December 07, 2015

A push to crack down on credit card skimmers at gas stations


Florida needs tougher laws to prevent thieves from using credit card skimming devices at self-service gas station pumps to steal people’s identifications, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said during a stop in Tampa on Monday.

Putnam’s statements come after his agents discovered six skimmers at five gas stations around Tampa Bay in November. Since March, his agency has uncovered 166 skimmers at gas pumps around the state. One skimming device can victimize up to 5,000 people. 

Skimmers look like regular credit card readers, but thieves install them at self-service gas pumps to capture a person’s credit card information.

Putnam, whose agency also oversees the Department of Consumer Services, is backing state legislation that would increase penalties for people who install the skimmers and require gas stations to do more to prevent them from being installed in the first place.

The bill, which is being pushed by Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, and Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, is in its early stages. Both filed similar bills in November, but neither has been heard by any committees in either the House or Senate yet.

Putnam’s agency routinely checks pumps for skimmers at gas stations and has been trying to raise awareness of the problem by reaching out to the Florida Petroleum Council and the Florida Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association.

November 27, 2015

Lawmakers seek to crack down on gas pump 'skimmers'


With the simple swipe of a credit card at a gas station pump, it’s become easier for identity thieves to steal customers’ information and rack up fraudulent charges in their names.

State Sen. Anitere Flores’ family knows this all too well; a close family member’s credit card information was stolen from a gas station “skimmer” two years ago in Miami, she said.

“Within hours, hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of charges — specifically gas station charges — were put on the card,” said Flores, R-Miami. “It was scary, but it was also a major inconvenience: canceling credit cards and changing account numbers. You shouldn’t have to go through all that just because you’re using the convenience of paying at the pump.”

With support from Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Flores and Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, want to crack down on the use of skimmers by requiring gas stations to have better security measures and by increasing the penalties for criminals convicted of credit card fraud.

Skimmers are devices that illegally capture and steal credit- and debit-card information. State inspectors in Putnam’s department have located and removed 161 skimmers statewide since March alone.

More here.

November 23, 2015

Putnam 'disappointed, not surprised' at Scott's lack of pay raises

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam immediately criticized Gov. Rick Scott's proposed budget, which has $1 billion in tax cuts but no pay raises for state forestry firefighters, who earn an average of about $27,000 a year. The full text of the statement Putnam issued Monday:

"I’m disappointed that the governor left Florida wildland firefighter salary increases out of his budget, but I’m not surprised after last year’s veto. With a starting salary of $24,000 per year, our firefighters are at least as deserving as those who got pay increases last year and those who have pay increases included in the budget this year. I look forward to working with the Legislature again to meet the needs of our wildland firefighters.”

Putnam was angry and disappointed that Scott vetoed $2,000 raises for firefighters after the Legislature approved them in June, and after ignoring Putnam's request that he be given a chance to make the case for them. Putnam is asking lawmakers to approve them again next year, as some firefighters have gone to the western U.S. to battle severe wildfires there to assist in public safety and to supplement their state pay.

At his budget announcement in Jacksonville, Scott said he opposes across-the-board pay raises to workers -- though last year he gave them to a select groups of state troopers and to driver's license examiners and next year would give them to FDLE crime lab workers.

"I think the right thing to do is what's in my budget," Scott said. "I've put in my budget a bonus plan for our state workers. It will be up to $1,500 and it will be tied to agencies hitting their goals, you hitting your goals and agencies continuing to find savings. We need to continue to focus on how do we make this state government more efficient."

November 10, 2015

Adam Putnam committee tops $3 million mark


Republican Adam Putnam, long thought be a top contender for governor in 2018, is growing one of the most dominate political fundraising committees in Florida.

New campaign finance reports show Putnam has topped $3 million in donations to a political action committee he runs called Florida Grown. In October, Putnam’s account grew by more than $600,000 thanks largely to Associated Industries of Florida and groups it is affiliated with. Three political committees with ties to AIF combined to give $450,000 in just October to the 41-year-old Republican.

Another $100,000 came from Skye Lane Properties, a Clearwater Company.

