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307 posts from March 2014

March 31, 2014

Rick Scott: Obama's 'not caring about Venezuela'


Ruth Alcalá just wants the president she twice voted for, Barack Obama, to speak forcefully about the government violence in Venezuela.

But for more than a month, she says, she and other natives of Venezuela have been “disappointed” in the administration’s relative silence, even as she gathered 1,000 signatures on a letter that calls on Obama to act -- or at least speak.

“At the least, we want to hear the president say something,” said Alcalá, a private citizen who teaches computer training in Miami.

On Monday, the 57-year-old Democrat found herself standing next to an unlikely ally: Florida’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, who promised to personally deliver her letter to the White House and pressure Venezuela’s regime to stop cracking down on protestors.

“Mr. President, you’ve got to declare economic sanctions. You’ve got to show up,” Scott told an enthusiastic crowd of Venezuelan exiles at the Don Criollito restaurant in Kendall.

Scott contrasted Obama’s low-key Venezuela diplomacy and the president’s talks with Russia over its invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.

“He cares about Ukraine. But he’s not caring about Venezuela,” Scott said.

Continue reading "Rick Scott: Obama's 'not caring about Venezuela'" »

MIA, FLL to get more passport control agents


Miami International Airport will get more passport control agents to handle long immigration lines, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Monday.

Airport administrators won’t know for a while how many more agents they’ll get. They have been promised by Sept. 30, 2015. Some 2,000 additional agents will be deployed across 44 ports in 18 states.

MIA is one of four Florida ports that will benefit from the staffing boost, said Greg Chin, an airport spokesman. The others are Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Orlando International Airport and Port Canaveral.

Emilio González, the director of Miami-Dade County’s aviation department, flew to Washington D.C. last week to lobby federal officials for more agents. South Florida members of Congress have also been pushing to ease the burden on travelers.

Scott signs "Florida G.I. Bill"

Gov. Rick Scott signed the first substantive bill of the session Monday, creating a program that will waive out-of-state tuition fees for military veterans.

The "Florida G.I. Bill" will also connect veterans to potential employers, and pump money into continuing education and industry certification programs for active service members.

Scott, who served in the Navy, said he hoped the legislation would make Florida "the most military-friendly state" in the nation.

The veterans proposal (HB 7015) won unanimous support in both chambers in March.

Lawmakers were particularly proud of the tuition waiver program, which is named in memory of U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young. Under current law, veterans who are not Florida residents must pay out-of-state rates, which can be four times what residents pay.

The measure is expected to cost the state $11.7 million.

The new law also:

* Increases funding for the Educational Dollars for Duty program, which seeks to enhance the education level of Florida National Guard members.

* Creates Florida is for Veterans, Inc., a corporation tasked with promoting Florida to retired and recently separated service members.

* Encourages government entities to hire veterans, as well as current members of the reserves and the Florida National Guard, and the parents and spouses of service members who died in combat.

* Allows private businesses to create hiring practices that give preference to veterans and the spouses of disabled or deceased veterans.

* Helps healthcare professionals who received an honorable discharge to practice in Florida.

* Removes the one-year residency requirement so that veterans living in Florida can have immediate access to vacancies at state nursing homes.

* Provides $12.5 million in state funding for armories, and $7.5 million to acquire lands around three military installations: Naval Support Activity Panama City, Naval Station Mayport and MacDill Air Force Base.

One provision has been controversial: language encouraging military base commanders to work with the state education commissioner to create new charter schools.

Some educators are concerned that military commanders will be able to circumvent local school boards to establish their own semi-private schools.

Last year, the Hillsborough County School Board challenged a charter school looking to open on MacDill Air Force Base. The school's governing board later withdrew its proposal.

At a bill signing ceremony at the National Guard Armory in Panama City, military officials had high praise for the legislation.

"The support our military has received from our elected leaders in Florida is at the highest level in my memory," said Major Gen. Emmett R. Titshaw, Jr., of the Florida National Guard.

While Florida postpones use of SAVE to check voters, the website remains in use by agencies nationwide

A footnote on our story last week about Secretary of State Ken Detzner’s announcement that he will delay his “Project Integrity” -- or more commonly known as the noncitizen purge.

Detzner had planned a second round of searching for noncitizens on the voter rolls using the Department of Homeland Security’s SAVE data. But in February, DHS started to revamp the SAVE website -- a process that won’t be done before the 2014 election. On Thursday Detzner announced that he would delay the next round due to the website changes.

Only a handful of states have agreements to use SAVE for voter registration purposes -- and at least a couple of those states haven’t started using it yet for that purpose. Virginia just recently signed an agreement with DHS and has no timeline yet while Iowa is awaiting the outcome of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU.

