January 20, 2015

Weatherford and bros form business consulting firm


Former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford announced Tuesday that he’s going to give this private sector thing a try by forming a “strategic business advisory firm” with two of his brothers.

Weatherford and his brothers Sam and Drew, the former Florida State University quarterback, are calling their company “Weatherford Partners”. It will provide clients “with a broad range of business expertise and will invest capital directly into private companies with a strategic focus on Florida.”

Weatherford, who is often rumored to be a viable candidate for higher office, has spent most of his adult life as a state employee. Term limits forced him out last year.

Here’s the release:

Continue reading "Weatherford and bros form business consulting firm" »

Scott proposes $470 million cut in cell phone and TV taxes

Gov. Rick Scott announced he will pitch a $470 million cut in state cell phone and TV taxes during this year’s legislative session, which begins in March.

According to his office, Scott’s proposed cuts will save an “average family” spending $100 a month on cell phone and cable services about $43 a year, or $3.58 a month, or 12 cents a day.

The tax cut is nearly half of the billion dollars Scott proposes to slash in next year’s budget. Scott said his proposed budget will reduce the communications service tax rate by 3.6 percent.

“With our cell phone and TV tax cut, every Florida family is saving real money -- around $40 a year for spending as little as $100 a month between cell phone, cable and satellite bills,” Scott said. “Our economy is improving and while it’s tempting for government to always think they can spend your money better than you -- it’s your money!”

Scott’s highlight of this tax cut will likely echo his push to cut auto tag fees by about $25 per vehicle registration last year. Such cuts allow him to strike populist chords without saving typical Floridians that much money. The big winners with the auto registration fees? Car rental companies or businesses with large fleets. Big winners with a cut in the CST are bound to be businesses as well.

It's the second major sneak peak of Scott's budget, the first of his second term. Scott rolled out his proposed $19.75 billion K-12 education budget earlier this month. His plan would boost per-student spending to $7,176 -- $50 more than the record-high set in 2007-08, not accounting for inflation.

Scott has also said he would like to set aside $100 million for charter-school construction and maintenance.
He is expected to unveil his complete budget proposal next week.


Update: DOC secretary Julie Jones 'This is all hands on deck'

Julie JonesOn the defensive over allegations of abuse and cover up at the nation's third largest prison system, the newly-installed secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections is offering a series of reforms aimed at repairing the embattled department. 

DOC Secretary Julie Jones will tell the Senate Criminal Justice committee about a host of reforms to the system that has seen a 13 percent increase in inmate deaths in the last year amid accusations of abuse and cover-up within the prison system, a federal investigation and lawsuits from whistleblowers.

Jones, who retired from the Florida Department of Highway Safety last year, was recruited to bring in fresh blood to the department which hosts 101,000 inmates and operates a $2.1 billion budget.

Among the proposals Jones told the Herald/Times:

* $16.5 million to boost salary and hire an additional 160 new staff -- from corrections officers to critical positions in probation, medical and education -- to replace the more than 2,600 positions that were cut during Gov. Rick Scott's first term;

* make shift changes that force some supervisors and officers to take different hours;

Continue reading "Update: DOC secretary Julie Jones 'This is all hands on deck'" »

Ted Olson's claim about Supreme Court and marriage

With the U.S. Supreme Court poised to decide whether same-sex marriage must be legal in all 50 states, Fox News Sunday pitted Family Research Council president Tony Perkins against former solicitor general Ted Olson for a Jan. 18 roundtable debate.

There isn’t precedent for the Supreme Court justices to limit marriages to heterosexual couples only, said Olson, a Republican attorney who supports same-sex marriage and has argued 61 cases in front of the Supreme Court.

"The United States Supreme Court 15 times over the last 120 years has said that ‘marriage is a fundamental right,’" Olson said.

Perkins, a fervent opponent of same-sex marriage, interrupted: "Marriage, but not same-sex marriage."

Olson continued, "Never once in any of those cases did it say that it had to be between a man and a woman. Fifteen times it said it was a matter of privacy, liberty, association, dignity and respect for the individual."

