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Human trafficking cases increase 50 percent in Florida

Officials say the number of human trafficking cases have increased more than 50 percent in the state from the previous year.The Florida Department of Children and Families says Florida received 1,892 reports of human trafficking. That’s a 54 percent increase from the previous year. The increase in reported allegations of human trafficking was due in large part to increased training and a new screening tool developed between DCF, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and the attorney general.

The Statewide Council on Human Trafficking also implemented specialized training for first responders and other child welfare professionals to help recognize the signs.

DCF tracks human trafficking by three primary categories: sexual exploitation by a non-caregiver, such as an adult entertainment club or escort service; sexual exploitation by a parent, guardian or caregiver; and labor trafficking.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Personnel note: Audra Burch to NYT

The Miami Herald’s Audra Burch is departing the newspaper to join the New York Times as a Miami-based national enterprise reporter.

Burch, Audra
Burch

The Random Pixels blog last week shared a staff memo about Burch’s hire.

Burch, whom Herald editors called their “extraordinarily talented enterprise reporter,” collaborated with Carol Marbin Miller on 2014’s Innocents Lost.

The Herald’s series “painstakingly examined 477 deaths of children who perished despite being under the protective umbrella of the Florida Department of Children & Families,” the memo said. “The series led to an overhaul of DCF’s leadership, new legislation, and won a boatload of prestigious awards.”

Burch “came to the Herald in the mid-1990s after stints at the Sun-Sentinel and the Gary Post-Tribune,” according to the memo.

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Florida Blue Foundation symposium to focus on health care, poverty and community

Purpose Built Community President Carol Naughton

The Florida Blue Foundation will hold its 2017 Community Health Symposium and Sapphire Awards April 19-20 at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Kissimmee. The two-day event will feature speakers from leading health professionals, and focus on a variety of issues facing the industry.

The event kicks off at 9:45 a.m. April 19 with a keynote address from Carol Naughton, the president of Purpose Built Community. Naughton is expected to discuss how to create healthy neighborhoods to help break the cycle of poverty.

Several panels are scheduled for April 19, including presentations about building a culture of a healthy community, meeting future needs in the industry, strategic planning and health care reform. Mark Brewer, the president and CEO of the Central Florida Foundation, is also scheduled to facilitate a session titled “How to Engage a Community After an Attack.”

The event continues April 20 with a keynote address from Dr. Daniel Dawes, a health care strategist and attorney. Dawes is scheduled to give a presentation titled “Health Equity for All: Looking Back & Moving Forward with Health Reform in America.”

Dawes is also scheduled to moderate a panel titled “Affordable Care Act: Where Do We Go from Here – The Politics of Health Care.” Panelists will include Tom Feeney, the president and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida; Dr. Antonia Novello, the former U.S. Surgeon General; Jason Altmire, the senior vice president of public policy and community engagement at Florida Blue; and Susan McManus, a distinguished professor of government and international affairs at the University of South Florida.

The Sapphire Luncheon and Awards ceremony is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. April 20. Patrick Geraghty, the CEO of Guidewell Holding Company, is scheduled to be the keynote speaker during the luncheon.

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Palm Beach County veggie-pocalyse requires #FreshThinkingFromFlorida

In Palm Beach County, millions of pounds of vegetables are unpicked, plowed under, and rotting in the fields not far away from large populations of undernourished children.

The weather this growing season was everything it needed to be for a bountiful harvest Florida’s growers can be proud of. But the “agricultural economics” that forced growers to abandon their crops are an embarrassment to a state that claims to be creative and compassionate.

The Palm Beach Post’s Susan Salisbury explains: “Perfect weather has resulted in a bountiful crop that’s caused a glut on the market and low prices. Demand is down. Winter storms have kept people out of grocery stores and restaurants along the nation’s East Coast where much of Florida’s produce would normally be sold.

“Meanwhile, Mexico has become a year-round producer of cheap tomatoes and also experienced ideal growing conditions and huge crops as have Arizona and California. Florida’s agricultural industry is wondering why the much-touted buy-local movement isn’t helping more.”

