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Bucs have prime-time games against Patriots, Falcons in 2017

They are coming up on their 10th year without a playoff game.

Still, the Tampa Bay Bucs have to feel as if they’ll be playing with the big boys in 2017.

The Bucs play a prime-time Thursday night game this year against the world-champion New England Patriots (Oct. 5), then later play a Monday night game against the Atlanta Falcons (Dec. 18). The Bucs also play two games against the Carolina Panthers, the Super Bowl runners-up of two seasons ago.

Tampa Bay closes its season with three divisional games, the Falcons, the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints.

The Bucs will play seven games against quarterbacks who were in the top 10 of the NFL in passing last year. They play two games against Drew Brees (first), two against Matt Ryan (second), one against Aaron Rodgers (fourth), one against Matt Stafford (sixth) and one against Carson Palmer (ninth). That doesn’t even count Tom Brady, who finished 20th after being suspended for four games. Still, most people acknowledge Brady as the best. Cam Newton, the league MVP in 2015, finished 21st with a bad shoulder last year.

2017 Bucs:

Sept. 10       at Miami

Sept. 17        Chicago

Sept. 24        at Minnesota

Sept. 31         New York Giants

Oct. 5             New England

Oct. 15           at Arizona

Oct, 22          at Buffalo

Oct. 29         Carolina

Nov. 5           at New Orleans

Nov. 12         New York Jets

Nov. 26         at Atlanta

Dec. 3            at Green Bay

Dec. 10          Detroit

Dec. 18         Atlanta

Dec. 24         at Carolina

Dec. 31          New Orleans Saints

David Simmons condemns Frank Artiles comments; calls for due process, suggests PTSD might be factor

Republican state Sen. David Simmons sharply condemned racist and vulgar comments made earlier this week by state Sen. Frank Artiles. 

The behavior is nothing new, Simmons said, but he puts his faith in the Senate’s due process to determine a judgment by the body.

Simmons, of Altamonte Springs, then suggested that Artiles’ behavior might be a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder — or some other circumstance — and the Senate needs to hear of any aggravating or mitigating circumstances before passing formal judgment.

Artiles has acted like this before, he added.

“I consider his comments reprehensible and unacceptable. I believe that at the same time that he is entitled to a full and fair hearing,” Simmon said.

On Tuesday night, in the Governors Club in Tallahassee, Artiles reportedly accosted Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, who are both African-American, calling her a “b***h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation.

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, but refused growing calls for his resignation.

Thurston has lodged a Senate rules complaint against Artiles seeking his expulsion. An investigative report by General Counsel Dawn Roberts is due next Tuesday. Simmons said that process needs to proceed.

“I do not believe this is an isolated incident of conduct. I believe that Sen. Artiles has spoken to multiple people in this fashion,” Simmons said.

“I also know that he is an Iraq veteran. I know while there’s no question that he said these things, because he’s admitted it and apologized fort them. The question I have is what aggravating and mitigating circumstances exist regarding why he is and has been acting in this manner. I don’t believe that he should be denied the ability to show that he may have PTSD; he may have some other circumstances,” Simmons continued. “I don’t know. I’m not going to prejudge the type of judgment that we should impose upon him as a Senate.”

Simmons explicitly said he condemned Artiles’ comments Thursday, a declaration that came after the Orange County and Seminole County Democrats jointly issued a statement Thursday afternoon demanding that Simmons speak up. Simmons said he had previously spoken up, giving a similar response to another reporter before the Democrats’ joint statement.

The Orange and Seminole Democrats’ statement, signed by Orange Democratic Chair Wes Hodge and Seminole Democratic Chair Jeff Wilkinson, denounced Artiles’ comments as “bigoted” and called on Simmons, “to immediately condemn his colleague’s remarks. They do not represent Central Florida’s values, and cannot be allowed to go unaddressed.”

Simmons, who says he’s 98 percent decided to run for Congress in Florida’s 7th Congressional District for Orange and Seminole counties, a seat currently held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, did just that, calling Artiles’ comments “reprehensible,” and part of a pattern of behavior.

