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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

DOC opens investigation in response to grand jury finding of beating death

Matthew WalkerThe Florida Department of Corrections announced Tuesday it was conducting an internal investigation into the five guards implicated by a grand jury in the beating death of a Charlotte Correctional Institution inmate last year and will begin conducting psychological evaluations of new staff in response to recommendations by the citizens panel. 

The policy changes are the result of a scathing rebuke of the state prison agency by a Charlotte County grand jury which investigated the death of inmate Matthew Walker in April 2014.

In a presentment unsealed Tuesday, the grand jury concluded that because the prison failed to collect evidence and contain the crime scene, there was not enough evidence to bring charges against the prison officers suspected of beating the 45-year-old inmate to death. 

The grand jury concluded that Walker’s death was “tragic, senseless and avoidable.” Unable to indict, the panel made a series of recommendations "to assist the Department of Corrections to avoid these types of incidents in the future."

The Department of Corrections told the Miami Herald that the agency was prepared to "aggressively address the recommendations and concerns voiced by the grand jury" and during the course of the investigation "implemented proactive policies and procedures which increase the accountability of our officers and the wellbeing and safety of our inmates."
 
Although nine officers involved in the beating death were fired last year, they have all been rehired. Four officers have been placed on desk duty, with no contact with inmates pending the agency’s probe, but their supervisors -- the warden and two assistant wardens -- have kept their jobs or have been promoted. 

Among the recommendations, the grand jury concluded that "every applicant for the position of corrections officer should undergo rigorous psychological testing before being hired by the Department of Corrections" and, once and officer has been involved in a use of force incident, he or she should be tested for drug use. 

In response, the agency vowed that "in the coming year, the Department’s Office and Human Resources will develop and implement psychological evaluations that will be utilized during the hiring and recruitment process."

The grand jury also said the agency should curtail the policy of waking prisoners up in the middle of the night, simply to “harass and aggravate them.” DOC said that the so-called "cell compliance checks" after “lights out” do not comply with department policy "and have not, at any time, been an approved security protocol for any of our facilities."

However, the officer who initiated the policy, Capt. David Thomas was reassigned to Okeechoee CI last year and told the grand jury that the compliance checks are a good policy and “I am doing them where I am now.” Full Story

Grand jury rips Department of Corrections after deadly beating death

Matthew Walker was unconscious, handcuffed, face-down on the sidewalk, in front of a dorm at Charlotte Correctional Institution. The inmate had been beaten and his larynx was crushed so badly that his throat was swollen shut.

Lt. Tyler Triplett, blood on his white shirt, stood over him.

“Do you know who I am? I’m going to kill you mother------!” he shouted, so visibly angry that he had to be restrained by his supervisor, a corrections captain.

But corrections officers were busy tending to the minor injuries of two guards hurt during a melee with Walker, so they let him lay there, thinking that he was faking.

“Whatever game you’re playing, you need to get up and walk. My staff is too tired to do this,” the captain, David Thomas, told him, according to witnesses.

But Walker, 45, had already asphyxiated and, according to a grand jury report released Tuesday, over the next few hours, prison staff removed, contaminated or cleaned up most of the crime scene evidence. The officers gathered in a room, wrote their reports and, a few days later, met again at a convenience store near the prison, ostensibly to support each other after the ordeal, the report said. …

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Hillary Clinton: Jeb Bush 'doesn't believe in a path to citizenship'

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton declared herself "very disappointed" at Donald Trump -- a past supporter of her U.S. Senate campaign -- over his now-infamous remarks in which he claimed Mexican immigrants who cross the U.S. border are often criminals and rapists.

"I feel very bad and very disappointed with him and with the Republican Party for not responding immediately and saying, 'Enough. Stop it,'" Clinton told CNN in an interview Tuesday. "But they are all in the same general area on immigration: They don't want to provide a path to citizenship. They range across a spectrum of being either grudgingly welcome or hostile toward immigrants."

Pressed about Republican Jeb Bush, who has called parents bringing children illegally into the U.S. an "act of love," Clinton maintained that the former Florida governor doesn't want to give people already in the country full-fledged legal status.

"He doesn't believe in a path to citizenship -- if he did at one time, he no longer does," she said. "As I said, they're on a spectrum of hostility which I think is really regrettable in a nation of immigrants like ours." …

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Zach Zachariah hosts Jeb Bush fundraiser July 31

Former Gov. Jeb Bush will attend a fundraiser for his presidential campaign at cardiologist Zach Zachariah’s Fort Lauderdale home on July 31, the same day he speaks at the National Urban League at the Broward Convention Center. (Hillary Clinton will also speak at the event.)

