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Fate of program for disabled children rests with Rick Scott

Debby Dawson, who lives in southwest Florida, has a simple message to Gov. Rick Scott: The state’s existing scholarship program for disabled children is “life changing” and has helped her 7-year-old autistic son “develop by leaps and bounds.”

Dawson is part of a chorus of parents from around the state who have mounted a campaign through letters, emails and phone calls urging the Republican governor to sign a sweeping education bill that will soon come to his desk.

But that same bill has sparked an outpouring of an even larger negative reaction to Scott both directly and on social media.

School superintendents, the state’s teacher union, parent-teacher groups and Democrats have called on the governor to veto the bill. Even Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the leading Republican candidate for governor in 2018, called the legislation a “train wreck” on Tuesday and said Scott should take a “hard look” at vetoing the bill.

That’s because GOP legislators crafted the 300-page bill largely in secret, and included in it portions that would steer more state and local money to privately-run charter schools. The legislation (HB 7069) also mandates recess in elementary schools, expands virtual education courses to private and home schooled students, and tweaks Florida’s testing system.

Scott, who supported the creation of the scholarship program, has not yet said what he plans to do.

But if he vetoes the bill, however, he will wipe out an extra $30 million for the Gardiner Scholarship program that provides tuition, therapy and other services to roughly 8,000 disabled students. Legislators included $73 million in the state budget for scholarships, but those who operate the program say it is growing and they may not have enough money to serve everyone without the extra money. Additionally, legislators passed a separate bill that would expand those eligible for the program.

That’s why Dawson wrote Scott asking him to sign the bill. She said without the extra money her other son – who is about to turn 3-years-old – may not get a scholarship in the coming year.

“As a parent who has seen how life changing this grant is, and knowing my second child may not have the same opportunities as my oldest, it is heartbreaking, to say the least,” Dawson wrote in an email to a reporter. “This grant opens up doors for our children where the doors were once shut and locked tight.”

Legislative leaders have not given a detailed explanation on why they put the extra money for the scholarship program in the bill, which was not released publicly until two days before a final vote. Initially, the state Senate had more than $100 million in its budget for the program but then agreed to lower it during budget negotiations.

Sen. Jack Latvala, the budget chairman, said the decision to include the money in the bill and not the budget was at the urging of House Speaker Richard Corcoran. When asked Corcoran called it a “compromise” since the House did not include the higher amount in its initial budget.

Sen. Gary Farmer, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat opposed to the bill, argued that legislative leaders crafted the legislation this way in order to make it harder for Scott to veto the bill.

“I was deeply disturbed that (the families of disabled children) were hijacked and used as pawns to mollify opposition to an otherwise bad bill,” Farmer said.

School choice advocates, including former Gov. Jeb Bush, are asking Scott to sign the bill. Former Senate President Andy Gardiner, who has a son with Down syndrome and helped create the program, said he hopes the “governor is mindful” that the bill isn’t just about charter schools and that many families will be affected by his decision.

Barbara Beasley, whose 9-year-old daughter receives a Gardiner scholarship, says it has dramatically improved her daughter’s life, but she said that “lawmakers sold us down the river with their backroom dealing on the education bill.” She said other parts of the legislation are detrimental to public schools and should be stopped.

“I beg Governor Scott to order lawmakers back to session to fix their mistakes, separate these items from the bad and push them through,” Beasley said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Adam Putnam: Hack of concealed weapons list produced names only

Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam moved Tuesday to calm fears amid reports that hackers into his agency’s computers might have compromised the identities of 16,000 concealed weapons permit holders.

“We on average had 100 attacks a month into our system that we successfully fight back,” Putnam told reporters following the morning’s Cabinet meeting.

“This was an unprecedented attack. It came just a couple of days before the global hack that occurred. We know that it originated overseas, and we’re learning as much as we can in addition to that.”

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced the breach Monday of the online payment system that processes payments for applications and permits.

Two groups were affected, Putnam said.

The first, comprising “at most approximately 470 individuals,” had used their Social Security numbers for non-gun-related transactions with the department — food permits of licenses to apply pesticides, for example, he said.

The other target was the concealed weapons database.

