April 23, 2012

Florida Senate-race drama exposes GOP jitters

Jeff Atwater’s just-ended flirtation with a U.S. Senate bid speaks volumes about the nervousness of Florida Republicans these days.

The GOP’s best hope, Congressman Connie Mack, hasn’t been running the type of campaign many Republicans want to unseat a beatable Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson. Some wanted Atwater, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, to run. Others approached House Speaker Dean Cannon, who declined as did a wealthy no-name.

But the drama is about more than just Mack or the Senate race.

It’s about a Republican Party grappling with ebbing fortunes compared to the red-wave of an election year in 2010. It’s about a movement nagged by a sense of perpetual disappointment that stretches to the top of the ticket.

And it’s about the potentially colliding political agendas of Atwater, Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Column here

April 10, 2012

Tea party groups want Rick Scott to veto conservative Legislature's "crony energy bill"

A coalition of tea party groups is urging Gov. Rick Scott to veto the conservative Legislature's energy proposal, calling its revival of expired renewable energy tax credits "crony capitalism."

Scott received HB 7117, pushed by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in effort to start diversifying the state's energy sources, on March 30. He has until Friday to decide if it becomes law.

The tax incentives, meant to inspire increased renewable energy production to reduce dependence on natural gas, total $100 million over the next five years, the groups say. Speaking at a Tallahassee news conference Tuesday, Americans for Prosperity state director Slade O'Brien said coal and natural gas remain the cheapest sources of energy, so why give goodies to sectors that aren't competitive and will lead to increased energy bills?

"Please do not continue down the failed policy path of former Gov. Crist and President Obama by allowing this bad bill to become law," reads an April 5 letter signed by Americans for Prosperity and about 100 other tea party and 912 Project groups from around the state.

"How much in crony renewable handouts is enough?" said James Taylor, Heartland Institute senior fellow. "The stimulus has already provided $17 billion in taxpayer handouts to the renewable power industry."

Putnam responded to tea party criticism of his ideas last week, calling their concerns "rooted in a lack of good information."

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March 20, 2012

Despite group's demand, Adam Putnam says he can't suspend concealed carry permit of Trayvon Martin's shooter

A civil rights group wants the state to suspend the concealed carry permit of George Zimmerman as investigators probe the shooting death of black teenager Trayvon Martin.

But Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, whose agency oversees concealed weapons permits, said he can't do anything without pending criminal charges or a felony conviction. In Florida, felons are not allowed to carry concealed weapons without restoration of their civil rights and firearm authority.

State law also prevents Putnam's agency from identifying people who have applied for or received a permit, so he can't specifically talk about Zimmerman as a permit holder.

"My office is legally bound to fiercely protect the privacy of concealed weapon permit holders," Putnam said Tuesday when asked about the group's demand. "There are specific legal triggers that result in suspension or revocation."

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March 05, 2012

A Times investigation: State regulators failed to address onslaught of timeshare resale schemes

From Sunday's Tampa Bay Times investigation: Timeshare resale schemes have quietly become the most rampant form of consumer fraud in Florida, affecting people across the United States and in some foreign countries. The state Attorney General's Office received 964 complaints against Florida timeshare resale companies in 2008. Then 2,929 in 2009. Then 12,257 in 2010.

Last year, even with a dip in calls, Florida's fraud hotline fielded more complaints about timeshare resale companies than the next four categories of consumer complaints combined.

The Tampa Bay Times reviewed thousands of those complaints and spent six months investigating timeshare resale companies and the state's attempts to stop their abuses. Despite an avalanche of allegations, Florida regulators and law enforcement agencies at every level have failed to take basic steps to protect consumers and curb fraud:

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Surplus lines insurance bill amended, now opt-in


Senator Garrett Richter, R-Naples, debates a proposal to shrink the size of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. by allowing unregulated surplus lines companies to take over policies. Richter said the amendment amounted to a ñstraight jacketî that would discourage private insurers from coming to Florida.   [Scott Keeler, Times]

A proposal to shrink the size of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. by allowing unregulated surplus lines companies to take over policies hit a speed bump Monday, with a Senate amendment intended to make the bill more consumer-friendly.

