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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October 30, 2013

Gaetz, Weatherford challenging proposed medical marijuana amendment

The battle to get the medical marijuana issue to voters in 2014 has encountered one more challenge.

On Wednesday afternoon, Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz submitted a notice of intent to file a brief to the Supreme Court as “interested persons” opposing the ballot initiative. 

The legislative leaders said they weren't addressing the issue of medical marijuana but the language in the ballot proposal, yet Weatherford said the amendment would put "marijuana shops on very street corner" if it passes.

The legislative leaders have joined Attorney General Pam Bondi, who on Oct. 24, sent the proposed medical marijuana constitutional amendment to the Florida Supreme Court and asked for an opinion on the petition’s validity. Bondi noted the conflict with federal law but said there are other reasons to throw it off the ballot.

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October 28, 2013

Thurston and Sheldon play game of chicken in race to challenge Bondi

Although they announced they were running for the Democratic nod for Florida Attorney General in the same week, George Sheldon and Perry Thurston swear they won’t become bitter rivals.

“If we stay in the race, it will be positive,” said Sheldon, who until last week worked as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families.

“A primary isn’t the best thing for the party, and I’m a party guy,” said Thurston of Fort Lauderdale, who is the Democratic Leader in the Florida House. “I know the party will make the right decision.”

But the race to challenge incumbent Pam Bondi hasn’t begun yet and they are already disagreeing about what exactly the two talked about when they spoke by phone last week before Saturday’s Florida Democratic State Conference in Orlando.

Sheldon, who announced Oct. 21 that he was running for AG, said Thurston called him and the two spoke for about five to 10 minutes on Thursday. Subsequently, on Saturday, Thurston announced at the convention that he was running for AG.

“I would rather have known he was announcing to run when we talked,” said Sheldon, 66. “I had thought he had ruled it out. His announcement caught quite a few of us by surprise.”

Thurston, however, said he told Sheldon during the phone chat that he was running for AG.

“I’m pretty clear, I don’t stutter or mumble,” said Thurston, 52. “I told him I was running.”

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September 24, 2013

Bondi touts pill mill crackdown as drug deaths drop

In 2012, 805 fewer people died in Florida from drug-related deaths, a 9 percent drop from the prior year that includes decreases in deaths related to methadone, hydrocodone, and cocaine, according to a new report by the Florida Medical Examiners.

It’s the first full year of reporting since “Statewide Drug Enforcement Strike Force” teams were created in March 2011 to crackdown on so-called “pill mill” doctors who over-prescribe powerful drugs.

The FDLE reports that is has had a 50 percent reduction in oxycodone-related deaths in the last two years.

“Our relentless effort is finally starting to pay off,” said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi during a Tuesday news conference. “When I took office, there were more than 7 Floridians dying a day from prescription drug overdoses….of the top 100 oxycodone dispensers, these are doctors, 98 of them lived in Florida. Now we’re down to zero...There used to be pill mills on every corner and now they’re virtually gone.”

Of Florida’s 178,000 deaths in 2012, 8,330 were drug-related deaths. The report distinguishes between drug caused death and whether the drug was merely present at the time of death. The vast majority of cases had more than one drug occurrence.

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July 15, 2013

Movers & Shakers

Ferre appointed to Metropolitan Planning Organization in Miami-Dade

 Former Miami Mayor Maurice  Ferre, a Democrat who supported Rick Scott in the 2010 gubernatorial race after losing his own bid for the U.S. Senate, has been appointed by the governor to the Metropolitan Planning Organization of Miami-Dade County.

Ferré, 78, succeeds Maritza Gutierrez.

Miami attorney named Bondi's associate deputy for legal policy

Nilda R. Pedrosa has been appointed by Attorney General Pam Bondi to serve as associate deputy attorney general for legal policy, based in Miami. Pedrosa’s previous positions include chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart; a senior policy advisor to former U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez; and assistant dean at Florida International University College of Law. Attorney Pedrosa is a Miami native and graduate of FIU and New England Law.

New appointments to Children’s Trust board in Miami-Dade 

Scott made three appointments to the Children's Trust governing board in Miami-Dade County.

Marissa Leichter, 36, of Surfside, the senior program attorney with the Guardian Ad Litem Program, succeeds Benjamin F. Gilbert Jr.

Trudy Novicki, 62, of Miami, the executive director of Krisiti House, Inc., succeeds Pamela Lillard.

Kadie Black, 30, of Miami, the external affairs director for Our Kids of Miami-Dade/Monroe, Inc., succeeds Jose Gregoire.

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