Monday, January 07, 2013

Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry.

"The grand jury’s conundrum"

Myriam Marquez: "The Dec. 19 grand jury report delivers one more warning about Florida’s broken elections system. Will the Legislature take it seriously this time?"

A similar warning and recommendations by another county grand jury after the 1997 Miami elections got a big yawn from Tally. Yet those elections resulted in more than 50 people convicted of absentee ballot fraud and a judge throwing out all absentee ballot results because they were so compromised, shaking up City Hall with a new mayor in the process.
"There may no longer be hanging chads to compromise the integrity of a Florida election, as happened in 2000, but lax state laws still allow all sorts of shenanigans — from ballot brokers [boleteros] who get paid by candidates’ campaigns to hunt for absentee ballots at assisted living facilities and other senior centers to opening up absentee ballot request lists only to candidates and certain political campaign committees."
“Many of our legislative recommendations are easy to implement as we are only asking that they reinstate laws that were previously on the books,” the grand jury report notes. One of those old laws required people who vote absentee to have a witness (with an address and signature) on the envelope returning the ballot. That would be one way to put so-called boleteros on notice.
"When the grand jury was empanelled by State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle the news reports about absentee ballot fraud were ripe for the picking, but as the group worked on recommendations it became clear that access was being denied, too, and the long lines were likely turning away voters."
GOP-controlled Tallahassee cut the number of days for early voting (particularly the Sunday before Election Day, the so-called “Souls to the Polls” effort that has been popular among black churches that help bus their congregants to voting sites). The state also limited the places early voting can occur, so that local elections supervisors couldn’t open up more sites in areas where they were most needed even when it became clear that the lines of voters were overwhelming.

“The grand jury was strongly inclined to recommend that the legislature reinstate the ‘for cause’ requirement that existed when absentee ballots initially became available,” the grand jury noted. “In light of the debacle that was the 2012 General Election, we are loathe to make such a recommendation.”

It used to be that voters could get an absentee ballot only if they would be out of town on Election Day or for health reasons. But once the legislature allowed absentee voting for any reason, it’s become wildly popular. Thus the grand jury’s conundrum:
“How much longer would the lines have been and how much more time would voters have had to wait in those lines if instead of using absentee ballots, Miami-Dade County’s 242,251 absentee ballot voters actually showed up at their precincts or early voting sites?”
"Miami-Dade grand jury spells out voting ...". Related: "Researcher: Long lines at polls caused 49,000 not to vote".

"Brutal political fight"

"The brutal political fight over mandatory sick time for workers in Orange County is about to move to Tallahassee, as two Central Florida lawmakers want to block locally driven efforts supporting the idea."

Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, and Rep. Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, say the proposed sick-time measures now being considered in Orange and Miami-Dade counties could put those counties at a competitive economic disadvantage. They argue that such policies should not be adopted patchwork-style across Florida.
"GOP state lawmakers aim to kill local sick-time measures".

Where's Rick?

"South Florida: 28 job postings per 1,000 unemployed".

"True education reform"

"One of Florida's most prominent Democratic political families has a new public face: Karen Castor Dentel, a public school teacher who promises to reach across the political aisle to accomplish what she says is one of the state's most pressing issues: true education reform." "Karen Castor Dentel: Democratic Scion with Eye on Education Reform".

"A thin line between freedom and tyranny" and wingnuttery

"Southerland was the only congressional member to attend Saturday’s Republican Party of Florida quarterly meeting at the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando, drawing applause by noting he was part of 'a thin line between freedom and tyranny.'" "Steve Southerland: Obama ‘Must be Stopped’".

"An unprincipled liar"

"The fiscal cliff negotiations are over for now, but while they were happening, there were lots of accusations and finger-pointing before Congress and President Barack Obama reached agreement."

Amid the home stretch, Florida's Sen. Marco Rubio — who voted no on the overall deal — took to Twitter. On the afternoon of Dec. 30, he tweeted: "Report that #GOP insisting on changes to Social Security as part of #fiscalcliff false. BTW those changes are supported by @barackobama."

The next day, liberal columnist Paul Krugman said Rubio lied about the negotiations, and that "numerous reports tell us that McConnell did in fact make precisely that demand," referring to the Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Here's what Rubio's pals at Politifact say: "Republicans did ask for changes to Social Security in the early rounds of negotiations, but then changed their minds. Obama has said he would accept the changes as a concession to get to a broader debt agreement. The changes were not included in the final fiscal cliff deal. We rate this claim Half True." "PolitiFact Florida: Rubio says Republicans didn't want Social Security changes in cliff deal".

Judge for yourself. Here's what Krugman said: "Instant Backstabbing" ("we already know that [Rubio's] an unprincipled liar").

More from the "values" crowd

"Faced with a judge’s order that it pay for a special treatment for autistic children covered by Medicaid, the state seeks to have the ruling overturned." "State appeals order to pay for special autism treatment". Although

Big plans

"St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster plans a big agenda as he touts his record in an election year. 'During very stressful economic times, things got done at a very high level. I have a record to run on.'" "Foster eyes political future".

Job creators outraged

"Minimum wage paychecks increase by 12 cents an hour".

Dead birds

"For the third straight year, wading bird breeding was down in the Everglades. Nesting numbers, considered an important measure of the health of the overall system, fell by 39 percent compared to average activity over the past decade, according to an annual survey compiled by the South Florida Water Management District." "Everglades bird nesting declines".

Charter falsifies records

"A Palm Beach County charter school got nearly $160,000 more in state education money than it was entitled to receive after overstating 2011-12 enrollment, a draft audit released last week by the school district’s inspector general claims." "Audit: School overstated enrollment, received $160K".

"The Justice Department should not stand down"

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "After a rash of bad publicity arising out of severely disabled children being put into nursing homes over parental objections, with some ending up dead, Florida's health care agency is changing the way it deals with families. Rather than leave it to parents of medically complex children to find their way through the state's bureaucracy, the Agency for Health Care Administration will assign each child an intermediary who will guide the parents through available options."

With so much negative attention, AHCA is promising change. Already, parents of about 200 Medicaid-eligible children in nursing homes should have received letters regarding the nurse care coordinator program, according to AHCA spokeswoman Michelle Dahnke. Follow-up phone calls by the coordinators are to begin next week. And soon the agency hopes to expand the program to all the state's families with medically complex children. If the coordinator acts as an advocate helping parents obtain appropriate levels of at-home and community-based services for their children, it should lead to real change benefiting families in need. But the Justice Department should not stand down. Federal oversight is still warranted to ensure that the state makes good on giving parents real choices for caregiving and provides the assistance they are entitled to by law.
"Health care help for families".