September 04, 2014

Charlie Crist rips Rick Scott on property insurance

Amid all the murky charges and countercharges Rick Scott and Charlie Crist are hurling at each other on TV, Crist is intent on informing voters about something clear and undisputable:

The property insurance industry much prefers Scott in the governor's office over Crist, and Floridians paid lower property insurance bills when Crist was governor.

"The choice could not be more clear," Crist said in a telephone press conference Thursday. "A governor who took on the insurance industry and lowered rates so families had more in their checking accounts and at the end of the month? Or a governor who let insurance companies raise rates — over 25 percent so the companies and his campaign have more in the bank?"

The former Republican governor noted that his first act in the office was to call a special legislative session to deal with property insurance bills that were skyrocketing after eight hurricanes in 2004 and 2005.

State leaders early in 2007 froze rates and expanded government-run Citizens Insurance to keep rates down --- something the Scott campaign blasted Thursday even though Scott's lieutenant governor, Carlos Lopez-Cantera, supported it along with the state House led at the time by Marco Rubio.

"Florida taxpayers were left on the hook for billions and homeowners were left with fewer options to protect their property," said Matt Moon, Scott's campaign spokesman. "Under Gov. Scott, Florida has done the exact opposite, reforming and shrinking Citizens Insurance while giving consumers more choice and competition to protect their home."

More here

New law drastically reduces cost of Florida Prepaid College Plans


A new law that drastically limits tuition increases at state universities will result in $900 million in savings for families enrolled in Florida Prepaid College Plans.

About 18,000 families will receive $197 million in refunds because their paid-in-full accounts now exceed expected tuition costs. Another 22,000 families will see their bills reduced by more than $700 million over the remainder of their contracts.

There are 7,265 families in the Tampa Bay area, and 14,009 families in the Miami area that will receive refunds or price reductions.

These savings are the result of House Bill 851, approved during the 2014 session. The bill got the most attention for a provision allowing undocumented immigrants to qualify for in-state tuition, but it also froze tuition at current rates and repealed a state law that allowed public universities to ask the Board of Governors to increase tuition up to a maximum of 15 percent.

Read more here.

Governor orders flags at half staff for Steven Sotloff

Steven Sotloff

Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday ordered all state and U.S. flags in Florida to be flown at half-staff in memory of murdered journalist Steven Sotloff. 

Here's the governor's statement:

Steven Sotloff, a former University of Central Florida journalism student from Pinecrest, was brutally murdered by ISIS in a barbaric video displayed worldwide. Ann and I join all Floridians, and Americans, in grieving with the Sotloff family today. Those who murdered Steven are evil, and evil must be confronted and destroyed. 

In honor and in memory of Steven Sotloff, I hereby direct the flags of the United States and the State of Florida to be flown at half-staff at all local and state buildings, installations, and grounds throughout the State of Florida on Friday, September 5, 2014

Meanwhile, friends told the Miami Herald that Sotloff successfully kept his Jewish identity secret from his captors until his death. His story here. 



NAACP joins Mayor Gimenez in fight with police union over cameras


Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced Thursday the NAACP endorsed his high-profile push to mandate body cameras for the county's police officers. 

"Let us not wait until another incident, like the one in Ferguson, occurs to act," said Adora Obi Nweze, president of the Miami-Dade branch of the civil-rights group. "This initiative would help to protect our community members and police officers alike."

Gimenez's $1 million camera plan was in the proposed budget weeks before the Aug. 9 shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo. But he has made it a centerpiece of his agenda after the shooting, saying the surveillance cameras could help calm passions after a similar incident since the circumstances would  be easier to discern. 

Miami-Dade's police union filed a grievance over the proposal, and emerged as the main critic of the Gimenez initiative. Union leaders cite the potential distraction from having to activate the cameras.

The opposition is part of a larger fight with Gimenez over his budget, which initially  called for hundreds of cuts to police jobs. He's also pushing the police union to start negotiations over a new contract and his proposed changes to employees' health-care plans.

