how the House proposal is received. Grimsley said she envisions a more restrained bill that would allow nurse practioners to prescribe medicines and operate independently after five years of experience under a supervising physician.

Grimsley said she doesn't anticipate that her bill will address nurse anesthetists because the focus should be on addressing the state's shortage of primary care providers.

Matt Gaetz's cannabis bill is out and it's mellow

Rep. Matt Gaetz has filed his long-awaited bill to decriminalize specific strains of marijuana to be used for medical purposes.

The one-page bill, with the simple title "Cannabis" amends the state's illegal drug statutes to change the definition for marijuana, basically exempting strains of the plant that are low in tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the compound that produces the high, and high in cannabidiol, or CBD, the ingredient that is believed to help control seizures in children who suffer from epilepsy and other life-threatening diseases.

There's no requirement, however, that the marijuana be safe, certified, prescribed by a doctor, regulated or controlled. Maybe that's to come.

Gaetz, R-Shalimar, told the Herald/Times on Wednesday that after initial resistance from some conservatives in the House, he is now "confident the Legislature will deliver to the governor a medical marijuana bill.” More on that here. 

Here's the key part of the new HB 843:

The term does not include any plant  of the genus Cannabis that contains 0.5 percent or less of
tetrahydrocannabinol and more than 15 percent of cannabidiol; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of such plant; or any compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant or its seeds or resin.

State nixes UF student union as early voting site

Election supervisors and the League of Women Voters have a new complaint with Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature over early voting.

After years of complaints by supervisors who struggled with historically long lines at the polls in 2012, lawmakers last year expanded the list of early voting sites to include fairgronds, civic centers, courthouses, county commission buildings, stadiums, convention centers and government-owned community centers.

But when the city of Gainesville -- which is heavily Democratic -- asked if it could use the University of Florida student union for early voting in next month's municipal elections, the state said no.

"The Reitz Union is a structure designed for, and affiliated with, a specific educational institution," says an advisory opinion from Maria Matthews, director of the state Division of Elections, which is run by a Scott appointee, Secretary of State Ken Detzner. "The terms 'convention center' and 'government-owned community center' cannot be construed so broadly as to include the Reitz Union."

The opinion noted that the 2013 Legislature rejected an amendment that would have further expanded the definition of early voting sites to include "educational facilities."

"I'm very upset about this," said Polk County Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards, president of a statewide supervisors' group. "I just can't understand why they feel the need to be so restrictive about where people are allowed to vote ... This is strategic. They're worried about young people voting."

The union, named for former UF President J. Wayne Reitz, is used as a regular voting precinct in county, state and national elections. About 50,000 students attend UF, and the city said the request to use the Reitz Union for early voting came from a group of students.

With the UF student union now off limits, the city plans to use two early voting sites for the March 11 election, assistant city attorney Nicolle Shalley said. Each is more than five miles away.

Senate Ethics & Elections Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who sponsored SB 600, the 2013 law that expanded early voting sites, said: "No, no, we really did not specifically allow for them to be on campus." He noted that the law allows for the use of one "bonus" site in an area underserved by other sites, but Shalley said that provision did not apply to Gainesville.

Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters, called it "jaw dropping to consider that we wouldn't open up the student union, the student library and other buildings on campus to make it easier for our leaders of tomorrow to start their civic duty of voting. One can only be left with the impression that the Florida Legislature, Governor and Secretary of State would frankly prefer to discourage student participation."


Scott Arceneaux: Floridians just don't trust Scott


Scott Arceneaux, executive director of the Florida Democratic party, sent the following email to Democratic "insiders," completely disregarding that "Florida Insider" is a registered trademark of the Buzz:

Florida Insiders,

I'd like to share some thoughts with you about what I see as the biggest takeaways from the recent flurry of public polling - and what the results mean as Rick Scott staffs up his reelection apparatus and prepares for his fourth legislative session.

Florida's electorate is famously polarized.  A 2% win in Florida is considered a landslide, and most experts agree that the race for governor of Florida will be decided by less than that.  As voters start to pay more attention to the governor's race, I expect the race to tighten. But the same dynamics that have driven Rick Scott's unpopularity over the past three years show no signs of changing. In 2012, Rick Scott spend over a million dollars on television in an effort to change his image and it didn't work.  And Rick Scott spent all of 2013 traveling Florida, trying to drum up support, with staged ribbon cuttings and press events. It didn't work. The new year finds Governor Scott taking on the role of "Daddy Warbucks," spending January throwing around millions in tax payer dollars in an effort to show he actually does care about what the voters care about.  It's still not working.

Rick Scott has earned his lowest job approval in nearly a year - just 41% in the latest Quinnipiac poll. Over the past three years, Rick Scott's job approval in any Quinnipiac poll has never risen above 43%. That's not an accident - the public understands that he consistently puts big special interests ahead of the middle class. He's not looking out for them, and Floridians have noticed.  Rick Scott is not on the side of middle class Floridians, never has been, never will be.

On the issues that this election will be about, Floridians simply don't trust Rick Scott. Protecting the middle class - he's not trusted. Education - he's not trusted. Healthcare - he's not trusted. Raising the minimum wage? Rick Scott says the idea makes him "cringe," siding against the 73% of voters who support giving America a raise.

These misguided priorities are causing Scott to lose key demographics we all follow. Independent voters, he loses by fully 16 points. Women, he loses by 16 points. Hispanics, he loses by 26 points.

And Scott has work to do on his home front, too. After three years of nearly constant campaigning, the governor has still not consolidated his base, with 21% of Republicans not supporting him and 34% not approving of his job performance.

The bottom line: 54% of voters say that Rick Scott does not deserve to be reelected.

The fact is that after three years of photo-ops and ribbon cuttings Rick Scott is still seen as unworthy of the public's trust. That's something no amount of money can help him regain.


