Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry.

Florida's Lt. Gov position more than "a bucket of warm piss"?

"Gov. Rick Scott needs a game-changer badly -- and a strong running mate could help turn things around. An ambitious Democrat could also find some rewards by ending as the lieutenant governor candidate."

Scott promised to name a new lieutenant governor after the Legislature adjourns in early May. The office became suddenly vacant in March, after Jennifer Carroll resigned in disgrace because her connections to Internet cafes attracted too much attention at the wrong time.

A host of names have been getting veep-buzz in Capitol halls and Tallahassee bars as possible replacements for Carroll.

Many insiders have Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, at the top of Scott’s short list. There’s certainly a logic for Scott to add to the ticket a charismatic Cuban-American who comes from Miami-Dade and has built her reputation on education issues. Flores has also been a leading figure in both chambers of the Legislature for a decade and could help Scott sell his priorities.

But there are other Republicans also catching buzz as potential understudies for Scott. This weekend, the spotlight turned on Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa. Hailing from Tampa Bay, Young could help Scott in that critical region. A key ally to House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, Young could also help Scott on that front.

"With former Gov. Charlie Crist -- who left the Republicans in 2010 to run for the U.S. Senate with no party affiliation before joining the Democrats in 2012 -- as his new party’s front-runner to run for his old job, Democratic politicians could benefit from signing on as his running mate."
If he beats Scott in 2014, Crist, who has already run for the U.S. Senate twice, could set his eyes -- yet again -- on Washington. It’s something Democratic officeholders looking to move up the political ladder will keep in mind.

An ambitious Democrat could also use the lieutenant governorship as a political stepping stone. Nelson is currently the only Democrat to hold statewide office in Florida. It’s hard to see most of the Democrats currently representing Florida in Congress winning statewide races. While Scott won the closest governor’s race in Florida’s history in 2010, his colleagues on the Republican ticket -- state CFO Jeff Atwater, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam -- blew out their Democratic opponents that year. Currently, Atwater, Bondi and Putnam appear very strong favorites to win second terms in 2014.

In short, there is a thin Democratic bench for statewide office in Florida. Whoever winds up as the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor in 2014 -- especially if Crist is at the top of the ticket -- will be well-positioned for bids for future office.

"For Both Parties in 2014, Lieutenant Governor Slot Could Be a Plum". Background: "Bland Ambition: No. 2's Race to Obscurity".

New state rules slash Bright Futures

"New state rules may slash the number of Florida students eligible for the state's most popular type of Bright Futures scholarship, according to an analysis by the University of South Florida in Tampa." "Study: Florida could see sharp drop in Bright Futures scholarships".

Nancy Smith: "Bright Futures: They Should Never Have Messed With the Best".

Dem rails against foreclosure bill

"Sen. Darren Soto, R-Orlando, flanked at a press conference Monday by housing advocates and representatives of PICO United Florida, an advocacy group for low-income families, denounced a bill designed to expedite the foreclosure process and a plan to spend $200 million in foreclosure fraud settlement money."

Soto has filed amendments to SB 1666 that would add more time for due process and require more proof from banks and lenders of ownership of a mortgage before foreclosing on a home. Consumer advocate groups back the amendments but oppose the bill. The bill was scheduled for a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday but was not heard.
"Sen. Soto, housing advocates rail against foreclosure bill, settlement spending plans".

Brain trust "bromance"

"Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Florida Gov. Rick Scott brought their tax-cutting, job-creating bromance to the stage of an international business gathering here on Monday, mixing gubernatorial trash talk with professions of mutual admiration." "Texas, Florida governors team up at West Palm economic growth forum". See also "Texas Gov. Perry says Florida would be ‘foolish’ to oust Scott in 2014".

"Permit issues raise concerns about water supply, wetlands"

"Wide-ranging permit issues raise concerns about water supply, wetlands and pipeline permitting. Both SB 1684 and HB 999 passed committee stops on Monday but have more stops ahead." "Permitting bills moving despite environmental opposition". Background: "Policy Note: Environmental Regulation & Permitting".