The bitterness of the stand-off was apparent in the union's latest newsletter. The September issue of the Dade Police Benevolent Association's Heat newsletter featured a photo of Gimenez on the cover with a dunce cap on his head. Inside, a note from union president John Rivera likened the mayor to a sexually transmitted  disease.

"We are not giving in to his tyrannical behavior," Rivera wrote to members. "Gimenez is like herpes -- the 'gift' that keeps giving."

Pba newsletter

In Context: Wasserman Schultz's comments about Scott Walker giving 'women the back of his hand.'

Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz made national headlines and stirred controversy when she sharply criticized Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker during an appearance in Milwaukee on Sept. 3, 2014.

The South Florida congresswoman was the featured speaker in a round-table discussion on women's issues at the Milwaukee Athletic Club. She was joined by U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, and Wisconsin Democratic Party chair Mike Tate, among others.

At one point, Wasserman Schultz said: "Scott Walker has given women the back of his hand."

She added: "What Republican tea party extremists like Scott Walker are doing is they are grabbing us by the hair and pulling us back."

Republican Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch said the remarks were "absolutely hideous and the motive behind them was despicable."

And a spokeswoman for Mary Burke, the Democrat who is challenging Walker in the Nov. 4, 2014 election, said: "That's not the type of language that Mary Burke would use, or has used, to point out the clear differences in this contest."

The controversy makes the remarks a good candidate for In Context, a periodic feature that provides a fuller look at comments that gain widespread attention. Read the report from PolitiFact Florida and PolitiFact Wisconsin.

Dems' Arceneaux and GOP's Johnson talk gov race


We checked out a Q&A session today with the executive directors of the Florida Republican and Democratic parties, Juston Johnson and Scott Arceneaux, at a Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists (FAPL) conference in Tampa. Quick takeways:


**One word. Johnson swears that the GOP's focus groups consistently show the most common word that comes to mind when asked about Rick Scott is "Jobs." For Charlie Crist it's "Tan."

**The Stoner vote. Both men dismissed the notion that the Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative will drive up turnout among young voters who could help Crist. Said Arceneaux: "Someboidy's got to put real money behind Amendment 2 to ccommunicate with real voters...I don't know if that's going to happen or not."

**Recent polling trends. Johnson noted that eight of the last nine public polls have shown Scott leading and tied with Crist, and ballots are going to start being cast in a few weeks so the recent trends "make us feel even better about where we are."

**Turnout, turnout, turnout: "If I were sitting in Scott's shoes I would be terrified aout the turnout," Johnson said, and Arceneaux pretty much agreed. The Democrat noted that Broward turnout has been lousy in recent years. "Broward keeps me up at night," he said.

**Running mates. Both executive directors agreed that the nominees for lieutenant governor have almost no bearing on who wins. "Maybe on the margins," Johnson said, but "nobody knows who either one of them are."

Arceneaux said people pick their running mate for a variety of reasons. "There are things like money...There are things like interest groups, there are all kinds of reasons. But they are not a big vote-driver."

**Pinellas County and Tampa Bay. Asked about Crist coattails helping Democratic candidates in Pinellas, Johnson dismissed the notion and suggested that Crist is spending so much time in south Florida "I think Charlie may be taking his home area for granted a little bit."

Arceneaux predicted that Crist would do better than Alex Sink did in the area.

***Manners. Arceneaux needs some work on that front. He gratuitously dropped at least two f-bombs, he slouched for most of the presentation, and several times checked emails on his phone while people asked questions...

Florida Dems request federal investigation into Carlos Curbelo for failure to disclose firm's clients


The Florida Democratic Party asked the U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday to investigate Miami Republican and congressional candidate Carlos Curbelo for failing to disclose his firm’s clients.

Curbelo violated a federal ethics law by running Capitol Gains, the government and public relations firm he founded in 2002, but keeping it in his wife’s name since 2009, which exempts him from having to make the company’s clients public, Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant wrote in a letter to the Justice Department’s public integrity section.

“Mr. Curbelo appears to have knowingly and willfully falsified and failed to report information required to be reported” under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, Tant wrote. That law requires candidates’ financial interests to be disclosed.