“The only information that was stolen by the hackers, as it relates to the CWL database, was their name. Which, in any other database, would not be much of a concern, because you can’t use that name to steal your identity, to steal your money,” Putnam said.

“In Florida, the mere naming of someone who has a CWL is protected information. In an abundance of disclosure, I released both instances that resulted from the same attack that impacted those two databases.”

The state is offering identity-theft protection to the first group.

“The other individuals have nothing to fear in terms of identifying information that could be used to further impact their credit rating, their money, their financial accounts, identity theft, or anything else,” Putnam said.

Adam Putnam weighs in on controversial education bill

Adam Putnam, the leading Republican candidate for governor in 2018weighed in on the state’s massive K-12 public schools bill, which affects everything from charter schools to school uniforms.

Gov. Rick Scott “ought to take a hard look at vetoing [HB 7069],” Putnam said Tuesday according to AP reporter Gary Fineout.

Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner made his remarks before the monthly Cabinet meeting in Tallahassee, talking about the controversial 278-page bill passed earlier this month on the second to last night of the Legislative Session.

(You can see his comment via the Florida Channel here).

The bill’s premiere feature is $140 million for a new “Schools of Hope” program, which creates incentives for specialized charter schools to set up in low-income areas, which critics say will compete with struggling traditional public schools.

HB 7069 also gives $234 million in teacher bonuses, through both the contentious “Best & Brightest” program and a mechanism where “highly effective” teachers would get $1,200 in guaranteed bonuses for each of the next three school years.

Teachers ranked “effective” would potentially earn up to $800 each year, depending on available money.

While teachers’ unions, school board members and (seemingly) the entire Democratic Party establishment is against the bill, charter school and voucher advocates are strongly behind it.

“I have concerns about the way that bill, along with much of the budget, was fashioned completely in the dark and behind closed doors,” Putnam told reporters after the Cabinet meeting.

Putnam also criticized the process leading to the bill’s passage, saying: “Not only the public didn’t know what was in it, but some of the people voting didn’t know.”

His comments come a day after the Florida Democratic Party took Putnam to task, saying he was missing-in-action regarding his stand on what has become one of the most provocative bills to soon reach Scott’s desk.

“Florida voters deserve more than a feel-good bus tour from someone who claims he’s qualified to be the governor,” said FDP communications director Johanna Cervone said Monday. “Adam Putnam has been a politician since he was 22. He knows better, and he knows that he owes Florida voters an answer on HB 7069.

“Putnam needs to break his silence and give voters a straight answer: do you support a veto of HB 7069 — yes or no?”

The FDP said they were “demanding” Putnam issue a public statement on the matter immediately.

Chris King, Andrew Gillum and Gwen Graham — three declared Democrats running for governor — have all publicly blasted HB 7069.

Adam Putnam plays down aides’ departure from his campaign for governor

Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam suggested Tuesday that the departure of two key aides from his campaign for governor was no big deal.

“You’re always adjusting and modifying as you move forward,” Putnam said, adding that he wished both ex-staffers well.

Speaking to reporters following Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Putnam emphasized the crowds at his campaign stops thus far.

“We had a fantastic launch — 2000 people in downtown Bartow; a minimum of 22 stops across the state. You missed a good barbecue in the big city of O’Brien, where we had 630 people,” he said.

“This is a grass-roots movement, and I’m very excited about the team that we have, and I wish the team members who have moved on to other things the very best.”

Campaign manager Kristin Davison was relieved of her duties Monday. Political director Jared Small also exited the campaign.

In other news, Putnam criticized a controversial education conforming bill the Legislature approved in an extended session, but stopped short of calling for Gov. Rick Scott to veto it.

“I have concerns about the way that bill, along with much of the budget, was fashioned completely in the dark and behind closed doors — to the point that, not only the public, but many of the members who were asked to vote on it were unaware of all the different things that were taped together at the last second and then shoved into the pipeline,” he said.

“Vetoing the entire budget is probably a blunt-force instrument. But there are wide latitudes within the line-item veto that is the executive’s prerogative that I think is the way to go.”

Tom Delacenserie taking over Kentucky Lottery

Tom Delacenserie, the outgoing secretary of the Florida Lottery, is getting a pay raise to become the new president and CEO of the Kentucky Lottery.

