September 25, 2015

Union reacts to corrections audit: Staffing and pay must be addressed

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Responding to an independent audit that found Florida's prisons are so "chronically understaffed" that an emergency should be declared, a group of South Florida members of the union that represents state corrections officers called on Gov. Rick Scott and Florida lawmakers to take action.

FDOC Teamsters United said in a statement Friday that Florida's leaders have "the absolute responsibility to ensure our prisons are safely staffed for its officers, the inmates and the public," and the group says that can't happen if corrections officers aren't also paid adequately.

The audit - commissioned by the Florida Department of Corrections and conducted by the National Institute of Corrections - found that the lack of staff costs the state millions in overtime costs, encourages vacancies, falls below national standards and exposes Florida taxpayers to increased costs if a murder, riot or escape were to occur at any of the state prisons. More here.

While the DOC has hired 2,200 corrections officers in the past six months, the agency also lost 1,400, leaving a net gain of around 800, Corrections Secretary Julie Jones told legislative committees last week. Jones said the agency is often losing its officers to local law enforcement agencies.

The union group said the DOC needs to do more than just hire new officers, it needs to entice them to stay.

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September 23, 2015

VIDEO: Congressional redistricting maps back in court this week


Attorneys for the Florida House and Senate, as well as a group of plaintiffs, will be back in court tomorrow to make their case for which congressional redistricting map Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis should recommend to the Florida Supreme Court.

Times/Herald bureau chief Mary Ellen Klas and reporter Michael Auslen break down the latest in this first installment of the "Times/Herald Tallahassee Update."


Gov. Rick Scott meets with Papa John's CEO during Kentucky visit



"Papa John" himself had one hour of face time with Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott earlier today in Louisville, Ky., during the second day of Scott's two-day jobs trip to the Bluegrass State.

Scott's office released a revised itinerary for the governor after noon, specifying that Scott's previously advertised "business development meeting" at 11 a.m. was actually with John Schnatter, CEO and founder of the Papa John's pizza chain.

(Scott has two other vaguely described meetings on his schedule today, but no word yet on who those were with.)

Does this mean Schatter is delivering more jobs to Florida? Unclear.

Scott tweeted shortly after, commenting on a "great" visit and that he hopes Papa John's "continues their success in our state."

Scott is in Kentucky this week on an economic development trip to recruit jobs and business to Florida. Yesterday, he boasted about 40 new jobs that an aerospace company, 1st Source Aerospace, announced months ago were coming to its secondary location in Miramar. More on that here.

Schnatter, a Louisville resident, owns a condo near Naples in Collier County, where Scott also lives.

Photo credit: Reuters

September 22, 2015

Senate chairman wants data, info on driver's license suspensions


Sen. Jeff Brandes

Taking the next steps in an effort to "produce a substantive bill to reform the inequities in the practice of driver license suspension," the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday asked two state agencies and court clerks statewide to gather information and provide it to senators.

The requests by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, come about a week after the first of what is expected to be several committee hearings on the topic before the 2016 legislative session starts in January.

A report last month by The Miami Herald found that 77 percent of all license suspensions in Florida between 2012 and 2015 occurred because of a failure to pay fees. In Miami-Dade County alone, 29 percent of all drivers had their licenses suspended, many of them the working poor who can't pay the high fees to get reinstated.

In letters to the heads of the Departments of Corrections and of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and the president of the Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers, Brandes asked for data including:

Continue reading "Senate chairman wants data, info on driver's license suspensions" »

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.

Continue reading "Movers & Shakers" »

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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