We wondered about these 15 cases and if they really don’t define marriage as solely between a man and a woman.

Turn to Lauren Carroll's fact-check from PunditFact.

Will Weatherford’s next big move


Former House Speaker Will Weatherford today announced that he and his brothers are forming a family-named business and consulting firm – a move that allows the 35-year-old Republican to beef up his bank account and his political resume as he decides whether to run for higher office in the future.

Weatherford’s next political campaign -- governor, CFO, U.S. Senate or even agriculture commissioner or another legislative seat -- is anyone’s guess. And he isn’t closing the door on the speculation even as he announces the formation of Weatherford Partners.

“It has been an honor to serve the state for the last eight years. Right now I am focused on spending time with my four children and working with my brothers to grow our business,” Weatherford said via email. “Public service and public policy is a passion I will always have. I look forward to seeing what the future holds.”

Weatherford made sure to point out that his firm is not a lobby shop.

Here’s the Weatherford Partners press release:

Tampa, Fla. – Weatherford Partners, a strategic business advisory and investment firm, announced its official launch today. The firm will provide clients with a broad range of business expertise and will invest capital directly into private companies with a strategic focus on Florida. Weatherford Partners is led by Will Weatherford, former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with my brothers, Sam and Drew, to launch this exciting business,” said Will Weatherford. “We share the same values, goals, and faith. It’s a natural fit, and one I know will be a successful and lasting partnership.”


Continue reading "Will Weatherford’s next big move" »

Wasserman Schultz invites same-sex couple from Hollywood as guests to State of the Union

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, announced she had invited same-sex married couple Todd and Jeff Delmay of Hollywood as guests to Tuesday's President Obama’s State of the Union Address.

They were married by Judge Sarah Zabel as part of a duel ceremony on Jan. 5, the day the judge ruled same-sex couples could legally wed as part of a landmark ruling in Florida.

The couple was part of the local lawsuit aimed to overturning Florida's ban of gay marriage.

The pair are scheduled to attend a telephone news conference with the congresswoman on Tuesday morning in Washington. 

They met a dozen years ago at a party at the Miami hotel where Jeff worked. Todd was a guest.

"There was a connection right away," Jeff Delmay, 36, told the Miami Herald after they married earlier this month.

For years, the Hollywood couple hoped they could get married, but didn't want to leave South Florida to do so.

"This is where we live," Todd Delmay, 43, told the Herald. He is originally from Michigan.


ICYMI .. CBS News poll: Plenty of Republicans think Romney should run in 2016

From CBS News ...

If the latest CBS News poll is any indication, Americans would like to see a number of potential candidates take the plunge -- but not all of them.

Republicans have a particularly broad field of prospective candidates, and it's seemingly growing by the day: Just last week, the 2012 GOP nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, told a room of donors in New York City that he's seriously entertaining a 2016 bid.

Fifty-nine percent of Republicans would like to see Romney jump into the 2016 race, while only 26 percent believe he should stay out, according to the CBS News poll.

Fifty percent of Republicans would like to see former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on the campaign trail as well, while 27 percent disagree. If both Romney and Bush run, analysts expect them to wage a competitive battle for the allegiance of the Republican establishment.

Another potential candidate viewed favorably by the GOP establishment, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, is sought less eagerly by Republicans. Only 29 percent say they'd like to see Christie launch a bid, while 44 percent say otherwise. (Only former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's numbers are more underwater: 30 percent of Republicans say they'd like to see her run, but 59 percent disagree.)

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee posts a respectable showing, with 40 percent of Republicans urging him to get in, and 29 percent urging him to stay out.

A trio of Republican senators who have stoked the enthusiasm of the grassroots have mixed numbers. Twenty-seven percent of Republicans would like Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul to mount a bid, but 34 percent disagree. Twenty-six percent would like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to run, while 19 percent would not. Twenty-one percent want Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to run, while 25 percent want him to not run.