You can’t blame growers for cutting their losses when the market tanks. They donate as much as they can to food banks, and heaven knows the food banks need all the donations they can get. The holiday season, with its surge of volunteers bearing hams and turkeys, comes to an end, while lines outside the food banks remain endless.

But it takes more than a thousand points of light to do the picking, washing, packing and driving to get healthy Florida produce into the stomachs of people who survive on heavily subsidized diets of sugar and grease. So, the growers give the crops they have lovingly tended a kill shot of herbicide and plow ’em under.

Food banks are hoping to expand their capacity to safely store produce and bring it directly to people who need it. But like growers, they have very little manpower and no margin for error.

A state that markets itself as America’s best place to do business needs an “agricultural economics” that provides a living to farmers and healthy meals to hungry children. This is an excellent opportunity for Florida’s Innovators, Job Creators, Entrepreneurs, and Leaders With a Sense of Statewide Community to do some meaningful marketing by putting their heads together and serving up a plate of Creativity Primavera.

 

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Florida Dem. congressional members to hold rallies for ACA today

The U.S. House of Representatives is poised to vote Friday on scrapping the Affordable Care Act, two days after the Republican-led Senate voted to do so after hearing from President-elect Donald Trump that they should act quickly to repeal the law.

The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said earlier this month that repealing President Barack Obama’s signature health insurance law in its entirety would cost roughly $350 billion over the next decade. Republicans say a good Obamacare replacement strategy would reduce government spending, but they have not agreed on a consensus plan.

Democrats are planning rallies on the ACA Sunday, including many of Florida’s most prominent members of Congress.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Alcee Hastings and Ted Deutch will be hosting a rally Sunday at the Sunrise Civic Center in Sunrise at 2 p.m.

In St. Petersburg, Charlie Crist will hold an event at Advantage Insurance Solutions at 833 22nd St. South at 12:30 p.m.

And in Tampa, Kathy Castor will be headlining a rally in front of the Tampa Family Health Center at 7814 N. Dale Mabry Hwy.

Castor held a press event in Tampa earlier this week, where she told reporters that she does believe that Democrats can work with Republicans in Washington on making some improvements to the ACA without throwing it all away. She mentioned working on controlling the costs of pharmaceuticals and bringing greater competition in those areas of the country that have seen exponentially large premium increases as two viable examples.

But while some congressional Republicans are publicly expressing concern about moving too fast on repealing the law without an adequate replacement, the new president made clear during his news conference Wednesday that he wants the GOP to act swiftly, as per his campaign promise.

We will be filing a plan,” Trump told reporters about his Obamacare replacement. “It will essentially be simultaneously.”

That statement “just killed” GOP leadership’s “repeal and delay” approach to the ACA, said the head of Families USA after Trump’s statement.

“This presumably ends the Republican congressional leadership’s irresponsible attempt to repeal the ACA without any guidance about what would replace it,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA. “This no doubt reflects the growing concerns among many people, including a growing number of Republicans, about the dangers of the ‘repeal and delay’ approach.”

Castor also wrote to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy this week in an attempt to rebut some claims Gov. Rick Scott made to him about how the ACA is working — 0r not working — in the Sunshine State.

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Tale of 2 parties: Florida GOP high, Dems low ahead of 2018

The state Republican and Democratic parties met two miles from each other Saturday, their first meetings since Donald Trump carried Florida in November’s election, but the atmosphere and enthusiasm were worlds apart.

As both parties chose their leaders, it was easy to see which has more confidence heading into an election cycle when the governor’s office and all three Cabinet seats will be open. Republicans were aglow in victory after Trump stunned many political observers by winning the state Barack Obama carried in 2008 and 2012. At the same time, Democrats held a contentious election to choose a new chairman with little talk about this past election.

“How good does this feel? We defied the mainstream media, we defied conventional wisdom, defied the pollsters,” Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam told GOP county chairs. “Right across town, Democrats are having their election and they’re not feeling near as good.”

