Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics

Jim Rosica

Jim Rosica covers state government from Tallahassee for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

Bar exam pass rate bumps up a bit

The pass rate for the summer Bar Exam has jumped a little more than 3 percent from last year, to 71.3 percent for this July from 68.2 percent last July, according to results out on Monday.

The Florida Board of Bar Examiners released the figures for the July 25-26 examination. The results are for first-time test takers only, of which there were 2,266; overall, 3,246 sat for the exam.

The latest first-timers pass rate is the first increase on the summer exam since 2012, when the pass rate ticked up a tenth of a percent to 80.2 percent from 80.1 percent in 2011.

But that means the latest passage rate is still down nearly nine percent from its 2012 high.

Like many state bar exams, Florida’s is given twice a year, in late February and late July. More law students traditionally take the exam in the summer, immediately after graduation and bar review. A smaller number, including those who fail the summer exam, take the bar in the winter.

The number of first-time Florida Bar takers who passed the winter exam this year plummeted to its lowest level in eight years: Of 751 first-time takers, 433 passed, or 57.7 percent.

Passage rates have been trending down nationwide in recent years. Law schools have lowered their admission standards to fill seats as the number of overall applicants has declined.

Here are the July 2017 passage rates broken down by individual Florida law schools:

  1. Florida International University College of Law — 87.8 percent
  2. University of Miami School of Law — 84.2 percent
  3. Florida State University College of Law — 83.9 percent
  4. University of Florida College of Law — 77 percent
  5. Stetson University College of Law — 76.8 percent
  6. Nova Southeastern University College of Law — 70.2 percent
  7. St. Thomas University College of Law — 63.6 percent
  8. Barry University School of Law — 58.9 percent
  9. Ave Maria School of Law — 51.3 percent
  10. Florida A&M University College of Law — 51.3 percent
  11. Florida Coastal School of Law — 47.7 percent

Of test takers who went to law school outside Florida, 64.2 percent passed and lawyers from other states who also want to be licensed in Florida passed by 77.4 percent.

Statistics for previous exams are here.

State suspends certain regulations hindering response to Irma

Gov. Rick Scott—who’s no fan of government regulations—wants to make it easier for Floridians to rebuild their lives after Hurricane Irma.

On Friday night, Scott said he had directed the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation(DBPR) “to suspend certain regulations and fees that may prevent, hinder or delay necessary response and recovery efforts.”

“Right now, families across the state are beginning the challenging process of repairing and rebuilding their homes and businesses after the impact of this massive storm,” said Scott, a Naples Republican.

“It is incredibly important that we do all we can to make it easier for these families to quickly and safely recover, which is why I have directed DBPR to take immediate action to suspend certain regulations that would hinder or delay recovery efforts,” he added. “We will continue to work closely with our communities across the state to make sure they have all they need to help Florida fully rebuild and recover from Hurricane Irma.”

Added DBPR Secretary Jonathan Zachem: “Many Floridians have been adversely impacted by Hurricane Irma. Under Gov. Scott’s leadership, the department is working to suspend burdensome regulations and provide the resources needed during this difficult time to help quickly repair and rebuild.”

Democrats batter Rick Scott over nursing home tragedy

Democratic candidates for governor are hitting Gov. Rick Scott and others hard in the wake of eight deaths in a South Florida nursing home that lost its air conditioning as Hurricane Irma hit the state.

But Scott’s office defended the governor’s actions, saying the facility never reported “that conditions had become dangerous.”

A criminal investigation by Broward County law enforcement in underway into the deaths at Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, including whether they were heat-related or from carbon monoxide poisoning from generators.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum called for an independent investigation, slamming Scott for giving out “a special priority phone line – then fail(ing) to act when they received distress calls.”

“I am calling for a full independent investigation into this matter,” Gillum said in a statement. “The investigators must have full access to all public records and transcripts of communications, meetings, and conference calls between the Governor, his Office, and healthcare facilities in preparing for Hurricane Irma.

“In Tallahassee, we learned after Hurricane Hermine that communication is vital between first responders, government, and our most vulnerable populations,” Gillum added. “This year we took the proper steps of assigning utility workers as direct points of contact with nursing homes and other urgent care facilities, and we prioritized their power restoration during Irma.”

Former Tallahassee Congresswoman Gwen Graham also issued a statement that she had filed a public records request “for all call logs, text messages, and voicemails to a private emergency phone number Rick Scott distributed to healthcare providers.”

Scott, a Naples Republican, was formerly head of a for-profit hospital chain.

“There must be an immediate, independent investigation into reports Gov. Scott distributed a private line to healthcare providers and then ignored pleas for help,” Graham said. “It is 100 percent the governor’s responsibility to do everything in his power protect every Floridian.”

