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Florida firm pushing sales of its American-made AK-47

 Just down the road from a Krispy Krunchy fried chicken store, in a nondescript east coast business park in Florida, a 60,000-square-foot factory produces about 2,500 AK-47 rifles a month.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that Ulrich “Uli” Wiegand, a German immigrant who started the company called Inter Ordinance Inc., sees a bright future for the American-made version of the Kalashnikov, the classic Soviet-bloc weapon with the iconic banana-shaped ammo magazine. It is the world’s most popular weapon. There were as many as 150 million Kalashnikovs as of 2012, according to Aaron Karp, senior consultant to the Small Arms Survey, a Geneva-based research institute.

But Wiegand wants to put Florida on the map as the place where the best AKs are made, combining modern American manufacturing prowess with the original design by Russian Lt. Gen. Mikhail Kalashnikov. With the help of a Tampa-registered company called Purple Shovel, he wants to double his capacity and his workforce, and switch the bulk of his business from consumers to governments.

“We are taking the best features of American manufacturing and infusing them into an AK-47, with 100 percent American-made parts,” said Wiegand, who moved the company to Florida from North Carolina in 2013.

Purple Shovel is the exclusive government distributor of the company’s AK-47s.

To reach his goal, Wiegand has invested about $5 million in the plant and estimates he needs to invest another $3 million to $5 million for new equipment and work stations.

The investments have garnered the attention of the Florida Space Coast Economic Development Commission.

“Their investment further enhances our manufacturing base and provides a positive impact for the region,” said Lynda Weatherman, the commission’s president and CEO.

It’s a move that has some local gun manufacturers scratching their heads.

“I don’t see that as a wise investment,” said Greg Frazee, owner of the Tampa-based Trident Arms.

Frazee said he prefers to stick with the American-designed civilian line of rifles known as the AR-15 platform, arguing that the AK-47 “is too much of a niche product.”

Wiegand and Benjamin Worrell, owner of Purple Shovel, see things differently.

Purple Shovel, named for a child’s beach toy, already has more than $110 million dollars’ worth of contracts with U.S. Special Operations Command, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, for “small arms, ordnance and ordnance accessories manufacturing,” according to federal procurement documents.

Worrell and Wiegand are prohibited by law from talking about those contracts. SOCom, citing “operational sensitivities,” declined to comment on what types of weapons Purple Shovel is providing.

But SOCom has a strong interest in American-made Soviet-bloc weapons.

A year ago, the command sent out a market research request regarding what it calls “non-standard weapons.” This includes Russian-designed guns like the AK-47 and other similar assault rifles, as well as sniper rifles like the Dragunov, light machine guns like the PKM, and heavy machine guns like the DShK and the KPV. They are weapons preferred by U.S. allies and foes alike for their relatively low cost and simplicity of operation.

SOCom, tasked with training and equipping commandos and synchronizing the war on terror, provides weapons to allies at the behest of commands like U.S. Central Command. CentCom, also based at MacDill, has overall control of U.S. military operations in the Middle East.

As with the existing contracts, Worrell and Wiegand can’t talk about whether they submitted proposals to SOCom to sell it American-made AK-47s.

“It is still an ongoing effort,” said SOCom spokesman Ken McGraw. “No manufacturers have been identified.”

Inter Ordnance is not the only Florida company in the market. About 140 miles to the south, in Pompano Beach, Kalashnikov USA has plans to make the AK-47s as well. The company, not connected to the Russian firm prohibited from U.S. sales by sanctions, is making Kalashnikov shotguns but plans to roll out AK-47s later this year, said Laura Burgess, a company spokeswoman.

Like Wiegand, she said there is a strong market for the weapons.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Stephen Bittel concedes to Florida progressives – ‘it will take time for you to trust me’

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittel walked into political version of a lion’s den over the weekend in Tampa and came out it not only unscathed, but maybe even a bit emboldened.

“That was a warmer greeting than I was expecting,” the recently-elected leader said in reaction to the modest applause that he received after he was introduced to the 120 members of the Progressive Democratic Caucus at the Hillsborough County Classroom Teachers Association building on Saturday.

