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230 posts from July 2011

July 28, 2011

More lawmakers join the call for closer look at Citizens sinkhole insurance rates

Sen. Charlie Dean and Representatives Will Weatherford and John Legg are joining Sen. Mike Fasano in the call for a closer look at the massive increases to sinkhole insurance rates proposed by Citizens Property Insurance.

The state-run property insurer has proposed raising rates for the policies by an average of 429 percent statewide, and more than 2,000 percent in some parts of the state. Company officials say the increases are necessary because fraudulent and frivolous sinkhole claims are draining their coffers, and premiums aren't high enough to cover losses. Officials at Citizens say in 2010 the company collected $32 million in sinkhole insurance premiums but had $245 million in claim-related losses. The Citizens board approved the rates this week. They now go to the Office of Insurance Regulation, which will schedule rate hearings in Tallahassee.

But some lawmakers say hearings should be held in other parts of the state. They also say the legislation, SB408,  that gives Citizens permission to raise sinkhole premiums beyond a 10 percent cap that applies to other types of insurance should help cut down on the fraud that prompted the rate hikes.

"The rates they’re putting out there are based on past history. Don’t you want to wait a little while to see if what the Legislature did works?” said Weatherford, the House speaker-designate. "We gave them some flexibility. I don’t think anybody in the Legislature did this to give them carte blanche to jack up the rates as high as they can." 

Similarly, Dean tweeted this on Thursday: "SB 408 was passed to cut down on the increased number of fraudulent sinkhole claims- not so Citizens could seek a 2,000 percent rate increase." He called for rate hearings in the areas "most affected by the possible increase."

Legg also called for local hearings, and said the Office of Insurance Regulation should exercise caution before approving the rates.

"They need to give it a little bit of time to get some data. How much time they need, I don't know. Is it six months? Nine months? I don't know," Legg said. "But it's very premature, 30 days after the law goes into effect, to do these rate increases when we don't know what the effect of the law will be. We're hopeful the anitfraud mechanisms we put in that bill will suppress the number of fraud claims and the rate adjustment won't need to be anywhere near what it is."

Among other things, the bill aims to cut down on fraud by requiring homeowners to spend any sinkhole damage awards to make repairs, and limits coverage to primary structures, excluding decks, driveways and sidewalks.

Sen. Bill Nelson zigzags on debt ceiling votes

Bill Nelson was against raising the debt ceiling before he was for it. And he was for it before he was against it.

Now, the senior senator from Florida is set to vote for his Democratic party’s plan to raise the federally allowed borrowing limit yet again.

Over the past decade, Nelson has voted 10 times on debt-ceiling resolutions, zigzagging as much as Congress itself, often depending on who’s in the White House and what’s to blame for the rising debt.

 “I think the president was right in saying both political parties bear responsibility for running up the federal debt,” Nelson said.

On six occasions — three times under President Bush and three times during Obama’s term — Nelson voted to raise the debt ceiling. On four occasions — all under Bush — Nelson voted against raising it as a protest against tax cuts.

 This time, Nelson’s vote has particular weight. He faces re-election in a political season when President Obama’s public support is waning. Nelson’s poll numbers suggest his re-election is far from a sure bet.

Story here


Nelson's office: 55,700 constituents weighed in on debt debate

Clearly the debt ceiling debate has hit a nerve. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson's office said they received more than 55,700 responses to an e-mail he sent out Tuesday night to constituents asking them for their thoughts on the debt plans. 

In the 24 hours afterward, Nelson's office was swamped by the more than 55,700 personal responses from the 125,000 folks who got his e-mail. That was on top of the 8,000 unsolicited e-mails the office received from people who responded to President Barack Obama's request Monday night to reach out to Congress to make their voices heard on the debt ceiling debate.

Thousands of callers with opinions on how to solve the debt crisis flooded the Capitol switchboard Tuesday, and email traffic swamped congressional servers on both sides of the aisle.

The House of Representatives is set to vote this evening on its plan, but Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is having trouble pulling together enough votes for passage. Questions about the congressional impasse have led some to ask whether the president could act without Congress

Dis alert! Mike Haridopolos on endorsing one-time pal Adam Hasner: No way.

Senate President mike Haridopolos and former House Republican leader Adam Hasner used to be buddies. They served together in the Florida House "freedom caucus." They rode together and palled around on Bill McCollum (doomed) campaign bus. They called each other friends.

No longer, apparently.

They ran against each other for U.S. Senate until Haridopolos withdrew from the race unexpectedly after a string of unfortunate events. And he apparently thinks Hasner has a hand in his troubles. Hasner didn't really do that much.

"I can tell you one thing: I will not be supporting Adam Hasner for the Senate,” Haridopolos told the Orlando Sentinel today. "We need to be a party of big ideas, and not legislating one way and running another."


The politics of debt: NRSC whacks Bill Nelson's debt stances

Here's a press release from the National Republica Senatorial Committee. It's here in full. But note it fails to point out that Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio are also opposed to House Speaker John Boehner's debt plan. Also, the press release suggests Nelson voted for debt ceiling resolutions for Obama, but not Bush. But Nelson voted for increases three times under Bush in 02, 07 and 08.

Here goes:

WASHINGTON — In yet another sign that he’s prepared to put the re-election efforts of himself and President Obama ahead of avoiding the federal government defaulting on its debt for the first time in U.S. history, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) joined with his liberal party leaders last night in signing a letter announcing his firm opposition to the two-step plan offered by House Speaker John Boehner and which will be voted on by the House yesterday. 