“We all know they’re not the only comments he’s made. He made comments against the Senate president. He’s made comments against other Republican senators. And he’s made comments to other senators, on other occasions,” Simmons said.

Erasmo Ramirez gives the Tampa Bay Rays a reason to keep smiling

Most of the time, Erasmo Ramirez is smiling.

Sometimes, he makes other people smile, too.

Ramirez was terrific in his first start of the year Thursday, taming the Detroit Tigers in an 8-1 victory that completed a series sweep, their first since San Diego in mid-August of last season. Ramirez allowed only two hits – and one earned run – in the five innings he pitched. Chase Whitley went the three innings afterward and allowed only one hit, and Tommy Hunter finished up the ninth.

The Rays are now 8-2 at home on the season, averaging 5.4 runs per game.

It was a nice patchwork job, made necessary by the injury to Jake Odorizzi. Ramirez gave up a leadoff home run to Ian Kinsler but held the Tigers scoreless afterward.

The Rays had 11 hits, including three (and three RBI) from Steven Souza Jr. Kevin Kiermaier had two hits and two RBI. Souza now has 12 games of reaching base multiple times on the season, tying Anthony Rizzo of Chicago for the MLB lead.

“Great series,” said Rays’ manager Kevin Cash. “It was nice to bounce back. We had some timely hitting and took advantage of some mistakes. Anytime you’re able to jump on those it helps a lot, and we did that. Today, as far as Erasmo goes, both him and Whitley were outstanding.

“It’s funny with Erasmo starting and then getting back in the rotation, he decides he wants to be really efficient, and we have no problem with that. His stuff looked really good. It had a lot of late action, which was nice to see. How fortunate for us to have that coverage for when a guy like Jake goes down to be able to piece it together with those two guys. Good day. The bullpen was pretty taxed, so it was nice that we only had to use Whitley and Tommy after that.”

Cash took notice of Souza’s big offensive day.

“We all know Souza has all the tools in the world,” Cash said. “I think we are seeing him put it together a little bit. I know his relationship with Chad has been very beneficial. They talk back-and-forth constantly before the game, throughout the game. I think the biggest adjustment Steven has done is put himself in a position from pitch 1 where he’s ready to hit, and that’s helped him. He doesn’t have to hit the first pitch, but he’s ready to hit it if it’s something to his liking.”

Souza said the Rays are simply playing better at home.

“We’ve played a lot cleaner games at home, so far,” he said. “We played (seven) games on the road and are now at .500 baseball. Playing at Yankee Stadium and Fenway, those are two tough teams and two tough environments. I just think we’ve played clean baseball. Hopefully, at the end of the season, it all evens out.”

The Rays start their next series, against the Houston Astros, at home tonight when Alex Cobb faces Mike Fiers.

 

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.

Lawmakers approve attorney fee tweak to public record law

Lawmakers on Thursday unanimously passed a compromise measure on winners of public records lawsuits collecting attorney fees, sending the bill to Gov. Rick Scott.

The House passed the Senate bill (SB 80) on a 115-0 vote.

The legislation requires judges to award attorney fees if they find an agency broke the public records law and a “requestor” gave five days’ notice before filing suit.

Most importantly, a judge must determine if a request was for an “improper purpose,” such as intentionally forcing an agency to break the records law or for a “frivolous” reason.

Local governments have for years complained they’ve been bombarded by frivolous public records requests in order to provide an excuse for requesters to take them to court. Current law requires state and local agencies to cover the cost of attorney fees in public records cases.

Open government watchdogs, such as the First Amendment Foundation, countered that previous legislative fixes would have hurt legitimate actions against local governments and state agencies that unreasonably refuse to respond to record requests.

“The bill is a compromise, certainly, and I hope it deals with the issue of the predatory public record requests without unduly hindering those who simply want the records they’ve requested,” said Barbara Petersen, the First Amendment Foundation’s president.

