December 02, 2014

Consumers still most annoyed by violators of the Do Not Call List

Violators of the statewide Do No Call List, problems at the gas pump and motor vehicle repair problems were the top three complaints received in November at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The majority of the 2,965 complaints received concerned the pesky calls consumers want to avoid.

The agriculture department added 12,396 telephone numbers to Florida's Do Not Call list in November -- bringing the number of consumers on the list to 737,000, compared to the 71,460 phone numbers on the statewide list in 2012.

It's now free to add your name to the list but that wasn't the case two years ago when the legislature, prompted by Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam, dropped the $10 registration fee and $5 annual fee for individuals to sign up for the statewide Do Not Call list during the 2012 session.

The top calls to the agriculture and consumer services department's hotline in November were related to cable companies, the solicitation of contributions from charities and the Do Not Call list, said agency spokesmanErin Gillepsie. The agency recovered $487,934 on behalf of Florida consumers in November, she said.

To report fraud, call the agency's consumer protection and information hotline at 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) or, for Spanish speakers, 1-800-FL-AYUDA (352-9832).

 

December 01, 2014

Movers & Shakers

Smart move:  Ryan Smart started a new job on Monday as president of 1000 Friends of Florida, the state's advocacy organization for livable communities, working in the group's Tallahassee office.

Smart "will jump start our reinvigorated focus on managing our state's water resources, including our springs, and strengthening the resiliency of coastal infrastructure," 1000 Friends Chairman Tim Jackson said in a statement.

Smart has recently managed the Florida Conservation Coalition and he was previously a program and special project director with the Consumer Credit Housing Services of Delray Beach.

Leaving the bench: Miami-Dade County Judge Gladys Pérez is joining Shutts & Bowen as a partner in the firm's  class action and mass litigation defense practice group,

Before becoming a judge, she served in Tallahassee as assistant general counsel to former Govs. Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist; as an assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division of the Florida Office of the Attorney General; and as a senior staff attorney for the Fourth District Court of Appeal.

In CFO Office: Michelle Dahnke, the governor's former deputy communications director, has been appointed the deputy chief financial officer of the Florida Department of Financial Services by state CFO Jeff Atwater.

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Richardson the first openly gay representative to hold House leadership post

State Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, has been selected as the Democratic Floor Leader by House Democratic leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, and Democratic Leader pro tempore, Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville. Richardson will be the first openly gay representative in Florida history to serve in a leadership position in the Florida legislature, according to House Democrats. 

Here's the Democrats' press statement:

Richardson, D-Miami Beach, was the first openly gay member ever elected to the Florida Legislature when he was elected on August 14, 2012. Richardson has been a licensed CPA in Florida for 30 years and began his career as a Pentagon auditor identifying fraud, waste and abuse in government contracts. He was re-elected earlier this year to represent House District 113 for his second two-year term and is the only openly gay member of the Florida Legislature. Richardson joins the leadership team that will guide policy and action for House Democrats. As Floor Leader, he will serve as the chief liaison between the Democratic Leader and the Office of the Speaker. Richardson will also serve as ranking member on the House Rules, Calendar & Ethics Committee. In that role, Richardson will work on daily schedules of action for the House. Richardson will also manage, in conjunction with Republican leaders, floor debate on bills and amendments.

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November 14, 2014

Judge rejects lottery for medical marijuana growers; orders health department to write new rules

An administrative law judge on Friday ordered the Florida Department of Health to start over and map out a new plan for growing, processing and selling a form of medical marijuana, known as Charlotte's Web.

Judge W. David Watkins of the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings, rejected the idea of a controversial lottery to pick the nurseries that would grow the plants, a decision that could impact when the marijuana oil will be available to patients.

Watkins stated in his order that after reviewing chemical and safety issues and testimony from growers,  "I knew that the lottery became strictly a chance-based scenario and it wasn't merit-based or experience-based. And to me, I had to object to it."

The state legislature, in its last session, legalized Charlotte's Web, which is low in THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and high in CBD (cannabidiol) for patients with seizures, severe and persistent muscle spasms and cancer. The "Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014," requires the health department to have rules in effect by Jan. 1, 2015.

 

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November 13, 2014

State committee examines Florida's share of the gaming industry

The closing of Dania Casino & Jai-Alai's gaming operation is expected to cost the state an estimated $3 million in tax revenue, a state committee reported on Thursday.

The Revenue Estimating Conference looked at money received from slot machines and Indian gaming in one of its three meetings of the year -- the last gaming forecast meeting was in July.

Gaming revenues grow about 1.5 percent per year, said Amy Baker, coordinator of the state Office of Economic & Demographic Research. The forecast is slightly lower for the upcoming year because of the loss of the Dania Beach gambling. The state revenue from slot machines is an estimated $181.7 million though figures were adjusted slightly at Thursday's meeting and the final numbers aren't yet available. 

While jai-alai games are continuing at the longtime Dania Beach facility until Dec. 30th, the slots have already been shut down. The casino has announced that it would close for at least a year for a $50 million renovation. The Miami Herald reported in August the facility had the worst revenue performance in the South Florida gaming market.

