Les Neuhaus - 3/8 - SaintPetersBlog

Les Neuhaus

Les Neuhaus is an all-platform journalist, with specialties in print reporting and writing. In addition to Florida Politics, he freelances as a general-assignment and breaking-news reporter for most of the major national daily newspapers, along with a host of digital media, and a human rights group. A former foreign correspondent across Africa and Asia, including the Middle East, Les covered a multitude of high-profile events in chronically-unstable nations. He’s a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, in which he served as a Security Policeman, and graduated from the University of Tennessee with a B.A. in political science. He is a proud father to his daughter and enjoys spending time with his family.

Breezing through committee: Welfare drug testing, DCF takes backseat in Walton County

Two measures dealing with drug testing for certain public aid applicants and law enforcement taking over DCF’s role investigative role in another county met no resistance Tuesday.

Among several bills heard by the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee were two dealing with applicants of temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) and child welfare investigations.

With regard to TANF, Sen. Jack Latvala introduced SB 1392, a bill that would require applicants with felony drug convictions within 10 years from the time of the application would be made to submit to a drug screening before being approved for those benefits. The bill also would include individuals with a “history of arrests for drug-related offenses,” Latvala said.

The bill also requires the Department of Children and Families, the agency tasked with distributing and overseeing TANF and food stamp benefits. DCF would be required to give advanced notice before a test and would not be allowed to withhold benefits from the children of parents who fail the illegal substance screenings.

While Latvala admitted the proposal was “controversial,” he said the idea actually wasn’t even his.

“This bill came out of ‘there ought to be a law’ competition we have at a high school in my son’s district in Pinellas County,” the lawmaker told the committee. “So I want to couch it in the fact it’s come from high school students who thought it ought to be a law.”

The applicant would be responsible for the cost of the screening, too, according to the bill’s fine print. Of that segment of applicants, those who pass would be tested every two months.

For those who fail, unless they meet strict requirements for re-testing, those individuals would not be eligible to reapply for two years, according to the bill.

Those who pass the screening will be a certain amount of dollars in their assistance from the state.

If an applicant fails once, they would have to wait two years before re-applying, but they would be eligible to attend drug rehabilitation classes contracted by DCF. If they fail twice, they won’t be eligible for benefits for three years.

There was no opposition to the bill from the public or committee members.

In a separate bill — SB 1092, Sen. George Gainer has proposed DCF to take a back seat to the Walton County Sheriff’s Office in all child welfare investigations.

If voted on favorably on the Senate floor later in the Legislative Session, Walton County would become only the seventh county out of Florida’s 67 to dish such serious responsibilities to a law enforcement agency.

The six other counties where sheriff’s offices have lead authority are Broward, Seminole, Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee, where the idea first started as a pilot in the late 1990s.

Other measures passed during the meeting included SB 518, SB 520, SB 924, SB 1094 and SB 1400,


House advances bills ‘cracking the whip’ on domestic abuse, child offenders, recovery centers, terrorism

A litany of bills Tuesday show legislators intend to crack the whip on several social, criminal and commercial problems affecting the state.

Each bill passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, covering issues as wide ranging as child predators, domestic violence, addiction recovery homes, skimming devices, the department of corrections, probation, terrorism — and protection of marine turtles.

All the measures facing the committee were built around a single theme, improving language in bills already on the books or simply to stiffen them.

For example, take Rep. Jeanette Nuñez‘s HB 1385, which would clamp down even harder for domestic violence offenders by increasing minimum jail times in first, second and any additional charges leveled thereafter.

It raises the number of required days spent in jail if found guilty from five to 10 days in a first offense; 15 days for the second offense and 20 days for the third offense or anymore thereafter. If the domestic violence happens in front of a child, the bill proposes a first offense would raise the minimum mandate from five to 15 days, 20 for the second offense and 30 days for a third or any subsequent offense, the legislator told committee members.

The proposal would also prohibit award of attorney fees in specified domestic violence proceedings, including in cases of injunctions, and prevents a court from adjudicating the offense, except under rare circumstances

The bill would also require first-time offenders to attend a 26-week, so-called “batterers course,” which must be completed.

