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Staff Reports

Frank Artiles resigns from Senate

Frank Artiles has resigned his Senate seat rather than face a hearing that could result in his expulsion, according to a letter he sent to Senate President Joe Negron Friday.

Artiles, a Cuban-American Republican from Miami-Dade County, made national news after he accosted Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, calling her a “b****h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation at a private club in Tallahassee Monday night. Thurston and Gibson are black.

Artiles also used a slang variation of the ‘N-word,’ referring to white Republicans who supported Joe Negron as Senate President. Thurston and Gibson are black. Artiles apologized on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Thurston subsequently filed a Senate rules complaint against Artiles seeking his expulsion. Artiles, elected to the Senate last year after six years in the House, had initially called efforts to remove him politically motivated.

Gibson, in a brief statement released by the Senate Democratic Office, “thank(ed) everyone for their outpouring of support.”

“This has been an ordeal that no one should have to endure,” said Gibson, who kept her back turned to Artiles when he delivered his apology. “I wish him well in all of his endeavors.”

In the resignation letter mentioning his Marine service and crediting his family’s support, he said it was “clear to me my recent actions and words that I spoke fell far short of what I expect for myself, and for this, I am very sorry.

“I apologize to my family and friends, and I apologize to all of my fellow Senators and lawmakers. To the people of my district and all of Miami-Dade, I am sorry I have let you down and ask for your forgiveness.

“My actions and my presence in government is now a distraction to my colleagues, the legislative process, and the citizens of our great State. I am responsible, and I am accountable, and effective immediately, I am resigning from the Florida State Senate.

“It’s clear there are consequences to every action, and in this area, I will need time for personal reflection and growth. I leave this office knowing that despite my shortcomings, I have fought hard to change the status quo while remaining true to myself. I’m grateful for those that have stood by my side, including my family, friends, and supporters.

“Serving my community in the Florida Legislature has been the honor of a lifetime, and I do not leave this process lightly. I will discover ways to continue to serve my community in the future.

“God bless the great state of Florida and our great country,” he concluded, signing off, “Sincerely, Senator Frank Artiles.”

In a separate statement, Negron said Artiles “made the right decision.”

“As Senator Artiles has noted, he holds himself responsible and accountable for his actions and comments,” Negron, a Stuart Republican. “Despite the events of the last week, Senator Artiles has a long and proud record of public service. We all owe him a debt of gratitude for serving our country in the United States Marine Corps, where he fought for our freedom in the Global War on Terror.

“Additionally, his years of service in the Florida House and Senate demonstrate a commitment to helping others that will not end with his departure from the Senate. My Senate colleagues and I wish Senator Artiles and his family well.”

Negron added that Thurston will withdraw his complaint and he “directed the (Senate General Counsel Dawn Roberts) to close her investigation. No further action by the Senate will be taken in regard to this matter.”

On Thursday, Gibson had told reporters Artiles’ tirade was “horrific.”

“No one has ever addressed me in such a manner in my entire life,” she said, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. “I’ve never heard such nasty comments about leadership in my entire life and really denigrating the entire Senate as far as I’m concerned and the constituencies around the state.”

In an interview with The Florida Channel, she added, “I need to feel, and I have the right to feel, as comfortable as he does in that body, to which I was elected. And I don’t know that I could do that with him there.”

Artiles could not be reached. A message was left with his attorney, Steve Andrews of Tallahassee, on Friday morning. Artiles reportedly told colleagues he feared he wouldn’t have the support he needed to avoid a vote of expulsion from the Senate, to which he was elected last year after serving six years in the House.

In a statement, Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon II “welcomed” Artiles’ decision to leave the Senate.

“It was not only the right decision, but the honorable one, for himself and the people of Florida,” said Braynon, of Miami Gardens. 

“I take no pleasure in these unfortunate events. But I urge that we learn from them. In our communities, our state, and our country, there should be a message of hope, of tolerance, of unity. We cannot afford the high cost (that) words of divisiveness and cruelty leave in their wake. 

“I wish Senator Artiles the best, and I hope that, upon reflection, he finds consolation in knowing that his actions, today, show the contrition demanded, and the Senate was owed.”

