Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Florida DOC Secretary vows to correct serious problems in state prisons

Posted By on Wed, Aug 20, 2014 at 5:17 PM


A year ago, the Legislature and Governor Rick Scott authorized the privatization of health care services to the state's Department of Corrections. The state ended up choosing Corizon to provide such care, at a guaranteed seven percent reduction in savings from the state's in-house health providers. Corizon is the most powerful health care provider for state prisons in the nation, but they've also been accused of providing inadequate care in a number of instances. 

Earlier this summer CL wrote about the miserable medical treatment Tampa native Anthony Carvajal received in state prisons, and the latest news is that a New York City mother is suing Corizon. Corizon provides healthcare at Rikers, New York City's largest jail complex. The woman claims her 19-year-old son died in a cell there last year after being denied adequate medical treatment. 

But the poor treatment of prisoners in Florida prisons transcends their health care needs. In May, the Miami Herald's Julie K. Brown reported on how three former employees at the psychiatric unit at Dade Correctional Institution tormented and abused mentally ill inmates. 

In reaction to those series of stories, state Corrections Secretary Mike Crews announced system-wide reforms in four areas in state prisons this morning.

"Stories report we have fallen short in specific instances with regard to facility leadership, safety, security, training and services for mentally ill inmates," Crews said in a statement. "We’re fixing the problems that have been identified and as we identify new issues, we will fix those too. Our Department should be held to the highest standards, and I have zero tolerance for anything less."

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Rick Scott (sort of) discusses his talk with climate scientists

Posted By on Wed, Aug 20, 2014 at 12:49 PM

Rick Scott at the Brandon Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday with legislators (at right) Tom Lee, Ross Spano and Dan Raulerson
  • Rick Scott at the Brandon Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday with legislators (at right) Tom Lee, Ross Spano and Dan Raulerson

After meeting with climate scientists in his office in Tallahassee on Tuesday afternoon, Rick Scott was mum with the press immediately afterwards on what the half-hour encounter actually meant to him regarding his thoughts about climate change. The Governor has dismissed the idea that human beings have anything to do with the earth's rising temperatures, so the meeting was considered a breakthrough of sorts.

But since he didn't speak about it on Tuesday, Scott undoubtedly was aware that the issue would be the focus of a brief media availability at the Brandon Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday morning, following a news conference where he touted the $10.4 billion he intends to invest in operations, maintenance and existing roadway resurfacing and bridge maintenance projects.

"I had a very good meeting yesterday," Scott replied when asked by Fox 13's Craig Patrick if he now believes that climate change is caused by human activity. "I listened to their presentation. What I want to talk to you about is not causation so much, but solutions. I'm a solutions person. We've made big investments - we've increased our investments on beach nourishment by 45 percent over Charlie Crist. We've spent $350 million in flood mitigation. We've spent $100 million to protect our reefs. Charlie Crist didn't invest a dime. We have record funding for springs. I've also come out with my environmental policy that's talking about $500 million for new springs. We already have a record amount invested in springs. $500 million to focus on alternative water sources. We've got to continue to solve these problems."

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Activists want Jolly to consider bill to provide undocumented immigrants attorneys

Posted By on Wed, Aug 20, 2014 at 10:12 AM


One of the biggest domestic stories to take place this summer has been the tens of thousands of undocumented children coming across the southern border from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, many escaping from drug violence.

Concerned about the fact that many of these children are going before immigration judges without legal representation, House Democrats earlier this summer introduced the Vulnerable Immigrant Voice Act, which would provide attorneys to unaccompanied minors and mentally disabled individuals during immigration proceedings.

On Thursday two activist groups, Awake Pinellas and CIRNOW, intend to make their way to CD13 Congressman David Jolly's district office in St.Petersburg to present him with a petition signed by several hundred people calling on him to support the legislation, formally known as HR 4936. 

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Mitch Perry Report 8.20.14 The Ice Bucket Challenge — more than slacktivisim?

