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
“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.
Fasano, R-New Port Richey, has called the deal “corporate welfare” and Rep.
FrankArtiles, 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.
More than a dozen local politicians from Miami-Dade County—including
Miami Mayor TomasRegalado—say they are “outraged” that
the Florida Legislature wants to pass down another mandate on local
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
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.
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
“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.
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.”
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
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
Florida Medical Association is making some changes in its government
affairs team, with some staffers getting new titles and more
Katie Ballard, director of legislative affairs, will play a key part on the FMA's lobbying team along with fundraising efforts.
legislative and political grassroots coordinator, will be responsible
for rebuilding the FMA legislative key contact program.
director of policy management and legislative operations, will track
bills introduced in the legislature and coordinate public policy
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.
Scott signed SB 1770 on Wednesday,
one day after the reform proposal reached his desk. The bill creates a “clearinghouse”
to direct policies out of Citizens and into the private market, and includes several
reforms that address controversies and scandals that have taken place at
In a sharply worded missive, Scott
focused mainly on those scandals, using words like “outrageous,” “egregious,” and
“fraud, waste and abuse.”
“This new Inspector General will be
accountable to the Cabinet and will not be an entity Citizens can fire, as they
did with their old compliance officers,” Scott said in a statement. “A strong
Inspector General is needed to provide independent oversight at Citizens and to
end the fraud, waste, and abuse which has plagued Citizens for too long.”
Scott also called on Citizens to
change its policies after a controversial deal worth up to $52 million deal for
Heritage Property and Casualty Company, which is looking to take over 60,000 policies from the state-run insurer. Critics have blasted the
quickly-approved deal for the nine-month-old St. Petersburg company, which contributed
$110,000 to Scott’s reelection campaign in March. Scott said the board should require at least
seven days notice before any future board meetings, in accordance with state agency guidelines. The Heritage deal was unveiled on a
Friday, and voted out on the following Wednesday in a 3-2 vote. Several board
members complained that there was not enough time to vet the proposal, a
concern echoed by House Speaker Will
Weatherford and Chief Financial Officer JeffAtwater.
Citizens has stood by the Heritage
deal, saying that it was thoroughly vetted for several weeks and would significantly
reduce the company’s liability, which is backed by the state’s consumers.
"The financials associated with this deal are
significantly in our favor," Citizens President Barry Gilway said
After Gov. Rick
Scott’s highly prioritized manufacturing tax cut passed the Florida Legislature
without receiving a two-thirds vote majority, legislative staff analysts have had a change of
heart and now believe such a supermajority was not necessary.
Last month, staff analysts in the
Florida Senate said emphatically that a two-thirds vote was required, because
the proposed sales tax exemption for manufacturing equipment would put a
significant dent into local government revenue.
“Therefore, this bill requires passage by 2/3 of the
membership of each chamber,” the legislative
analysis dated April 2, 2013 states. The House analysts also raised the
two-thirds vote as a possibility, and a top official in Scott's office told the Herald/Times in February he believed a supermajority vote was required.
On May 2, an amended version of the bill cleared the
House in a hurriedly cast 68-48 vote, with all Democrats and a few Republicans voting against it. Despite falling short of the 80-vote
supermajority previously cited, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, quickly declared the bill
passed, and brushed aside concerns about its constitutionality. Democrats
“We think it is extremely constitutional,” Weatherford said
after the contentious
vote, stating that he had discussed the issue with legislative legal staff.
He followed up with a statement asking “Who would sue to stop a tax cut”?
Now, the non-partisan legislative analysts in the Florida House have
backtracked from their initial claim that the bill might need a two-thirds majority
and have fallen in line with the House Speaker’s position on its constitutionality.
staff analysis from the Florida House, dated May 15, strips all references to Article VII, section
18 of the Florida Constitution (the portion protecting local governments from
unfunded mandates). All previous staff reports had at least cited the
constitutional clause, highlighting the requirement for a two-thirds majority
vote when local government revenue is at stake. The Senate had been more definitive about the 2/3 vote requirement than the House, and a new analysis was not done by the Senate.