“I know my election doesn’t make everyone comfortable,” the wealthy real estate developer added, referring to the fact that he was the clear favorite among FDP establishment figures like Bill Nelson and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (who was booed whenever her name was mentioned at Saturday’s session) in the brief campaign for party leadership, following another disappointing cycle for Democrats statewide in 2016.

Bittel was elected party chair in January, getting 55 percent of the vote against four other candidates, but it was the controversial circumstances surrounding his election as Miami-Dade County that still sticks in the mind of a number of party members.

FDP bylaws mandate that only local party chairs or committeemen and committeewomen are eligible to run for the state party chair, positions that Bittel did not hold last December, as the race to succeed Allison Tant began heating up..

But a committeeman position magically opened up for him after Miami-Dade County state committeeman Bret Berlin voluntarily gave up his position less than a week after being elected by Miami Democrats.

In Tampa, however, Bittel played the self deprecating card.

“This is not my party, this is our party,” he insisted. “I don’t do a good job of managing my house. I don’t do a good job of managing my business. I try to find smarter better people than me. I want you to help manage me.”

Quoting Pinellas County Democrat Amos Meirs that the purpose of the Progressive Caucus is to build a bridge to the state party, Bittel said that bridge “has to be built from both sides.”

On substance, Bittel said the party needed structural changes, referring to his selection of an ad hoc committee currently reviewing reforming the charter bylaws. He also said he was “sad” to learn that the state party “had not spent investing ability into our email lists so we could reach out and have more small dollar contributions.”

He also said that beginning this week he’ll be speaking out on public policies now the the legislative session is underway, talking about ex-felon rights, mass incarceration and the death penalty (the caucus supported a resolution in support of embattle Orange/Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala for statement last week that she  would not seek the death penalty against alleged cop killer Markeith Lloyd).

“It will take time for you to trust me,” he later conceded, ultimately getting more than a third of the audience to stand and cheer him as he finished his speech.

Among the folks who Bittel was trying to win over was Zenia Perez, a member of the Miami Dade Democratic Executive Committee who was elected on Saturday as at large member to the Progressive Caucus.

Perez served as the Credential Chair for the Miami-Dade DEC during the saga that led to Bittel becoming a committeeman, a process she describes as a “fiasco.”

“I’m just a little ashamed of how we conducted ourselves,” she told FloridaPolitics on Saturday. “We kind of became an embarrassment to the state in a time where it’s critical that our leadership follow the rules, because they want us all to come together.”

Referring to Bittel’s appearance, Perez said it was his job to be there and listen to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, adding, “but then you have to work on it.”

A grassroots supporter for Bernie Sanders who also worked on Tim Canova’s unsuccessful congressional campaign against Wasserman Schultz, Perez said she was impressed by Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who gave the keynote speech this weekend at the Progressive Caucus forum.

“I think he’s going to be a really fun candidate to see on the trail,” she says of Gillum, who was also in Jacksonville this weekend to introduce himself to Democratic voters.

Perez says she has also met potential gubernatorial hopeful Gwen Graham, and said that she felt after meting her she could definitely vote for her, meeting Gillum sort of knocked her socks off.

“I’m like whoa- I want to knock on doors for you. I want to work for you,”  adding that she likes his plans on educations, the economy and criminal justice reform.

Here’s a list of officers and board members selected by the progressive caucus on Saturday:

President- Susan Smith (Hillsborough)
Vice-President – Michael Calderin (Broward)
Secretary- Lisa Murano (Palm Beach)
Treasurer – Marilyn Cappiello (Hillsborough)

Board members

Paul Stolc (Leon)
Zenia Perez (Miami-Dade)
Melody Bernal (Osceola)
Mitchell Stollberg (Broward)
Hillary Keyes (Palm Beach)
Wendy Sejour (Miami-Dade)
Mario Piscatella (St. Johns)
Amos Miers (Pinellas)
Nancy Jacobson (Orange)

 

Young Americans: Most see Donald Trump as illegitimate president

Jermaine Anderson keeps going back to the same memory of Donald Trump, then a candidate for president of the United States, referring to some Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers.