HB 457, proposed by Rep. Julio Gonzalez, enhances certain offenses falling under terrorism charges, raising the degrees to which an individual could be prosecuted to first and second felonies.

“This is a bill strongly needed under our armartarium of weapons to use against hard-core criminals and with that I ask for your favorable support,” Gonzalez said to the committee.

Reps. Bill Hager and Gayle Harrell introduced HB 807 to the committee, which seeks to restrict the marketing and commercialization of so-called “Sober Houses,” which are transitional dwellings often perceived as having blighted suburban residential areas, Hager argued to the committee.

“They have proliferated throughout southeast Florida, beginning with our pill mills relating to prescription pain killers,” Hager said. “I have walked the streets of these neighborhoods in each of my last seven elections and if you were to walk with me this is what you would see: you would see former middle class neighborhoods devastated; you would see them devastated from a property value standpoint, devastated from a peace and tranquility standpoint, you’d see families in these neighborhoods, where one out of three houses are sober homes, families who have paid the mortgage for 25 out of 30 years and have seen the value of their homes plummet because there are sober homes next door.”

He went on to cite instances in which young girls would be harassed with “cat calls” by addicts who looked like “death.”

The homes are based on financial referrals, bringing into question their legitimacy.

Both Hager and Harrell said their measure did not impede on the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Fair Housing Act, which have been roadblocks in trying to clean up the lack of regulation and licensing of rogue drug rehabilitation centers that essentially act as pathways of “recovery to relapse” centers, according to Hager.

Their bill looks to primarily stop the predatory marketing practices that have allowed the dwellings to spread like viruses and to put regulations and oversight on the existence of the rehab centers.

Rep. Shawn Harrison introduced HB 1429, which “authorizes subpoenas in certain investigations of sexual offenses involving child victims and specifies requirements, (and) requires nondisclosure of specified information in certain circumstances.”

The measure would also provide for “judicial review and extension of such nondisclosure requirements, (and) exempts certain records (and) objects from production,” while also provides creating the flexibility for immunity for eligible individuals in compliance with those subpoenas.

All other bills put forth before the committee — HB 343, HB 1201, HB 1203, HB 1031 and PCB CJR 17-05 passed the committee Tuesday.

Some lawmakers worry children will suffer under new Florida work-for-welfare bill

A bill voted favorably by a Florida House committee Tuesday would increase penalties for Floridians receiving food stamps and cash aid, but have not met obligations to find work.

HB 23 would return those penalties to levels before the 2008 Great Recession.

Rep. Dane Eagle, who introduced the same measure in the 2016 Legislative Session which the Senate later rejected, re-introduced HB 23 to the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, citing instances of wanton abuse in the system.

Eagle said he saw an advertisement on Craigslist “to sell a (food stamp) $100 card for $50 to buy drugs, alcohol, you name it.”

While there have been numerous documented instances of abuse with electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards in every state, the drugs-and-alcohol citation is an oft-cited refrain used by fiscally conservative Republicans looking to justify legislation that curbs welfare programs.

In the case of HB 23, it also includes the temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) program.

According to the bill’s language, HB 23 “revises penalties for noncompliance with work requirements for temporary cash assistance; limits receipt of child-only benefits during periods of noncompliance with work requirements; provides applicability of work requirements before expiration of minimum penalty period; requires DCF to refer sanctioned participants to appropriate community services; requires DEO, in cooperation with CareerSource Florida, Inc., & DCF, to develop & implement work plan agreement for participants in temporary cash assistance program; prohibits use of EBT card at specified locations; requires DCF to impose replacement fee for EBT cards; revises eligibility guidelines for Relative Caregiver Program with respect to relative & nonrelative caregivers; provides appropriation.”

Eagle’s bill changes sanctions by increasing the length of time a recipient is slapped with a penalty for not finding employment within the required period allotted to do so, as set forth through an employment-assistance program run by the state for Florida through the Department of Children and Families.

Primarily, of an individual doesn’t find a job in time they lose both food stamps and cash assistance.

Rep. David Richardson asked Eagle what the total funds distributed through the TANF program were in 2016.

Eagle didn’t know.

Rep. Jason Brodeur chimed in: “About $130 million.”

