June 20, 2013

NRA launches email campaign to support bill banning firearms sale to mentally ill

Gun rights Marion Hammer, who for decades has fought laws that restrict firearms in Florida, is mounting a campaign to urge Gov. Rick Scott to sign a bill that will ban gun purchases –- for the mentally ill

Hammer, the powerful lobbyist for the National Rifle Association and United Sportsmen of Florida, has started an email “alert” to about 200,000 of the group’s members  urging them to “Please email Governor Scott right away and urge him to sign HB-1355.”

The blitz is necessary, she said, to “counter the barrage of emails” loaded with “patently false” information filling Scott's “Sunburst” email inbox.

Since the bill’s passage, the governor’s office has received at least 17,008 emails and 2,711 calls in opposition to the bill (as of June 19). Many of the emails are identical, except for names of  the senders. In contrast, Scott has received a dozen calls and one email in support of the bill.

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June 19, 2013

Poll: Florida voters not happy with Tallahassee, give gov and Legislature low marks

Maybe it's the out-of-sight, out-of-mind placement of the state Capitol. Maybe it's the sluggish economy and the stubborn unemployment numbers. Whatever the reason, the latest Quinnipiac University poll sends the signal that Florida voters are not happy with Tallahassee these days -- not that they really ever are.

When asked how voters feel about the job the state Legislature is doing, voters disapprove 49 to 32 percent. The numbers are predictably partisan for the Republican-led chamber: Democrats disapprove of the job lawmakers are doing 64 to 18 percent while Republicans approve 47 to 34 percent. But the telltale signal comes from crucial independent voters, who determine the fate of all statewide races in Florida. They disapprove of the job legislators are doing 48 to 33 percent.

On controversial issues, Florida voters are pretty clear where they stand:

    *They support expanding Medicaid to cover Floridians without health insurance by 49-40 percent, virtually unchanged from a similar March poll, a clear contradiction from the firm rejection of the issue by Republican legislative leaders.

    * Voters continue to support the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law, allowing people to fight back with deadly force when threatened, 57 to 36 percent. The issue remained untouched in the last legislative session.

    * Voters want to allow path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants 58 to 24 percent, a federal issue that Florida lawmakers can only tinker with.

    * And they oppose the governor’s veto of a non-controversial bill to make it easier for children of undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses, supporting the issue 59-32 percent. The governor surprised legislators by vetoing the bill which won near unanimous support. 

As for Gov. Rick Scott, voters are warming to the Republican governor but are still not thrilled: 43 percent approve of the job the governor is doing and 44 percent disapprove. That's up from a March Quinnipiac poll when 36 percent of voters approved of Scott's performance and 49 percent disapproved.


June 14, 2013

Scott's veto of mental health bill

Gov. Rick Scott's veto of a mental health bill this week not only surprised the Florida Legislature, which passed it unanimously, it contradicted the efforts of his own agency, the Department of Children and Families.

The bill, which would have shortened from five years to three years the time frame in which a judge would have to decide whether a person was mentally competent to stand trial, among other provisions, was rejected by Scott because reducing the time frame “could pose a serious public safety risk.”

What the veto letter didn't say was that Scott had been urged to veto the bill (SB 1420) by a lobbyist for the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association,  Buddy Jacobs, who argued that an amendment to the measure made it unacceptable to prosecutors because of the reduced time frame.

Now that the bill (SB 1420) has been vetoed, DCF’s spokesman Alexis Lambert said the department was "concurring with the governor” that shortening the time frame “could pose a public safety risk.” She wouldn’t comment on the lack of DCF opposition to the bill during the legislative process and assertions by the bill’s sponsors and a Broward County Judge that the department was involved “since its inception.”

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June 13, 2013

Scott signs bill to enforce federal cell phone ban for interstate truckers, bus drivers

Starting July 1, Florida’s  law enforcement officers can start ticketing interstate truck or bus drivers who will face hefty fines if they talk or text on hand-held devices.

Gov. Rick Scott has signed legislation (HB 7125) that gives officers the  power to enforce federal regulations that went into effect January 2012.

The law makes using hand-held devices a primary offense, which means officers can stop drivers who are texting or talking, a stronger violation than the state’s new texting while driving law for all motorists. The broader texting bill is a secondary offense, which means a driver has to be stopped for another violation first, and then will receive two tickets -- one for the initial offense, like careless driving, and the second for texting.

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June 12, 2013

Glitch in new law to abolish CCEs sets up a summer dead zone for fundraisers

Florida’s attempt to outlaw political slush funds has created a fundraising snafu that could inadvertently put political committees out of business for three months this summer – and potentially complicate fundraising for Miami’s mayoral race.

The new law, which took effect May 1 (HB 569), prohibits Committees of Continuous Existence from accepting contributions after July 31, allows unlimited amounts of money in the defunct CCE to be transferred to a political committee, but it doesn’t allow political committees to accept contributions of more than $500 from any contributor until Nov. 1.

It’s the law of unintended consequences and it is giving political activists heartburn.

“Most of what happens between Aug. 1 and November is going to be dead time,’’ said John French, a Tallahassee lawyer and expert on elections law. “There’s a very Zen-like nature to this bill. It’s really unfortunate.”

But what may be dead time for most elected officials is heavy duty campaign season for the Nov. 5 election for the City of Miami mayor and commission seats.

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June 10, 2013

Bill to preempt local control of 'sick time' reaches governor

A bill that may serve as a litmus test on Gov. Rick Scott's view of government reached his desk today, giving the governor 15 days to decide whether to sign or reject HB 655, which preempts local control over issues such as "sick time" and wages and replaces it with regulation from Tallahassee.

