February 04, 2016

Capitol Buzz: Five things to watch today in Tallahassee

Legislative committees continue meeting in Tallahassee, while the state's top officials go to the fair. Here's what we're watching:

* They won't have an official cabinet meeting, but Republican Gov. Rick Scott, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Attorney General Pam Bondi will still be at the Florida State Fair in Tampa to help kick off the festivities. The governor will host a luncheon there at noon.

* At 9 a.m., the House Judiciary Committee will again take up the proposed "Pastor Protection Act," which allows clergy to turn away gay couples seeking to marry. The committee's vote was postponed last week.

* The House State Affairs Committee could vote to send to the House floor a proposal that changes the legal language of Florida's absentee voting to "vote-by-mail." That panel also meets at 9 a.m.

* The Senate Transportation Committee, also gathering at 9 a.m., will give a first hearing to a bill by Republican Sens. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, and Anitere Flores of Miami, which aims to outlaw the use of red-light camera devices in Florida.

* A bill dealing with cremation fees that counties charge is set for its final committee hearing in the House. The Regulatory Affairs Committee meets at 1 p.m.

December 08, 2015

AG Pam Bondi reacts to Seminole gaming compact proposal

@MaryEllenKlas @ByKristenMClark

Attorney General Pam Bondi, whose office has authority over the enforcement of the state's gaming laws, said she hadn't yet read the proposed compact between Gov. Rick Scott and the Seminole Tribe and couldn't say whether the tribe is currently violating the law.

"I want to read the compact and see what the expansion is," Bondi told reporters Tuesday. "My goal is for Florida not to become Atlantic City; I've always said that. I don't want a casino on Longboat Key, where I grew up, and all of our beaches in the Panhandle. That's been my greatest concern, obviously. But I'd like to look at the compact and see how extensive it is."

As the tribe continues to operate black jack and other banked card games at its Hard Rock casinos and three other of its properties despite the fact that the provision authorizing those games expired in July, Bondi couldn't say if the operation of those games is illegal.

"I need to look at the compact and see what it says,'' she said. "We tried to download it this morning so I could look at it and couldn't, because obviously this happened late last night. I'm not dodging your question; I just haven't looked at it."

November 16, 2015

Lawmakers want to ban Florida from implementing EPA clean air rule

@ByKristenMClark

Two Republican state lawmakers are joining Florida's Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi to fight what they view as an over-reaching plan by President Barack Obama's administration to combat the effects of climate change and reduce the nation's carbon footprint.

State Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, and Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, have introduced legislation that would prohibit state agencies from implementing a proposed rule from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency dubbed the "Clean Power Plan."

The rule requires Florida to cut its carbon dioxide emissions 26 percent by 2030 -- a mandate that Diaz says could harm the state's economy and threaten Floridians' jobs.

Diaz said in a statement today that he views it as his job as a lawmaker "to ensure that over burdensome regulations do not hurt Florida’s most financially vulnerable citizens" and "to push back against a regulation that was adopted by unelected bureaucrats who do not understand what the cost to Floridians will actually be."

House Bill 639 and Senate Bill 838, both filed last week, state that "the Legislature must establish and direct the state's energy policy to best protect the standard of living of its citizens." The bills would prohibit state agencies from limiting -- or even planning to limit -- carbon dioxide emissions unless Congress enacts legislation directing it or a federal court upholds the EPA rule.

Last month, Bondi joined 23 other states in a lawsuit challenging the EPA over the "Clean Power Plan," calling it both an economic and states' rights issue. Her participation in the lawsuit made her the target of a recent attack ad launched by the political committee run by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

October 23, 2015

Florida among 24 states suing over EPA carbon emissions rule

Obama-Power Plants

@ByKristenMClark

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has joined 23 other states to fight an initiative from President Barack Obama that's intended to combat greenhouse gases and the effects of climate change.

A federal lawsuit challenging a new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule, called the Clean Power Plan, was filed in D.C. this week. The initiative, announced by Obama in August, aims to reduce carbon emissions nationwide by imposing limits on power plants.

In her announcement about the lawsuit today, Bondi said the EPA rule lays out an "unrealistic" timeframe to cut carbon emissions by 2030 and would "require the use of costly and unproven technologies." (Here are the goals for Florida, according to the EPA.)

She said the initiative "would result in dramatically higher electricity bills and significantly less reliable service for families, businesses, hospitals and schools across the country."

“We will not stand by and allow these unlawful and heavy-handed utility regulations to trample our states’ rights and drastically increase electricity prices in Florida,” Bondi said in the statement. “We have seen how President Obama’s overreach has created unease in markets, eliminated competition and increased costs for millions of Americans. This new federal rule promulgated by the EPA will have a similar effect on energy production, access and price in Florida and across the country.”

This isn't the first time Bondi has fought the Obama administration in court. She also unsuccessfully sued over the Affordable Care Act, which the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately upheld.

Those joining Florida in challenging the EPA rule are: West Virginia, Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin, Wyoming, the Arizona Corporation Commission, and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.

Photo Credit: AP

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.

Continue reading "Cabinet performance reviews: It's really not a new idea" »

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.

Continue reading "Movers and Shakers" »

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.

Continue reading "Conservative groups join lawsuit to preserve same-sex marriage ban" »