October 27, 2014

Movers & Shakers

New leadership for Senate Democratic Office: David Cox, previously a senior legislative analyst for House Democrats and a former newspaper reporter, will be jumping into a new role as staff director of the Florida Senate Democratic Office on Nov. 1st.

"David is a wonderful addition to the office staff," Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, the incoming Senate Democratic Leader, said in a press release. "His energy and knowledge of the legislative process will not only benefit our Democratic members, but the Senate as well."

Cox, a University of Florida graduate, began working for the House in 2005. His journalistic career includes covering state government and the legislature for The Tampa Tribune and The Orlando Sentinel, among other publications. He also worked as a member of the Florida State University's media relations team.

Another role for DOH administrator: Paul Myers has been named the interim deputy secretary for statewide services for the Florida Department of Health. He's taking over the role from C. Meade Grigg, who is retiring.

Myers, who was most recently administrator of the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County, started working at the DOH in 1988 as an environmental health director. He has an undergraduate and master's degree from the University of Florida.

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October 09, 2014

Public records made available, but at a whopping $132,348

 State agencies often charge for public records, but one news organization encountered sticker shock when it received the bill for its request. Florida's 17th judicial circuit court charged the Center for Public Integrity $132,348 for records regarding the procedures and policies surrounding foreclosure cases last summer

A story from the investigative news organization states that Alexandra Rieman, general counsel for the circuit that includes Fort Lauderdale and Broward County, said the public records request would require staff to sort through 149,000 emails. That, in turn, would require 2,500 staff member hours at rates of either $45 or $53 an hour, which added up to the $132,348 figure.

And whatever records the court system did provide would cost another 15 cents a page, Rieman added, without including estimates of staffer hours and hourly rates.

The Center for Public Integrity refused to pay that amount, calling the fees excessive.

Here's the story from the Center:

Charging high fees for access to public information can undermine public records laws and serve as a back-door way for government agencies to avoid releasing information they want kept private. Florida's laws and the state courts' rules allow, but don't require, the courts to charge for such records searches.

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October 08, 2014

Florida's hangup: High cell phone fees and taxes

If you think you're forking over too much of your paycheck to pay your cell phone bill, you're not imagining things.

Florida has the fourth highest average state-local cell phone tax and fee rate in the country at 16.55 percent, according to a study by the Washington-D.C.-based Tax Foundation.

"If you add in the 5.82% federal rate, Floridians are actually paying 22.38% of their wireless bill in taxes fees on average. The U.S. average combined federal, state, and local rate is 17.05%," according to the group's press release.

 Gov. Rick Scott is now promising that he will give Florida voters a $120 million annual reduction in the communications services tax, which collects revenue from a variety of sources, including cell phones. Lowering cell phone fees has been a state budgetary consideration in the past, but the effort hasn't gone anywhere. 

The Tax Foundation reports the following highlights of its study:

* The five states with the highest state-local rates are: Washington State (18.6 percent), Nebraska (18.48 percent), New York (17.74 percent), Florida (16.55 percent), and Illinois (15.81 percent).

* The five states with the lowest state-local rates are: Oregon (1.76 percent), Nevada (1.86 percent), Idaho (2.62 percent), Montana (6.00 percent), and West Virginia (6.15 percent).

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Survey: Public lacks information on amendments, rates state badly for health care for seniors

A majority of Floridians believe the passage of a constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana will lead to recreational use, according to the latest report from the Sunshine State Survey. But most of those surveyed said they didn't get enough information about proposed amendments or only heard one side.

The survey, administered by the University of South Florida School of Public Affairs and Nielsen, also offers Floridians' views on health care, race relations, elections and transportation.

Some of the findings:

* Fifty-four percent of survey participants rated the state's provision of health care to seniors and its assistance of the state's mentally and physically disabled as just fair or poor.

*Of the five reasons listed for not voting, "not eligible" was the prime reason given, though the number of those who cited ineligibility decreased from 48 percent in 2011 to 28 percent in 2014.

*Sixty-three percent of resondents said the state is doing a fair or poor job of improving race relations compared to those who said the state is doing an excellent job (5 percent) or good (24 percent). 

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October 07, 2014

ACLU to federal judge: Lift stay and allow same-sex couples to wed

The ACLU of Florida on Tuesday filed a brief asking U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle to lift his stay and immediately allow gay marriage in Florida.

“In light of yesterday’s pathbreaking development, Plaintiffs respectfully submit that the Court should lift the stay immediately,” ACLU lawyers wrote to Hinkle, who on Aug. 21 in Tallahassee ruled Florida’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional.

Hinkle said in August he would stay his ruling until after “the U.S. Supreme Court resolves the pending applications, at that time, from Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia,” according to ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court settled the gay marriage issue in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia, along with Wisconsin and Indiana, when it announced justices would let stand federal court decisons allowing same-sex marriages in those states.