“You can’t be saying that (if) you’re the president,” says Anderson, a 21-year-old student from Coconut Creek, Florida.

That Trump is undeniably the nation’s 45th president doesn’t sit easily with young Americans like Anderson who are the nation’s increasingly diverse electorate of the future, according to a new poll. A majority of young adults — 57 percent — see Trump’s presidency as illegitimate, including about three-quarters of blacks and large majorities of Latinos and Asians, the GenForward poll found.

GenForward is a poll of adults age 18 to 30 conducted by the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago with The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

A slim majority of young whites in the poll, 53 percent, consider Trump a legitimate president, but even among that group 55 percent disapprove of the job he’s doing, according to the survey.

“That’s who we voted for. And obviously America wanted him more than Hillary Clinton,” said Rebecca Gallardo, a 30-year-old nursing student from Kansas City, Missouri, who voted for Trump.

Trump’s legitimacy as president was questioned earlier this year by Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.: “I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.”

Trump routinely denies that and says he captured the presidency in large part by winning states such as Michigan and Wisconsin that Clinton may have taken for granted.

Overall, just 22 percent of young adults approve of the job he is doing as president, while 62 percent disapprove.

Trump’s rhetoric as a candidate and his presidential decisions have done much to keep the question of who belongs in America atop the news, though he’s struggling to accomplish some key goals. Powered by supporters chanting, “build the wall,” Trump has vowed to erect a barrier along the southern U.S. border and make Mexico pay for it — which Mexico refuses to do. Federal judges in three states have blocked Trump’s executive orders to ban travel to the U.S. from seven — then six — majority-Muslim nations.

In Honolulu, U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson this week cited “significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus” behind the travel ban, citing Trump’s own words calling for “a complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

And yes, Trump did say in his campaign announcement speech June 6, 2015: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best … They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” He went farther in subsequent statements, later telling CNN: “Some are good and some are rapists and some are killers.”

It’s extraordinary rhetoric for the leader of a country where by around 2020, half of the nation’s children will be part of a minority race or ethnic group, the Census Bureau projects. Non-Hispanic whites are expected to be a minority by 2044.

Of all of Trump’s tweets and rhetoric, the statements about Mexicans are the ones to which Anderson returns. He says Trump’s business background on paper is impressive enough to qualify him for the presidency. But he suggests that’s different than Trump earning legitimacy as president.

“I’m thinking, he’s saying that most of the people in the world who are raping and killing people are the immigrants. That’s not true,” said Anderson, whose parents are from Jamaica.

Megan Desrochers, a 21-year-old student from Lansing, Michigan, says her sense of Trump’s illegitimacy is more about why he was elected.

“I just think it was kind of a situation where he was voted in based on his celebrity status versus his ethics,” she said, adding that she is not necessarily against Trump’s immigration policies.

The poll participants said in interviews that they don’t necessarily vote for one party’s candidates over another’s, a prominent tendency among young Americans, experts say. And in the survey, neither party fares especially strongly.

Just a quarter of young Americans have a favorable view of the Republican Party, and 6 in 10 have an unfavorable view. Majorities of young people across racial and ethnic lines hold negative views of the GOP.

The Democratic Party performs better, but views aren’t overwhelmingly positive. Young people are more likely to have a favorable than an unfavorable view of the Democratic Party by a 47 percent to 36 percent margin. But just 14 percent say they have a strongly favorable view of the Democrats.

Views of the Democratic Party are most favorable among young people of color. Roughly 6 in 10 blacks, Asians and Latinos hold positive views of the party. Young whites are somewhat more likely to have unfavorable than favorable views, 47 percent to 39 percent.

As for Trump, 8 in 10 young people think he is doing poorly in terms of the policies he’s put forward and 7 in 10 have negative views of his presidential demeanor.

“I do not like him as a person,” says Gallardo of Trump. She nonetheless voted for Trump because she didn’t trust Clinton. “I felt like there wasn’t much choice.”

