« December 2010 | Main | February 2011 »

240 posts from January 2011

January 27, 2011

Guess who's coming to dinner (with Gov. Scott?)

Three members of the state House leadership have been invited to dinner Thursday at the Governor's Mansion: Reps. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, and Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami. Weatherford and Dorworth are in line to be speakers of the House following Rep. Dean Cannon, and Lopez-Cantera is the current House majority leader.

The event is being billed as a social occasion and it is not listed on Scott's official daily schedule. It has stirred new tensions between the governor's office and the capital press corps because Scott's office wants to allow only two pool reporters to observe the dinner and also wants to hand-pick the reporters who will attend, a condition the press corps considers unacceptable. Similar meetings were open to all reporters in former Gov. Charlie Crist's administration but Scott prefers pool coverage at small events, at which one or two reporters are required to share all observations with the rest of the media.

The state Constitution requires certain "prearranged meetings" between more than two members of the Legislature must be "reasonably open to the public" if "the purpose of which is to agree upon formal legislative action that will be taken at a subsequent time."

Weatherford said his office was not told the purpose of the dinner, but he assumed it was purely social. "I was not under the impression that we're going to be talking about any specific public policy issues. Look, we have a new governor who is trying to build relationships with legislators, and this is an opportunity for him to do that. I think it's purerly social and a chance for him and his wife to show some hospitality. I think most people would understand that."

For what it may be worth, Speaker Cannon said he has not yet been invited to break bread with the new governor. 

-- Steve Bousquet

Rick Scott suggests creating a Department of Commerce

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said this morning that he wants to create a "Department of Commerce" to streamline economic development efforts in the state.

"We're looking at how we make government work better," Scott said at the annual meeting of Enterprise Florida.

"One thing I'm going to do - I'm going to work with the legislature to do this - I want to streamline how we do economic development," he said.

"What I want to do is set up a Department of Commerce. I'm going to have the secretary of that office in my office - two doors from my office. And I want them to be the ones to work with Enterprise Florida, they'll work with OTTED and work with the Agency for Workforce Innovation."

January 26, 2011

Pam Bondi's emergency rule makes fake cocaine illegal

The white powder marketed as bath salts under such names as Ivory Wave and Vanilla Sky mimics cocaine and LSD when snorted or injected. And as of today, it's illegal in Florida. Attorney General Pam Bondi today issued an emergency rule that makes possession or distribution of the chemical a third-degree felony. The rule will remain in place for 90 days and legislators say they plan to pass a law making the substance illegal permanently.

Until now, the packets of powder have been sold in convenience stores and head shops. Bondi said she wanted to get the order in place before spring breakers hit the Panhandle beaches, where use of the substance is prevalent.

"It makes you think you’re seeing monsters and it also makes you think that you can fly and there are a lot of balconies out there," Bondi said at a news conference as she held up packets of the stuff, one of which was purchased in a shopping mall.

Plans call for either adding product to existing bills that would ban fake marijuana or introducing stand alone legislation.

"This product is simply up to no good," Senate President Mike Haridopolos, who joined Bondi at the news conference. "We need to act quickly to make sure kids ar protected." Also there: Rep. Jimmy Patronis of Panama City and Rep. Janet Adkins of Fernandina Beach, who introduced legislation banning the fake weed.

Bondi said she issued the rule at the request of Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen, who said the experience there "has been to the point of almost lethal." Side effects reportedly include increased heart rate, nosebleeds, hallucinations, severe paranoia, seizures, and kidney failure.

In one case, a man who had ingested the substance displayed near "superhuman strength" and required seven officers to subdue him, McKeithen said. In another instance, a woman tried to chop her mother's head off with a machete, thinking she was a monster, he said.

"We had to do something," McKeithen said. "We asked for help and we got it."

Frederica Wilson calls on the Obama administration to stop deporting Haitians

The Miami Democrat and the American Civil Liberties Union are calling on the White House to stop deporting Haitians until their safety and freedom can be guaranteed.

"Current political instability, widespread human rights abuses, and the cholera outbreak make conditions on the ground too risky for Haitians to return safely,"Wilson said. "I urge the Administration to do the right thing and halt deportations at this time."

Wilson and the ACLU in December had asked the administration to continue the suspension of deportation of Haitians in light of human rights and humanitarian concerns and the "raging cholera epidemic that has taken hold in that country."   

House Speaker John Boehner on David Rivera: "We're waiting to see how this plays out"

Asked at a press conference today about the drumbeat of stories involving inquiries into Miami Republican Rep. David Rivera's finances, House Speaker John Boehner said the House is "waiting to see how this plays out.

He prefaced his remarks by noting, "As I understand it, the allegations against Mr. Rivera, they don't involve any of his congressional service. These are activities that took place before he was elected."

Earlier, Marco Rubio -- a close Rivera associate -- sought to keep a distance, reiterating that he only knows what he's read in the press.

"When something like that is happening, you generally let the process work itself through, I have confidence in our judicial process," he said.

Unscrupulous pain clinics to blame for auto insurance fraud

Unscruplous pain clinics have come under fire for frivolously handing out prescription drugs. But they also are part of the reason Tampa and Miami lead the nation in auto insurance fraud, experts told the House banking and insurance committee today.