For those individuals already on the edge and legitimately reliant on state assistance, the sudden loss of it can be a disaster, said committee member Rep. Daisy Baez, who previously worked as a health care work but now works as a social worker outside her legislator role.

She asked Eagle what a family of four received in cash assistance per month through the TANF program.

The bill’s creator didn’t know, he said.

Brodeur said it was about $200. (He was wrong.)

“Well, I do know that anyone that is trying to survive on $200 a month already has a multitude of problems with rent, transportation, food putting clothes on their children,” Baez said. “I think the punitive approach is not the way we need to go.”

Eagle was quick to clarify his bill.

“We want to help people … but we want people to comply,” he said. “Again, the key word in temporary cash assistance is ‘temporary.’”

He said the abuse needed to stop so that those committing fraud within the system weren’t “stealing tax dollars” of Floridians.

The bill would require a one-month penalty before allowance to reapply upon the first failure to meet the goal of getting a job. The second inability to get a job in time would then warrant a three-month period before the recipient could reapply for benefits. The third time — six months. The fourth time — one year before reapplication would be possible under the new amendments proposed by Eagle’s bill.

Eagle also noted EBT cards and TANF would not be allowed to purchase marijuana in the soon to open dispensaries of Florida, presumably for edible marijuana products, or in tattoo shops.

He cited that among those recipients who failed once in their requirements to receive assistance, 40 percent went on to successfully comply with the guidelines, while 60 percent went on to at least a second sanction, he said.

The greatest concern those in attendance voiced was what affect these penalties would have on the children of parents not meeting the job-attainment mandates in time.

Luckily, Eagle’s measure would allow the dependents of parents to receive assistance after the first sanction. However, after the first sanction, the children would also be cut off from food and-or cash assistance benefits.

This was a sticking point for a few in the public gallery as well. During an opportunity for public debate, Karen Woodall, executive director of the Tallahassee-based Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy, took the podium to state her case against HB 23 to the committee.

She said of the roughly 16,000 Floridians on TANF, nearly all had incurred at least one sanction.

“Let’s dig in and take a breath, and look at this over the next year and stop punishing people that, in the end, is really just going to affect children,” Woodall, who has more than 30 years’ experience in this budgetary area, said. “TANF is different from EBT for a reason.”

She said Eagle’s bill essentially saw the two as the same and treated penalties for them as one, which would be a mistake.

“And by the way, as I understand it, a family of four on TANF gets $303,” she said, accurately citing the figure loosely tossed around per Baez’s question. “While this bill is a good effort, it doesn’t reAlly address the needs of Florida families.”

Nevertheless, legislators passed the measure anyway.

St. Petersburg man arrested for molesting child for 3 years

It began in 2014, when the child was 11.

Ronnie O’Brian Kasten II, 29, was arrested by detectives for sexually molesting the youngster, now 13, according to a news release issued by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office late Monday.

Detectives with the Crimes Against Children Unit arrested Kasten, a multiple felon according to records, on one count of sexual battery and one count of lewd and lascivious molestation of a child, who was unnamed in the police report. It was too early to know if prosecutors with the state attorney’s office would seek further charges against him.

The report said the child’s relatives contacted investigators after the victim volunteered information to family a member of “inappropriate sexual activity had taken place on multiple occasions” with Kasten between 2014 to 2017.

The report didn’t specify a particular location, only that the incidents occurred in Pinellas County.

Kasten’s address is listed as 6295 33rd Way North in St. Petersburg.

The report says he was taken into custody without incident and is currently being held in the Pinellas County Jail.

Kasten has a lengthy history of arrests, as did his father, according to the Pinellas County Clerk of Court website.

Past arrests of the junior Kasten include three felony arrests for the sale of marijuana, two misdemeanor arrests for possession of marijuana, felony sexual battery and lewd and lascivious molestation of a family member, two misdemeanor arrests for domestic battery, felony aggravated battery of a pregnant woman and felony aggravated battery of a woman. He has more than a dozen traffic citations, too.

Records on the clerk’s website show the father, Ronnie O’Brian Kasten, was arrested for misdemeanor domestic violence, felony DUI, felony arson, felonious possession of firearms, three separate cases of petty theft, four separate arrests for felony grand theft, obstruction of justice, resisting an officer with violence, violation of probation in a retail theft incident and burglary.