A spokesperson for Weatherford said final bill analyses traditionally do not include information about constitutionality.
Whereas initial staff analyses mentioned Department of
Economic Opportunity estimates of up to $115 million in lost revenue for the state, the updated review does not cite any cost figure. DEO has estimated that the tax cut could cost cities and counties up to $26 million per year.
The final bill analyses does not cite those numbers, or any others, only stating that “it is not anticipated the provisions would
significantly affect the authority of the counties and municipalities to raise
revenue in the aggregate.”
The words “significantly” and “aggregate” are key, because the
Constitution requires a two-thirds vote for any bill that has a significant impact
on local governments revenue-collecting abilities. A sales tax cut for
manufacturers will likely reduce the amount of revenue coming in to local government
Under the bill, the revenue loss for local
governments—estimated at $13 to $26 million per year—far exceeds the $1.9 million
threshold needed to qualify as a “significant” impact. But the Legislature's legal team has seized on the term “in the aggregate” to justify the bill’s
"Based on our staff's estimate, it does not have a significant impact," said Ryan Duffy, a spokesperson for Weatherford.
Case law on the issue is not definitive, so a lawsuit could
set a legal precedent for the future.
Of note, the bill has changed since the first staff analyses,
but the final version would still have a annual impact on
local government revenue. Under the original bill, the sales tax cut would have
kicked in this year and lasted forever. The updated bill creates a three-year
tax cut period starting in 2014. It could save manufacturers more than $140 million per year, when state and local tax savings are combined.
The proposal was one of Scott’s top priorities for the 2013
session, as the governor said eliminating taxes on machinery will help “build
up” manufacturing jobs in Florida.
Scott, who is expected to sign the bill soon, recently
wrapped up a “victory tour” across the state to celebrate the bill’s passage.
“Manufacturers in Florida
have been disadvantaged for too long because we were one of few states that
taxed the purchase of manufacturing equipment,” Scott said in a statement. “With
this legislation, Florida
is now on a level playing field.”
He added “I look forward to signing this bill into law.”
National Football League hall of famer and former Miami
Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino made a special appearance Thursday at the Florida House,
where lawmakers have stalled on an effort to give the Dolphins taxpayer support
for a stadium upgrade.
Marino is the fourth high-profile figure from the NFL to
show up in Tallahassee
this week. On Monday, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, NFL commissioner Roger
Goodell and team CEO Mike Dee spent hours in the Capitol talking to lawmakers
about the Dolphins stadium effort.
Marino met with House Speaker Will Weatherford, other House members and Gov. Rick Scott to talk about his foundation, and the sports stadium bill.
"I'm definitely supporting the whole thing with the stadium," he told the Times/Herald before meeting with Scott. "I'm a Dolphin for life and a South Floridian for life.
Weatherford told Marino he thought the sports stadium bill had a "good chance" of passing before Friday.
The Dolphins need Tallahassee
approval in order to get taxpayer support for its proposed stadium upgrade and
the legislative session is nearing an end without a deal.
The bill passed the Senate on Monday, but was in danger of
failing in the House, which has faced procedural gridlock this week as
Democrats protested a stalemate over healthcare reform. Session ends Friday.
Marino walked into Gov. Rick Scott's office around 3 p.m on Thursday after meeting with other lawmakers. In addition to being a former Dolphins quarterback, Marino has a foundation to support autism research and treatment. He has traveled to Tallahassee in the past to gin up support for his foundation and cause.
An honorary co-chair of of South Florida's Super Bowl bid committee, Marino also used the opportunity to speak to lawmakers about the sports stadium bill.
"I think it would be great for the community," said Marino. "People have got to understand the economic impact it would have on our community. Not only the jobs, but revenue for businesses, and there's great examples of that throughout the year's Super Bowls have been here, and national championships. From that respect, I'm all for it. Hopefully it'll work out."
If the bill passes and a referendum vote is approved, the
Dolphins could receive up to $289 million in taxpayer support from an increase
in the Miami-Dade hotel tax, from 6 to 7 percent. It would also offer the team
up to $90 million in state sales tax rebates.
