December 02, 2014

Former Miami city manager lands top lobbying gig

Former Miami City Manager Tony Crapp Jr. has been named a partner in one of the state's top lobbying firms.

Crapp will be joining Ballard Partners in the company's Miami office, President Brian Ballard announced Tuesday. 

"Tony will be a fantastic addition to Ballard Partners,” Ballard said. "He is well respected in the Miami-Dade community and his background in city government and public policy issues will make him a vital member of our team.”

Crapp spent 15 years working for the city of Miami.

He was named city manager in 2010, but resigned after just six months on the job.

Prior to that, Crapp served as deputy city manager, assistant city manager and chief of staff to Mayor Tomas Regalado.

"I am thrilled to join Ballard Partners," Crapp said in a statement. "Like Brian and his team, I am passionate about working with clients with a diverse set of issues and I look forward to bringing my experience to help develop solutions and maximize results."

Jeb Bush: "Only because I'm going to be PolitiFacted"

Jeb Bush knows the media is waiting for him to announce his 2016 presidential campaign plans. He also knows PolitiFact Florida is watching him like a hawk, too.

During the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council meeting on Dec. 1, Bush was coy about a potential run for the Oval Office, but the former Florida governor did talk a lot about one of his favorite subjects -- education. He cited graduation statistics in keeping with his call to overhaul the education system, but he hedged in deference to our imperious Truth-O-Meter.

"In your states where you work, where your employers work, a third of our kids -- maybe 40 percent at best, and that’s that’s only because I am going to be PolitiFacted -- so 40 percent at best, are college or career ready," he said.

Overall, we’ve fact-checked Jeb Bush 18 times on our Truth-O-Meter, and we have a few more in the works. We should point out that’s not so much: We’ve fact-checked U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio 76 times and current Gov. Rick Scott 125 times so far.

Still, we’ve been warming up the meter on Bush lately. Turn to PolitiFact Florida for the rest of Joshua Gillin's report.

Florida misses out on federal telehealth grants

What's missing from this list of projects that received a combined $10 million in federal grants to support telemedicine and rural health research?


Sixty-five projects received funding from the USDA "to improve access to health care for rural Americans across the nation," according to a press release issued late last month. None are in Florida.

Doctors in Florida don't often use communications technology to treat and diagnose patients, in part because insurance companies are not required to reimburse healthcare providers for telehealth services. But that could change as early as next year.

Telehealth advocates are already pushing for legislation that would allow doctors in Florida to make better use of communications technology as a way to help reduce costs and deal with a growing shortage of doctors.

There are still several key questions that need to be answered, including who should be allowed to practice telehealth. Some groups, including TaxWatch, say a wide variety of healthcare professionals should make use of the practice. The powerful Florida Medical Association wants to limit it to licensed physicians.

The debate is likely to play a role in the 2015 legislative session.

Sens. Lee, Flores named to key budget posts

Republican Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon will chair the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee for the next two years, giving him substantial power over how tax dollars are spent. The appointment was announced Tuesday by Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who also named Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, to chair a newly-created Senate Committee on Fiscal Policy.

Lee, 52, is a Hillsborough County home builder who served in the Senate from 1996 to 2006, and was Senate president from 2004-2006. He was the unsuccessful Republican nominee for chief financial officer in 2006 and rejoined the Senate in 2012. He replaces Sen. Joe Negron of Stuart as the key budget-writer in the 40-member Senate.

 "Tom has a great deal of experience and a keen understanding of the multi-faceted appropriations process," Gardiner said in a statement. "He will be a key member of the Senate leadership and will work to ensure all Senators have the opportunity to play a role in drafting our state budget.”

Lee's counterpart in the House, Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, means that both chambers' key appropriators are from the Tampa Bay region. Historically in Tallahassee, legislative budget chairmen have been able to steer substantial state money to their home areas.  

Gardiner said the new Fiscal Policy Committee will handle legislation that has a "minimal fiscal impact." Flores, 38, an attorney and president of Doral College, served six years in the House from 2004 to 2010 before moving to the Senate. 


Study: Florida one of the 10 least charitable states

Florida is the ninth least charitable state, according to the personal finance site, WalletHub, which analyzed 2014's most and least charitable states.

WalletHub ranks the 10 most charitable states as Utah, South Dakota, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Montana, Washington, Oregon and Maryland. The 10 states ranked at the bottom are New York, California, Florida, Rhode Island, Arkansas, Louisiana, Arizona, New Jersey, Kentucky, West Virginia and Nevada.

