August 09, 2013

On SYG, Democrats no match for Republican unity

Friday came and went without Democrats filing the necessary 32 letters, a first step state law requires from lawmakers for a special session on Florida’s stand your ground law.

They have until October to get the letters in, but the House Democratic Leader, Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, predicted last week that at least 32 letters would be filed at the Secretary of State’s office by now, enough to trigger a poll of the lawmakers to order a special session. (It's a longshot, with 96 lawmakers needed to agree to it).

Instead, according to Secretary of State spokesman Mark Ard, the department had received 28 letters, all Democrats.

They are:

 

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August 08, 2013

Dream Defenders to launch massive voter registration drive

The Dream Defenders, who are marking Day 24 of their Capitol sit-in outside Gov. Rick Scott's office, announced they are launching a massive drive to register 61,550 voters by 2014 -- the margin Scott won by in the 2010 election. 

"We intend to register the people that are forgotten - the black, the brown, the indigent, the poor, the LGBT community and we will meet them where they are, in the classrooms, in the mall, at the club, on the corner, at the bus stop" said the Dream Defenders Executive Director Philip Agnew at a press conference Thursday.

He said the effort, which would enlist students on Florida campuses, would be geared toward issues, not candidates. "At the end of the day, we are not blue or red."

There's a need to "build power," Agnew said, so that "when the time comes again for us to move on issues like the school-to-prison pipeline, like racial profiling, like Stand Your Ground, we don't have to sit on the floor again."

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July 18, 2013

Lee wants to give Senate presidency another whirl

Sen. Tom Lee said when he decided earlier this month to run for president, he did so because other lawmakers in Tampa Bay were running for the same post.

“I’ve been calling a few members, which is actually when I learned a couple have made a commitment to Sen. (Wilton) Simpson,” Lee said. “I know Simpson is running very hard, and so is Bill Galvano.”

Lee, R-Brandon, was Senate president in 2004 to 2006 and was elected back to the Senate last year for a two-year term after the former incumbent, Ronda Storms, left the seat to run unsuccessfully for Hillsborough County property appraiser.

The 51-year-old homebuilder said he he was seeking the presidency in 2020 (where he would preside over the 2021 and 2022 sessions). Even though he concedes it’s too early to run for such a far out date (Lee would have to win next year’s election, plus a second in 2018), but said since others were doing so, he felt compelled to announce now.

“They’ve forced me to run,” Lee said.

Tampa Bay hasn’t had a Senate president since Lee in 2006. With Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, currently locked in the race for 2016 (for the 2017 and 2018 sessions) with Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, Lee is laying out a scenario in which four Tampa Bay lawmakers are now in the mix for the job (if one includes Manatee County as part of Tampa Bay).

According to our friends at The Bradenton Herald, Galvano, R-Bradenton, is being coy about his plans for the presidency in 2018 (for the 2019 and 2020 sessions).  As for Simpson, R-Trilby, the Times/Herald asked him on July 11 if he was running for the presidency and he said he was too busy being a regular senator.

“I would be very humbled if my colleagues suggest I can do that job,” Simpson said. “I’m working very hard to be a humble public servant. If that adds up to more than me representing Senate District 18, I would be honored. But right now, all I’m focused on is representing my constituents.”

July 05, 2013

Legislative leaders spread the love this session, giving select staff pay raises

When Florida legislators this year broke the freeze on employee pay and offered state workers salary increases for the first time in seven years, legislative leaders made sure to give some of their own employees pay raises, too.

Using criteria based on performance and promotions, the increases amounted to about three to five percent for most workers but as much as 20 percent for others.

House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz took different approaches. Gaetz provided bonuses and salary increases to 35 staff members, beginning last month. Weatherford gave raises to 71 full-time employees, starting this month.  Download Senate - Promotions Salary Increases - 2013 Session

Weatherford attempted to keep the House annual budget the same by reorganizing, and using retirements and departures of some staff members, said Ryan Duffy, spokesman for Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. The net cost of the raises to taxpayers was about $27,000, he said.  Download House Salary Review Summer 2013 Press Request (1)

The Senate bonuses, by contrast, cost taxpayers an additional $105,848, said Katie Betta, Senate spokeswoman. More here. 

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 12, 2013

Ethics commission finds Sachs left off condo from disclosure form but drops complaint

The Florida Commission on Ethics has found probable cause to conclude that Sen. Maria Sachs failed to properly disclose a Tallahassee condominium on her annual financial disclosure forms for three years but, because Sachs amended her forms to correct the omission, the commission chose not to pursue any further action. 

The complaint alleging  alleging that Sachs violated state financial disclosure law by failing to include her Tallahassee condominium on her annual report for three years was filed by Palm Beach County Republican Party chairman Sid Dinerstein on Oct. 15.

Sachs, a Democrat, was embroiled in a hotly contested race against former state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale at the time, which she won. They were forced to run against each other because of redistricting.

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June 07, 2013

Cat Fund fight could have huge impact on condo insurance rates

Rep. Mike Fasano and Dr. Jack Nicholson, who runs the state-backed reinsurance organization (the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund), are in a bit of a back-and-forth over what should and shouldn’t constitute a “residential property” for insurance purposes.

It’s a bit wonky, but Fasano says Nicholson’s interpretation of Florida’s statutes could cost condo associations thousands of dollars in rate hikes, if the Cat Fund stops covering their buildings.

According to Fasano (R-New Port Richey), a change to the Cat Fund’s coverage policy would disqualify condominium buildings where units are being rented for more than six months of the year from receiving state-backed reinsurance. 

He said the change could force some condo associations to see their insurance rates double, as private insurers and state-run Citizens Insurance rely on the Cat Fund for low priced back-up insurance. 

Fasano believes Nicholson and the Cat Fund have gone beyond the scope of the Florida Statutes by implementing the restriction on condos that have units rented out for more than half the year.

“Distinguishing between policies for condominium structures and condominium units based on rental criteria also seems to be contrary to Section 718.1256, Florida Statutes,” he wrote in a letter to Nicholson, outlining statutory language that states condos should be classified as residential property. The Cat Fund is required to provide coverage for residential properties.

Nicholson responded Friday, arguing that he was complying with the law because the rented condo units are “transient rental property,” and therefore not considered “residential property” eligible for Cat Fund coverage.

“An exclusion of transient rentals from the term ‘residential property’ is consistent with other statutory provisions,” wrote Nicholson.

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June 06, 2013

'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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Looks like Hialeah state Rep. Eddy Gonzalez doesn't live in his district

From Political Cortadito:

Once again, some lucky constituents have two, not one, elected fighting their battles in Tallahassee — while some unlucky schmucks have none.

State Rep. Eddy Gonzalez (R-Hialeah), senior member and chair of the Miami-Dade Legislative Delegation, is still living in his old home, which was drawn into his colleague buddy’s district, even though Gonzalez was elected in a new number to which he said he was moving.

After redistricting last year put his home in another incumbent’s district, Gonzalez, who is termed out in 2014, “volunteered” to move out of his home at 7625 W 14th Ct. — where he represented District 102 in West Hialeah for the last six years — and into a relative’s East Hialeah house in District 111.

Well, he sorta had to volunteer — either that or run against his ally and campaign cigar supplier, State Rep. Jose “Cigar Czar” Oliva (R-Miami Lakes), after his property was included in the newly-redrawn District 110, which would have been uncomfortable, especially seeing as how everyone is pushing to make Oliva a future House Speaker.