"It is a cottage industry. It is organized crime, and it is affecting Florida's ability to keep rates reasonable for consumers," said Alan Haskins, director of government affairs for the National Insurance Crime Bureau.  Estimates are that a so-called "fraud tax" adds $100 to the auto insurance policy of two-car famillies in Florida. Ron Poindexter, also of the NICB, said in Hillsborough County authorities are investigating a network of 60 clinics and 100 people who are "stealing" $4 million a month from insurers. 

Thousands of clinics in Florida target their advertising to automobile accident victims telling them they are "entitled" to collect up to $10,000 through their personal injury protection policies, said John Askins, who heads the state's division of insurance fraud in CFO Jeff Atwater's office.  And in many cases, accidents are staged by clinic operators simply to collect that money from insurance companies.

"These are highly sophisticed fraud rings," Askins said.  "Some of these clinics are just driven by staged accidents. That's all they do."

The staged accidents, he said, drain local law enforcement resources, requiring them to spend time writing reports because a "bunch of criminals are setting up accidents" instead of protecting their communities. "And this is happening at a time when police departments are cutting their budgets. There should be public outrage on this point alone," Askins said. He asked the committee to advocate for money to pay for dedicated prosecutors to attack the problem.

Committee chair Bryan Nelson, a Republican from Apopka, said before making that case he wanted to see evidence that money directed last year to Hillsborough County to fight PIP fraud had made a difference.

Rick Scott to spend 'a lot of time' in D.C.

Scribbles in my notebook after spending the day with Gov. Rick Scott in the First Coast.

1.) Only Washington D.C. topped Tallahassee on Rick Scott's list of most-loathed cities during the campaign. So guess where the Republican governor plans to point the nose of his private jet?

Scott said Tuesday that he’ll visit the nation's capital as often as once a month to work on transportation, education and health care issues.

"I'm going to be spending a lot of time in Washington making sure that we get our fair share of dollars," Scott said at the TracPac Container Terminal, which he visited as part of a tour of the Jacksonville Port Authority.

Continue reading "Rick Scott to spend 'a lot of time' in D.C." »

Marco Rubio to cast first vote, co-sponsor first bill -- health care repeal

In a wide ranging interview with Florida reporters, the Florida senator talked about his impressions of last night's State of the Union Speech, fears about government overspending and his take on the Senate's Tea Party caucus and whether it's necessary.

He said he hadn't yet joined any caucuses, but planned to meet with the Tea Party caucus founders "to get their sense of what they want the caucus to be about."

He said he questions the use of aTea Party, asking, "Is it a good idea to have a Tea Party caucus? Because really what I think the strength of the Tea Party is that comes from the grass roots. That it is not a political organization, it's not something run by politicians or people seeking higher office, but rather it is a movement of every day citizens from all walks of life.. That's the strength of the Tea Party that it's not a political organization run by people out of Washington. My concern is a Tea Party caucus could intrude on that."

He said he does plan to join the Republican Steering Committee, a conservative group that has been long established and meets to talk policy. He noted the group has staffers and "has the infrastructure in place to provide resources that those of us who believe in center right limited government, free enterprise can rely on..

"The fundamental question I have -- and there might be a good reason for it -- is what's the difference between the Tea Party caucus and what already exists in the steering committee?" Rubio said.

Caucus founder Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul declined to stop to talk about Rubio's non-embrace of the caucus, telling reporters to call his office.

Rubio said he'll take his first vote today -- on a resolution honoring Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. He'll also co-sponsor his first bill -- joining 33 other Senate Republicans endorsing South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint's effort to repeal the sweeping health care bill.

Continue reading "Marco Rubio to cast first vote, co-sponsor first bill -- health care repeal " »

Fasano tells Scott to let redistricting review proceed

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, hand-delivered a letter to the governor's office Wednesday, urging Gov. Rick Scott to allow a federal review of the two voter-approved changes to redistricting standards in Florida. In his letter, Fasano notes that while he -- like Scott -- opposed both amendments, they were ratified by more than 60-percent of Florida voters, and their wishes should be honored.

"We as a state must move forward," Fasano wrote. "By allowing the federal review to move forward, you will be assisting the Legislature in doing one of the most important functions it has: drawing the congressional and legislative districts."

Scott on Jan. 7 reversed a previous action by former Gov. Charlie Crist, who has asked the U.S. Justice Department to undertake the review of Amendments 5 and 6, a process known as "pre-clearance" under the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Scott said he interrupted the action because the census data upon which reapportionment is based is not yet complete.

-- Steve Bousquet

Frederica Wilson scores an aisle seat, thanks to a big hat

The Miami Democrat scored one of the seats that Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen usually claims for the annual State of the Union -- on the aisle, in the arriving president's hugging and kissing range.

News reports -- and Twitter -- say Wilson strolled into the chamber around 7 to hold her hat with a big red, sparkly cowboy hat. She didn't wear the hat on the floor, as House rules forbid it. Cameras caught her sans hat, hugging the president.

Ros-Lehtinen had to skip the State of the Union; she elected to stay in Miami with her ailing mother. But she did give the Spanish language response to the speech. One of her first hearings as chair of international relations went on her without her as well -- but speakers had no trouble carrying her message -- that UN funding should be cut.