June 24, 2011

Mike Haridopolos concerned re: SunRail. Rick Scott's new staff chief in a bind

The strange politics of rail continue in Florida. Now, it's SunRail, the Central Florida commuter line approved in late 2009 by the Legislature. Current Senate President Mike Haridopolos voted for the project then. He's now a U.S. Senate candidate and has decided to raise fresh concerns about the project in a letter that puts Gov. Rick Scott on the spot.

Some tea party folks hate SunRail, and want Scott to block the project, just as he did with a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando. The difference between the two projects: SunRail puts Florida taxpayers far more directly on the hook than high-speed rail.

But House Speaker Dean Cannon and the Central Florida power structure want SunRail desperately. And Scott's decision to cancel the project would be a political bombshell. So, in a perfect tea-party world, Scott would cancel it. But this isn't a perfect tea party world.

That's especially true for Haridopolos' former chief of staff, Steve MacNamara. As Haridopolos top exec, he would have approved the letter that highlights Scott's tough position. The letter was delivered yesterday. Today is MacNamara's first day on the job -- working as Scott's chief of staff. So now he has to explain to his new boss why he helped usher in this spot of controversy that the governor's office has to deal with.

Then there's Cannon. He has endorsed Haridopolos, but on the last day of session he put the Senate President through the ringer. Now, as Haridopolos moves a little to the right on the rail issue and takes the mantle of fiscal watchdog from Scott, he can enjoy a little incidental gigging of his counterpart in the Legislature. That's likely not Haridopolos' motivation, but it's a bit of a political-paybacks plus.

Here's the letter Download Sunrail_eog:

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May 10, 2011

May 06, 2011

We're in overtime! The anatomy of a session meltdown

Bitter and exhausted, Republicans in the Florida Legislature officially extended the 2011 lawmaking session into overtime late Friday as the House and Senate began killing each other's bills unexpectedly. UPDATE Session actually ended at 3:34 a.m

"It's an enormous power struggle," said Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico. She blamed the meltdown on the proliferation of conference reports, the product of joint House-Senate committees.

In all, legislative leaders wanted rank-and-file lawmakers to pass 44 conference reports. Some of the legislation was decided in the final days, was written by a few lawmakers and made major policy changes that irked those who weren't on the inside. The frustration and suspicion created a political powder keg, and despite the fact that Republicans overwhelmingly control both chambers of the Legislature, they ran out of time and patience with each other.

"It just didn't work out," Senate President Mike Haridopolos said early Saturday morning. "We would rather get it right then get out on time."

Haridopolos said his chamber will only pass one more bill: HB 7023, a $126 million tax-cut and economic development package.

"Ill sleep in my office. And if they just send over tax relief, we can go home," Haridopolos said.

Continue reading "We're in overtime! The anatomy of a session meltdown" »

April 30, 2011

Big-money doc donors to Scott, Cannon, Haridopolos try to kill pill price-fixing

n the opening days of the lawmaking session, two low-profile South Florida doctors helped funnel $70,000 to politicians and political groups, bringing their total contributions to an eye-opening $3 million in just one year.

In the next two days, as lawmakers hammer out the state budget, it’ll become clear if doctors Paul Zimmerman and Gerald Glass will get a return on their political investments.

The two doctors are the founders of a Miramar-based company called Automated Healthcare Solutions, which sells software that workers-compensation doctors use to dispense medications in their office.

But that profitable practice could be undermined by a little-debated provision slipped into an under-the-radar Senate budget bill at the behest of the insurance lobby, which says that doctors who dispense in-house are driving up the workers-compensation costs.

The dispute is just one example of how the agendas of special-interests crop up with little discussion and tie up state lawmakers as they try to write the state budget.

The workers comp language doesn’t exist in the House, where the political committees run by House Speaker Dean Cannon and budget chief Denise Grimsley each received $10,000 from Automated Health Care Solutions just before the start of the lawmaking session, when fundraising is banned.

Why did the doctors contribute so much?

“Because I’m a nice person,” smiled Grimsley, a Sebring Republican who’s one of the most well-liked legislators in the Capitol. 

Zimmerman and Glass have given more than $1 million to the Republican Party of Florida, $615,000 to a committee once run by Haridopolos, $610,000 to two committees linked to Cannon, $295,000 to Scott’s political committee and $60,000 to the Florida Democratic Party.

