November 01, 2011

Scott, Cabinet get lots of bad insurance news

TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet got a lot of news about Florida's insurance industry Tuesday, and all of it was bad.  

State Consumer Advocate Robin Westcott, who works for CFO Jeff Atwater, reported that a work group on car insurance fraud completed its work without finding common ground on reform. "Nobody agreed on anything," Westcott said of the panel of representatives of doctors, hospitals, clinics, lawyers, and consumers. "Everybody was interested in protecting their access to this benefit."

Florida motorists are required to carry $10,000 of personal injury protection, but corruption is so rampant in the PIP program that one Miami-Dade insurer charges annual premiums of more than $3,000 (the same coverage cost $500 just three years ago). "That's crazy," Scott said, calling PIP "a $900 million tax" on Floridians. Tampa and Miami are among the nation's leading PIP fraud centers, as profiteering motorists stage accidents and file phony claims, working in collusion with pain clinics, chiropractors and lawyers. 

State officials voiced criticism that the task force could not get detailed information on claims from car insurance companies. PIP fraud is now hitting taxpayers' pocketbooks so hard that it promises to be a major issue in the 2012 legislative session, as special interests fight over a pot of money consumers pay. But Westcott's work group couldn't provide any path to a solution.

On property insurance, the picture was equally gloomy, with the only consolation the fact that another unusually quiet hurricane season is coming to an end. Scott Wallace, chairman of Citizens Property Insurance Corp., said the state-run insurer of last resort would have to impose $1,100 assessments on homeowners to pay for a catastrophic once-in-100-years hurricane. Citizens insures 1.4 million Florida policyholders.

Gov. Scott got Wallace to concede that many struggling homeowners could never afford to pay that, meaning they would default on their mortgages and lose their homes. "You would never organize your life like this," Scott said.   

-- Steve Bousquet

April 14, 2011

Cabinet heads to Panama City next week for anniversary of BP oil spill

Cabinet members have moved their Tuesday meeting to Panama City, marking the eve of the BP oil spill's one-year anniversary.

Gov. Rick Scott, hammered this week by critics who want him to take tough legal action against BP, will extend his visit through Wednesday to talk to Pnahandle residents about their recovery and remaining problems.

Cabinet members Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam are also planning oil spill-related events.

"The governor wants to have the Cabinet meeting in Panama City to showcase the region and show that Florida’s beaches are beautiful, the seafood is great and encourage people from all over the world to visit the Sunshine State," said Scott spokeswoman Amy Graham. Details of the events have not been finalized, she said.

The agenda is light on official business.

Members will honor Mike Jones, the security officer credited with saving Bay District School Board members' lives when a gunman stormed into their meeting. Jones shot the gunman, Clay Duke, several times after Duke opened fire on the superintendent and members. No one died except Duke, who shot himself in the head after Jones shot him. 

The meeting will be at 1 p.m. at the Bay County Government Center, 840 W. 11th St.

March 09, 2011

Scott, Cabinet OK new clemency restrictions

Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet approved a new policy on clemency Wednesday that will require many ex-felons to wait five years before they can seek restoration of their civil rights. The new policy erases the streamlining of the Jim Crow-era clemency process, adopted four years ago by former Gov. Charlie Crist and a different Cabinet.

The vote was 4-0 as Scott was joined by Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. All four officials are Republicans.

Scott said the changes would "protect public safety and create incentives to avoid criminal activity." He said people convicted of felonies should be required to submit an application to regain the right to vote, serve on a jury, run for public office or hold one of dozens of professional licenses.

The policy allows non-violent offenders to regain their rights without a hearing after being crime-free for five years after being released from prison. For certain classes of violent offenders that require clemency hearings, the waiting period is seven years.

A delegation of Florida sheriffs, police chiefs and prosecutors spoke in favor of the changes. The new policy, in a 24-page rule change, was originally spearheaded by Bondi, a former Hillsborough County prosecutor. "I believe that there should be a waiting period, and I believe someone should have to ask for their rights to be restored," Bondi said.

"The application process ensures accountability," said Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger, a supporter of the new policy.

Critics said the change would worsen Florida's high rate of recidivism because ex-offenders will now face new barriers in trying to become productive citizens. "Once a person has paid their debt they should be quickly and fully integrated back into the community," said Danielle Prendergast of the ACLU of Florida. The NAACP, League of Women Voters and Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho also spoke against the new policy.

State Sens. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, and Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, spoke in opposition, as did Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee. Siplin criticized the Cabinet for tight restrictions on public testimony. Before speedily adopting the new policy, the board limited testimony to 30 minutes, with no speaker permitted more than two minutes of speaking time.

"Why the rush to go back to where we started from?" Joyner asked.

-- Steve Bousquet

March 02, 2011

ACLU, NAACP meet with Bondi on civil rights issues

Leaders of the ACLU and NAACP met with Attorney General Pam Bondi Tuesday to lodge their concerns over a Bondi proposal to impose lengthy waiting periods for ex-offenders seeking to regain their civil rights.

Bondi opposes the current streamlined civil rights restoration process instituted four years ago by Gov. Charlie Crist and the Cabinet. She says all petitions for clemency should come before the governor and Cabinet, sitting as the Board of Executive Clemency, following a wait period of three to five years. Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet are expected to approve Bondi's changes March 8.

ACLU of Florida executive director Howard Simon called it a "crisis" that hundreds of thousands of discharged ex-felons in Florida still can't vote, serve on a jury or hold any of dozens of professional licenses. He called it an "ugly" legacy of a post-Civil War constitutional convention that sought to block freed slaves from voting. Simon said giving ex-cons their rights back will increase their chances of becoming productive citizens and reducing the recidivism rate in state prisons.