___

The poll of 1,833 adults age 18-30 was conducted Feb. 16 through March 6 using a sample drawn from the probability-based GenForward panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. young adult population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The survey was paid for by the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago, using grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods, and later interviewed online or by phone.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Officials warn Miami’s Airbnb hosts: You may risk tax fraud

Miami-Dade homeowners frequently renting stays to Airbnb customers risk losing their homestead exemptions.

The Miami Herald reports this is the latest example of the popular “home sharing” service dividing the county’s political establishment.

A one-page flier prepared by the office of Property Appraiser Pedro Garcia carried the headline “Homestead Exemption Fraud and Airbnb” and warns that Miami-Dade property owners utilizing the property-tax discount may be violating the law if they also rent to Airbnb travelers.

Chris Lehane, the company’s head of global policy, said Airbnb’s model serves as a complement to the homestead exemption, since both lower the cost of homeownership.

Trump admin’s contract notices call for 30-foot-high wall at Mexican border

The Trump administration wants to build a 30-foot-high border wall that looks good from the north side and is difficult to climb or cut through, according to a pair of contract notices posted to a government website further detailing President Donald Trump’s promise to build a “big, beautiful wall” at the Mexican border.

The notices were made public late Friday by Customs and Border Protection, the Homeland Security Department agency that will oversee the project and eventually patrol and maintain the wall. The proposals are due to the government by March 29.

One of the CBP contract requests calls for a solid concrete wall, while the other asks for proposals for a see-through structure. Both require the wall to sunk at least six feet into the ground and include 25- and 50-foot automated gates for pedestrians and vehicles. The proposed wall must also be built in a such a way that it would take at least an hour to cut through it with a “sledgehammer, car jack, pick axe, chisel, battery operated impact tools, battery operated cutting tools, Oxy/acetylene torch or other similar hand-held tools.”

The government will award a contract based on 30-foot-wide sample walls that are to be built in San Diego.

This is the latest step in the Trump administration plan to build a border wall. Last month CBP put out a call for “concept papers” to design and build prototypes by March 10.

Trump has bragged in recent days that the wall is ahead of schedule, though it’s unclear from the latest contract notices if any firms have submitted wall proposals or if any such submissions have been rejected.

The government has not said where the wall will be built, though the contract notices suggest some pieces of a new wall could replace existing fencing that stretches over about 700 miles of the roughly 2,000-mile border. The current fencing of mixed construction, including 15-foot steel posts set inches apart that are designed to keep people from crossing and shorter posts that are intended to block cars. Border Patrol agents are constantly repairing holes in the structure.

Trump has long promised that Mexico would pay for the wall, which he has said is necessary to stop the flow of immigrants crossing the border illegally and drug smugglers.

This week the president sent a budget proposal to Congress that included a $2.6 billion down payment for the wall. The total cost for the project is unclear, but the Government Accountability Office estimates it would cost about $6.5 million a mile for fence to keep pedestrians from crossing the border and about $1.8 million a mile for a vehicle barrier.

Congressional Republicans have said Trump’s wall would cost between $12 billion and $15 billion and Trump has suggested $12 billion.

An internal report prepared for Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly estimated the cost of building a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border at about $21 billion, according to a U.S. government official who is involved in border issues. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the report has not been made public.

That report proposed an initial phase that would extend fences 26 miles and a second wave that would add 151 miles, plus 272 “replacement” miles where fences are already installed, according to the official. Those two phases would cost $5 billion.

It is unclear how soon Congress might act on that request or how much money lawmakers will ultimately approve for the wall. Democrats and some Republicans have said a border-long wall is unnecessary.

The Department of Homeland Security reported earlier this month that the number of border arrests dropped about 44 percent from January to February, the lowest monthly tallies since at the least the start of the 2012 budget year.

At gathering of progressives in Tampa, Andrew Gillum says Democrats won’t win in 2018 by being ‘Republican lite’

In his first appearance in Tampa since officially declaring his candidacy for Governor, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum said the Democratic Party can win back the Governor’s Mansion next year if it convinces the voters of Florida that it can make an impact in changing their lives for the better.