More here

 

Dean Cannon's 6-day, $364k fundraising binge

Boy, did we miss this. House Speaker Dean Cannon's new political committee, Florida Freedom Council, pulled in $364,500 in just one week before the start of session. The Capitol Press Corps can't complain because some of the money was used to purchase Press Skit tickets, clearly a political manuever that ensured freedom in Florida for the "council."

The contributors are a who's who of who wants what during the legislative session:

 $  25,000.00 BLUE CROSS BLUE SHIELD OF FLORIDA
 $  25,000.00 THE GEO GROUP, INC
 $  25,000.00 REALTORS PAC FLORIDA
 $  25,000.00 UNITED STATES SUGAR CORPORATION
 $    2,500.00 FLORIDA PODIATRY PAC
 $    5,000.00 JAKS TRUST, LLC
 $    7,500.00 RIVERSTONE CLAIMS MANAGEMENT, LLC
 $    5,000.00 DAVID GRIFFIN CONSULTING
 $  25,000.00 MARSHALL THOMAS BURNETT, PL
 $  25,000.00 INTERNATIONAL INTERNET TECHNOLOGIES, LLC
 $  25,000.00 FLORIDA MEDICAL ASSOCIATION, PAC
 $  20,000.00 MILLENNIUM LABORATORIES, INC
 $  10,000.00 AUTOMATED HEALTHCARE SOLUTIONS, LLC
 $    5,000.00 HCR MANORCARE
 $    5,000.00 HOMEWISE MANAGEMENT COMPANY
 $    5,000.00 HOMEWISE MANAGEMENT COMPANY
 $  25,000.00 DISNEY WORLDWIDE SERVICES, INC
 $    5,000.00 MEADOWBROOK, INC
 $  10,000.00 UNITED GROUP UNDERWRITERS, INC
 $  10,000.00 DOSAL TOBACCO CORPORATION
 $    5,000.00 SOUTHERN FIDELITY INSURANCE COMPANY
 $    5,000.00 CAPITOL PREFERRED INSURANCE COMPANY, INC
 $    5,000.00 HEALTH MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATES
 $  15,000.00 HARTMAN & TYNER, INC
 $    5,000.00 LARRY J OVERTON & ASSOCIATES, INC
 $    2,000.00 FLORIDA HORSEMEN'S BENEVOLENT AND PROTECTIVE ASSOCIATION/PAC
 $    5,000.00 AZTEC GROUP, INC
 $    2,500.00 ACTION FOR BEHAVIORAL HEALTHCARE
 $  25,000.00 FLORIDA CRYSTAL CORPORATION
 $    5,000.00 PREFERRED CARE PARTNERS HOLDING CORP

House zips through approval of environmental permitting overhaul

With head-spinning speed, the Florida House took up and passed a major rewrite of state environmental permitting laws late Friday that Florida conservation groups had warned could be one of the worst environmental bills in decades.

The time spent discussing, amending and voting on the 80-page bill just before the House was scheduled to adjourn at 8 p.m.: 7 minutes.

In that time, lawmakers accepted six amendments that attempt to mitigate environmentalists’ concerns over provisions they had described as a “monstrous threat to the environment.” They added the content of another bill making it easier for ports to dredge to accommodate bulkier ships. And they removed a section that prevented the ability of citizens to challenge environmentally-sensitive projects.

House Speaker Dean Cannon, with the cadence of an auctioneer, then recognized bill sponsor Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, for a brief explanation, accepted no questions or debate, and the House voted 95-16 to send it to the Senate.

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April 28, 2011

Senate leaders arm twisting to help Dean Cannon's court jihad

Senate leaders are working hard to rally the votes for a court reform bill today that is getting heavy pushback from several Republican senators.

The Senate needs 24 of the 40 senators to pass the bill and the fate of a budget deal is hinged on its passage. Although there are 28 Republicans in the Senate, several have been unwilling to embrace the top priority bill of House Speaker Dean Cannon which is aggressively opposed by the Florida Bar.

Throughout the day, Senate leaders have been button-holing their Republican colleagues on the floor of the Senate. They have persuaded some members who have previously opposed the bill to sign on by agreeing to withdraw an anti-union bill that would have banned unions from using payroll deduction to collect their dues.

 “I’m with leadership,’’ said Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach. “The budget is the most important thing we do. We need to get it done.”

 “They don’t have the votes to take the bill up,’’ said Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, an opponent of the bill.

