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12 posts from October 2, 2012

October 02, 2012

Florida Chamber writes to Bill Nelson, Fla. Congressional delegation over understaffed MIA terminal

The Florida Chamber of Commerce is asking Sen. Bill Nelson to beef up government spending at Miami International Airport in order to address a problem of delays and missed flights.

Gov. Rick Scott sent a letter to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano last month asking for more customs officials at MIA, and the Chamber backed him up this week with a letter to Nelson and other members of the Florida Congressional delegation.

"As Gov Scott noted in his letter, the customs problem at MIA makes Florida less competitive on the international stage," Florida Chamber president David Hart wrote. "More than 30,000 international travelers missed their connecting flights at MIA after waiting for customs in August 2012."

It's not clear if the Chamber sent similar requests to Sen. Marco Rubio, or the other Republican members of congress who are from South Florida, where MIA is located.

Update: The Florida Chamber said it sent similar letters to other members of the Florida congressional delegation.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has targeted Nelson with millions of dollars in attack ads as he faces Republican challenger Rep. Connie Mack.

Read the Chamber's letter, which was re-posted by Scott's press office today, here.


Nelson: Scott has unreasonable opposition to federal assistance

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said Tuesday he’s taking nothing for granted in his race against Republican Rep. Connie Mack IV despite a lead in the polls.

The bad news for Nelson? Outside conservative groups continue to pour millions into TV attacks targeting Nelson for his votes in favor of President Barack Obama’s health care law.

By his count, outside spending against him exceeds $18 million, he said during a Tuesday meeting with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board. Last week, American Crossroads and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $3.6 million. This week, American Crossroads launched a $2 million buy that accuses him of "milking the system" by taking a greenbelt tax exemption on his family pasture.

“The good news is that it has not moved the needle very much,” Nelson said, acknowledging more money will come as the election nears.

Continue reading "Nelson: Scott has unreasonable opposition to federal assistance" »

Suffolk poll: Obama slightly ahead, Nelson leads, with many undecided in Fla

From Suffolk University:

BOSTON – President Barack Obama leads Republican Mitt Romney by 3 points (46 percent to 43 percent, with 7 percent undecided), according to a Suffolk University/7NEWS (WSVN-Miami) poll of likely voters in Florida.  The poll is well within the survey’s 4 percent margin of error.
“On the eve of the first debate, both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney know the importance of each percentage point in a state like Florida,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston.  “Not only are the remaining undecided voters critical, but so are the voters of all the third-party candidates here – and there are many.”
The Suffolk University/7NEWS (WSVN-Miami) poll is the first Florida survey taken this year to include all 12 of the Presidential party candidates who qualified for the Florida ballot.
Libertarian Gary Johnson, Green Party nominee Jill Stein, and Peace and Freedom Party nominee Roseanne Barr were each favored by 1 percent of voters polled. One or more voters, but less than 1 percent, chose Peta Lindsay (Party for Socialism and Liberation), Tom Hoefling (American Independent Party), or Ross C. “Rocky” Anderson (Justice Party of Florida).
U.S. Senate race
In the Florida race for U.S. Senate, the incumbent, Democrat Bill Nelson (40 percent) led Republican Connie Mack (34 percent), with Chris Borgia at 4 percent and Bill Gaylor at 1 percent. Twenty percent of Florida voters remained undecided in that race.
Ballot questions
In a recurring Florida church-state issue, 52 percent of voters opposed a proposed amendment that would give users of public services the option to spend those public dollars at a religious institution, while 28 percent supported the amendment.
Meanwhile 75 percent of voters supported an amendment that would allow for property tax discounts for disabled veterans, even if they weren’t Florida residents when they entered the military, while 13 percent were against it.
The abortion issue split voters, with 44 percent supporting an amendment that would prohibit the use of public funds for abortions or health benefits coverage that includes coverage for abortion, with exceptions for cases of rape, incest or if the mother’s life were in danger. Forty percent opposed the amendment, and 15 percent were undecided.
Favorability in presidential race
Romney continues to struggle with his likability.  His 45 percent favorable rating is 3 points higher than in a survey the Suffolk University Political Research Center conducted in May; yet his unfavorable rating is also up 2 points, to 47 percent today.
Obama has been consistently more popular, with a 51 percent favorable and 46 percent unfavorable rating.
High expectations for Obama in Debates
Floridians appear to expect that the upcoming debates will be no contest, with 52 percent of likely voters saying Obama is the better debater, 19 percent saying Romney will prevail, and 26 percent undecided.
“This ‘debate expectations’ finding mirrors last Thursday’s Suffolk University poll of likely Virginia voters who also said Obama was a better debater by more than a two-to-one margin.  Voters in these key battleground states are teeing up an opportunity for Mitt Romney to exceed low expectations and close the gap. But if Barack Obama lives up to his billing, he could put the race away,” said Paleologos.
The statewide survey of 600 registered Florida voters was conducted Sept. 27-30, 2012, using live telephone interviews of landline and cell phone users. The margin of error is +/-4 percent at a 95 percent level of confidence. Marginals and full cross-tabulation data will be posted at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012, on the Suffolk University Political Research Center  Web site. For more information, contact David Paleologos at 781-290-9310, dpaleologos@suffolk.edu, or follow on Twitter @davidpaleologos

