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8 posts from June 4, 2014

June 04, 2014

Citizen's inspector general opens investigation into ethics issues

Bruce MeeksCitizens Inspector General Bruce Meeks said Wednesday he has launched an investigation into the way the state-run insurer handles employees who leave the agency to go to work for companies that receive contracts.

Citizens CEO Barry Gilway and board chairman Chris Gardner asked Meeks on Monday to conduct an independent investigation in the wake of a report by the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times on the recent exodus of executives who have left the state-run insurance company to work for vendors. Meeks reports to the governor and Cabinet.

"Chairman Chris Garner and CEO Barry Gilway have requested that I conduct a review of issues related to Citizens’ post-employment policies and requirements,,'' Meeks told the Herald/Times.  "I have informed them of my agreement to undertake this charge, and am in the process of project preparation and planning."

State law prohibits employees who are responsible for a contract from leaving a state agency to work for a company that holds that contract. Citizens applies the law only to senior executives and members of the board of directors, and says there is no ethical breach when an employee with oversight of a company contract takes a job at that company but handles other matters.

The Herald/Times found that in recent years at least three senior executives at Citizens  who were in charge of multimillion-dollar contracts awarded to private companies went to work months later for those companies.

Dan Krassner, director of the non-profit government watchdog institute Integrity Florida, also on Monday called for Meeks to investigate the ethics practices at Citizens, but he also urged the inspector general to investigate whether the contracts cited in the Herald/Times story “provided the best deals for the public.”


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/06/02/4154141/inspector-general-is-asked-to.html#storylink=cpy

 

Amid $12 million TV ad blitz, Rick Scott now hits radio in first ad -- in Spanish

@MarcACaputo

What do you do when you've hit the $12 million mark for television ad buys by mid-June?

Go up on radio if you're Gov. Rick Scott.

And do it first in Spanish.

Starting Thursday, the Republican's re-election campaign plans to air a positive Spanish-language radio spot that revolves around Scott's promise to create jobs and Florida's improving economy

"What do we expect from our elected officials? That if they make a promise, they keep it. That they care about our future," the ad says. "Today there are 600,000 new jobs that businesses have created and unemployment is declining. Rick Scott promised not to raise taxes; Rick Scott has cut taxes 40 times."

The radio ad is another Spanish-language first for Scott. As with his earlier-than-ever Spanish-language TV ad announced in April, the radio spot shows he's reaching out to this crucial demographic. Unlike most places in the United States, 72 percent of the registered Republicans in Florida's most-populous county, Miami-Dade, are Hispanic (nearly all of Cuban descent). Scott's running mate, Carlos Lopez-Cantera, also hails from Miami.

Scott has so far run nine TV ads, two in Spanish. His chief Democratic rival, Charlie Crist, hasn't had the finances to match him and hasn't yet bought TV time.

Polls indicate the ads -- especially the negative ones targeting Crist -- have had an effect. SurveyUSA tracking polls paid for by WFLA-TV in Tampa indicated last week that the race shifted 7 percentage points in Scott's favor in about a month.

Scott now holds an inside-the-error margin lead of 42-40 percent over Crist compared to Crist's 46-41 percent lead in April. That is, Crist lost 6 points and Scott gained 1.

If there is a trend in Scott's favor or Crist's disfavor, it increases the chances that the Democrat will start advertising sometime this month. Crist backers also hope for help from outside groups, such as the Democratic Governor's Association.

Geographically speaking, the percentage breakdowns of Scott's ad buys have remained about the same: A plurality of the money is being spent in Tampa Bay (Crist's base) and Orlando's the second-largest market. Together they account for about half of Scott's TV spending.

