Tag Archives: Florida

State launches investigation, assesses $800,000 in damages against SunPass contractor

Source: Hannah Denham, Times Staff Writer, August 14, 2018

After months of inaction, Florida Department of Transportation officials announced today that they are assessing nearly $800,000 in damages against the SunPass contractor responsible for the state’s tolling chaos. At Gov. Rick Scott’s direction, the department also has requested an investigation by the Office of the Chief Inspector General into the contractor, Conduent State and Local Solutions. Last month, the state suspended payments on its $343 million contract with Conduent to update the tolling system, which is now in its third month of dysfunction. The original contract included a clause that if Conduent didn’t provide the system within the timeline that was agreed upon, then the state had the right to collect “liquidated damages” from the company — in the form of $5,000 for each calendar day past the deadline that the system wasn’t ready. …

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SunPass Problems: State awarded contractor millions more while unprocessed tolls mounted
Source: Noah Pransky, WSTP, July 5, 2018

As problems continued to mount for the Florida Turnpike Enterprise’s SunPass system and a backlog of toll transactions grew to more than 100 million, the state didn’t hit its troubled contractor with penalties; instead, it kept awarding contractor Conduent more money, according to new documents obtained by 10Investigates. More than a dozen change orders have increased a $287 million electronic tolling contract to $343 million, including what appears to be more than $20 million for extensions and delays in getting the new, consolidated customer service system (CCSS) functional. Starting on June 12, the state also spent more than $1 million for Conduent to add customer service representatives. A frequent complaint of customers during SunPass’ month-long system outage has been about poor customer service from the Conduent-operated call centers. 10Investigates has reported how Conduent – and its former parent company, Xerox – have had major problems with its electronic tolling systems in at least five states. Yet Florida awarded the lucrative contract to the firm in 2015 anyway. The state has steadily increased the value of the deal since then. …

Seminole County leaders decide against privatizing public libraries

Source: Spectrum News, July 25, 2018

Seminole County public libraries will not become privatized after commissioners have reportedly decided to keep the library system under county government jurisdiction. … In May, county officials said they wanted to explore privatization to see if it would cut costs due to potential funding shortfall. Ultimately, the plan drew criticism from county residents. According to officials, people reached out to the county to express concern about what they feared would be an outsourcing of the county’s library services. …

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Seminole considers privatizing libraries, but residents don’t like idea
Source: Martin E. Comas, Orlando Sentinel, May 18, 2018

… But now Thompson and scores of other Seminole residents are troubled by a proposal by Seminole County leaders to privatize the library system to a for-profit company that would manage the operations of the system’s five branches. … Seminole officials say no decision has been made about privatizing the library system, and the county is only exploring ways to cut costs in case Florida voters approve a ballot measure in the November election that will grant homeowners an additional property tax break. …

Seminole won’t turn libraries over to private contractor

Source: Rachael Jackson , Sentinel
(FL), 9:50 PM EDT, July 28,
2009

 

Cash-strapped
Seminole County
is no longer
considering turning its libraries over to a private contractor, County Manager
Cindy Coto said Tuesday.  A proposal to privatize libraries never made it to the
county commission, but activists clutching tiny American flags attended
Tuesday’s commission meeting anyway, urging that county leaders never consider
such a proposal again and that they sufficiently fund the library
system.

‘First of many’: Lawsuit filed against state contractor blamed for Eastpoint wildfire

Source: Jeffrey Schweers, Tallahassee Democrat, July 12, 2018

This week marked the first claim filed in Leon County against the Tallahassee contractor responsible for setting the prescribed burn that’s been identified as the cause of the 820-acre Limerock wildfire that destroyed 36 homes in Eastpoint. … The Vinson/Cooper/Hattaway complaint alleges that Wildlands was engaged in an “ultra-hazardous activity while engaging in a controlled burn” and is strictly liable for all damages caused by the wildfire. The company knew of the foreseeable risk, the complaint said, and “could have reasonably taken precautions to eliminate the risks of the controlled burn.” …

