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6 posts from January 21, 2014

January 21, 2014

Retiring Miami-Dade County building chief rewrote construction rules after Hurricane Andrew


Nearly three hours into a conversation — and 26 years on the job — the man who made stronger construction standards his crusade when he rewrote the Miami-Dade County building code after Hurricane Andrew remains filled with the fervor for reform.

Charlie Danger, the county building chief who is about to retire after a career that challenged builders and probably saved lives, is holding court behind his desk, leaning over to draw a diagram of broken street lights, expounding on his passion for protecting South Florida’s natural environment. (“The problem with politicians,” he says, “is they don’t listen to scientists.”)

He jokes about how much longer the Social Security Administration expects him to live — he’s 66, and the feds give him another 18 and a half years — and weeps at the memory of his late mother, Olga, who took her three sons out of Cuba and raised them on her own. He recounts with a certain glee the nasty letters he received from developers about the building code rewrite that took him to Tallahassee and endangered his job in 1996 when, as he says, “the you-know-what hit the fan.”

Charlie Danger is still an evangelist.

He preaches tolerance and compassion. He believes in a benevolent government, where dull regulations have the power for good and desk jockeys can make people’s problems go away.

When he retires Friday, County Hall will lose one of its last remaining old-school bureaucrats, the kind of undisputed expert who tells it like it is.

“We’ve been putting patches on problems for too many years,” he concludes. “The government should be proactive, should be progressive. We should take the bull by the horns and reinvent things.”

More here.

Changes in Gov. Scott's communications shop

As Gov. Rick Scott's communications director, Melissa Sellers, shifts to managing his campaign for re-election, changes are underway in his communications shop.
Replacing Sellers as communications director will be her deputy, Frank Collins III. Collins, like Sellers, was part of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's press operation before coming to Florida. The 29-year-old Collins held a variety of posts under Jindal including campaign field director, transition press assistant, assistant press secretary and press secretary before following Sellers to Tallahassee.
Collins is a native of Stonewall, LA and has a bachelor's degree in international studies from LSU.
Also joining Scott's revamped election-year press shop as deputy communications director is Monica Russell, who has been director of communications at the Department of Economic Opportunity. A University of Florida graduate, she previously was a partner in North Public Relations, a Tallahassee firm.
-- Steve Bousquet

Sen. Rene Garcia re-introduces Medicaid expansion bill snubbed by House GOP


Republican leaders in the Florida House may be pivoting to other health care topics, but their colleagues in the Senate are making sure Medicaid expansion will remain in the mix.

Sen. Rene Garcia, a Hialeah Republican, has filed legislation that mirrors last year's Senate proposal to use $51 billion federal Medicaid expansion dollars to buy private insurance policies for poor Floridians. That bill had the support of the entire Senate, Gov. Rick Scott and House Democrats.

The legislation died in the House, where all but one Republican voted to support a rival plan that rejected the federal dollars. Garcia said via a press release it would be "irresponsible" to leave that money on the table and forgo the new coverages and jobs Medicaid expansion an alternative would provide.

"The amount of federal dollars available for the state of Florida to increase health coverage is substantial, and Florida would not be the first Republican led state to accept Medicaid expansion," Garcia said via a press release announcing that he filed the bill. "There are currently eight states led by Republican governors or a majority Republican legislature who have agreed to provide expanded Medicaid to their constituents.

"I hope the house puts aside partisan politics and does what is right for the hard working people of our great state," he said.

The bill hasn't yet showed up on tracking websites, but a spokesman for Garcia says it's in the final proofing stages and will be posted soon.

Same-sex couples sue over gay-marriage ban, Charlie Crist "proud to support it."


Six South Florida gay couples filed a lawsuit Tuesday to overturn Florida's "Marriage Protection Amendment" because, they say, it "humiliates" LGBT people and deprives them of rights under the U.S. Constitution.

“Florida is our home, it is where we are raising our child, and where we want to get married," Catherina Pareto, a plaintiff along with partner Karla Arguello, said.

"Karla and I wish for our family the same things that other families want," Pareto said. "We want to build our lives together, provide a safe and caring home for our child, and share in the responsibilities and protections of marriage.”

