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404 posts from April 2011

April 20, 2011

President Obama marks one year of Gulf spill: "The job isn't done"

From the White House: "One year ago today, the Deepwater Horizon oil platform exploded, killing eleven men and ultimately releasing an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico. 

"That catastrophic event deeply affected the lives of millions of Americans, from local fishermen to restaurant and hotel owners and small businesses throughout the region. From the beginning, my administration brought every available resource to bear, amassing the largest oil spill response in our nation’s history. At the height of the response, approximately 48,000 men and women worked tirelessly to mitigate the worst impacts of the spill. While we’ve made significant progress, the job isn’t done. 

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Competitive Cabinet mulls state seafood woes, goes fishing

Cabinet members heard some tough news about the state's seafood industry during Tuesday's meeting in Panama City.

Florida's seafood? Fresh and healthy and uncontaminated as can be. Consumer confidence in Florida's seafood? Well, not good.

The problem: Inland Floridians just haven't gotten the message that the state's seafood is safe.

A poll finished Sunday revealed that the public's concern for seafood safety is spiking again after falling considerably since the Deepwater Horizon explosion, said Nelson Mongiovi, the agency's director of marketing and development. He blamed increased media attention on the anniversary for reminding people about the spill.

"It is simply a perception problem," he said.

Promoting Florida's seafood and natural attractions was at the heart of Tuesday's meeting, the first held outside of the capital. The meeting was light on business and a little quirky -- each Cabinet member wore a personalized aqua fishing shirt. They needed the gear for a fishing competition Tuesday afternoon (which was won by CFO Jeff Atwater).

The Department of Agriculture plans to counteract the negative perception of Florida's seafood with a $10 million marketing campaign paid for by BP. Commissioner Adam Putnam held up a full-page color ad in USA Today purchased by the department during the meeting. Other plans for the "Florida Gulf Safe" campaign include TV commercials, celebrity promotions, online coupon sites and "fisherman's media training" for talking to reporters.

Gov. Rick Scott and Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission officials announced a few incentives to get business going. Florida's bay scallop season will be extended by three weeks. There will also be two weekends in June (4-5, 18-19) that will allow saltwater fishing without a license. And Florida state parks will offer half-price admission on Mothers Day and Fathers Day.

In other Cabinet news, Attorney General Pam Bondi honored Mike Jones, Bay County School District's chief of safety, security and police, who in December shot a gunman who had held school board members at gunpoint and fired several shots their way. Everyone survived except for the gunman, who shot himself in the head after Jones' bullets struck his body.

"We want everyone in the state of Florida to know what you've done," Bondi said.

Before Cabinet members boarded individual boats for the fishing excursion at the Panama City Marina, Scott announced the creation of a new website for people who boating and fishing: FishingCapital.com. The website is sponsored by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and Visit Florida.

Cabinet members took off in their own boats for the fishing venture, accompanied by camera crews from "Bass 2 Billfish," a Florida fishing show. They traded jibes throughout the afternoon, with Scott saying, "We all know that I'm gonna win." He wasn't the only one who said basically that.

"You can probably tell we're all a little bit competitive," he said.

Atwater even joked that if he lost, he would "cut off the finances to your respective agencies." He won, so no worries.


April 19, 2011

Provision tucked in House transportation bill creates billboard dilemma for Miami

Miami commissioners say they are being squeezed into settling a lawsuit by a politically connected owner of a billboard company that is using its Tallahassee influence to undermine an ordinance that could mean more than $4 million a year to city coffers.

Commissioners are set to vote Thursday to settle a lawsuit filed against the city by the billboard company South Florida Equitable Fund that would grant the Orlando-based firm the right to nine sites in Miami.

But commissioners say if they don't agree to the settlement, they've been told that a small but potent item tucked into an enormous transportation bill now making its way through Tallahassee will remain there — cutting more than $4 million in expected revenue to the city down to about $300,000 a year if it passes.

The obscure provision on page 48 of the 83-page transportation bill would limit the amount of money a city could collect for a yearly permit fee for an outdoor advertisement to $500 — gutting a recently passed city ordinance that took two years to cobble together and was projected to bring the city $4.3 million a year.

Commissioners say they've been told by the managing partners of South Florida Equitable that if the settlement is reached, the provision in the Tallahassee bill will be withdrawn.

Miami Commissioner Frank Carollo called it "blackmail."

"It's just not right," he said. Full story here.

Busted! Rep. Frank Artiles STILL doesn't live in his district!?!

Former Herald reporter turned political blogger Elaine de Valle did the ole knock-knock on Rep. Frank Artiles, R-wherethehelldoyoureallylive. And she found that the rumors were true: Artiles doesn't live in his district.

But he said he's moving to West Kendall. Next week.

Of course.

The best of de Valle's blog:

Artiles got up from watching the Miami Heat trounce the 76ers on the couch and answered the door in socks and a pair of gym pants when I knocked on the front door about 9:45 p.m. Monday night. (It has to be late or early to establish residency).

"Representative Artiles," I asked, though I recognized him right away.

"Yes," he said. "Can I help you?"

I extended my hand, he shook it as I introduced myself and I told him I was a political blogger. "And, um, you are not supposed to be living here," I said.

He answered: "I'm moving to West Kendall next week." I asked where as I pulled out my little tiny camera (was it too much to hope he would pose next to the house numbers?). But he shut the door, ending the surprise interview (damn, last time I take out a camera so early!)

Florida Republicans laud the Obama administration push to stamp out pill mills

Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan and Attorney General Pam Bondi are welcoming the White House's initiative to crack down on prescription drug abuse -- the fastest growing drug problem in the U.S.

