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166 posts from June 2007

June 26, 2007

Lacasa wants powerful panel to review term limits, vouchers and portability

Carlos Lacasa, Miami attorney and chairman of the planning and budget reform committee of the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, is prepared to take a broad view of what categories should be placed on the November 2008 ballot. Among his wish list: a review of term limits for legislators, a look at putting education vouchers into the constitution and allowing homeowners portability -- the ability to carry their Save Our Homes tax breaks with them to a new home.

The commission, originally created in 1990, was formed "at a time when a discussion by the legislature of politically charged issue like taxes and the state's budgeting process made it very difficult for growth decision to be made."

Term limits, vouchers and property taxes are now the politically charged issues of this decade, Lacasa said, and are ripe for review by the powerful commission. "I think our mandate is pretty broad,'' he said. "All these issues are too contentious for the legislative process. They have tried."

Hospital association asks for special session on auto insurance

The Florida Hospital Association is joining the chorus of health care entities asking Gov. Charlie Crist to call lawmakers into special session to renew the no-fault auto insurance law before it expires on Oct. 1.

A resolution of the association's board of trustees notes that "40 percent of all patients treated for motor vehicle crashes in Florida’s hospital emergency rooms and trauma centers have no health insurance coverage to pay for necessary medical care" other than the no-fault insurance known as PIP, personal injury protection. "Florida could be, on October 1, the only state in the nation with no mandatory automobile insurance coverage."

Jim Nathan, president of Lee Memorial Health System Inc. and chair of the FHA board, said he believes Crist “understands the potential public health crisis the loss of PIP could have on our state, including the negative impact on trauma centers and the availability of physicians.” He urged legislative leaders to "come to the same conclusion before October."

Gelber snaps back that insurance rates need more work

House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber wasted no time commending the governor for setting up the insurance comparision web site Tuesday. He then stepped up the criticism of the insurance situation in a statement, resurrecting the "Storming Mad" line of the 2006 election season:

“The Legislature finally took a step in the right direction during the January special session in reforming our state’s property insurance market. The work we did during special session was a welcomed first step, but we have much more to do.  Too many Floridians are still feeling victimized by out of control insurance premiums. Unfortunately, during this past legislative session, we did nothing to address long-term reforms for policyholders insured through the private market. The Legislature also did very little to address property insurance relief for our state’s small businesses.

“We have a long road ahead if we intend to adopt long-term solutions that will deliver true rate relief to our constituents. The bottom line is that Floridians are still, rightfully, storming mad.”

Crist admits insurance rates haven't dropped enough

Florida's insurance rates "have not come down as much as I would like and the legislature would like,'' Gov. Charlie Crist said Tuesday. But, he said, they are lower than they would have been had the legislature not acted in special session in January. "Forever in Florida, it seems like rates would only go up..rates for the first time actually are coming down. Would I like them to come down more? You bet I would.''

Crist blamed the industry for overpromising and underdelivering on rates. "This has not been easy and the industry continues to resist,'' he said. "We need to continue to push the industry. We need to continue to hold their feet to the fire."

But the governor expressed no regrets that the state-run insurance company, Citizens Property Insurance, now carries so much risk  that it is insuring more than half of Florida's property insurance liability.

Meanwhile, homeowners now have a place to see compare average insurance prices in their home towns to see if there is a way to find a better deal. The web site, shopandcomparerates.com, is designed to "empower the consumer" said Crist when he made the announcement on Tuesday. It allows homeowners to see the rates offered in their community by 25 companies, including Citizens. "An informed consumer is a powerful thing,'' he said.

Schools chief tells panel schools need $31 billion more by 2017

Interim Commissioner of Education Jeanine Blomberg told a committee of the Taxation and Budget Commission today that, according to a modest estimate of needs for Florida's schools in the next 10 years, the state will need $31 billion in new money to pay for the estimated 1 to 2 percent growth in student enrollment. That's on top of the $19 billion needed each year just to keep a cost per student at a flat $7,300.