Not that a Young Republican would get his hands dirty

"The Tampa Bay Young Republicans organization wants to recruit a firearms accessories manufacturer planning to leave Colorado because of a new ban there on its high-capacity gun magazines." Tampa Bay Young Republicans president Jonathan Torres said

"we definitely need more of kind of your middle-class, blue collar-type jobs, and this fits perfectly into that scenario."
"Young Republicans try to lure gun magazine maker to Hillsborough".

Not so much "manangement" in growth management

"SB 1716 is now in the Senate Education Committee after passing through Community Affairs with a unanimous vote on April 2. HB 321 awaits action in the Economic Affairs Committee. And SB 972 is up for a vote in the Rules Committee." "Policy Note: Growth Management and Transportation".

Related "Policy Note: State Lands" and "Policy Note: Growth Referendums".

Local governments have failed to enforce background check ordinances

The Tampa Bay Times editors: "The startling revelation that local governments in Florida have systematically failed to enforce ordinances that require background checks on all gun purchases, including those at gun shows, underscores the unacceptable ambivalence among too many leaders when it comes to keeping guns out of the hands of felons and the mentally ill." "On guns, enforce laws on the books".

Entrepreneurs in action

"Florida regulators have filed a lawsuit accusing financial services giant Allianz of gutting a Miami property insurer, falsifying its documents and then cashing in on more than $20 million in fees as the company plunged into insolvency."

Coconut Grove-based Magnolia Insurance Co. went belly up in 2010, just two years after it began taking 100,000 policies out of Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

Taxpayers ultimately picked up the tab, and the Department of Financial Services is trying to recoup some of the money from the Munich-based multinational Allianz.

"State of Florida says Allianz subsidiary committed fraud".


"Gov. Scott says fix not kill PIP, but repeal effort gathers steam on auto insurance".

A solution in search of a problem

"Florida lawmakers are poised to pass a controversial law banning courts from using foreign law, after a split Senate committee signed off on the measure. The bill (SB 58) would ban courts or other administrative authorities form using religious or foreign law in deciding matters related to family law, including divorce and child custody. The House approved a similar measure last year but it died on the Senate floor." "Bill banning Shariah law in Florida family cases passes Senate panel".

Not so "blind"

"Tucked into a bill hailed by Senate leaders as the 'most sweeping ethics reform' in decades is a provision that could shield elected officials from disclosing conflicts of interest or questionable assets."

Under SB 2, which passed the Senate on the first day of the legislative session, any public official who wants to avoid disclosing embarrassing financial information on their financial disclosure forms could create a blind trust to hold their assets.

"This really would be a wolf in sheep's clothing,'' said Phil Claypool, the former director of the Florida Commission on Ethics who retired last year. "The whole idea is to protect both the public official and the public from conflicts of interest" but under the Senate bill "you've just got room for all kinds of mischief.''

The Senate bill — for the first time in Florida — provides for "blind trusts" for elected officials and was promoted as a way to help public officials "avoid potential conflicts of interest" by allowing them to hand off responsibility for investing their assets to a trustee. The idea is that an elected official would be "blind" to what he owned because the trustee would be banned from disclosing how the assets are invested.

The measure is part of a larger ethics reform package that includes new laws that would force public officials to disclose conflicts and face new restrictions on who they can work for while in office or when they retire from office.

But Claypool believes that the Senate bill essentially creates a "cloak of invisibility" in which elected officials simply "pay a lawyer to draw up a trust" and hide behind it.

"Instead of protecting the public from conflicts of interest … the proposed law would allow officials to use their positions for private gain while 'blinding' the public to what's going on," he wrote in an analysis for Integrity Florida, the ethics watchdog group.

