« February 26, 2013 | Main | February 28, 2013 »

14 posts from February 27, 2013

February 27, 2013

Does Florida need the Voting Rights Act? The experts are divided

As a skeptical U.S. Supreme Court raised doubts about a central provision of the federal Voting Rights Act on Wednesday, the law’s defenders said the 2012 election provided a vivid example for why it was needed to protect Florida from voter suppression.

“Look at the performance of our governor and Legislature in the last election,’’ says Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida whose parent organization has joined in the lawsuit to retain the law. “They are walking advertisements for why we need the Voting Rights Act.”

After the Legislature passed a sweeping elections bill in 2011, the act’s provisions required the state to get federal approval from either a federal trial court or the Justice Department before the law could take effect in Monroe, Hillsborough, Hardee, Hendry and Collier counties.

In addition to seeking the review, Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi challenged the act’s constitutionality. Former Secretary of State Kurt Browning called the provisions of the act an “arbitrary and irrational coverage formula based on data from 40 years ago that takes no account of current conditions.”

The five Florida counties have been subject to the pre-clearance requirement of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act protections since 1975 because of a history of discrimination against language minorities. Monroe County, for example, failed to print ballots in Spanish even though the Spanish-speaking population was large enough to warrant its own ballot. Story here.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/02/27/3257775_florida-advocates-say-2012-proved.html#storylink=addthis#storylink=cpy

Florida House to reveal new smart phone app

With an enticing, but cryptic, press release today, Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford invited the media to his special announcement outside of the House of Represenatives chambers on Thursday entitled, "Democracy on the Go."

A public records search gave us some accidental insight into the event: the launch of the Florida House's new mobile app. The first of its kind for Florida government, the MyFloridaHouseApp will offer everything you can find on the House's current Internet site on a mobile app for I-Phones, I-Pads, Androids, etc.

According to the contract with Orlando-based Echo Interaction, the app will not only stream live video of committee meetings and floor sessions, it will offer details on bills, votes, and legislators. 

The app was developed by Echo Interaction for $133,000. The contract was competively bid.

According to the contract, the product has been beta tested for the last month and will be ready for launch on the first week of session. The company will continue to provide maintenance and support through October 2013.  Download Tablet Vendor Overall Selection Summary (1)Download ITN for Tablet Application(s) iOS and Android seperate Version 8132012 (1)

Former Davie mayor to run for Broward GOP chair

Former Davie mayor Tom Truex said today he is definitely running for the chair of the Broward Republican Executive Committee.

Earlier this month, BREC chair Rico Petrocelli abruptly quit citing "irreconcilable differences" with his board -- and refused to elaborate. 

Truex is one of the best-known former Republican city officials in Broward. He won a seat on the Davie town council in 2001 and advanced to mayor two years later. He lost re-election to Democrat Judy Paul, another former council member, in 2009.

Truex is known for his socially conservative views -- he has fought against gay marriage and abortion. Republicans who have won elected office in Broward typically do so by emphasizing issues such as taxes and jobs -- not social issues. After suffering losses in 2012, nationally Republicans are talking about whether they need to change their tune on some social issues such as gay marriage.

Truex said there is room for Republican candidates to disagree, but he supports the national party platform.

"The national platform does not support gay marriage, it does not support abortion on demand," he said.

Truex, a commercial litigation and bankruptcy lawyer, said he can unite the party.

"I have managed to not get too embroiled in the factions in the county Republican party," said Truex, who narrowly lost a chair bid to Richard DeNapoli in 2010. DeNapoli decided not to run again in 2012.


Citizens releases laundry list of internal complaints

Citizens Property Insurance, which came under intense scrutiny last year when it fired four corporate investigators, released a report to show that it has not broken the rules when it comes to corporate integrity.

According to a review of 474 cases investigated since 2008, “all complaints were addressed and corrective action taken in accordance with Citizens’ policies in place at the time.” 

Citizens released information about the 474 cases of internal misconduct allegations ranging from sexual harassment to misuse of funds to falsified documents. Citizens Office of Corporate Integrity had investigated many of the allegations, but that office was abruptly shut down last year. The abrupt firings sparked backlash from top lawmakers, after the Herald/Times reported that the investigators had discovered evidence of misconduct by Citizens’ highest executives shortly before they were fired.