Ed Pozzuoli, past chairman of the Broward GOP and a director at the Tripp Scott law firm, is a co-host of the fundraiser. Other organizers include former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux and Belinda Keiser, Vice Chancellor of Community Relations and Student Advancement for Keiser University.

Zachariah is one of Broward’s top GOP fundraisers and has raised millions of dollars for candidates. He was cleared of civil insider stock trading in 2010.

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State vows to stop more Confederates from being nominated for hall of fame

If any more Confederate soldiers are nominated for the state’s Veterans Hall of Fame, as they were this year, a key state official says he will refuse to pass their names on to Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet for final approval.

Veterans Affairs Executive Director Mike Prendergast said he has an Attorney General’s opinion that makes clear he can only accept veterans of the “U.S. Armed Forces.” Those who fought for the South during the Civil War were not members of the U.S. Armed Forces.

“Legally I can’t bring something forward to the Governor and Cabinet that is not legal and proper and doesn’t meet the statutory requirements,” Prendergast said.

When the state’s volunteer Veterans Hall of Fame Council meets on Thursday in Tallahassee, Prendergast said they will be reminded of the Attorney General’s opinion and encouraged not to submit more Confederate soldiers for consideration as they did earlier this year.

“It’s somewhat problematic to go against what our attorney general has ruled,” Prendergast said.  …

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Florida Chamber applauds 9 lawmakers but mourns 'missed opportunities'

The Florida Chamber of Commerce has released its annual report card, a list of which lawmakers have found favor with the business group and which fell short.

Eight Senators and one member of the House voted 100 percent in line with the Chamber's agenda, including a tax cut package and some of the health care bills (though notably not the FHIX plan to subsidize health insurance for the poor).

Perhaps that's one of the "missed opportunities" Chamber chairman Steve Knopik is referring to in a statement released with the rankings.

“Despite philosophical differences, lawmakers passed 20 Florida Chamber-backed measures during the two recent legislative sessions,” Knopik said. “Unfortunately, there were a number of missed opportunities, resulting in fewer votes taken on issues that could help make Florida more competitive.”

Here's which lawmakers cracked the top of the charts with perfect scores:

* Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne

* Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker

* Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah

* Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando

* Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville …

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Donald Trump causing Marco Rubio problems over immigration

Donald Trump is causing problems for Marco Rubio, using media attention to remind people of the Florida Republican's involvement in immigration.

"There's tremendous crime and illegal immigration is just incredible. As far as Rubio, he's very weak on immigration," Trump said Saturday on Fox News. "You know, I have great relations with Mexico and I love the Mexican people, and the spirit of the Mexican people. These are people just pouring across the border."

Rubio has been slow to react to Trump's comments but in an interview on Fox today called  them "less responsible." He quickly pivoted, however, to say people would use the insults to distract from the real issue of immmigration. Rubio hasn't talked much about that or makes brief mention, as he did today in Chicago.

The liberal American Bridge circulated the video clip and described Rubio's response as a "word salad non-answer."

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Jeb Bush keeps up busy fundraising schedule

The Jeb Bush cash machine never rests.

Here's his schedule for the rest of July:

Saturday, July 11

Luncheon Reception

Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts

Tuesday, July 14

Evening Reception

Los Angeles, CaliforniaFull Story

Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton to share stage in Fort Lauderdale

Jeb Bush, left, and Hillary Clinton

Times wires

Jeb Bush, left, and Hillary Clinton

Jeb Bush will speak before the National Urban League Conference in Fort Lauderdale on July 31, illustrating his campaign's goal of broadening the GOP message.

Hillary Clinton is also addressing the group, as is Ben Carson and Martin O'Malley.

"The candidates will share their visions for saving our cities on Friday, July 31, during a session entitled 'Off To The Races: The 2016 Presidential Candidates’ Plenary,' " according to a release.
 
“As we convene in Florida to deliberate solutions to the economic and social challenges our cities are facing, it’s vital that those contending for the highest office in the land be part of that conversation,” National Urban League President and CEO Marc H. Morial said.

The candidates’ plenary will take place on the second full day of the Conference themed “Save Our Cities: Education, Jobs + Justice.” …

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Florida government gets credit for being mostly democratic

How states rank in the Health of State Democracies report. Florida's No. 11.

Center for American Progress Action Fund

How states rank in the Health of State Democracies report. Florida's No. 11.

Florida's democracy is pretty, well...democratic. At least compared to other states.

That's according to a new report out this month from the left-leaning Center for American Progress Action Fund.

The study looked at access to voting, representation in state government and the extent to which outside influencers can shape policy. Overall, Florida ranked 11th nationally, the only Southeastern state to crack the top half.

