March 22, 2013

Scott: Citizens' raises, claims of underpaid execs, 'simply ridiculous'

Gov. Rick Scott has more tough words for Citizens Property Insurance, after the company continued to make the argument that their executives and employees are underpaid and deserving of huge raises paid out last year.

Here’s the latest statement from Scott, released Friday:

“Citizens’ claims that they need to pay their executives more because of their history of controversy is simply ridiculous. A few weeks ago, I asked Citizens to give back outrageous pay raises they doled out to their executives last year. I also said that Citizens needs to have per diems that match other state employees and they should not be reimbursed for alcohol. Citizens needs immediate reform and that is why I called for the creation of an Inspector General. They must be responsible stewards of the taxpayer funds that back them.”

The board at Citizens met Friday and some board members were none-too-happy with new austerity measures put into place after Scott’s Inspector General questioned how employees were spending money on luxurious business travel and gourmet meals. Board members said calls for lower spending and salaries were driven by political interests and media coverage.

The board did not move to reverse the salary hikes, as Scott requested, and complained about new caps on spending for meals that bring Citizens in line with state law governing state workers.

Our blog post on that meeting is below:

Continue reading "Scott: Citizens' raises, claims of underpaid execs, 'simply ridiculous'" »

March 19, 2013

After series of scandals, Citizens Insurance president defends company before Cabinet

Citizens Property Insurance President Barry Gilway went before the Florida Cabinet on Tuesday to praise his team for steering the state-run company in the right direction.

The company—which has come under fire from Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers for management troubles  and lavish spending after a series of Herald/Times articles—is hoping to repair its public image.

Gilway praised the company for beginning to shrink in size and reducing the level of risk. He also batted down criticism about the level of expenses and spending at Citizens, saying that the company’s expenditures are lower than most competitors.

Still, after criticism from Scott and others about corporate expenses on everything from alcohol to strippers, Gilway acknowledged that changes were going to be made.

Some Cabinet members were clearly disturbed by the history of scandal at Citizens:

“This isn’t a fraternity, these are professionals,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi. “What part of reasonable and appropriate (spending) did they not understand?”

Bondi wanted to know what Gilway was doing to discipline the employees who had abused the corporate card.

“I can only focus on what is going forward,” said Gilway, who joined the company last June.

The questions continued.

Scott: “How many people have corporate cards? Why do you have them?”

Bondi: “Many of these employees (with troubled spending histories) are current employees, correct?”

Gilway said they are conducting a study and looking at potentially making changes for the corporate cards (nearly one in five Citizens employees have them). He told Bondi that he didn’t think it was appropriate to discipline employees for what they had done before strict guidelines were in place.

Continue reading "After series of scandals, Citizens Insurance president defends company before Cabinet" »

March 13, 2013

Legislators react to Carroll resignation, pitch Flores as replacement

Legislators reacted with sadness upon hearing the news Wednesday of the resignation of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll but wasted no time considering replacements. 

"Jennifer Carroll is a very dear friend and anytime you see a friend go through something difficult, your heart goes out to them,” said Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando. "I think she did probably what was the right thing to keep the governor’s agenda moving forward. And so it won’t be a distraction. But it still hurts. It hurts for her, it hurts for her family.” 

Gardiner said he served in leadership in the Florida House with Carroll. “I just feel for her and her family,” he said.

Gardiner also said that he continues to believe Florida should “do away” with internet cafes. “I think they’re taking advantage of loophole in the law,” he said. “I’ve been pretty consistent. I don’t want to regulate them, I want to do away with them.”

Hours after Carroll's resignation, some South Florida political observers took to Twitter to recommend Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican, be tapped for the job. Their hashtag of choice: #Anitere4LT.

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, endorsed that idea. Flores "has all the great qualities of leadership. She's got the background, the experience,'' Detert said. "Geographically she fits. Being Hispanic doesn't hurt in Florida. She's an attractive candidate, smart woman...I don't know if she's interested or where she stands."

House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston called Carroll a dedicated public servant. "I'm very saddened by it,'' he said. "I wish the best to her and her family."

Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, said she was fond of Carroll. "She's going to definitely be missed in the Tampa Bay community because of her strong advocacy on behalf of the military and MacDill Air Force Base. We will miss her."
Republican Party of Florida director Lenny Curry, who is from Carroll's hometown of Jacksonville, called Carroll a "great leader for our party and our state.
"She was a terrific advocate for Florida’s military and economic development efforts,'' Curry said in a statement. "Her resignation is disappointing, but she made the right decision to protect both her family and the work she has done to move our state forward over the
last few years.”

Former Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, who has sponsored a bill to last year to ban internet cafes,  continued his push to get the Florida Senate to agreed to the effort. 

"The Florida House voted to shut down these illicit gambling operations last year,'' he said in a statement. "The Florida Cabinet unanimously agreed. It's now time for the Florida Senate to act to end this scourge on our state."

His bill was written by the general counsel for the Seminole County sheriff, the office that first began the probe and helped to draw federal investigators into the search.

 -- Rochelle Koff, Kathleen McGrory, Toluse Olorunnipa contributed to this report

March 11, 2013

Domestic partnership bill gets a second chance Tuesday

A bill that would give domestic partners certain rights, including hospital visitations, property rights and end-of-life decisions, will have another chance at passing its first hurdle on Tuesday.