Body of missing yacht boatmate recovered in Gulf of Mexico

The body of a yacht boatmate missing nearly a week after jumping in to try and save a Colorado college student was recovered in the Gulf of Mexico Monday, according to a Florida law enforcement statement.

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in Largo issued a news release confirming the body of Andrew Charles Dillman, 27, had been recovered more than 7 miles from the point at which he had gone missing March 14.

Dillman went missing after being swept away by strong currents after jumping into a channel to try and save Jie Luo, 21, a college student at Colorado State University on spring break with 14 friends.

The report made no mention of recovering Luo’s body.

The pair went missing when Luo, part of a party of 15 students who chartered a 71-ft. yacht named “Jaguar” March 14 in the afternoon, couldn’t make it back to the boat after he jumped in the channel at Pass-a-Grill, near St. Pete Beach.

Dillman, the captain’s boatmate jumped in after him to rescue Luo.

Neither were wearing flotation devices.

The U.S. Coast Guard and sheriff’s office mobilized boats and helicopters in a dayslong search that included hundreds of square miles. By March 17, the effort transitioned from a rescue into a recovery operation.

Dillman’s body, spotted just after 2 p.m. Monday by a boater, was floating in the Gulf of Mexico approximately 3 miles west of Egmont Key. Deputies were able to later confirm the identity of the missing boatman.

The students chartered the Jaguar online from Orlando for $2,000 via Florida Yacht Charters, which set out at approximately 4 p.m. March 14. The conditions were reported to be choppy, windy and rough, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri had said at a news conference March 15.

Captain Todd Davis took the students for a slow ride lasting about 45 minutes to Pass-a-Grille and decided to anchor instead of continuing into the Gulf of Mexico. There was some discussion between the students and Davis about going snorkeling in the water after the vessel was anchored, the sheriff said.

Davis claimed he told them not to jump in the water. But several of the students jumped into the fast-flowing waters anyway several times.

The third time the students jumped into the water, only four made it back to the vessel. Luo was having trouble swimming back to the ship, and that’s when Dillman, jumped in to assist Luo

The students later told officials they were not made aware of the dangerous conditions, Gualtieri said.

Davis attempted to toss Dillman a personal flotation device, but the wind caught it and blew it in the opposite direction.

The captain quickly pulled in the anchor and tried to search for both swimmers near the last place he saw them but was unable to locate them.

The statement Monday said Dillman’s family had been notified.

House bills move ahead on loss of driver’s licenses, human trafficking, Baker Act

Three bills dealing with issues of child support, sexual exploitation of minors and the controversial Baker Act were passed favorably by the House Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee Monday.

Rep. Kimberly Daniels introduced HB 313, while Rep. Jeanette Nuñez put forth her legislation on child trafficking in HB 1383 and Rep. David Silvers added his measure (HB 1183) to the meeting.

Daniels’s proposal would give Florida judges greater flexibility in considering cases where defendants challenge the revocation of their driver’s licenses due to back payments of child support. Specifically, the bill amends an existing law known as the “Florida Responsible Parent Act,” creating broader circumstances for state judges to consider before taking the license of a parent behind on child support payments.

The original law was aimed at holding so-called “deadbeat dads” financially responsible for their children but has been controversial since its start. Critics argue it cripples those coming from lower socio-economic circumstances and makes employment prospects tougher, if already unemployed at the time of the license revocation. For with jobs, the loss of a driver’s license can lead to unemployment, further complicating their situation with a judge.

Additionally, opponents have cited many of those caught driving without a license become ensnared in a web of ongoing legal problems and poverty, exponentially worsening their situation, and creating the potential for criminalizing offenders, which makes it harder to be a financially responsible parent.

Daniels said her legislation would prevent judges from automatically revoking licenses or arresting offenders of the Responsible Parent Act. Through electronic monitoring devices, a defendant could keep their license to drive back and forth to work through supervision of the court system and authorizes the state to provide businesses with tax incentives for employing defendants in such cases.