The Florida Legislature passed the measure largely along party lines as Democrats opposed and the Republican-controlled leadership of the House and Senate embraced the view of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and other business-backed groups. They argued that leaving living wage regulation to local governments was bad for business.

Since then, a bi-partisan stream of opposition has reached the governor's desk, particularly from Miami where Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado joined with other local government officials and labor union reps to urge the governor to veto the measure. 

It's also a classic test of political consistency. When it comes to Washington v. Tallahassee, many of the advocates of the bill say they prefer government closest to the people. But when it's Tallahassee v. local government, the argument changes -- usually depending on the business lobby. 


June 07, 2013

British firm could get early victory in legal fight with Monroe County if Scott signs property tax bill

A bill on Gov. Rick Scott’s desk could save a British company millions of dollars, while stymieing the Monroe County Property Appraiser’s office and setting a new precedent for calculating property taxes at privatize military housing. 

SB 354, which passed the Legislature with bipartisan support last month, clarifies key provisions in Florida’s tax code, determining who is--and who isn't--eligible for property tax exemptions. 

Those provisions are at the heart of a pending lawsuit between the Monroe County Property Appraiser and Southeast Housing, the subsidiary of UK-based Balfour Beatty Communities. 

Monroe County sent Southeast Housing a bill for more than $11 million in back property taxes last year, after discovering that the company was renting units to civilians instead of exclusively to the military. Southeast took ownership of 890 Key West housing units from the U.S. Navy in 2007, under a deal inked through the U.S. Military Housing Privatization Initiative. 

Southeast had been operating free of property taxes for several years, before Monroe County said the exemption was not appropriate. The property appraiser says Southeast should not get a government exemption since it is operating units for civilians.

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Bracy defends need for Dreamer law, says highway safety policy is inadequate

The House sponsor of HB 235, which was vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott this week, defended the bill as necessary to expedite the ability of children of illegal immigrants to obtain drivers licenses under the law, despite allegations to the contrary by the Florida Department of Highway Safety.

Rep. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, said he sponsored the bill -- which passed the House and Senate with only two no votes -- to make it easier for children who qualify to get drivers licenses without having to wait for their federal documents, which often can take months. Scott vetoed the bill at the request of his Tea Party following, saying it relied on an administrative policy that hadn't been approved by Congress. 

"As a result of Governor Scott’s veto, some people may have to wait a year before they can drive,'' Bracy wrote in a letter to Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles director Julie Jones. "A year can mean lost wages because of no transportation.  A year could mean a wasted opportunity of a year of learning. That may not seem like a long time, but to the people of the immigrant community who have been waiting for this opportunity their entire life, this wait could be an eternity!"

Here's Bracy's letter:

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Gov and GOP leaders use hurricane season start to blast DC over sequester cuts

As the first tropical storm of the season bore down on Florida Thursday, Republican state officials seized the moment to blast Washington and warn that the required budget cuts to federal programs could impede the state’s ability to respond to hurricanes or floods.

Gov. Rick Scott had just mentioned Tropical Storm Andrea at his briefing with reporters Thursday morning when he launched into a critique of the federal budget storm that is causing the Florida National Guard to order 993 of its full-time staff to go to a four-day work week beginning July 1.

Known as sequestration, the across-the-board cuts were agreed to between President Obama and the Republican-controlled Congress in 2011 to resolve the debt ceiling standoff. Now, Scott, Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford have written to Congress and the Department of Defense asking them to exempt National Guard staff from the mandatory cuts because of Florida’s hurricane season.

“It doesn’t make any sense why they’re doing it this way,’’ Scott said, adding that the defense department could have excluded the National Guard from the budget cuts. “I’m very concerned about our preparedness. … It will take more days to be up to speed.” More here. 


June 06, 2013

Sen. President Gaetz joins long list of Republicans questioning $52M deal for Scott contributor

Senate President Don Gaetz is calling for special hearings on the $52 million special deal between Citizens Property Insurance and a politically connected upstart insurance company, the latest sign of legislative angst with the state-run insurer.

Last month, Citizens agreed to transfer $52 million to Heritage Property and Casualty, a nine-month old insurance company that has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbying and political donations to top Republicans, including Gov. Rick Scott.

“The Florida Senate believes the facts and circumstances surrounding the Heritage transaction need thorough investigation so the people of Florida are assured that it and transactions like it are in the best interest of Floridians,” Gaetz, R-Niceville, said in a statement. “As such, as soon as Committee meetings begin this fall, the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee will conduct hearings to investigate and propose ]solutions to the concerns raised by this transaction and any others that might result from Citizens’ attempts to reduce its liabilities.”

Gaetz joins a long list of top Republican lawmakers questioning the $52 million cash transfer from Citizens to a private insurer. House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said he was “highly concerned” about the deal and would call on a House committee to provide more oversight for Citizens. Gov. Rick Scott’s chief of staff called the board at Citizens “tone-deaf” when it comes to earning public confidence (Heritage donated $100,000 to Scott’s reelection in March, as the $52 million deal was being crafted, but Scott’s office denies pay-to-play). Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater also criticized the hastily approved 3-2 vote by the Citizens board to support the unique deal. Scott refused to answer questions this week about whether he supported the deal for his political contributor or not. 

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, has called the deal “corporate welfare” and Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, called it a “get rich” funding scheme. Critics say the deal allows Heritage to retroactively cherry pick policies that have made no claims, thus privatizing profits and socializing losses. They also pointed to a long list of insurance violations at companies run by Heritage's president, Richard Widdicombe

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