Gov. Rick Scott’s chief inspector general is looking into the firings after the governor said he was concerned about the “appearance of impropriety.”

The document released by Citizens is long, but it’s filled with case file information from workplace scandals at Citizens. The document reads like a laundry list of sexual affairs, corporate corruption, workplace pornography, discrimination, theft and other allegations. One case summary references an employee who regularly used his corporate credit card at what appears to be a strip club.

“The preliminary review of outstanding charges disclosed that employee had purchased alcohol on at least six separate occasions and entertainment at an adult entertainment establishment,” the report reads. The employee resigned in 2011.

Citizens is looking to reform itself after a series of scandals last year reported in the Herald/Times, including lavish executive spending, drunken exploits on company retreats, $2.5 million in overpayments to an insurance company and the abrupt disbanding of the Office of Corporate Integrity.

Announced reforms include new restrictions on travel spending, tougher standards for private contracting and new rules for company execs. 

Here’s a copy of the 474 complaints.

Here is the full release from Citizens:

Continue reading "Citizens releases laundry list of internal complaints" »

Suspected ringer-candidate in David Rivera case to plea guilty


A former candidate whose suspicious campaign finances led to an FBI investigation of him and former Congressman David Rivera plans to plead guilty next Wednesday in federal court to conspiracy and false-statement charges.

The change of plea by Justin Lamar Sternad was expected to happen soon because he's cooperating with the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Sternad has told investigators that Rivera's friend, Ana Alliegro, was his campaign manager and helped steer secret money to his congressional campaign against the former congressman's rival, Joe Garcia, who went on to beat Sternad in the Aug. 14 Democratic primary. Garcia then defeated Rivera in the general election.

Rivera has denied wrongdoing. Alliegro's whereabouts are unclear.

Here's last week's story

And here's last week's column


Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer won't run for governor

From the News Service of Florida:

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer has decided against challenging Gov. Rick Scott in the 2014 elections, he announced Wednesday.

"So, after careful consideration, I've decided that I will not run for governor," Dyer said to applause at the end of his annual "State of the City" address. "I believe that I have a responsibility to the people of Orlando to finish what we started."

Dyer said at the Democratic National Convention last year that he was considering a gubernatorial bid. He said Wednesday that he had come to a decision after thinking about whether his time would be better spent on the campaign trial or working at City Hall.

"When you boil it down to that question, the decision was remarkably easy," he said.

Dyer is the latest Democratic hopeful to pour cold water on the idea of a run in 2014; former state Chief Financial Officer and 2010 gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink said last week that she was far less likely to run after the death of her husband, Bill McBride. Former Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat, is considered likely to be the party's frontrunner, particularly if Sink decides not to run.

Federal cuts would squeeze South Florida from the waterfront to research lab

At PortMiami, federal dollars fund Customs agents, security operations and cargo inspectors. But with a historic cut in federal spending set to begin Friday, port director Bill Johnson must contemplate how to keep the place running with less help from Washington.

“I don’t want to have a bunch of rotten tomatoes,”Johnson said Tuesday. “Or disgruntled cruise passengers.”

This week brought similar discouraging thoughts, scenarios and forecasts from hundreds of agencies, charities and businesses throughout South Florida as the mystery of a federal spending “sequester” approached. On Friday, federal law requires the White House to begin to cut spending by $85 billion this year, the trigger from a 2011 deficit-reduction rule designed to force a compromise on bringing down the nation’s debt.

Republicans and Democrats haven’t reached a deal, and Washington watchers don’t expect one by Friday. What once seemed a remote possibility now threatens to rattle how South Florida spends at least some of its federal dollars, while leaving many to plan for contingencies they’re not sure will actually happen.

The full scope of the furlough’s impact remains unclear — both nationally and in South Florida. But as the deadline approaches, more details on cutbacks and preparations are surfacing. Here’s a look at some of the sequester’s potential impacts across the region. More here from Doug Hanks and Martha Brannigan


Orlando Senator files four foreclosure bills, calling Florida's No. 1 ranking 'shameful'

Calling Florida’s position as the No. 1 state for foreclosures “shameful,” Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, has filed four bills aimed at helping struggling homeowners.