… Wildlands was contracted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to burn a 480-acre area within the Apalachicola River Wildlife and Environmental Area to clear it of hazardous underbrush that can become fuel in a fire. The burn was ignited June 18 and extinguished six hours later. The next day, the burn boss said the burn went well and submitted an invoice for $26,400 to the FWC. The fire reignited June 24 and crossed over 600 acres of private land, razing several dozen properties a quarter-mile away on Buck Road, Ridge Road and Wilderness Road, leaving about 125 people homeless. A preliminary report by investigators with the law enforcement branch of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said the prescribed burn caused the wildfire, ruling out arson and lightning. …

Putting the Public First in Public-Private Partnerships

Source: Gabrielle Gurley, The American Prospect, April 26, 2018
 
… More than a decade later, the Port of Miami Tunnel is the marquee example of a public-private transportation infrastructure partnership. … But the tunnel’s success is deceptive, since the unique factors that converged in South Florida cannot be replicated everywhere. For every Port of Miami Tunnel, scores of ill-conceived projects dot the American landscape. The United States lags behind not only in basic maintenance of existing assets at the end of their life cycles but in building the next generation of roads, bridges, rail, tunnels, and aviation projects. With public funds scarce in a climate of tax-cutting and budgetary austerity, the risk is that the contactor/partner pays the up-front costs but sticks future generations of taxpayers and rate-payers with exorbitant charges. … But states and municipalities can learn to appreciate the differences between partnerships that put the public first and the rip-offs that erode public confidence in government and drain public coffers.

… The Trump administration’s version of an infrastructure initiative relies heavily on private financing, which may or may not materialize. … But the Trump framework is only an exaggeration of recent trends. At best, new fiscal pressures can lead public officials to get creative, seeking private partners who may bring superior engineering, financing, and legal expertise, and better attention to maintenance and operations. But private-sector involvement does not automatically mean a better outcome. Citizens and public officials often forget that the private sector’s prime motive is profit, not philanthropy. If a firm cannot clear a good return on an investment, either the deal will not materialize or the terms will be onerous to the public. Public debates can be marred by false expectations, and confusion or obfuscation of what distinguishes a good partnership from a rip-off. …

Mayor Curry ‘will not submit JEA privatization plan to Council’

Source: Jim Piggott, News4Jax, April 26, 2018
 
Months into a political firestorm over the prospect of the city selling the JEA, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry issued a statement Thursday morning, writing, “I am choosing to state unequivocally that I will not submit any JEA privatization plan to the City Council.” … While Curry has been consistent in his public statements that he is not pushing the agenda, members of City Council and the council auditor believe that his administration was working behind the scenes to valuate the electric/water/sewer utility for possible sale. …

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JEA names private investor, a utility newcomer, interim CEO 
Source: David Bauerlein and Nate Monroe, Florida Times-Union, April 17, 2018

The JEA board of directors named a 38-year-old private investor with little experience managing a large utility the agency’s interim chief executive officer Tuesday, rejecting a bid by the finance chief to remain in the top spot, and marking a major departure from the kind of leaders JEA courted in the past. Aaron Zahn immediately assumed the interim CEO role and refused to take questions after the board meeting. The move to hire Zahn was contingent upon making a push to retain Melissa Dykes, the agency’s chief financial officer, as a high-level executive to run the day-to-day operations of the agency. Dykes, whose own bid to remain the interim CEO only garnered two votes from the five-member board, said she was open to staying but it’s not clear whether she will. …

Opinion: JEA union leaders explain opposition to sale
Source: Kathleen Crowe, Valerie Guiterrez, Rick Lehman, Ronnie Burris, Randy Hilton, April 15, 2018

Question: Would a private utility better serve the city of Jacksonville and the JEA ratepayers of Northeast Florida better than JEA? Answer: It is the official position of the JEA union leadership that a privatization of JEA would have severe, harmful and long-term detrimental economic impacts on all stakeholders. … While we have attempted to counter much of the noise regarding the privatization of JEA, there is a very simple reason for not selling JEA that overcomes all the noise. Any company or entity willing to buy JEA, whether it is $1 billion or $20 billion, must have the resources to ensure the price it pays will definitely be paid back in full with interest. This is not like selling your house for a premium and walking away with no further commitment to that house. The customers of JEA will still be on the hook for the premium paid in the initial purchase price, as well as the interest or earnings above and beyond that premium paid to the city. …