October 06, 2014

Movers & Shakers

Update on the Status of Women: Melissa Hagan has been appointed by Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, to the Florida Commission on the Status of Women.

Hagan and her husband, Aaron, own Emerald Coast Interview Consulting, and she recently served as chief development Ooficer for Gulf Coast State College. Hagan, of Lynn Haven, is a former teacher, curriculum designer and caseworker for at-risk youth.

The Commission, established in 1991, makes recommendations to the legislature, governor and cabinet on issues affecting women.

Her term starts immediately and expires Oct. 1, 2017.

Connie Mack IV joins public relations firm:  The former Florida congressman and state representative has joined Levick, a Washington D.C.-based public relations & communications firm, as an executive vice president.

Mack will also lead Levick's expansion into Florida and will open the firm's Miami office.

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October 01, 2014

Group releases a framework for regulating medical marijuana

The fate of Amendment 2 will be decided in less than five weeks, but one group has already released its recommended framework for how a system that regulates medical marijuana would work.

The 12-member Florida For Care Blue Ribbon Commission, which includes Democrats and Republicans, and representatives from law enforcement, business, health and other areas, has released proposed principles that range from patient protection to professional licenses and packaging. It addresses issues like physician requirements and continuing education, regulations on caregivers and a compassionate use registry.

Former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican, and vice chair of the commission, said he doesn't plan on voting for the amendment but he joined the group to help devise a plan that would incorporate different views and assist the legislature in determining safeguards if the amendment passes.

Constitutional amendments need 60 percent of the vote to pass. The polling average of the last major public surveys shows about 64 percent of Florida voters favor Amendment 2.

"I am against the amendment because I don't think enough research has been done," Diaz de la Portilla said, "but if the people want it and it passes, then we need to get it right.  ... If you have people who are for it and against it, what comes out is a better, well thought-out plan."

Despite his opposition, Diaz de la Portilla said Republicans and Democrats "have to be open-minded." 

The proposal is a "starting point," said the commission's chairman, Jon Mills, who is the Amendment 2 author and a former speaker of the House.

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September 30, 2014

Floridians weigh in on environment and crime in Sunshine State Survey

Feeling safe in public places and concern about the environment are two critical concerns for Floridians, according to a new Sunshine State Survey on guns and the environment, administered by the University of South Florida and the A. C. Nielsen Company.

"It's clear that Floridians are increasingly worried about security in public places," said Susan MacManus, the survey director and professor at USF's College of Arts and Sciences. "They're also getting a little more critical about what the state has been doing about the environment."

Floridians believe the state's performance in protecting the environment has dropped, the survey found. "Excellent" and "good" ratings for the state's protection of the environment fell from 49 percent in 2012 to 44 percent in 2014. In 2014, "poor" ratings are three times higher than "excellent" ratings (20 percent versus 7 percent).

Residents who are 35 to 54 years old with a high school education or less gave the state higher points compared to older residents aged 55 to 64 years old and college graduates.

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September 20, 2014

NYT exposes the source in the Gary Hart affair

In a bit of trivia that will fascinate historians of presidential politics, journalism and tawdry sex scandals, the New York Times has named a South Florida woman it says was the source of a Miami Herald story 27 years ago that wrecked the candidacy of Democrat Gary Hart.

Hart, a U.S. senator from Colorado, was the frontrunner for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination when the Herald published a story detailing his dalliance with a sleek Miami model and bit actress named Donna Rice.

The story sent Hart’s campaign into a tailspin that ended with his withdrawal a week later. It also began a new era of political journalism in which politicians’ private lives, which had been mostly exempt from media scrutiny, were now considered measurements of “character” and thus fair game for reporters.

The Herald’s report was triggered by an anonymous source who had seen the married Hart partying with Rice aboard a yacht (named, with unspeakable irony, the Monkey Business) anchored at Turnberry Isle. The Herald has never identified her. More from Glenn Garvin here. 



September 15, 2014

Movers & Shakers

New official in emergency preparedness post

Cynthia Dick, a former city of Tallahassee fire chief, has been named the new state division director for Emergency Preparedness and Community Support.

She will oversee the the Bureaus of Preparedness and Response, Emergency Medical Oversight, Public Health Pharmacy, Public Health Laboratories and Radiation Control.

Dick brings more than 26 years of experience in emergency preparedness and response services to the job, according to a press statement.

"Cindy is a proven leader in emergency preparedness and incident command," Dr. Celeste Philip, deputy secretary for Health and Deputy State Health Officer for Children's Medical Services said in the release.

Dick served as Tallahassee's fire chief from 2005 to 2013, and previously served as a fire battalion captain, fire lieutenant and firefighter.

Scott appoints new judge in Monroe County

Key West attorney Tim Koenig has been appointed to replace David Audlin on the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit, which includes Monroe County.

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