% of buy Money Market
30% $3,621,126   Tampa
21% $2,544,254   Orlando
11% $1,340,481   West Palm
9% $1,090,857   Miami
9% $1,040,838   Ft. Myers
7% $878,840   Jacksonville
5% $661,678   Mobile
3% $410,807   Tallahassee
3% $350,025   Gainesville
2% $241,098   Panama City
  $12,180,004  

Here's the radio script in Spanish and English:

VOICE: ¿Que esperamos de nuestros oficiales electos? Que si hacen una promesa, que la cumplan. Que se preocupen por nuestro future. Que busquen la manera de crear oportunidades. Eso es lo que ha representado el Gobernador Rick Scott para nuestro estado. El prometió crear empleos. Hoy hay 600,000 nuevos trabajos que las empresas han creado y el desempleo va en descenso. Rick Scott prometió no aumentar impuestos. Rick Scott ha cortado impuestos 40 veces. Solamente en este año rebajó 500 millones de dólares en impuestos. Prometió crear más oportunidades, Rick Scott ha logrado que empresas se muden a la Florida para crear buenos puestos de trabajo. ¿Entonces, que esperamos de nuestros oficiales electos? Que cumplan, como Rick Scott. Rick Scott cumpliendo promesas, creando oportunidades.

VOICE TRANSLATED: What do we expect from our elected officials? That if they make a promise, they keep it. That they care about our future. That they seek ways to create opportunities. That is what Governor Rick Scott has meant for our state. He promised to create jobs. Today there are 600,000 new jobs that businesses have created and unemployment is declining. Rick Scott promised not to raise taxes; Rick Scott has cut taxes 40 times. This year alone he reduced taxes by $500 million. He promised to create more opportunities; Rick Scott has succeeded in getting companies to move to Florida to create good jobs. Then, what do we expect from our elected officials? That they do what the promise, like Rick Scott. Rick Scott, keeping promises, creating opportunities.

Redistricting trial comes to a close with much left unfinished

Florida’s precedent-setting redistricting trial came to a partial close Wednesday as lawyers wrapped up by agreeing to submit their closing arguments to the judge in writing in the next week.

It was an unconventional ending to a 13-day trial that lifted the veil on the once-a-decade process of redrawing political boundaries. The testimony showed that the process, touted by legislators as historically transparent, was rife with murkiness.

A map was filed under a fraudulent name and no one is investigating. Legislators testified they routinely deleted redistricting records. A legislative staffer admitted to giving a flash drive of maps to a GOP political operative two weeks before they became public. Phone records of a House speaker and his right hand man, sought for more than a year, were never produced. And legislative leaders acknowledged they met secretly with their staff and political operatives to discuss strategy.

Will the secrecy that clouded the process be enough for the court to force a rewrite of the 2012 congressional map approved by legislators and signed by the governor before the midterm elections?

Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis will now decide, and a ruling is expected by the end of the month. Story here.

Continue reading "Redistricting trial comes to a close with much left unfinished" »

With pot, school bond and a hot gov's race on ballot, Broward predicts high turnout in November

With medical marijuana and other hot issues or races on the ballot, Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes is predicting far higher turnout in November than in past non-presidential years.

Snipes predicts 60 percent turnout in November -- a figure that would be closer to presidential than non-presidential years based on the county’s turnout in the past decade.

The last time Broward hit anywhere close to that figure in a non-presidential year was 1994 when it had 62 percent turnout. In more recent non-presidential elections turnout has ranged from about 41 to 45 percent.

Snipes said in an interview that she reached her turnout prediction based on voters’ interest in ballot questions -- including pot and a school bond referendum -- and in the governor’s race.

While “there wasn’t much energy at all around the 2010 election” Snipes said the issues and races this time could generate more interest. 

“In elections you plan high as opposed to planning low,” to make sure the county has enough ballots, machines and staff, Snipes said in an interview.

Snipes included the 60 percent turnout figure in her budget request to the County Commission Tuesday. Her request for the November election is $2.5 million more than actual expenses for the November 2010 election based on increased staffing and printing. The Sun-Sentinel reported that the commission asked her to reduce her request based on lower turnout.

Broward bought extra machines that voters use to feed their completed ballots -- this time there will be two at every precinct, rather than the typical one per precinct in the past.