The full resignation is below:

Joe Negron: Frank Artiles ‘made the right decision’

Senate President Joe Negron said former Sen. Frank Artiles made the “right decision” to resign.

The Miami-area Republican resigned his seat Friday rather than face a hearing that could have resulted in his explusion from the Senate.

“Senator Artiles made the right decision,” ,” said Negron in a statement. “As Senator Artiles has noted, he holds himself responsible and accountable for his actions and comments.”

Artiles made national news after he accosted Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, calling her a “b—h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation at a private club in Tallahassee Monday night. Thurston and Gibson are black.

Artiles also used a slang variation of the ‘N-word,’ referring to white Republicans who supported Joe Negron as Senate President. Thurston and Gibson are black.

“Despite the events of the last week, Senator Artiles has a long and proud record of public service. We all owe him a debt of gratitude for serving our country in the United State Marine Corps, where he fought for our freedom in the Global War on Terror,” continued Negron. “Additionally, his years of service in the Florida House and Senate demonstrate a commitment to helping others that will not end with his departure from the Senate. My Senate colleagues and I wish Senator Artiles and his family well.”

While Artiles apologized on the Senate floor Wednesday, critics said it wasn’t enough. Thurston, the chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, subsequently filed a Senate rules complaint against Artiles seeking his explusion.

Negron said Thurston informed him he would be withdrawing his complaint; and Negron has “directed the special master to close her investigation.”

“No further action will be taken by the Senate in regard to this matter,” said Negron.

Eric Draper: Florida making smart progress on solar

Eric Draper

On a sunny day in Florida, I watched the American flag rise and fly over hundreds of acres of solar cells. It was an amazing experience to think the million panels I was looking at in Manatee County were replacing energy from conventional fuel combustion plants. Yet this solar field feeding directly into the power grid was not using any water nor emitting pollution. I could not have been more excited.

In recent years, Florida has increasingly lived up to its name as the Sunshine State, with more and more solar panels dotting our landscape. Solar energy makes so much sense for Florida’s natural environment because every watt of solar electricity reduces energy produced by traditional generation.

Growth in Florida’s solar capacity is accelerating largely as a result of large solar power plants Florida Power & Light is building, just like the one I visited in February. On that day alone, six FPL solar plants generated 335 megawatts of electricity — the same capacity as a coal-fired power plant.

Along with saving water and reducing air pollution, solar plants have an additional benefit. The land used to build fields of solar panels can be used to enhance habitats for birds and other wildlife. Fallow land repurposed for solar can recharge groundwater by allowing rainfall to soak into the earth. With so much of natural Florida being gobbled up by development and agricultural uses, I’m for using every acre we can to restore some lost wildlife habitat.

Audubon Florida has long been a proponent of solar power. We were there nearly a decade ago promoting the policy that led FPL to build the state’s first solar plant in DeSoto County, the largest in the country at that time.

On the day I watched our flag fly over the new solar plant, FPL announced one of the largest expansions of solar power ever in the southeastern United States — eight new solar power plants with 2.5 million solar panels that will generate enough electricity to power 120,000 homes by early 2018. Shortly thereafter, FPL furthered its commitment with plans for an additional 1,500 megawatts of new solar under development across its Florida service area.

Each will feed electricity directly into the grid to serve all FPL customers at no net cost.

In support of our clean energy and water conservation goals, and in keeping with Audubon Florida’s commitment to community-based conservation, we are partnering with FPL to advance solar energy while improving the environmental values of the land where the solar plants are sited.

By recommending bird and pollinator-friendly vegetation for the solar plants, Audubon and its local chapters will make these facilities home to wildlife and nature. Audubon already has provided recommendations of native trees, shrubs, grasses and vines.

FPL’s solar energy advancement already aligns with Audubon’s goals. But it is the potential of partnership with local communities to protect and enhance wildlife that says more about FPL’s motivation. They are investing in making these sites friendly for butterflies, bees and birds.

Working together, we can harness solar energy and the power of Audubon’s grassroots community. We can ensure solar power plants not only advance zero-emissions and zero-water-use energy but also benefit the local communities where they are built.

That’s a partnership worth celebrating for Earth Day in the Sunshine State.

___

Eric Draper is executive director of Audubon Florida.

