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207 posts from July 2009

July 28, 2009

Crist repeats his support for oil drilling off Florida coasts

Gov. Charlie Crist said Tuesday that he "probably would weigh in" on legislation pending before Congress that would allow for oil drilling within 45 miles of Florida's coasts. Story here.

"There's an opportunity to find a middle ground if done appropriately that is safe, that is clean if done right,'' he said. "I'm open to reviewing what those opportunities might be.''

But Crist, the U.S. senate candidate,  refrained from being specific about how he would define the allowable distance from shore. "I've always said it needs to be far enough, clean enough and safe enough to protect Florida's beautiful beaches,'' he said. "I also am cognizant of the fact that it sure would be nice to be energy independent. That's a growing concern of an awful lot of people including myself."

Crist suggested that while Florida should have a say in whether drilling will be allowed off the coast, the authority could come from the Congressional delegation. "Members of our delegation should not be dismissed,'' he said. "I think a combination would be the most prudent approach...Congress certainly has an interest as well, as it relates to national energy independence.

"Florida is kind of unique we have this tourist industry that's awfully important to Florida and I want to make sure whatever we might do as it relates to additional exploration for energy, that it is done in a responsible, safe and clean way.''

Hastings retreats on Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Rep. Alcee Hastings has withdrawn an amendment that would have prevented the military from using money to carry out the provisions of its controversial Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy which prevents gays from serving in the military. He says he pulled the measure under pressure from the White House and colleagues.

"I would, however, like to note that it is most unfortunate that we are not addressing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell at this time," Hastings said in announcing his decision. "We should not be appropriating funds to enable qualified service members to be booted out just because they are honest about whom they are."

He took a slap at President Barack Obama, noting that the military has spent over $95.1 million on retraining soldiers because of the law.

"What is the holdup, then?" he said. "Last month, 76 of my colleagues and I sent a letter to President Obama urging him to take leadership on this issue and to work together with Congress to repeal this law.  More than a month later, I have yet to receive an official response."

Clinton to keynote youth conference on education

 Gov. Lawton Chiles  President Bill Clinton will be the keynote speaker at an Orlando conference Aug. 8-9 intended to mobilize high school and college students to push for education improvements in Florida.

The students will form what organizers are calling "the inaugural class" of the Lawton Chiles Leadership Corps. Modeled after the successful "Truth" campaign for tobacco, the group will train more than 300 students from across Florida to "speak up with one loud voice for education.''

The conference is being organized by Bud Chiles, the late governor's son, and it has the support of Sens. Mel Martinez, Bill Nelson and form Sen. Bob Graham. After the conference, students will be asked to lead a yearlong effort to gather a million signatures on a pledge to improve education and put children first. Partners include statewide education groups and health care coaltions.

“Our state has become a national embarrassment on children’s issues, and today we’re at or near the bottom in most indicators of performance,” said Chiles, president of The Lawton Chiles Foundation, and coordinator of the Worst to First effort. “We’re energizing our youth to go out there and fight for a change in the status quo.''

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Sink asks McCarty to clarify 'this whole $4-billion issue"

CFO Alex Sink wants Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty to better explain his recent claims that 40 new insurance companies have come into Florida, bringing $4-billion in new capital.

The Times/Herald reported recently that most of that new capital is from unregulated, surplus lines companies that do not typically write residential home policies. Earlier this month, Sink got a letter from Sen. Mike Bennett that refers to the article and asks her to help him "validate" McCarty's figures. (The letter is here: Download Bennett letter to CFO Sink 071509)

Sink on Tuesday at the Cabinet meeting asked McCarty to come back and "kind of re-order the list'' to better explain the difference between the Florida domestic admitted market insurers and those writing surplus lines insurance. She said her staff calculated that the residential insurance companies on the list that were number 1-17 had $328 million in capital and those numbered 29-40 were surplus lines insurers with $3 billion in capital.

"Certainly it's a great thing to have any form of new capital,'' Sink said. "But some are writing residential; some are writing commercial. There has been a lot of noise around this whole $4 billion issue,'' she said.

"There has indeed,'' McCarty responded.

Judge sides with prison system in bid battle

A state hearing officer has ruled in favor of the Department of Corrections in a controversy involving an $80-million contract to provide mental health to South Florida inmates. Administrative Law Judge Suzanne Hood's 39-page decision concluded that the losing bidder, MHM Correctional Services, failed to prove that the prison system violated the law in awarding a five-year-contract to a rival, Correctional Medical Services.

The decision was a setback to MHM and its legal team at Foley & Lardner, led by Chris Kise, a former legal advisor to Gov. Charlie Crist. "I am saddened, as costs will go up and quality of care will go down, but not entirely surprised by the order as the judge does not appear to get it," Kise said in an e-mail message to The News Service of Florida.

