« February 17, 2013 | Main | February 19, 2013 »

6 posts from February 18, 2013

February 18, 2013

President Obama's immigration bills fray nerves but show similarities with Marco Rubio

President Obama’s administration drafted legislation this month that could give undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship in eight years, require employers to check workers’ immigration status and increase penalties for those who break immigration law.

The ideas appear in three separate draft bills, obtained Monday by The Miami Herald, that closely resemble many of the reforms advanced in 2011 by Obama and, more recently, by Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Both Rubio and Obama, for instance, support special pathways to residency for those students and soldiers who were brought illegally to this country as children. In the White House draft legislation, the proposal closely resembles what’s known as the DREAM Act.

But in a sign of the politically fragile talks over immigration reform, Rubio reacted with a measure of fury Saturday when the proposals were first reported by USA Today.

“The President’s bill repeats the failures of past legislation,” the statement continued. “It fails to follow through on previously broken promises to secure our borders, creates a special pathway that puts those who broke our immigration laws at an advantage over those who chose to do things the right way and come here legally.”

Continue reading "President Obama's immigration bills fray nerves but show similarities with Marco Rubio" »

Weatherford gets advice from former higher ed chancellor

His business cards might still say Chancellor of the California State University, but make no mistake, Charles Reed is back in Tallahassee.

Reed, the bombastic former chancellor of the Florida University System from 1985 to 1997, met for about a half hour with Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford on Monday. He was invited to talk with Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, after a speech he gave last year to the Florida Council of 100.

“I just wanted to know what he thought,” said Weatherford.

Reed, known for rarely holding back his opinion, said he was happy to visit with Weatherford.

“He’s asking for advice on higher education,” said Reed. “He has excellent values. He wants to dramatically improve higher education, so that Florida schools are nationally and internationally recognized. I was pleased he reached out to me.”

After retiring as chancellor of California’s system, where he served from 1997 to earlier this year, Reed has returned to live in Tallahassee. He said Weatherford called him while he was still in California.

Reed said he applauds Weatherford’s efforts to dramatically develop online education. He shared his experiences doing the same in California, where Reed, before leaving, signed two major contracts with online companies to provide significantly more virtual courses.

He also seemed to take a swipe at Gov. Rick Scott’s plan to provide the University of Florida with $15 million, while not providing a similar pot of money for the 10 other schools.

“You can’t treat your kids differently,” Reed said. “You have to treat them the same.”

Like Weatherford, Reed said a tuition increase is necessary.

“The state has to do its part with general funds, but the people who benefit have to pay more too,” he said. “Tuition is very inexpensive in Florida.”

Much has changed in Florida since he left for California, including the birth of Florida’s 12th university, Lakeland’s, Florida Polytechnic University, the handiwork of former Sen. JD Alexander.

“Why did they build a polytechnic there?” Reed said. “Last time I drove through Lakeland, I didn’t see Silicon Valley.”

Movers & Shakers: TaxWatch exec resigns abruptly

H. Steven Hammond, who has been the executive director of the TaxWatch Center for Smart Justice since May, has resigned, effective immediately.

“I feel it is time for me to move on to pursue other interests and opportunities, not the least of which is further commitment to prison ministry,” the management executive and consultant stated in a press release.

Florida TaxWatch, a private, nonprofit, non-partisan research institute, will be conducting an “extensive search,” according to the release, for a new executive director over the next four months. In the meantime, Robert Weissert, vice president for research and general counsel, will be in charge.

Continue reading "Movers & Shakers: TaxWatch exec resigns abruptly" »

Fasano uses obscure committee post to blast Citizens Insurance

The gloves came off Monday and it was Rep. Mike Fasano vs. Citizens Property Insurance, Round 1 for the 2013 legislative session.

Fasano, a New Port Richey Republican who was conspicuously snubbed from a post on the Banking and Insurance Committee, used his chairmanship of an obscure joint committee to berate what he believes is an anti-consumer culture at Citizens.

As chair of the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee, Fasano held court over a number of state agencies who had failed to comply with state laws passed by the Legislature.

Last on the list was Citizens, which was supposed to begin offering a less comprehensive—and less expensive—policy option on Jan. 1, but has not yet done so.

“You said Citizens is concerned about the consumer. I laughed at that,” said Fasano, during a spirited back-and-forth with Citizens’ legislative director. “They’re more concerned about depopulating and raising premiums.”

Citizens countered that the company was working as hard as it could to implement the new policy, called an HO-8. The new policy is scheduled to begin rollout next week.

But Fasano is not happy with the way Citizens is implementing a law passed by the Legislature in 2012. The law calls for Citizens to offer the HO-8 policy, but the company is only planning to offer it to homeowners with homes that are at least 51 years old, and worth less than $200,000.

“We believe we are following the law,” said Citizens spokesperson, Christine Ashburn. She said the HO-8 policy offered by Citizens has certain "underwriting guidelines," just like all other policies. Those guidelines--the age and value requirements--were approved by the Office of Insurance Regulation, whom Fasano also blasted.

Continue reading "Fasano uses obscure committee post to blast Citizens Insurance" »

DEO reaches settlement with Black Business Investment Fund

The Black Business Investment Fund of Central Florida reached a settlement with the Department of Economic Opportunity late last week, putting to rest months of legal haggling over the group’s certification.

Last year, DEO rejected BBIF’s application for certification under the state’s Black Business Loan Program, a state-run program that helps majority black-owned businesses get loans.

Under the settlement, DEO will move to certify BBIF for the current fiscal year.

DEO originally rejected BBIF’s application after a disagreement emerged under a separate program over how much BBIF could collect in administrative fees. Under DEO’s interpretation of the law, BBIF could only receive maximum fees of 0.625 percent per year for the program (the Economic Gardening Business Loan Pilot). BBIF interpreted the law to cap fees at 0.625 percent per month.

The different interpretations led to a discrepancy of more than $560,000. As the two groups were sparring over the fee dispute, DEO rejected BBIF’s application for the Black Business Loan Program.

BBIF filed a lawsuit, calling the rejection retaliatory and unwarranted. The organization called in several of DEO’s top officials for depositions, including Community Development Director Tom Beck, who resigned to join the Department of Environmental Protection the day before his scheduled deposition.

Continue reading "DEO reaches settlement with Black Business Investment Fund" »

As insurance premiums rise, Citizens execs get big pay hikes

When the president of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. learned that his chief financial officer had used corporate funds to finance a luxurious weekend at a $633-a-night resort in Bermuda, he initially described the expenses as “absolutely appropriate.”

But President Barry Gilway changed his tune after a Herald/Times story and a subsequent inspector general report documented evidence that executives regularly ran up huge expenses on the company credit card, traveling and dining at four-star locations across the globe.

“As guardians of public funds, we must hold ourselves to a more rigorous standard,” he said.

It was a full-throated mea culpa, following sharp rebukes from Gov. Rick Scott, state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and top lawmakers. But behind the scenes, Gilway was quietly handing out huge salary raises for the well-traveled CFO, Sharon Binnun, and several other executives who run the state-backed company.

Read more here