July 10, 2013

Matt Gaetz raises $252,000 in sprint for Senate seat

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, raised $252,000 over seven weeks in his bid to succeed his father, Don, the Senate president, in a Panhandle Senate seat. Gaetz's fast and formidable out-of-the-gate showing may help explain why Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, decided to end his campaign for the same seat after raising $2,800 in the past three months.

Most of young Gaetz's money is from local supporters in Northwest Florida, not Tallahassee insiders. But he did get $2,500 from an Orlando-area network of injury clinics, $2,000 from the HCA hospital chain and $1,500 from private prison builder Geo Group and two company execs. Former House Speaker Dean Cannon, now a lobbyist, and his wife Ellen each gave Gaetz $500 as did Bradenton real estate investor and former Senate president John McKay and Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.

The younger Gaetz, dubbed "Baby Gaetz" by Tallahassee lobbyists, is running for a seat that might not be open until 2016. That's when Don Gaetz's term would expire, and he has said he "intends" to fill out his term. It's unusual, but not unprecedented, for a Senate president to make the awkward transition to being just another senator after residing in the presidential suite for two years. The last one who did it, Ken Pruitt of Port St. Lucie, had a change of heart and resigned his seat on the last day of the 2009 session.

Joking about having a son in the Legislature, Don Gaetz told a crowd at a campaign appearance for Gov. Rick Scott on Sunday that when people ask, "What has Gaetz gone and done now? There's a 50-50 chance it ain't me."

Matt Gaetz, speaking at the same event, displayed his father's knack for feisty rhetoric. "A lot of times we have to take second fiddle to those folks in South Florida," he said in Graceville. "But whenever we pick a fight with them we know we're going to win, because we've got all the guns, and we're a better shot than they are."

-- Steve Bousquet 




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 28, 2013

Update: Sachs draws ethics complaint for living outside her district, denies claims

A Broward Republican voter has filed an ethics complaint against Sen. Maria Sachs, a Democrat, accusing her of leasing a Fort Lauderdale apartment to comply with the residency requirements of her district which stretches from Delray Beach to Fort Lauderdale.  Download Sachs.Ethics.Complaint 

Matthew G. Feiler, 32, filed the complaint with the Florida Ethics Commission accusing Sachs of violating state ethics laws, committing perjury for signing an oath of office paperwork claiming she lived in Broward County, and violating Article III, section 15 (c) of the Florida Constitution which requires legislators to live in the district they are representing.

Feiler, a registered Republican living in Tamarac, according to Broward County voter registration records,  cited a television news report by Bob Norman of Channel 10 news who obtained video footage from a private investigator showing Sachs arriving at night at the Boca Raton home she owns with her husband in Boca Raton and leaving the next morning. 

The report did not indicate who paid for the private investigator to stalk Sachs. Sachs was re-elected to the Senate in November after a bitter election battle against former Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale. 

Update: Sachs denied the allegations and attributed them to "partisan Republican attacks."

"Of course I live in my district,'' she said in a statement. "I love to call the 34th District home. Republicans have spent millions attacking me and those attacks unfortunately did not stop with the election.  But sadly, the Republicans' well-funded attacks against me are getting more and more personal, but the people in my district aren't buying it. And everyone I represent can be certain of this, too: I'm not going to take my eye off what's important for a single moment. I'm focused on my constituents and their needs."

Continue reading "Update: Sachs draws ethics complaint for living outside her district, denies claims" »

June 24, 2013

Gov. Scott signs 'landmark' foster care legislation

Gov. Rick Scott signed the Nancy C. Detert Common Sense and Compassion Independent Living Act Monday -- for the second time.

Scott initially signed HB 1036, which gives kids the option of staying in foster care until age 21, on June 14th, but Monday's ceremonial signing gave supporters a chance to celebrate a bill advocates call "landmark legislation." 

"This is the most important bill the governor will have signed all year. It immediately impacts the lives of thousands of children and I don't see a bill that's more important than that," said Senate sponsor Detert, who attended the signing at Valencia College in Orlando with House sponsor, Rep. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins, Florida's Advocate for Foster and Adoption Tanya Wilkins, children's advocates and current and foster care youths from all over Florida.

Along with giving young adults the option of staying in foster care, the new law requires a transition plan be made for those who are leaving the child welfare system. 

“This new law will ensure kids entrusted in our care have the best start possible into adulthood and provide them the opportunity to obtain the life skills necessary so they may live the American Dream,” Scott said.

About 70 percent of teens in foster care have not graduated high school or received their GED by the time they "age out" of the system.

Continue reading "Gov. Scott signs 'landmark' foster care legislation" »

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.

Continue reading "Ethics commission finds Sachs left off condo from disclosure form but drops complaint" »

June 07, 2013

Gov and GOP leaders use hurricane season start to blast DC over sequester cuts

As the first tropical storm of the season bore down on Florida Thursday, Republican state officials seized the moment to blast Washington and warn that the required budget cuts to federal programs could impede the state’s ability to respond to hurricanes or floods.

Gov. Rick Scott had just mentioned Tropical Storm Andrea at his briefing with reporters Thursday morning when he launched into a critique of the federal budget storm that is causing the Florida National Guard to order 993 of its full-time staff to go to a four-day work week beginning July 1.

