22 August 2013

St. Petersburg Primary Election coming up on Tuesday, 27 August 2013

In a few more days, we St. Petersburg residents will be headed to the polls to decide on at least two important items:  Who we will have for the next Mayor of St. Petersburg (the top two winners will advance to the St. Petersburg General Election on 5 November 2013) and whether you want the new St. Petersburg Pier - called The Lens - to be built or not.
Bur first, let's review the Pinellas County Four-Step if you decide to cast your ballot at your assigned polling place on Tuesday, 27 August 2013.  A summary of the Pinellas County Four-Step is thus:
Prerequisite to the Pinellas County Four-Step:  Picture and signature identification, which you must bring with you to the polls or you will be asked to vote a provisional ballot.  Here's the run-down on the picture and signature identification you will need:
Florida Driver License
Florida Identification Card
United States Passport (the passport book or card is OK)
Debit or credit card
Student or Military ID
Retirement Center ID
Neighborhood Association ID
Public Assistance ID
Step 1:  Here is where you check in after you are greeted by the polling place deputy, whose job is to maintain law and order in the polling place.  Show the poll worker one of the items of picture and signature identification as described above and confirm your address as it is shown in the register.  Sign the register as shown to you by the poll worker.  The poll worker will hand you a yellow ticket with your name on it for you to take to Step 2.
Step 2:  Here is where you exchange the yellow ticket you received in Step 1 for the actual ballot.  You will be asked to fill in the oval to confirm that your name is correct on the yellow ticket and you will be asked to sign in the space on the yellow ticket to prove that you actually received your ballot.  The poll worker will hand you your ballot in a red secrecy envelope, ready for you to proceed to Step 3.
Step 3:  Step on over to any one of the many open privacy booths in the polling place.  This is where you make your selections using the black pen that was supplied to you in Step 2.
A ballot marking machine is available if you would like to use it.  Simply let the poll worker know and you will be shown how to use the machine.
Made a mistake?  Simply return to Step 2 and request another ballot.  Remember, Florida law (Section 101.031 of the Florida Statutes, which contains the Voter Bill of Rights, and it's listed in Item 4 under Voter Rights) restricts you to three ballots, so if you are on your third and final ballot, it is strongly suggested that you use the ballot marking machine to make your selections.
Regardless of whether you mark your ballot by hand in the privacy booth or use the ballot marking machine, there is one more step involved; that is your ballot being scanned as described in Step 4.
Step 4:  Here is where you feed your completed ballot into the scanner.  A poll worker is on duty at the scanner to assist you as needed.  Wait until the scanner takes your ballot and the "success" message on the screen.
Collect your "I Voted" sticker and exit the polling place.  That's all there is to it!
OK.  Now that you got the Pinellas County Four-Step, you are ready to go vote!
Speaking of what's going to be on the 27 August 2013 St. Petersburg Primary Election ballot, there is one major question which I feel will cause a lot of confusion, and that is the question of The Pier.  Let's untangle that confusion right here.
Here's the exact wording of the question as shown on the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections' web site.  I will reproduce this for you exactly as shown:
An Ordinance Terminating the Michael Maltzan New Pier Design Agreement Based on The Lens Concept
Shall an ordinance be added to the City of St. Petersburg’s existing ordinances that would require the City to send a notice of termination, within five business days of the effective date of the ordinance, to Michael Maltzan Architecture, Inc. to terminate the existing architect/engineering agreement between the City of St. Petersburg and Michael Maltzan Architecture, Inc. which agreement was approved by City Council Resolution Number 2012-233 on May 17, 2012?
Voting YES on this question signifies that you want the architect/engineering agreement between the City of St. Petersburg and Michael Maltzan Architecture related to the New Pier Design cancelled.  Voting YES will mean stop The Lens.
Voting NO on this question signifies that you want the architect/engineering agreement between the City of St. Petersburg and Michael Maltzan Architecture related to the New Pier Design to remain in place as it is now.  Voting NO will mean keep The Lens.
So, it all boils down to one sentence:  It's up to you.
As for whatever your preference is, I'll leave that up to you and you alone to decide.  When you go into the polling place on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 you will be informed and you will make your decision based on what your choice will be.
And one more thing while we're on the subject of voting in the St. Petersburg Primary on Tuesday, 27 August 2013:
If you have received a mail ballot and you have already mailed it in, great!
However, if you have received a mail ballot and you want to go vote at your assigned polling place, it's not too late!  Just be sure to bring the mail in ballot with you when you go to the polls; the poll worker will collect your mail ballot and you will be given a regular ballot as described in the Pinellas County Four-Step earlier.
And if you have lost your mail ballot by any chance, you can still vote at your assigned polling place!  Simply let the poll worker know and the poll worker will check to see if you have not voted yet before you receive your ballot.
Whatever you do, don't just sit there and do nothing St. Petersburg:  Get out there and VOTE!  Not only at the primary on 27 August 2013, but the general election on 5 November 2013 too!
Again, get out there and VOTE!