But Scott spokesman John Tupps said in an email “every call made to the Governor from facility management was referred to the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Florida Department of Health and quickly returned.”

“At no time did the facility report that conditions had become dangerous or that the health and safety of their patients was at risk,” he said. “In fact, on Monday, Department of Health staff advised this facility to call 911 if they had any reason to believe that their patients were not safe.”

The office also provided background material that the Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills “reported into the state’s facility status monitoring database 17 times since Thursday, Sept. 7. Throughout the course of these reports, the facility never requested any assistance or reported the need for evacuations.”

Until 1:30 p.m. this Tuesday, “the facility reported that they had full power, that heating, cooling systems and generator systems were operational and they had adequate fuel.”

By 5 p.m. that same day, “the facility reported that they had partial power, but that their heating and cooling systems and generator were operational. They did not request anything beyond help with FPL,” referring to Florida Power & Light.

Then on 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, “the facility (again) reported that they had partial power, the generator was operational and they had adequate fuel supply. At that time, they reported their heating and cooling systems were not operational.”

A joint statement from the Department of Health and Agency for Health Care Administration Friday evening added that it is “100 percent the responsibility of health care professionals to preserve life by acting in the best interest of the health and well-being of their patients.”

“Let’s be clear—this facility is located across the street from one of Florida’s largest hospitals, which never lost power and had fully operating facilities,” the statement said. “The tragic and senseless loss at Hollywood Hills Rehabilitation Center is the subject of a criminal homicide investigation by law enforcement.”

In an interview with FloridaPolitics.com earlier Friday, Winter Park businessman Chris King lashed out over what he described as longtime state neglect of senior housing concerns.

“The Broward tragedy I think is another example exposing what I hope I’m getting across throughout the state, which is for a very long time there’s been very little leadership on housing and on aging issues,” King said.

“My concern is less on what happened in Broward and more the decision making that created that environment, and why we’re still not out of the woods in the larger issues of housing and aging, and why the state is in an absolute crisis,” he added.

Scott is term-limited as governor next year but is said to be considering a run for U.S. Senate against incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

First legislation filed after nursing home deaths

A South Florida senator has filed the first bill in response to the deaths of eight nursing home residents this week after Hurricane Irma knocked out their air conditioning.

Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat, filed the measure (SB 284) on Friday afternoon.

Among other things, it would require the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) “to determine compliance with standards for electricity and emergency power sources during the routine inspection of a licensed nursing home facility.”

Hollywood Police Chief Tom Sanchez has said investigators believe the deaths at Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills were heat-related, adding that a criminal investigation is underway, according to the Associated Press. The chief said authorities have not ruled anything out in the deaths, including carbon monoxide poisoning from generators.

Book’s bill also would require “a licensed nursing home facility to have adequate electrical equipment, an emergency power source, and a supply of fuel.” Book, elected last year, is also the Senate’s Democratic Leader pro tempore.

“The loss of eight lives at Hollywood Hills was completely preventable, and that is what is so heartbreaking about this situation,” Book said Friday night in a statement. “One of the residents who perished (was) 99 years old – but because of air conditioning failure and human negligence in the days following a storm, this very special life was lost.

“We can prevent these things – which never should have happened in the first place – from happening again, and we must, for the sake of our senior citizens and their families,” she added.

Earlier this week, Gov. Rick Scott directed AHCA to block the Hollywood facility from receiving Medicaid payments.

It “was responsible to provide patients a safe environment and they failed to do so,” Scott’s office said in a statement. “The state has had multiple points of contact with this facility prior to the tragedy, and at no time did the facility communicate any imminent threats to their patients’ life or safety.”

The Florida Health Care Association, an advocacy group for long term care providers, Thursday called the Broward County deaths an “isolated incident” and “not representative of the larger long term care profession in Florida.”

But Senate President pro tempore Anitere Flores, a Miami-Dade Republican, told reporters in Tallahassee Friday that she expects criminal charges to be filed.

“I think someone, more than someone, is going to go to jail over this,” said Flores, speaking after a Legislative Budget Commission meeting.

State officials said later Friday they were calling facilities and personally conducting “wellness checks” in homes that couldn’t be reached by phone.

“Hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities in Florida are required to have emergency operation plans,” the Department of Health said in a news release. “Requirements vary by facility type, but are all based in statute and rule.” A complete list is here.

As of Friday afternoon, 34 nursing homes were on generator power, 669 had electricity restored, 10 reported being closed and 40 reported post-storm evacuations, the department and AHCA said.

Of assisted living facilities, 193 were on generators, 1,978 had power, 182 reported being closed and 177 reported post-storm evacuations.

State surplus money ‘gone’ because of Irma

The Legislature’s chief economist has told lawmakers that next year’s relatively tiny budget surplus will be erased because of costs from Hurricane Irma.

Amy Baker, director of the Office of Economic and Demographic Research, presented a working version of the state’s long-range financial outlook to the Joint Legislative Budget Commission on Friday.

She explained that extra costs to the state from last year’s hurricanes, Hermine and Matthew, cost $76.2 million, meaning a projected $52 million surplus for fiscal year 2018-19 is “gone.”

Not that that was much to begin with for a state budget that’s roughly $83 billion.

When state Rep. Bill Hager, a Delray Beach Republican, asked Baker for a 1-sentence summary on Irma’s effect on Florida’s finances, she answered: “It’s going to make fiscal year 2018-19, which was bearable, much worse.”

But state Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican slated to become Senate President in 2018-20, said the current outlook was “not based on present day affairs … and based on dubious assumptions.”

“It’s not a surprise where we are going in terms of deficits,” he later told reporters. “But there’s a lot more digging (to be done) to have an accurate number.”

In other highlights, Baker said:

— The state’s overall economy has returned to normal, with the “caveat” that construction is lagging behind. Tourism, however, is growing, with 119 million visitors last year. That’s good, because the financial outlook depends on 4.5 percent growth per year in tourism, which rebounds quickly from “adverse” events like hurricanes.

— The state’s gambling settlement with the Seminole Tribe over blackjack also allowed $550 million to be released into state coffers for next fiscal year, which runs July 1-June 30.

— Moreover, “our state reserves are strong,” mentioning $3.6 billion in safekeeping. But of that, only $1.46 billion is available to gird the books.

— PreK-12 education funding is a “significant” problem in part because of growing student enrollment, making that cost “right behind” Medicaid.

— Hurricane Irma is what economic forecasters call a “black swan”—something that has a low probability of happening, but if it does, it has great financial impact. And state programs that provide relief, or are otherwise related to emergency response, will affect revenue estimates.

— Lawmakers can do a easy fix of sweeping some trust fund money into general revenue, but some funds can’t be swept for legal reasons. Ultimately, legislators will need to address the “structural imbalance” in revenue and expenses in future years.

Galvano was asked if the state’s money troubles will affect Gov. Rick Scott‘s and the Republican-controlled Legislature’s continued appetite for tax cuts.

“What was built in (this year) was $90 million,” he said. “I think you can’t just assume you can hit that number or a different number just because we’ve done it in the past … That issue needs to be examined as well.”

Flags at half-staff for law enforcement deaths before Irma

Gov. Rick Scott has ordered flags at half-staff to honor Hardee County Sheriff’s Deputy Julie Ann Bridges and Florida Department of Corrections Sgt. Joseph Ossman.

The two were killed Sunday in a two-car head-on collision. Bridges was on her way home after helping at a local hurricane shelter, reports said. Ossman was headed to work at a state prison.

The AP reported that officials said the area was affected by wind and rain from Hurricane Irma when the crash happened, but the official cause was under investigation.

Scott directed the U.S. and state flags to be flown at half-staff at the Hardee County Sheriff’s Office, the Hardee Correctional Institution in Bowling Green, the Florida Department of Corrections headquarters in Tallahassee, the Hardee County Courthouse, and Wauchula City Hall from sunrise to sunset this Saturday.

“I am heartbroken to learn of the loss of these two individuals,” Scott said in a statement.

“Our law enforcement and correctional officers work every day to keep Floridians safe. It is because of their work we are able to live in a state where people can raise their families safely. My heart goes out to their families and the entire law enforcement and correctional officer community.”

Rick Scott takes action against nursing home where eight died

After eight South Florida nursing home residents died when Hurricane Irma knocked out their power, Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday directed the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) to block the facility from receiving Medicaid payments.

Hollywood Police Chief Tom Sanchez said investigators believe the deaths at Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills were heat-related, adding that a criminal investigation is underway.

The chief said authorities have not ruled anything out in the deaths, including carbon monoxide poisoning from generators.

“This facility was responsible to provide their patients a safe environment and they failed to do so,” Scott’s office said in a statement. “The state has had multiple points of contact with this facility prior to the tragedy, and at no time did the facility communicate any imminent threats to their patients’ life or safety.”

The home “is currently undergoing a criminal investigation from the local authorities, and open investigations from both AHCA and DCF (Department of Children and Families).  It is clear that this facility cannot be responsible for Florida’s vulnerable patients, and therefore the state will stop them from providing care.”

All of the center’s patients and residents have been evacuated, the release said.

The Associated Press contributed to this post, republished with permission. 

