August 12, 2013

Movers & Shakers

New chairman for Citizens Board of Governors

Chris Gardner, a veteran of the retail insurance brokerage business, has been named chairman of the Board of Governors for Citizens Property Insurance Corp.by Florida CFO Jeff Atwater.

Gardner, a resident of Winter Park, has 20 years of experience in the retail insurance brokerage business with a specific focus in commercial property and casualty insurance. He has served as a member of the Citizens board since his appointment in July 2011.

“In his 20 years in the insurance industry, Chris has proved himself to be a person of high character and sound judgment who shares my high expectations for how a corporation such as Citizens should be managed,” Atwater said in a news release.

Gardner is the managing shareholder of Kuykendall Gardner, LLC, a Florida-based insurance broker doing business since 1953. Neither the firm collectively nor Gardner personally has any current business interests in Citizens, according to the release. He has been a past chairman of the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce and is a past vice chairman of the City of Orlando Municipal Planning Board.

Gardner succeeds Carlos Lacasa as chairman of the Citizen’s board.

Another change: Sen. President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, has appointed Freddie Schinz to the Citizens Board of Governors.

Schinz has more than 40 years of experience as a statewide commercial builder. He replaces Carol Everhart.

Gaetz picks

Gaetz has appointed Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami) to the Southern States Energy Board, Sen. John Legg (R-Lutz) to the Education Commission of the States, Sen. Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee) to the Workforce Florida, Inc., Board of Directors, and Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) to the Florida High School Athletic Association Public Liaison Advisory Committee.

Flores, 36, is an attorney and CEO of Doral College. Legg, 38, is a long-time Pasco County educator and the Senate Education Committee Chair. Montford, 65, is the CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. Stargel, 47, is an investment property manager in Lakeland.

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July 29, 2013

Askew offers reflections in ceremony at Old Capitol

Former Gov. Reubin Askew was honored Monday for his positive influences on politics and education at an event held at his old stomping grounds: the restored Senate chamber in the historic Old Capitol in Tallahassee.

"I spent a little time in this room," said Askew, who was a senator from 1962 to 1970, when voters elected him governor. He was the first governor in the state's history to serve two terms, and was a leader in tax reform, openness in government, race relations and strengthening the judiciary.

Askew, a Democrat, later served as President Jimmy Carter's trade representative, ran unsuccessfully for president in 1984 and has spent the past two decades teaching about government in the university system. Next month he'll begin his final year of teaching, and he turns 85 in September.

A group of graduate students in applied American politics and policy at Askew's alma mater, Florida State University, honored him for his contributions, and the former governor touched on a variety of topics in a long and sometimes rambling speech.

* On the role of government in society: "No one ever said government had all the answers. I never felt that, even when I was there. What government has is the responsibility to bring people together who do know what they are talking about."

* On his long-shot bid for the presidency: "I was 'Reubin who?' and when I got done two years later, you know what they called me? Reubin Who."

* On the state's newest university, Florida Polytech in Lakeland: "Nor have I been to Polk County Polytechnical. I'm not sure, Mr. President (Gaetz), what that is now."

* On the influence of lobbyists: "You have many very vocal people in government, and they themselves want their way. When you drive around Tallahassee, who owns the most beautiful homes? Not me. I'm out at Westminster Oaks (an assisted-living facility)."

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, gave a solid speech that summarized Askew's career and joked about "the rumor" that Askew may run for governor again.

"We have a plan for Alex Sink, Charlie Crist, Nan Rich and Bill Nelson, and the cards are on the table," Gaetz said. "But we wouldn't stand a chance if Reubin Askew ran for governor again. So, please, sir, don't get any ideas."

-- Steve Bousquet

July 01, 2013

Movers & Shakers

New Duke Energy CEO takes charge

Lynn Good takes over on Monday as the new CEO, president and vice chairman of Duke Energy, which serves 1.6 million customers in Florida. Good, 54, has been the utility’s executive vice president and CFO since July 2009.

She succeeds Jim Rogers, who will continue as chairman of the board until his retirement on Dec. 31. The North Carolina-based Duke Energy merged with Progress Energy last year to become the nation’s largest electric-power holding company in the United States, with more than $110 billion in assets

Florida Supreme Court picks new clerk

Technologically savvy attorney John A. Tomasino has been selected as the Court’s next clerk. He’ll replace Thomas D. Hall, who will retire in October after being in the job for more than 13 years. Tomasino, who is administrative director of the Public Defender's Office in the Second Judicial Circuit, starts his new job on Nov. 1.

CFO names new communications director

Chris Cate has been named the communications director for Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, starting on July 8th.

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June 26, 2013

Lawyer group challenge speedy executions

Lawyers representing death row inmates filed suit with the Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday in an attempt to invalidate parts of a law that Gov. Rick Scott signed two weeks ago that would speed executions.

The suit, filed by the public agency Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, called "The Timely Justice Act" a legislative overreach that takes away the judiciary's "efforts to shape, and authority to govern, the means and method of capital postconviction litigation." It named Attorney General Pam Bondi as the defendant.