Jacksonville utility unions pan potential JEA sale as ‘harmful’
Source: A.G. Gancarski, Florida Politics, April 6, 2018
 
Even as well-connected lobbyists for major utility companies hover over Jacksonville’s JEA ahead of a potential sale, five utility unions combined in opposition to any moves Friday. Per a statement from the five unions: “It is the official position of the JEA Union Leadership that a privatization of JEA would have severe, harmful, and long term detrimental economic impacts on all stakeholders.” … Signatories include American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Jacksonville Supervisor Association, Labors International Union of North America, and the Professional Employees Association. …

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Huge federal contractor ‘failed’ to pay workers $100 million in wages, union says

Source: Danielle Paquette, Washington Post, April 23, 2018
 
One of the country’s largest federal contractors has been accused of underpaying about 10,000 workers who run help hotlines for public health insurance programs, including the Affordable Care Act marketplaces, by up to $100 million over the past five years, according to four complaints filed Monday to the Labor Department.  The complaint brought by the Communications Workers of America alleges that General Dynamics Information Technology misclassified employees at call centers in Kentucky, Florida, Arizona and Texas to suppress their wages.  The union, which does not represent the workers, said the contractor hired or promoted workers into roles that require special training but paid them below government-set rates for the jobs they performed. The complaint covers the period since 2013, when GDIT started a $4 billion, 10-year contract with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. …

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Contractor that handles public’s Medicare queries will do same for Affordable Care Act
Source: Susan Jaffe, Washington Post, June 20, 2013

Within days, the company that handles a daily average of more than 60,000 calls about Medicare will be deluged by new inquiries about health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The six Medicare call centers run by Vangent, a company based in Arlington County, will answer questions about the health-care law from the 34 states that opted out of running their own online health insurance marketplaces or decided to operate them jointly with the federal government. ….. Running the 800-Medicare call centers may provide valuable experience, but Vangent’s track record reveals that it was slow to adapt when changes in the Medicare program caused dramatic spikes in demand. ….. Vangent, a subsidiary of General Dynamics Information Technology, will run both Medicare and the federal health exchange call centers under a contract worth $530 million in its first year.

Florida Moves to Shut Down For-Profit Residence After Finding Horrific Abuse and Neglect

Source: Heather Vogell, ProPublica, April 19, 2018

After another patient died under suspicious circumstances and reports surfaced of more instances of abuse and neglect, Florida regulators moved this week to shutter a for-profit school and residential campus for children and adults with severe developmental disabilities. The action Tuesday by Florida’s Agency for Persons with Disabilities came after years of complaints that patients at the Carlton Palms Educational Center were violently mistreated by staff and subjected to physical restraints known as “wrap mats,” which resemble full-body straitjackets. Carlton Palms and its owner’s other facilities were the subject of a ProPublica investigation two years ago that chronicled the deaths of three teenaged patients, patterns of abuse and neglect, and company executives’ often-successful efforts to stave off regulation. …

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vFlorida Lawmakers Look to Roll Back Favored Status For For-Profit Group Home
Source: Heather Vogell, ProPublica, February 17, 2016

… The facility has enjoyed a special status — and higher Medicaid payments from the state — because of language embedded in Florida law. Until last year, law said the state should continue to contract with facilities licensed before 1989, when Carlton Palms was already in operation. Instead of needing to prove it offered the highest quality care in the most cost-effective way, Carlton Palms continued to get the state’s business automatically. The only way the state could have stopped doing business with Carlton Palms would have been for public officials to prove the facility had broken state laws or regulations. Last year, the Florida legislature passed a temporary provision to lift the obligation to work with Carlton Palms. But the measure, approved through a budget bill, expires in July.

Unrestrained
Source: Heather Vogell, ProPublica, December 10, 2015

While evidence of abuse of the disabled has piled up for decades, one for-profit company has used its deep pockets and influence to bully weak regulators and evade accountability.

Three years ago, it looked like the Florida agency that oversees care for children and adults with disabilities had finally had enough. It filed a legal complaint that outlined horrific abuse at Carlton Palms, a rambling campus of group homes and classrooms near the small town of Mount Dora.