“What we have to do is convince them that voting for us will make a difference in our lives,” he told the member of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida in Tampa on Saturday. “That we have an agenda that can actually impact that and impact that for the better, and I believe we can do that. As a matter of fact, I believe I can do that, if you all allow me to be the Democratic nominee for governor for the state of Florida,” as the crowd cheered.

Elected as mayor in August of 2014 at the age of 35, Gillum has been making decisions in office of late that would undoubtedly appeal to the progressive wing of the party. He successfully defended Tallahassee’s gun laws in court after two gun rights group sued the city to try to expand firearms in public parks, and has declared Tallahassee a “sanctuary city,” a move not many other Florida communities are embracing under the current administration in Washington.

Gillum used the first part of his half-hour speech to give a quick biography to the progressives who are gathering this weekend at the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association building in West Tampa. In referring to his public school upbringing (including the fact that he was the first in his family not only to graduate from college, but also high school), he gave a major shoutout to public school teachers, saying that what they do is “the most difficult work that happens on Planet Earth.”

He ultimately warmed up to  tossed some choice red meat for the liberal audience. Rick Scott? “Trump before Trump was Trump.”

Gillum savaged the Governor for his stance on climate change, declining Medicaid expansion and stimulus money for high-speed rail, and for his reluctance to accept Syrian refugees into the state.

“Never mind that the Governor has no right to say who’s welcome and who isn’t in the state of Florida, but since he took liberties, I took liberties,” he said to titters of laughter. “I said, come to the Capitol City, where you’re welcome,” adding, “Remember, these are people being forced out of their homes. Their lives are being threatened. Persecuted.”

On making Tallahassee a sanctuary city, he chided the use of the term “illegal aliens,” saying, “Illegal is not a noun. You don’t call people illegals,” he said, saying the term was a way of stripping away someone’s humanity.

He said Florida should be the capital of solar energy production, adding that if the private sector was too reluctant to be a leader in solar, municipal electric authorities should take the lead, and made sure to mention that his city is currently building a 200-acre solar farm.

Gillum is also against the construction of the $3 billion, 515-mile Sabal Trail Pipeline planned to run from Alabama through Georgia to Osceola County.

“I had to make a public statement against it. I thought it was a no-brainer, I didn’t know that you had to do that, but apparently you do,” he said, as the audience gave him a hearty round of applause. And he promised to put “the teeth” back into the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.

Regarding the governor’s race, he spoke to the progressive caucus’ language by saying that the Democrats wouldn’t win in 2018 by being “Republican lite.”

“When our issues on the ballot, absent the candidate’s name, people agree with us! They stand with us! So what is the disconnect?” he asked. “I believe we can win by leaning into our values and not running away from them.”

“Whether you are a working class white voter or a working class black voter or a working class Latino voter, if this economy isn’t working for you, you’re pissed off! We have to lean into that. This debate about whether we double down on our base or talk to working class white people is ridiculous. You have to go everywhere. We have to go everywhere and we have to talk to everybody.”

As proof that he’s not just all talk, Gillum mentioned his visit to The Villages last weekend, where he said he spoke to a crowd of 500 people (the Villages Democratic website reported it “overflowed the 350-seat recreation center)

Referring to the fact that Democrats suffer tremendously from a lack of participation in “off-year” elections which happen to coincide for when the state votes for governor and other cabinet positions, Gillum said one reason might be that the party hasn’t given voters sufficient motivation to turn out, before quickly emphasizing that he wasn’t attacking any recent Democratic statewide candidates.

Gillum is the first major party candidate to enter the race, and has since been joined by Central Florida businessman Chris King. Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine seems likely to announce his candidacy soon, as does former Tallahassee based Congresswoman Gwen Graham. The jury is still out on what Orlando attorney and fundraiser John Morgan will end up doing.

Mike Pence: ‘Florida can’t afford Obamacare anymore’

Saturday saw United States Vice-President Mike Pence and Florida Governor Rick Scott talking about what Pence called “the Obamacare nightmare” with small business owners in Jacksonville.

Scott, who closed out the news week reprising a familiar call to allow the states to administer Medicaid via block grants, has worked closely with President Donald Trump and his administration on possible alternatives to the Affordable Care Act.

