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404 posts from April 2011

April 28, 2011

Former lawmaker plans run for Hialeah mayor

A new candidate will join the race for Hialeah mayor.

On Wednesday, Rudy Garcia, a former state senator from Hialeah, filed paperwork to open a campaign account with the city of Hialeah.

The filing indicates he is going forward with a campaign for the top political job in the City of Progress, where the mayor also serves as the manager. For months, Garcia, 48, was widely expected to run for the office.

He joins a packed slate, including former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, the current Council President Carlos Hernandez, state Rep. Eduardo "Eddy" Gonzalez and political novice George Castro.

The seat will be up for grabs in a special election in November, as Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina is running for Miami-Dade County mayor in the May 24 election.

Story by Laura Isensee here.

Hispanic Chamber to Haridopolos: say no to immigration bill

The U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce sent Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos a letter Thursday registering its opposition to SB 2040, a measure the group said would hurt the state's economy.

"As you well know, Florida, more than Arizona and most other states, depends on tourism as a key economic engine with tourists spending more than $7 billion there annually," Hispanic Chamber President Javier Palomarez wrote.

"Local attempts to address immigration could have the unintended consequence of driving these valuable investors away. Even as these bills are debated, Florida is already losing valuable tourism dollars as the word gets out through similar calls for boycotts as those that occurred in Arizona.

The Hispanic Chamber's position, according to the letter, is that immigration reform is required -- at the federal level, in the U.S. Congress.

The letter comes on the heels of a news conference Thursday morning in the state Capitol where immigration advocates who have protested the bill all week cited the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning organization, as saying implementing an Arizona-style immigration bill could cost Florida $1 billion.

The fallout from a similar law, including litigation costs and losses to the economy could amount to $45 billion, Subhash Kateel of the Florida Immigrant Coalition said.

The immigration debate has drawn opponents from both ends of the political spectrum: activist, progressive organizations are against the legislation, as are business groups, including the Florida Chamber and Associated Industries of Florida.

Checking a claim on Down syndrome made during yesterday's abortion debate

The use of statistics dominated a daylong debate over six abortion bills in the Florida House yesterday. But among all the stats used in nearly six hours of floor speeches, one stood out. It came from Republican Rep. Richard Corcoran of New Port Richey and caught the attention of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates on Twitter. The group posted a message that said Corcoran claimed that "90 percent of babies with Down syndrome are aborted."

"PolitiFact anyone?" the group asked.

PolitiFact Florida obliged.

Senate leaders arm twisting to help Dean Cannon's court jihad

Senate leaders are working hard to rally the votes for a court reform bill today that is getting heavy pushback from several Republican senators.

The Senate needs 24 of the 40 senators to pass the bill and the fate of a budget deal is hinged on its passage. Although there are 28 Republicans in the Senate, several have been unwilling to embrace the top priority bill of House Speaker Dean Cannon which is aggressively opposed by the Florida Bar.

Throughout the day, Senate leaders have been button-holing their Republican colleagues on the floor of the Senate. They have persuaded some members who have previously opposed the bill to sign on by agreeing to withdraw an anti-union bill that would have banned unions from using payroll deduction to collect their dues.

 “I’m with leadership,’’ said Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach. “The budget is the most important thing we do. We need to get it done.”

 “They don’t have the votes to take the bill up,’’ said Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, an opponent of the bill.

 “The Legislature has enough to worry about in getting our budget together, in getting people back to work and I don’t think we came in here with the idea that we have to do massive reform of the court system,’’ she said. “There doesn’t appear to be any problem, the case load has been reduced and here we are meddling in the business of the Supreme Court when nobody from the court system has come nad asked use to do that. So there’s no problem. It’s a pretty expensive solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.”

 Former Fort Lauderdale state Sen. Walter “Skip” Campbell, who came the Tallahassee to lobby against the bill, said he believes Republicans are pursuing the bill not because they believe it’s a pressing need for Florida but because they want to load the 2012 ballot with issues that will force lawyers to spend money to try to defeat it.

“The reason why they are putting all these constitutional amendments on the ballot is so that money will be spent and diverted from candidates to issues,’’ he said.

 

Six Miami-Dade mayoral candidates face off

Four weeks before election day — and even less before absentee and early voting starts — six of the leading candidates in the Miami-Dade County mayor’s race gathered for a lunchtime debate Wednesday that, on its surface, underscored the contenders’ broad agreement on overhauling a county government widely viewed as fat and out of touch.

Should the tax rate increases pushed by ousted county mayor Carlos Alvarez be rescinded? Yes, all six answered.

Should voters approve 12-year term limits for county commissioners? No, was the answer. All six said commissioners should have put an eight-year term limit on the May 24 ballot for voters to consider.

Is the compensation plan that could exceed $900,000 annually for Carlos Migoya, the newly-hired CEO at the county-run Jackson Health System, too rich? Yes, each one said.

In the wake of Alvarez’s historic recall last month, in which 88 percent of voters cast ballots in favor of removal, 11 candidates have launched into the short sprint of a campaign to decide who will serve out the remainder of the former mayor’s term, ending in November 2012. Each is trying to emerge from the crowded field and condensed campaign schedule by portraying themselves as the person best suited to retool the much maligned county government.

Full story by Matthew Haggman here.

Senate takes swift action on education bills

Clearing the Florida Senate on Thursday morning: SB 1546, a broad proposal to make it easier for charter schools to expand, and SB 1466, which would dramatically reduce the number of courses subject to state class-size limits.

There was little discussion on the two bills, which now head to a vote in the House -- likely on Friday.

The charter measure passed with a 31-8 vote. Two Democrats, Sen. Gary Siplin of Orlando and Sen. Eleanor Sobel of Hollywood, broke party lines vote in favor.