Separately, Nuñez’s bill would change the language in a measure already addressing human trafficking, but not specifically worded to be inclusive of the term “commercial” in the exploitation of minors under 18 years old.

HB 1383 changes several internal and external reporting requirements for the Dept. of Children and Families, the legislator said.

“First the department must submit to the legislature a report from information of the CBC (community-based care) lead agencies noting the prevalence of commercial sexual exploitation and the specialized services used to treat these children, and local service capacity,” Nuñez told the committee Monday. “Secondly the bill also requires the department to maintain data on verified victims of commercial sexual exploitation referred to non-safe houses in their community.”

Current law only requires them to maintain data on who are referred to safe houses, she said.

Further, DCF must conduct multidisciplinary staffing on victims of commercial child sexual abuse to determine their needs. The proposal also would require a so-called “case plan” for those victims and mandate DCF to follow up on all victims of child sexual exploitation, not just individual segments.

Finally, HB 1183 — Silver’s measure would require hospitals or other facilities accepting a child 10 years or younger to notify the clerk of courts in the appropriate county within 24 hours, a sticking point for several committee members who thought it should be inclusive of everyone 18 and under.

The vice chair of the committee, Rep. Julio Gonzalez, wanted to know why the bill was only inclusive of such a narrow — and young — segment of the child population at risk of being lassoed into the Baker Act, which is a process by which a person can be involuntarily detained for psychological purposes.

“There has been a lot of situations in which children have been acting up in school, and unfortunately school will be stopped if they’re suspended, but that’s not the case if they’re Baker Act’ed,” Silvers responded. “So I want to make sure the children that are going to facilities — mental health facilities — are there because they need the help, that they’re not just there for punishment for acting out in class.”

But after several questions by committee members addressing concerns about the bill to Silvers, Gonzalez circled back to his concerns, address one of several he had.

“I think we need to address the 950-lb gorilla in the room that we’re going to do the wrong thing — we’re authorizing the schools to use the Baker Act as a crutch,” he said. “Moving forward I’d like to work with you to solve that riddle.”

The bill also grants lawyers automatic access to that child’s records — school, medical, dental, etc. And any hearings regarding that child must be done in his or her presence, regardless of their age, and provides for penalties in cases not adhering to that stipulation, according to the proposal’s language.

Committee Chair Gayle Harrell ended the meeting by saying, “When a 6-year-old is Baker Act’ed there’s a lot going on there. We need to make sure that child is being appropriately treated as rapidly as possible.”

House bill advances to allow alternative treatments for Florida veterans suffering brain injuries, PTSD

A Florida House subcommittee unanimously advanced a first-of-its-kind bill Monday to allow alternative treatments for veterans diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD).

Treatments to be considered include music, art, horses, dogs, acupuncture, yoga and more.

HB 55, sponsored by both Rep. Daniel Burgess and Rep. Frank White, looks to expand beyond the scope of simply prescribing drugs to vets suffering from the serious diagnoses of TBI and PTSD.

The legislation would authorize the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs to contract with certain licensed individuals and businesses offering such service options, as long as they are recognized medically, scientifically or psychologically to have the benefits they claim, and are evidenced-based in nature.

“This bill is important because the military is very good at teaching service members at putting the uniform on, but not so good at teaching us to take it off,” said Burgess, a captain in the U.S. Army Reserves who presented the bill to the House Health Innovation Subcommittee Monday. “It isn’t always easy to adjust back into society. I’ve heard stories of soldiers who had to kill someone, then a few days later go on service leave back here in the States. Now imagine that perspective.”

Burgess cited several startling statistics in justification of the bill, chiefly that an average of 25 service members per day commit suicide.

Veterans diagnosed with TBI and PTSD are often prescribed a plethora of medication, sometimes contributing — it has been argued — to depression among veterans and active servicemen and women, leading to higher suicide rates in recent years.

On hand to speak to the committee was Ryan Anderson, a U.S. Army Special Forces veteran, accompanied by his dog, “Hero.”

He told the committee about a story when his best friend was killed on one of his many deployments to Afghanistan, on Sept. 29, 2010.

“For a long time, I felt like he was always walking right next to me,” Anderson said emotionally. “But this bill is the first of its kind in the United States.”