Insurance rates going up another 10.8 percent at Citizens

The campaign to force hundreds of thousands of homeowners out of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. kicked into high gear Tuesday, as insurance regulators approved a 10.8 percent rate increase and private insurers began sending “takeout” proposals to 210,000 property owners.

The average homeowner covered by Citizens will have to pay an additional $250 when their policy renews next year, and some will have to pay hundreds of dollars more under the rate increases approved by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation.

Sinkhole rates will increase 25 percent in Pasco and Hernando counties and 50 percent in Hillsborough, costing homeowners between $130 and $375 on average. For condos and rental homes, sinkhole rates will go up 44.8 percent.

The rate hikes — which kick in next year — immediately drew a backlash from critics of Citizens’ aggressive downsizing strategy.

“This is the mentality of Tallahassee — raise rates as high as you can, force people out,” said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who has criticized Citizens’ board for unilaterally overhauling the state’s largest insurer. ”Citizens should not be granted any rate increase because they have already given themselves rate increases through the back door.”

Read more here


State Board of Education wants $442 million for technology upgrades

The Florida Board of Education is putting finishing touches on the budget request that it will send to Gov. Rick Scott, and at the center of its plan for the upcoming fiscal year is a $442 million technology initiative.

That money would be used to increase the availability of wireless internet ($239 million), increase internet bandwith ($151 million) and purchase new technology or tools ($52 million).

The State Board of Education is scheduled to discuss the budget proposal during its meeting on Tuesday. In total, $891 million in new funding is being requested for 2013-2014.

Of that amount, $198 million reflects growth in enrollment among the state's prekindergarten, K-12 schools and state colleges. The total Department of Education budget request is $15.2 billion. The 2012-2013 budget is $14.6 billion.

Continue reading "State Board of Education wants $442 million for technology upgrades" »

It's Miami-Dade County vs. the feds in fight over Miccosukee-owned golf course in Miami suburbs

Smack in the middle of a densely populated neighborhood in West Kendall lie nearly 230 acres that are physically in Miami-Dade County, but soon may fall out of the county’s control.

Since 2001, the land in suburban Kendale Lakes has belonged to the Miccosukee Golf & Country Club. Two years later, the Miccosukees asked the federal government to designate it tribal trust land — a change that would strip the county of its existing regulatory authority and do away with a zoning restriction prohibiting development.

This summer, the U.S. Department of the Interior granted the Miccosukee’s request.

Now the county is appealing the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ decision, saying the federal government did not give due weight to concerns on matters including drainage, zoning and public safety that would be affected by having a slice of a sovereign Indian nation in the heart of a residential neighborhood.

In its appeal, the county called the decision “unreasonable and also erroneous,” arguing that the Bureau did not consider the objections Miami-Dade first raised in 2003 — including the possibility that the property could some day house a casino.

Topping Miami-Dade’s concerns: the county’s inability, under the new trust designation, to enforce an existing, 99-year zoning restriction known as a covenant from 1972 that requires the property to remain a golf course.

NAACP launches national ‘felony disenfranchisement’ protest at Fla. Capitol

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People came to the Florida Capitol on Tuesday to launch a national campaign against policies that withhold voting rights from millions of people who have a felony conviction on their record.

With national NAACP president Benjamin Todd Jealous and Golden Globe-winning actor Charles Dutton headlining, the group tried to shine a spotlight on the the issue of "felony disenfranchisement."

“Voting is a right,” said Jealous, speaking from the steps of the Old Capitol in Tallahassee. “In this state, the governor has decided to turn back the clock.” IMG_0134

In Florida, people who have been convicted of felonies must wait five to seven years after completing their sentences to apply for restoration of civil rights, including the right to vote. The process can take several additional years to work through the system, and the number of applications processed per year has fallen precipitously in recent years.

Last year, Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet ended the policy of automatically restoring rights to released felons, a policy started under former Gov. Charlie Crist. Most states automatically restore the right to vote to felons who have served their prison time.

Under Crist, more than 150,000 ex-felons had their rights restored. Under Scott, less than 300 people have had their rights restored. More than 1.5 million ex-felons in Florida are disenfranchised, giving the state one of the highest rates in the nation.