18 August 2013

Back to School and Your Parental Rights for 2013-2014

Well, it's that time of year again!
School will be back in session for the 2013-2014 school year in most school districts of the Tampa/St. Petersburg metropolitan area. For Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando, Polk and Manatee counties school gets underway on Monday, 19 August 2012 while Hillsborough county gets underway on Tuesday, 20 August 2012. As a parent, you're more than likely getting your children ready for the new school year, probably taking advantage of the tax free holiday that happened on 2-4 August 2013!
Unfortunately, if you live in Citrus County - home to communities such as Inverness, Crystal River, Lecanto, Hernando, Citrus Springs, and we can't forget Citrus County Speedway as well as Lake Rousseau and the Cross Florida Barge Canal and the Withlacoochee River - school started on Wednesday, 7 August 2013.  Why does the Citrus County School District start classes much sooner than the rest of the Tampa Bay region?
A year or so after the law was passed (Section 1001.42 (4) (f) of the Florida Statutes) restricting the school start date no earlier than 14 days before Labor Day, our lawmakers in Tallahassee wanted to reward (Section 1003.621 of the Florida Statutes) academically high performing school districts such as the Citrus County School District.  The reward?  Permit academically high performing school districts to start school much earlier, all in the name of the super high-stakes FCAT test!
Public schools in Florida are nothing more than drill and practice for the annual FCAT test.  If you want your child to get a meaningful education in Florida, consider enrolling your child in private school, that is, if you got the large sums of $$$$ or your child is lucky to get a private school scholarship.  Unless, of course, you live in Pinellas County and your child applies for and is selected to attend a fundamental school where parental involvement and mandatory homework is required among other things.
Our legislators need to go back and repeal Section 1003.621 of the Florida Statutes that allow these academically high performing school districts carte blanche on the school start date.  The school start date needs to be uniform throughout the State of Florida, no ifs, ands or buts.  And don't give me the FCAT as an excuse!
Now on to your parental rights as a parent of a child attending a public school in Florida.
The most important thing to remember is this:
Neither your school district nor your child's school principal own or have custody of your children.  You did not sign away any rights as a parent when you registered your child for school and signed on the dotted line on the registration form.
In fact, Bay News 9 has put together a page of your rights as a parent when it comes to your child's education in public school. A few of them, according to the Bay News 9 article, are as follows:

1. You, as a parent, have a right to look over your child's school records and see test results, teacher comments and any disciplinary action taken against your child. In the Pinellas County School District, you can log in to Parent Connect and see much of this information on your child; access requires a login which you can get from any school upon presentation of a government issued photo ID.

2. If your child's school is a Title I school - a school that receives federal funds for low income children to help them succeed in school - federal law requires that you as a parent be involved in programs and decisions that affect your child. Your child's school principal will tell you if the school is a Title I school.
3.  You have the right to ensure that your child is not physically punished for any violations of school rules whatsoever.  After all, paddling conveys a message to your child that it is OK to solve problems with violence.  In fact, I recommend that you make this your personal commitment to your child.

