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11 posts from January 18, 2013

January 18, 2013

Federal government denies Scott's request for Hurricane Sandy relief

For the second time in two months, the federal government has turned down an appeal by Gov. Rick Scott for disaster aid for a hurricane that clipped but didn't barrel into Florida.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced this week that it will not honor the governor's request for disaster assistance to Florida’s communities after Hurricane Sandy damaged beaches and infrastructure in seven South Florida counties from Miami-Dade to Brevard on Oct. 24-26.

“Beaches are an essential element in Florida’s economy. We are frustrated by the inconsistency in policy regarding funding beach damages by FEMA," said Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Bryan W. Koon. "This denial places a burden on the already fiscally constrained counties.” 

Scott had originally applied for the disaster funds in November but the request was rejected. The governor appealed the decision and was denied. A similar request, seeking $26 million in federal aid for Hurricane Isaac, was rejected in September and then approved the relief for 11 north Florida counties. 

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Gov. Rick Scott's involvement in UF president decision under review

The accrediting organization for colleges and universities is looking into Gov. Rick Scott's involvement in the University of Florida's presidential search.

Shortly after the Jan. 8 announcement that Scott had helped persuade UF President Bernie Machen to postpone retirement, a representative from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools told the Times/Herald it saw no cause for concern because UF Board of Trustees ChairmanDavid Brown was involved in the decision.

Since then, Scott's office confirmed that the governor met with a potential candidate before asking Machen to stay. UF faculty have expressed concern that Scott was overstepping his authority and interfering in a decision that should be beyond his control.

SACS now tells the Times/Herald it is looking into the matter.

"We are aware of what's going on and we're reviewing it," spokeswoman Pamela Cravey said.

Read more here.


Senate files sweeping ethics reform package, deemed 'most significant' in decades

Senate leaders filed a sweeping ethics reform package late Friday that attempts to close dozens of loopholes in state ethics laws from addressing voting conflicts and shutting down slush funds to halting the revolving door between legislators and lobbying.

"This proposal will be the most significant ethics reform in 36 years -- since the Sunshine Amendment,'' predicted Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee which filed the draft legislation. 

The committee first discussed most of the provisions of the proposed committee bills, SPB 7006 and SPB 7008, earlier this week in a workshop and has scheduled the first hearing for Tuesday, Jan. 22. 

Many of the provisions take aim at the ethical questions that have arisen in recent months, including the decision by former House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, to open a lobbying firm a block from the Capitol to start lobbying the executive branch.

“It's a revolving door,'' Latvala said. "When you have a presiding officer of one house or the other and one day you're supervising agency budgets as speaker or president and the next day you're a lobbyist, I don't think that's good public policy."

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Video: Marco Rubio on guns, immigration and why his plan isn't 'amnesty'

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's latest immigration plan looks a lot like a President Obama plan, which looked a lot like a President George W. Bush plan. So while he whacks the president on guns in the video below, Rubio gives some measure of praise to the president for his position on legalizing the status of many illegal immigrants.

Rubio said his plan isn't "amnesty," though, because people would have to pay a penalty, back taxes and couldn't get welfare or many social services if they tried to have their status legalized.

"I define amnesty as a special pathway to citizenship. Our plan is not that," Rubio said.

Don Gaetz supports background checks for gun buys, wants Jeb to run in '16

sp_364933_keel_gaetz_1.jpgThe proud owner of a 16-gauge shotgun, Florida Senate President Don Gaetz said he supports requiring background checks for every gun purchase but does not expect the Legislature to address gun control in its legislative session.

"Congress is going to take that up," he said. "Let them have that debate."

He added: "I don’t know how a change in the gun laws would have prevented a Sandy Hook."

Gaetz met with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board for just over an hour on Friday, his first visit. Editorial writers asked him about Florida's response to the Sandy Hook tragedy, the state’s controversial "stand your ground" law and plans for implementing the health care law, among other topics.

Nuke cost recovery: Although a bill has not yet been filed in the Senate, Gaetz said he will allow lawmakers to debate repealing a 2006 law allowing utility companies to collect an advance fee for building new nuclear plants. 

"I'm going to make sure it gets a full debate, gets considered," Gaetz said. "Absolutely."

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Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Rick Scott attend ceremony for new Miami-Dade commission chair

Miami-Dade County turned up the pomp and circumstance Friday for the installation ceremony for new Commission Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa and Vice-Chairwoman Lynda Bell.

Gov. Rick Scott made a pit stop, praising the city and county -- "everyone" wants to be here, he said -- and the two Republican women. He referred to Bell as Sosa's "sidekick." 

"I have daughters, so I like that women are running the place," he said. Then, the Republican joked about his upcoming reelection: "Not necessarily in 2014, though."

Sosa was later sworn in by longtime friend Sen. Marco Rubio, who was a West Miami commissioner when Sosa was the small city's mayor. Mayor Carlos Gimenez later quipped that he would ask Sosa, who is seen as the mayor's ally, for advice on how to get the governor and a U.S. senator to attend future events at County Hall. Bell was sworn in by County Judge Gladys Perez.