Anderson went through hyperbolic oxygen therapy, in addition to a few other things before finding Hero, his animal companion.

He backed up Burgess’s statistic on military suicide rates with another more specific to Florida, saying 25 percent of all suicides across the state are made up of active-duty service members or veterans, although they only make up eight percent of the population.

In imploring the committee to vote for the bill and how he had discovered help, he said, “Alternative treatments are saving warriors lives.”

Legislation advanced making knowingly spread HIV through sex without partner’s knowledge a capital crime

Roughly 34 years after the discovery of the virus that causes AIDS, Florida’s lawmakers are considering legislation whose maximum sentence would be death to knowingly spread the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, to a sexual partner without their knowledge, according to a committee that voted favorably Monday in regard to the measure.

The bill, HB 165, sponsored by Florida Rep. Kionne McGhee, would expand a current law already on the books in the Sunshine State making it a crime to consciously spread sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs).

McGhee’s legislation looks to amend the law by adding HIV to a list of STDs, which include gonorrhea, genital herpes simplex, chlamydia, human papillomavirus hepatitis and syphilis, among others. Anyone caught knowingly spreading those communicable diseases can be punished in a court of law and face jail time, but may only be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor crime if they didn’t know it.

The amendment could make it a first-degree felony, punishable by death, if a person knowingly spreads the disease more than once to multiple people.

The move was sparked by a 2011 case in Key West, Florida, that forced Florida lawmakers to redefine the definition of sex. The Florida Supreme Court issued a ruling in connection to the case just last week.

Gary Debaun, 65, allegedly risked his partner with the virus that causes AIDS and a legal definition of sexual intercourse can’t get him out of the charge, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a six-page decision based solely on whether intercourse is defined as only sex between a man and a woman.

“The term ‘sexual intercourse’ is commonly understood to broadly refer to several sex acts — including the sexual act at issue here,” said the court ruling. “In certain contexts, the term refers to specifically — that is, more narrowly, to penile-vaginal intercourse.”

House seeks to end controversial state employee charity program

Florida lawmakers are looking to shut down a charitable program funded for decades by state employees.

A bill to end the Florida State Employees’ Charitable Campaign comes after a yearslong slump due partly to a drop in participation and controversy surrounding its management, according to a new bill proposed by a House lawmaker and unanimously favored in committee Thursday.

The bill, CS/HB 1141, is sponsored by Rep. Clay Yarborough through the House Government Accountability Committee.

The measure would end the FSECC, which offers a way for employees on Florida’s payroll to give to charities of their choice. If they choose to take part in the program, they are encouraged to authorize payroll deductions divided incrementally from their annual salary.

The FSECC is the only authorized form of workplace solicitation of state employees permitted during work hours, according to the of the Florida Department of Management Services (DMS), which administers and channels the funds collected from employees to a third party for distribution to the actual charities.

Participation in the program is voluntary.

“At its peak in 2005 the program raised $4.9 million,” Yarborough told the House Government Accountability Committee Thursday. “However, since then … the campaign has experienced an ongoing and significant decline in employee contributions — so much so that in 2016 employees pledged a historic low of $282,000, which was a decrease of more than 94 percent.”

The FSECC was enacted by the legislature in 1980 and allows workers to choose among a wide range of “eligible charitable organizations that meet human or environmental needs,” and are inclusive of domestic or international causes.

Channeling the money through the FSECC reduces the expense and effort that arise from multiple charity drives cropping up throughout a calendar year that had the potential to disrupt workplace efficiency.

“The bill basically removes government as the middleman and supports state employees giving directly to the charity of their choice, and we all know that with today’s ability to donate to charities — from computers to and hand-held devices — direct giving is easier than ever,” Rep. Yarborough said.

During its 36-year history, the FSECC raised more than $94 million, according to a house House of Representatives staff analysis of the campaign.

The FSECC was run by the United Way for years and took in roughly $4 million a year from 1999 to 2009, when donations began to dip.

However, in 2013 the fund took a nose-dive after the state outsourced the charitable drive in 2012 “to Solix, Inc., a New-Jersey-based company with close ties to Gov. Rick Scott through its well-connected lobbyists,” according to a 2015 article in The Tallahassee Democrat newspaper.