The bill would allow certain charter schools to be designated as "high-performing." With that classification would come perks like having 15-year charter agreements, being able to expand student enrollment and being able to open new schools.

Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat, was the only lawmaker to speak against the bill, saying it would make it difficult for school districts to keep track of charter schools. "This particular bill is aggressive," he said.

The class-size change drew even less opposition: a single "no" vote from Sen. Tony Hill, a Jacksonville Democrat. The bill would reduce the number of courses affected by class-size rules from 849 to 288.

Haridopolos calls Saturday session, will likely bring up immigration on Friday

Senate President Mike Haridopolos announced Thursday that the Senate will meet for a rare Saturday session this week, taking up confirmations of many of the governor's appointees and leaving the door open for a vote on an immigration bill.

Haridopolos said that while there will not be a special meeting of the Senate Budget Committee, to take up SB 2040, the Senate's immigration plan, "there may be some action on that" on Friday.

Boom! Health budget blows up(ward)

It took little more than a day, but Sen. Joe Negron and Rep. Matt Hudson agreed they had to disagree on the health budget.
 “We are at impasse,” Hudson said, signaling that negotiations over the $29 billion health section of the budget would be held by the budget chiefs from each chamber.
 The Senate wants to cut $372 million from the Meds AD and Medically Needy programs for the frail and sick and about $115 million for mental health and drug-rehabilitation programs. The Senate wants to raise reimbursement rates for doctors by $338 million.
 But the House has refused. It wants to spend more on protecting existing health programs before giving doctors more money.
 Both chambers have decided to close a deficit at the Agency for Persons with Disabilities this year, but the House spends about $110 million more next year on APD.
 Lawmakers are also at loggerheads over how to steer about $34 million in bailout money to Jackson Memorial Hospital.

House panel agrees to smaller claim for Broward man

A House panel today approved two $7.5 million claims bills in separate negligence cases against the University of South Florida and Broward County Sheriff’s Office.

Both of those cases got approval from a Senate panel earlier this week for much higher amounts, $25 million against USF and $23 million against the Broward Sheriff.

The two chambers would have to work out the differences in the next week.

The USF case involved a couple who decided to have a second child after a USF geneticist told them future pregnancies would produce healthy children. The couple, Amara and Daniel Estrada, already had one son, who was severely disabled but undiagnosed. Their second son turned out to have the same disorder, later identified as Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome. Both children now require round-the-clock care and depend on feeding tubes.

In 2007, a Hillsborough jury awarded the couple a $23.5 million verdict. But under state sovereign immunity laws, in order to that kind of money from a government agency, their claim requires a special act by the Legislature.

“Seven and a half milion is better than not having anything, but this family is struggling,” said Chris Searcy, lawyer for the Estradas.

In the Broward case, Eric Brody, then 18 years old, was left paralyzed and brain damaged after a speeding Broward Sheriff's Office cruiser crashed into his car more than a decade ago. In 2005, a jury awarded him more than $30 million. His family's claims have failed for years in Tallahassee. But the Brodys have kept trying.

--JODIE TILLMAN

Senate passes sweeping property insurance bill

The Senate voted 25 to 12 in favor of a sweeping property insurance bill that would free private insurers from having to offer comprehensive sinkhole insurance. Instead, they would have to offer only coverage in cases about catastrophic ground cover collapse, which represents about 1 percent of sinkhole claims. To address concerns that SB 408 would mean people whose banks require that they have such coverage in the lurch, the bill requires the state-run Citizens Property Insurance to offer comprehensive sinkhole coverage.

"This is an economic disaster waiting to happen," said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who read a letter sent from a constituent's bank saying they must have sinkhole insurance. "There will be more foreclosures. More forced insurance on homeowners." Forced insurance, he said, means more people will end up unregulated surplus lines for insurance coverage.

But bill sponsor Garrett Richter, R-Naples, and his supporters argued that the private sector will continue to offer comprehensive sinkhole coverage if they believe they can make money on those products.

Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, said it's not fair to force insurers to offer a product and then tell them how much they can charge for it.

"I don't think that's the American way. It's not the capitalist way," he said. 

Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, took exception to that, noting that she's a "free-market person" who has run a business with her husband for 30 years. But the insurance industry, she said, is not really a free market.

"People are forced to buy homeowners insurance as a condition of having a home. So it is a hyper regulated market already. It is not the same as every other free market principle," she said. "I believe people will lose their homes."

Storms characterized the bill as a gift to the insurance industry as a gift to the insurance industry by cutting them loose from sinkhole claims so they can shore up profits.

"I don't' mind for insurance companies to make a living," Storms said. "I do mind for them to make a kiling. And I think this bill allows for them to make a killing."

But J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, noted that just as it's difficult to insure property on naturally vulnerable coastlines, it's difficult to insure property sitting on a sinkhole-pocked state.

"We all live on top of Swiss cheese that's below us. There's a sinkhole sitting beneath every single house in this state," he said. "As a consequence, there are issues."

But he said requiring coverage only for damage caused by a sinkhole that leads to catastrophic groundcover collapse is sufficient. As it is now, trial attorneys encourage homeowners to file sinkhole claims for hairline cracks in a driveway, and claimants take payouts and use the money to pay off mortgages instead of making repairs. That's an expensive proposition for insurers, he said.

"You get enough losses in these insurance companies it will eventually perk up in two ways. Either your rates are going to go up, or they're gong to leave," he said. "A competitive market ultimately will deliver the most cost effective goods and services in the world."

Richter disagreed with Fasano's assessment that the bill was one of the most anti-consumer measures of the legislative session.

"This bill is very consumer friendly," he said. "It attacks cost drivers. It attacks fraud. It promotes competition." All of those things, he said, will lower costs for consumers.