A man called “R.G.” was punched in the stomach, kicked and told “shut your fucking mouth,” the complaint said. “R.T.” was left with a face full of bruises after a worker hit him with a belt wrapped around his fist. A child, “D.K.,” who refused to lie face down so he could be restrained, was kicked in the face and choked until, eyes bulging, he nearly passed out.

State officials wanted to bar Carlton Palms from accepting new residents for a year.

“[A] moratorium on admissions,” wrote a lawyer with the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, “is necessary to protect the public interest and to prevent the continuance of conditions that threaten the health, safety and welfare of Carlton Palm’s (sic) residents.”

Two months later, the state backed down…..

What Happened to Adam
Source: Heather Vogell, ProPublica, December 11, 2015

It took one mother seven years to learn that the for-profit school she trusted with her son had strapped him down again and again, one time after not picking up his Legos.

Paramedics Plus, Oklahoma agency settle federal kickback lawsuit

Source: Erin Mansfield, Tyler Morning Telegraph, April 3, 2018

A company with ties to the former East Texas Medical Center has settled a federal kickback lawsuit. Paramedics Plus was a subsidiary of the East Texas Medical Center health system that provided emergency medical services to an Oklahoma agency called Emergency Medical Services Authority. In January 2017, the Department of Justice filed suit against Paramedics Plus and the other defendants in the case alleging that Paramedics Plus paid more than $20 million in kickbacks to the Oklahoma agency.

… In March 2017, the East Texas Medical Center health system announced it would merge Paramedics Plus with a similar subsidiary and spin off the two emergency medical services entities into a new company. A month ago, the East Texas Medical Center health system completed a deal to sell its assets to Ardent Health Services, based in Tennessee, and the University of Texas system. The new entity is now called UT Health East Texas. Three weeks later, UT Health East Texas announced it would lay off about 400 employees, or 5 percent of its workforce, as part of a plan to bring the new health care system toward financial stability. …

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Justice Department moves forward in its case against ETMC, Paramedics Plus
Source: Roy Maynard, Tyler Morning Telegraph, May 12, 2017

The U.S. Department of Justice continues to build its case against East Texas Medical Center and its ambulance division, Paramedics Plus, in what they say is a $20 million kickback scheme to ensure Paramedics Plus retained lucrative contracts. Most recently, Justice Department attorneys filed a list of people they expect to depose in coming months. In all, more than 100 people could be deposed as this case moves forward. The government also filed a proposed schedule, which outlines when fact discovery will take place, when expert discovery will occur, deadlines for motions and trial preparation and finally, an expected timeframe for the start of the trial – summer of 2018. … In January, the Justice Department announced it would intervene in a lawsuit against ETMC and Paramedics Plus brought by a whistleblower – former employee Stephen Dean, who was Paramedics Plus chief operating officer. According to the suit, ETMC and Paramedics Plus paid more than $20 million in kickbacks and bribes, including cash payments to Oklahoma officials. …

You Paid For It: Pinellas Commissioners discuss ambulance kickback settlement Tuesday
Source: Mark Douglas, March 21, 2017

Former U.S Attorney Brian Albritton told Pinellas County Commissioners Tuesday that a federal lawsuit alleging ambulance fee kickbacks could have cost taxpayers as much as $1 billion if they lost in court. Commissioners agreed to settle the case involving Paramedics Plus Sunstar ambulance service for $92,700 and to forgo an estimated $500,000 in uncollected ambulance fees from patients. They will also have to pay legal fees to Albritton who the county secretly hired last year to resolve the case. Pinellas commissioners discussed the case publicly Tuesday for the first time since Eight On Your Side first broke the story of alleged kickbacks and a federal investigation of Pinellas County’s ambulance contract last month. That settlement, signed March 7 by Vice-Chair Kenneth Welch, requires the county to pay $92,700 to federal prosecutors, the Florida Attorney General and attorneys for the whistleblower–a former executive with Paramedics Plus. It also requires Pinellas County to turn over all documents and evidence gathered in the course of the county’s own internal investigation, and to cooperate with an ongoing federal investigation and whistleblower action filed against Paramedics Plus in Texas.