In fact, corporal punishment is prohibited in the Pinellas County School District per the Student Code of Conduct.  Pinellas County's prohibition also extends to parents and anyone else while on school district property.
4.  If your child is involved in any incident that can lead to disciplinary action, you have the right to review the action taken against your child with the principal.
More importantly, you are an active participant in your child's education.  You are not to be placed on the sidelines as far as your child's education is concerned.  After all, this is why you pay property taxes to your school district - demand better from your school officials.
While we're on the subject of parental rights as far as school is concerned, now that the 2013-2014 school year is on the horizon...
Florida's public school campuses are increasingly becoming nothing more than closed mini-North Koreas.  Why?  For this school year, closed campuses have a better meaning:  Just mention Sandy Hook Elementary - which was indeed a horrific tragedy - and school officials will use that as an excuse.
Remember, if you have to visit your child's school for any reason, be sure to report to the front office, sign in and present valid governmentally issued ID.
God knows what your child will be exposed to once your child enters the closed neverworld of a Florida public school campus.  Bullying?  Child abuse?  Physical abuse?  Emotional abuse?  The subject of your child's teacher's abusive comment on the teacher's Facebook page?

Seems like every time you turn on Bay News 9, 10 News (WTSP-TV), ABC Action News (WFTS-TV) or NewsChannel 8 (WFLA-TV) or you pick up a copy of the St. Petersburg Times (to this day, I still do not recognize the misnamed Tampa Bay Times) or The Tampa Tribune and find this:  School official arrested on child pornography related charges.  Now doesn't that sound scary?

Or, God knows, what your child could be bringing home from school?  Let's say your child comes home from school and you are going through your child's backpack.  You find something that is objectionable and you make your concerns known to your child's school principal.  Instead of taking the time to listen to your concerns, the principal contacts law enforcement and has you arrested for trespassing on school grounds!  In fact, there is a video out there on YouTube called Overruled:  Government Invasion of your Parental Rights which was produced by ParentalRights.org - I have it embedded into a blog entry I made right around August 2012 when the 2012-2013 school year started and you can read that blog entry as well as watch the video here.  The Overruled video speaks for itself when it comes to parental rights as far as school is concerned.
Just lately I paid an online visit to the website of Virgil Mills Elementary School in Palmetto, which is in Parrish in Manatee County and located basically at the southern terminus of Interstate 275.  A glance at Virgil Mills' arrival and dismissal procedures for the 2013-2014 school year is obvious:  Virgil Mills' principal, Mike Rio, intends to enforce his draconian policy - which is not written - of dangling the threat of a trespass warning on any parent that does not comply with the arrival and dismissal procedures and Principal Rio has made good on that promise by stationing off duty Manatee County Sheriff's Deputies in the student pickup line.

You can read the original story on why Virgil Mills Elementary parents have to wait an inordinate amount of time to pick up their children and the consequences of a trespass warning for the parents enforced by Virgil Mills Principal Mike Rio over at Bay News 9.  That was an excellent article by Bay News 9 reporter Summer Smith, by the way.

After all, as the 2013-2014 school year gets underway we can make our schools safer for our children and it can be done.  We do not need to turn our public schools into correctional facility fortresses or closed mini-North Koreas for that matter at the expense of keeping your child safe at school.

You as a parent play an important role in your child's education.  As such, you as a parent do not sit on the sidelines and let your child's school principal dictate what is appropriate for your child.  As I mentioned earlier, you pay taxes for public schools - demand better from your school officials.

With that said, onward with the 2013-2014 school year!

04 August 2013

Before you make the ALF decision for your parents...

Recently I came across this article by Linda Hurtado of ABC Action News (WFTS-TV, Tampa's ABC affiliate) on how to choose the right Assisted Living Facility (ALF) for your parents when the time comes.  It is a well written article on what to look for in an ALF and - most importantly - your financial options when the time has come to choose an ALF over independent living.

