March 04, 2015

Cabinet performance reviews: It's really not a new idea

As the aides to Gov. Rick Scott and his colleagues on the Cabinet revived the debate today over crafting a new policy about how to evaluate the performance of agency heads who report to them in the wake of the governor’s botched firing of former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey, some history:

If they had asked their predecessors, they would have learned that the practice had been in place for years and, on occasion used by this governor and Cabinet. 

Records and transcripts of Cabinet meetings reviewed by the Herald/Times show that the governor and Cabinet had a record of requiring a “performance review” of officials who reported to them.

The practice continued for the first year Scott and the three Cabinet officials came to office but then waned. DOR Secretary Lisa Echeverri did not have one in 2012 and her replacement, Marshall Stranburg, has never had one.

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December 04, 2014

Court ruling means gay couples could wed as early as Jan. 5 in Florida

@SteveRothaus

Same-sex couples in Florida could begin marrying shortly after the new year, after a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that a stay in the state’s gay-marriage ban case will be lifted at the end of the day Jan.5.

In a two-page ruling, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta turned down a request by Florida’s secretaries of health and management services and the clerk of the court in the Panhandle’s Washington County to extend the stay. A federal judge based in Tallahassee ruled in August that the state’s gay-marriage ban is unconstitutional, but stayed his decision until Jan.5 to give the state time to appeal.

“This is a clear victory for us because it finds the harm is being done to the people, not the state,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, which is representing same-sex couples from throughout Florida and gay-rights group SAVE, who sued to have out-of-state same-sex marriages recognized in the Sunshine State.

“It means that relief is finally in sight for the same-sex married couples suffering under Florida’s refusal to recognize their legal unions,” SAVE Executive Director Tony Lima said in a statement. More here. 

 

December 01, 2014

AG revolving door: Bill McCollum lobbies, Pam Bondi's office helps his client

@MVanSickler

When the cruise line Royal Caribbean sought to amend a 1997 consumer protection agreement with the Florida Attorney General’s office, it hired a lawyer familiar with the agency’s inner workings.

Former Attorney General Bill McCollum called on the staff of his successor, Pam Bondi. Six months after the June 2013 meeting, Bondi’s office granted McCollum’s request.

Royal Caribbean’s advertised rates would no longer have to include fees for services, like baggage handling and loading cargo. The fees, which can inflate a trip’s cost by more than $100, could be listed separately from the company’s advertised rates.

On at least two other occasions, McCollum met with Bondi’s staff to discuss two more clients — NJOY, an e-cigarette company, and HealthFair, which sells health screenings from mobile clinics.

McCollum isn’t just Bondi’s predecessor; he also leads the Republican State Leadership Committee, which has championed Bondi’s advancement.

McCollum served as vice or acting chairman of the Washington-based group from June 2012 to January 2014, records show. During that period, it contributed $650,000 to Bondi’s re-election campaign, more than 10 percent of what she raised, and chipped in another $16,000 in gifts so she could attend conferences with other Republican attorneys general.

When asked what role he had in those expenditures, McCollum said the staff, not the board, decides how campaign contributions are made. He didn’t address the gifts. Story by Michael Van Sickler here. 

 

November 16, 2014

In Florida, robo-signed mortgage docs -- legit or not -- are allowing banks to hound borrowers

New York Times business editor Gretchen Morgenson writes today about another dubious honor Florida has earned as its regulators stand on the sidelines: banks hounding homeowners for payments after they accepted faulty mortgage documents on homes that subsequently went into foreclosure.

Some excerpts:

Remember the robo-signers, those mortgage loan automatons who authenticated thousands of foreclosure documents over the years without verifying the information they were swearing to?

Well, they’re back, in a manner of speaking, at least in Florida. Their dubious documents are being used to hound former borrowers years after their homes went into foreclosure...

The problem, experts say, arises when robo-signed documents enabled banks to foreclose even when they didn’t have legal standing to do so...