In his letter, Nelson joined with Democrat leaders Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer in claiming that an initial six-month extension, as opposed to the two year extension sought by President Obama, would put America at risk.  Notably, the Boehner bill has the strong support and endorsement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  Ignoring that, Nelson and his fellow Democrats write, “A short-term extension like the one in your bill would put America at risk, along with every family and business in it. Your approach would force us once again to face the threat of default in five or six short months.”

However, there is one huge problem with Nelson’s spin – it’s not supported by facts or by history. 

Continue reading "The politics of debt: NRSC whacks Bill Nelson's debt stances" »

Doug Darling to lead Gov. Scott's new state Economic Opportunity Department

UPDATE: Scott's office has since formally announced Darling's job. Also announced: Cynthia Lorenzo is the director of the Agency for Workforce Innovation (no longer the interim director) and Mike Hansen is head of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities. Press release below.

The Buzz is that Gov. Rick Scott will name Doug Darling as the first executive director of the new state Department of Economic Opportunity.

Darling is currently deputy chief of staff for Scott and his chief Cabinet aide, earning $125,000 per year. Previously, he was chief of staff under then Environmental Protection Department Secretary Mike Sole and was chief of the state Division of Accounting and Auditing under former state CFO Alex Sink.

As head of the new agency, Darling will oversee most of the state's economic incentives and be expected to work hand-in-hand with state Commerce Secretary Gray Swoope.

From Scott's office:

Continue reading "Doug Darling to lead Gov. Scott's new state Economic Opportunity Department" »

July 27, 2011

Nestle rejects pumping from Wacissa for its bottled water plan

Wacissa The headwaters of North Florida's spring-fed Wacissa River has been the source of an intense local feud over whether to allow Nestle Waters North America to pump water from the spring for use in its Madison County bot­tling plant.

Grassroots lobbying groups mounted an educational campaign to prevent the pumping. Nestle ordered a scientific review. On Wednesday, the company backed off the proposal.

Kent Koptiuch, Florida Natural Resource Manager for Nestlé Waters North America said the company spent a year studying the spring to determine if the water discharge was "sufficiently abundant and sustainable to serve as a spring source for our company." It concluded that seasonal low flows "do not meet our strict selection criteria for a stable, sustainable water supply."

Here's the statement from one of the company's lobbyists, Associated Industries of Florida Vice President Jose Gonzalez:  

Continue reading "Nestle rejects pumping from Wacissa for its bottled water plan" »

Suit targets campaign disclosure requirements for issue groups

A lawsuit that could wipe out state law requiring issue campaigns to disclose their contributors inched forward in federal court on Wednesday with both sides asking the judge to dismiss the case.

Story here.

Florida captures fugitive murderer in Colorado after 32-year man hunt

Barrett young Barrett oldAfter a 32-year man hunt that stretched from Florida to Hawaii, Florida officials today announced the capture of escaped Florida murderer Frederick Barrett in Montrose County, Southwestern Colorado.

Barrett, 60, scaled three perimeter fences and escaped from Union Correctional Institution in Raiford on August 17, 1979, during a nighttime power outage. It was his second escape since his conviction for the 1971 murder of Carl Ardolino, whom he killed while traveling on the Florida Turnpike. After strangling Ardolino from behind, Barrett and another companion, Michael Owensby, hit Ardolina in the head and then drown him in a ditch.

Colorado officials said Barrett has been living in Colorado for the last 17 years using the name of Neil Richard Meltzer. He was featured on America's Most Wanted, and was one of Florida's 12 most sought-after fugitives.

Officers with the U.S. Marshals cold case division dressed as U.S. Forest Service firefighters and asked Barrett early Wednesday if they could speak with him about fire safety. They then identified his tattoo of a cross on his right hand and captured him without incident. Police said a marijuana grow house was also found on his property as well as five firearms.

In addition to the U.S. Marshals Service, the case has been handled for several years by the Florida Department of Corrections and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Barrett is being held at the Montrose County Jail and faces extradition proceedings to Florida.

Pressure mounts for investigation into dismissal of two state foreclosure fraud lawyers

Calls are building for an investigation into the forced resignations by Attorney General Pam Bondi of two attorneys investigating foreclosure fraud. A state lawmaker on Wednesday requested all documents related to the resignations, while a liberal public interest group has been circulating a petition asking for the state inspector general to investigate.

At issue are the departures of lawyers June Clarkson and Theresa Edwards, who led foreclosure fraud investigations under former Attorney General Bill McCollum. Clarkson and Edwards were forced to resign in late March from their posts in the Fort Lauderdale economic crimes bureau. The two had received positive job evaluations from McCollum.

Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, sent a letter to Bondi asking for documentation of the resignations. And Progress Florida, a St. Petersburg advocacy group, says Bondi is protecting Gov. Rick Scott's "biggest corporate pals — the banks — instead of hard working Floridians." It is asking for an investigation into Bondi's actions.

In an interview with the Times/Herald Clarkson said that after Bondi took office, she and Edwards were questioned intensely about their ongoing cases by Richard Lawson, appointed by Bondi as head of the Economic Crimes Division.

In particular, he asked about Jacksonville-based Lender Processing Services and Tampa-based ProVest, Clarkson said.

"We were under fire like you have no idea," Clarkson said. "It was like our home team was against us."

Bondi's chief of staff, Carlos Muniz, said the two were forced to resign for poor job performance.