The new law requires governors to sign death warrants 30 days after the Florida Supreme Court certifies that an inmate has exhausted all legal appeals. Once a death warrant is signed, the execution must take place within six months. The bill passed 84-34 in the House and 28-10 in the Senate. The new law will accelerate the fate of at least 13 of the 404 death row inmates who have exhausted their appeals. If Scott signs the death warrants on the 13 eligible inmates, and their executions followed, he would be on a pace to put to death 21 people since taking office in January 2011. The only other governor who executed that many people was former Gov. Jeb Bush, who ordered the execution of 21 convicted killers over an eight-year period.  

The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the accelerated pace, calling it the result of an “abrupt whirlwind of political maneuvering." Scheduled to go into effect on Monday, the law would violate the Separation of Powers by requiring “constitutional officers of the judicial and executive branches” to take immediate actions because of the legislative action, according to the suit. It also claimed the law suspends the writ of habeas corpus, violates due process by interfering with judicial resolution of constitutional claims, and will result in cruel and unusual punishments “contrary to evolving standards of decency.”

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June 24, 2013

Movers & Shakers

Fort Lauderdale attorney becomes Florida Bar's first African-American president

Eugene K. Pettis will be sworn in as the 65th and first African American president of the 96,000-member Florida Bar at its annual convention Friday at the Boca Raton Resort & Club.

Pettis, a civil trial attorney, is a founding member of Haliczer Pettis & Schwamm in Fort Lauderdale and Orlando. He joined the Bar's Board of Governors in 2005 and has served on the Board of Governors’ executive committee.

Pettis attended Stranahan High School and received both his bachelor’s degree and law degree from the University of Florida.

West Palm Beach attorney Gregory W. Coleman will become president-elect of the Bar during the Friday assembly as well. A partner with Burman, Critton, Luttier & Coleman, he becomes president of the Bar in June 2014.

Coleman, who is a Miami native, received his  bachelor’s and law degrees from Stetson University. He served this year on the Bar’s Board of Governors’ Budget, Communications and Program Evaluation committees.

Florida health trade group seeking new CEO

The Florida Association of Health Plans, Inc., a trade association representing Florida’s health plans,  has formed a search committee to replace Michael Garner, the association’s president and CEO.

Garner is resigning after nearly five years with the association to become vice president of government relations with Amerigroup Florida, Inc., as part of an expanded government relations team. His resignation is effective July 2013.

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June 20, 2013

NRA launches email campaign to support bill banning firearms sale to mentally ill

Gun rights Marion Hammer, who for decades has fought laws that restrict firearms in Florida, is mounting a campaign to urge Gov. Rick Scott to sign a bill that will ban gun purchases –- for the mentally ill

Hammer, the powerful lobbyist for the National Rifle Association and United Sportsmen of Florida, has started an email “alert” to about 200,000 of the group’s members  urging them to “Please email Governor Scott right away and urge him to sign HB-1355.”

The blitz is necessary, she said, to “counter the barrage of emails” loaded with “patently false” information filling Scott's “Sunburst” email inbox.

Since the bill’s passage, the governor’s office has received at least 17,008 emails and 2,711 calls in opposition to the bill (as of June 19). Many of the emails are identical, except for names of  the senders. In contrast, Scott has received a dozen calls and one email in support of the bill.

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June 06, 2013

Sen. President Gaetz joins long list of Republicans questioning $52M deal for Scott contributor

Senate President Don Gaetz is calling for special hearings on the $52 million special deal between Citizens Property Insurance and a politically connected upstart insurance company, the latest sign of legislative angst with the state-run insurer.

Last month, Citizens agreed to transfer $52 million to Heritage Property and Casualty, a nine-month old insurance company that has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbying and political donations to top Republicans, including Gov. Rick Scott.

“The Florida Senate believes the facts and circumstances surrounding the Heritage transaction need thorough investigation so the people of Florida are assured that it and transactions like it are in the best interest of Floridians,” Gaetz, R-Niceville, said in a statement. “As such, as soon as Committee meetings begin this fall, the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee will conduct hearings to investigate and propose ]solutions to the concerns raised by this transaction and any others that might result from Citizens’ attempts to reduce its liabilities.”

Gaetz joins a long list of top Republican lawmakers questioning the $52 million cash transfer from Citizens to a private insurer. House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said he was “highly concerned” about the deal and would call on a House committee to provide more oversight for Citizens. Gov. Rick Scott’s chief of staff called the board at Citizens “tone-deaf” when it comes to earning public confidence (Heritage donated $100,000 to Scott’s reelection in March, as the $52 million deal was being crafted, but Scott’s office denies pay-to-play). Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater also criticized the hastily approved 3-2 vote by the Citizens board to support the unique deal. Scott refused to answer questions this week about whether he supported the deal for his political contributor or not. 

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, has called the deal “corporate welfare” and Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, called it a “get rich” funding scheme. Critics say the deal allows Heritage to retroactively cherry pick policies that have made no claims, thus privatizing profits and socializing losses. They also pointed to a long list of insurance violations at companies run by Heritage's president, Richard Widdicombe

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'Outraged' Miami-Dade politicians tell Scott to veto 'unconscionable' sick-time bill

More than a dozen local politicians from Miami-Dade County—including Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado—say they are “outraged” that the Florida Legislature wants to pass down another mandate on local governments.