But the center points to failings that it says the Sunshine State ought to improve. Namely, Florida's elected leaders aren't very representative, they say.

Women are underrepresented among elected officials. And while minorities constitute 43 percent of Florida's total population, they make up just 14 percent of the state's elected officials.

Further, the center argues, Florida -- and all states -- should allow felons to vote after they've been released from prison. …

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PolitiFact Florida: Bilirakis says Florida has reduced carbon emissions 20 percent since 2005

Republicans in Congress recently voted for legislation that would prevent the federal government from implementing new emissions regulations on power plants -- in part, some argue, because utilities are already cutting carbon levels on their own.

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, said that HR 2042, known as the Ratepayer Protection Act, would protect states from costly rules that aren’t necessary. The bill would delay the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce nationwide carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30 percent by 2030. The legislation also would allow states to opt out of the reduced emissions requirement.

"The EPA’s proposal on this rule has drawn widespread concern," Bilirakis said in a speech on June 24, 2015, before the GOP-majority House passed the legislation along party lines. "It placed a heavier burden on Florida than other states, despite the fact that Florida has reduced its carbon emissions by 20 percent since 2005."Full Story

Governor downplays tensions with Florida Legislature over vetoes

The tension between Florida Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Senate in light of $461 million in budget vetoes has been well documented.

State Senators have called his actions politically motivated and characterized his veto pen as inconsistent.

But you would not know anything is wrong if you asked Scott. Speaking to reporters late Monday, Scott was asked if he feels tension growing between him and other Republicans in Tallahassee.

“Oh gosh, we’ve had five good sessions,” Scott said of working with state lawmakers. “We’ve done 50 tax cuts. We have record education funding.”

Asked again about lingering bad feelings after some of his vetoes, Scott defended his actions by saying he is only doing what he was elected to do: watch out for the taxpayers.

“As you know, I ran to represent the 20 million people in Florida,” Scott said. “I’m going to continue to look out for their livelihood, their taxes. I’m going to make sure we spend their money well in this state.”

State Legislators have had a far different view of course.  …

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Study: Florida is fifth most healthy state fiscally

How the states rank in solvency

Mercatus Center at George Mason University

How the states rank in solvency

The Mercatus Center at George Mason University today released a study of the fiscal health of America's states, based on their debt and other obligations. Florida comes out looking quite good - ranking fifth, below Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska. George Mason and the Mercatus Center are generously funded by the Koch brothers, activists and advocates for smaller government.

To our way of thinking that makes Florida's the Number One most financially healthy state among interesting states in the continental U.S.. Here are categories examined:

Cash Solvency: 2 of 50
Does a state have enough cash on hand to cover its short-term bills?

Budget Solvency: 5 of 50
Can a state cover its fiscal year spending with current revenues? Does it have a budget shortfall?

Long-Run Solvency: 31 of 50
Can a state meet its long-term spending commitments? Will there be enough money to cushion it from economic shocks or other long-term fiscal risks?

Service-Level Solvency: 4 of 50
How much fiscal “slack” does a state have to increase spending should citizens demand more services? …

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Rubio in Chicago today touting economic proposals

In a speech this morning in Chicago, Marco Rubio will outline a series of proposals to grow the economy, including cutting the corporate tax rate to 25 percent.

"I will also establish a territorial tax system. Today, when an American company earns money overseas, it is taxed once in the country it is earned in and again if it is brought back to America. We are the only G8 country that levies that second tax, and the understandable impact is that many companies choose never to bring their money back home. Apple, for example, has $171 billion sitting overseas. That money would be an immediate economic boost, but because Apple would be punished for bringing it back, they choose not to.

"My tax plan will also allow immediate, 100% expensing for businesses. This means the more a company invests in creating jobs, the less they owe in taxes; and the more they pay their workers, the less they pay government."

Rubio also takes a shot at Hillary Clinton: …

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Ethics complaint filed against Alan Grayson over his hedge funds

A watchdog group called the  Foundation for Accountability & Civic Trust (FACT), has filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics against U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, over hedge funds he formed that bear his name. From the complaint:

...This is not simply a technical violation, but rather is a violation that implicates fundamental goals of the ethics rules—to ensure that Members fulfill the public trust inherent in the office by prohibiting Members from profiting by virtue of their office and being improperly influenced. 

Pursuant to the ethics rules, Members are prohibited from engaging in certain outside activities and employment.  These prohibitions are enforced in part because of the citizen perception that Members are able to “cash in” on their position of influence and the appearance of impropriety, but also because of the actual serious conflict of interest and impropriety that may arise. House Ethics Manual, at 213, 215.  Specifically, “Members are prohibited from engaging in professions that provide services involving a fiduciary relationship,” which includes financial services.... …

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