Posted By on Wed, Aug 20, 2014 at 8:53 AM


You'd have to have been on another planet these days not to have heard of the Ice Bucket Challenge, or should I say #icebucketbchallenge, which has become all the rage in late summer.

It seems like when you see one of your favorite celebs getting ice dumped on his head, the real message is getting a bit lost in translation. The challenge is pretty basic — either donate $100 to the nonprofit ALS Association, or pour water on your head and post a video of it on Facebook or Twitter, and then challenge three other folks to do so. And it's bringing funding and attention to the cause.

Yesterday the ALS Association announced that the challenge has brought in $22.9 million in donations compared to $1.9 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to August 19). These donations have come from existing donors and 453,210 new donors to The Association.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Report says 1 in 6 Tampa Bay residents seeks food assistance through food banks

Posted By on Tue, Aug 19, 2014 at 4:19 PM

Feeding America Tampa Bay is located a block south of Seventh Avenue on 50th Street in Tampa. - CHIP WEINER
  • Chip Weiner
  • Feeding America Tampa Bay is located a block south of Seventh Avenue on 50th Street in Tampa.

Feeding America Tampa Bay is the local affiliate of the nation's largest food bank network, Feeding America. Today the national group released what they are calling the most comprehensive examination of hunger in the U.S. It includes sobering statistics about what is happening on the local front in terms of the issue of hunger.

Here are just some statistics reflecting what's happening in the Tampa Bay area:

1 in 6 Tampa Bay residents seeks food assistance through FATB. The food bank serves more than 841,000 people and 282,000 households annually.

24 percent of FATB clients, or 200,000, are children.

19 percent of FATB clients, or 160,000, are senior citizens.

75 percent of FATB clients, or 631,000, choose between paying for food and utilities.

59 percent of FATB clients, or 496,000, eat expired food.

94 percent of FATB clients live in non-temporary housing — 23 percent have their own mortgage or own their home outright, and 71 percent lease or rent their home.

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New study says legalizing same-sex marriage would be an economic boon for the Sunshine State

Posted By on Tue, Aug 19, 2014 at 3:48 PM


While Pam Bondi wants to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to make the ultimate decision about whether the ban on same-sex marriage in Florida is unconstitutional, supporters are touting a new study released today from UCLA’s Williams Institute shows that Florida’s economy would get a massive economic boost from extending the freedom to marry to same-sex couples.

According to the report’s estimates, more than 24,000 same-sex couples would choose to marry over the next three years, bringing a potential $182.2 million to Florida’s economy, with nearly $117 million of that in the first year alone. And it predicts that up to 2,626 jobs would be created in the Sunshine State due to the increased spending for same-sex couples’ weddings and celebrations.

The authors of the study, E.G. Fitzgerald, Christy Mallory and M.V. Lee Badgett, say they are actually relying on conservative estimates to assess the economic impact of sex couples. "In other words, all assumptions are cautious and, given the range of possibilities, likely produce revenue impacts on the lower bound," they write in the summary of their study.

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Mark Nash goes negative on Pat Kemp a week before primary

Posted By on Tue, Aug 19, 2014 at 1:33 PM


Up until now the Democratic primary for Hillsborough County Commission's District 7 countywide seat between Pat Kemp and Mark Nash has been a relatively genteel affair. 

Not anymore.

Over the weekend, residents in Hillsborough County received a direct mail piece put out by the Nash campaign that accuses Kemp of failed leadership when she was chair of the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee during the 2010 election cycle — the period when Democrats were "shellacked," in Barack Obama's words.

"It's the harsh reality of what failed leadership looks like," Nash says.

The mailer lists a series of incidents that Nash says occurred during Kemp's reign as part chair, including closing down a local party office because of lackluster fundraising, and losing the respect of party officials. But it's the first bullet point on the flier that has her hopping mad — that she excluded blacks and Latinos from party leadership.