While the GOP line is “repeal and replace Obamacare,” finding bill language that offers comfort to moderate Republicans in the Senate and the Freedom Caucus in the House has proven challenging, making promotional media stops like this one for the vice-president a necessity as the Trump administration sets the stage for a House vote on health care next week.

Though support for the current bill may be shaky elsewhere in Florida, in Northeast Florida “repeal and replace” are the watchwords.

After a roundtable event with selected small-business leaders, the show for cameras and media commenced: the highlight, of course, was VP Pence, who Gov. Scott introduced as having stood with him in the health care battle since 2009.

Pence hyped the crowd for a couple of minutes, thanking the other speakers and extolling the virtues of Florida, pivotal on “the path to make America great again.”

“It was quite a campaign, wasn’t it? And it’s been quite an administration.”

____

After discussing Trump’s “broad shoulders” and other crowd-pleasing ephemera, including his first job as a gas station attendant in his family’s store, Pence eventually pivoted to policy

“We know that when small business is strong, America is strong,” Pence said, describing the president’s “roll back of reams of red tape” and his work to “end illegal immigration – once and for all.”

“Businesses are already responding to President Trump’s ‘buy American, hire American’ vision,” Pence said, vowing tax cuts “across the board” and restraint of “unelected bureaucrats” and other talking points.

Pence pivoted from the crowdpopping lines to reference the Pulse attack last year, a function of “radical Islamic terrorism in this country.”

The wall will be built. And illegal immigrant criminals will be “off the streets of this country.” And “we will rebuild our military,” Pence said.

From there, Pence assured the crowd that “the Obamacare nightmare is about to end.”

Obamacare, said Pence, is a minefield of broken promises, and the VP has heard heartrending stories about the “hard choices” small businesses have made.

“It was a heartbreaking conversation,” Pence said.

Premiums: up 25 percent across the country.

A third of the country has one company available from which to choose.

And, said Pence, enrollment is down year over year.

“Florida’s actually a textbook example of what’s wrong with Obamacare,” Pence said, citing premiums up 19 percent year over year.

“Florida can’t afford Obamacare anymore,” Pence said to applause.

Referring to the business hosting the event, Pence noted that hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have been spent otherwise have been spent attempting to comply with this “failed” law.

“The core flaw of Obamacare was this notion that you could order every American to buy health insurance whether they need it or not,” Pence said.

The Trump alternative: “individual responsibility” and reform targeted to the state level, including expanded Health Savings Accounts and tax credits to facilitate buying private insurance.

Those with pre-existent conditions and kids under the age of 26, meanwhile, will be protected under the American Health Care Act, Pence said.

Pence spent some time talking about “engagement with Congress” to improve the bill, a seeming acknowledgement of issues.

As well, Pence vowed to allow “states like Florida” the ability to have a block grant to administer their plans, and a “work requirement” for coverage.

“President Trump supports the bill 100 percent, and we all do,” Pence said. “A new era for federal/state Medicaid partnership has begun.”

“State solutions,” Pence said, are the best way forward for Florida.

As well, Pence added that Americans will “have the freedom to buy health insurance across state lines,” via “dynamic marketplace.”

“It won’t be long until you see Flo and that little lizard on TV ads,” Pence quipped.

While “it’s going to be a battle in Washington,” Pence called for “every Republican in Florida” to support the administration’s moves to “repeal and replace Obamacare.”

______

The VP had local and state support on hand.

U.S. Congressman John Rutherford, who flew down from D.C. with VP Pence, opined that “the American dream is being damaged by Obamacare … a policy that drives up costs and strangles small businesses.”

“We need a better way … we must repeal and replace Obamacare with a market-based health care policy that will reduce costs and increase consumer access to health care.”

CMS Administrator Seema Verna, introduced by Rutherford, likewise described the “burden of health care costs and overregulation” on “small businesses.”

“With the support of President Trump, we’re going to undo the damage done by Obamacare,” Verna said, also vowing to let states handle administering Medicare and have “freedom from Washington’s one-size-fits-all approach” – echoing Gov. Scott.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, introduced by Verna, said “this is really simple. The President and Vice President told us they’re going to repeal and replace Obamacare and that’s what happens now.”