Putnam, a Polk County Republican, is in his second and final term as the state’s agriculture commissioner, after serving 10 years in Congress and 4 years in the state Legislature.

The $3 million raised for Putnam’s committee is second only to Gov. Rick Scott’s Let’s Get to Work Committee, which has raised $3.8 million through October, according to campaign finance disclosure records.

September 15, 2015

Ag department requests conservation funds to buy new cars, repair roads


From the very beginning of writing next year’s state budget, it’s clear one of the flashpoints of last year’s process will be rearing its head: how the state should spend money set aside by voters on Amendment 1 last November to buy and conserve land.

In his request for the 2016-2017 budget, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam proposes spending some of the $700 million-plus Land Acquisition Trust Fund on replacing old cars, fixing roads and setting up technology services for the state forest service.

Putnam’s request for next year asks that from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund:

* $337,842 be spent to replace a dozen old vehicles in the Office of Agricultural Water Policy.
* $2.8 million pay for road repairs and material for the Florida Forest Service.
* $3 million be spent on construction and maintenance within the Florida Forest Service.
* Shift $1.2 million into the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to pay for information technology services.

Budget items like this drew furious responses in the last budget cycle — the first since 75 percent of voters approved Amendment 1 — from environmental activists that pushed the constitutional amendment to secure an annual pot of money to buy land and water and conserve it.

“A new truck is not land acquisition, it’s not conservation,” said David Guest, Florida managing attorney of environmental legal firm Earthjustice. “I fear that the leaders of our state government are seeing this as an all-purpose slush fund for anything that has an environmental tint to it.”

The agriculture department has asked to set aside money from Amendment 1 for the Office of Agricultural Water Policy and the Florida Forest Service because of changes made to the budget by the Legislature last year, Putnam spokeswoman Jennifer Meale said in a written statement.

Continue reading "Ag department requests conservation funds to buy new cars, repair roads" »

Putnam makes new push for Florida forestry firefighter pay raises


Three months after Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a plan to give the state forestry firefighters a $2,000 pay increase, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is making a new pitch to get those raises.

In a new budget request for 2016 released on Tuesday, Putnam is asking the Legislature to give him $2.3 million to help him hand out $2,000 per-person pay raises to the state’s 959 forest fighters and support teams.  

“If additional funding for the firefighter positions is not available, the turnover rate will continue to increase,” the Florida Department of Agriculture’s annual budget request states. “The Florida Forest Service will lose critical expertise in its firefighter and fire management/support ranks, which increases the potential for fire suppression accidents because of lack of experience.”

The average annual pay for the state's 606 forestry firefighters is just over $27,000. Starting firefighters make just $24,000. And since 2006, they have had only one pay increase. In June, the state Legislature approved a $2,000 pay hike for them, but it was vetoed by Scott.

In vetoing the funds, Scott maintained that pay raises for state employees should be addressed on a statewide level, and not just for the forestry firefighters. The only other employees budgeted for a pay hike were workers for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Scott did not veto those raises.

The low pay has been one of the reasons why hundreds of the state's firefighters voluntarily travel west to fight fires in places like California, Oregon and Washington. Working out west after Florida's fire season dies down allows firefighters to supplement their incomes in overtime pay subsidized by other states and the federal government.

After court win, Miami-Dade police union asks county to pay up over impasse


MIami-Dade's police union recently succeeded in having Mayor Carlos Gimenez's 2012 veto of a labor contract declared illegal. And now the union wants a refund of the money Miami-Dade saved from that veto.

"Please consider this letter a demand for payment," union chief John Rivera wrote to Gimenez on Sept. 14. Rivera asked for the thousands of police employees to receive refunds on the 4-percent payroll deduction Gimenez succeeded in briefly imposing following the 2012 veto. Rivera estimated the refund would cost about $9 million, depending on whether interest is imposed.

Read Rivera's letter here.

The Gimenez administration plans to fight the demand before a state labor board. Gimenez lost a larger legal battle last week when the state Supreme Court refused an appeal over a lower court's decision limiting the mayor's veto power in labor talks.