SAVE is more typically used for reasons that have nothing to do with voter registration such as to determine if someone is eligible for social services.

While Detzner decided to delay using SAVE while the website changes are underway, agencies nationwide can continue to access the data -- and are doing so.

Florida Department of Children and Families spokeswoman Michelle Glady told us that “DCF continues to use SAVE to determine eligibility.”

When DHS sent notices to SAVE users in February about the website changes it stated: “Please note that the SAVE System web address and the verification process will not change in [sic] with this release.”

Here’s the most recent notice from DHS to SAVE users about the website changes:


Dear Customer,

The SAVE Program launched Phase I of the SAVE System redesign on February 23, 2014. This release featured an updated layout, along with several new home page functions, including a vertical navigation bar, a new welcome banner, and a “Quick Links” menu. We hope that our redesigned system offers you a more dynamic, user-friendly experience, and makes it easier for you to determine the eligibility of your benefit applicants.

We are still offering training sessions for Superusers and Supervisors to become familiar you with the new design, and offer you the opportunity to ask questions. Please contact your SAVE agency manager regarding upcoming training opportunities.

Our goal with this release was to improve verification services for our customers. We would love to hear your thoughts on the first phase of the redesign, and incorporate your valuable feedback as we prepare for Phase II. Please send your comments to the email address below with the subject “SAVE Redesign.”


Gov. Rick Scott's foreign trips increasingly rely on corporate contributions

Via @ToluseO at Bloomberg

Months before Florida Crystals Corp. won a no-bid contract to farm sugar on state-owned land, its top lobbyist and president met with Governor Rick Scott in the home of King Juan Carlos of Spain.

They got access during a 2012 trade mission underwritten by corporations including the company, which is co-owner of the Domino Sugar brand. The trip, intended to recruit businesses to Florida, also provided a lobbying opportunity for those already in the state. After the meeting at the palace, Florida Crystals executives joined Scott at a reception they sponsored, featuring Spanish omelets and dry-cured ham.

Governors increasingly are using corporate money to fund their excursions, often from businesses that stand to benefit from state decisions. While taxpayers traditionally paid for trade missions, at least 15 states have started collecting donations to cover costs, including six since 2010. Scott, a 61-year-old Republican, has tapped the private money most often, making 10 overseas visits in the past three years, twice the pace of his predecessor, according to public records.

“It’s an opportunity that the vast majority of people and companies never get,” said Hayden Dempsey, a Tallahassee lobbyist and former aide to the governor who went on the Spain trip. Scott, he said, was “very accessible.”

Continue reading "Gov. Rick Scott's foreign trips increasingly rely on corporate contributions " »

As David Beckham presses case in Miami, soccer deals a mixed bag across the country


Miami-Dade County plans to charge David Beckham some amount of rent if he builds a Major League Soccer stadium on public land. But across the country, government hasn’t necessarily done well as professional soccer’s landlord.

Only two of 12 existing MLS stadiums have been built without local tax-payer funding for construction — as Beckham and his investors have promised to do — and on public property, a Miami Herald analysis has found. And the terms of those deals, in Los Angeles and Columbus, Ohio, were quite different, leaving little in the way of a blueprint for Miami-Dade.

The county isn’t looking for precedent as it considers crafting its own agreement, Mayor Carlos Gimenez said.

“I don’t look to the other stadiums,” he said. “What I said I want is fair market value for rent.”

“Fair” is subjective, but at least one of the two existing privately funded stadiums on public land seems to have gotten relatively cheap land for construction.

Last year, California State University-Dominguez Hills, home to the StubHub Center where the LA Galaxy and Chivas USA teams play, received just under $800,000 in rent and shared profits from the 88-acre stadium and sports complex, according to the university. That’s about $9,100 an acre.

For comparison, consider that in 2013, administrators for the state-owned fairgrounds in Ohio, which houses the Columbus Crew Stadium, said they took in about $335,000 from the 15-acre facility — about $22,300 an acre.

More here.

Gov. Rick Scott has "concerns" with PECO plan

It’s become one of the perennial fights in the Florida Legislature.

In one corner: cash-strapped school systems with aging facilities and billions of dollars tied up in debt service.

In the other: charter schools looking to build and refurbish facilities of their own.

Both want dollars from the Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) trust fund, an ever shrinking pot of money generated by a disappearing tax on cable TV and land-line telephones.

This year, the Senate, House and Gov. Rick Scott all want to split the K-12 portion between charter schools and traditional school districts. It’s a departure from recent years, when only charter schools landed the funds. The wrangling has already begun.

There is some common ground: Both charter schools and school districts support a bill that would shift revenue from an existing tax on commercial energy consumption to the PECO fund.

