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14 posts from March 12, 2014

March 12, 2014

Gov. Rick Scott, legislators want more control over tuition increases in Florida


Gov. Rick Scott and legislators are so opposed to tuition increases that they want to change the law to get even more control over future hikes.

Currently, state universities can ask the Board of Governors for up to 15 percent higher rates, known as tuition differential. Additionally, there is an automatic increase to keep up with inflation. House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz have proposed cutting that flexibility by more than half. Scott wants to eliminate it altogether, making it that much tougher to raise tuition.

That's all good news for students and families worried about paying for higher education in the coming years. As for universities? Most say they're not fighting this united effort by a fiscally conservative governor and Legislature.

Read more here.

Curt Clawson's jobs record: a dead worker, layoffs & Obamacare bailout – but big bucks for the boss


Curt Clawson is campaigning for an open congressional seat as the turnaround jobs-creating candidate in Southwest Florida.

But on the campaign trail and in his ads, Clawson never mentions a former employee, Shawn Boone, who died in a fiery blast in the Hayes Lemmerz automotive plant in Indiana that Clawson's company ran.

“I think the most important thing for people … to realize was that when he [Clawson] was working at Hayes, they shut down a lot of plants that were good jobs,” Boone’s sister, Tammy Miser told The Naples Daily News in a must-read piece.

Beyond Boone’s death and the company’s apparently spotty safety record, the Daily News exposes how the company filed for bankruptcy under Clawson’s leadership.

It shut down factories.

It outsourced jobs.

And it even relied on an Obamacare bailout. Today, Clawson wants to repeal Obamacare.

And Clawson got rich, the Daily News reports:

During his nine years as a top executive for Hayes Lemmerz, the company laid off more than 1,300 workers, shuttered seven plants in the U.S., and taxpayers covered hundreds of millions of dollars in pension and health-care costs shortly before selling to a Brazilian company in 2011, according to filings with industry regulators and media reports.

Over that time, Clawson brought in annual seven-figure incomes, including bonuses. Clawson’s initial base salary comprised 25 percent of his overall compensation.

Clawson’s salary ranged from a low of $1.3 million in 2001 to a peak of $12.3 million in 2003. The salary differences were driven by factors such as bonuses and stock options, according to proxy statements filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Read the piece here

Citizens settles 300 disputed sinkhole claims but hundreds more remain

About 300 homeowners have agreed to settle their disputed sinkhole claims with Citizens Property Insurance, the company announced Wednesday, leaving an estimated 1,800 more lawsuits still unresolved.

The group settlement involves policyholders who were challenging the state-run insurance company for failing to agree to the method and cost of repair for sinkhole damage to their homes.

The company has watched as lawsuits have ballooned in recent years as most homeowners were challenging Citizens for forcing them to repair their homes by putting grout in the ground instead of underpinning their homes with steel beams, or both.

The policies included in the settlement were all represented by the Clermont law firm of Boyette, Cummins and Nailos. The cost to Citizens for making the repairs have not yet been determined but the avoided legal fees and streamlined repair procedure is expected to save the company about $30 million, said Citizens spokesman Michael Peltier.

“Our message to policyholders and the courts is if there is a confirmed sinkhole, we do want to repair the home – but we do not want to write a blank check,’’ said Dan Sumner, Citizens general counsel, at the company’s board meeting in Orlando Wednesday.

Continue reading "Citizens settles 300 disputed sinkhole claims but hundreds more remain" »

Florida's economic forecast boosts budget outlook

A steadily improving Florida economy means that lawmakers will have a bit more revenue in this year’s budget.

Chief state economist Amy Baker said Wednesday that the state’s $75 billion budget will have about $150 million more in general revenue, thanks to more consumer spending. That estimate doesn’t vary greatly from the ones made last year, meaning Florida’s economy has stabilized and is not experiencing the wild swings of the housing boom years and the subsequent collapse.

“It is very good news that the economy is behaving in some way that’s predictable and that we can forecast well,” Baker said.

While most sources of revenue were upgraded from last year, Baker lowered her estimate for revenue derived from revenue, such as documentary stamp tax and the intangibles tax. Those sources were lowered because of rising interest rates.

“A lot of it is refinancing, as rates climb back up, opportunities to refinance are limited,” she said. “People are largely positioned as best as they can be right now.”

Good news for state coffers: At the height of the recession, about half of all Florida mortgages were “under water”, or worth more than what the house was currently valued. Now only about 20 percent are.

But unlike years past where that might have meant people would have felt like they could have spent more, memories of the last few years will be hard to shake, Baker said.

“It’s going to take a long time for people to put behind them the Great Recession,” she said. “They’re feeling better, and ready to spend, but they’re cautious and trying to keep their bills paid down.”

The estimates are crucial for lawmakers, who base the budget that finances state government from July 1 to June 30, 2015 on these projections.