Florida also ranked even lower for volunteerism. Its spot as 47th in the country only surpasses Nevada, New York and Louisiana. The states with the highest volunteer rates were Utah, Minnesota, Idaho, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska.

Floridians like to think of themselves as charitable but the numbers don't always pan out. The difference between the percent of population who claim to have donated money and the percent of taxpayers who actually donated money to charity is 43 percent.

On the positive side, Florida was ranked Number 5 in the top five states to show the highest growth in charitable giving from 2006 to 2012.

Red states were more generous than blue states (based on the 2012 election), WalletHub found.

The site analyzed states according to eight factors, including percentage of taxpayers who donated money to charity, the volunteer rate and the number of public charities per capita.

In general, Americans are pretty charitable folks. The National Philanthropic Trust reports that 95.4 percent of households donate to charities, with each contributing an annual average of $2,974. In 2013, Americans gave more than $335 billion, 72 percent of which came directly from individuals, according to the Trust. And earlier this year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that nearly 63 million people volunteered with an organization at least once between September 2012 and September 2013.

In Florida, questions about charities were among the top three issues of callers to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services hotline in November. 

To help those who want to support a charity, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services offers several tips before making a contribution.

Give with a Plan: Find a cause that is meaningful to you and your family, do some research and set priorities. Most effective donations are not spur-of-the-moment.

Know Who You Are Giving To: Most charities in Florida are required to register with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and provide financial information about how contributions are spent. You can check a charity's status online at or by phone at 1-800-HELP-FLA (1-800-435-7352) or, for Spanish speakers, at 1-800-FL-AYUDA (1-800-352-9832).

Maximize Your Gift: If you decide to make a gift, find out if your employer will match your charitable contribution to maximize its value.

Keep Track of the Work Your Donation Supports: Once you have made your gift, mark your calendar with important dates of the charity's meetings and key events for the year. You can also follow up your donation with a volunteer experience. 

Understand the Tax Benefits: Most charitable donations are tax-deductible. Make sure you get the proper documentation so that you can deduct your contribution at tax time. Keep a record of your donation and make sure you receive a receipt from the organization. Don't rely on a cancelled check to count as a receipt.

For more information about individual charities, you can also check out the state's Gift Giver's Guide online.


"In God We Trust" coming to chambers of Miami-Dade commission


Sally Heyman was  the lone Miami-Dade commissioner Tuesday to oppose posting "In God We Trust" inside the county chambers. 

"While I may be a woman of faith, I can't support it," said Heyman, who this year secured a fourth four-year term without opposition. "My concern is in respecting the separation of church and state... There are constituents in the two-million-plus we represent in county business [and] some of them don't advocate for any religion."

The measure passed easily, with six of the 13 commissioners signed on as sponsors before the discussion even began. Mayor Carlos Gimenez supports the plan, a spokesman said. 

The resolution calls for posting the four-word national motto above the county seal, which hangs prominently behind the commission chair's seat at the center of the chambers. 

Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz was the primary sponsor of the measure, which comes on the heels of a national movement to get the slogan posted by state and local governments. "This country was founded by people believing in God, one way or the other," Diaz said. "There's a reason we put it on our money."

The local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union opposed the plan, and the issue has generally divided liberal and conservative groups nationally.

But of the five Democrats on the dais, Heyman was the only one to vote no. Daniella Levine Cava, the new commissioner who took office with heavy backing by the Democratic Party, joined the winning side in support of posting the motto. 

"I believe in each person’s right to hold and practice his/her own beliefs, as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others. I do not think that government should impose one set of beliefs on others," Levine Cava said in a statement.

"'In God We Trust' is a national motto found on our currency and on monuments across the country as a statement of our shared heritage," she continued. "The adoption of this motto does not infringe on the rights of others as it does not ask anyone to believe or act in a certain way."

Two commissioners, Dennis Moss and Javier Souto, were absent for the vote.



Consumers still most annoyed by violators of the Do Not Call List

Violators of the statewide Do No Call List, problems at the gas pump and motor vehicle repair problems were the top three complaints received in November at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The majority of the 2,965 complaints received concerned the pesky calls consumers want to avoid.

The agriculture department added 12,396 telephone numbers to Florida's Do Not Call list in November -- bringing the number of consumers on the list to 737,000, compared to the 71,460 phone numbers on the statewide list in 2012.