Delacenserie, who submitted his resignation to Gov. Rick Scott last week, will be paid $204,000 a year. His current Florida state salary as agency head is $141,000.

Delacenserie was confirmed by the Kentucky Lottery’s board of directors on Tuesday, according to a press release. His first day is June 5.

“I’m very much looking forward to joining one of the premier lotteries in the country,” Delacenserie said in a statement. “My dedication will be to continuing the Kentucky Lottery’s emphasis on increasing both sales and proceeds to the Commonwealth. I’m committed to providing exciting products and winning experiences to our retailers and lottery players.”

Delacenserie was lottery secretary since November 2015, when he replaced former Secretary Cynthia O’Connell, and has overseen the growth and escalating sales of Lottery products. The Lottery’s profits go into the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, which among other things pays for Florida Bright Futures Scholarships.

But House Speaker Richard Corcoran sued the agency in February, saying it went on an illegal spending spree last year when it inked a $700 million deal with IGT (International Game Technology) for new equipment. The next month, a Tallahassee judge sided with Corcoran and invalidated the contract.

Judge Karen Gievers faulted the agency for, among other things, not first seeking the Legislature’s permission to enter into a deal that committed the state to as much as two decades’ worth of funding. The case is now under appeal.

Delacenserie began with the Lottery in 2000 as the Fort Myers district manager, later promoted in 2005 to the Lottery’s Director of Sales.

In 2013, he became the Lottery’s Deputy Secretary of Sales and Marketing, then served as interim secretary after O’Connell’s departure. She quit after four years as secretary amid questions about her work habits, travel schedule and spending.

Delacenserie replaces Arch Gleason, the longtime head of the Kentucky Lottery, who died last year just weeks after announcing plans to retire after 23 years at the agency.

Noah Valenstein hired as DEP’s new secretary

Noah Valenstein got the job as secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection on Tuesday, after a unanimous vote by Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet.

Valenstein

He will take the helm on June 5, with a salary of $150,000 per year, Scott said.

“Noah has 15 years of environmental policy experience and I’m confident will continue to be a strong leader and advocate for preserving the future of our state’s beautiful and pristine environment,” Scott said.

Valenstein, now the executive director of the Suwannee River Water Management District, is closely tied to Scott, having served in the administration and the 2014 re-election campaign.

During a short job interview, Valenstein said he believed in giving the various stakeholders — including environmentalists, agricultural interests and local governments — a seat at the table.

“If we’re getting input from all the parties that depend on our natural resources, we get a better product at the end of the day,” he told reporters.

His first priority is “getting up to speed on all the issues the department is currently dealing with, getting to know the dedicated staff and helping to bring the philosophy I’ve had at Suwannee River over to the department.”

He was the only candidate interviewed for the job.

Valenstein replaces interim secretary Ryan Matthews, who had taken over from former secretary Jon Steverson. He quit in January to join the legal-lobbying firm of Foley & Lardner.

Students sexually abused at school face lengthy legal fights

When children sexually assault other children at school, sometimes the only measure of justice comes through the courts.

The barriers are formidable, and can lead to long, grueling fights: Public schools in many states enjoy powerful shields, including caps on damages if they lose a lawsuit and high legal hurdles to prove misconduct. And a handful of states offer schools complete immunity from lawsuits in state court.

But the incentives for families are powerful, too — protecting their children, winning reforms and sparing others the nightmare of sexual assault.

In Miami, the mother of a second-grade boy filed suit in 2012 after she said she pleaded in vain for months for administrators to protect her son from sexual abuse by an older boy at his charter school. Eventually, the 7-year-old tried to kill himself by walking into traffic with his eyes closed, according to the family’s lawsuit. Two years later, the boy testified, he still had nightmares his tormenter would crawl in through his bedroom window and kill his mother.

His mother said she came to believe the school was more worried about its reputation than her son.

“You can’t protect the institution and forget about the students,” said the mom, whom The Associated Press is not naming to protect her son’s identity.

Ultimately, the family prevailed, but only after a legal battle that lasted more than three years.

An AP investigation has detailed how K-12 schools in the United States can fail to protect students in their care from sexual assault, sometimes minimizing or even covering up incidents.

Holding those schools accountable takes both fortitude and patience, according to lawyers who bring court cases against school systems.