If the bill doesn't pass, the referendum vote--scheduled for May 14 and already underway via early voting--would be called off.
The team is looking to spend more than $350 million for its
stadium upgrade and has agreed to pay much of the tax money back after 30
Bill Nelson looked like the heavy favorite for the Democratic
gubernatorial nomination to unseat vulnerable Republican Gov. Bob
Martinez in April 1990. But as Martinez continued to beef up his
reelection campaign account and then-U.S. Rep. Nelson remained little
known to much of Florida, Democrats fretted over Nelson’s prospects.
former Sen. Lawton Chiles confirmed the bombshell rumor: Yes, he would
run for governor. Nelson gamely continued campaigning, but it was
hopeless against the popular elder statesman. “Walkin’ Lawton” went on
to crush Nelson by more than 30 percentage points and then Martinez by
More than two decades later, U.S. Sen. Nelson is the
elder statesman of Florida’s Democratic Party, and the buzz is growing
about him stepping into the governor’s race to take on unpopular
incumbent Gov. Rick Scott. With many Democratic leaders worried about
the baggage of former Gov. Charlie Crist, Nelson has emerged as the
potential savior of Florida Democrats.
The latest noise came Thursday when Roll Call, a Washington,
D.C.-based newspaper, reported on its web site that Nelson was mulling
over a possible run.
“I’d say that’s true, that he’s considering
it,” Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin told the newspaper. “An awful lot
of people have contacted him and asked him to do so. But — and as he’s
said a number of times — he presently doesn’t have any intention of
running. He’s got a job to do as a senator.” More here from Tampa Bay Times' Adam Smith.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/04/27/3355862/will-it-be-senator-bill-nelson.html#storylink=cpy
Florida's decision in 2011 to make people who apply for benefits do so online and take an "assessment" before getting a check are a violation of civil rights, DOL found.
The Department of Economic Opportunity has agreed to enter negotiations with DOL to make appropriate changes, according to a press release from the National Employment Law Center, Florida Legal Services, the Miami Workers Center and other groups.
DEO defended its program, and said the Department of Labor knew about the changes before they took place.
"DEO questions many of the
initial findings by DOL," DEO spokesperson Monica Russell said in a statement. "DOL was aware of the legislative changes to the reemployment
system before its passage in 2011 and provided no objection."
At 16 percent, Florida recently ranked lowest in the nation for the “recipiency rate” of jobless benefits (i.e., the number of eligible people receiving aid.)
Many blamed changes made by Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature for the low rate of jobless benefits recipiency. A 2011 law forced all applicants for benefits to do so online, putting an end to applications by phone or paper. The law also required applicants to take a 45-question “assessment” to gauge their skills. Several groups filed a legal challenge saying the changes were discriminatory against those with disabilities and low English proficiency.
“The online requirements created severe obstacles for thousands of Florida jobseekers, especially those with limited English proficiency or disabilities that prevent them from using a computer,” the pro-worker groups said in a statement.
Voting on a
major insurance overhaul was postponed again Wednesday, indicating that
fear of skyrocketing rates is weighing down the bill in the
Bill sponsor David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said last
week that he has enough support for the bill, but wanted more time to make
amendments and build more consensus.
He pulled the bill from the agenda right before the first
scheduled vote last week. The same thing happened Wednesday, when the bill was
again “temporarily postponed.” After cruising through the committee process,
the bill has been delayed on the floor of the Senate three times in the last
two weeks. It has been amended nearly 40 times.
Simmons said he would amend the bill in order to address
concerns of lawmakers who are worried about the pocketbook impact on their
The 100-page bill seeks to shrink the level of risk carried by
Citizens Property Insurance Corp. by raising its rates and forcing its policyholders
into the private market. The rate hikes are mostly focused on new policyholders
at the state-run Citizens and those who have high-risk “wind-only” coverage.
Citizens’ president Barry Gilway said earlier this month that
the bill could lead to rate hikes of 60 percent or more in 11 counties across the
state. Many of those large increases would be for the wind-only homeowners.