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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January 30, 2013

House Democratic leader blasts decade of GOP governance, pushes for Medicaid expansion

Rep. Perry Thurston, the House Democratic leader, said voters in Florida are not impressed with Republican-led governance, and said even GOP leaders are beginning to feel the same way.

In a 30-minute talk that covered issues ranging from Florida’s elections debacle to implementing federal healthcare to investing in education, Thurston blamed his Republican counterparts for problems facing the state. He said reform efforts currently being pushed by Republican officials—election reform, ethics reform, education financing, healthcare implementation—all seek to deal with problems caused by the GOP-led Legislature.

Thurston said the ruling party had been “foot dragging” when it comes to implementing the federal healthcare reform. He pointed to a letter from former House Speaker Dean Cannon in 2010 that effectively kept state agencies from planning for reform. The state is now trying to figure out how to conform to the law and facing several deadlines. The decision about whether or not to expand Medicaid is a critical one for the state, and Thurston supports the expansion.

 “We’re going to save lives.  We’re not talking about turning down money fro a rail system; we’re talking about saving lives,” said Thurston. “Not to do this would be morally reprehensible.”

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June 06, 2012

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi won't rule out suing feds over stonewalling noncitizen voter hunt

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi's office won't rule out suing the Department of Homeland Security for refusing to share its citizenship database with Florida's elections division in its hunt for noncitizen voters.

"It's disappointing that the Obama Administration has been unwilling to help the Department of State ensure that we have accurate voter rolls," Bondi's office told The Miami Herald in response to an inquiry. "We still hope that the Department of State will be able to obtain the Obama Administration's cooperation without resorting to litigation, but we're monitoring the situation and believe Florida needs to keep all of its options open."

Bondi, a Republican, has already been a lead in suing the Obama Administration over ObamaCare. The noncitizen voter purge is highly popular with Republicans (and perhaps independents and many Democrats as well). So it wouldn't be a surprise if she took the feds to court over this.

Federal law (8 USC; 1373 to be exact), says the "Immigration and Naturalization Service shall respond to an inquiry by a Federal, State, or local government agency, seeking to verify or ascertain the citizenship or immigration status of any individual within the jurisdiction of the agency for any purpose authorized by law, by providing the requested verification or status information."

Is DHS breaking the law? It won't say. It won't comment. Perhaps there's an out: INS technically no longer exists.

Former Justice lawyer and GOP appointee Hans von Spakovsky said the state should sue. More here on that

May 26, 2012

April 24, 2012

Task force for drug-addicted babies convenes

Attorney General Pam Bondi and health leaders from around the state met in Tallahassee today to address the flood of babies born to drug-addicted mothers.

The task force was created by legislation passed this year to examine the problem of prescription drug abuse by expectant mothers, the costs associated with caring for babies suffering from neonatal withdrawal syndrome, the long-term effects of the syndrome, and prevention strategies.

The meeting mostly consisted of reviewing the harm caused to drug-addicted babies and organizing research duties.

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Before Supreme Court hearings, ACLU of Florida slams Bondi support of Arizona immigration law

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida slammed Attorney General Pam Bondi Tuesday for supporting an Arizona law the group says unfairly targets immigrants and encourages racial profiling.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments tomorrow on the law, which among other things, requires police officers to verify the immigration status of anyone they suspect of being undocumented.

"As Florida’s principal legal officer, the attorney general should know that racial profiling is bad policing, and that it drives an unnecessary wedge between law enforcement and the communities it protects," said ACLU of Florida director Howard Simon in a prepared statement.

Bondi, alongside 15 attorneys general from other states, signed a legal brief in support of the law in February.

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April 23, 2012

Florida Senate-race drama exposes GOP jitters

Jeff Atwater’s just-ended flirtation with a U.S. Senate bid speaks volumes about the nervousness of Florida Republicans these days.

The GOP’s best hope, Congressman Connie Mack, hasn’t been running the type of campaign many Republicans want to unseat a beatable Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson. Some wanted Atwater, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, to run. Others approached House Speaker Dean Cannon, who declined as did a wealthy no-name.

But the drama is about more than just Mack or the Senate race.

It’s about a Republican Party grappling with ebbing fortunes compared to the red-wave of an election year in 2010. It’s about a movement nagged by a sense of perpetual disappointment that stretches to the top of the ticket.

And it’s about the potentially colliding political agendas of Atwater, Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Column here

February 10, 2012

Florida gets $8.4 billion chunk of $25 billion mortgage settlement

A landmark mortgage settlement over the mishandling of millions of foreclosures nationwide could bring in billions of dollars in new housing aid for Florida homeowners, but critics of the long-awaited deal say the money isn’t nearly enough to help the millions of homeowners in hard-hit markets like South Florida.

“We’re looking at over 1 million [troubled] properties in Florida, and how many of them are going to be saved with these principal write-downs?” said Jack McCabe, CEO of McCabe Research and Consulting in Deerfield Beach, shortly after the national deal was announced Thursday. “I think that’s a precious few, maybe 20 percent.”

The $25 billion agreement was reached following 16 months of complex negotiations between 50 attorneys general and five major banks amid allegations of robo-signing and other abuses during the foreclosure crisis. Florida’s share: $8.4 billion, second only behind California.

Under terms of the settlement, Floridians who have lost their homes or have fallen underwater on their loans could receive a $2,000 check, a $20,000 mortgage reduction or a lower interest rate.

Read the rest of the story here.

@ToluseO