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5 posts from May 5, 2014

May 05, 2014

Miami-Dade County Commission to decide if property appraiser question goes on ballot


Miami-Dade County commissioners are scheduled to vote Tuesday on a proposed ballot question that appeared on the verge of being scrapped entirely a few days ago after the board chairwoman made it clear that she dislikes the measure.

Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo said Monday that he still intends to seek commission approval for his proposal to ask voters in November to clarify the powers of the elected property appraiser.

His decision marked a change of heart from last week, when Bovo told Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa that he might withdraw the item from consideration altogether.

“She had some reservations, and I understand her concerns,” Bovo told the Miami Herald. “We considered withdrawing the item, deferring the item. But then over the weekend, thinking about it more — the time expended, the money expended — we thought, let’s just move it forward.

“If it gets voted down, then so be it.”

The ballot question, if approved Tuesday, would go to voters on the Nov. 4 election. It would ask if the appraiser should fall under county authority — essentially as an elected department head, as it is now — or be more independent under the Florida Constitution.

More here.

Charlie Crist stumps at Versailles, bashes Rick Scott over taxes and tries to deny flip-flops


Newly minted Democrat Charlie Crist campaigned like a Republican Monday when he visited Little Havana’s Versailles Restaurant and attacked Gov. Rick Scott over an issue commonly associated with GOP candidates: Taxes.

“Rick Scott is trying to boast that he increased education funding. Well, he did it by raising property taxes about $400 million,” Crist said.

What Crist didn’t mention: the tax rate didn't increase, but the tax base and taxable values did -- and property taxes used to pay for education rose under Crist as well. 

Crist’s new message – that Scott raised taxes – coincides with the governor’s statewide tour to tout his successful push to repeal auto-tag and title taxes that Crist signed into law in 2009, when the former governor broke a pledge to never raise taxes.

"When I took office, Florida was deep in the hole," Scott said in a statement issued by his campaign. "At a time when Floridians could least afford it, Charlie Crist raised taxes by $2.2 billion and let tuition climb year after year."

Scott didn’t mention that he once called for tuition increases and that his current lieutenant governor, Carlos Lopez-Cantera, voted for tuition and tax hikes that he’s now taking on. Also, Scott has kept the higher revenues in the budget for a longer period than Crist did.

Continue reading "Charlie Crist stumps at Versailles, bashes Rick Scott over taxes and tries to deny flip-flops" »

New DCF chief backs off attempts to shield information about child deaths

DCF redactedJust days after the Miami Herald reported that the Department of Children and Families had shut down the the flow of information about a string of child deaths under its watch, the agency's new secretary has released a memo that promises to share more information with the public.

Entitled "Vision for Transparency and Reporting of Child Deaths," the one-page memo released today by Interim Secretary Mike Carroll orders the DCF's assistant secretary Pete Digre to create a position within the Office of Child Welfare "to oversee reporting, data gathering and response to child deaths."

He said he expects the position to be filled within a month and once it is, "all child deahts will be reviewed by the department to quickly identify the salient issues that will help inform and shape local prevention strategies."

The memo also makes this claim: "These reviews must be documented in a way that can be shared with the public without violating confidentiality." 

In the final weeks of the legislative session, as lawmakers were completing an overhaul of the child welfare statutes to increase accountability, transparency and oversight at DCF, the agency attempted to remove a provision that would have reported on the web site whether the child was under 5 years of age at the time of his or her death. 

The amendment would have allowed the reporting of child deaths on the web site that included county, cause of death, date and any community care organizations involved but it would not have included the child's age. The amendment was ultimately pulled, and the requirement was passed as part of the bill, SB 1666, but it now appears that after Carroll's arrival last week, the agency wants to show a new face.  Download Transparency memo05052014

"Our goal is to increase awareness so communities across the state can identify where additional resoruces or efforts are needed ot assist struggling families,'' Carroll wrote in the memo to Digre and was also sent to DCF's regional managers and the media.

The Miami Herald last week documented how the agency had shifted its internal policies regarding release of information regarding child deaths in response to a Miami Herald investigation. After the Herald's Innocents Lost series was published in March, the Herald made a request for documents about new child deaths. The agency inadvertently sent some of the same documents it had previously released but this time the entire page was nearly black with redactions, making it impossible to determine the cause of death or any other significant information. Here's that story.

Still unknown is what Gov. Rick Scott will do with the child welfare overhaul when he receives the legislation, which passed the Legislature with unanimous votes from both chambers. As recently as Friday, when the Legislature adjourned, the governor refused to commit to signing it, or letting it become law without his signature. "I will review it,'' he told the Herald/Times. 

