Pafford’s bid to make scrub jay the state bird facing a long flight

Florida scrub jay
Florida scrub jay

House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford’s bid to have the scrub jay designated as Florida’s official bird faces a long flight.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, is requiring that Pafford’s bill (HB 843) clear four committees on its way to the House floor — increasing the odds that it won’t survive the two-month legislative session.

The scrub jay bill is opposed by Marion Hammer, longtime lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, who managed to sidetrack similar efforts on behalf of the bird in 1999 and 2000.

“For me to get through every hoop, basically, it’s impossible,” said Pafford, of West Palm Beach.

While Pafford’s bill has drawn four committee assignments, by contrast proposed legislation (HB 865) that would outlaw most abortions in Florida has only been sent to three committees for hearings.

Another major lifestyle-changing measure that would put the state permanently on daylight savings time (HB 893) also has been directed to three committees.

“It does illustrate the issue of who gets their priorities met in this process,” Pafford said.

Hammer says she is a fan of the mockingbird, which was named Florida’s official bird by the 1927 Senate. She also worries that switching to the scrub jay would increase environmental efforts to protect the threatened bird’s habitat, mostly coastal and interior scrub across Central Florida.



Challenge fails to keep state oversight of children’s cardiac surgery brought to light in St. Mary’s case

Nneka Campbell, whose daughter died following treatment at St. Mary's, testified at a Health Department hearing.
Nneka Campbell, whose daughter died following treatment at St. Mary’s, testified at a Health Department hearing.


An effort to stop the Florida Department of Health from dropping what many called a key part of its oversight of children’s cardiac surgery has been dismissed by a state hearing officer.

Jon Moyle, attorney for four youngsters with heart ailments, said Thursday that in the wake of his challenge being dismissed, he and his clients are “reviewing the order and reviewing legal options.”

The largely procedural fight drew heightened attention in the wake of CNN reporting last summer that nine infants with congenital heart defects died since 2011 at the now-closed St. Mary’s Medical Center pediatric heart surgery unit in West Palm Beach.

Some doctors and other health professionals warn the state’s plan will effectively erase any requirements for care.

But in his ruling, administrative law judge John Van Laningham said the children — whose case was supported by several pediatric cardiologists — did not have legal “standing” to challenge the department’s action.

“If these petitioners have standing, then there would be no intellectually honest limiting principle by which to deny standing to the person who routinely gets his teeth cleaned and wants to challenge the rules regulating dental hygienists on the grounds that they are insufficiently stringent to ensure quality care; or to the man who needs regular haircuts when he challenges the rules regulating barbers for not doing enough to guarantee his safety,” Van Laningham wrote.
He also downplayed the claim by those seeking to stop the change that it could threaten patients’ health.
Van Laningham said predicting the outcome was “an inherently speculative enterprise.” He added that hospitals and caregivers would still have other professional and personal motives to safeguard patient care, not just concerns about government oversight.
“Such an imagined across-the-board loss of quality care is not reasonably foreseeable and cannot qualify as a real or immediate injury in fact for the purposes of standing,” he concluded.

The agency intends to repeal a more than 30-year-old rule that supports quality standards and allows doctor-led inspections at Florida hospitals performing heart surgery on the state’s tiniest patients.

Health officials have concluded that the department does not have authority under state law to set regulations governing the quality of pediatric cardiac facilities. They said the current system implies there are standards, which is misleading to the public and could be challenged legally.

The future of a doctor-led oversight team, the Cardiac Technical Advisory Panel, which played a role in the closure of the pediatric heart surgery unit at St. Mary’s, also would be clouded if the rule is erased, opponents have said.

Attorneys for the children argued that the state is abandoning its regulatory responsibility and opening the door to more surgery centers where more Florida children could be harmed.

They wrote that there is “no evidence…that (DOH) either intends, or is able, to satisfy its duty of ensuring quality of care for pediatric cardiac services following repeal of the quality assurance process set forth in the existing rule.”

Pedatric heart surgeries have been performed for years at eight hospitals that accept Children’s Medical Services patients and those with private insurance. CMS is the state program for lower income children with special needs.

But in recent years, more hospitals are looking to perform the delicate surgeries. While St. Mary’s was the first to try, beginning in 2011, since then two hospitals in the Orlando area have begun programs, with more potentially on the horizon.

The department is an agency under Gov. Rick Scott, who made much of his personal wealth as a hospital executive. As governor, he has touted the hundreds of agency rules and regulations that have been stripped from the books since he took office in 2011.