Tant asked the Justice Department to launch an investigation — which could lead to fines or other civil penalties — “or, if and as appropriate, initiate a criminal investigation.”

A spokesman for Curbelo, a Miami-Dade County School Board member who is challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, called the Democrats’ complaint “frivolous.”

Continue reading "Florida Dems request federal investigation into Carlos Curbelo for failure to disclose firm's clients" »

Rubio, in push for Venezuelan sanctions, says Maduro government influenced Senate action


U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who has been pushing the Obama administration to impose targeted sanctions on individuals committing human rights violations in Venezuela, renewed his push Thursday, urging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to allow a vote of the bill he is championing.

In the process, he called out Senate colleague Mary Landrieu, a Democrat from Louisiana, for putting a hold on the bill just before senators left town for the August recess.


Continue reading "Rubio, in push for Venezuelan sanctions, says Maduro government influenced Senate action" »

Thousands more Citizens insurance policyholders could be sent into private market

From the News Service of Florida:

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation announced Thursday that more than 425,000 customers of the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. could be shifted in November to 16 private carriers.

But don't count on all of the policies landing in the private market.

The targeted accounts, nearly double the number of policies previously approved this year to be taken out by private firms, are comprised of 425,357 personal-residential and 2,227 commercial-residential polices. However, past takeout efforts have shown that private companies cherry-pick the least-risky policies and that companies often go after many of the same policies.

Since the start of the year, regulators have approved 894,156 policies for takeout, including the policies announced Thursday. As of Aug. 30, 124,995 had been removed. (Note: Policyholders who refuse the take out to remain with Citizens may get hit with a rate incurease, and for those who agree to the take-out, there there is no guarantee that the rate the customer gets the first year with the takeout will match the rate in subsequent years.) 

Citizens had 933,807 policies as of July 31.The agency in February went under the 1 million policy mark for the first time since August 2006.

Citizens President and Chief Executive Officer Barry Gilway has said he expects the number of Citizens policies to reach about 850,000 later this year, with the number flattening out around 650,000 policies before the end of 2017.

In addition to the just-announced November takeouts, Southern Oak Insurance Company will have a chance to receive up to 10,000 policies on Sept. 16, while six companies are lined up to acquire as many as 91,499 policies, mostly inland personal-lines accounts, in October.

Appeals court won't put Miami Beach publicist on the ballot

An appeals court won't let Republican Laura Rivero Levey continue her bid for Florida House District 113.

Levey, a Miami Beach publicist, was disqualified from the race after a check she submitted to the state bounced.

Levey's bank said it had mistakenly placed a hold on the account, and she immediately sent a cashier's check to the state. But because she missed the deadline for qualifying, the Division of Elections refused to put her name on the ballot.

Incumbent state Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, was declared the winner.

Levey sued in hopes of having her candidacy reinstated. A circuit court judge ruled against her last month.

The First District Court of Appeal upheld the lower court's decision in a 2-1 ruling Wednesday.

 "Although we agree with the trial court that this result is harsh, it is mandated by the clear language of the statute," Chief Judge Joseph Lewis, Jr. wrote in the majority opinion. "If a candidate's qualifying check is returned for any reason, the candidate must pay the qualifying fee by cashier's check before the end of the qualifying period. Levey’s check was returned, the reason for that occurring is immaterial, and she failed to cure the deficiency within the time allotted by the statute."

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Robert T. Benton, II said there was never any need for Levey to send a "cure check."

"The check Mrs. Levey originally tendered, which the Secretary of State accepted, has never been returned to her," Benton said. "The state needs only to see that it is presented anew to the now apologetic bank and direct the Supervisor of Elections in Miami-Dade County to let the voters choose between Mrs. Levey and Mr. Richardson."

Richardson said he was pleased with the outcome.

"It is unfortunate Ms. Levey will not be a candidate during this election cycle since she seems eager to challenge me on the campaign trail," he said in a statement. "However, the law is the law. If any citizen believes a Florida election law should be changed, they have every right to lobby the legislature, but the courts cannot and should not re-write a clear, unambiguous and constitutional law."

Read the opinion below.

Download Levey