November 18, 2013

Movers & Shakers

New member appointed to board overseeing oil spill disaster funds

Attorney General Pam Bondi has appointed Dr. Pamela J. Dana to the board of directors for Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc., which is now charged with creating and administering the recovery fund for disproportionately affected counties impacted by the Deepwater Horizon Disaster.

Eight counties that were most affected by the disaster are slated to receive the biggest amount from civil fines resulting from the oil spill, though 23 counties will receive a portion of the money.

Dana is senior strategic advisor for the Institute for Human & Machine Cognition, a Florida-based robotics research institute and she owns a charter sport fishing business in Destin. She served as the executive director of the Governor’s Office of Tourism, Trade, and Economic Development during Gov. Jeb Bush’s administration.

Judicial appointments

Gov. Rick Scott has appointed Giuseppina Miranda, of Fort Lauderdale, to the Broward County Court.

Miranda, 51, has been a general magistrate with the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit Court since 2007. Previously, she was a lawyer in private practice, and from 1999-2004, she served as an assistant state attorney in the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit.

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November 11, 2013

Movers & Shakers

State's first Insurance Consumer Advocate back on the job

Steve Burgess, who was the state's first Insurance Consumer Advocate in 1990, has returned to the position for a third time.

Burgess, 65, of Tallahassee, became the first insurance consumer advocate when he was appointed by then-Insurance Commissioner Tom Gallagher. Burgess held the position until 1997 when he was involved in a showdown with then-Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson. Burgess returned to the position from 2004 to 2007 when Gallagher, then CEO, put him back in the job.

Burgess most recently served as the staff director of the Florida Senate’s Committee on Banking and Insurance. He also served as an associate and deputy public counsel and received his bachelor’s degree in accounting and his law degree from Florida State University.

Burgess replaces Robin Westcott, who left in September to return to the private sector.

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater had this comment about Burgess in a press release: “Steve’s career experience and his understanding of the insurance industry will help further our efforts to hold insurance companies accountable and ensure that Floridians are being treated fairly. He is a proven advocate for Florida consumers and I am confident he will represent the best interests of Florida families.”

New leader named for health plan association

Audrey Brown has become the new president and CEO of Florida Association of Health Plans.

She was most recently chief of staff to Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty. She served as McCarty's chief policy advisor, chief lobbyist on agency fiscal matters and managed the operations of the Office of Insurance Regulation.

Brown also worked as deputy chief of staff to McCarty from June 2007 to November 2007 and she workedin the executive office for Gov. Jeb Bush.

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November 08, 2013

Gaetz, Weatherford and Bondi blast medical marijuana amendment in formal court briefs

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz filed a brief to the Supreme Court Friday afternoon opposing a proposed medical marijuana constitutional amendment on Friday afternoon, stating it’s “misleading and inaccurate rhetoric.”

Their objections largely mirror arguments by Attorney General Pam Bondi, who also filed her brief against the amendment late Friday afternoon. She said the proposal “hides the fact that the Amendment would make Florida one of the most lenient medical-marijuana states, allowing use for limitless ‘other conditions’ specified by any physician.”

Ben Pollara, People United for Medical Marijuana’s campaign manager, said arguments by Bondi and the legislative leaders are “a misrepresentation of our amendment” and said accusations that the amendment would make Florida one of the most lenient states “way off base.”

People United has collected more than 200,000 petitions (121,592 have been validated) to get the amendment on the ballot in 2014 -- the group will need at least 683,149 signatures by Feb. 1 -- if the Florida Supreme Court doesn’t shoot it down first.

The Court is slated to hear oral arguments on the ballot initiative Dec. 5.

“This ‘60s era reefer madness hysteria has to stop,” said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, who has proposed medical marijuana legislation for three years. “It’s a drug that should be regulated like any other drug. It should to be up to the physician what’s best for their patient.”


November 05, 2013

State legislators push for gay rights in the workplace

Florida House Reps. Joe Saunders and Holly Raschein are once again pushing a bill that bans discrimination against gay, bisexual and transgender Floridians in the workplace.Their efforts this year jive with a move in the U.S. Senate to pass a similar law, which state supporters called "fortuitous."