Baker said that overall, she estimates that the budget should have about a $1.2 billion surplus, which is about $200 million more than this year.

When told about Baker’s general revenue estimate, Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford said it’ll be mostly spent to cut taxes.

“It’s going to allow us to continue to look for ways to reduce the tax burden on citizens of the state and invest in things like education and hopefully have a very productive session.”

Weatherford isn’t waiting long to mull over Baker’s numbers.

He said by the end of this week (Read: Thursday) he’ll announce the totals that his appropriation chairs will help decide on how to spend.

On March 21, the Appropriations Committee will make the proposed House budget available online. All amendments to the budget must be filed by March 25. On April 3, the House votes on the budget and sends it to the Senate, where the real funs begins.

Alan Grayson's estranged wife drops restraining-order effort, congressman blasts her "baseless charges"


First, video evidence indicated Congressman Alan Grayson's estranged wife lied about him attacking her. Then came a copy of a 911 call. Then Orange County prosecutors said there was no probable cause to charge the Orlando Democrat with domestic violence.

Now Lolita Carson-Grayson has quit her pursuit of an injunction against him. 

But while the evidence is lacking, political damage has been done. Here's his statement:

“Ms. Carson-Grayson has apparently dropped the petition for injunction that she levied against the Congressman last week, and will no longer pursue a restraining order against him. Ms. Carson-Grayson's complaint was voluntarily dismissed today. 

“While this is certainly positive news, we want to emphasize that these baseless charges should never have been brought in the first place. Two eyewitness accounts, video evidence, a thorough police investigation, and Ms. Carson-Grayson's own 911 call confirmed the Congressman's innocence - and that Ms. Carson-Grayson was, in fact, the aggressor. 

“For the sake of the all parties involved, we sincerely hope that this concludes Ms. Carson-Grayson's efforts to misrepresent and exploit the family's private affairs.

“As many Americans know, dealing with the intensely personal and emotional matter of divorce is challenging enough - the added pressure of trying to protect your family's privacy, while being forced to defend yourself from false accusations as awful as these ones, has made for an emotional and stressful time for all members of the Grayson family.”

AmericaTeVé: Ana Alliegro's mother says she has been unable to speak or meet with her jailed daughter

The mother of Ana Alliegro, who remains jailed on charges related to an ongoing federal campaign-finance scandal tied to former congressman David Rivera, says she has been unable to speak or meet with her daughter since her incarceration last Friday.

“I want to see her, talk to her and explain what is happening,” Agueda Alliegro told AmericaTeVé Channel 41 on Wednesday. “She is disoriented. She is ill.”

“I don’t know what Ana has done, but she’s innocent until a jury says different,” she said. “Those are the laws of this land.”

AmericaTeVé correspondent Erika Carrillo interviewed Alliegro.

According to a federal indictment, Ana Alliegro and unnamed “co-conspirators” helped steer almost $82,000 in unreported contributions to the campaign of another co-conspirator, Justin Lamar Sternad, in a 2012 Democratic congressional primary.

Sternad pleaded guilty last year. He recently named Rivera and Ana Alliegro as the clandestine and driving forces behind his Democratic campaign. Rivera has denied wrongdoing.

Ana Alliegro on Monday pleaded not guilty to four counts of making a false statement, conspiring and making illegal campaign contributions. She faces a maximum five years in prison on each charge.

U.S. Attorney Thomas J. Mulvihill asked the court to deny bond for Ana Alliegro, saying she is a “flight risk.” Ana Alliegro has twice left Miami for Nicaragua when Mulvihill and the FBI wanted her to stay.

Ana Alliegro was deported from Nicaragua on Friday and returned to Miami to face the federal charges.

 “I do not understand why they paraded her before the press in Nicaragua, handcuffed like a criminal. I understand that she has to be handcuffed, but she is not a terrorist; she didn’t kill anyone,” said the mother.

The mother said her daughter went to work in Nicaragua because she didn’t have any money.

“For me as a mother, this has been very painful,” she said.

House approves new IT agency, but does it address CONNECT mess?

In early January, as the state’s new $63 million unemployment website continued to struggle to pay claims on time, state lawmakers considered taking action.

But as the second week in this year’s 60-day legislative session comes to an end, lawmakers are backing away from using their oversight powers to intervene with how Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity is managing the CONNECT project.

In fact, now it appears that they are instead endorsing the agency’s handling of the crisis. On Wednesday, a Senate appropriations committee voted 11-0 to support the confirmation of the DEO’s executive director, Jesse Panuccio.

“I’m not just going to support you, I’m going to do everything I can in the process to make sure you get to the end,” said the committee chair, Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando to Panuccio, who must clear two more senate committees and a floor vote to keep his $141,000 job.