Scott starts 'victory tour'; Democrats call it 'phony'

As Gov. Rick Scott launched a week-long swing to promote the Legislature's tax and fee cuts and freeze on tuition, Democrats fired back, calling Scott's claims of victory "insulting" and "as phony as his misleading TV ads."

Scott shifted into campaign mode Monday with a planned stop in Jacksonville to be followed in the next few days by visits to Tampa, Orlando, Fort Myers, Miami, West Palm Beach, Panama City and Gainesville. That's every TV market in the state except for Pensacola, which is reliably red and pro-Scott, and where residents are still recovering from record rains last week and probably aren't in a celebratory mood.

"When I took office, Florida was deep in the hole," Scott said in a statement by his campaign. "At a time when Floridians could least afford it, Charlie Crist raised taxes by $2.2 billion and let tuition climb year after year."

Florida Democratic Party vice-chairs Justin Spiller and Annette Taddeo blasted Scott on a conference call, accusing him of protecting business interests, doing nothing to expand Floridians' access to health care through Medicaid and opposing equal pay for equal work for women.

Referring to Scott's "alleged victory tour," Spiller, a Jacksonville lawyer, said about 40,000 people with no insurance are veterans.

"Rick Scott should know better than to take this re-election campaign into Jacksonville where this city has thousands of veterans who aren't able to see a doctor," Spiller said. "For Rick Scott to go on a victory tour is just insulting to those who've been left behind."

Democrats did say Scott did the right thing in supporting in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants, but they called it "pandering" for Hispanic votes in an election year.

Joining Scott on the tour is Jackie Schutz, who over the weekend left her state-paid position as press secretary in the governor's office to be traveling campaign press secretary.

Q-Poll Florida: 88% back medical marijuana; 53% support outright legalization


Quinnipiac University has released a new poll concerning Floridians' attitudes about sports (they're against college players unionizing and getting paid).

Sports questions, however, are not on the ballot. Medical marijuana is. 

And more and more, polls like this indicate it will pass. The issue garners 88 percent support, up from 82 percent the last time Quinnipiac surveyed the question.

One nit with the poll: It doesn't ask the specific ballot language, which says: "Allows the medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating diseases as determined by a licensed Florida physician. Allows caregivers to assist patients’medical use of marijuana. The Department of Health shall register and regulate centers that produce and distribute marijuana for medical purposes and shall issue identification cards to patients and caregivers. Applies only to Florida law. Does not authorize violations of federal law or any non-medical use, possession or production of marijuana."

But opponents shouldn't be jumping for joy over the poll's wording. The ballot amendment language sounds far more strict than the polling question. And the issue in general is starting to poll off the charts (it's one reason Republicans in the Legislature approved a limited low-THC medical marijuana bill that Gov. Rick Scott unexpectedly said he'd sign). But then, the poll question also specifies that prescription pot would be for adults, whereas the proposed amendment is silent on the issue.

Here''s Quinnipiac's language:

Florida voters support 88 – 10 percent allowing adults to legally use marijuana for medical purposes, if a doctor prescribes it. Support is over 80 percent among all listed groups, including 84 – 13 percent among voters over 65 years old.

By a smaller 53 – 42 percent majority, voters support allowing adults to legally possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use. There are gender, age and partisan gaps:
• Men support so-called recreational marijuana 58 – 38 percent, while women are divided, with 48 percent in favor and 46 percent opposed;
• Voters 18 to 29 years old support recreational marijuana 72 – 24 percent, with voters 30 to 64 years old in favor by smaller margins and voters over 65 years old opposed 61 – 33 percent.
• Support is 59 – 34 percent among Democrats and 61 – 36 percent among independent
voters, with Republicans opposed 64 – 33 percent.
Only 45 percent of Florida voters admit they’ve tried marijuana. Among voters 50 to 64 years old, 62 percent admit smoking pot, more than any other group.
Marijuana is equally as dangerous as alcohol, 43 percent of voters say, while 39 percent say it is less dangerous and 12 percent say it is more dangerous.
Marijuana use does not lead to the use of other drugs, voters say 54 – 38 percent.
“If Vegas were giving odds on medical marijuana becoming legal in Florida, the bookies would be betting heavily,” said Brown. “With almost nine in 10 voters favoring legalization for medical purposes, and bills allowing such use advancing in the State Legislature, the odds seem pretty good Florida may join the states which already have done so.”
From April 23 – 28, Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,413 registered voters with a margin of error of +/- 2.6 percentage points.

Download Q-Poll