April 10, 2013

Rep. Daphne Campbell to press: Nevermind

To speed up the political process, Miami Rep. Daphne Campbell called a press conference Wednesday afternoon to highlight a bill she's sponsoring that expands the authority of nurse practitioners and physician assistants to order the involuntary committment of a patient who could hurt themselves or others under the state's Baker Act.

Under current law, a physician, police officer and counselor can commit someone who might be mentall ill, but not nurse practitioners, who have additional training and education, Campbell said.

 "A police officer on the street can Baker Act a patient and not a nurse practitioner, who has two licenses?" said the Democratic legislator, who is a registered nurse but not a nurse practitioner. "They're well, well educated."

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Shhh... Soaring insurance rates the unspoken theme in fast-moving Senate bill

Rate increases have been the unspoken undercurrent of a property insurance bill cruising through the Florida Senate.

As lawmakers have cast their votes on the quickly-moving and complex bill, few have discussed exactly how much rates would increase under the proposal. With little discussion of the bill’s rate impact, it has sailed through committee and could be debated on the floor on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Citizens President Barry Gilway gave the first glimpse of the actual rate impact and pointed out that it could be substantial. 

“There are 11 territories that would see a rate increase of over 60 percent,” he said

Here are some of the rate increases that will hit new Citizens customers next year if the bill passes in its current form. 

Part of Volusia County: 86.8 percent
Part of Lee County: 62 percent
Part of Broward County: 65.6 percent
Part of Hernando County: 73.3 percent
Part of Monroe County: 137.8 percent
Part of Palm Beach County: 60.1 percent

Other territories in Miami-Dade County and parts of Tampa Bay could also see annual insurance premiums increase by thousands of dollars. Sinkhole rates in places like Hernando County could nearly triple. 

Those numbers have been non-existent in the debate over SB 1770, which is reaching a floor vote after bipartisan support in three Senate committees. Some of the lawmakers voting for the bill represent districts where rate increases would hit hardest. Rates would go up mostly for new customers, but that includes people who get dropped by their insurance companies and forced into Citizens, and people who get dropped by Citizens and need to rejoin.

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April 09, 2013

Wage theft bill narrowly passes House Committee, exempts Miami-Dade, Broward

A bill that would outlaw new “wage theft” ordinances—similar to the one in Miami-Dade County—narrowly passed the Local & Federal Affairs Committee in the House on Tuesday.

The bill, HB 1125, is the latest in a multiyear attempt by the business lobby to outlaw local laws that govern the act of “wage theft,” or employers refusing to pay employees. The push has failed in previous years, and a judge upheld Miami-Dade’s program last year.

This year, the business lobby is hoping a less aggressive approach will work. HB 1125 would grandfather in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, while outlawing other counties from passing new “wage theft” ordinances.

Miami-Dade County created a program in 2010 to address wage theft, launching an administrative process that helps employees recover lost wages from their employers. The program has recovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages since it was created via ordinance in 2010. The Florida Retail Federation filed a lawsuit to challenge Miami-Dade’s program, but it was dismissed by a judge last year.

In Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the bill would leave the ordinances intact. Any counties looking to enact wage theft ordinances in the future—including Alachua County—would be banned from doing so in the future.

The bill would force victims of wage theft to take their case to civil court, after giving their employer a “demand letter,” allowing them 15 days to pay the disputed amount. Courts could only award “economic damages,” and awards for punitive damages or repayment for attorneys fees would be prohibited. The bill also reduces the statute of limitations for wage theft claims from two years to one year.

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April 04, 2013

Miami Senator calls on Scott to stop flow of 'armor piercing' bullets

 Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, said armor-piercing bullets have become ubiquitous in his district and is asking Gov. Rick Scott to do something about it.

In a letter to Scott’s office Thursday, Bullard called on Scott to begin an investigation into the flow of deadly bullets into South Florida, calling them "military-grade" and saying his constituents are living in "open war zones."

“As night falls in many of these communities, families gather before twilight not to feast, but to fear,” he wrote. “They lock themselves in to lock out those who prey the streets with high powered weapons that pierce a home’s walls as effortlessly as they pierce a child’s body.”

Bullard also lamented the fact that several gun control bills are languishing in the Florida Legislature, which has been reluctant to entertain the gun debate.

Here’s Bullard’s letter to Scott:

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April 03, 2013

Dolphins clear another committee stop in quest for taxpayer-supported stadium upgrade

The Miami Dolphins have completed another first down in their drive to get taxpayers to pitch in millions of dollars for the team’s stadium renovation. 