In a letter to Gov. Rick Scott, Regalado and other local mayors, commissioners and council members, say HB 655—a ban on local “sick time” ordinances—is a “Tallahassee power grab.”

“Preempting local governments from exerting local control is bad public policy,” the letter states, before telling Scott to veto the bill. It also says: “It is unconscionable that legislators would pass a bill that diminishes the quality of life for our residents.”

HB 655 bans local governments from mandating that private employers provide sick-time leave and other benefits to their workers. If Scott signs it, it would stop Orange County from moving ahead with a ballot initiative that would mandate businesses to provide sick time benefits.

Initially, the bill would have also struck down “living wage” ordinances currently on the books in places like Miami-Dade County and Miami Beach. Those ordinances require companies that contract with the local government to pay wages that are higher than the state’s minimum wage. During the legislative process, lawmakers stripped out the language that would have affected the Miami-Dade ordinance. It passed the House 76-41 on a partyline vote, with the support of Miami-Dade’s Republican House members.

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June 05, 2013

Fla. jobs agency claims it was 'target' of 'politicized' federal investigation

Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity is accusing the federal government of targeting it with a politically driven investigation, after the U.S. Department of Labor slammed the jobs agency for denying access to jobless benefits.

Perhaps building upon the IRS's targeting scandal, DEO is asking for Congressional hearings and an Inspector General investigation into “improper politicization at the United States Department of Labor.”

“DEO has concluded that the USDOL investigation appears to have relied on insufficient evidence, fell far below professional standards, and may have been politically motivated,” the state jobs agency said in a statement.

DEO is objecting to the findings of an “initial determination” by the Labor Department, which found that Florida had made it difficult for the disabled and those who struggle with English to access jobless benefits they were eligible for.

In 2011, Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature slashed jobless benefits and created new requirements for applicants, including an online-only application and a 45-question skills review. DOL initially approved of the changes, which eventually led to a sharp increase in the number of rejected applications.

Civil rights groups filed challenges with the federal government over the changes, and the first ruling came in April. DOL’s Civil Rights Center sided with the pro-worker groups, finding that DEO’s unemployment aid program discriminated against people who speak Spanish and Creole, as well as those who were blind or otherwise disabled.

DEO is now saying that the DOL findings were “flawed” and based on politics rather than facts. In letters to Congress and the U.S. Inspector General’s Office, DEO general counsel Robert Sechen accuses DOL of collaborating with the group that filed the challenge (the Miami Workers Center). Sechen also accuses a key DOL official of admitting to having a political agenda, citing a biography that states the official had worked to “keep the evil overseers of the Bush administration from dismantling U.S. federal civil rights laws.”

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June 04, 2013

Movers & Shakers

Israel named to council on violent crime and drug control

New Broward County Sheriff Scott J. Israel has been appointed to the 14-member Florida Violent Crime and Drug Control Council. Israel defeated incumbent Al Lamberti in November.

Volusia County Sheriff Ben F. Johnson, 62, of Deland, has been reappointed to the council.

The council provides advice and makes recommendations on issues including gang criminal investigations, money laundering and drug control.

Teachers recognized at Cabinet meeting

Five of the 2013-2014 District Teachers of the Year were recognized at Tuesday's Cabinet meeting:

Carrie Cooper, Columbia County, Columbia High School

Deborah Hodge, Dixie County, Dixie County High School

Kathy Griffin, Hamilton County, Central Hamilton Elementary School

Nicole Roddenberry, Jefferson County, Jefferson County Elementary School

Kelli Williams, Suwannee County, Suwannee Primary School

Scott, Brogan at TaxWatch awards for cost-cutting employees

Scott will be speaking at the Florida TaxWatch's awards ceremony for state employees who have contributed innovative and cost-saving ideas. The 25th Annual Prudential - Davis Productivity Awards gala will take place from 5 to 8:30 p.m. June 5 at the Florida State University, University Center Club. 

The ceremony will grant 191 awards to state employees from the Tallahassee/Northwest Florida area. Frank Brogan, chancellor of the state university system, will serve as master of ceremonies. 

FMA tweaks government affairs team

The Florida Medical Association is making some changes in its government affairs team, with some staffers getting new titles and more responsibility.

Katie Ballard, director of legislative affairs, will play a key part on the FMA's lobbying team along with fundraising efforts.

Eric Carr, legislative and political grassroots coordinator, will be responsible for rebuilding the FMA legislative key contact program.   

Michelle Jacquis, director of policy management and legislative operations, will track bills introduced in the legislature and coordinate public policy positions.

Holly Miller, governmental affairs counsel, will assume a more active role on the FMA lobbying team.

Monte Stevens, director of governmental affairs and public policy, will manage the FMA’s in-house lobbying team.

FMA General Counsel Jeff Scott providea legal and policy guidance and will draft bills and amendments.

Executive Vice President Timothy J. Stapleton will be responsible for developing and implementing the FMA's overall legislative and political strategy.

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