Scott’s budget and tax cuts continue to draw rough treatment in Senate

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville
Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville

Gov. Rick Scott’s budget and tax-cutting plans continued getting dinged up Thursday in the Senate — with a committee calling for more analysis of his bid to boost school spending by $507.3 million, mostly on the backs of property taxpayers.

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, chairs the Senate education appropriations committee. And he has already ridiculed Scott’s approach for pulling more than 80 percent of schools increase from property owners paying more because of  rising values across Florida.

In Florida’s education funding system, state dollars are combined with a property-tax levy — the required local effort — to produce dollars for the state’s 2.7 million school kids.

Scott’s schools increase includes $84 million more in state money and $427.3 million from property taxes. Gaetz says that’s out of balance, and he is among a number of legislators from both parties who see asking homeowners and businesses to pay more as equaling a tax hike.

Scott has said that because he has not boosted the tax rate, there is no tax hike.

While property owners may pay more next year, Scott’s $1 billion tax cut is directed chiefly at manufacturers and retailers.

“I think there’s a middle ground,” Gaetz said. “I personally would have a very, very difficult time voting for a property tax increase, while claiming that I am cutting taxes.”

Gaetz’s committee sampled several counties Thursday to show what Scott’s school plan will mean to taxpayers.

In Broward County, for example, rising values mean non-homesteaded owners of a home valued at $300,000 this year would pay $91.61 more in school taxes next year; $119.73 in Miami-Dade County. Data on Palm Beach County was not provided by the panel.

Gaetz told fellow senators Thursday that the committee’s analysis — and alternate proposals that were completed that rebalance the state-local mix — should spark more debate when lawmakers open the regular session in January.

“This gives you a framework in which to evaluate the issue,” Gaetz told the committee.


Jeb Bush: ‘This is the beginning of the campaign’

Jeb Bush talks to reporters today during his "Jeb Can Fix It" tour.
Jeb Bush talks to reporters today during his “Jeb Can Fix It” tour.

WINTER PARK — He spent months visiting Iowa and New Hampshire as an undeclared candidate and made an official announcement in June that he’s running for president.

But Jeb Bush told reporters it’s still early in the race as he kicked off a “Jeb Can Fix It Tour” in hopes of reviving his struggling campaign.

“This is the beginning of the campaign. Look at the past. Herman Cain was winning right now (in 2011). Hillary Clinton was up 25 points this time eight years ago against an unknown guy whose name now is President Barack Obama. So this is the start of our journey,” Bush told reporters after visiting a center that helps people with cerebral palsy and other motor deficiencies.

He visited the Conductive Learning Center of Orlando to highlight his experience helping people with disabilities while he was governor. Bush says that practical executive experience distinguishes him from political outsiders like Donald Trump and Ben Carson or someone who has only held legislative office like Sen. Marco Rubio.

“There’s big personalities on the stage,” said Bush. “But no one’s going to be lifted out of poverty, no one’s going to get a pay increase just by talking down our country. We need tangible solutions to these big challenges we face and I don’t think you can, as we did eight years ago almost, bet on someone that doesn’t have a proven record of accomplishment.”

Comparing the young, charismatic first-term Sen. Rubio to the Sen. Obama of eight years ago is a recurring theme for Bush. But when asked specifically if he’s “frustrated” that former protégé Rubio has surpassed him in the polls, Bush said: “I’m not frustrated about him. He’s a great guy, he’s a good friend, he’s a gifted politician. I just have the leadership skills to solve these problems. We have a little disagreement on that.”

Bush was introduced by U.S. Rep. John Mica, who alluded to Bush’s debate performance problems by saying the presidential race is “not a contest for the American Idol.”

Mica said he had to leave early to get to Washington for a congressional vote.

“Get on that plane….I just want to make sure you go back and vote because that’s what you were elected to do and you have a great attendance record,” said Bush, who has criticized Rubio for missing Senate votes while campaigning for president.

Is it time for Confederate general to go?

Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith's statue at U.S. Capitol could be on way out.
Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith’s statue at U.S. Capitol could be on way out.

Only weeks after the Florida Senate removed the Confederate flag from its official seal, the state House next week will begin work on what may be the Legislature’s next historical cleanup.

The Senate replaced the Confederate banner with a state flag through a simple rules change earlier this month.

But the bid to replace the statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall Collection will take legislative approval from both the Senate and the House.

The House Economic Development & Tourism Subcommittee is set Wednesday to review legislation (HB 141) by Rep. Jose Diaz, R-Miami, that would set in motion removal of the Smith from the hall, where it’s stood since 1922.

History shows Smith was born in St. Augustine, but  spent little time in Florida. He commanded the last army of the Confederate States to surrender — more than a month after General Robert E. Lee gave up in April 1865.