FPL Babcock Ranch Solar Energy Center, a 74.5-megawatt solar power plant in Charlotte County, Fla., is one of three massive new solar farms built by Florida Power & Light in 2016. FPL is currently building eight more new solar power plants and plans to add a total of 2,100 new megawatts of new solar over the next few years.
The American flag flies over the FPL Manatee Solar Energy Center in Parrish, Fla. The 74.5-megawatt solar power plant is one of three massive new solar farms built by Florida Power & Light in 2016. FPL is currently building eight more new solar power plants and plans to add a total of 2,100 new megawatts of new solar over the next few years..

 

Wexford responds to DOC’s cancellation of health care contract

Wexford Health Sources is striking back at the Department of Corrections for canceling its contract to provide health care services at the state’s prisons.

In a lengthy press release, the Pittsburgh-based private health care provider took issue with the department’s criticism of its performance:

Wexford Health Sources disagrees with the assessment of the Correctional Medical Authority regarding the treatment provided to a small number of inmates at the South Florida Reception Center. More significantly, we take strong exception to the idea that this limited number of cases—involving patients who were already experiencing significant psychiatric challenges before they ever entered our care—should serve as the basis for termination of our contract with the State of Florida.

Privacy regulations limit how much Wexford Health can say to refute the CMA allegations without risking disclosure of the patients’ identities. However, there was nothing in the treatment of these inmates that should, or could, justify contract termination.

It is extremely disappointing that the Department of Corrections acted without consulting our psychiatric providers regarding the affected inmates. Had the DOC done so, it would have learned why our clinical personnel, relying on their professional judgment, pursued the chosen courses of treatment. Instead, the Department relied on the opinions of CMA’s non-psychiatric auditors, who—without being licensed psychiatrists—told the Department how they thought the patients should have been treated. These allegations led to the declaration of an emergency situation.

Wexford Health President CEO Dan Conn summed up the situation: “Wexford Health’s culture is one of transparency. We have always been open and direct with the Department about our performance. In fact, the Department has consistently complemented us on our performance and partnership.

“Our responsiveness; and our ownership of issues as they arise; have been exemplary. Again, the Department has acknowledged this. This could not be more apparent, since the Department recently asked us to extend our current contract for another year.

“But in this case, we were not even given the opportunity to respond to the Department’s allegations. Upon hearing them, Wexford Health’s psychiatric providers immediately responded to the situation and evaluated the patients’ cases. These psychiatric experts’ findings are considerably different than the ones given by CMA’s non-psychiatric personnel.”

The unfortunate reality is that prison inmates represent a particularly challenging patient population. This is especially so in the area of mental health. Wexford Health treats every patient under our care with respect and dignity, with the full hope that we can help restore their health. Isolated cases, involving inmates with long histories of mental problems, would not appear to be a sound basis for termination of an entire contract.

Out of tremendous concern for the safety and well-being of the inmates in our care, Wexford Health acted immediately to assess and evaluate the patients involved in the CMA report. We can now state that for each of the affected patients, psychiatric medications were discontinued after a clinical evaluation by a psychiatric provider; and the patients were observed in an inpatient unit after their medications were discontinued.

The patients were not at risk; and no life-threatening situations existed. The patients were being adequately and regularly monitored, supervised, and treated by psychiatric providers at clinically appropriate intervals. Please note that Wexford Health is not financially responsible for the cost of psychiatric medications and therefore has no financial incentive to withhold or discontinue them.

It is equally disappointing that the Department chose to terminate our contract rather than to exercise its option to offer Wexford Health an opportunity to cure the alleged issues (as allowed by the contract). In the past, if there was an issue, the Department and Wexford Health always sat down and worked it out. However, for some reason, in this situation the Department suddenly decided to terminate us with no warning.

The motivations that led to the Department’s decision are questionable—especially since within the past several weeks, the DOC and Wexford Health were looking for ways to fund Wexford Health’s ongoing contract.

Wexford Health has been an excellent partner for the Department since 2013, as reflected in the dramatic improvements in audit reports from the time we took over responsibility for providing services, until our current fourth year of service. This week’s actions by the Department have been as surprising as they are unnecessary. It is regrettable that we were not given a chance to provide the Department with crucial information that would clearly have refuted the CMA allegations.