Also fortuitous: In his first tweet since declaring his candidacy for governor, Democrat Charlie Crist took advantage of the opportunity to support gay rights -- “Thanks to GOP @HollyRaschein & Dem @RepJoeSaunders for their bipartisan bill to end LGBT discrimination in workforce. I’ll sign it!”

This is the second time that Saunders, D-Orlando, and Raschein, R-Key Largo, have filed an anti-discrimination measure (HB 239), with Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-West Palm Beach, sponsoring the Senate counterpart.

State legislation, Saunders said at a press conference at the capital Tuesday, would end the patchwork of gay rights ordinances in 26 municipalities, including the cities of Miami Beach and North Miami Beach and Broward, Pinellas and Monroe counties.

“Imagine living in a community where you’re protected from discrimination until you cross the county border and work in a community where you are not,” Saunders said. “Countless employees still work where placing a picture of their family on their desk can lead to legalized harassment, the denial of promotion or the unemployment line.”

Raschein said that "From the GOP perspective, our main focus is the economy and jobs. And this is what we’re talking about. People’s jobs, people’s livelihoods.”

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November 04, 2013

Panel: Economic impact of marijuana "cannot be determined"

Legalizing medical marijuana could cost the state in excess of $1.1 million to operate each year, but any other financial or tax impact of offering the drug to the seriously ill is still unclear, according to a state economic panel.

The Office of Economic and Demographic Research’s Financial Impact Estimating Conference finished its analysis of the medical marijuana ballot initiative on Monday and concluded that “increased costs from this amendment to state and local governments cannot be determined.”

Aside from the Department of Health, which estimated that it would cost an estimated $1.1 million yearly to regulate the medical marijuana industry, most agencies said the cost would not be significant or did not yet have any hard numbers.

The report stated the health department’s costs “will likely be offset through fees charged to the medical marijuana industry and users."

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the Police Chiefs Association and the Sheriff's Association stated there will be increased costs based on the experience of other states, but did not offer any numbers.

The report estimates that about 417,000 to 452,000 will use medical marijuana based on figures from other states. It was also estimated that about 17,178 to 41,271 snowbirds may apply for ID cards to use medical marijuana.

The campaign to put a medical marijuana amendment on the ballot was launched by United for Care, spearheaded by high-profile, Orlando trial attorney John Morgan, whose law firm employs Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist.

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October 31, 2013

PolitiFact: Senator says texting has surpassed alcohol as a lead cause of teen driving deaths

On the first day of Florida’s new texting-while-driving ban, state Sen. Maria Sachs, the Senate Democratic leader pro-tem, was already announcing a proposal to make the law tougher.

The new law makes texting while driving a secondary offense, which means an officer can’t ticket a motorist only for typing or reading messages while behind the wheel. Rather, the driver has to first commit another violation, like swerving or running a red light.

Sachs, of Delray Beach, has filed a bill to make texting while driving a primary offense, which she argues will make it easier to enforce. The penalties -- $30 for a first violation -- will remain.

At a press conference with AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson to announce her proposed changes, Sachs recited several somber statistics. PolitiFact checks this claim: "In 2011, texting surpassed alcohol as the leading contributing factor in teen driving deaths."

October 25, 2013

Broward prosecutor named new head of the state's Sexually Violent Predator Program

The Department of Children and Families today announced that longtime Broward County prosecutor Kristin Kanner has been named the new director of the state’s Sexually Violent Predator Program.

Here's the release:

For more than 20 years, Kanner has served as an Assistant State Attorney in the 17th Judicial Circuit and has led the office’s Sexually Violent Predator Unit since 2004.

“After seeing Kristin testify in front of the Legislature last month during hearings on sexually violent predators, I knew she was the right person to lead the program,” DCF Interim Secretary Esther Jacobo said. “This is the first time in the program’s 14-year history that it will be led by a former prosecutor who brings an intimate knowledge of each stage of the process and an increased emphasis on public safety.”