As both parties prepare for 2018, Republicans are focused on how to build off the momentum Trump built with voters who traditionally haven’t been part of the political process while Democrats elected wealthy real estate developer and major party donor Stephen Bittel as chairman in hopes of ending two decades of futility at the polls.

“Donald Trump got a lot of people off of the couch and got them involved. It is our job at the Republican Party of Florida to harness all of that passion, all of that energy, and keep them in the game,” said state GOP Chairman Blaise Ingoglia, who was easily re-elected. “And when we do, and mark my words we will do it, we will cripple the Democrat Party for a generation.”

After the Democrats elected Bittel, a group of protesters stood outside the meeting room holding signs that read, “SHAME,” ”This is not the party of the people” and “People over $$.”

Still, Bittel tried to paint the best picture of the party’s future.

“We have had an under-resourced operation in Florida for a long time. That changes, starting today, and we will build a different kind of party, I’m a different kind leader and we will change things,” Bittel said. “I grew up in Florida in an era when we won everything. I’m looking forward to that era again.”

But Bittel, 60, grew up more than four decades ago, and there’s a new generation of Democrats who have rarely seen victory.

Florida hasn’t elected a Democrat as governor since 1994. They’ve lost 14 of the past 15 Cabinet races. And despite Democrats’ success in passing a ballot initiative that requires political districts to be drawn in a way that doesn’t favor parties or incumbents, Republicans maintain huge majorities in the Legislature and hold 16 of Florida’s 27 U.S. House seats.

Republicans appear better situated heading into a critical state election. Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the three GOP Cabinet members, including Putnam, are leaving office because of term limits. Also in 2018, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is seeking a fourth term, and it’s widely thought Scott will challenge him in what could be Nelson’s toughest re-election yet.

But despite under-performing again in 2016, Democrats think 2018 can be different. Democratic strategist and former state party political director Christian Ulvert pointed at several pluses. First, Nelson, the one consistently successful Florida Democrat since 2000, will be on the ballot.

“This year, we have a potential for Bill Nelson setting the tone, to really set the stage from the top down,” Ulvert said.

He also said the party has a rich field of popular city mayors who could be on the ballot for statewide races, including Fort Lauderdale’s Jack Seiler, Tampa’s Bob Buckhorn, Miami Beach’s Philip Levine, Orlando’s Buddy Dyer and Tallahassee’s Andrew Gillum.

Putnam, who is likely to run for governor, warned Republicans that despite their successes, the party cannot become complacent.

“We can’t get arrogant and cocky and lose our way,” Putnam said. “We can’t take anything for granted.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Florida Democrats tab wealthy developer Stephen Bittel to lead party

Despite challenges from leading, longtime Democrat activists from Tampa, Miami, Jacksonville and Kissimmee, wealthy South Florida developer and party fundraiser Stephen Bittel was elected chairman Saturday of the Florida Democratic Party.

Bittel won on the first ballot, winning 55 percent of the weighted votes against Alan Clendenin, Dwight Bullard, Lisa King and Leah Carius, quickly ending weeks of wheelings and dealings, charges and counter charges. There remains a lawsuit in Miami-Dade challenging Bittel’s candidacy qualification.

Bittel, who runs several companies in South Florida and has been reported to have a net worth more than $1 billion, took 614 weighted votes on the first ballot. Clendenin finished second with 230 and Bullard third with 115.

King lost again moments later in the race for the party’s first vice chair, to FDP Treasurer Judy Mount.

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Blaise Ingoglia wins re-election as chair of Florida GOP

Incumbent Republican Party of Florida chair Blaise Ingoglia swept to victory Saturday morning at the annual elections with a 152 to 76 vote over challenger Christian Ziegler.

Ingoglia, in a speech touting his virtues, called attention to his own free-market and grassroots leanings, saying there was really only one way to win — through having feet on the ground and getting out and doing the work.