Gov. Scott, introduced by Curry, noted that “Obamacare was sold on a lie. A complete lie … choices have gone down, prices have gone up.”

“We’re going to change that,” Scott said. “Obamacare’s on a death spiral. Prices have just gone out of control.”

“We had to sue the Obama Administration for our low-income pool because we didn’t expand Medicaid,” Scott noted.

 

During traffic stop, Florida woman tossed needles into backseat near toddler

It looked suspiciously like a drug deal at a gas station.

A woman got out of the passenger seat of a parked car when another pulled up next to the car she was in. A plastic baggie exchanged hands, according to a Boca Raton Police report.

When the female suspect got back into her car and left the Marathon gas station, turning onto Glades Rd. with another male suspect driving, a patrolman followed.

Noticing the car she was traveling in east of downtown Boca Raton had a taillight out — plus, she didn’t come to a full stop at a stop sign, so the patrolman pulled her over, the report stated.

That’s when Christine Nancy Maier, 31, “panicked” and flung three hypodermic needles into the backseat, next to a toddler on Tuesday. The child wasn’t in a car seat, a violation in itself. The policeman noticed movement in the car by Maier as he stopped them

The child also had a cut on its face, which the woman later said happened when the child had fallen the day before.

It’s unclear if Maier is the mother, as the portion of the report indicating the relationship was blocked out, a redaction out of privacy concerns due to the child’s age.

After inspecting the driver’s license of the man behind the steering wheel, who was not married to Maier, the patrolman explained to the pair he had observed Maier conducting what appeared to be a drug transaction back at the Marathon station. He asked to search the vehicle and the driver consented.

Upon the search, the officer found the needles next to the child. In the front passenger seat lay a sunglasses case with two more needles and a baggie containing a “crystal white” substance, likely cocaine or methamphetamine.

But Maier had another excuse, the needles were for a friend, so he could shoot “methamphetamines.” The driver, the report said, became angry, telling officer he didn’t know about the drugs or needles. He had driven her to Boca Raton from rural Okeechobee, Fla. because it had “been a while since” he’d been with a woman.

The man was not arrested, according to the report. The toddler is now in the custody of the state of Florida’s Dept. of Children and Families.

Maier was booked at 7:45 p.m. into the Palm Beach County Jail by sheriff’s deputies. She was charged with felony drug possession, child neglect without bodily harm and possession of drug paraphernalia.

She is being held on $3,000 bond and is currently still in jail. She has five previous arrests, according to the Palm Beach County Clerk of Court public records, with one prior felony conviction.

Prosecutors: No crime in Florida inmate’s hot-shower death

Prosecutors in Florida have found no evidence of a crime in the death of a prison inmate left for nearly two hours in a hot shower, concluding that he died accidentally in part because of undiagnosed heart disease and suffered no burn injuries.

The memo released Friday by the office of Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle ends a lengthy criminal probe into the 2012 death of 50-year-old Darren Rainey, a mentally troubled man serving a two-year sentence on a cocaine charge.

An attorney for Rainey’s family, Milton Grimes of Los Angeles, said in a statement that the family is “disappointed and heartbroken” no charges will be brought.

“This is not justice for Darren, for his family, nor for the mentally ill who have been subject to similar abuse and mistreatment,” Grimes said.

The investigation found no evidence that officers at the Dade Correctional Institution regularly used the hot shower to punish or torture inmates, as some of them claimed after Rainey’s death. Assistant State Attorneys Kathleen Hoague and Johnette Hardiman said in the 72-page memo that one inmate’s assertions that Rainey was screaming for help and had been scalded to death were unfounded.

“The evidence fails to show that any correctional officer acted in reckless disregard of Rainey’s life,” they wrote.

Rainey was taken to the shower on June 23, 2012, after he had smeared feces on himself, the walls of his cell and his bedsheets. The shower, which was operated from an adjoining room by a corrections officer to prevent inmates from turning it off, was activated but Rainey refused to stand under the water, according to the memo.