Kise's administrative challenge included explosive allegations that prison officials negotiated in secret with CMS in violation of the public records laws that his ex-boss, Crist, has championed as governor.

"MHM has not met its burden of persuasion in this case," Judge Hood wrote. In addition, she concluded, MHM failed to prove that its proposal met the state's criteria for financial viability (The prison system had rejected MHM's proposal on financial grounds).

-- Steve Bousquet

House Speaker Larry Cretul: no negotiations with Seminole Tribe

Looks like there's an impasse in gambling talks between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida (more here). Just don't call it an "impasse" if you're talking to House Speaker Larry Cretul. The transcript:

Cretul: "I don’t know if there’s an impasse. I know there’s discussion going on back and forth. As a matter of fact I know that Chair (Bill) Galvano had a meeting with folks representing the governor’s office and the tribe. And I concur with Galavano’s remarks, and I think he’s done an excellent job in the discussions, I don’t necessarily think we’re in a negotiating mood."

"That was a piece of legislation that had hundreds of hours of work done on it and  testimony by everybody, all the concerned parties."

"Now there ‘s some stuff I would call ‘around the edges,’ which is not significant. But any substantive stuff -- I’m not sure that we’re ready to go there."

Q: Sounds like an impasse:

Cretul: I don’t know if it’s impasse. They might be negotiating, I’m not sure we are.

Developers and casino backer hold Colorado fundraiser for Crist

Money baqs Gov. Charlie Crist, recently back from a weekend fundraiser in New York, jets off to Aspen, Colorado this weekend for a $2,400 per person fundraiser at the Colorado home of Debbie and Brent Sembler. Attire: "Colorado Casual,'' the invite suggests.

Sembler is vice chairman of the Sembler Company, a Tampa shopping center developer,  and his host committee includes a line-up of other prominent developers and their wives: Marcy and Art Falcone, Debra and Ron Weisser and Heidi and Michael Baumann.

Ron Weisser is CEO of Lindell Properties, which is developing a 44-acre mixed use development in Westshore Independence Park in Tampa. Micheal Baumann is a Miami Beach developer. And Art Falcone is the Boca Raton businessman and one of two principal investors in the Miami Worldcenter Group, the 25-acre development slated for downtown's Park West area.

Falcone and partner Marc Roberts also bankrolled a petition drive to amend the state constitution to allow for Las Vegas-style casinos in Miami and at Miami Beach's famed Fontainebleau Hotel. More on that here. Although the petition drive appears to have stalled, the political action committee behind it -- the Committee on Critical Challenges -- has been writing monthly checks to the Fort Lauderdale law firm that is advising it.

Veteran reporter recalls King's honesty, humor, 'vitamin time'

The Times' veteran Capitol reporter Lucy Morgan writes today about her memories of the late Sen. Jim King covering the Legislature.

"No one had a better understanding of the legislative process. And no one could explain it better when the House and Senate were behaving badly. ...No one was better at describing the silliness that frequently surrounds a legislative session."

Read more here.

July 27, 2009

Sen. King to be interred at FSU

The late Sen. Jim King wants to be a Seminole for eternity. And his beloved alma mater is happy to oblige. King, the popular Republican lawmaker who passed away Sunday after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer, will be cremated and interred at the year-old King Life Sciences Building on the campus of Florida State University, family spokesman Gus Corbella confirmed Monday.

FSU officials dedicated the $55-million building to King last September in honor of his help in securing state funding over the years for biomedical research and other campus projects.

“He proudly always said one of the reasons he was so successful in life was the education he got there,” said Corbella, a lobbyist and longtime family friend who served as King’s chief of staff for 10 years. “When you think about it, where else would he ever be?”

King will be the first person interred on a Florida public campus since lawmakers this spring passed legislation (SB926) allowing for university to build “columbariums,” permanent structures that hold the ashes of alumni.

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Compact talks stall as gov and tribe want lawmakers to give

Slot machines Negotiations over a gambling deal between the governor and Seminole Tribe have been on hold for the last 10 days as they await word on whether the House and Senate will modify their take-it or leave-it offer.

“The ball is kind of in their court,’’ said George LeMieux, the former chief of staff to Gov. Charlie Crist who is on the legal team representing the governor in the talks.

But Rep. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican who has been the House’s point man on the issue, said Monday that he believes the blueprint passed by lawmakers for negotiations was the final word.

"They want a counter offer and that's not what the legislation called for," Galvano told the Herald/Times. "We don’t view it as an opportunity to renegotiate what was presented.’’

The legislature gave the governor until Aug. 31 to complete a compact with the tribe that would formally give them the right to operate slot machines and black jack, baccarat and chemin de fer at their casinos in South Florida.

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