It's now free to add your name to the list but that wasn't the case two years ago when the legislature, prompted by Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam, dropped the $10 registration fee and $5 annual fee for individuals to sign up for the statewide Do Not Call list during the 2012 session.

The top calls to the agriculture and consumer services department's hotline in November were related to cable companies, the solicitation of contributions from charities and the Do Not Call list, said agency spokesmanErin Gillepsie. The agency recovered $487,934 on behalf of Florida consumers in November, she said.

To report fraud, call the agency's consumer protection and information hotline at 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) or, for Spanish speakers, 1-800-FL-AYUDA (352-9832).


FDOT's Prasad is third state agency head to quit post

Gov. Rick Scott accepted the resignation Tuesday of state transportation secretary Ananth Prasad, whose departure has been expected for weeks. His last day on the job will be Friday, Jan. 2, 2015. The Florida Transportation Commission will convene after the new year to seek applicants for the post.

Prasad is the third secretary of a major state agency to resign in the past week. Last week, Corrections Secretary Mike Crews and Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard Jr. said they were leaving.

Nelson, Demings on Democrats' search for answers

A task force searching for ways to improve the fortunes of the Florida Democratic Party held its first meeting Tuesday. The 45-minute teleconference included about 20 people and was led by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and retired Orlando police chief Val Demings.

"We do have to look at everything," Demings said, including messaging, staffing, policies, voter turnout and the party's leadership. "We've got to throw everything on the table if we're going to come out more strategically with a winning message that resonates with the voters." Demings said she feels Democrats have failed to effectively communicate what they stand for to the Florida electorate.

Nelson, the longest-serving officeholder in either political party in Florida, said what happened to Democrats on Nov. 4 is part of a historical trend: The party in power always loses ground in the election in the midway point of a two-term president's second term.

"That's a historical fact. It goes way back. It applies to both Republican and Democratic presidents," Nelson said. He said Florida actually defied that trend in 2014 because Democrats didn't lose any seats in Congress: Although Miami Democrat Joe Garcia lost his seat to Republican Carlos Curbelo, Democrat Gwen Graham unseated Republican incumbent Steve Southerland in North Florida.

Nelson said the Democrats' failure to keep pace with Republicans at fund-raising has worsened because of unrestricted spending by third-party groups.

Nelson said he liked the idea of Democrats mounting a petition drive to ask voters to shift Florida's midterm elections for governor and Cabinet seats to the same cycle as presidential elections -- when turnout is usually 15 to 20 percentage points higher and Democrats have a better chance of victory. But he said it would be difficult to convince 60 percent of voters to support it.

For Florida Democrats, this cycle of soul-searching is nothing new. After the party absorbed heavy losses in 1998, the year Jeb Bush defeated Buddy MacKay in the governor's race, MacKay's running mate, former Sen. Rick Dantzler of Winter Haven, uttered this memorable line: "I don't have many friends that are Democrats. That's very telling to me."

FPL wants to get into the gas drilling business -- and add costs to base rate

Florida Power & Light wants to get into the natural gas fracking business and it wants its customers to pay for it.

At a hearing on Monday, the state’s largest utility asked regulators for permission to charge customers up to $750 million a year to form a partnership with an Oklahoma oil and gas company because, it argues, the investment would help FPL stabilize fuel prices and save customers money.

How much? Estimates indicate the savings would be between $51 million and $107 million over the life of the project — or a total of 50 cents to $1 for the average customer over several years. In addition to the savings, FPL argues that customers also will benefit from less volatility in fuel prices.Similar projects would be sought to reach the annual $750 million investment cap.

In tapping a well that already produces gas, FPL argues, customers are unlikely to see price increases because exploration costs will be offset by savings from the investment — the first time any utility has asked to have its customers pay for gas exploration.

Opponents, representing the state’s largest commercial electricity users and the general public, had a simple response to the question before the Public Service Commission: “No thank you.”

They argued at a day-long hearing that the risks of operating the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, outweigh the rewards. They said FPL can’t be sure that the natural gas wells will produce enough gas to meet its needs and customers will shoulder the costs of dry wells, environmental impacts and market changes for the next 50 years.

“Fifty years is a long time to receive guaranteed profits on something that’s not guaranteed,’’ said Eric Sayler, an attorney for the Office of Public Counsel, which represents the public in cases before the Public Service Commission.

He said the idea is an attempt by FPL to earn a guaranteed profit on the investment and have the risk borne by customers, not shareholders.

“No other utility has attempted to put this in its base rate,” he said. Story here.