At a press conference Monday, Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, said Senate Bill 0196 has been revised and “narrowed” to mirror domestic partnership registries outlined in 18 Florida jurisdictions, including Sarasota and Pinellas, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

A state law would “end the patchwork” of domestic partnership registries around the state and “provide legal protection,” said Sobel, who has tried to get a bill heard the past four years.

Continue reading "Domestic partnership bill gets a second chance Tuesday" »

March 04, 2013

Movers & Shakers; Civil Rights Hall of Fame inductees, capital press corps veterans retire

Gov. Rick Scott has named James B. Sanderlin, Margarita Romo and Harry T. and Harriette Moore to the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame.
Here’s a look at the inductees:
Sanderlin, a St. Petersburg judge who died in 1990, was the lead attorney representing six families in civil rights cases over classroom segregation, which resulted in desegregation in Hillsborough and Sarasota Counties. As the lead attorney for a group of 12 black police officers known as the “Courageous Twelve,” Sanderlin won a lawsuit to end discriminatory assignments in segregated neighborhoods.

Continue reading "Movers & Shakers; Civil Rights Hall of Fame inductees, capital press corps veterans retire " »

Steve Crisafulli officially chosen as House Speaker for 2014

Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, was officially appointed as the incoming Republican Leader of the Florida House of Representatives for 2014 on Monday.

If, as expected, Republicans etain their majority in the 120-member House in 2014, Crisafulli will be the state’s next House Speaker, occupying one of the most powerful positions in state government.

“It is an honor for me to be a small part of this ceremony, and a special day for a very close friend,” said current House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

Crisafulli was chosen for the post a week after last year’s election, when designated Speaker-in-waiting Rep. Chris Dorworth (R-Lake Mary) was defeated in a shocking upset.

As speaker-designate, Crisafulli will play a major role raising money and getting Republicans elected in 2014.

“No one who’s blessed with this opportunity gets here on his own,” said Crisafulli, in a speech where he thanked a slew of people and got emotional at times.

Continue reading "Steve Crisafulli officially chosen as House Speaker for 2014" »

Pre-session ritual: One last blast of collecting money

On the eve of the 2013 Florida legislative session, the Capitol was bustling with activity, including the pre-session ritual of lobbyists scurrying from one fund-raiser to the next with campaign checks for the lawmakers. On Tuesday, they will convene and begin to talk about the need for more stringent ethics laws in Tallahassee.

Fund-raising is prohibited during the 60-day session that starts Tuesday and will end in early May. So Tallahassee politicians collect what they can before the ban takes effect.

"I'm going to six (fund-raisers) now, but there are a bunch more at 4:30 and 5," said lobbyist Ron Book, who opened his legislative briefing binder to reveal a stack of checks in envelopes. He said there were a lot more fund-raisers during a stretch of three weeks of committee meetings held in February.

On the third floor of the nearby Governor's Club, Senate Rules Committee Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, greeted a small but steady stream of lobbyists bearing gifts for a lawmaker who plays a central role in setting the legislative agenda. Thrasher readily agreed to allow a Times/Herald reporter and photographer to attend his midday fund-raiser, and most lobbyists quickly scattered at the sight of a news camera.

"I'm going to run again," Thrasher said. "It's just a way of reaching out and telling people you're out there." Among the lobbyists stopping by to shake Thrasher's hand and say hello to his wife, Jean, were Book, Brian Ballard and Reginald Garcia.  

-- Steve Bousquet

February 25, 2013

Movers & Shakers: New Democratic Deputy Whips; Sachs retools firm

Democratic state representatives Lori Berman, of Delray Beach, Reggie Fullwood, of Jacksonville, José  Rodríguez, of Miami, Hazelle Rogers, of Lauderhill,  and Joe Saunders, of Orlando, have been appointed Democratic Deputy Whips by House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston (D-Plantation) and House Democratic Whip Alan Williams (D-Tallahassee).

Thurston called the representatives outstanding public servants who have demonstrated qualities of leadership, organization and a rigorous work ethic that are essential to the task of Deputy Whip,” in a press statement.

From Williams:  “Deputy whips are an important position, which includes the careful review of all legislation that comes before the Florida House of Representatives. Their task also involves counting votes and communicating the Democratic Caucus position to other Caucus members. I am confident that we have assembled an effective and great team.”

Continue reading "Movers & Shakers: New Democratic Deputy Whips; Sachs retools firm" »

February 19, 2013

Back to drawing board for domestic partnership bill

Vowing not to give up, Democratic state Sen. Eleanor Sobel delayed a committee vote of a domestic partnership bill that looked unlikely to pass and still faces long odds.
The bill, which Sobel has been trying to pass for five years, would have extended rights of married couples in areas such as health benefits, hospital visitation and medical decision-making to non-married couples.
“This is an issue that affects hundreds of thousands of Floridians,” said Nadine Smith of Tampa, who is the executive director of the advocacy group Equality Florida.

Continue reading "Back to drawing board for domestic partnership bill " »

February 18, 2013

Movers & Shakers: TaxWatch exec resigns abruptly

H. Steven Hammond, who has been the executive director of the TaxWatch Center for Smart Justice since May, has resigned, effective immediately.

“I feel it is time for me to move on to pursue other interests and opportunities, not the least of which is further commitment to prison ministry,” the management executive and consultant stated in a press release.

Florida TaxWatch, a private, nonprofit, non-partisan research institute, will be conducting an “extensive search,” according to the release, for a new executive director over the next four months. In the meantime, Robert Weissert, vice president for research and general counsel, will be in charge.

Continue reading "Movers & Shakers: TaxWatch exec resigns abruptly" »