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October 24, 2013

Pam Bondi challenges proposed medical marijuana amendment

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is contesting a proposed ballot initiative for a medical marijuana constitutional amendment and has asked the Florida Supreme Court for an opinion.

Bondi contends the proposal from People United for Medical Marijuana, a group led by high-profile attorney John Morgan, is misleading the public and is presented in a way that does not convey its “true meaning and ramifications.”

Bondi is required by law to send a ballot initiative to the state Supreme Court for review within 30 days after it’s submitted to her office.

The proposal, she wrote in a letter filed today to the court, implies that the amendment would allow medical marijuana in narrow, defined circumstances and only for patients for “debilitating diseases. But Bondi says that if the amendment passes, “Florida law would allow marijuana in limitless situations.”

She also writes that the amendment would call for the legal use of medical marijuana even though federal law still prohibits it.

Morgan argues that if the state legalized medical marijuana, the governor and legislature would still oversee licensing and regulations.

He said the proposal, being circulated in a statewide petition drive, includes language the public wants.

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October 15, 2013

Bi-partisan federal debt opponents target Florida with new television ads


As debt ceiling and government shutdown talks continue to lumber slowly forward in Washington, the bi-partisan organization aimed at calling attention to the nation's debt crisis has launched a national ad campaign and is targeting Florida.

"For crying out loud, who isn't fed up with what's going on in Washington,'' says former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, a Wyoming Republican in the ad, to former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, a Democrat.

"These politicians are playing games, jerking our country around from crisis to crisis,'' Bowles replies.

The pair are authors of the Simpson-Bowles plan, also known as the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, and co-chairs of President Obama’s Deficit Commission. The wide-ranging plan offered Washington a blueprint for reducing the federal deficit by cutting more than $2.5 trillion over 10 years by cutting spending, imposing user fees, raising the retirement age and reforming taxes. 

The commission was conceived as a way to force a bi-partisan compromise even before Washington imploded into bipartisan dysfunction. It was also was roundly ignored -- by Obama, and by Republicans. 

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October 11, 2013

Equality Florida wants Rep. Baxley to apologize for statement regarding gay parents


Equality Florida's CEO wants Rep. Dennis Baxley to apologize for comments he made at a meeting of  the House K-12 subcommittee meeting Oct. 8th that were construed as disparaging gay parents. The Ocala Republican said he was  describing a conversation he had with a teacher about challenges in the classroom.

Baxley's comment was: "It's easy to say parents need to get involved, but half these kids are raising themselves. They don't have any parents that are functional. How can we address that? I know its scope and I know it's hard, but you're probably their only hope. I mean I sat an hour-and- a- half with a teacher telling me, well this child has got serial men coming through the house, this one has two mommies, this one has an abusive father who's home, this one has alcoholism, this one has drug abuse. It was a casualty warfare event to hear - just her classroom. How many dysfunctional, atypical - to me - uh, structures are in the way of a kid having a chance to learn."

Nadine Smith issued a statement Friday criticizing Baxley for comparing two mommies or same sex parents to abusive or alcoholic parents.

"We hope Representative Baxley has the decency to apologize for his comments disparaging gay parents and our children. More than that, we invite Representative Baxley to educate himself, talk with us and actually meet our families. We are a diverse state and no elected official can fulfill their oath of office if they only respect and care about the people and families that look just like their own," Smith said in an email.

"The entire child welfare community, every credible agency and all research, is unanimous in recognizing that gay parents are equally capable of of raising children and that our kids do just as well as their classmates," she said.

Asked about comparing problems with two moms to problems with abusive and alcoholic parents,Baxley said he was referring to a conversation he had with a teacher who was discussing the "challenges" for young people today.

"They're coming from a lot of different home situations and that has to be factored in" with what happens in a classroom, he said.

He said Equality Florida was "extrapolating" a negative message from his comments. 
Baxley said he didn't recall using the example of the two mommies. "I don't remember exactly what I said right now."

Smith said the group had requested a meeting with Baxley, and he said he'd be "happy to meet with them."