The bills would provide taxpayer support for people who are on the verge of foreclosure, make it more difficult for banks to sue homeowners for additional debt after a foreclosure and crack down on lenders who use false documents in court.

They stand in contrast to another bill that seeks to speed up the foreclosure process, which can take an average of more than two years in Florida. The bill, filed by Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, is a rehash of a 2012 proposal that led to protests by consumer groups. Passidomo said the long, drawn out foreclosure process is hurting the market and slowing down the housing recovery.

Soto, who led the protests against Passidomo’s 2012 bill, said his proposals are aimed at taking the state in the opposite direction when it comes to foreclosures.

“These bills represent a vision for resolving the foreclosure crisis where we work with families to save their homes and make them more affordable as well as provide meaningful debt relief,” he said in a statement.  “This vision stands in stark contrast to the numerous bills filed over the past few years with the sole intention of kicking thousands of Florida’s working families out of their homes for the sake of expediency.”

Florida lawmakers also have about $200 million in funding available from a national mortgage settlement last year. That money is not included in Soto’s proposal and lawmakers have not decided how to use it yet. Some fear that the money could be swept away into non-housing-related issues, though legislative leaders have promised not to allow that to happen. Florida's foreclosure rate is the highest in the nation and foreclosure filings increased significantly last year. 

Soto’s full statement is below:

Continue reading "Orlando Senator files four foreclosure bills, calling Florida's No. 1 ranking 'shameful'" »

Rick Scott to Obama: Prevent sequestration

Florida Gov. Rick Scott fired off a sharply worded letter to President Barack Obama that puts the pressure on the White House to prevent the sequester, or massive budget cuts, scheduled to go into effect Friday.

“If your administration fails to do its job to responsibly manage the budget, thousands of Floridians will lose their jobs," Scott wrote (and yes, the italicized emphasis is his own).

The governor goes on to express concerns about the effects sequestration could have on Florida's military installations and the greater defense industry across the state. He encourages Obama to replace these cuts with reductions in other areas of government, but doesn't say where.

Obama is scheduled to meet with top congressional leaders on Friday to discuss the spending cuts. So far, efforts to reach a compromise to avoid the sequester have not been fruitful. Tuesday, Scott issued a statement blaming both sides for failing to reach a deal.

“Sequestration means the Obama Administration and Congress failed to do their job to manage the budget," Scott said, in part. "As thousands of Floridians lose their jobs, the Obama Administration and Congress are getting paid for not doing theirs. That’s just wrong."

Download Letter to President Obama on Sequestration

Associated Industries releases legislative wishlist, punts on Medicaid expansion

Associated Industries of Florida has released its list of legislative priorities. The business group’s wishlist covers a wide range of issues on the table for the 60-day legislative session beginning Tuesday: taxes, healthcare, education, insurance, regulations, energy and the environment.

Read the full report here:

Here a few highlights from the 24-page report:

- On Medicaid expansion, AIF punts like other business groups have done—opting not to take a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ position. AIF does appear to move closer to Gov. Rick Scott’s position than other groups, stating that rejecting the federal money associated with the expansion would be tantamount to giving it away to other states.

- AIF supports Scott’s push to eliminate the sales tax on manufacturing equipment and phase out the corporate income tax by increasing the exemption to $75,000

- AIF agrees with Scott on spending more for transportation infrastructure, including ports and airports. It opposes any sweep of Transportation Trust Fund.

- AIF supports loosening restrictions on certain tax incentives for businesses. It does not weigh in on some of the Republican-led efforts to increase transparency and accountability for incentives.

- AIF supports using $200 million in Sadowski Trust fund money for affordable housing and opposes plans to sweep that money. Scott wants to use only $50 million for affordable housing.

- On gambling, AIF has taken a much more muted position than last year, when it threw its weight behind a push for three casino resorts in South Florida. Since that measure by Genting failed last year (and has not been revived for this session), AIF is only pushing for a “rational and comprehensive statewide gaming policy.”

- On property insurance, AIF supports higher rates at Citizens and a smaller Catastrophe Fund, which could lead to higher rates for other insurers.

- AIF supports measures for Florida to consider offshore drilling.

- AIF continues to push for new laws requiring all online retailers to collect sales tax.

Read the full report here: