Headlines – Page 2 – Florida Politics

Deadline looms for managed-care protests

Managed care organizations that want to challenge the award of upward of $90 billion in Medicaid contracts to nine health plans across the state have until late Friday afternoon to launch protests.

Organizations that don’t agree with the state Agency for Health Care Administration’s contracting decisions, announced Tuesday, must file what is called a notice of intent to protest within 72 hours of the agency posting its decision.

That gives the managed care plans until 4:15 p.m. Friday to file notices with the state.

Any managed care plan that files a notice of intent to protest must also post a bond in an amount equal to 1 percent of the estimated contract amount, which the state must provide within 72 hours of the filing of notice of intent to protest.

Medicaid Director Beth Kidder previously said the five-year contracts could be worth upward of $90 billion in the aggregate. The managed-care plans that receive the contracts will provide health care to nearly 4 million poor, elderly and disabled residents.

If the agency’s decisions stand, Sunshine Health Plan, Humana, and Florida Community Care will operate in all 11 regions of the state.

Also statewide, Sunshine Health and Simply Healthcare Plans will offer specialty managed-care plans catered to people in the “child welfare” system and people living with HIV and AIDS, respectively.

WellCare of Florida, which operates as Staywell Health Plan of Florida, also will offer a specialty plan statewide for people with serious mental illnesses.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

State requests more time in felons’ rights battle

Just hours before Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet were scheduled to meet late Wednesday, attorneys for the state filed an emergency motion with a federal appeals court to try to delay a deadline for revamping the process of restoring felons’ voting rights.

The motion, filed Wednesday in the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, also raised the possibility that the state could take the dispute to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 11th-hour maneuvering came as Scott and Cabinet members, who act as the state Board of Executive Clemency, prepared to meet by phone at 9:30 p.m. to address an order by U.S. District Judge Mark Walker that they overhaul the vote-restoration process by Thursday.

Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office on April 6 asked the appeals court for a stay of Walker’s order. But as of 5 p.m. Wednesday, the appeals court had not issued a ruling on that stay request.

With time dwindling, Bondi’s office filed an emergency motion seeking a “temporary and limited stay of the part of the district court’s order requiring appellants (Scott and the Cabinet) to ‘promulgate’ and ‘file’ new rules of executive clemency by April 26, 2018” while the April 6 stay request remains pending.

Also, the emergency motion asked for 10 additional days to allow the state to go to the U.S. Supreme Court if the appeals court denies the stay.

“This (appeals court) should have a fair chance to assess the stay-related arguments submitted by the parties, and appellants should have a fair chance to seek relief from this court and the Supreme Court before promulgating new rules of executive clemency,” the emergency motion said. “Absent a temporary and limited stay of the April 26 deadline, the Board (of Executive Clemency) will be required to act within the next day — before this court or the Supreme Court has had an opportunity to decide whether that part of the injunction should be stayed pending appeal.”

The appeals court did not immediately rule on the emergency motion, which was opposed by attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case, the state filing said.

The arguments at the appeals court came after Walker, in a series of harshly worded rulings, found the state’s vote-restoration process violated First Amendment rights and equal-protection rights of felons. Last month, he gave Scott and the board until Thursday to overhaul what the judge called a “fatally flawed” process and rejected a request by Bondi to put his order on hold.

Scott and the board immediately appealed Walker’s decision and asked the appellate court to put a stay on what the governor’s office branded a “haphazard clemency ruling.”

Scott’s highly unusual move Tuesday night to set a clemency meeting for 9:30 p.m. Wednesday was designed to comply with a Florida law requiring a 24-hour notice for clemency board meetings. Details about what the board might consider as a replacement for the current system had not been made available by Scott’s office.

The board members planned to meet by telephone, but the public “will have an opportunity to provide input at the beginning of the meeting” in the Cabinet room in the Capitol, according to an email from Scott’s office.

The restoration of felons’ rights has long been a controversial legal and political issue in Florida, with critics of the state’s process comparing it to post-Civil War Jim Crow policies designed to keep blacks from casting ballots.

Florida, with about 1.6 million felons, is considered an outlier in a nation where more than three dozen other states automatically restore the right to vote for most felons who have completed their sentences.

After taking office in 2011, Scott and Bondi played key roles in changing the process to effectively make it harder for felons to get their rights restored.

Under the current process, felons must wait five or seven years after their sentences are complete to apply to have rights restored. After applications are filed, the process can take years to complete.

Since the changes went into effect in 2011, Scott — whose support is required for any type of clemency to be granted — and the board have restored the rights of 3,005 of the more than 30,000 convicted felons who’ve applied, according to the Florida Commission on Offender Review. There’s currently a backlog of 10,085 pending applications, according to the commission.

In contrast, more than 155,000 ex-felons had their right to vote automatically restored during the four years of former Gov. Charlie Crist’s tenure, according to court documents in the lawsuit filed by the Fair Elections Legal Network and the law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC on behalf of nine felons.

Siding with the plaintiffs, Walker in a March 27 ruling chastised Scott and other state officials and ordered the clemency board to devise a constitutionally sound program with “specific, neutral criteria that excise the risk — and, of course, the actual practice of — any impermissible discrimination, such as race, gender, religion or viewpoint.”

Walker scalded state officials for threatening to do away with the rights-restoration process all together and gave the clemency board until Thursday to “promulgate specific standards and neutral criteria” to replace the current “nebulous criteria, such as the governor’s comfort level.”

Walker also cautioned that there is a risk that the clemency board “may engage in viewpoint discrimination through seemingly neutral rationales” or a “perceived lack of remorse” that “serve as impermissible” masks for censorship.

“Therefore, the board must promulgate specific standards and neutral criteria to direct its decision-making,” Walker ordered in March. The judge did not specify a particular process but ordered that “Florida’s corrected scheme cannot be byzantine or burdensome.”

Arguing that they needed more time to craft new regulations, the state’s lawyers asked Walker to put his decision on hold, again drawing a rebuke from the judge.

“Rather than comply with the requirements of the United States Constitution, defendants continue to insist they can do whatever they want with hundreds of thousands of Floridians’ voting rights and absolutely zero standards,” Walker wrote in a six-page decision April 4. “They ask this court to stay its prior orders. No.”

Scott has steadfastly defended the state’s process, saying it is founded on a 150-year old system enshrined in the state Constitution.

A Scott spokesman, John Tupps, lashed out at the judge after Walker refused to put his order on hold.

“Judge Walker haphazardly ordered elected officials to change decades of practice in a matter of weeks. This is completely reckless and does not give the victims of crimes the voice they deserve,” Tupps said in a statement this month. “The governor will always stand with victims of crimes, not the criminals that commit heinous acts. Let’s remember, these criminals include those convicted of crimes like murder, violence against children and domestic violence. The court of appeals should issue a stay immediately.”

In seeking a stay from the 11th Circuit, Bondi’s lawyers reiterated that the state needs more time to answer a slew of questions regarding the vote-restoration process.

“The issue is not whether the board could unilaterally prescribe new rules in a short span of time … but whether the state’s policymakers and citizenry — including but not limited to the board — should be afforded sufficient time to carefully consider the important issues at hand,” the lawyers wrote.

The legal tangle involving Scott, the federal judge and the felons in the case comes months before Floridians will decide whether felons should automatically have their voting rights restored. A political committee known as Floridians for a Fair Democracy collected enough petitions to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would automatically restore voting rights to felons who have served their sentences, completed parole and paid restitution.

Murderers and sex offenders would be excluded. The amendment, if approved by 60 percent of voters, could have an impact on about 600,000 Florida felons, according to supporters of the measure.

Let voters decide on felons’ voting rights, advocate says

The man behind a proposed constitutional amendment to restore ex-cons’ voting rights wants voters — not “politicians” — to decide the issue.

Desmond Meade, who’s backing this year’s “Voting Restoration Amendment,” on Wednesday said an appellate court should issue a “stay” in a separate but related federal lawsuit on restoring felons’ voting rights.

The proposal, which will be Amendment 4 on the November statewide ballot, would automatically give back voting rights to felons, save for those convicted of murder and sex offenses. They also must have served all their prison time and probation and paid restitution to victims.

“Current law outlines a difficult process to restore an individual’s eligibility to vote, and Judge (Mark) Walker recently determined that the restoration process is arbitrary and unconstitutional,” Meade said in a statement.

“The problem is that without Amendment 4, any fix still leaves this decision in the hands of politicians and a person’s eligibility to vote should not be left up to politicians and election cycles,” he added. It needs 60 percent approval for addition to the state’s governing document.

In a series of harshly worded rulings, Walker — a U.S. District judge in Tallahassee — found the state’s vote-restoration process violated First Amendment rights and equal-protection rights. Last month, he gave Scott and the board until Thursday to overhaul what the judge called a “fatally flawed” process and rejected a request by Bondi to put his order on hold.

Scott and the board immediately appealed Walker’s decision to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and asked that court to put a stay on what the governor’s office branded a “haphazard clemency ruling.”

Late Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott‘s office announced a 9:30 p.m. Wednesday out-of-calendar meeting of the Board of Executive Clemency, made up of Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, CFO Jimmy Patronis, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. The next regular meeting had been set for June 14.

The meeting “will give the 11th Circuit as much time as possible to issue a ruling, while still allowing the Board to meet the lower court’s deadline,” Scott spokesman John Tupps said. “We are anticipating that the 11th Circuit will rule soon, but if a stay is not issued, the meeting agenda will be for the Board to consider how to respond to the lower court’s decision.”

Under the current process, felons must wait five or seven years after their sentences are complete to apply to have rights restored. After applications are filed, the process can take years to complete. There’s currently a backlog of 10,085 pending applications, according to the Florida Commission on Offender Review.

“Recent polls indicate over two-thirds of Florida voters overwhelmingly support the amendment,” Meade said. “Let’s take matters into our own hands and vote ‘yes’ on Amendment 4 to give Floridians who have made past mistakes the eligibility to vote only after they have completed their full debt to society …”

“These are our family members, friends, and neighbors that have paid their full debt to society and earned the opportunity to participate in and give back to their communities.”

__

The News Service of Florida contributed to this post. 

Adam Putnam delivers general election pitch, disarms protesters in Jacksonville

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is still the frontrunner in the money race on the Republican side of the primary, even as U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis is effectively even in the polls.

As Putnam has done since he launched what he called a “complete campaign” months ago, his Jacksonville appearance was full of familiar anecdotes, but also featured sharper attacks against the Democratic field than he leveled at DeSantis, whose challenge was not directly addressed in remarks to a crowd of roughly 50 supporters inside a Southside Jacksonville diner (and 15 protesters outside, chanting “Shame on you” and “Putnam don’t pay” as he wound through his remarks Wednesday morning).

Putnam’s pitch was blunt and homespun, particularly when mentioning that unnamed Democrats are criticizing him for BBQ events.

“What kind of pinko communist attacks people for doing barbeques,” Putnam asked, suggesting that the Democratic candidate spend more time at barbecues so they can figure out why voters are rejecting their message, and adding that “three quarters of [the candidates in last week’s debate] say they start their day by reading the New York Times.”

In a gaggle after his remarks, Putnam said more about the Democratic debate, including stressing that he starts his day reading “Florida sources … Florida blogs, Florida newspapers.”

“You have to start your day with a healthy dose of Florida news and a healthy dose of SEC sports, with Saturday Down South,” Putnam added.

Regarding the question on the education budget, Putnam noted that “no one knew the answer,” with candidates off by “a billion here, a billion there.”

“The Democratic debate was so disturbing and so unsatisfying to the Democrats that they’re now talking about recruiting yet another former Republican to be their standard bearer, who would be running with a current Republican running mate,” Putnam said, referring to the hypothetical Patrick Murphy/David Jolly ticket.

“The debacle speaks for itself,” Putnam said.

His critiques extended to the left wing as well.

“They’re so mad about who’s in the White House that they can’t see straight,” Putnam said. “The left is trying to hijack Florida.”

Putnam would not condemn DeSantis, nor would he take the bait on the decision of President Donald Trump to endorse the Northeast Florida Congressman, saying he’s “focused on running the best campaign [he] can run.”

“Washington’s not going to fix our problems,” Putnam said, “and Floridians expect their Governor to be in their neighborhood, in their community.”

“You cannot run for Governor from a D.C. studio,” he said. “I’m running a Florida first campaign. I’m in people’s living rooms, in their coffee shops and diners. I am spending every single day looking people in the eye, shaking people’s hands, and sharing my Florida First agenda with them on what I would do as their Governor.”

After the event wrapped, 10 of the protesters were still outside. Putnam made the choice to engage them, shaking hands and making small talk about where they went to school and the like.

Then he closed with an extended conversation with the regional director for “For Our Future,” a left-leaning group who showed up to protest reports that in 2008, Putnam’s family farm had paid four contractors sub-minimum wage rates (which he framed as a bookkeeping error when addressing it with press).

For those who might have expected any of the protesters, who had signs condemning the candidate, to engage him directly on the issues, they would have been disappointed.

Putnam and the regional director bantered, with her describing working in the celery fields “on the mule train.”

Discussions of celery grating and “firing the grove” in what Putnam called “the celery capital of the world” followed, with Putnam describing ways of said firing.

“I know about those wages,” she said to Putnam. “You basically said you took care of that situation.”

Putnam confirmed that, adding that “our people are the most important part of any business.”

They closed with a high-five.

“That’s my girl, right there,” Putnam said, with protesters telling him to “have a good day” as he headed to his next stop.

Clay Ingram hosting fundraiser for Rebekah Bydlak

Termed out Pensacola Republican Rep. Clay Ingram is hosting a fundraiser on May 8 for Rebekah Bydlak, the leading candidate running to replace him in House District 1 this fall.

The reception will run from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm at Ingram’s home in Pensacola, and the guest list includes several Republican politicians from across the state.

Current lawmkers on the invite include Bradenton Rep. Jim Boyd, Sanford Rep. Jason Brodeur, Eucheeanna Rep. Brad Drake, Hialeah Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., Vero Beach Rep. Erin Grall, Tampa Rep. James Grant, Panama City Rep. Jay Trumbull.

Former lawmakers making the trip include House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, former Senate President Don Gaetz as well as former Reps. Doug Holder, Chris Dorworth and Rob Schenck.

Bydlak, a Gonzalez Republican, has a strong fundraising lead in the HD 1 race. She faces former Rep. Mike Hill in the primary. Democrat Vikki Garrett is the only other candidate to file for the seat.

Through March, Bydlak had raised $112,602 for her campaign and had $91,435 of that money banked, while Hill’s total fundraising currently stands at $34,585 with $23,862 on hand. Garrett has $6,197 in her campaign account.

HD 1 covers the bulk of Escambia County, including the communities of Century, Molino, Gonzalez, Ensley, Ferry Pass, Belleview and Brent. Republicans hold a strong advantage in the Panhandle district when it comes to voter registrations and performance in recent elections.

In the 2016 race, Ingram cruised past unaffiliated candidate Bill Fetke with 76 percent of the vote. The district voted plus-27 for Donald Trump.

The fundraiser invite is below.

Bydlak fundraiser 5.9.2018

Rick Scott, Cabinet plan to meet in felons’ rights battle

Awaiting a decision from an appellate court, Gov. Rick Scott has scheduled a Wednesday night meeting of the state’s Board of Executive Clemency to address a federal judge’s order that the state revamp its process of restoring felons’ voting rights by Thursday.

Scott late Tuesday directed the board — comprised of the governor and the three Florida Cabinet members, including Attorney General Pam Bondi — to meet at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday if the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals does not grant the state’s request to block U.S. District Judge Mark Walker’s order.

In a series of harshly worded rulings, Walker found the state’s vote-restoration process violated First Amendment rights and equal-protection rights of felons. Last month, he gave Scott and the board until Thursday to overhaul what the judge called a “fatally flawed” process and rejected a request by Bondi to put his order on hold.

Scott and the board immediately appealed Walker’s decision and asked the appellate court to put a stay on what the governor’s office branded a “haphazard clemency ruling.”

Scott’s highly unusual move Tuesday night to set a clemency meeting for 9:30 p.m. the following day was designed to comply with a Florida law requiring a 24-hour notice for clemency board meetings.

“This will give the 11th Circuit as much time as possible to issue a ruling, while still allowing the board to meet the lower court’s deadline of April 26th, 2018. We are anticipating that the 11th Circuit will rule soon, but if a stay is not issued, the meeting agenda will be for the board to consider how to respond to the lower court’s decision,” Scott’s press office said in an email late Tuesday.

Details about what the board might consider as a replacement for the current system were not available from Scott’s office late Tuesday.

The board members will meet by telephone, but the public “will have an opportunity to provide input at the beginning of the meeting” in the Cabinet room in the Capitol, according to the email.

The restoration of felons’ rights has long been a controversial legal and political issue in Florida, with critics of the state’s process comparing it to post-Civil War Jim Crow policies designed to keep blacks from casting ballots.

Florida, with about 1.6 million felons, is considered an outlier in a nation where more than three dozen other states automatically restore the right to vote for most felons who have completed their sentences.

After taking office in 2011, Scott and Bondi played key roles in changing the process to effectively make it harder for felons to get their rights restored.

Under the current process, felons must wait five or seven years after their sentences are complete to apply to have rights restored. After applications are filed, the process can take years to complete.

Since the changes went into effect in 2011, Scott — whose support is required for any type of clemency to be granted — and the board have restored the rights of 3,005 of the more than 30,000 convicted felons who’ve applied, according to the Florida Commission on Offender Review. There’s currently a backlog of 10,085 pending applications, according to the commission.

In contrast, more than 155,000 ex-felons had their right to vote automatically restored during the four years of former Gov. Charlie Crist’s tenure, according to court documents in the lawsuit filed by the Fair Elections Legal Network and the law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC on behalf of nine felons.

Siding with the plaintiffs, Walker in a March 27 ruling chastised Scott and other state officials and ordered the clemency board to devise a constitutionally sound program with “specific, neutral criteria that excise the risk — and, of course, the actual practice of — any impermissible discrimination, such as race, gender, religion or viewpoint.”

Walker scalded state officials for threatening to do away with the rights-restoration process all together and gave the clemency board until Thursday to “promulgate specific standards and neutral criteria” to replace the current “nebulous criteria, such as the governor’s comfort level.”

Walker also cautioned that there is a risk that the clemency board “may engage in viewpoint discrimination through seemingly neutral rationales” or a “perceived lack of remorse” that “serve as impermissible” masks for censorship.

“Therefore, the board must promulgate specific standards and neutral criteria to direct its decision-making,” Walker ordered in March. The judge did not specify a particular process but ordered that “Florida’s corrected scheme cannot be byzantine or burdensome.”

Arguing that they needed more time to craft new regulations, the state’s lawyers asked Walker to put his decision on hold, again drawing a rebuke from the judge.

“Rather than comply with the requirements of the United States Constitution, defendants continue to insist they can do whatever they want with hundreds of thousands of Floridians’ voting rights and absolutely zero standards,” Walker wrote in a six-page decision April 4. “They ask this court to stay its prior orders. No.”

Scott has steadfastly defended the state’s process, saying it is founded on a 150-year old system enshrined in the state Constitution.

A Scott spokesman, John Tupps, lashed out at the judge after Walker refused to put his order on hold.

“Judge Walker haphazardly ordered elected officials to change decades of practice in a matter of weeks. This is completely reckless and does not give the victims of crimes the voice they deserve,” Tupps said in a statement this month. “The governor will always stand with victims of crimes, not the criminals that commit heinous acts. Let’s remember, these criminals include those convicted of crimes like murder, violence against children and domestic violence. The court of appeals should issue a stay immediately.”

In seeking a stay from the 11th Circuit, Bondi’s lawyers reiterated that the state needs more time to answer a slew of questions regarding the vote-restoration process.

“The issue is not whether the board could unilaterally prescribe new rules in a short span of time … but whether the state’s policymakers and citizenry — including but not limited to the board — should be afforded sufficient time to carefully consider the important issues at hand,” the lawyers wrote.

The legal tangle involving Scott, the federal judge and the felons in the case comes months before Floridians will decide whether felons should automatically have their voting rights restored. A political committee known as Floridians for a Fair Democracy collected enough petitions to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would automatically restore voting rights to felons who have served their sentences, completed parole and paid restitution.

Murderers and sex offenders would be excluded. The amendment, if approved by 60 percent of voters, could have an impact on about 600,000 Florida felons, according to supporters of the measure.

After a year, families hear nothing on calls for justice for the Groveland Four

A year ago, the families of the “Groveland Four” fought back tears, joined with Florida Legislature leaders, and watching as lawmakers sought to do what they could to right a 68-year-old injustice from the Jim Crow era in Florida.

On April 18, 2017, the Florida House of Representatives approved CS/HCR 631 by 117-0. On April 27, 2017, a year ago Friday, the Florida Senate followed up with a 36-0 vote, apologizing for the “grave injustices perpetrated against Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas.” The injustices had emerged from the 1949 wrongful accusation of four young, black men, of raping a white woman in a rural area outside of Groveland, in Lake County, triggering events that led to the deaths of Shepherd and Thomas, and imprisonments of Greenlee and Irvin.

The Florida Legislature’s resolution urged the governor and the Florida Cabinet to “expedite review” of clemency, granting full pardons.

Following the House vote, the bill’s backers, state Rep. Bobby DuBose, state Sen. Gary Farmer, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and other lawmakers joined the families to praise the day.

It is now a year later, and the families still are waiting, and have heard nothing about any expedited clemency review, let alone the granting of full pardons. That moment of praise seems so long ago to them now.

“We want closure. We want them to come out and pardon, or whatever it may be,” said Walter Irvin’s nephew, Eddie Lee Irvin Jr. “They got the proof now, the stuff from the FBI, that they were innocent the whole time.”

“I’m very disappointed at this point. I would like to know: What’s the holdup? What’s going on? Is there something else we have to do? Or just, why hasn’t there been any movement, any activity toward the pardons?” expressed Charles Greenlee’s daughter Carol Greenlee.

“We haven’t heard anything from anyone,” said Vivian Shepherd, Samuel Shepherd’s niece. And without any information, she fears the pardons are not being expedited, but are at the bottom of very tall stack, “so it’s like saying, ‘It’ll never happen.'”

[FloridaPolitics has not been able to track down any family of Ernest Thomas.]

There is much that is secretive about Florida’s clemency review process. Cases are confidential until they actually reach the point of appearing on the docket for public consideration by the Commission on Offender Review. As of late last fall, the commission had more than 22,000 requests pending for pardons and other forms of clemency. The commission takes them up for review in chronological order based on the filing dates, unless a member of the Florida cabinet intervenes and requests that any particular case is expedited.

Formal applications for pardons have been filed for Charles Greenlee and Walter Irvin, the two who survived long enough to be fully convicted and sent to prison. Their families filed for those pardons last summer, as did a young activist who took an interest in the case, Josh Venkataraman.

Normally, without requests to expedite cases, Commission on Offender Review cases are, as Vivian Shepherd feared, backlogged for many years.

Has anyone in the cabinet sought to expedite the Groveland Four cases?

Florida Politics asked all the cabinet members early last week: Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Only Scott’s office responded, and the response did not answer that question, or whether the governor even supports the requested pardons. The response was essentially the same statement his office offered the last time he was publicly asked about the matter, in November, noting that the cases were going through “standard procedure” and the governor was keeping options open.

DuBose and Farmer also did not respond to inquiries to their offices about progress in the cases.

“Governor Scott is aware of the Groveland Four case and is strongly against any form of racial injustice or discrimination. Currently, the families of Walter Irvin and Charles Greenlee have applications pending with the Commission on Offender Review which conducts clemency investigations per standard procedure and the Florida Constitution. After the Commission concludes clemency investigation, their findings are presented to the four-member Board of Executive Clemency,” Scott’s spokesman McKinley Lewis said in a written statement. “We continue to review all of our options.”

Charles Greenlee was a young father, only 17 in July 1949, when he came from Alachua to Groveland looking for work. That was his path into what now is the infamous, nightmare episode of false accusations, arrests, beatings, shootings, railroaded justice, killings, and imprisonments of four men since demonstrated to be innocent. The narrative was spelled out in the 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning book Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King.

Some of it also was spelled out in the resolution approved last year by the Florida Legislature. The resolution declared, “We hereby acknowledge that Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas, who came to be known as ‘the Groveland Four,’ were the victims of gross injustices and that their abhorrent treatment by the criminal justice system is a shameful chapter in this state’s history.”

Greenlee and Irvin were paroled in the 1960s. Irvin died in 1969, Greenlee in 2012. His daughter Carol Greenlee finally got to know him when she went off to college and stayed with him in Nashville. At that time, he was working in maintenance at a funeral home and a department store.

“My father was, in my eyes, a great man, a very compassionate person, considerate, a family man who loved his children, and he was just a calm, gentle person, in spite of all that he had gone through,” she said. “He embraced life, and was very considerate of others.

A pardon, she said, “would, number one, lift the clouds over our heads in terms of his being sent to prison for something he did not do. It would give my nieces and nephews a sense of dignity, of respect, some confidence in themselves. When you’re associated with someone in prison, it leaves a cloud there.”

“For me, it hurts, to have lost the time that I’d never get back with my father. [There also is] a sense, a recognition that we are not descendant of a criminal. It will restore my father’s dignity and honor, even after his death,” she said.

Vivian Shepherd’s uncle, her father’s younger brother, Sam, was shot and killed while being transported to a pre-trial hearing, long before she was born. She’s 56 now, living in Clermont.

Like the others, she was thrilled with the resolution. Frustration is mounting now, though. The resolution was an apology. The pardons, she said, offer a concrete legal statement, and that’s what they want.

She has turned her frustration specifically toward Gov. Scott.

“From what we’re told, he can do it. He doesn’t have to go through the committee, but he calls himself ‘following protocol’ here, but we know he can do it,” she said. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong, but I believe he just choses not to do it. What reason? I don’t know.

“If not him, we’ll look to the next governor,” she added.

Walter Irvin’s nephew, Eddie Lee Irvin Jr., 56, of Clermont, said he also believes politics is holding up the pardons process. And he fears there may not be the luxury of time for delays. Walter Irvin has a surviving sister, and two surviving brothers, including Eddie Lee Irvin’s father.

“I’d just like to see something done, we’ve got three siblings left, before they leave this Earth,” Eddie Lee Irvin Jr. said. “My Dad’s sister, Henrietta, she’s very sick right now, and she’s been battling for this [justice] a long time. Before she leaves this Earth, I would like to see something done, so she can go and be at peace.”

Frank White’s cash position an advantage in AG race

There’s four months left before Republicans pick their nominee in to replace Attorney General Pam Bondi, and Pensacola Rep. Frank White’s advantage could be a deciding factor in how the race shakes out.

White has a little over $2 million banked for his campaign, including $1.5 million from himself, while his chief rival, former circuit judge Ashley Moody has more than $1.5 million on hand.

Moody’s campaign often makes the argument that she’s the fundraising leader – emphasis on “raising” – but there’s no skirting around the fact that White’s campaign account has a $616,205 advantage over Moody’s.

The gulf is more pronounced for the third Republican in the race, Jacksonville Rep. Jay Fant. He had $742,590 in his campaign account at the end of March, less than two-fifths of White’s hard money total.

White and Moody also have political committees, of course.

Moody has brought in about $440,000 for hers and White about $240,000 for his, and when those totals are added to the campaign hauls the gulf between White and Moody shrinks to about $475,000.

But campaign money, often called hard money, carries some benefits that the soft money in committee accounts simply can’t match. Likely the most impactful difference is how far those dollars can stretch when it comes to TV and radio ad buys.

Ad pricing can vary wildly based on factors such as the time of day the buyer wants it to run and whether or not it can be pre-empted. There’s also the vastly different landscapes of Florida’s media markets to consider.

Still, once the “lowest unit rate” rule kicks in, no candidate can be charged more for an ad than the lowest-paying commercial advertiser purchasing ad time in the same class. Political committees, even the ones sponsoring ballot initiatives, aren’t given the same deal.

LUR starts 45 days prior to a primary race and 60 days prior to a general, so come July 14 White’s advantage in campaign cash, if he still has it, could prove doubly effective in the final stretch before the Aug. 28 primary.

That’s not to say White’s running ahead of Moody. If anything, he has a little bit of catching up to do considering she’s locked in support from more than half of Florida’s sheriffs and 11 state attorneys as well as Bondi.

State names 9 Medicaid health plans but challenges loom

Florida officials on Tuesday announced the names of the nine health plans the state wants to ink contracts with to provide health care to nearly four million poor, elderly and disabled residents.

The decision is not final, though, and Molina Healthcare of Florida and Positive Healthcare — both of which currently have contracts, but would be shut out of the Medicaid program between 2019-2024 — have said they plan on challenging the Agency for Health Care Administration’s decision.

Florida Medicaid Director Beth Kidder said earlier that the contracts could be the largest ever awarded by the state, and could be worth more than $90 billion dollars over a five-year period.

If the agency’s decision stands, Sunshine Health Plan will operate in all 11 regions of the state. Sunshine Health would offer Medicaid beneficiaries access to a traditional plan as well as a separate “child welfare” specialty plan.

Simply Healthcare Plans, meanwhile, will offer a specialty plan for people with HIV and AIDS in all 11 regions.

Humana was picked as a provider in 10 of the 11 regions across the state, but failed to win a bid in Medicaid Region 1, which includes Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties.

Meanwhile, WellCare of Florida, which will operate under the moniker of Staywell Health Plan of Florida, will offer access to a mental health specialty plan in all 11 Medicaid regions. It also will offer access to a traditional Medicaid managed care plan in nine of the 11 Medicaid regions, after being shut out of Regions 1 and 10. Region 10 is comprised solely of Broward County.

Florida Community Care and Best Care Assurance are two new Medicaid managed-care plans enrollees would have access to, if the state’s selections stand. Florida Community Care will be offered in every region but North Florida Region 2, which includes Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, Madison, Taylor, Wakulla, and Washington counties.

Best Care Assurance will operate under the name Horizon Health Plan and will be made available in Medicaid Region 8, made up of Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Glades, Hendry, Lee, and Sarasota counties.

While the state will offer new plans, some health plans that currently have Medicaid contracts weren’t included in the list of nine announced Tuesday. Those include Molina Healthcare of Florida; Positive Healthcare, the plan offered by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation; Prestige Health Choice; and Magellan Complete Care.

The Legislature passed a sweeping rewrite of the state’s Medicaid program in 2011, requiring nearly all beneficiaries, from the cradle to the grave, to enroll in managed-care plans. For purposes of contracting, AHCA divided the state into 11 different regions and negotiated contracts for each region.

The state issued its invitation to negotiate, the second under the Medicaid managed-care program, in July 2017.

Panel begins review of state’s deadliest school shooting

Using a simple animation with colored dots representing students and staff, a homicide detective led a state commission on Tuesday through a stark reenactment of Nikolas Cruz’s alleged assault on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Based on witness accounts and video, Broward County Sheriff’s Office detective Zack Scott used the animation to recreate Cruz entering Building 12 at the Parkland school at 2:21 p.m. on Valentine’s Day carrying a bag with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and 300 rounds of ammunition.

The chilling presentation was part of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission’s initial meeting in Broward County Tuesday. The commission is part of a sweeping school-safety law passed weeks after the massacre at the Parkland high school.

In the animation, green dots represented students and blue dots represented teachers and staff. As Cruz, depicted by a black dot, moved through the three floors of the classroom building in Parkland, many of the dots turned yellow, signifying that they were wounded. Eventually 17 dots turned purple, representing death.

Cruz, a former Stoneman Douglas student who has been charged with 17 counts of murder, exited the building at 2:27 p.m., leaving behind his rifle, according to Scott. He was captured a little more than an hour later.

The animation represents only a small part of the 16-member commission’s task of collecting and evaluating information about the Stoneman Douglas shooting, with the aim of taking an unvarnished look at how the incident occurred and developing recommendations to prevent future tragedies. It will issue its first report by Jan. 1.

“There are no words that are sufficient to describe the evil that occurred” at the Parkland high school on Feb. 14, said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who is leading the commission.

He said the commission’s goal would be “to ensure nobody else ever has to experience the devastation that these victims and their families have experienced” as a result of the incident.

“We cannot cease evil from existing in our society but our commission can fairly and objectively determine what occurred in this instance. And that determination must be based only on hard facts,” Gualtieri said.

But the sheriff acknowledged the commission’s task is daunting, with less than eight months to develop its report. And the probe may at times reopen the emotional rawness that will come from analyzing the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.

For instance, the commission may review extensive video footage from the high school’s system, as well as video captured by cell phones and on body cameras worn by law enforcement officers who responded to the scene.

“The video within the school, I’ve seen it,” said Gualtieri, who has more than 36 years of law enforcement experience. “But it’s hard to watch.”

Commissioners may opt to view the video, but it would not be released to the public, Gualtieri said.

Max Schachter, a commission member whose 14-year-old son, Alex, died in the shooting, pleaded to keep the video off-limits to the public. Gualtieri said the commission’s work would not violate the “confidential nature” of the video.

Andrew Pollack, another commission member whose 18-year-old daughter Meadow was among the 14 slain students, asked whether the commission has collected all the school disciplinary reports “on 181958.”

His question seemed to confuse the investigators until Pollack explained: “I can’t call him (Cruz) by name. That’s his prison ID number.”

Gualtieri said the 19-year-old Cruz would be a major focus for the commission, with the Broward sheriff’s investigators reporting that their office had 49 recorded reports on either Cruz or his address prior to the shooting. Eighteen of those reports were directly linked to Cruz.

Cruz was also evaluated several times by mental health workers but was never deemed a threat to himself or others, according to the sheriff’s report. Gualtieri said the commission has collected more than 800 pages of records on Cruz from a Broward mental health provider.

In public testimony, April Shentrup, who lost her 16-year-old daughter Carmen in the shooting, questioned the effectiveness of safety training at Stoneman Douglas after Cruz entered campus through an unlocked gate and entered Building 12 through an unlocked door.

Shentrup said “simple security measures” could have prevented the tragedy and asked for immediate action to protect students.

“Why wait until Jan. 1?” she asked.

Gualtieri said nothing would prevent school systems from taking immediate steps to improve safety while the commission conducts its investigation. “If somebody sees a gap, they need to fill it,” he said.

But he also said the evaluation of school facilities in terms of safety would be another area of investigation for the commission, noting the classroom doors at Stoneman Douglas could not be locked from the inside.

“That’s messed up, no matter how you slice it,” Gualtieri said.

The commission heard testimony on Tuesday about major problems with Broward’s 911 emergency-calling system and communications between law enforcement agencies, including the inability of Coral Springs police who were responding to the nearby shooting to talk with Broward sheriff’s deputies.

Gualtieri also described a problem with the personal radios used by the deputies and the inability to communicate with each other or their commanding officers while they responded to the shooting. Gualtieri said the deputies had to resort to hand signals as they entered Building 12 looking for Cruz.

Broward sheriff’s officials said the communication system is overseen by the Broward County government and is slated for a major overhaul next year.

Gualtieri said commission will look closely at the communications problems.

“It is necessary to learn the truth and let the cards fall where they may. If we find things done well, so be it. If we find things done poorly, so be that too,” he said.

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