Filed in one of Florida's most-liberal circuit court systems, Miami-Dade County, the suit is almost certainly bound for the state Supreme Court.

Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court could hear the matter now that more state courts across the country are canceling gay-marriage bans, including those approved by voters. About 17 states have same-sex marriage now; Florida's constitutional amendment banning it was approved by 61.9 percent of voters in 2008.

"Sixty two percent of Floridians have decisively spoken on this issue," said John Stemberger, president and general counsel of the Florida Family Policy Council, who helped pout the amendment on the ballot.

"Gay activists cannot win in the marketplace," Stemberger said, "so they have resorted to trying to find renegade courts who have little respect for the rule of law to create social change that would never happen through the people or their elected representatives."

Sine the ban passed, polls indicate opposition to same-sex unions is waning. “Seventy-five percent of Floridians believe that marriage or all the rights of marriage should be provided to same-sex couples,” said Nadine Smith, with Equality Florida, a leading gay-rights group.

But Florida's ban is the law, and Miami-Dade Court Clerk Harvey Ruvin's office had to follow it in denying marriage license to the plaintiffs, who announced their suit Tuesday. Ruvin is named as the defendant.

Continue reading "Same-sex couples sue over gay-marriage ban, Charlie Crist "proud to support it."" »

Scott seeks $55 million for springs protection

Gov. Rick Scott called on the Legislature Tuesday to spend $55 million in next year's budget for the restoration and protection of springs in Florida. He made the announcement in Tallahassee at an event honoring the work of 125 employees in the Department of Environmental Protection.

"We need to continue to protect our springs. They're part of our state parks. They're part of our heritage," Scott told reporters afterward.

That $55 million may sound like a lot of money, but the Senate is talking about appropriating nearly $380 for springs protection -- seven times as much as Scott's proposal. (The current budget that Scott signed into law last May included $10 million for springs protection).

The Florida Current has reported that a preliminary Senate bill would earmark 20 percent of the annual proceeds from documentary stamp taxes on real estate taxes for the program, which includes sewage hookups and improvements to septic tank systems.

Asked about the Senate strategy, Scott said: "I always look forward to what the Senate's going to propose, or the House." He waved off a reporter's suggestion that he's trying to recast his image as pro-environment in an election year, citing the settlement of long-running Everglades lawsuit.

"I'm proud of what we've done for our environment. There's always more to do," Scott said. 

Scott has been traveling the state, highlighting various parts of what he calls his "It's Your Money Tax Cut Budget." He plans to announce his complete 2014-2015 budget recommendations on Jan. 29 at the annual Associated Press planning session for reporters and editors in Tallahassee.

The governor's springs proposal dedicates $25 million in funding for water quantity and quality protection and restoration projects. He said the projects will reduce and eliminate nutrient impacts and ensure the proper flow to springs. Much of the springs pollution is caused by urban stormwater runoff, septic tanks, wastewater treatment plants and excessive use of fertilizer.

DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard said no list of springs projects exists. He said the state will rely on the expert advice of scientists who will suggest the best way to spend the money.

"Our focus is to look to the springs that are most in need," Vinyard said.

-- Steve Bousquet

Will Andy Tuck join the state Board of Education?

Is Highlands County citrus grower Andy Tuck the next member of the state Board of Education?

There's been no formal announcement from Gov. Rick Scott.

But at a Tuesday meeting in Miami, state Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand said Tuck would be joining the board in February.

"It’s only appropriate that on the Florida Board of Education we have a citrus grower," Chartrand said.

Tuck has served on the Highlands County School Board and the Highlands County 4H Foundation.

He would likely replace former member Sally Bradshaw, who resigned in October. 

Scott must also find a replacement for former state Board of Education member Barbara Feingold. Feingold asked not to be reappointed when her term ended in December so she could attend to personal matters.

On Tuesday, board members honored Feingold's three years of service.

"I hope that my time was well spent and I made a positive difference for the children of Florida," she said.

The board also welcomed its newest member: the former executive director of Teach for America in Miami-Dade, Rebecca Fishman Lipsey.

"I’m looking forward to learning from you all and at times debating with you all, to the benefit of our kids," she said.

Fishman Lipsey replaced former member Kathleen Shanahan.