During the summer of 2010, when Bill McCollum was Florida’s attorney general, he told me he was concerned about the dangers posed by judges who accepted as factual what was put forward in foreclosure documents. “Thousands of final judgments of foreclosure against Florida homeowners may have been the result of the allegedly improper actions of these law firms,” he said.

Four years later, his fears are being realized. Chip Parker, a partner at Parker & DuFresne in Jacksonville, Fla., says he has 60 cases of former borrowers being pursued by Fannie for deficiency judgments involving documents handled by known robo-signers. There are undoubtedly many others, given the several thousand cases being brought by Fannie.

July 23, 2014

Movers and Shakers

Legislative director leaves

A longtime presence in state government, Darrick McGhee has left his job as director of legislative affairs for Gov. Rick Scott, and will be starting a new position as vice president of government relations for the lobbying firm, Johnson & Blanton, on Aug. 4th.

Darrick is “an outstanding human being, a really good guy,” said Travis Blanton. “He’s very knowledgeable of the (state) agencies because he’s worked in several and he’s very knowledgeable about how Florida government works.”

McGhee’s 17 months as director of legislative affairs included two legislative sessions. His other state posts included interim executive director, and also chief of staff, of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity; director of the Office of Legislative and Cabinet Affairs; and director of the Office of Governmental Relations among other positions.

A graduate of Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University, McGhee is also an ordained minister and pastor of the Bible Based Church in Tallahassee.

New human trafficking council taking shape

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle is among the four members appointed to the newly created Statewide Council on Human Trafficking by Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Bondi, who will chair the 15-member council, also appointed Martin County Sheriff William SnyderTerry Coonan, executive director of the Florida State University Center for the Advancement of Human Rights; and Dotti Groover-Skipper, chairwoman of the Community Campaign Against Human Trafficking.

The council’s purpose, said Jennifer Meale, communications director for the Attorney General’s office, is to “bring everyone to the table who may be able to assist in the effort to end human trafficking in the state and build on the state and local efforts that are already underway.”

Mike Carroll, interim secretary of the state Department of Children and Families, will serve as vice chairman. Also on the council: State Surgeon General Dr. John Armstrong; Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Elizabeth Dudek; Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey; Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Interim Secretary Christina Daly; and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

Other members to be announced will be a senator, appointed by Senate President Don Gaetz; one representative, appointed by House Speaker Will Weatherford; and two members appointed by Scott.

The council is expected to start meeting at the end of August.

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February 26, 2014

Conservative groups join lawsuit to preserve same-sex marriage ban

Gay marriage plaintiffs@SteveRothaus

Conservative Florida activists on Tuesday filed a motion in Miami-Dade Circuit Court defending the 2008 state law that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman.

In January, six same-sex couples in South Florida sued Miami-Dade Clerk Harvey Ruvin for the right to marry.

“This lawsuit threatens to disenfranchise millions of Floridians who voted to affirm natural marriage, and to supplant the clearly expressed will of a super majority of Florida's voters with the radical vision of homosexual activists who cannot win at the ballot box,” according to a statement by Mathew Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a conservative First Amendment constitutional advocacy group in Orlando.

“Inasmuch as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized,” according to the motion.

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January 29, 2014

Bondi fundraising draws fire from Democratic challengers

@mikevansickler

Do we have a real race for Attorney General?

It’s early, but according to a Jan. 16-24 Public Policy Voting survey of 591 voters, Attorney General Pam Bondi is running 37 percent to 34 percent against George Sheldon, and 37 percent to 35 percent against Perry Thurston.

Despite those numbers, Bondi has one insurmountable edge: a huge and largely untapped campaign warchest of about $2 million. Sheldon, a former secretary for the Florida Department of Children and Families, and Thurston, who is House Minority Leader, D-Fort Lauderdale, have raised a mere fraction of that, some of which will be diverted in the contest for the Democratic nomination between the two of them.