Asked about the turnout prediction, Broward Democratic chairman Mitch Ceasar said “I only wish it was true. I’d be overjoyed if we are able to crack the 50 percent level but it’s certainly going to be a very tough road to even reach that plateau.” Ceasar said he hopes Broward does better than it’s historical average but would anticipate that would mean a few percentage points above recent past elections.

Broward processed about 88,000 petitions to place medical marijuana on the ballot and certified about 65,000 as valid.

Despite administration denials, Ros-Lehtinen thinks Obama wants Cuba spy-swap

@MarcACaputo

After news broke about President Obama’s prisoner swap involving five Taliban Guantanamo Bay detainees, many wondered about the fate another person locked away in Cuba: Alan Gross, the U.S. government contractor believed by many to be railroaded on trumped-up spy charges.

But the administration says it’s not negotiating for Gross.

Yet U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican Cuban exile leader, just doesn’t think the administration is being honest.

“I seriously believe the administration is considering a swap,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “The administration has shown itself not to be faithful to the law and is not to be trusted.”

For instance, Ros-Lehtinen said, the administration two years ago briefed her and other members of Congress in a closed-door intelligence briefing on the proposed swap of the five Taliban for U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl, a likely deserter during his tour in Afghanistan

Ros-Lehtinen, House Speaker John Boehner and others objected to negotiating with terrorists

“They said: ‘we hear you loud and clear.’ And two years later what do we have?” she asked. “A prisoner swap.”

In between, Congress passed a bill that would require notification of any Gitmo prisoners 30 days in advance. Obama, in signing the law, issued a signing statement at the time to essentially give him wiggle-room to ignore that under unique circumstances.

Obama, as a candidate in 2007, criticized the prior administration’s use of signing statements, saying “I will not use signing statements to nullify or undermine congressional instructions as enacted into law.”

It’s double-talk like that, Ros-Lehtinen said, that makes it tough to trust Obama.

In disbelieving the administration, however, Ros-Lehtinen issued two press releases Monday that mischaracterized news reports concerning Gross, arrested in 2009 in Cuba with satellite phones and other banned communications equipment that, he said, was intended for the Jewish community on the island.

Ros-Lehtinen’s press release said that “news reports” indicated the administration “may be considering” a swap with Cuba: Gross in return for the three remaining “Cuban Five” espionage convicts imprisoned in the United States.

The problem with her statement: There were no “news reports” at the time that said Obama “may be considering” such an action. The reports at the time said Obama wasn’t making such a consideration.

Ros-Lehtinen’s Spanish-language press release was more off the mark. Instead of saying the administration “may be considering ("puede estar considerando") or “could be considering ("pudiera esta considerando”), the statement just flat-out says Obama “is considering” ("esta considerando").

Ros-Lehtinen acknowledged the error, but she said it doesn’t matter. She believes the administration is talking quietly with Cuba and isn’t telling the truth at home.

She pointed to a Tuesday back-and-forth between a reporter and State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, who was asked repeatedly about Gross. In a final question, a reporter asked whether “the administration is still opposed to any deal with the Cubans for Alan Gross that involves the three remaining Cuban Five?

Psaki: “Nothing has changed in that case, no.”

So, publicly, Obama and Ros-Lehtinen have the same position.

Ros-Lehtinen said Psaki’s prior “evasions” - before the reporter asked about "any deal with the Cubans -- suggested that something else was going on.

So who’s right?

“We’ll see in two years,” Ros-Lehtinen said, referencing the end of Obama’s term.

Ted Cruz to speak to Miami GOP. And, no, it's not a Marco Rubio double-cross

@MarcACaputo

Conservative fire-brand and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz will keynote the Miami-Dade GOP’s June 20th Lincoln Day Dinner fundraiser, leading some to wonder if he’s stepping on the toes and turf of local favorite son Marco Rubio.

Miami-Dade’s GOP chairman, Nelson Diaz, wants to put that rumor to rest.