Smith’s companion in the Capitol hall is John Gorrie, a doctor and early pioneer of air-conditioning, which has proved so vital to Florida’s development.

Gorrie looks secure. But Diaz’s bill, and a similar proposal still awaiting a Senate hearing, would authorize a panel within the Florida Department of State to choose another Floridian from history to be commemorated with a statue in the Capitol.

Removal of the Smith statue has been proposed occasionally going back at least 20 years.

But like the Senate’s seal change, the proposal has gained momentum since last summer, when South Carolina officials removed the Confederate flag from that state’s Capitol following the massacre of nine black churchgoers in downtown Charlestown.


Corey Jones shooting: Patrick Murphy renews call for police body cameras

Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter.
Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter.

U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, says the Sunday shooting death of Corey Jones by a plainclothes Palm Beach Gardens police officer underscores the need for police to wear body cameras.


Corey Jones
Corey Jones

Murphy signed on in June as a cosponsor of a bill by Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, to authorize federal grants to local law enforcement agencies to buy or lease body cameras. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Delray Beach, is another of the bill’s 28 cosponsors.


Click here to read The Palm Beach Post’s ongoing coverage of the Corey Jones shooting.


Said a Murphy statement today: “While there is an ongoing investigation into the death of Corey Jones, it is an unfortunate reality that all the details of what happened that night will never be known.  That is why it is vital that law enforcement officers – including plainclothes officers – be equipped with body cameras so that when terrible tragedies like this happen, we have a real window into what occurred. Congress must act immediately to help local law enforcement agencies invest in body cameras that protect both officers and citizens involved in altercations. By doing this, we will improve public safety and better relations between police and the communities they serve.”

Hillary Clinton coming to North Palm Beach for Oct. 2 fundraiser

Hillary Clinton at a 2013 appearance at the University of Miami.
Hillary Clinton at a 2013 appearance at the University of Miami.

Democratic presidential front runner Hillary Clinton will visit the North Palm Beach home of prominent trial lawyer Fred Cunningham for an Oct. 2 fundraiser.

The event carries a $2,700-a-head price tag.

Cunningham is a former president of the Florida Justice Association who has raised money for several Democrats.

Fred Cunningham
Fred Cunningham

After the North Palm Beach event, Clinton is expected to go to previously announced fundraisers that day in Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

It’s unclear whether Clinton will appear at any public events while she’s in Florida.


During her last visit to the Sunshine State on July 31, Clinton slammed Jeb Bush in a speech to the National Urban League conference in Fort Lauderdale and called for lifting the U.S. embargo on Cuba in a speech at Florida International University in Miami.


Clinton did only closed-door money events when she visited Florida in May.





Congressman shot Wednesday had Palm Beach County connection

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La. (Associated Press photo)
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La. (Associated Press photo)

UPDATE: House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., was shot this morning as he practiced for a charity baseball game in Alexandria, Va. This story was initially published on Dec. 30, 2014. 

More on Scalise’s West Palm connection:

The uproar over House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., speaking to a David Duke-founded group in 2002 sprang from a 12-year-old post on Stormfront, a “white nationalist” website that’s run by West Palm Beach resident and former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard Don Black.

As a  liberal Louisiana politics blogger  noted Sunday, a Stormfront contributor named Alsace Hebert posted an account in May 2002 of a European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO) conference in the New Orleans area and mentioned that Scalise, at the time a state legislator, was one of the speakers.

EURO was founded by Duke, the former Klan leader and Louisiana legislator who is a friend of Black.

Scalise told the New Orleans Times-Picayune on Monday that he spoke to many groups in 2002 in opposition to a tax proposal.  He said he didn’t know EURO is a white nationalist group and wasn’t aware of its association with Duke.

“I didn’t know who all of these groups were and I detest any kind of hate group…Everyone knew who he (Duke) was. I would not go to any group he was a part of,” Scalise said.

Black weighed in on the Scalise matter Monday night on Stormfront.

“Nothing ever dies on the Internet!” Black wrote. “Now this obscure, old thread, by our long departed friend Alsace, makes the legacy news media (formerly called the mainstream news).”

Black continued: “I remember that conference well. Hard to believe it’s been over twelve years. I won’t comment on Scalise. But I will note the absolute hypocrisy of the anti-White establishment…Politicians grovel before African-American, Latino and Jewish groups, which openly promote their racial interests. But they are conditioned to run like scared rabbits at the very idea European-Americans have rights.”

Black told The Palm Beach Post in a 2013 interview that white nationalists are not white supremacists. He said supremacists favor segregation while nationalists are “separatists. … We hope to one day achieve our own country with our own borders with a government reflecting our interests.”