"This is a huge problem for the state of Florida," Simon told reporters afterward. "We're only going to increase the problem by delaying the period of time for the restoration of civil rights."

Joining Simon at the meeting with Bondi was Dale Landry, leader of the NAACP Tallahassee branch.  The two men praised Bondi for meeting with them and for her support for "de-coupling" the civil rights restoration process from an ex-felon's application for job licenses. 

-- Steve Bousquet

February 14, 2011

Poll: Floridians unhappy, impatient and pessimistic about state's economy

A majority of Floridians are increasingly pessimistic about the future of the state, agree with Gov. Rick Scott that state government is wasteful, disagree with him that tax cuts and immigration reform are the solution, and believe that the state's business and elected leaders rarely have the state's best interest at heart, according to a new poll commissioned by Leadership Florida.

According to the survey of 1,220 Floridians between Jan. 3 and 16 by The Nielsen Company, 45 percent of respondents say the state is in worse shape than five  ago or is getting worse. No surprise there since five years ago Florida was at the peak of its real estate bubble and the economy hadn't tanked. What is surprising is the response they have to years of job creation efforts by everyone from local officials to the state Legislature and Cabinet: 55 percent say the state is doing a poor job creating jobs.

That's either going to be music to the ears of the "Let's Get to Work" governor, or a warning that Floridians are terribly impatient, said John Streitmatter, chairman of Leadership Florida, the non-profit leadership training organization.

“Because Gov. Rick Scott has identified job creation as his top priority and Floridians say it is their top priority as well, these survey results would seem to indicate an opportunity for him,” Streitmatter said in a statement. “At the same time, Floridians have told us they are also very impatient with all levels of government right now, which means that today’s challenge could very quickly turn into tomorrow’s disappointment for the governor and the people.”

Continue reading "Poll: Floridians unhappy, impatient and pessimistic about state's economy" »

January 19, 2011

December 07, 2010

Jim Morrison pardon: Crist and Bronson, yeah; Sink and McCollum, maybe

The vote for a posthumous pardon of rock 'n' roll icon Jim Morrison now stands at two yes and two maybes.

Gov. Charlie Crist and Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson said Tuesday that they each would support exonerating the lead singer for The Doors for his 1969 indency conviction when it comes up on the agenda of the final Clemency Board meeting on Thursday. But Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Attorney General Bill McCollum, who each said two weeks ago that they would consider the pardon, now say they are still pondering their response. All four of them leave office in January.

"I have not thought about much of the pardons that are going on,or commutations, or any of that sort of thing,'' McCollum said after a marathon final Cabinet meeting of the year on Tuesday. "I will reserve judgment on all of those until then."

Continue reading "Jim Morrison pardon: Crist and Bronson, yeah; Sink and McCollum, maybe " »

November 09, 2010

Bronson, Putnam discuss Ag transition

Agriculture Commissioner-elect Adam Putnam spoke with reporters today alongside sitting commissioner Charles Bronson about the upcoming transition in the Agriculture Department. Putnam, a five-term congressman from Bartow, has set up a office in the Capitol and is now reviewing applications and ideas for the department along with his transition team. 104_0228

Putnam pledged to work on food safety, water policy and consumer protection. He added that Bronson's legacy is his work on his "farm to fuel" initiative that encourages farmers to produce energy from biomass. "Before any other elected official was talking about it, this department was leading the way with farm to fuel discussions and summits and innovation that is leading to real capital investment in Florida," he said.

Putnam noted that two longtime Department of Agriculture staffers have left (he called it a loss for the department and a gain for the Senate) and speculated that there will be other employees who choose to move to other opportunities.

September 24, 2010

Poll: GOP up in Cabinet races, Amend 8 DOA, Hometown Dem might pass

The Republican candidates in the three races for Florida Cabinet are gaining traction with independent voters and slightly leading their Democratic rivals, according to a new poll that suggests 2010 is shaping up to be a good year for conservatives.

But it’s not a cakewalk.

The leads of Pam Bondi for attorney general, Adam Putnam for agriculture commissioner and Jeff Atwater for chief financial officer are well within the 4-percentage point error-margin of the Mason-Dixon Research & Associates survey of likely Florida voters.

The poll shows far clearer results when it comes to the Legislature’s plan to scale back a constitutional limit on classroom sizes. It appears headed for certain defeat at the Nov. 2 polls. Another proposed Constitutional Amendment, which would give citizens a vote in growth management plans, has a fair chance of passing.

While the Cabinet races are far tougher to predict, the poll indicates Republicans are enjoyed the support of voters with no party affiliation – the crucial swing vote in Florida.

“It’s a subtle sign that this is looking like a Republican year,’’ said Brad Coker, Mason-Dixon pollster. “I don’t think there’s a Democratic pollster out there who isn’t seeing this and who isn’t worried about it.”

Continue reading "Poll: GOP up in Cabinet races, Amend 8 DOA, Hometown Dem might pass" »

August 26, 2010

McCollum: 'I still have serious questions' about Scott

Bill McCollum called Rick Scott Wednesday to congratulate him on his victory in the GOP primary -- but he refused to endorse him in the race.

"I still have serious questions ... about issues with his character, his integrity, his honestly, things that go back to Columbia/HCA and I have not had the occasion to really actually even get acquainted with him," McCollum said after the Cabinet meeting. "As other voters will do I will judge him throughout this campaign."

So much for GOP unity ...

McCollum said he also spoke to Democrat Alex Sink and independent candidate Bud Chiles. He declined to go into detail about any of the conversations.