“It’s sitting at home and saying goodbye to your wife and your children, driving to the panhandle and speaking at a dinner, then driving to Jacksonville and speaking at another dinner, and then driving all the way home,” he said, “only to have a chairman call you at 3 a.m. to see if you’re still awake.”

Ingoglia called attention to the victory of President-elect Donald Trump and sweeping victories for the party in Florida as examples of why the Republicans were strong right now.

Now, he said, the challenge will be keeping that position on top and staying there, to create a “dynasty” for the party.

“Staying in power is the hard part,” he said. “We can build a dynasty that lasts for generations. If we work together, nothing will stop us from building a Republican Party of Florida dynasty and winning elections.”

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Alan Clendenin wins appeal to seek Democrats’ state chair

Longtime Florida Democratic leader Alan Clendenin is back in the running for the party’s state chairmanship after winning an overwhelming vote to reject a committee’s ruling from Friday night that had disqualified him.

Clendenin’s candidacy for the state chair was restored after he made a “you know me” speech Saturday morning to the Florida Democratic Party executive committee, to toss the Friday ruling by the party’s Judicial Council, which had ruled him ineligible.

“What happened yesterday had very little to do with the facts and more to do with agenda,” Clendenin said in unsuccessfully arguing his case before the executive committee. “I’ve spent 42 years working hard for the Democratic Party.”

The executive committee also upheld a ruling by that council to keep Miami-Dade developer Stephen Bittel o the ballot.

Bittel still must face Lisa King of Duval County, Leah Carius of Osceola County and Dwight Bullard of Gadsden County.

Party Vice Chairman Clendenin was disqualified by the Democrats’ Judicial Council Friday night from running for the statewide chair’s position. On Saturday morning he sought, unsuccessfully to stay alive in the chair’s race with an appeal to the executive committee.

Yet a challenge against Bittel was denied, and that denial was upheld Saturday morning by the executive committee. But it remains an active issue. Attorney Bruce Jacobs, who is challenging Bittel’s qualification, was denied the opportunity to speak Saturday morning, but said the matter would go to court.

And that pair of challenges hangs over the gathering Saturday, leading to shouts from the crowd.

Jacobs has filed a lawsuit in Circuit Court in Miami-Dade County to legally challenge how Bittel was elected state committeeman in Miami-Dade, making him eligible to run statewide. He said a hearing had been set for next Friday in the court of Judge Lisa Walsh.

Bittel’s attorney then told the gathering that Bittel’s election in Miami-Dade followed the letter of the law, and said the extensive evidence is prepared to show that.

Democrats are trying their hands at new technology to count votes.

Each qualified delegate has been given a digital, Wi-Fi clicker, assigned to them. To vote, they click their choices, and their votes are instantaneously recorded and displayed on a screen at the front of the room, with a timer showing when time expires.

The technology should result in much quicker results as the Democrats pick a new chair this morning, along with other top officers and ten delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

“They’re rented, so the Russians can’t hack them,” quipped Helen McFadden, the DNC’s parliamentarian.

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Palm Beach state committeeman, committeewoman endorse Stephen Bittel for FDP Chair

With just hours to go before the Florida Democratic Party Executive Committee votes for a new party chair, front-runner Stephen Bittel announced that he has the backing of John Ramos and Deidre Newton, the Palm Beach County State Committeeman and Committeewomen, respectively.

“The Palm Beach County Democratic Party Executive Committee Board of Directors, members, zone leaders and elected officials participated in the decision to endorse Stephen Bittel,” Ramos and Newton said in a statement released by the Bittel campaign Saturday morning.

Bittel is running for FDP chair against former state Senator Dwight Bullard, Duval County State Committeewoman Lisa King and Osceola County Party Chair Leah Carius. 

Tampa’s Alan Clendenin may still be eligible as well.

Before the vote for party chair, the executive committee will vote on whether to accept or reject the decision by the FDP’s judicial subcommittee to accept a complaint filed against him that challenged his election as a Bradford County State Committeeman (you can read all about that here).

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