Known as sequestration, the across-the-board cuts were agreed to between President Obama and the Republican-controlled Congress in 2011 to resolve the debt ceiling standoff. Now, Scott, Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford have written to Congress and the Department of Defense asking them to exempt National Guard staff from the mandatory cuts because of Florida’s hurricane season.

“It doesn’t make any sense why they’re doing it this way,’’ Scott said, adding that the defense department could have excluded the National Guard from the budget cuts. “I’m very concerned about our preparedness. … It will take more days to be up to speed.” More here. 


May 29, 2013

Scott signs Citizens Insurance reform bill, blasts company in sharp-tongued letter

Gov. Rick Scott wasted no time signing a bill to reform Citizens Property Insurance Corp., which has seen a whirlwind of criticism since it approved a special $52 million deal for an upstart company with ties to top politicians last week. 

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 Citizens. 

In a sharply worded missive, Scott focused mainly on those scandals, using words like “outrageous,” “egregious,” and “fraud, waste and abuse.” 

The bill creates an Inspector General at Citizens, something Scott has called for ever since media reports documented the company’s missteps, which include: lavish travel expenses for executives, huge salary hikes, large severance packages for disgraced employees, overpriced contracts, mishandled investigations and the abrupt dismissal  of corporate investigators who uncovered some of the misconduct. 

“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 Jeff Atwater

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 Wednesday.

Continue reading "Scott signs Citizens Insurance reform bill, blasts company in sharp-tongued letter" »

April 30, 2013

Horse trades begin -- pension vote for medmal shaping up

It's that time in the Florida Legislature when surprises emerge from every corner as votes become commodities and policy debates take a back seat to raw gamesmanship as the clock tick toward's Friday's end of session.

So it is that we saw action this morning on House Speaker Will Weatherford's priority -- his bill to end the state's defined benefit system for new employees so that the state can shift the risk from taxpayers to workers. Senate leaders agreed to allow a version of his plan come up for a vote in the Senate, with no guarantee of passage. The board vote is being sought by the Florida Chamber and other proponents of the plan,which could potentially use it against Republicans in a primary. 

In return for the favor, the House is expected to take up a bill to limit medical malpractice for doctors that is the priority of Senate President Don Gaetz's. Reps. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, James Grant, R-Tampa, told the Herald/Times they have agreed to withdraw their amendments. The amendments were opposed by the bill's sponsors, including Gaetz' son Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar.

Among them was an amendment by Grant who believes that the medmal bill could be used by insurance companies who represent the doctors to create a private registry of gun owners. 

Grant said he wasn't aware of a trade but wouldn't be surprised. He expects the House to take up the Senate bill.

"I have no idea what’s been negotiated,'' he said. "If you are asking me whether or not I’m surprised trades are happening back and forth, that happens it’s the end of session. Nobody has asked me to withdraw because of a vote on pensions or any other bills." Stay tuned. 


April 25, 2013

House could spike Dolphins bill: ‘We’ve waited three weeks,’ Speaker says

The clock is ticking and the plot is thickening in the Miami Dolphins’ quest for stadium-renovation-tax-dollars, as the Florida Legislature is struggling to come together on a deal in the waning days of Session. 

The Florida Senate postponed debate on the tax-break package Thursday, and House Speaker Weatherford voiced concern over the delays in the other chamber. 

“We’ve been waiting for three weeks,” said Weatherford, who holds the fate of the Dolphins in his hands. “We’ve been hearing that it’s going to come over (from the Senate) for several weeks and we haven’t seen anything yet.”

Senate President Don Gaetz said bill sponsor Oscar Braynon (D-Miami Gardens) was not ready to bring the bill up for debate on Thursday as scheduled.

For the Dolphins’ bill to pass, the Senate would have to approve it and send it to the House. The House would have to approve it, possibly by sending it to a committee first. All of this would have to occur within the next few days, as the legislative session ends next Friday.

Continue reading "House could spike Dolphins bill: ‘We’ve waited three weeks,’ Speaker says" »

Miami-Dade prosecutor to Latvala: I'm 'disappointed' election bill's fraud-fighting was weakened


A letter from Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle to Sen. Jack Latvala:

I know that you have great concern that our elections be free of any cloud of voter fraud. All of us in Miami-Dade County feel that the integrity of our election process is of paramount importance. The potential of absentee ballot fraud effecting an election has brought together the citizens of this community, as signified by the 23 recommendations of the Miami-Dade Grand Jury, the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners (BCC) and our Supervisor of Elections. The Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners passed resolution R-118-13 urging the Florida Legislature to enact the recommendations of the Grand Jury report in an effort to combat absentee ballot fraud. Reinstating the previous statutory requirement that a witness signature appear on each absentee ballot will provide a means of ensuring that every absentee ballot cast is an honest vote.

Enacting the statutory changes recommended by the Grand Jury, the Miami-Dade BCC and the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections will allow your community and all of Florida to improve the public’s perception of how our elections are conducted. I am disappointed to note that the current version of the elections reform bill no longer contains a provision requiring a witness for an absentee voter’s signature. I strongly urge you to amend the bill to reinstate this provision to s. 101.65, Florida Statutes. Your vote for the addition of a witness signature to each absentee ballot will throw a chill into the hearts of those manipulators who feel that they, not the people, should decide who will sit in public office.

Please, join me and our entire Board of County Commissioners and our Supervisor of Elections in voting for clean local elections.