But during Wednesday’s annual AP Legislative Planning Session in Tallahassee before editors and reporters, Sheldon and Thurston attacked Bondi's strength by strongly criticizing her campaign fundraising.

In answering a question about what he would do different than Bondi, Sheldon said he would focus his attention on white collar crime.

“I’m very concerned, for instance, about the open investigation on a cyber university involving Donald Trump and that investigation kind of evaporated after a $25,000 contribution was made,” Sheldon said. “We have to be very careful not to adopt a pay-for-play mindset. If you open an investigation, I think an attorney general should not accept any contributions from that company even if you close it with no findings because it taints the appearance of the action the attorney general takes.”

 

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November 12, 2013

Feds approve American-USAirways merger; Bondi is on board

UPDATE: The Justice Department has reached an agreement to allow American Airlines and US Airways to merge, creating the world's biggest airline.

The agreement requires the airlines to scale back the size of the merger at Washington's Reagan National Airport and in other big cities, including Miami.

In August, the government sued to block the merger, saying it would restrict competition and drive up prices for consumers on hundreds of routes around the country. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and attorneys general from five other states joined to stop the sale. On Nov. 1, Bondi met with American Airlines CEO Tom Horton and later described the meeting as productive.

On Tuesday, Bondi said she was "thrilled" with the agreement which requires the airlines to divest slots at Reagan National in Washington D.C., LaGuardia in New York City as well as gates at Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Love Field, Los Angeles International and Miami.

Slots are required for take offs and landings at Reagan National and LaGuardia because of congestion and the divestitures will enable new carriers to enter the Washington, D.C. and New York markets. The same will happen as the result of gate divestitures, she said in a statement.

“I am thrilled that we have reached an agreement that will not only keep jobs in Florida, but also will lead to additional jobs in our great state,” Bondi said.  “The agreement also ensures that air travelers have ample options before them."

The airlines have said their deal would increase competition by creating another big competitor to United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, which grew through recent mergers.

The settlement reached Tuesday would require approval by a federal judge in Washington. It would require American and US Airways to give up takeoff and landing rights or slots at Reagan National and New York's LaGuardia Airport and gates at airports in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas and Miami to low-cost carriers to offset the impact of the merger. More here. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

November 04, 2013

Panel: Economic impact of marijuana "cannot be determined"

Legalizing medical marijuana could cost the state in excess of $1.1 million to operate each year, but any other financial or tax impact of offering the drug to the seriously ill is still unclear, according to a state economic panel.

The Office of Economic and Demographic Research’s Financial Impact Estimating Conference finished its analysis of the medical marijuana ballot initiative on Monday and concluded that “increased costs from this amendment to state and local governments cannot be determined.”

Aside from the Department of Health, which estimated that it would cost an estimated $1.1 million yearly to regulate the medical marijuana industry, most agencies said the cost would not be significant or did not yet have any hard numbers.

The report stated the health department’s costs “will likely be offset through fees charged to the medical marijuana industry and users."

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the Police Chiefs Association and the Sheriff's Association stated there will be increased costs based on the experience of other states, but did not offer any numbers.

The report estimates that about 417,000 to 452,000 will use medical marijuana based on figures from other states. It was also estimated that about 17,178 to 41,271 snowbirds may apply for ID cards to use medical marijuana.

The campaign to put a medical marijuana amendment on the ballot was launched by United for Care, spearheaded by high-profile, Orlando trial attorney John Morgan, whose law firm employs Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist.

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November 01, 2013

American Airlines CEO, Fla. Attorney General Pam Bondi meet and chat about AA-US Airways merger

There may be a lawsuit between them, but American Airlines CEO Tom Horton and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi still managed a meeting Friday that both described as "productive."
Florida, five other states and Washington, D.C. joined an antitrust suit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice in August seeking to block the merger of American and US Airways. Miami International Airport is a main hub for American, which is one of the largest private employers in Miami-Dade County.
When the suit was filed, Bondi called the proposed merger "anti-competitive and harmful to consumers."

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