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State officials seek congressional probe of Labor Dept. over feds’ findings

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott’s administration pushed back Wednesday against the U.S. Department of Labor over the federal agency’s finding that 2011 changes to the state’s unemployment compensation system discriminate against minorities and the disabled.

The state’s Department of Economic Opportunity wrote to U.S. Rep. John Kline, a Minnesota Republican who chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, calling for an investigation into what it claimed is the “potential politicization” of the Labor Department.

The letter from Robert Sechen, DEO’s general counsel, concluded that Labor investigators “collaborated with the political group that filed the complaint” over the state’s requirement that those seeking benefits file online and complete a skills test.

In April, the Labor Department reached an “initial determination” that the state effectively violated the civil rights of laid-off workers by installing a system difficult to navigate.

“In this case, this flawed process has resulted in a federal agency recklessly maligning the reputations of hundreds of hard-working state employees, who come to work each day to fulfill a mission of helping unemployed Floridians get back to work,” Sechen wrote Wednesday.

The DEO move seems partially inspired by the increasing focus on other agencies under President Obama, including the Internal Revenue Service, accused of political activity for targeting conservative organizations for closer scrutiny. The U.S. Justice Department also is under the microscope for seizing phone records from the Associated Press.

In the Florida case, the The National Employment Law Project, Florida Legal Services and Miami Workers Center challenged Florida’s law in 2011, charging that sweeping changes to how Florida workers must file claims denied unemployment checks to thousands of eligible Floridians.

Critics also said that workers’ frustration with the system could be aiding Scott’s goal of reducing unemployment. Some workers may abandon their job search or just leave the state, falling out of Florida’s labor market.

The state in recent weeks entered into negotiations with the federal government to reach voluntary compliance with the ruling. It also put in place remedies to make unemployment insurance available to job-seekers unable to complete online claim requirements.

But Sechen on Wednesday said Labor officials have since been trying to “coerce” the state into acknowledging “each and every finding in USDOL’s flawed investigation.” Sechen said it was time for Congress to investigate the agency he accused of using tactics ”improper, retaliatory, intimidating and…far below acceptable standards of conduct.”

Val Greenfield, an attorney with Florida Legal Services, said Wednesday that her organization has had limited contact with Labor Department investigators. Since the April finding, negotiations have been conducted solely between the state and federal officials, she said.

“We were very surprised by this letter,” Greenfield said. “We are completely unaware of any bias in this investigation. But this action is very disappointing for Florida workers.”

Mark Foley talks candidly with Hannity, advises Weiner to get out of ‘that building’

Thursday, June 9th, 2011 by Dara Kam

In his first nationally televised interview since stepping down from Congress in disgrace five years ago, Mark Foley advised Democratic New York Rep. Anthony Weiner he should consider doing the same.

“In my heart, you cannot fix this from inside that building,” Foley, a Palm Beach County Republican, told FoxNews television host Sean Hannity Thursday night.

Foley spoke candidly with Hannity in a 20-minute interview scheduled prior to the “Weinergate” scandal in which Weiner first claimed his Twitter account had been hacked but later tearfully admitted he had sent inappropriate photos and messages himself.

“You cannot fix your problem. Whatever it is that’s troubling him. Beautiful wife, wonderful family, a great constituency. Obviously wasn’t enough for either one of us. He’s not going to get better going back into the building and hope people give him a pass,” Foley said.

Weiner refuses to step down despite growing demands for his resignation, including from fellow Democrats, since the brash New York Democrat’s public confession Monday that he had sent lewd messages and photographs to six women over the past three years. Weiner last fall was the keynote speaker for Palm Beach County Democrats’ annual fund-raising dinner.

“I know what he’s going through from the feeling of remorse because there’s no question you feel terrible,” said Foley, who was forced to resign in 2006 over sexually charged text messages he sent to teenage males who had worked in the congressional page program.

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Scott testified in DC on pill mills – watch live

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott testifies in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee about prescription drug abuse.