… Since 2004, Paramedics Plus has operated as Pinellas County’s exclusive ambulance provider under the county-owned brand name Sunstar. The current county contract with Paramedics Plus amounts to about $50 million a year. In 2014, a former high-ranking executive of Paramedics Plus filed a whistleblower action in Texas that alleged an ongoing ambulance fee kickback scheme that stretched from Pinellas County to Oklahoma and California for over a decade. The scheme alleged by the whistleblower and federal prosecutors in a related legal action included so-called “profit cap” rebates that essentially funneled overcharges from Medicaid and Medicare to Pinellas County and other local governments that oversee public ambulance contracts. County leaders in Pinellas insist the “rebates” or “kickbacks’ in Pinellas totaled only $35,000 or so and ended up in county bank accounts, not someone’s pockets. In Oklahoma, the whistleblower suit alleges those kickbacks amounted to as much as $20 million. Federal prosecutors in Texas have cited specific acts of corruption in Oklahoma that include kickbacks, political payoffs and self-enrichment involving Paramedics Plus executives and government overseers in Oklahoma. … Pinellas County Administrator Mark Woodard says the settlement has no impact on the county’s ongoing $50 million a year contract with Paramedics Plus because the company has not been charged criminally or been found guilty of anything.

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Republican congressmen defend $1 a day wage for immigrant detainees who work in private prisons

Source: Tracy Jan, Washington Post, March 16, 2018
 
A group of 18 Republican congressmen is urging the Trump administration to defend private prisons against lawsuits alleging immigrant detainees are forced to work for a wage of $1 a day.  The members say that Congress in 1978 had explicitly set the daily reimbursement rate for voluntary work by detainees in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities, and that the same rate should apply in government-contracted private prisons. … In the March 7 letter, first reported by the Daily Beast, the congressmen argue that the detainees are not employees of private prisons, so they should not be able to file lawsuits seeking to be paid for their work. … At least five lawsuits have been filed against private prisons, including GEO and CoreCivic, over detainee pay and other issues. The lawsuits allege that the private prison giants use voluntary work programs to violate state minimum wage laws, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, unjust enrichment and other labor statutes. The state of Washington sued GEO last year for violating its minimum wage of $11 an hour and sought to force the company to give up profits made through detainee labor. … Inmates in Colorado and California have also sued the Boca Raton, Fla.-based company, alleging that they were forced to work for $1 per day to pay for necessities like food, water and hygiene products. …

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Using Jailed Migrants as a Pool of Cheap Labor
Source: Ian Urbina, New York Times, May 24, 2014

… As the federal government cracks down on immigrants in the country illegally and forbids businesses to hire them, it is relying on tens of thousands of those immigrants each year to provide essential labor — usually for $1 a day or less — at the detention centers where they are held when caught by the authorities. … The federal authorities say the program is voluntary, legal and a cost-saver for taxpayers. But immigrant advocates question whether it is truly voluntary or lawful, and argue that the government and the private prison companies that run many of the detention centers are bending the rules to convert a captive population into a self-contained labor force. … Officials at private prison companies declined to speak about their use of immigrant detainees, except to say that it was legal. Federal officials said the work helped with morale and discipline and cut expenses in a detention system that costs more than $2 billion a year. … The compensation rules at detention facilities are remnants of a bygone era. A 1950 law created the federal Voluntary Work Program and set the pay rate at a time when $1 went much further. (The equivalent would be about $9.80 today.) Congress last reviewed the rate in 1979 and opted not to raise it. It was later challenged in a lawsuit under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets workplace rules, but in 1990 an appellate court upheld the rate, saying that “alien detainees are not government ‘employees.’ ”…

Florida Gov. Scott Signs Voucher & College Aid Bills

Source: Gary Fineout, Associated Press, March 11, 2018

Florida will create the nation’s first ever private school voucher program for bullied students under a sweeping education bill signed into law Sunday by Gov. Rick Scott. … Florida already spends nearly $1 billion a year on several private school voucher programs including one directed at low-income families. The bill signed by Scott will allow students who are victims of bullying and other types of violence to move to a different public school or receive a private school voucher under the $41 million a year Hope Scholarship program. The vouchers will be handed out on a first-come, first-served basis starting this fall. … Democratic legislators sharply criticized the legislation (HB 7055) as it moved through the process and the bill barely edged out of the Florida Senate as four Republicans voted ‘no.’ They said instead of setting up another private school voucher program that the state should do more to deal with bullies in schools. …