Updated 1:55 p.m. — In response to Wexford, Ashley Cook, press secretary for the Florida Department of Corrections, released this statement:

“Secretary Julie Jones sent a letter to Wexford Health Sources, notifying it that the Department is exercising its contractual authority to terminate the contract with Wexford at will.

“Secretary Jones is absolutely outraged at Wexford’s lack of performance and delivery of services as detailed in the Correctional Medical Authority’s notification issued April 18, 2017. The Department has been committed to meaningful health care reforms and takes the issues detailed in the CMA’s notification extremely seriously.

“Following this medical emergency notification, the Department immediately deployed a Mental Health Ombudsman and Behavioral Health Risk Management Team to review all inmate mental health needs handled by Wexford at South Florida Reception Center.

“In regards to an extension of their contract, this was prior to the CMA’s emergency notification and under the pretense that their contracted services were improving after previously being placed on direct notice by the Department. Since their performance did not improve, the Department terminated the contract.

“Please also note, mental health services has been an ongoing issue with Wexford, and the Secretary has had extensive discussions regarding their performance. These discussions were never complimentary of their mental health services.”

 

Report: Pam Bondi suggests Frank Artiles step down over disparaging remarks

Attorney General Pam Bondi has joined Sen. Frank Artiles’ chorus of critics, suggesting her fellow Republican leave office for directing slurs, including a version of the N-word, at colleagues.

“There is simply no room for racial, hurtful language spoken to your colleagues or anyone else,” Bondi told POLITICO Florida.

“I have always liked Frank and hope he gives serious consideration to resigning so the focus can return to important legislative issues,” she told the website Thursday.

The head of the NAACP Florida State Conference has called for Artiles to step down. So has the Legislative Black Conference and Jewish Conference. Dozens of protesters gathered outside Artile’s Kendall district office to demand the same thing.

Artiles, a Cuban-American Republican from Miami-Dade County, made national news after he accosted Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, calling her a “b—h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation at a private club in Tallahassee Monday night. Thurston and Gibson are black.

Artiles also used a variation of the “N-word,” referring to her and to white Republicans who supported Joe Negron as Senate President. Artiles apologized on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Thurston has lodged a Senate rules complaint against Artiles seeking his expulsion. An investigative report by General Counsel Dawn Roberts is due next Tuesday.

Legislative Jewish Caucus urges Senate to expel Frank Artiles

The Florida Legislative Jewish Caucus “denounced” state Sen. Frank Artiles Thursday, urging his Senate colleagues to toss him out of the Legislature.

“(We) denounce Senator Frank Artiles for his racist, sexist, and otherwise inflammatory comments directed at some of his Senate colleagues,” they said in a statement.

The statement was signed by Rep. Richard Stark, chair, and Reps. Lori Berman, Ben DiamondJoe Geller and Emily Slosberg, and Sen. Kevin Rader. All are Democrats.

“We stand in defense of our African-American and women legislative colleagues and any public official or private citizen subjected to this type of abusive behavior,” the statement added.

“We urge the Florida Senate to take the highest level of disciplinary action, including expulsion.”

Artiles, a Cuban-American Republican from Miami-Dade County, made national news after he accosted Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, calling her a “b—h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation at a private club in Tallahassee Monday night. Thurston and Gibson are black.

Artiles also used a variation of the “N-word,” referring to her and to white Republicans who supported Joe Negron as Senate President. Artiles apologized on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Thurston has lodged a Senate rules complaint against Artiles seeking his expulsion. An investigative report by General Counsel Dawn Roberts is due next Tuesday.

Kendall protestors call for ‘bully’ Frank Artiles to resign

On Thursday, dozens of protesters gathered outside Frank Artiles‘ office in Kendall to protest racist and sexist slurs he used against Florida Senate colleagues.

Constituents from his district called for his resignation, chanting outside the shuttered district office. The protest comes as elected officials, community leaders and organizations throughout the country demand he resigns from the Senate.

“Frank Artiles is a bully,” said Miami-Dade Democratic chair Juan Cuba. “This latest embarrassment is only the most recent in a long string of hateful incidents that show Artiles does not represent the values of his diverse District. There is no excuse or apology for hate. He must resign now.”