But the bill may be a tough sell to Scott.

“The governor’s budget prioritizes K-12 education, without creating more debt or permanently earmarking general funds, limiting future flexibility,” Scott spokesman John Tupps said in a a statement. “For these reasons, we have concerns about the proposal.”

Read more here.

Today in Tallahassee: Five Things to Watch

Hump week, the mid-point of the 2014 Legislative session, is here, and not a moment too soon. But don’t think that the pace is slowing down on bills. Even though it’s a Monday, typically a travel day for lawmakers, a number of high profile bills will be considered.

  • Public records will take a beating at the House Government Operations committee at 1:30 at 212 Knott Building. On tap is the curious HB 421, by Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, which would exempt the email addresses collected by county tax collectors to send tax notices. A companion bill in the Senate, SB 0538 is scheduled for a second reading on the Senate floor Friday. Although the intent is to prevent identity theft, the First Amendment Foundation has concluded that there’s no “factual evidence” to support the premise that any identities will be protected by this measure. If passed, could justify an avalanche for future exemptionsthat will further restrict public records. But wait, there’s more. There’s also HB 555, which would exempt recorded images from red light cameras; HB 865, which would exempt contact information of people involved in car crashes 60 days following a crash; and HB 1269, which would exempt public records for certain family trust companies.


  • Public records get a bit of support at the same meeting, with HB 1151, which is getting its first committee meeting. It would clarify existing records law, which should make it easier to access records.


  • The Senate’s Agriculture committee meets at 4 p.m. at 301 SOB to consider SB 1576, which seeks to restore and safeguard the state's natural springs with $378.8 million. It will also take up SB 1044, sponsored by Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, that would allow electric vehicle charging stations and alternative fuel stations to notify the state so their locations could be provided online.


  • Environmentalists have targeted HB 703 as one of the more troublesome bills of the session. Sponsored by Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, it gets heard at the House’s agriculture and natural resources committee at 102 HOB at 4 p.m. It revises water permitting, and was heavily revised last week to make it palatable for environmentalists, but some say it still goes too far in easing regulation, especially in allowing 30-year water use permits for large projects in rural areas.


  • The Senate’s Ethics and Elections committee is slated to meet at 4 p.m. at 412 Knott Building to discuss SB 784, which would require the Florida Department of State to develop an online voter registration system and require the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to verify information submitted online. 

- Michael Van Sickler, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

March 30, 2014

Report: Political investment by energy companies helps them buy into legis agenda

Update: Here's the report

To understand the influence of Florida’s largest electric companies in Tallahassee, look no further than your monthly bill.

You won’t see a line item for the “nuclear cost recovery fee” that Florida Power & Light and Duke Energy collect each month for future construction of new nuclear power plants. That’s because legislators last year voted down an amendment that would have required them to disclose the fee to customers, something they knew the two companies didn’t want to do.

Lawmakers allowed utilities to collect the fee in 2006, and when the companies tamped down their plans to build new facilities and used the money for other needs, such as upgrading existing nuclear plants, legislators kept the fee in place despite complaints from consumer advocates.

The legislative journey of the nuclear cost recovery fee is but one example of how Florida’s power companies control the legislative agenda in Tallahassee, according to a new report by Integrity Florida, a non-profit Tallahassee-based research and watchdog group. They say millions of dollars in campaign contributions and an army of lobbyists help keep corporate interests ahead of the public interest, and are calling on lawmakers to make the power companies more transparent and more accountable. 

“Our state’s monopoly power corporations have demonstrated how politically influential investments can be profitable,’’ said Dan Krassner, president of Integrity Florida and one of the authors of the report, Power Play: Political Influence of Florida’s Top Energy Corporations. “The volume of spending on campaigns and lobbying give this industry an outsized influence.”

The report was paid for with a grant from the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), an advocacy group that wants Florida to adopt more electricity options. An advanced copy of the report, to be released Monday, was made available to the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times.

The utilities vigorously reject the allegations, calling SACE an “anti-utility organization.” Story here. 

March 28, 2014

State officials abruptly cancel talk by FSU professor

From our friends at the Associated Press:

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida officials have abruptly canceled a talk by a Florida State professor and writer who has been critical of the administration of Gov. Rick Scott.

Diane Roberts, who does commentary for National Public Radio and writes columns for various publications, was supposed to give a talk at the state-owned Mission San Luis on April 3.

Roberts planned to discuss Florida's environment and problems with the state's rivers, lakes and springs.

Brittany Lesser, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner, said an "internal decision" was made within the secretary's office to cancel the talk.

Lesser said that Roberts topic did not fit with agency programs such as historical resources. She said that Roberts has been asked to come back later to talk about "our mission and programs."