Families can face judicial politics in non-jury trials and, outside the courtroom, community pressure to drop their cases. Even when schools agree to settlements, they often insist on confidentiality, which shields them from public accountability.

The fight is so tough that Nashville, Tennessee-based attorney Eddie Schmidt said he often tries to talk families out of suing.

“A lawsuit is very expensive, very uncertain and it takes a long time,” Schmidt said.

Only in rare cases do victims of student-on-student sexual assault win large verdicts. Most lawsuits never make it to trial. Many get thrown out on legal grounds, while others are settled pre-trial.

Even fewer are criminally prosecuted because the burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt, which is difficult to meet in cases involving children, said Jeffrey Herman, the Florida lawyer who represented the Miami boy.

For many aggrieved families, the fight is particularly worth it if it prompts policy changes that can make schools safer for their children and others.

“Why do people go to court? Because no one’s helping, nothing’s moving,” said Richard Vacca, a senior fellow at Virginia’s Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute. “Court decisions have a major impact in how schools are run.”

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STATE AND FEDERAL HURDLES

The Miami case resulted in one of the largest verdicts in student-on-student sexual abuse. Although it was a public charter school, Herman successfully argued that Florida’s $200,000 cap on damages in lawsuits against schools did not apply because the institution was managed by a private company.

A jury awarded the family $5.25 million in 2014. The school appealed and, in 2015, reached a confidential settlement for an undisclosed amount.

Not all states have such caps. In California, for example, there are no liability damage limits on cases brought against a public school.

But other restrictions abound, depending on the state. Virginia and Georgia give school districts absolute immunity from lawsuits in state court. In Illinois, the families of students must show there was willful and wanton misconduct, not just negligence, on the school’s part.

Adele Kimmel, a senior litigator who specializes in student abuse cases for the Washington, D.C., nonprofit Public Justice, said any family would have to overcome a variety of obstacles in filing lawsuits under state law.

“They include whether you can even sue a school district, what the liability standard is, how high a hurdle it is, whether you can sue school officials and if so, for what types of decisions,” she said.

In Tennessee, for example, someone suing a government entity such as a school has no right to a jury trial, Schmidt said. Instead, any case filed in state court would have to be heard by an elected judge, who would decide whether a fellow government employee, such as a school superintendent or principal, was negligent.

“The odds of that happening are extraordinarily slim,” Schmidt said.

So when Schmidt agreed to represent two seventh-grade boys who said they were sexually assaulted in the locker room of their rural Tennessee school after repeated harassment, he filed the lawsuit in federal court and claimed their civil rights were violated under Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in federally funded programs.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that public school districts, regardless of the state, could be held liable for monetary damages under Title IX if students sexually assaulted or harassed by classmates could clear certain legal hurdles.

Victims must show that school officials with the power to act were deliberately indifferent to known sexual harassment, and also prove the harassment was “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” that it effectively barred their access to an education.

While that means victims can sometimes seek justice in federal courts when a state lawsuit is not feasible, it’s not an easy road. Law professor Catherine MacKinnon, who pioneered the use of Title IX in school sexual harassment actions while at Yale University, analyzed federal courts’ treatment of the deliberate indifference doctrine over many years and found that about 6 in 10 such cases never made it past pretrial motions.

Still, Kimmel noted, “there are many students that have very good cases that can satisfy the threshold.”

Schmidt’s Title IX action in Tennessee took years to resolve, and required dozens of depositions and expert witnesses as it wound its way through district and appellate courts. Ultimately, the two families won a $200,000 verdict, upheld by an appeals panel, which turned down the school’s argument that it was not deliberately indifferent but acted reasonably when it learned of the harassment. The director of schools in the Tennessee district declined to comment on the matter or say whether any changes had been made since the 2011 verdict.

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THE TOLL OF LITIGATION

One advantage to filing in federal court is that it often removes a case from the community where victims may be under pressure to stay silent.

Attorney Terry Heiss spent more than four years representing a boy from rural Michigan who said his abuse began with name-calling and bullying in sixth grade and then escalated. In ninth grade, according to evidence introduced at trial, he was assaulted in the high-school locker room after one student blocked the door and another, a star athlete, climbed on top of him while naked and rubbed his genitals in the boy’s face.