She said that, prior to the special session on property taxes, state economists estimated there would be an 8 to 9 percent growth in property tax revenue for schools over the next decade. Now, that equation is changed, she said, because of the proposed constitutional amendment which projects a cut on education of $7.2 billion over just five years.

"You have to look at efficiencies,'' Blomberg explained. She also noted that the state budget is going to have to increase for education to meet the growing needs. "You have to expect more or are you going to find these dollars from some other avenue."

One big assumption written into these estimates: people with school-age children stop leaving the state. Enrollment growth has actually declined statewide over the last two years, Blomberg said, because "we have found that people are moving out of the state, so we are going to have to watch that very closely."

More here on the commission. Here are panel members.


June 25, 2007

Sen. Nelson: "Jokester, Daredevil, Rocker"

No, not that Sen. Nelson. Sen. Ben Nelson, the Nebraska Democrat who tells the Washington Post in a profile that the press often confuses him with fellow Democrat Florida Sen. Bill Nelson.

The Post notes that "besides being the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, (the Western) Nelson is known as the Senate's preeminent practical jokester. (He calls them "gotcha's.")

One of them involves Nelson and the closing doors of a subway car. He also says he's a major Rolling Stones fan and once went skydiving.

As for the dueling Nelsons, Ben Nelson told the newspaper most of the mixups occur "in the news.

"I'll see that I'm co-sponsoring a bill I don't know about so I'll go, 'I didn't know I was co-sponsoring this bill!' " Nelson said. "Well I'm not, he is."

Tornillo dies at his Tallahassee home

Pasquale ''Pat'' Tornillo Jr., whose four-decade tenure as the powerful boss of the United Teachers of Dade began with crusades for education reform and better teacher pay and ended in prison and disgrace, died over the weekend at his Tallahassee home. More here.

State judge smacks down lobbyists' lawsuit

Florida's 18-month-old law requiring lobbyists to disclose their fees does not violate the constitution a state court ruled today. It is the second time a judge has rejected the arguments of lobbyists trying to throw out the law that requires them to report every three months what clients pay them and imposes a zero tolerance ban on legislators accepting gifts or meals.

Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry P. Lewis said in his five-page ruling that the law passed by legislators in a special session December 2005 is "narrowly drawn" and designed to achieve the "compelling state interest" of knowing how much people are paid to influence government. Lewis wrote:

"We, as citizens in a democratic form of government, have a compelling interest in maintaining integrity of the legislative and administrative processes of government. We have a compelling interest in knowing who is being hired, who is putting up the money, and how much.

''The Legislation is specifically tailored and narrowly drawn to accomplish this compelling state interest, and not to unduly intrude into the private lives of individuals. The law does not require disclosure of income from all sources, but rather only from 'lobbying activities.'"

Lewis also rejected arguments that the law violates the privacy right of plaintiffs Brenda D. Dickinson, a Tallahassee lobbyist, or Vicki A. Woolridge, a Palm Beach lobbyist. He also quashed their claims that the law wasn't read three times and therefore was not properly passed, and that it violates equal protection or separation of powers doctrine. Here's the ruling: Download final_judgment.pdf

Teddy Roosevelt joins Kennedy at climate change summit

Haunting but true, Theodore Roosevelt IV, the great-grandson of the legendary conservationist president of the same name, will be another of the politically potent names asked to speak at the climate change summit convened by Gov. Charlie Crist July 12 and 13.

The governor has already lured California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. to give keynote speeches at the event in Miami. Roosevelt is managing director at Lehman brothers and chairman of the finance firm's global council on climate change, which was formed in February.

Here's the release:  Download Governor_crist_announces_theodore_roosevelt_iv_as_keynote_speaker_at_florida_summit_on_global_climate_change.htm

Associated Industries insurance group bought out

Jon Shebel, CEO of Associated Industries Insurance Company and its management company announced today that the workers compensation insurer he founded has been purchased for $41.2 million by AmTrust Financial Services. AmTrust has underwritten much of the company's premium for the past three years. Here's the release: Download aif_sells_to_amtrust.doc