No state lawmakers have asked to study the spending on the project or why it failed. They haven’t filed any bills that would address a requirement that they passed in 2011 forcing claimants to apply for weekly benefits online -- which federal officials flagged last year as unconstitutional.

One bill, SB 7058, does address another requirement passed in 2011 that was also flagged by federal officials: a required initial skills review test that takes as long as 45 minutes to complete. Under the bill, the test would become voluntary. That bill passed the Senate’s Commerce and Tourism board on March 3 with a 10-0 vote, but has yet to be picked up in the House.

The one piece of legislation that both chambers and parties support as an answer to managing complicated technology projects is a bill that creates an entirely new agency.

On Wednesday, the Florida House passed HB 7073 by a 116-0 vote that would create an agency overseeing technology projects of more than $25 million. It would consolidate data centers into one, while creating a CIO position that is appointed by the governor, and confirmed by the Senate. The agency would cost $5 million this year with $2.9 million every year after. It would employ 25 positions and be housed under the Department of Management Services, but would answer directly to the governor.

A companion bill, SB 928, sponsored by Sen. Jeremy Ring, R-Margate, has strong support in the Senate. And both bills have bipartisan support.

But would it make the state any better managing massive IT projects like the CONNECT website?

“I can’t guarantee anything,” said Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. “What I do know is that the state of Florida is the only state in America that doesn’t have a chief information officer. It’s time we have one. It’s time that we have a little bit more organized, centralized, focused IT strategy and IT policy in this state of Florida.”

Panuccio told reporters after his partial confirmation that as of Feb. 28, no major glitches remain with the CONNECT system. The DEO fined Deloitte more than $700,000, but halted the fines last month.

But for claimants like Bradford Gonzalez, problems remain. The 63-year-old Deltona resident has been jobless since December, but has been unable to get his claims from CONNECT. He said he was disappointed that lawmakers aren’t addressing the issue.

“These companies get millions of dollars from the state, and that’s what counts,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a money machine where the corporations are making money off us. It’s a scam meant to discourage people like myself to pursue the benefits I’m entitled to.”

Bills aiming at sexual predators pass House, head for Scott's signature

The Florida House passed four bills Wednesday that subject violent sexual offenders to longer sentences and more scrutiny upon the completion of their sentences.

In an election year where not many controversial bills are expected to pass, a number of bills bolstering Florida’s sexual predator laws have sailed through the Legislature buffeted by strong bi-partisan winds.

“It’s a proud moment,” said Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation.

The bills come after the South Florida Sun Sentinel last year ran an investigative series of the conduct of violent sexual offenders after they were released under the Jimmy Ryce law, which is intended to keep the most dangerous offenders separate from the public after their sentences have ended.

The newspaper found that 594 offenders who were released since 1999 were convicted of new sex crimes -- molesting more than 460 children, raping 121 women and killing 14.

On Wednesday, the House passed three Senate bills that passed that chamber on the first day of session, in addition to an amended version of a Senate bill that will be voted on later.

“This will make Florida the safest state in America to raise a family,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar. “And the worst state for violent sexual predators.”

Continue reading "Bills aiming at sexual predators pass House, head for Scott's signature" »

ACLU, SAVE plan 'major announcement' about 'rights of married gay couples in Florida'


The ACLU of Florida and SAVE “are planning a major announcement Thursday morning at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden to announce an initiative to protect the rights of married gay couples in Florida,” said Howard Simon, executive director of ACLU of Florida.

The news conference will feature Simon, SAVE Executive Director Tony Lima and a group of “married same-sex partners living in Florida,” according to a news release on Wednesday.

Stay tuned …



Another alleged straw donor to Charlie Crist and John McCain busted by feds in Rothstein scam


Attorney Russell Adler, a top partner in Scott Rothstein's disgraced Fort Lauderdale law firm, was charged Friday with breaking federal election laws by illegally bundling hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to the campaigns of GOP presidential nominee John McCain and U.S. Senate candidate Charlie Crist, Florida's former Republican governor.

In a single conspiracy charge, Adler is accused of collaborating with Rothstein and other firm employees to donate the unlawfully bundled donations in 2008 and 2009. Adler and other unnamed co-conspirators at the firm are accused of receiving salary bonuses as reimbursement for those personal expenses.

In 2010, after Rothstein’s arrest on racketeering charges stemming from his $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme, Crist returned the contributions from the law firm and partners. The McCain campaign, however, had already distributed the donations to political action committees in battleground states.

The conspiracy charge filed against Adler, which carries a maximum five-year sentence, is designed as a plea deal that paves the way for the attorney to plead guilty. It avoids a potential racketeering indictment posing the risk of a much longer prison term if he were convicted at trial.

“We're taking a plea to the campaign finance violation,” Adler's attorney, Fred Haddad, told The Miami Herald Friday.

More here

Here's the federal information:  Download Adler Information