Though the clock is running down, the Dolphins’ chances of getting millions of dollars in tax breaks improved Wednesday, when lawmakers on the House Economic Affairs Committee approved the proposal in a 10-7 vote. The bill picked up an amendment reflecting the Dolphins’ pledge to pay back sales tax rebates awarded by the state, after 30 years. 

The team’s drive had stalled in the House, with no hearings since its first committee stop on March 8. Economic Affairs chair Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, made it clear last month that opponents of the tax breaks had been lobbying him to bury the bill. Americans for Prosperity, which gave Patronis an A+ rating in 2011, is circulating a petition telling lawmakers to “End Corporate Welfare for Pro-Sports Teams.”

Patronis eventually voted against the bill, though he said it deserved a hearing and decided not kill it by keeping it off the agenda. 

"It is not appropriate to stand in the way of legislation that another member has put before you," he said.

Patronis said he had not been lobbied by House Speaker Will Weatherford to hear the bill. 

The Dolphins are hoping Miami-Dade County voters will raise the mainland hotel tax from 6 percent to 7 percent to help provide funding for a stadium renovation that could cost about $390 million. The team is also requesting up to $90 million in sales tax rebates from the state of Florida.

 Supporters of the bill, including Miami-Dade Commissioner Sally Heyman, came to Tallahassee to show their support for the bill and attend the annual “Miami-Dade Days” at the Capitol. Opponents, including Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall, also showed up to slam the bill.

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March 27, 2013

Digital Domain CEO hits back at damning IG report, blames Scott-Crist politics

Digital Domain debacle, take two.

The former CEO of Digital Domain is hitting back with an alternative script after an Inspector General report slammed the process that helped the now-defunct Port St. Lucie film studio get $20 million in taxpayer grants. 

John Textor said the claim by Gov. Rick Scott and Enterprise Florida that the Digital Domain deal was some kind of widely discredited proposal that had been blacklisted by Enterprise Florida, only to be slipped into the budget later by aggressive lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Crist—is complete fiction.

In fact, Textor said, Enterprise Florida actually recommended that Florida taxpayers chip in about $11.4 million to help Digital Domain bring jobs to the state.

An email Textor provided to the Herald/Times shows that an Enterprise Florida representative wrote Textor on March 18, 2009, saying that the organization would “present to [the Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development] relative to a one-time award of $6.1 million” and other awards for a “total potential FL economic incentive package” of $11.4 million. The email, not included in the IG report, said Digital Domain would be required to create 300 jobs. 

EFI never went through with a recommendation to OTTED (which is required for  economic incentives grants to be awarded), but Textor has a very different explanation for why that did not happen.

According to Enterprise Florida’s account, the organization refused to support funding because Digital Domain’s finances were “extremely weak” and its business model was suspect.  Textor has a different story, and questions Enterprise Florida’s credibility by pointing out that the organization believed Digital Domain’s business plan was strong enough to receive an $11.4 million incentives package. 

Textor believes that he and others are being thrown under the bus as a way for Gov. Rick Scott to attack the Crist administration, which was in charge when Digital Domain received funding by getting special language tacked onto the state's budget.

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March 22, 2013

Florida House votes to ban internet cafes

Via Mary Ellen Klas and Toluse Olorunnipa

Stung by a criminal investigation into an online gambling ring that poured $1.4 million into legislative campaigns, the Florida House on Friday voted 110 to 6 for a bill aimed at shutting down Internet cafes, adult arcades and Miami’s “maquinitas.”

It’s a great day in the Florida House,” said Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, who sponsored the bill. “This will be one of the largest contractions of gaming that we've experienced in our state, certainly in the last 50 or 100 years.”

The bill attempts to clarify state law by specifying that charity organizations, adult arcades and for-profit sweepstakes operators may not operate permanent gambling centers using casino-style games that portend to be games of skill.

 

InternetCafe_CrystalCafe
An internet cafe in Crystal River advertised "sweepstakes booty" on Friday. Via Steve Bousquet

 

Opponents blasted the measure as a knee-jerk reaction to a political scandal and warned that the bill will have the unintended consequence of sending hundreds of business owners and their employees into the unemployment lines.

“Here we are today going to outlaw something that for the past 30 years has been legal in the state of Florida,” said Rep. Jim Waldman, R-Coconut Creek. "If we're going to do that, what's next?"

The measure, (HB 155), comes a week after federal and state officials arrested 57 owners and operators of Allied Veterans of the World, a Jacksonville-based chain of 49 “Internet cafes” and charged them with illegal gambling, money laundering and racketeering.

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March 20, 2013

A year after mortgage settlement, lawmakers unveil plan for $200 million in housing aid

Florida lawmakers announced plans Wednesday for more than $200 million in housing aid from a national mortgage settlement that has languished for nearly a year.