While the county mayor can veto most votes by the County Commission, courts ruled he loses that authority when it comes a labor impasse. An impasse is declared when the administration and a union can't agree on a contract, and then turn to the commission to resolve it.   

Continue reading "After court win, Miami-Dade police union asks county to pay up over impasse" »

July 15, 2015

Adam Putnam fundraising numbers add to 2018 governor race speculation


Florida Agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam has ramped up his fundraising activities, amassing nearly $2 million for a political committee he controls just since March.

Putnam, frequently mentioned as a likely candidate for governor in 2018, reported raising more than $460,000 just in June alone. He now has raised $1.8 million total for a political action committee called Florida Grown.

His biggest donors since March have included Jupiter beer distributor J.J. Taylor Companies, Manatee County insurance company FCCI and Little River Plantation Holdings, a company with ties to Mike Fernandez, a major GOP fundraiser in Florida. Each gave Florida Grown $100,000 each since April. Another $100,000 combined came on the last day in May from U.S. Sugar Corporation and South Central Florida Express Inc, a rail line owned by U.S. Sugar.

Putnam’s largest contribution came from another political action committee he previously ran called the Sunshine State Leadership Project. That fund transferred nearly $400,000 to Putnam’s new committee on April 30.

Continue reading "Adam Putnam fundraising numbers add to 2018 governor race speculation" »

July 02, 2015

Putnam's plea for pre-veto face time with Gov. Scott was ignored

Here's yet another backstory on Gov. Rick Scott's budget vetoes, and this one is likely to give Scott headaches at future Cabinet meetings.

As the budget time clock was ticking, Scott and his staff dissed Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

It began to unfold on Friday, June 19. As the Legislature was passing a budget, ending a three-week special session, Putnam immediately sought face time with the governor to argue his case for priority projects."I request a meeting with you at your earliest convenience," Putnam wrote.

Putnam's office hand-delivered a highly detailed four-page letter to Scott asking for "careful consideration" of his priorities, including $4.5 million for water-farming projects, $3.7 million to replace a dilapidated petroleum lab at Port Everglades and $2,000 raises for state forestry firefighters.

Not only did Putnam not get the meeting he wanted, but the request was ignored, and four days later Scott vetoed all three requests, among others.

"We never received a response," said Putnam's spokeswoman, Jennifer Meale.

Even though Scott signed the budget four days later, and a week earlier than required by law, his spokeswoman said there wasn't enough time. (The day before Scott signed the budget, Monday, June 22, Scott was on a prearranged seven-city fly-around to promote the $430 million tax cut package).

"The governor reviewed project information submitted to OPB (Office of Planning and Budgeting) staff during the regular session and during the special session up until the budget was finished by the Legislature," spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said in a written response. "The governor did not take any additional meetings on special projects once the budget was finalized by the Legislature because we were up against a tight time frame to get the budget signed by June 30th.”

June 23, 2015

Putnam 'profoundly disappointed' in Scott's veto of firefighter pay raise


Firefighters who battle forest fires in Florida will not be getting pay raises because of Gov. Rick Scott’s vetoes.

The Legislature has set aside $1.6 million in the state budget to give the state’s 606 Forest Service firefighters each a $2,000 a year pay raise.

“I am profoundly disappointed,” Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said on Tuesday after learning of the veto. “Our forest firefighters put their lives on the line. They are demonstratively underpaid relative to peers.”

The vetoes come as Florida fire fighters are battling an unusually high number of fires. On Friday the state was fighting 90 active wildfires, Putnam said. And since January the state has dealt with 1,440 fires on over 30,000 acres. The Florida Panhandle, North Florida and Florida Atlantic Coast are all facing a high wildfire threat.

 Putnam questioned the lack of consistency in the vetoes, noting other government employees in less dangerous jobs will get raises, but not the fire fighters.

“I’m even more disappointed that it wasn’t applied consistently,”  Putnam said. The helpful people who take your drivers license photo were allowed to receive a pay raise. And our forest firefighters who put their lives on the line were not.”