"The pill mill and prescription drug abuse epidemic must be addressed at the federal, state and local level," said Bondi. "With over seven Floridians dying a day, immediate action must be taken. I am encouraged to see the federal government commit to a national plan specifically aimed at fighting illegal prescription drug abuse."

And Buchanan noted the federal plan includes two key elements of legislation he introduced earlier this month: support for statewide drug monitoring programs and cracking down on drug clinics known as 'pill mills.'

"I commend the Administration for focusing on such a critical issue," Buchanan said. "I look forward to working with the Administration to put these 'pill mills' out of business, once and for all."

Mel Martinez at the White House to talk immigration with president

The former Florida senator is at the White House today, meeting with President Obama and other administration officials to talk about immigration reform. The White House says the president plans to "discuss how we can work together to foster a constructive national conversation on this important issue as we work to build a bipartisan consensus in Congress."

Martinez, who left office in 2009, often found himself at odds with his party for backing comprehensive immigration reform. He has warned fellow Republicans that some of the party's immigration talk could alienate Hispanics. He's one of about 18 outsiders, including NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Calif Guv. Arnold Schwarzenegger at the event.

Gov. Rick Scott brings in a haul after visit to Panama City stores

Gov. Rick Scott perused several downtown stores in Panama City on Tuesday after stopping by a shipyard, all part of his two-day tour to show the Panhandle is all right a year after the oil spill.

Good thing he brought his wallet. The governor made a few purchases.

The first: a present for his wife. We told you about his 39th wedding anniversary with Ann, which coincides with the Deepwater Horizon explosion. While visiting furniture store Avenue Sea, Scott purchased a $210 art glass vas for her.


Scott proceeded to the next stop, a cupcake shop called Sugar Crave. Scott called the goodies "doughnuts" several times by mistake, a shout-out to his early days in the doughnut industry. Scott walked away with a $3.76 "Death by Chocolate" cupcake -- to go.


Scott walked through downtown with Panama City Mayor Scott Clemons, followed by several reporters, governor's office staffers and local tourism officials. He paused a few times: He asked a cop on a segway if he had ever fallen off of his vehicle. He explored the office of Rep. Jimmy Patronis. He held a baby girl in a monogramming store called That's Too Cute.

It wasn't long before he was talking guns and alligator hunting with Ronnie Groom, owner of C&G Sporting Goods. The shop was filled with stuffed and mounted trophy animals, including bobcats, an Alaskan bear, elk and hogs. Groom showed Scott two revolvers, a Bodyguard 38 Special and Taurus Public Defender. Scott did not buy those.


He did purchase a $17.50 fishing license and a hat ahead of the Cabinet fishing competition Tuesday afternoon.


Scott met up with local officials, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Attorney General Pam Bondi at Captain's Table.

Dems target Florida Republicans for backing Medicare overhaul/GOP mocks the spending

National Democrats plan to launch radio and web ads targeting Republicans for backing a 2012 budget proposal that would overhaul Medicare. All but 4 House Republicans voted for the measure Friday.

The targets include Miami Republican Rep. David Rivera. The campaign includes radio ads, web ads (complete with a senior stripper) automated and live phone calls, and sending "action alert" e-mails beginning today in 25 targeted districts, including Rivera’s.

Politico notes that the GOP group, American Crossroads "snarked" at the amount of money Dems are putting up for the ads. In Rivera's case? $184.

"Did you know Congressman David Rivera voted to end Medicare forcing seniors to pay $12,500 for private health insurance, without guaranteed coverage?" the ad says. "Tell Rivera to keep his hands off our Medicare."

Republicans seek to change Medicare, the health insurance program for seniors and some disabled, so that people retiring after 2021 get federal payments to help them buy coverage. Democrats want to preserve the current system but find ways to cut costs.

Avoiding BP lawsuit would be 'utopia,' Scott says at start of Panhandle tour

PANAMA CITY -- Gov. Rick Scott said agreeing on a settlement from BP for Florida without involving litigation "would be utopia."

The deadline for plaintiffs to file in a multidistrict lawsuit handled by a federal court in New Orleans against Transocean is Wednesday. Attorney General Pam Bondi announced early Tuesday that the state would let the deadline pass.

"If we could not end up in litigation that would be great," he said. "We've got to make sure our state is treated fairly. If were not it's clearly an option that we have."

His comments came after a shipyard tour Tuesday morning in Panama City. He and members of the Cabinet will meet here this afternoon to mark the one-year anniversary of the BP oil spill.

Critics had faulted Scott's team last week for not taking swift legal action against BP. Scott said the administration has been working on a plan for a claim since he got into office.

"In the meantime, hopefully, we can sit down with BP and make sure our state is paid fairly," he said.

The oil spill isn't the only milestone anniversary Scott will mark Wednesday.

It's also his 39th wedding anniversary with wife, Ann.

Katie Sanders, Times Staff Writer

Update: Florida will not join Transocean lawsuit for oil claims

Florida will not join the federal lawsuit against Transocean, the operator of the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded a year ago, and will instead file a claim against BP, Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday.

"It doesn't make sense for the state to join that lawsuit," Scott said while touring the coast in Panama City. "We have a plan to make sure our state is treated fairly with regard to getting reimbursed by British Petroleum for the damages to our state." 

Carlos Muñiz, deputy attorney general, said that the state's goal is to use the Oil Pollution Act to obtain damages from BP and its partners, Transocean and Haliburton, but will not join the federal litigation against Transocean, which has a filing deadline of Wednesday.

"The litigation that's the subject of a deadline tomorrow has absolutely nothing to do with compensating Florida and its taxpayers for the economic harm that they have suffered as a result of the oil spill,'' Muñiz said in a briefing with reporters. After the deadline, "we will still have every legal right that's relevant to compensating the taxpayers that we have today.'' 

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