The House Appropriations Committee approved a tentative plan for the money, deciding to direct it toward housing aid for teachers, veterans, rural physicians, public defenders and others. The plan would also provide funding for legal services and additional court staff to help streamline Florida’s clogged up foreclosure system. People who have suffered from foreclosure or other housing troubles would benefit from additional funding for affordable housing.

Last year, Florida became the slowest state to make use of part of its funding in the settlement —which allowed lawmakers to decide how to direct $334 million in funds. The Legislature redirected $74 million for general purposes last year, while lawmakers and Attorney General Pam Bondi debated over who had the authority to spend the rest of the money. 

Bondi and the Legislature eventually agreed that lawmakers would appropriate the funds during the legislative session, meaning most of the funds would idle for several more months before being used. A separate part of the settlement, handled by banks, has already been processing homeowner aid. That program has helped thousands of struggling homeowners, though Florida's foreclosure rate remains the highest in the nation.

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March 13, 2013

Landlords, car dealers get wins with House votes. Dems say consumers lose

Consumers who get in disputes with their car dealer or landlord could end up facing a tougher task after two pro-industry bills passed the Florida House on Wednesday.

HB 55, sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz, would require some car buyers who have a dispute with their car dealer to send a demand letter prior to filing a lawsuit.

Car buyers who believe their car sellers have acted deceptively or fraudulently will have to send a detailed demand letter including the amount of damages being claimed, and give the dealer 30 days to address the problem before suing.

Gaetz said the bill would help consumers and car dealers avoid expensive litigation, and the demand letter proposal would allow parties to “more efficiently and effectively solve disputes.”

The bill passed 83-29, with opposition from Democrats who said the demand letter put too much of a burden on consumers, especially those who are not savvy about the legal process.

“The bill that we have before us is very troubling from the perspective of consumers,” said Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, who blamed supporters of the bill for “cutting off access to redress for those consumers” who have car problems after buying a vehicle.

“We shouldn’t be legislating something honestly that is this anti-consumer, when there are probably solutions before us that are more narrow,” he said.

Said Rep. Elaine Schwartz, D-Hollywood: “There are a lot of things about this that don’t smell so good,” adding that car dealers are notorious for “trying to con someone.”

“This bill eviscerates… those rights that consumers have under the current law,” said Rep. Dwight Dudley, R-St. Petersburg. 

Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, defended the bill from those Democratic attacks, saying that it’s a simple way to avoid costly litigation.

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March 12, 2013

Previewing CPAC speech, Weatherford tells a tale of two states

House Speaker Will Weatherford tried to draw a clear line between Florida and liberal states like California and Illinois on Tuesday, saying Florida’s conservative governance strategy will win out in the “political science experiment” currently taking place between red and blue states.

Speaking before the Florida chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, hinted at some of what he’ll say during a high-profile weekend speech before the conservative gathering CPAC.

Weatherford talked about his positions on Medicaid and pensions, framing his arguments within a broader theme more suitable for a national audience: Tax-and-spend liberal states are struggling while freedom-promoting, conservative states that are prospering.

“There are two distinct directions that states are going,” Weatherford said. “There’s the collectivism, groupthink-type state—California, Illinois, New York and others where [instead of] solving their problems they just raise more taxes.”

He went on to say, “There are other states, like Florida, like Texas, like Alabama, that are actually doing the right things. That are limiting the regulatory burden, limiting the tax burden on citizens.”

Weatherford painted liberal states like California and Illinois as economically-troubled places where residents are fleeing in droves, coming to Florida and other low-tax havens.

Weatherford’s portrayal of liberal-versus-conservative track records isn’t completely accurate. For example, the job growth rate in California and New York are double the below-average growth that Florida has achieved in the last year, and Illinois is creating jobs at the same rate as Florida.

Weatherford said his decision to not expand Medicaid is part of a push to help make Florida “a pocket of freedom” in the U.S. and also said Medicaid expansion was “a threat” to freedom.

Weatherford said other states that capitulate to federal Medicaid expansion will end up facing budget troubles and “will be at a disadvantage to a state like Florida 10 years from now.

NFIB members applauded Weatherford when he said he was “not buying” the federal government’s Medicaid expansion plan. NFIB is one of the few business groups to take a solid and consistent position against Medicaid expansion. Groups like the Florida Chamber and Associated Industries of Florida have signaled that they could support Medicaid expansion, which Gov. Rick Scott favors.

The House Speaker didn’t completely shut off the door to accepting billions of federal dollars to help cover 1 million uninsured Floridians. He said he prefers a “private sector solution.”

Weatherford also talked about pensions, which he said need to be addressed before the long-term costs weigh down taxpayers.

Again, he pointed to states like Illinois, which is dealing with a massive budget problem due to pension obligations.

@ToluseO