In 2014, Artiles used a slur to refer to Muslims, he has used hate-speech to refer to LGBTQ people and was caught punching a college student at a bar in Tallahassee. Artiles blamed being from Hialeah as an excuse for his hateful, bigoted language.

Wednesday, Sen. Perry Thurston, chair of the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators, filed a complaint with the Senate Rules Committee to formally seek the expulsion of Artiles. An investigation has begun and will present its findings on April 25.

Charlie Crist adds voice to those calling for Frank Artiles’ resignation

Congressman Charlie Crist also wants Frank Artiles gone.

“The racial slurs used by Sen. Artiles are deeply offensive to me and the community I represent,” said the St. Petersburg Democrat and former Republican governor in a short statement on Thursday.

“He should restore the dignity of the Florida Senate by immediately removing himself from it.”

Artiles, a Cuban-American Republican from Miami-Dade County, made national news after he accosted Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, calling her a “b—h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation at a private club in Tallahassee Monday night.

Artiles also used a variation of the “N-word,” referring to her and to white Republicans who supported Joe Negron as Senate President.

Thurston and Gibson are black. Artiles apologized on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Thurston has lodged a Senate rules complaint against Artiles seeking his expulsion. An investigative report by General Counsel Dawn Roberts is due next Tuesday.

Pinellas nursing home operators worried about impact of payment system

Leaders from Pinellas County nursing homes joined local residents, families and advocates to voice concern over a prospective payment system (PPS) plan under consideration by the Florida Senate.

Pinellas County has 69 nursing homes, of which 39 (57 percent) could lose money under the Senate budget plan — potentially more than $13 million.

 “On average, our facility has a Medicaid census of close to 70 percent, which translates into 172 seniors, and under the proposed PPS system, we would lose $1.7 million — this is a cost we simply cannot afford and one that would be devastating to our core mission of caring for the sick and dying,” said Kip Corriveau, director of Mission at Bon Secours St. Petersburg Health System.  “I ask lawmakers to prioritize quality care for our state’s most vulnerable and fragile seniors, whose families have entrusted their care to us by deferring the proposed PPS system until a fair solution that truly cares for seniors can be reached.”

Three of Pinellas County’s largest skilled nursing facilities — Bon Secours, Mease Manor and Menorah Manor — have opposed the PPS model, arguing it would negatively affect local nursing homes by shifting resources from high-quality nursing home communities to primarily lower-quality facilities.

“Menorah Manor is a mission-driven, charitable, nonprofit, faith-based organization that strives to provide the highest standards of care, and our doors are open to everyone — regardless of ability to pay, which means our Medicaid census on average is roughly 65 percent,” said Rob Goldstein, CEO of Menorah Manor.

“Yet, under the PPS plan included in the Senate budget, our facility will lose nearly $1 million when the transition funding runs out,” Goldstein added. “Moreover, this proposed PPS plan lacks any requirement that providers who receive new money under the plan have to spend it on care, programs or services.

“I respectfully ask, on behalf of the residents we are committed to caring for, that the legislature rejects this plan.”

Mease Manor president and CEO Kent McRae added: “Mease Manor is focused on the delivery of high-quality nursing home care and we oppose the proposed PPS plan, as it will have a negative impact on the quality of care we provide to our residents. Under the plan in the Senate budget, Mease Manor stands to lose nearly a quarter of a million dollars each year. Losses like this will negatively affect our nursing home, staff, residents and their families.”

 

House approves six-year lobbying ban for former lawmakers, elected officials

The Florida House approved tough new ethics legislation Thursday barring members of the Legislature and statewide elected officials from lobbying their former colleagues for six years after leaving office.

The measure also would prevent officials from leveraging their authority to seek jobs from or going into business with lobbyists.

CS/SB 7083 passed on a vote of 118-0, even though House Speaker Richard Corcoran has conceded the Senate has little interest in boosting ethics laws this year, and with the scheduled end of session a little more than two weeks away.

Corcoran has pushed for more stringent ethics rules since becoming speaker. He oversaw rules changes tightening oversight of the lobbyists he views as wielding too much influence in Tallahassee, and imposing more transparency on the budget-writing process.

Existing law restricts lobbying by former lawmakers and elected officials for two years.

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