Gov. Rick Scott will appear before a Congressional committee on Thursday to testify about prescription drug abuse.

Watch the hearing live now.

Scott will join Gov. Steve Beshear of Kentucky, a Democrat, at the hearing entitled “Warning: The Growing Danger of Prescription Drug Diversion” at the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade chaired by Rep. Mary Bono Mack.

Scott, who previously asked lawmakers for a repeal of the statewide prescription drug database law enforcement officials say is crucial in cracking down on prescription drug abuse, yesterday signed off on the latest state House pill mill bill that would keep the database, restrict doctors’ ability to dole out the drugs and establish new standards for pharmacies. The compromise raises hopes that the House and Senate will strike a deal on pill mill legislation before the session ends on May 6.

Survey: Floridians want dollars for Everglades

Monday, February 28th, 2011 by John Kennedy

With environmental spending under fire in Tallahassee and Washington, a survey Monday showed two-thirds of Floridians support Everglades restoration, with a majority also opposed to reducing dollars flowing to the effort.

The Everglades Foundation released the survey, saying it supports the organization’s push for state lawmakers to steer clear of Gov. Rick Scott’s proposal to reduce restoration funding from $50 million to $17 million. Scott also wants water managers, including the South Florida Water Management District, to reduce property taxes by 25 percent, which environmentalists say could further drain dollars needed for Everglades work.

“Our message to the governor is that he can partner with the conservation community to create jobs and protect our water supply at the same time,” said Kirk Fordham, the foundation’s chief executive officer. “If we want to grow that supply of fresh water, the only solution out there is Everglades restoration.”

President Obama’s budget blueprint increases spending on restoration. But the Republican-led U.S. House has proposed sharp cuts in environmental programs and funding for the Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for much of the Everglades work.

The Everglades survey was conducted by the Tarrance Group, which does polling for Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, other Republican senators, and GOP members of the Florida congressional delegation.

The survey showed that 84 percent of voters rank maintaining Florida’s fresh water drinking supply as “very important.”  Seventy-nine percent agreed that to attract new business and industries to the state, access to a stable water supply is necessary.

The survey of 607 voters was taken Feb. 13-14. It has a 4.1 percent margin-of-error.

Sierra Club funds ad attacking West over drilling and choosing Klein

Monday, October 25th, 2010 by John Lantigua

The Sierra Club has pumped $800, 000 into last minute television ads for three Democratic Party Congressional campaigns around the country and one of them is the District 22 race in South Florida.

“With ‘Big Oil’ doing everything they can to try to buy back Congress, today the Sierra Club launched three new television ads in key congressional races – Michigan’s 7th District, Arizona’s 8th District, and Florida’s 22nd District,” said a press release by the environmental group.

In District 22, U.S. Rep. Ron Klein,D-BocaRaton, is locked in a tight race with GOP contender Allen West.

The ad being screened in South Florida pictures smoke spewing from British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon rig, which exploded April 20 and was finally plugged Sept. 9, not before dumping millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The ad also shows a pelican covered in oil and then superimposes West next to an offshore oil rig.

“For five months BP spewed oil into the gulf – polluting Florida beaches and devastating our economy,” says the narrator. “ But Allen West still supports drilling for oil off the Florida coast. And West says he ‘sees nothing about the situation in the Gulf that will change his mind’”

“No wonder West received thousands in contributions from oil companies,” continues the ad. “Ron Klein has a better way – protect our beaches and develop alternative energy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Ron Klein for Congress.”

The Klein/West race is believed to be the most heavily financed Congressional contest in the nation.
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Kathy Mears heads to Webster campaign

Monday, October 4th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Longtime legislative staffer Kathy Mears, whose most recent government post was as Gov. Charlie Crist’s liaison with the legislature, has gone to work for her former boss Daniel Webster’s campaign for Congress.

Webster, a former House Speaker who also served as Senate Majority Leader before leaving office due to term limits two years ago, is running against U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, the outspoken Orlando Democrat who consistently gets into trouble for his controversial remarks.