"By contrast, the ethics commission studied several other states and recommended that any blind trust provision be accompanied by safeguards to protect the public. Among them: Require the public official to disclose the assets that go into the blind trust so that people know what is being concealed; allow only assets that are readily bought or sold, to avoid an asset sitting in a blind trust that the public official knows is there because it can't easily be sold."
A similar ethics bill moving through the House, HB 7131, also would allow for "blind trusts" for elected officials, but it also adopts many of the safeguards recommended by the Ethics Commission.

"The House version is a major improvement over what the Senate did,'' Claypool said.

"Blind trusts won't remove conflicts of interests, former top ethics official says".

The dreaded "task force"

"A bill to create a task force to recommend a statewide employee medical leave policy and which would prohibit local ordinances Monday continued its march to the Senate floor." "In three committee stops only one Democrat has voted for the bill that would preempt local sick-time measures and sets up a task force to recommend a statewide policy." "Sick-leave preemption bill clears final Senate committee".

Nuclear cost recovery

"Bill limiting nuclear cost recovery scaled back before Senate panel's OK". See also "Senate advances bill to put brakes on nuclear fees". See generally "Policy Note: Nuclear Power".

Our talking points Gub'ner

The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "Gov. Rick Scott wants a $2,500 raise for Florida teachers. Gov. Rick Scott wants a $2,500 raise for Florida teachers. Gov. Rick Scott wants a $2,500 raise for Florida teachers."

Give Gov. Scott credit for sticking to his talking points. He hammered on the teacher raise Monday during an hourlong interview with The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board. His other talking point: A tax break on manufacturing equipment. He mentioned it several times, but not as obsessively as the teacher raise.

Aside from his talking points, though, the governor wouldn’t take a stand on issues from charter schools to alimony to texting while driving. And it can be hard to get the governor to explain the positions he does take.

"Scott is running for reelection but standing for…not much.".

"At the expense of local ordinances"

The Sarasota Herald Tribune editors: "The Florida Legislature is considering bills that would improve state laws aimed at curbing prescription drug abuse. Many of the proposed changes are worthwhile and welcome, but they should not come at the expense of local ordinances that currently and successfully target prescription abuse." "Drug law overreach".

Castor calls for end of embargo on Cuba

"Saying 'it’s time to try something new,' U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor on Monday called for the Obama administration and Congress to lift travel restrictions and the 51-year-old trade embargo on Cuba." "U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor: Lift Cuba embargo, travel restrictions".

Handcuffing children

The Miami Herald editors: "Help, not handcuffs".

Bipartisan abortion-related bill

"Florida lawmakers are poised to pass an abortion-related bill this year that would require doctors who provide abortions to offer emergency medical care in the unlikely event a baby is born alive."

But unlike heated debates of years past, the proposal has drawn rare bipartisan support and even the muted acceptance of abortion rights groups. The bill, HB 1129, is focused on how an infant born alive is treated, said House sponsor Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park. It requires health practitioners provide emergency medical services or face criminal penalties.
"Abortion bill in Legislature has rare bipartisan support".

Friend of MacNamara

Rick Scott surrounds himself with real champions: "A top-level attorney at the Department of Elder Affairs has resigned after a lawsuit filed by a former human resources employee accused the state of bending rules to hide his arrest history."

Attorney Don Bell was arrested five times between 1973 and 2002 on charges including a drug offense and driving under the influence. He was convicted at least twice.

While the Florida Department of Law Enforcement screened Bell twice as part of his application for the job in December 2011, human resources employees halted standard hiring procedures, according to a lawsuit filed by former state employee Fran Brooks.

The lawsuit claims Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Charles Corley and Bell — who had already been hired — ordered human resources employees to shield Bell from further vetting that might expose his record to other employees.

The department also skipped Bell's state of Florida application and did not turn over Bell's arrest history to the department's legal office, as is policy, state documents show. Bell was recommended for the $98,000-a-year job by Gov. Rick Scott's former chief of staff, Steve MacNamara.

"Elder Affairs attorney quits amid questions about hiring, arrests".