Officer Roland Clarke told Rainey he couldn’t go back to his cell until he washed off. Finally, Rainey said he would comply and asked for soap, which he was given, the memo says.

After starting to wash, Rainey said, “No, I don’t want to do this,” and leaned on a wall away from the water, Clarke told investigators. Officers continued to check on him, and finally after about two hours the decision was made to take Rainey out of the shower, but he was found lying face up in about 3 inches (8 centimeters) of water with no pulse and not breathing.

One inmate, Harold Hempstead, said he heard Rainey yelling and kicking at the shower door, saying, “I’m sorry. I won’t do it any more” and “I can’t take it no more.” The prosecutors found Hempstead’s claims, which he repeated to several news outlets, were not supported by other evidence, including video footage from inside the prison.

“Hempstead’s testimony is inherently unreliable and therefore not credible,” Hoague and Hardiman wrote.

Several witnesses said Rainey’s skin appeared to be peeled back or reddish in some spots — one inmate claimed he looked like a “boiled lobster” — but an autopsy found this “slippage” was most likely caused by friction or pressure on his moist and warm skin. This could have happened during efforts to revive him, such as chest compressions, or when officers carried him out of the shower initially, the memo said.

The medical examiner, Emma Lew, attributed Rainey’s death to a combination of his schizophrenia, heart disease and confinement in the small shower space. She said schizophrenic people can have nervous system reactions that trigger a heart attack if they have an underlying condition.

“It is not substantiated that the temperatures inside the shower room were excessively high,” Lew wrote.

The prosecutors determined that corrections officers did not commit murder or manslaughter in Rainey’s death and that taking him to the shower was appropriate under the circumstances.

“Placing an inmate who has defecated upon himself in a shower to decontaminate himself is not conduct that is criminally reckless,” they wrote. “There was no evidence of any intent to harm Rainey.”

Charlie Crist, Brian Mast lead 18-member Florida delegation urging Everglades attention from Donald Trump

Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast have pulled together 18 of Florida’s 27 members of Congress to co-sign a letter to President Donald Trump urging that he “expedite and energize” Everglades restoration projects.

In addition to Crist of St. Petersburg and Mast of Palm City, the letter is signed by Republicans Matt Gaetz, Neal Dunn, Ted Yoho, John Rutherford, Ron DeSantis, Bill Posey, Daniel Webster, Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan, Tom Rooney, Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen; and Democrats Al Lawson, Darren Soto, Val Demings, and Kathy Castor.

The letter follows up on a plea Mast made earlier this month on the House of Representatives floor when he called on Trump to create an “Everglades Restoration Infrastructure Taskforce” and secure full funding to accelerate projects to completion.

The letter calls for the same thing.

“We urge you to join our efforts to expedite and energize the federal government’s role in this critical mission,” they wrote. “Specifically, we ask you to convene an ‘Everglades Restoration Infrastructure Taskforce’ to develop an action plan to secure new infrastructure funding and accelerate project completion to meet or beat the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ current Integrated Delivery Schedule timeline.”

The letter’s non-signatories include some significant omissions: Democratic U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Alcee Hastings, and Republican U.S. Reps. Francis Rooney and Mario Diaz-Balart all have significant swathes of Everglades in their districts, but did not sign. Still, much of the Everglades are in Curbelo’s and Ros-Lehtinen’s districts, and they signed.

The letter noted Trump’s plans for a $1 trillion infrastructure program and said the Everglades need just “a fraction” of that.

“The bipartisan Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, authorized by Congress in 2000, is one of the most ambitious ecological restoration projects ever undertaken. Beyond restoring the unique Everglades ecosystem, CERP would improve vital flood protection for neighboring communities, protect the main source of drinking water for 8 million South Floridians, and enhance the Everglades’ substantial $2 trillion economic impact in the state,” the letter states. “Working together, the State of Florida, the Army Corps, and other federal agency partners have made important — but incremental — progress toward meeting the Plan’s Integrated Delivery Schedule road map of completing over 60 proposed projects over a 30-year period.

“More must be done, however, as many projects are still awaiting construction, and delays could threaten to increase project completion costs,” they add.

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