The newspaper further noted a partisan investigation by Statehouse Democrats found Solix took 47 percent of the campaign’s proceeds in 2013 and more than half last year to cover its overhead. This year — in part because donations continued to tank — Solix could walk away with a bigger chunk, nearly two-thirds of the contributions.

DMS renewed the contract with Solix last year even though there were grumblings from state employees once the Democrats’ investigation was made public and there was a dispute in the percentages taken in for overhead between numbers given by DMS and United Way, the previous steward of the campaign, and the percentages taken in by Solix for overhead.

Florida statutes dictating the rules and ethics for the FSECC do not allow the agency to do business with a third party if the overhead exceeds 25 percent, except in rare circumstances.

Turns out the New Jersey company was getting $0.71 for every dollar Florida state employees were contributing to the FSECC. Still, DMS defended their choice of Solix.

Lawmakers apparently do not agree with the FSECC. The governor’s been mum on the issue, but in a hint of the fracas behind the scenes, DMS Secretary Chad Poppell resigned Thursday.

Mentioning nothing of HB 1141, Scott said, “Chad Poppell has done an outstanding job as Secretary of DMS and I want to thank him for his hard work to improve efficiency and foster innovation in state government. Under his leadership, Florida has remained a leader in government efficiency and provided the critical support to our state agencies to ensure Florida families and businesses receive the services and support they need.”

The Thursday introduction of the bill Thursday was its second hearing. The House Oversight, Transparency and Administration Committee also voted unanimously in favor Monday.

Records released by DCF portray different picture of mother in teen’s Facebook Live suicide

The mother of a teen who committed suicide was in her car when she began receiving a trickle of text messages,

Then a barrage of texts began streaming in.

“Where’s your daughter,” one read.

“Please please please check on your daughter,” read another.

Gina Alexis, the mother of Naika Venant, the 14-year-old girl who hung herself with a scarf in January as hundreds watched, began to frantically make phone calls — first to Naika’s case worker. But no one picked up.

According to a cache of documents released on Wednesday by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) on the order of a judge in a suit brought by The Miami Herald, Alexis tried to scan the dozens of messages popping up on Naika’s Facebook page.

Her heart sank, she told The Miami Herald in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.

FloridaPolitics.com acquired the same trove of documents from DCF, which number in the hundreds of pages and give a full, detailed history from the first time the two came in contact with the agency — when Naika’s baby sitter left her home alone for more than an hour to the rapid response report recently issued following Naika’s death.

It was revealed Alexis might have been taunted Naika in a comment on the Facebook Live thread, but it wasn’t true, she said.

“Alexis said she has been wrongly cast as a villain, as someone who watched online as her daughter planned and executed a chilling suicide while live-streaming on Facebook,” the Herald reported. “Critics of her behavior have cited a post Alexis made on social media in which she referred to Naika as ‘a sad little DCF custody jit,’ and warned that the girl ‘will get buried’ if she continued down a path of abhorrent behavior.”

The post still exists online here and there, but it was never proven Alexis wrote it and several fake accounts had been set up impersonating Naika during the three hours she built up the nerve to hang herself.

“And Alexis insists she made the comments at around 1:15 a.m. the night Naika died — but when friends were telling her that news of a Facebook Live hanging were a hoax,” according to the Herald. “Indeed, Alexis said, friends of her daughter were creating fake social media accounts under Naika’s name, reporting that the spectacle was a stunt.”

Naika had endured sexual abuse from a young age and had become inappropriately hyper-sexualized at an inappropriate age, records reflect.

It no doubt played a confusing role in her mind, along with the 14 foster homes she was placed in during nine months time, according to a DCF report.

“I didn’t bring from Haiti for this result … I lost my #1 friend my baby my #1 reason to live it’s so hard without you … I love you to the moon and back princess,” Alexis wrote in kind of goodbye text.

DCF Secretary Mike Carroll said in a statement: “There has been much work done in the child welfare system throughout the state, and in Miami-Dade County in recent years, but our work will never be done. The findings outlined in the critical incident rapid response team) report present specific opportunities to make systemic improvements that will inform us and our partner agencies on how to better reach troubled kids.”

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