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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June 19, 2013

Banks score incomplete grade in mortgage settlement case

Wednesday was report card day for the five largest banks that agreed to a $25 billion settlement with the 49 attorneys general, but they received mostly incomplete scores from the government-appointed monitor passing out the grades.

Joe Smith, the monitor, released a report on Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, CitiMortgage Inc., ResCap Partiers (formerly GMAC) and Wells Fargo. The banks were tested during two separate periods:  July 1-Sept. 30 and Oct 1. to Dec. 31. According to a report by Smith last month, the banks have reported distributing $50.6 billion in direct relief to more than 620,000 homeowners through the settlement.

Smith found that the banks failed eight servicing standards they agreed to in the settlement, mostly related to processing loan modifications, a sure sign that the banks aren’t providing enough staff to manage the cases.

The banks did pass the majority of the standards they were tested on, but they weren’t tested on all of the 29 areas outlined in the settlement because of delays in providing documents and agreed upon services. Bank of America was tested on only a dozen, Chase on only 11, CitiMortgage on 15, ResCap on 11, and Wells Fargo on 20.

The incomplete gaps led to some considerable holes in reporting. For instance, Bank of America has come under fire in Florida and other states for not providing timely documents or alerts during the foreclosure process. In a June 6 letter, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi slammed Bank of America and threatened to sue over the bank’s alleged failure to modify mortgages in an efficient manner.

Of the 17 categories Bank of America wasn’t tested on were two addressing this very issue.

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February 27, 2013

Orlando Senator files four foreclosure bills, calling Florida's No. 1 ranking 'shameful'

Calling Florida’s position as the No. 1 state for foreclosures “shameful,” Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, has filed four bills aimed at helping struggling homeowners.

The bills would provide taxpayer support for people who are on the verge of foreclosure, make it more difficult for banks to sue homeowners for additional debt after a foreclosure and crack down on lenders who use false documents in court.

They stand in contrast to another bill that seeks to speed up the foreclosure process, which can take an average of more than two years in Florida. The bill, filed by Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, is a rehash of a 2012 proposal that led to protests by consumer groups. Passidomo said the long, drawn out foreclosure process is hurting the market and slowing down the housing recovery.

Soto, who led the protests against Passidomo’s 2012 bill, said his proposals are aimed at taking the state in the opposite direction when it comes to foreclosures.

“These bills represent a vision for resolving the foreclosure crisis where we work with families to save their homes and make them more affordable as well as provide meaningful debt relief,” he said in a statement.  “This vision stands in stark contrast to the numerous bills filed over the past few years with the sole intention of kicking thousands of Florida’s working families out of their homes for the sake of expediency.”

Florida lawmakers also have about $200 million in funding available from a national mortgage settlement last year. That money is not included in Soto’s proposal and lawmakers have not decided how to use it yet. Some fear that the money could be swept away into non-housing-related issues, though legislative leaders have promised not to allow that to happen. Florida's foreclosure rate is the highest in the nation and foreclosure filings increased significantly last year. 

Soto’s full statement is below:

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February 04, 2013

Task force releases final report on 'epidemic' of newborns addicted to drugs

The Statewide Task Force on Prescription Drug Abuse & Newborns, chaired by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, released its final report on Monday, laying the groundwork for a “holistic approach” to the “epidemic” of babies born addicted to pain-killing medication.

 The task force was created during the 2012 legislative session to examine the scope of prescription drug abuse by expectant mothers, the costs associated with caring for babies with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), the long-term effects of the syndrome and prevention strategies.

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State gave tax break to company Bondi was investigating for foreclosure fraud

While attorney general Pam Bondi was investigating Lender Processing Services for foreclosure abuses, the state of Florida was preparing a sweet tax break deal for the Jacksonville-based company.

Last week, Bondi announced a national settlement with LPS, and the company agreed to pay $120 million to settle allegations that it operated as a so-called foreclosure mill, making use of fraudulently signed court documents.

Money kicked in from Florida taxpayers could help pay that fine. LPS received a tax incentive award of at least $1.15 million, with some of the payments going out even as Bondi’s fraud inquiry was ongoing.

“This settlement reflects the efforts of the states to work together to remedy the widespread abuses occurring in the residential mortgage industry in the past few years,” Bondi said in a statement last week. “The proposed judgment holds LPS and its subsidiaries accountable and requires reforms that ensure the proper handling of residential mortgage-related documents.”

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