April 24, 2013

Yellow Dot program to help crash victims gets second nod in House

An effort to help first responders get crucial information about car crash victims has won the approval of the House -- twice. The House passed the program, added as an amendment to a highway safety bill, on Wednesday. On April 17th, the Yellow Dot program proposed in House Bill 1005, passed the full House by a vote of 117-0. The idea is to give the program the best shot of passing in the Senate.

The bill's backer, Rep. Irv Slosberg, said the Yellow Dot program "saves lives and raises money" for counties.

Continue reading "Yellow Dot program to help crash victims gets second nod in House" »

April 23, 2013

Jay Odom gets 6-month sentence for illegal campaign contributions

PENSACOLA (AP) -- Panhandle developer Jay Odom was sentenced to six months in federal prison after pleading guilty to a charge of making illegal contributions in the 2008 presidential primary.

A federal judge sentenced Odom, who owns Destin Jet, on Tuesday morning. He faced up to five years in prison. Federal investigators alleged that he illegally funneled $23,000 to the campaign of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Odom circumvented federal finance laws by repaying 10 associates who each gave a maximum $2,300 donation to Huckabee.

April 16, 2013

Wage theft bill headed to House floor

A bill that would outlaw new “wage theft” ordinances—similar to the one in Miami-Dade County—is headed to the House floor after a partyline vote in its final committee.

The vote came on the same day that employee activists called a press conference to protest the bill as an anti-worker intrusion on local government.

Proponents called it a way to create a statewide solution to the problem of wage theft, or employers not compensating their workers. That solution encourages the worker to take the case to small claims court, rather than county-based programs established by ordinance.

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.

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.

In Miami-Dade and Broward County, 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.

@ToluseO           

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."

Continue reading "Rep. Daphne Campbell to press: Nevermind" »

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.

Continue reading "Shhh... Soaring insurance rates the unspoken theme in fast-moving Senate bill " »

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.

Continue reading "Wage theft bill narrowly passes House Committee, exempts Miami-Dade, Broward" »

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:

Continue reading "Miami Senator calls on Scott to stop flow of 'armor piercing' bullets" »

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.

Continue reading "Dolphins clear another committee stop in quest for taxpayer-supported stadium upgrade" »

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.

Continue reading "Digital Domain CEO hits back at damning IG report, blames Scott-Crist politics" »

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.

Continue reading "Florida House votes to ban internet cafes" »