Bell, a former Homestead mayor who was elected to the commission in 2010, thanked Sosa for nominating her to the vice-chair post. "Leadership is the ultimate in servanthood," she said.

Sosa, a county commissioner since 2001, pledged to hold commission meetings in different parts of the county, and to communicate better with the mayor's administration. She praised county employees and said one of her top priorities will be supporting a new convention center on Miami Beach.

"I am ready and proud to lead our board, and also to be the very first Hispanic-American female to do so," said Sosa, a former schoolteacher.

At one point, she asked the mayor and commissioners to stand beside her at the podium and hold hands. They joined her -- but refrained from the hand-holding.

Gov. Rick Scott's staff ordered to testify in Carletha Cole trial

From the Associated Press:

Several current and former employees in the administration of Gov. Rick Scott are being ordered by a judge to testify in a sensational criminal case that centers on allegations of illegal taping.

It is still unclear whether Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll will be forced to answer questions in the criminal case against her former aide that has also included allegations of improper relationships in Carroll's office.

Carletha Cole, who was fired last year, was arrested in 2011 and accused of giving a reporter a secret recording containing a conversation between Cole and Carroll's chief of staff. Cole has not been charged with making the recording - nor have prosecutors said exactly when the recording was made.

Circuit Judge Frank Sheffield initially ruled that Carroll must answer questions from lawyers representing ex-aide Cole. But then he changed his mind at the urging of Scott's top lawyer. Sheffield said Carroll would be questioned last and only if Cole's lawyers could show her testimony was needed.

Sheffield, however, made it clear that questions of Scott administration employees will be limited to illegal taping and whether or not top officials working for the governor had ordered widespread taping as alleged by Cole.

The judge said lawyers could not ask Carroll or anyone else about the lieutenant governor's sexual preference or whether or not the her office was the "absolute worst place in the world to work."

Read more here.


Florida unemployment dips but state loses jobs

From the Tampa Bay Times' Jeff Harrington:

Florida posted mixed results on the job front in December, with its unemployment rate dipping slightly to a four-year low of 8 percent, though the number of jobs statewide also dropped, according to state figures released Friday morning.

The state lost 15,300 jobs over the month, down 0.2 percent. Over the past year, the job count is still up 54,900.

The unemployment rate and job count are drawn from different surveys of households and businesses and aren't always in sync.

Florida's unemployment rate has fallen dramatically, down from 9.9 percent a year ago and a peak of 11.4 percent in early 2010 in the wake of the Great Recession.

Gov. Rick Scott, who was in Miami for an event, cited the improvement in jobs as an indication "the changes we are making to improve our state's business climate are helping Florida families pursue the American dream."

"Trends show that we are also experiencing growth in many different economic indicators that are key to job creation," he said in a prepared statement. "Housing starts are on the rise, businesses and families continue to move to Florida and more jobs are being created."

Read more here.

Fasano blasts lavish spending at Citizens, calls for resignations

Citizens Property Insurance continues to be engulfed in controversy in the wake of a series of Herald/Times news reports detailing evidence of misconduct at the state’s largest insurance company. Now, a state Representative is calling for the “immediate resignation and replacement” of the company’s entire board.

After an inspector general report detailed excessive travel spending by company executives and board members, Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said Citizens needs to clean house.

Fasano, a long-time critic of Citizens, said the board has been raising rates on homeowners while living large on the company dime, and all of its members should be ousted.

“Citizens is continually looking for ways to increase premiums, reduce coverage and push its customers out,” Fasano said.  “At the same time board members and executives are traveling literally around the world, staying at the finest hotels and dining on first class food, all at its customers’ expense.”

Fasano’s comments come on the heels of very strongly worded statements by Gov. Rick Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater blasting Citizens execs for their spending habits.

“Any egregious expenses, unethical behavior, or violation of the law must be grounds for dismissal,” said Scott, requesting tougher standards on spending and travel at Citizens.

Said Atwater: "this culture of excess and poor judgment is unacceptable, and Floridians deserve better.''

The report by Scott’s inspector general, detailing corporate spending abuses and lack of institutional controls, can be found here. Citizens remains under a separate investigation for firing corporate investigators that were looking into evidence of misconduct by top officials.

Citizens President Barry Gilway said the company would adopt stricter standards in response to the report.

Fasano's press release is below:

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FAMU hires anti-hazing czar

Bryan SmithThe school may have struck out in its attempt to hiring a new Marching 100 director this week, but Florida A&M University has filled one of the three positions connected to its effort to rebuild the band after the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion.

FAMU alum Bryan F. Smith will serve as the special assistant to the president for anti-hazing starting Feb. 1. He is expected to be given wide-ranging authority to enforce the school's hazing regulations and address issues concerning hazing.

Interim President Larry Robinson announced Wednesday that the person they hoped to hire as band director, Jorim Reidhad turned down the job and the school would reopen its search. Also, FAMU is reportedly close to hiring a new band compliance officer that will enforce participation and financial regulations regarding the Marching 100.

Here is the university's press release on Smith:

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