Florida legislators say they've lost confidence in Scott's ability to investigate prison system

Franklin CorrectionalSkeptical that Gov. Rick Scott’s administration can conduct an independent review of abuse allegations at the Department of Corrections, a bipartisan group of state senators is conducting its own inquiry.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee will grill Gov. Rick Scott’s newly appointed prisons secretary, Julie Jones, at a hearing on Tuesday, and other senators have independently sought answers after the Miami Herald began an investigation last year into questionable deaths of several inmates in Florida prisons.

Records show that the state’s prison system had its deadliest year in 2014 — inmate deaths climbed at least 13 percent — as Scott’s push to privatize prison medicine resulted in a spike in medically related deaths and the system’s culture allowed for prisoner abuse by guards to go unchallenged in many cases.

The U.S. Department of Justice is gathering evidence for a possible investigation into whether the Florida DOC violated the constitutional rights of inmates. Meanwhile, the state agency assigned to investigate the prison troubles, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, has been beset with its own problems.

The governor’s forced ouster of former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey, and the governor’s office meddling in removing a former investigator at DOC, have raised questions about FDLE’s ability to independently investigate allegations of inmate abuse and cover-ups in the prison system.

“A total investigation of DOC — a prosecutor’s involvement — may be needed to get to the bottom of what’s going on,’’ said Sen. Greg Evers, R-Crestview, the chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. He said he hopes to get candid answers from state officials but has realized there are “500 pieces to this puzzle.” 

According to documents obtained by the Herald/Times, Gov. Scott’s office permitted the Department of Corrections to oust investigator David Folsom from his job in 2013 as Folsom was calling attention to the agency’s failure to report widespread abuse by guards. Read more here.

January 19, 2015

Pafford: Gerald Bailey's ouster from FDLE is 'concerning'

In response to allegations that Gerald Bailey's resignation from the top job in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was both forced and politically motivated by the governor's office, House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford's reaction is clear but measured:

"What's been slowly coming out is concerning, obviously" Pafford told the Times/Herald on Monday.

Pafford said he would likely have a more complete statement later this week, as the Legislature returns to Tallahassee for committee meetings but said this is the kind of situation he's heard of happening before.

"There's always been hints of this type of thing for years," he said.

At issue in Bailey's removal from the job is what role was played by the other cabinet officials, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam.

They, together with Gov. Rick Scott, have oversight of FDLE. It appears Bailey was asked to resign by members of Scott's staff.

The other cabinet officials' versions of the story remain unclear: While they initially held to a similar line of comment -- that they respected Bailey and that he resigned -- all three had by last Thursday expressed their own concern about the behind-the-scenes processes that led to Bailey leaving office.

When asked about how he would have handled the situation if he had a seat on cabinet, Pafford said he thought the officials should have been made aware of any details about how and why Bailey resigned. But, he was sure to say, he isn't in the same situation.

"You want to be made aware of certain things," he said. "That's part of the gig. There are only three people doing that other than the governor, so you would hope that you would have the information, that it would be provided."

What is clear, Pafford said, is this:

"I think there's a lot more questions right now than answers, and I guess that will kind of unravel, and I'm sure there'll be a story to tell."

Gov. Scott channels MLK's "I Have a Dream" at mansion event

Gov. Rick Scott, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera and First Lady Ann Scott memorialized Martin Luther King Jr. with a reception for community leaders and elected officials Monday.

Among those in attendance were Elmira Mangum, president of Florida A&M University; Jorge Labarga, chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court; Rep. Mark Pafford, the House Democratic Leader, and Republican Reps. Jennifer Sullivan and Colleen Burton.

At the event, Scott praised King's role in the fight for civil rights. The governor also pitched getting involved in the government through commissions he appoints and echoed King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

"Our job is to make sure this is the state that whatever country you came from, whatever ZIP code, whatever family, you have the dream of this country," he said. "This is everybody's state and everybody should have the shot at the dream of this country. That's what Martin Luther King believed in and that's what we all believe in."