“Don’t get sick, and if you do get sick, die quickly,” was Grayson’s analysis of GOP opposition to Democrats’ health care reforms in Sept. 2009 and likened the current health care system to a holocaust. Grayson also suggested that former VP Dick Cheney was a vampire.

More recently, Grayson got into hot water for running a campaign attack ad calling Webster “Taliban Dan” in which he uses a video clip of Webster saying wives should submit to their husbands and accusing accusing the Christian conservative of wanting to “impose his radical fundamentalism on us.”

Webster was actually instructing husbands not to rely solely on the Bible’s instructions for wives to submit but to pray for husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church.

Crist issues executive order allowing out-of-work Floridians to get extended unemployment benefits

Friday, July 23rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

With a stroke of his pen, Gov. Charlie Crist just accomplished what lawmakers refused to do earlier this year – give long-time jobless Floridians the ability to get extended unemployment compensation benefits approved by Congress yesterday.

Democratic lawmakers, including Palm Beach County’s Sen. Dave Aronberg of Greenacres and Rep. Kevin Rader of Boyton Beach, were among those who pushed their colleagues to extend the June 5 deadline for the benefits during the regular session that ended in May. That didn’t happen.

Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, worked behind-the-scenes with Crist on the executive order granting the benefits to about 100,000 Floridians whose unemployment benefits have run out and others whose benefits will dry up before Congress’ reauthorization ends.

“Unemployed Floridians are struggling in this challenging economic climate, trying to figure out how to pay their bills and support their families. We simply cannot desert the 250,000 Floridians who qualify for the extended federal assistance signed into law yesterday. I am committed to exercising my Constitutional duty to authorize the use of available federal funds to help out-of-work Floridians who qualify for this help,” Crist wrote in a release this afternoon.

Congress initially established the extended benefits program in 2008 to provide federal funds for jobless workers who exhausted their state unemployment benefits. Congress has since reauthorized the program several times.

LeMieux tells colleagues to support Obama, quit worrying about BP

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Republican U.S. Senator George LeMieux urged his Congressional colleagues to support the President Barack Obama’s administration, BP and others working on the Deepwater Horizon disaster and worry about whether the oil giant has done enough to mitigate the disaster later.

“Whether or not the government or British Petroleum have done all they can is an issue that will be sorted out through the various investigations that are already underway. Our number one priority needs to be focusing all of our efforts on stopping the oil spill from becoming larger. It threatens the environment; it threatens our economy; and it must be stopped,” said LeMieux.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is pushing a bill that would vastly expand the amount of money BP and other oil companies would have to pay for oil spills, currently capped by federal law at $75 million. Nelson, a Democrat, wants the cap raised to $10 billion.

Senate Majority Leader DLP considering run for Congress

Thursday, February 11th, 2010 by Dara Kam

s036Senate Majority Leader Alex Diaz de la Portilla, term-limited out of office this year, is considering a run for Congress.

U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart said today that he will not seek re-election this year. His brother Mario, a U.S. Representative from a neighboring district, plans to run for Lincoln’s seat.

That opens up Mario Diaz-Balart’s seat, which he won with just 52 percent in his last election against Democrat Joe Garcia.

Diaz de la Portilla says he’ll be the frontrunner in that race the day he enters and he’s already calling potential contributors who he said are ready to back him.

“I’ve got a proven track record as actually making good policy not just political hack work like others have,” Diaz de la Portilla said today. “As majority leader, I’ve proven my ability to reach across the aisle and deal with many, many democrats.”

DLP’s older brother Miguel is running to replace him in the state Senate and their younger brother Renier sits on the Miami-Dade County School Board.

DLP has served in the state legislature for 16 years, starting as a state representative in 1994.

“I have had the honor and privilege of serving my community as a state
senator and I am seriously considering the opportunity to continue to
fight for the people of Florida on a national level in the United
State Congress. I will make my final decision soon after thoughtful
and deliberate consideration,” Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, said in a statement.

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