 “The Legislature has enough to worry about in getting our budget together, in getting people back to work and I don’t think we came in here with the idea that we have to do massive reform of the court system,’’ she said. “There doesn’t appear to be any problem, the case load has been reduced and here we are meddling in the business of the Supreme Court when nobody from the court system has come nad asked use to do that. So there’s no problem. It’s a pretty expensive solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.”

 Former Fort Lauderdale state Sen. Walter “Skip” Campbell, who came the Tallahassee to lobby against the bill, said he believes Republicans are pursuing the bill not because they believe it’s a pressing need for Florida but because they want to load the 2012 ballot with issues that will force lawyers to spend money to try to defeat it.

“The reason why they are putting all these constitutional amendments on the ballot is so that money will be spent and diverted from candidates to issues,’’ he said.

 

April 26, 2011

Transparency? Mike Haridopolos, Dean Cannon ink budget deal after secret talks, public acrimony

So much for transparency. An announcement from Senate President Mike Haridopolos about the results of private budget talks with House Speaker Dean Cannon about budget allocations, which are here Download Allocations 4-26-11:

 TALLAHASSEE – Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos (R-Melbourne) and Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon (R-Winter Park) today announced an agreement on allocations for the 2011-2012 state budget.

"Resolving a budget shortfall of nearly $4 billion is a tall order, but I’m pleased the House and Senate worked through this difficult process," said Speaker Cannon. "Our allocations ensure that we preserve our bond ratings by maintaining adequate reserves. Most importantly, we do not take money out of the struggling Florida economy by increasing taxes or fees."

"While many states and the federal government are floundering under crushing deficit spending, we kept our promise that we would not raise taxes or fees during these difficult economic times," President Haridopolos added. "For months, I've heard over and over again that we would never be able to get this done. Working as a team, the House and Senate, reached these budget allocations on behalf of all Floridians.”

President Haridopolos and Speaker Cannon plan to announce budget conferees later today. Budget conference will begin on Wednesday April 27, 2011.

April 25, 2011

Update - Thurston: Cannon tried to make a deal to win bi-partisan support for court bill

House Speaker Dean Cannon’s attempt to play hardball on the budget Monday with his top priority court reform bill wasn't the first time the speaker has used political pressure and deal-making to advance his priority bill.

Rep. Perry Thurston of Plantation, the incoming Democratic leader, told the Herald/Times Monday that Cannon called him into his office April 12, two days before the court reform bill was to be debated on the House floor.

He wanted to know if Thurston, as incoming Democratic leader, and the Democratic caucus “could get him 10 to 15 votes for his court packing bill, and five people to speak on behalf of it,” Thurston said. “He said your ability to deliver will affect redistricting and the budget.’’

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Is Mike Haridopolos' Senate flip-flopping on budget?

Senate budget chief JD Alexander's decision to tee off on House Speaker Dean Cannon could blow up -- on Mike Haridopolos, the Senate president and candidate for U.S. Senate.

First, the budget impasse makes on on-time finish less likely. And that's bad news for a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate who wants to hit the campaign trail and have voters judge him on his record.

Secondly, the House has released a detail of the negotiations that suggest Alexander is over-riding Haridopolos. That could make the Senate president subject to claims that he's not running his chamber, etc. Here's the sheet: Download Most Recent Allocation Offers[1]

Here's the House version of what's happening and what has happened. It was sent by email to House members by Appropriations Chair Denise Grimsley:

I wanted to take a few moments to update you on the budget process. At this point, we have been unable to reach common allocations with the Senate.

Attached you will find spreadsheets that detail the recent series of offers and counter offers between the chambers. There remain a number of outstanding issues including the degree of higher education funding and the scope of the reduction to the Florida Retirement System.

Prior to the start of the Senate’s week-long recess, the House made an offer that had the two chambers only $155 million apart. We were optimistic that this offer would put us in striking distance of starting budget conference this week. Unfortunately, in each subsequent offer we have received, the Senate opened up previously agreed on issues and moved further and further away to the point where the last Senate offer places the House and Senate $425 million apart.

I fully embrace the need to be flexible and work toward a mutually beneficial outcome. However, while I am serving as the Appropriations Chair, the House will not engage in a one-sided conversation that leaves us negotiating against ourselves.

I am hopeful that we will bring this process to a close, but I am committed to ensuring that we do not allow deadlines to influence our policymaking. The House will continue to advocate for a responsible budget that balances critical needs and ensures adequate reserves. We will also continue to insist that the budget be balanced on real, provable reductions and actuarially sound policies.

I will continue to update you as the process unfolds.