“This was all about our calendar and who could make it. Marco couldn’t,” Diaz said. “Sen. Kelly Ayotte, from New Hampshire, couldn’t. [Louisiana Gov.] Bobby Jindal couldn’t make it. Neither could [New Mexico Gov.] Susana Martinez.”

On a personal level, Diaz is the very essence of a Rubio insider. They’ve known each other for decades and Diaz considers the U.S. senator “my mentor, my friend.” He would resign his party post before betraying Rubio.

Diaz said the fundraising event was chosen for June 20 to accommodate the schedules of Cruz as well as local Republican state legislators, for whom most of the money is raised. The spring lawmaking session interferes with the first half of the year and fundraising after July (due to school starting up and the primary season cooking) is a bad time.

That leaves June. And, after all was done and said with everyone else’s schedules, that left Cruz.

Does this mean Cruz -- son of a  Cuban exile -- is a last pick? Again, no, said Diaz.

“We’re excited about Ted Cruz,” Diaz said. “He’s a good conservative. He’s not wishy washy.”

Defying local regulations, UberX joins Lyft in offering rides in Miami

@PatriciaMazzei

What began as a civil campaign to change Miami-Dade County laws so passengers could hail car rides using their cellphones has, in the face of political opposition, evolved into an outright insurgency.

Ride-sharing service UberX plans to launch in the county Wednesday, joining Lyft, which began offering rides two weeks ago.

The cutthroat rivals will compete against each other while fighting on the same side against county government, which considers their business illegal. Regulators say they have already issued 11 fines to Lyft drivers.

Openly defying local laws amounts to a guerrilla blitz against Miami-Dade, though the dueling companies explain their strategy in much friendlier — and strikingly similar — terms.

“What we’re hearing more and more is an urging and an excitement to try to work to find a solution,” said Rachel Holt, a regional general manager for Uber.

Said Paige Thelen, a Lyft spokeswoman: “We’re committed to working with local leaders to pass new rules for this new, peer-to-peer industry.”

Uber lobbied county commissioners unsuccessfully last year to deregulate the car-service industry, which has long-established protections for limousine and — especially — taxicab operators. The San Francisco-based firm also tried to appeal to Florida lawmakers in Tallahassee, to no avail.

More here.

Florida sentencing system faulted in new Pew study

A nationwide study by Pew Charitable Trusts finds that Florida leads all states in so-called "max-outs," the number of prison inmates who serve their full sentences and are released to the community with no supervision or support. A high percentage of those inmates commit new crimes and are sent back behind bars at an enormous cost to taxpayers.

Pew's report spans a period of 1990 to 2012, so it dates to the years of a Democratic governor, Lawton Chiles. According to Pew's findings, max-out rates rose in 23 states during that period, and accounted for more than four of every 10 releases in nine states with Florida having the most.

Florida was followed by Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah. The fewest max-outs during that period were in Oregon, California, Arkansas, Wisconsin and New Hampshire.

As the study notes, Florida abolished parole in 1983 and imposed rigid sentencing guidelines, following passage of a 1995 law that required most inmates to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. (The bill's legislative champion was then-Republican Sen. Charlie Crist, now a leading Democratic candidate for governor). Since passage of the so-called STOP law, or Stop Turning Out Prisoners, max-outs in Florida have risen sharply, Pew found.

Pew recommends some period of supervised release for all offenders, and tailoring supervision conditions to risk and need.

In 1990, Florida released about 12,000 inmates, or 32 percent of offenders released that year, with no supervision, the Pew report states. By 2012, the max-out rate had risen to 64 percent, resulting in more than 21,000 inmates leaving prison that year with no monitoring. Many are non-violent inmates who committed drug crimes.

For the first time, the Legislature this spring passed a bill that requires the Department of Corrections to provide every Florida-born inmate with a copy of a birth certificate and a state-issued ID card upon release. The prison system also must help those inmates get Social Security cards.