Rick Scott: SD 40 election will be held as planned

Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday rejected a request from Florida Democratic Party chair Stephen Bittel, asking the governor to postpone the Sept. 26 special election for Senate District 40.

Scott’s position suggests he may not heed a similar request from a coalition of progressive groups that asked him “to postpone municipal and statehouse elections scheduled in the coming weeks due to the devastating impact of Hurricane Irma.”

Common Cause Florida, State Voices Florida, the League of Women Voters of Florida and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law sent a separate letter to Scott on Thursday.

Bittel wrote to Scott on Wednesday, noting Irma’s devastation of South Florida.

“Our community is focused on rebuilding and recovery, not voting,” he wrote. “I urge you to delay the SD 40 Sept. 26 special general election, for a period of two weeks, until Oct. 11, when our community has had the necessary time to heal.”

Scott’s spokesman said the governor would not change the date.

“We rely on the independent supervisors of elections to guide decision-making on elections in their counties,” Deputy Communications Director McKinley Lewis said in an email.

Miami-Dade “Supervisor of Elections Christina White has requested to move forward with this election, and we will accept her guidance,” he added. 

White had separately written to state Division of Elections director Maria Matthews this week, saying “all three early voting sites are fine and have power.” 

We are assessing Election Day polling places. No major damage to our knowledge. And it’s helpful to know that power will be restored countywide by Sunday and schools open Monday,” White told Matthews. “I do not have any information that would prevent us from moving forward as planned.”

Democrat Annette Taddeo is running against Republican Jose Felix Diaz and independent Christian “He-Man” Schlaerth for the seat, vacated by former GOP Sen. Frank Artiles.

Seniors group calls on feds to investigate nursing home deaths

The group that calls itself the conservative alternative to AARP is calling on the federal government to investigate the deaths of eight South Florida nursing home residents who died after Hurricane Irma knocked out their power.

Dan Weber, founder and CEO of the Association of Mature American Citizens, sent a letter to Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long asking the agency “to offer any and all assistance in the (state) investigations and, if necessary, conduct an investigation of its own,” according to a Thursday press release.

Weber

“We strongly urge that an official federal inquiry be launched to investigate why senior citizens are dying and at risk in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma,” Weber wrote. “We urge FEMA to assist in state’s investigations in every way possible.

“… (W)e must make sure that the safety of our most vulnerable citizens remain a top priority. We know you share these concerns, and we urge you to act to make sure they are promptly and fully addressed,” he added.

“It is unconscionable that in the 21st century and in Florida—a state where one in five people are 65 and older—America’s seniors are still apparently not given priority after natural disasters, especially in the wake of one as significant and highly-anticipated as Hurricane Irma. This appears to have been an entirely avoidable tragedy.”

The eight deaths happened at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, which shocked Florida’s top leaders even as they surveyed destruction from a storm that spread its punishing effects across the entire state.

Hollywood Police Chief Tom Sanchez said investigators believe the deaths were heat-related, adding that a criminal investigation is underway. The chief said authorities have not ruled anything out in the deaths, including carbon monoxide poisoning from generators.

Gov. Rick Scott announced in a news release Wednesday night that he’s directed the Agency for Health Care Administration to issue an emergency moratorium for the facility, preventing it from admitting new patients indefinitely.

Firefighters also helped relocate 122 people late Wednesday from two assisted living centers near Orlando that had been without power since Hurricane Irma.

In Coral Gables, an apartment building was evacuated after authorities said its lack of power made it unsafe for elderly tenants. And at the 15,000-resident Century Village retirement community in Pembroke Pines, where there were also widespread outages, rescue workers went door to door in the 94-degree heat checking on residents and bringing ice, water and meals.

Weber’s group bills itself as “the largest conservative due-paying member association in the United States with a membership of over one million seniors.” Weber founded the organization in 2007 as an alternative to AARP, formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons.

The Associated Press contributed to this post, reprinted with permission. 

55 feet high and rising? I-75 bridge could be in trouble

Rain from Hurricane Irma has engorged the Santa Fe River, imperiling an Interstate 75 bridge that traverses the waterway, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) said.

The bridge is at mile marker 408 on the northern edge of Alachua County.

The river “is expected to crest at historic and unprecedented levels, presenting a potential threat to the safety of travel on this bridge,” the department warned in a press release.

The river level was last reported at 55 feet, below the danger zone. “However, if the river were to rise to an unsafe level, the bridge would become impassable both northbound and southbound, and would be closed immediately.”

In that case, traffic would be diverted to U.S. 19, U.S. 301 and Interstate 95. “Any Floridian planning on traveling to Central or Southern Florida should consider traveling southbound on I-95,” the release said.

As always, use www.FL511.com to get up-to-date information on this and other road closures.

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