The boy’s parents filed a complaint with police and a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. And although court records show the student eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, the community blowback was fierce.

“The community turned against the (family) for a season,” Heiss said, adding that the family received phone threats and had to temporarily relocate. “So, not only do children face harassment, the parents have a level of harassment trying to do the right thing.”

Heiss’ client pressed on, testified at trial and — even though he broke down crying on the witness stand — said he felt it was worth it in the end.

“One of the things that kept him going, he didn’t want it to happen to someone else,” Heiss said.

Jurors returned an $800,000 verdict — more than the $500,000 Heiss had requested. Both sides then reached a confidential settlement for an undisclosed sum. A judge later overturned the verdict, citing a lack of evidence that the school acted with deliberate indifference to severe, sex-based harassment, but the settlement stands.

The AP is not naming the boy because it does not identify victims of sexual assault. The district’s superintendent did not respond to requests seeking comment.

Geography also plays a role in whether families prevail. A jury pool in a rural area may be less likely to return a big verdict than a pool in New York City, for example. In areas where there are racial biases, or biases against same-sex relationships, it can be more difficult to find a jury willing to rule against a school.

“You might find that a jury would be very sympathetic to a sexual assault where a very big boy attacks a very small girl,” Kimmel said. “But what about cases where it’s same-sex abuse, where it’s boy-on-boy?”

More than money, forcing change is often the main motivator in such cases.

Some settlement agreements can require anti-bullying training for school staff, teachers and students, in addition to money — or sometimes instead of it.

Vacca has followed such cases in his work at Virginia Commonwealth University advising Virginia schools and lawmakers about sound educational policies. He said schools need to be “pro-active,” with policies and procedures that are updated, enforced and communicated to parents and the wider school community.

Schools must investigate if an assault is reported, he said, and can help avert such situations by training students on peer intervention and mediation.

“It’s an education process,” Vacca said. “We have to be very forward about it, be public about it, communicate with parents.”

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THE EMPOWERMENT OF TELLING

In the Florida case involving the second-grader, the mother said she hired a lawyer only after reaching an impasse with Downtown Miami Charter School.

According to the family’s lawsuit, an 11-year-old boy had forced her son to perform oral sex in the backseat of a transport van on the way home after school. The mother said she reported it to the school, which promised to monitor the older boy. Later, he cornered the second-grader twice in a school bathroom and again forced him to perform oral sex, the lawsuit said.

In his video deposition testimony played at the 2014 trial, the boy described his agony after the second bathroom attack, sure the abuse “would happen again and again.” He said the smell of a school bathroom would trigger painful memories, making him feel “shell-shocked,” a feeling he described as “very nervous, very upset, very scared.”

After his suicide attempt, the mother said, “I felt like I needed to go ahead and see what my options were, because the school was not doing enough.”

In its response to the lawsuit, the school said it took prompt, reasonable measures to prevent the boys from interacting and was not notified of any inappropriate interactions on school property. It also argued that administrators could not have foreseen what happened, and therefore the school was not liable, and cited the doctrine of sovereign immunity. During the trial, the school’s lawyer argued a lack of evidence.

The boy’s mother remembers the challenging moments, and the moments of hesitation. She had to turn over medical records and open herself and her son up to invasive questioning. But ultimately, she said, the little boy’s testimony gave him a sense of empowerment, being able to say in his own words what happened and how he felt about it.

“It seemed like he was vindicated simply by saying, ‘This happened. It hurt me. I’m still here.’”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Eric Eisnaugle makes House departure official

Call him former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle now.

The Republican from Windermere announced his resignation would come on the last day of Florida’s Legislative Session to accept an appointment to Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeals, but delayed the actual departure until late last week.

With his now official resignation — spelled out in a letter last Thursday to Speaker Richard Corcoran — Eisnaugle officially opens the way for the Florida Division of Elections and Rick Scott to set dates for special elections in Florida’s House District 44, covering western Orange County.

Already that race has drawn five candidates: Republicans Dr. Usha Jain, John Newstreet, Bobby Olszewski, and Bruno Portigliatti; and Democrat Paul Chandler.

Eisnaugle asked Corcoran to leave the district office open so that the staff may continue to serve the district.