Scott Arceneaux

Ponzi schemer Rothstein's 'quid pro quo' claims put Charlie Crist in pr hurt locker


A convicted Ponzi schemer’s court claims that Charlie Crist engaged in a contributions-for-favors “quid pro quo” has come at a damaging time for the former governor who wants his old job back.

Crist’s campaign and defenders vociferously denied Scott Rothstein’s testimony Wednesday and Thursday as the desperate act of a fraudster seeking to shave time off a 50-year prison sentence for the $1.4 billion Ponzi scheme he masterminded.

But Rothstein’s veracity aside, the political damage is tolling on Crist, who’s also in the midst of a national book tour.

The allegations reverberated in the news media, highlighted past political scandals tied to former Crist donors and put the Democratic candidate on the defensive over making ethics a centerpiece of his campaign against Gov. Rick Scott, who once ran a hospital company socked with a mammoth $1.7 billion fraud fine.

Continue reading "Ponzi schemer Rothstein's 'quid pro quo' claims put Charlie Crist in pr hurt locker" »

Enterprise Florida launches national television ad that spotlights Gov. Rick Scott

Rick Scott EF adEnterprise Florida is ramping up its national campaign to promote Florida as "the perfect business climate" and includes a 30-second television ad to be broadcast nationwide that features, among others, Gov. Rick Scott.
The ad is part of a $1.25 million ad campaign that includes a new website and a glossy wrap-around cover ad that also features the governor. It is being attached to 1,000 copies of Fortune magazine.
Is the spotlight on the governor in an election year the convenience of incumbency or taxpayer-funded campaign promotion? It depends on who you ask. 
Enterprise Florida says $800,000 of the campaign is coming from donations from corporations -- and announced new donations Thursday of $50,000 from Gulf Power Corp. and $25,000 from Florida Great Northwest. The television ad will be purchased "adjacent to business and business news television programming in key markets such as Chicago, New York, Dallas, Atlanta and the Beltway," said spokeswoman Nancy Blum-Heintz.
"We are being particularly sensitive to the state’s campaign and ethics regulations so that the Governor’s brief appearance cannot be misconstrued,'' she said. "
The Fortune cover also carries a disclaimer: "It does not constitute an endorsement by Fortune and no endorsement is implied."
Florida Democrats, however, say the timing is no accident.

Continue reading "Enterprise Florida launches national television ad that spotlights Gov. Rick Scott" »

Margolis wants to ban campaign cash from gambling operators to lawmakers

Calling it the "Public Confidence in Gaming Act," Sen. Gwen Margolis on Wednesday filed legislation to prohibit gambling operators from contributing to legislators,the Cabinet, and the governor.

 “A sea of cash has been sloshing into the campaign coffers of members, state-wide officials, leadership funds, and issue-advocacy bank accounts,'' Margolis said in a statement. "This area has such potential for abuse we must take strong measures to assure public confidence.”

As former Senate president who has taken her share of campaign contributions from the gaming industry, the Miami Democrat is now in a position where she's fighting a battle to keep casinos away from Miami Beach.

Judging by the fact that it's 1) an election year, 2) it's the Florida Legislature and 3) the U.S. Supreme Court has frowned upon campaign restrictions, this bill is not likely to get far. Still, it sends a message -- and maybe provokes some debate.

Here's the press release:

Continue reading "Margolis wants to ban campaign cash from gambling operators to lawmakers" »

Scott, Cabinet will seek new highway safety chief

After four decades in state government, Julie Jones is retiring as executive director of the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

In an election year, Gov. Rick Scott and the three-member Cabinet will have to agree on a successor to run an agency that has extensive daily contact with everyday Floridians and a fair share of controversy. The issues have ranged from new document requirements for driver license renewals to a now-stalled redesign of the Florida license tag to the case of the state trooper who was fired and rehired for his handling of traffic stops involving legislators.

Jones, 56, will retire April 30 as a member of the DROP retirement program for state employees. She is paid $135,000 a year, and the agency has about 4,500 employees and an annual budget of more than $400 million.

She began her career with the old Game and Freshwater Fish Commission in 1983, rising to the rank of colonel and chief of its law enforcement division. Jones succeeded Electra Bustle as head of the highway safety agency in the fall of 2009 when Charlie Crist was governor and the Cabinet consisted of Republicans Charlie Bronson and Bill McCollum and Democrat Alex Sink.

"I didn't put in for this job," Jones recalled Thursday from Tampa at a Cabinet meeting with a tie-in to the state fair. "I was pleasantly surprised what a challenge it was and how great the people have been."   

Jones said she has floated the names of two possible successors to her bosses -- one inside the agency and one outside. She declined to identify them. It will be interesting to see how the field of candidates emerges because the vacancy is so close to a race for governor.

Bagman for convicted Sweetwater mayor sentenced to 1 year in federal prison


Lobbyist Jorge Forte was many things to Sweetwater Mayor Manuel Maroño: close friend, business partner, political ally — and bagman.

But in the end, Forte gave the feds a helping hand in nailing Maroño. So, the Miami-Dade lobbyist on Thursday received a one-year-sentence from a federal judge in Fort Lauderdale, much less than his one-time buddy.

In fact, federal prosecutors had recommended that Forte, 42, receive 1 1/2 years in prison for his “substantial assistance” in an FBI sting operation targeting Maroño and him.

Last month, Maroño, who, like Forte, pleaded guilty to a fraud conspiracy, was slapped with a 40-month prison sentence. U.S. District Judge William Zloch characterized their public corruption — pocketing thousands of dollars in bribes for supporting sham government grant deals — as a “cancer” in South Florida. Maroño, 42, must surrender to federal prison on March 31.

More here.