DISCLAIMER:  Before I go on further, none of what you are about to read is considered, nor it should be construed as, legal advice.  If you have any questions regarding this or any other legal issue, please by all means see an attorney who is licensed by the Florida Bar.
While I think most ALF's are reputable and show a level of unparalleled dignity and respect for the residents that live there, unfortunately there are ALF's out there that will take advantage of your parents from a financial standpoint.  In fact, I have read horror stories of ALF's that resort to the use of Florida's guardianship laws in order to get their hands on every dollar of a parents' assets.

Once an ALF finds someone with a substantial amount of assets, an ALF has struck a vast pool of Texas Tea.  Or an underwater Gulf of Mexico goldmine.  Let the financial feast begin!
Before I go on further, may I suggest reading my topic on guardianship in Florida - the legalized kidnapping and exploitation of the elderly and disabled as well as our veterans that proudly served America - over on my web site?  This will give you a basic idea of what a guardianship is in Florida and the potential for abuse, especially at the hands of professional guardians and others involved in assessing a person's capacity to make informed decisions such as social workers and psychiatrists.
The first thing you should do if the time comes to consider placing your parents in an ALF is to consult an attorney.  Your attorney can assist you in many ways as to the preservation of your parents' assets.
After all, once an ALF knows of your parents' assets - especially significant assets - the ALF has essentially hit a goldmine as far as a good source of income is concerned.  An ALF can welcome your parents with open arms, but once your parents are settled into the congregate living world of an ALF, the ALF administrators can declare open season on your parents' assets, as well as your parents' daily activities among other things.
An ALF is run by an administrator who oversees the day to day operations of the ALF.  Working under the ALF administrator is a team of professionals - either on the staff or on call as needed - such as social workers and psychiatrists, just to name a few.  All it takes is knowledge of a serious medical condition, such as diabetes (and I don't care which type of diabetes it is) or Alzheimer's, to set off a cascade of legal events that turn your parents from legal adults into wards of the State of Florida.
The administrator, working in concert with the social worker, psychiatrist and the ALF's legal counsel, will file a petition for guardianship with the goal of going after the parents' assets.  In Florida, two petitions start the guardianship process:  The Petition to Determine Capacity and the Petition for Appointment of a Guardian.
Once the petitions are filed and the parents are notified that petitions have been filed to inquire into their mental capacity to make everyday decisions, a hearing is held before a probate judge to appoint the three person examining committee.  It is the job of the examining committee to inquire into a person's ability to make everyday decisions, and the inquiry does not stop with the interview of the person that is the subject of the guardianship petition.
The examining committee goes further by getting testimony from the ALF administrator and the ALF's social worker among the persons.  Next, the examining committee will get their hands on any and all medical records of the alleged incapacitated person by way of the subpoena process.

Speaking of medical records, despite federal privacy laws such as HIPAA in place, the examining committee can look at not only the medical records from the alleged incapacitated person's physician, but records maintained by other entities such as the Medical Information Bureau as well as Milliman for prescription drug histories and FICO (you got that right, FICO, the same company that gives you your credit score) for the FICO Medication Adherence Score, a scorecard as to how well a patient complies with doctors' orders by taking the medications as prescribed.  All it takes is a legal subpoena, of which the maintainers of the alleged incapacitated person's medical records must comply with once served.
Once everything is all said and done, the reports of each member of the examining committee are summarized into a report that is given to the probate judge.  The judge reviews everything and in a subsequent hearing, if everything is in order the judge will adjudicate the person incompetent and appoint a guardian.
Once the adjudication is all said and done, bingo!  The ALF just got their hands on your parents' assets in order to pay for the cost of being in the ALF!  And legally, thanks to Florida's guardianship laws!
And as for your parents, your parents are in the custody of a total and complete stranger who dictates the way of life for your parents.  God knows who was involved in the selection of the professional guardian:  More than likely the ALF.  Moreover, the guardian either severely restricts your visits to your parents or, worse, cuts off all your visitation privileges completely.
Remember, a person who is a ward of the state (in other words, under guardianship) has much less rights than a convicted felon.  Among the rights lost (assuming a plenary guardianship):
The right to vote
The right to determine where you live
The ability to seek or keep a job
The ability to have a Florida Driver License
The ability to manage property
The ability to sue or be sued in court
The right to determine who you can be associated with
The ability to travel - even outside the ALF
The ability to retain an United States Passport
The right to make decisions regarding medical treatment