The amendment, filed by Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne would change the program from an automatic takeover process to one that consumers have to proactively opt-in to coverage-switch.

The controversial bill comes in a year when property insurance reform has played a minor role despite insurance industry cries that a hurricane would cause the state financial chaos.

Bill sponsor Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, said the amendment amounted to a “straight jacket” that would discourage private insurers from coming to Florida.

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February 20, 2012

House votes for new high school sports rules

High school students from larger, private schools could participate in public school scholastic and athletic programs under a bill that sailed through a House panel today.

Currently, participation is limited to private school students who attend a non-Florida High School Athletic Association School that does not offer sports programs and has 125 students or fewer. The proposed changes would allow private schools with up to 250 students to participate in public programs.

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February 13, 2012

Amendment could add $1 billion pricetag to energy bill

A week after the sponsor of the Senate energy bill, Sen. Andy Gardner, R-Winter Park, promised that this year's energy bill would not raise electric rates to customers, an amendment filed late Friday would change all that.

The potential pricetag: $1.1 billion for Florida Power & Light customers. The amendment, filed by Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, moments before the amendment deadline, would allow utility companies to bypass the traditional rate case before the Public Service Commission for certain construction projects, and instead receive an "incremental adjustment to base rates."

Translation: the legislature would order the utilty regulators to impose the added cost to utility bills; the PSC would just decide how much. The bill before the Senate Agriculture Committee is designed to encourage renewable energy development in Florida and includes many provisions sought by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

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February 09, 2012

Florida joins multi-state mortgage settlement, grabs $8.4 billion for homeowners

The details of the $25 billion multi-state mortgage settlement have been released, and Florida is a top beneficiary of settlement money.

 Florida homeowners will receive an estimated $8.4 billion in relief in the form of principal reductions, mortgage refinancings, loan modifications and cash payments for those who lost their homes.

In exchange, the banks are released from prosecution for civil charges for robo-signing, a practice that was allegedly rampant in Florida. The settlement includes five major financial institutions: Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Ally Financial and Citigroup.

Attorney General Pam Bondi released details of the settlement’s impact in Florida this morning.

 “This agreement holds  banks  accountable  and puts in place new protections for homeowners in the form of strict mortgage servicing standards,” Bondi said in a statement.

 Details, from the Attorney General's office, are after the break:

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December 06, 2011

Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam says ethanol repeal sends wrong message for Florida

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is technically neutral on a proposal to repeal the 2008 Florida law that requires gasoline to include ethanol, which a House committee passed today.

But read carefully his comments to House Democrats today. Substantively, he said, there is no effect of the repeal because a federal fuel standard will remain.

"Symbolically, it sends the wrong message for Florida about our commitment to renewable energy," he said. "So if you're saying we need to repeal this and modernize it, that's absolutely right. We do need to repeal it and modernize it to give it the flexibility that reflects the rapidly advancing technologies in renewable fuels. That's not really what's being said though. What's being said is we just need to repeal it."

Florida should make it clear to international investors, he said, that it embraces new energy technology.

Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, said she was disappointed that his office took a neutral stance in the House committee earlier Tuesday. The repeal is sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz and Sen. Greg Evers.

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November 03, 2011

PolitiFact Florida: Slimy truth about giant African land snails


Florida is now home to a slime-oozing plant-chowing snail the size of a teacup Chihuahua, and Adam Putnam wants to make sure that's temporary.

The giant African land snail can grow up to 8 inches, live nearly a decade, devour indiscriminately, lay 500 eggs at a time and snack on stucco for the calcium to build its shiny brown shell striped with cream.

Last weekend, CBS News Sunday Morning featured the snails along with other invasive species, from Illinois' Asian carp (fish) to Georgia's kudzu (plant). Southwest Miami homeowners described the "disgusting," "slithery," "juicy" pests. Putnam explained the public threat.

"With something like the snails we've got the trifecta," Putnam said. "It carries human meningitis, so people are concerned. It eats 500 different plants, so agriculture's concerned. And it eats houses, so homeowners are very concerned."

Leaf- and stucco-chomping? Check. Just ask the snails' Miami neighbors. But disease-carrying? PolitiFact Florida decided to check it out.