“I see this as a first step — the Legislature needs to consider passage of a enforcement mechanism so that those who’ve been wrongly denied access to public records have an alternative other than going to court,” she added. 

If Scott signs it into law, it won’t apply retroactively, Petersen said, meaning that it doesn’t affect any pending public record request.

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.”

 

All Aboard Florida

Still waiting: Senators get non-answer from FDFC on All Aboard Florida bonding

Still waiting.

A pair of Republican lawmakers have yet to receive an adequate explanation from the Florida Development Finance Corporation about its approval of a $600 million private equity bond application for All Aboard Florida.

The rail project is seeking to offer passenger service from Miami to West Palm Beach with the possibility of future service to Orlando. In 2015, the FDFC approved the issuance of $1.75 billion in bonds for All Aboard Florida, a move that led Martin and Indian River counties to sue, alleging the project violated the National Environmental Policy Act.

Questions arose after the first request for $1.75 billion in bonds was withdrawn, replaced by a new application for $600 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In February, Miami Sen. Anitere Flores sent a letter to FDFC Director William Spivey to clarify the FDFC’s role in the approval of the new bond. Sen. Debbie Mayfield of Melbourne reaffirmed the request with a separate letter March 30, asking Spivey for elucidation on the process by April 10.

An April 6 letter to Flores from Donna Blanton of the Tallahassee-based Radey law firm – who serves as outside counsel for the FDFC — was less than enlightening.

“As I am sure you realize,” she writes, “the FDFC is a collegial body that is governed by a board of directors.”

Blanton added that Spivey cannot provide “the position” of the FDFC, since the board makes its positions known “through formal action of its board of directors” by way of public meetings.

“Moreover, an application for Private Activity Bond allocation is a separate and distinct process from an application for financing requiring consideration by the board of directors.”

All Aboard Florida, the attorney writes, has “not submitted any request or proposal for consideration by FDFC since FDFC approved its original Resolution relating to Private Activity Bonds on Aug. 5, 2015.”

Blanton concludes that “it would be improper to speculate on what AAF may or may not ask of FDFC’s board of directors and how the Board may respond.”

Not much of an answer.

Similarly, a letter to Mayfield dated April 14 echoed the explanation given to Flores.

The gist of the letters – which, in essence, say nothing – suggest that instead of acting as a public instrument, FDFC insists on conducting work in the dark.

After two ranking lawmakers questioned the process, instead of answers, lawyers respond with a veritable word salad. How better to describe such verbal gymnastics like “it would improper to speculate on what AAF may or may not ask of the FDFC’s board of directors and how the Board may respond?”

AAF publicly stated in November 2016, before a final ruling on the legality of the USDOT $1.75 billion bond allocation, that both the DOT and AAF filed motions announcing the withdrawal of the allocation, first granted December 2014.

Then, AAF applied — and DOT had approved — a “new” $600 million bond allocation financing only Phase I of the project (the part running from Miami to West Palm Beach).

So again, Flores and Mayfield have (rightfully) asked the FDFC to explain. Both senators seek a better understanding of the process, and ensure AAF and the FDFC are following all best practices in the re-issuance of $600 million in bonds.

And both are still waiting.

 

Florida’s NAACP joins those calling for Frank Artiles’ resignation

The head of the NAACP Florida State Conference is calling for state Sen. Frank Artiles to step down. 

The organization “stands fully behind the Florida Legislative Black Caucus … and several groups who have called for the resignation of Miami Senator Frank Artiles,” said Adora Obi Nweze, president of Florida’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

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. A investigative report by General Counsel Dawn Roberts is due next Tuesday.

“The racial slur, profane language and degrading tone used to members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus—in particular, a black woman—has no place in our society,” Nweze said in a statement. 

In 2017, it’s unfortunate we still must remind everyone about the N-word and the negative impact it has had in the black community for many years,” she added.

“A public apology is not good enough … Do us a favor, take your racist language and racist actions and resign,” said Nweze, also a member of the NAACP’s National Board of Directors.

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