The professional guardian goes to work immediately on whatever assets can be converted into cash in order to pay the recurring monthly ALF fees such as room and board among other things.  A house which has been the home of your parents - and which you more than likely grew up in - is sold and the proceeds go to the professional guardian which eventually ends up in the hands of the ALF - usually after the professional guardian helps himself/herself to a share of the proceeds as professional guardian fees.

The same thing goes for all other assets the parents had:  Money in banks, money received as a result of receiving government benefits, family heirlooms - and the list goes on and on.

Once all the assets are spent, then it's time to apply for Medicaid.  Once Medicaid is approved, the financial lifeline in the ALF's favor thanks to your parents is still intact.

You are kept out of all decision making as far as your parents are concerned.  The only time the ALF or the professional guardian overseeing the affairs of your parents will contact you is if your parents passed away.  In other words, you are kept in the dark regarding your parents.

Once your parents pass away in the ALF, it's game over for all the players that have overseen your parents' care.  Then the ALF finds its next "victim" and the wheel of guardianship spins all over again.

So what can you do for your parents when it comes time to think about making the transition from home to ALF?

First and foremost, arrange a meeting with an attorney, preferably an attorney that knows both wills, trusts and probate as well as elder law.  Most attorneys can give you a 30-minute consultation either for free or for a small fee.  This cannot be over-emphasized enough:  Check the attorney's qualifications and expertise as well as his or her courtroom track record before you hand any sum of money to an attorney when you sign that retainer agreement.

Be sure that the attorney you select is licensed by the Florida Bar.  Much better, an attorney licensed by the Florida Bar and certified in probate and elder law matters is much more favorable.

A competent attorney will show you the ways that your parents' assets can be structured to prevent their being taken by professional guardians.  Steer clear of attorneys who think that guardianship is the only way to preserve assets - just remember what happened to a Clearwater resident whose name is Carol Kinnear as far as the unintended consequences of a guardianship are concerned.

Next, research ALF facilities in your area by starting online and visiting the individual ALF websites.  Narrow down your list based on their reputation (how do I find out?  Do a Google search for (name of ALF facility) complaints) and contact them to arrange for a tour of the facility.

When you take a tour of the ALF facilities, you may want to take your parents along.  While you are there, you will get a first impression of what the facility is like.  All I can say here is trust your instinct - if while you are touring an ALF facility you have any concerns about placing your parents there, the best thing to do is to err on the side of caution and leave the facility.

The only time that your parents give out their personal information is when the decision is made to enter a specific ALF and the paperwork is completed.  In fact, have your attorney review all ALF paperwork before signing anything.

In fact, work with your attorney to discuss safeguarding your parents' assets before your parents sign the ALF paperwork.

Now what if, despite your best efforts, your parents resist your efforts to place them in an ALF?  According to Linda Hurtado of ABC Action News your parents do not have to go to an ALF, unless adjudicated incompetent in a guardianship proceeding.

In other words, your parents are legal adults with all the rights and privileges appertaining thereto, the same way when you turned 18 and became an adult yourself.  The only way the rights and privileges as an adult can be taken away from you - other than being convicted and sent to prison - is the guardianship process as defined in Chapter 744 of the Florida Statutes.  Then again, a person under guardianship has much less rights than a convicted felon.

So please, before you make the ALF decision for your parents, speak to an attorney first.  After all, your parents took great care of you, and someday the time will come when it's time for you to take care of them.