Continue reading "NAACP launches national ‘felony disenfranchisement’ protest at Fla. Capitol" »

American Crossroads, like Mack, slams Nelson for his 'cow' exemption


The Karl Rove-backed political committee, American Crossroads, is out with a new $2 million ad buy in Florida attacking Democrat Bill Nelson for an agriculture exemption he had on 55 acres of property, that allowed him to avoid $43,000 in taxes.

The ad is parroting the same lines Republican challenger Connie Mack has used in his campaign and is the second ad by the group used to help prop up Mack's campaign.

“Bill Nelson’s decades as a career politician have taught him how to dodge paying hefty taxes and still make big profits for himself,”  said Nate Hodson, American Crossroads director of state and regional media relations.  “Floridians can’t afford another six years of Bill Nelson helping himself while he pushes higher taxes for everyone else.”

Nelson's campaign has said of the attacks: "The pastureland has been taxed as agricultural property for at least five decades or more going way back to when Nelson’s dad owned it.  Nelson himself raised cows there.  He sold them to pay his way through college.  He’s kept the acreage as pastureland and it’s still used by a licensed cattleman to graze a small herd.  Bill has paid the same property tax rate as everybody else on his house that adjoins the pastureland.  And, he’s paid every dime of taxes owed on the pasture."

 The Nelson campaign also accuses Mack of avoiding his property taxes because of two homestead exemption claims. Mack's campaign counters that this is not an issue. Mack owns only one home in Florida, in Fort Myers, and he has a homestead exemption on it.

Court takes up case of immigrant would-be lawyer

Against the backdrop of a presidential election and the national debate over immigration, Jose Godinez-Samperio had his day in court Tuesday. 

The 26-year-old Tampa man is an undocumented immigrant who is seeking admission to the Florida Bar so he can practice law in Florida. For most of an hour, justices asked pointed questions of lawyers on both sides. No immediate decision is expected.

The issue before the court is this: The Florida Board of Bar Examiners is asking the court whether undocumented immigrants are eligible for admission to the Florida Bar. The board has the legal authority to investigate the character and fitness of people who seek admission to the bar, but a case like Godinez-Samperio's has never come up before.

Born in Mexico, Godinez-Samperio has lived in Tampa since he was nine years old. He is a graduate of Armwood High in Tampa, New College in Sarasota and Florida State University law school, and he has passed the Florida Bar exam, but the Florida Board of Bar Examiners hasn't issued him a license to practice law. When he asked for a waiver of a requirement to document his citizenship status, the bar examiners requested advice from the Supreme Court.

FSU's former president and law school dean, Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, represented Godinez-Samperio, a former student, in court Tuesday. "All this court has to do is to give him the credit that he's earned. That's all we're asking you to do," D'Alemberte told justices.

Some of the most pointed questions were posed by the three justices who face voters next month in a merit retention vote: Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and Fred Lewis. Most pointedly, Lewis called the examiners' handling of the case "very strange," and said: "It seems very strange that we would have taken all these steps to bring a person right to the edge and then you push him off the cliff."

"I think it's time for a lot of members of Congress to actually make it clear that it is a good policy for dreamers to be in this country," Godinez-Samperio told reporters outside the court afterward. "Certainly the president has made it clear, but it's time for people like Senator Marco Rubio to make that clear ... and Mitt Romney has not been clear. They need to really step it up."

Justices also suggested federal law may trump state law in this case. Justice Charles Canady cited a federal law that bars undocumented immigrants from receiving "any grant, contract, loan, professional license, or commercial license provided by an agency of a State or local government or by appropriated funds of a State or local government."

D'Alemberte tried to knock down that argument, by claiming that Florida's Supreme Court is not an "agency" in the legal sense. 

-- Steve Bousquet


Insurers say PIP changes likely to mitigate premium increases, for now

Auto insurance companies say the state's new no-fault auto insurance law will save drivers money by staving off insurance premium increases.

But drivers shouldn't expect their insurance bills to dip immediately either.

As part of insurance reforms passed last spring, car insurers had a Monday deadline to either reduce personal injury protection premiums 10 percent or explain why they could not.

Many companies took the second option, filing paperwork with the state asking to again increase PIP rates, the state said.

The state-mandated changes, insurers say, will reduce personal injury protection costs, just not enough to completely offset other factors that justify higher premiums. That means the law created by HB 119 is working, Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty said in a statement Monday.

"Although it initially appears the savings will result in a mitigation of rate increases rather than actual rate reductions for most companies — it does represent a major shift in the trajectory of PIP insurance rates in Florida," he said.

Read more about how insurers are responding to the new PIP law here.

And here is a link to the OIR press release, which lists the eight companies whose PIP rate filings have already received state approval.