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November 12, 2014

Report finds Florida has fifth best business tax climate but TaxWatch says there's a need for reforms

A new national report ranks Florida's business tax climate as fifth best in the nation, but it doesn't reflect the whole picture of the state's tax system, according to Florida TaxWatch.

"In a couple areas, it overstates the quality of Florida's tax structure," Kurt Wenner, vice president of Tax Research for Florida TaxWatch, said. "There's always room for improvement."

Florida's ranking was published in the 2015 State Business Tax Climate Index, an annual report that analyzes how tax structures compare across states.

Florida's high ranking is largely due to its not having a personal income tax, the most heavily weighted tax in the Index, according to TaxWatch, a nonprofit tax research group supported by many of the state's largest businesses.

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November 10, 2014

Movers & Shakers

Dominguez takes over as regional director of external affairs in Miami

Alex Dominguez has been named the new regional director of external affairs for the city of Miami and South Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. Domingues previously served as the director of the Miami-Dade County Legislative Delegation. 

He has also had roles as the director of fundraising and membership development for the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, the South Florida political coordinator for the Florida Association of Realtors and he was a Florida House Legislative Fellow.

In his position, Dominguez will handle legislative and community affairs initiatives. He will also assist with new technology deployment and infrastructure investment.

On the bench

Judge Rodolfo Ruiz II and Jason Bloch have been appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to Miami-Dade County's Eleventh Judicial Circuit.

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November 06, 2014

Bipartisan coalition to push for ban against anti-gay and LGBT discrimination in the workplace

Looking ahead to the 2015 legislative session, Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce has hired a team of bipartisan political operatives to push for a ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

President Obama's top 2012 Florida strategist, Ashley Walker, will be campaign manager of the coalition. She'll be joined by longtime Republican lobbyist TowsonFraser, who was communications director for former House Speaker Allan Bense; Ann Herberger, a Miami-based Republican fundraiser and an advisor to former Gov. Jeb Bush; and Christina Johnson, a Tallahassee public relations executive who worked with the Republican Party of Florida and the Republican National Committee.

Johnson said she's not aware of any new legislation banning anti-gay and gender discrimination being filed yet for the 2015 session.

A bill to eliminate sexual orientation and gender identity, supported by Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce, failed to pass the 2014 legislature.

The House version was sponsored by Rep. Holly Merrill Raschein, a Key Largo Republican, and Rep. Joe Saunders, an openly gay Democrat from Orlando, who was defeated on Election Day. A Senate version of the measure was sponsored by Sen. Joe Abruzzo, D-Wellington.

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October 29, 2014

Marijuana supporters blast latest web ad from opponents

With less than a week until the election, supporters and opponents of Amendment 2, which would allow marijuana for medical use, are still waging a fierce battle to sway voters.

Amendment 2 advocates, United for Care, is blasting the latest salvo from the Drug Free Florida Committee. The political action committee on Wednesday launched a web ad featuring Polk County Sheriff Gray Judd.

Judd's message is that Amendment 2 "gives teens legal access to pot. Make no mistake. Teen drug use will rise. They don't call Amendment 2 the pot for teens amendment but they should."

United for Care campaign manager Ben Pollara responded with a press release stating that "medical marijuana opponents have decided they can't win by telling the truth. You don't have to take my word for it - independent, objective observers have clearly demonstrated that the claims made by the No on 2 campaign are untruthful.

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October 27, 2014

Report: Florida leads nation in disenfranchising offenders released from prison

The Sentencing Project has released a report showing that Florida has the highest felony disenfranchisement rate in the country, another issue dividing Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist.

In 2011, Scott and the Cabinet imposed strict new barriers on felons who want to regain the right to vote, tossing out a streamlined policy adopted in 2007 by Crist and a different Cabinet. The discarded policy allowed tens of thousands of nonviolent offenders to regain their civil rights without a time-consuming application and hearing process. Murders and sex offenders were not eligible for faster review under the system approved by Crist and the Cabinet in 2007.

The current policy requires felons to wait at least five years after completing their sentences before applying for civil rights and during that wait they can't have been arrested. Certain classes of violent felons will have to wait seven years to apply.

In the four years under Crist's reforms, 154,000 people had their rights restored, The Tampa Bay Times reported. In the three years under the Scott-era changes, that number has slid to under 1,000 as of mid January.

Here's the Sentencing Project's report:

Washington, DC - As the 2014 midterm elections approach, an estimated 5.85 million Americans will be unable to exercise their voting rights due to a felony conviction. Overall, 75% of disenfranchised individuals are no longer incarcerated. Of this population, 2.6 million have completed their sentences, yet remain disenfranchised in the 12 states with the most restrictive policies.

This year, disenfranchisement policies may affect the outcomes of U.S. elections, with a disproportionate impact on communities of color. One in every 13 black adults will be left without a voice in this year's electoral process. Black Americans of voting age are four times more likely to lose their voting rights than the rest of the adult population. More than one in five black adults is disenfranchised in Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia.

The following 10 states hold the highest disenfranchisement rates in the United States:


Florida - 10.4%

Mississippi - 8.3%

Kentucky - 7.4%

Virginia - 7.3%

Alabama - 7.2%

Tennessee - 7.1%

Wyoming - 6.0%

Nevada - 4.2%

Arizona - 4.2%

Georgia 3.8%