Haitian refugees get six-month extension, advocate reactions split

Tens of thousands of Haitian refugees living in Florida received another six months to stay, news that some political leaders — primarily Democrats — are hailing as a victory.

Others say it’s not enough.

On Monday, U.S. Department of Homeland Security John F. Kelly announced his decision to extend — for an additional six months — the Temporary Protected Status designation for Haiti. This extension is effective July 23, 2017, through Jan. 22, 2018.

That drew applause from Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy and two Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Gwen Graham and Andrew Gillum.

At the same time, Kelly indicated that Haitian refugees should get ready to go home soon – a message that some Democratic supporters of Florida’s Haitian refugees, particularly U.S. Reps. Alcee Hastings and Ted Deutch, denounced.

Estimates show that more than a quarter million Haitians are living in Florida, though most are not refugees covered by the TPS designation.

An estimated 28,000 Haitians live in the Orlando area in 2014, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data by the Migration Policy Institute. The Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Palm Beach area had the most in the nation, 197,000. The Naples-Fort Myers region also had nearly 20,000.

“Extending temporary protected status for Haitian nationals living in the United States is the right decision, both morally and economically,” Murphy, whose Orlando-Seminole County-based district is home to many Haitians, said in a release.

“The decision to extend temporary protected status, announced during Haitian Heritage Month, is welcome news for Florida and all those displaced by the devastating earthquake who now call our state home,” Graham, a former member of Congress from Tallahassee, declared in a news release.

“Today’s decision was a victory for the Haitian community, particularly here in Florida,” Gillum, mayor of Tallahassee, stated in a release. “The Trump Administration and Congress have not always been welcoming to refugees in recent years, but I’m glad today’s decision will provide relief for those in need.”

Not so fast, said others, upset that the extension is for six months, not the usual 18, and noting that Kelly suggested the extension is only to give everyone time for repatriation.

“This six-month extension should allow Haitian TPS recipients living in the United States time to attain travel documents and make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure from the United States, and should also provide the Haitian government with the time it needs to prepare for the future repatriation of all current TPS recipients,” Kelly stated in a news release on his announcement.

“This is a ‘pack your bags’ extension, not a real one,” said Jeremy Cruz-Haicken, president of the UNITE HERE Local 737 labor union that represents nearly 50 Haitian refugees who work at Walt Disney World.

His union and others in the Orlando hospitality industry are planning a rally near Universal Studios to demand that the Trump administration grant a long-term TPS renewal.

“I continue to believe, and will continue to champion, that a full TPS renewal of 18 months is in the best interest of both Haiti and the United States,” Hastings said in a statement from his office. “Haiti continues to face daily challenges from the earthquake that laid waste to the country in 2010, the subsequent introduction of cholera by United Nations’ troops, and Hurricane Matthew, which devastated the country just last year.

“As noted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Acting Director James McCament in his memorandum to Secretary Kelly, TPS extensions of less than 18 months create needless operational challenges related to adjudicating re-registration applications and employment documents for the more than 58,000 Haitian nationals residing in the United States,” Hastings added.

In a statement, Deutch offered both applause and concern:

“I am pleased that the administration gave Haitians a temporary six-month extension of TPS rather than abruptly ending the humanitarian measure and throwing thousands of lives in limbo, But it’s quite clear that conditions in Haiti won’t improve sufficiently in six months to justify letting TPS expire. This six-month extension keeps tens of thousands of Haitians uncertain of their future.

“Progress has been made in Haiti, but the country is still far from recovered. Sending these people back into dangerous conditions directly violates the principle reason for granting TPS in the first place.”

Justices rejects Florida appeal over death penalty

The Supreme Court has left in place a lower court ruling that said imposing a death sentence in Florida requires a unanimous jury.

The justices on Monday turned away an appeal from Florida officials seeking to overturn the ruling last year from the state’s highest court.

The Florida Supreme Court had struck down a newly enacted law allowing a defendant to be sentenced to death as long as 10 out of 12 jurors recommend it. That ruling concluded that Timothy Lee Hurst — convicted of a 1998 murder at a Pensacola Popeye’s restaurant— deserves a new sentencing hearing.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court declared Florida’s death penalty sentencing law unconstitutional. State legislators responded by overhauling the law.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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