Kemp says the innuendo underlying that statement is that she's somehow racist. "I think that's very inflammatory, ugly to use, and dangerous stuff," she said on Tuesday. "For them to do that is really beyond the pale." She then read off a list to CL of prominent black and Latinos in the county who are backing her campaign.

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Mitch Perry Report 8.19.14: Here's to one foreign policy success

Posted By on Tue, Aug 19, 2014 at 8:41 AM


It was almost exactly a year ago (August 21, 2013) that the government of Bashar al-Assad was reported to have used poison gas to kill more than 1,400 Syrians, prompting a major crisis for President Obama, who had earlier declared that if Assad dared to use such chemical weapons, he would simply "have to go."

Tough words. And rather dumb ones, too, when you think about it. Because once the U.S. and the U.N. said unequivocally that Assad had crossed that "red line," Obama was doomed to do something. Anything. But the reality was he didn't want to attack Syria militarily, and neither did the American public. Yes, John McCain, Lindsey Graham and others said he looked weak by making such a bold statement and not backing it up, but there was little support, domestically or internationally, to do so.

But was the U.S. just going to allow a rogue state to flaunt international conventions? This all got resolved, if you recall, when none other than Vladimir Putin intervened a few weeks later and negotiated with Assad to give up his weapons to the international community as long as the U.S. didn't commit air strikes. 

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Monday, August 18, 2014

David Jolly working on bill that would require local law enforcement to be trained to use military equipment

Posted By on Mon, Aug 18, 2014 at 5:28 PM

The Rescue 2 Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) used by the TPD.
  • The Rescue 2 Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) used by the TPD.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon lifted a curfew in Ferguson today, hours after deploying the Missouri National Guard to try to tamp down the civic unrest that has lasted for over a week now in the aftermath of an unarmed black teenager being killed by a white police officer.

The tensions have persisted in Ferguson even after the governor turned to the State Highway Patrol last Thursday to oversee crowd control. That move came after the local police were heavily criticized for their heavy-handed tactics, including the use of tear gas, military-style vehicles, assault rifles and smoke bombs.

The use of such vehicles has led to a public discussion about police forces around the country having bulked up on military equipment provided by the federal government via the Department of Defense, particularly after 9/11. 

Today Pinellas County Congressman David Jolly told CL that he's working on legislation that would address some of the concerns recently expressed about the issue. He says the bill would make sure that local law enforcement agencies have the certifications required to operate it. Jolly says it's been in the works since long before the situation involving the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson occurred. "We're examining some type of program to make sure that local enforcement that receive surplus DOD equipment actually has personnel trained and licensed to operate it," he said.

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Tampa Bay Congressional delegation comes together to laud Tampa International Airport

Posted By on Mon, Aug 18, 2014 at 4:34 PM

Gus Bilirakis, Dennis Ross, Kathy Castor, Joe Lopano and David Jolly at today's press conference at TIA.
  • Gus Bilirakis, Dennis Ross, Kathy Castor, Joe Lopano and David Jolly at today's press conference at TIA.

It's rare when the four members of the House of Representatives from the Tampa Bay area meet for a local news conference, but when it comes to lavishing praise on one of the region's most prized assets —Tampa International Airport — it's apparently a no-brainer for all of them to show up.

The news hook was the formal introduction of Automated Passport Control (APC) kiosks at the airport. The self-service kiosks allow international travelers from 38 visa-waiver countries such as Australia, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom to submit their declaration and biographic electronically when they arrive at Customs at TIA. It's available only to U.S. and Canadian passport holders. Lawmakers welcomed the kiosks as a way to get passengers from overseas out of the airport and contributing to the local economy as quickly as possible.

"Every international traveler that comes to this area spends on average $4,500," said Tampa-area Congresswoman Kathy Castor. "Those are dollars that help create jobs, [and] help keep our travel and tourism area going."

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