Saturday, June 01, 2013

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

Garcia's Chief of Staff Resigns In "Voting Fraud Scheme"

"A South Florida congressman's chief of staff resigned Friday after being implicated in a voting fraud scheme"

Miami Democrat Joe Garcia said he had asked Jeffrey Garcia, no relation, for his resignation after the man took responsibility for the plot. Several hours earlier, law enforcement investigators raided the homes of Giancarlo Sopo, 30, the congressman's communications director, and John Estes, 26, his 2012 campaign manager
"Congressman's chief of staff resigns over probe".

"The Miami Herald found that the ballot requests were clustered and targeted Democratic voters in Garcia’s congressional district and Republican voters in two Florida House of Representatives districts, indicating a concerted effort by a mystery computer hacker or hackers."

Only voters, their immediate family members or their legal guardians can submit requests for absentee ballots under state election laws. Violations may be considered third-degree felony fraud. Using someone’s personal information — as required in online ballot-request forms — may also be considered a more serious, first-degree felony.

None of the identified requests were filled because the elections department’s software flagged them as suspicious. But had they slid by, campaigns would have been able to direct phone calls, fliers and home visits to the voters to try to win their support — if not attempt to steal the ballots from unsuspecting voters’ mailboxes.

"Congressman Joe Garcia’s chief of staff implicated in phantom absentee-ballot requests scheme".

Scott strides world stage

"Fla. Gov. heading to Japan for fall trade mission".

"GOP consultants in contempt"

"A circuit judge Friday held three prominent Republican consultants in contempt for not handing over thousands of pages of private records detailing their work in last year's contentious redistricting fight." "Judge holds GOP consultants in contempt for not producing records". See also "Legal battle continues over redistricting communications".

Oh . . . what a relief it is

"When Sugar was sued, it turned to Legislature for relief".

Never mind the pension promises

"Officers honored for bravery in St. Petersburg gunbattle".

Weekly Roundup

"Weekly Roundup: Scott Signs Bills as Summer Doldrums Near".

"Scott’s relentless quest for urine testing"

"Attorney Alma Gonzalez, special counsel for AFSCME Council 79, didn't mince her words."

“Governor Scott’s relentless quest for urine testing has once again been rejected by a federal court,” she said in a statement. “No matter how much Governor Scott wants people to believe otherwise, the fact remains that people don’t have to give up their privacy, dignity, and constitutional protections in order to serve our communities. Public employees should not be subject to arbitrary testing without probable cause or consent.”

Scott, for his part, declared himself the primary victor in the case.

"Rick Scott and Unions Both Declare Victory in Drug Test Ruling".

"Tax increase" blather

"Gov. Rick Scott calls tuition hikes a tax increase, but signed on to them in past".

Scott tosses environmental rule enforcers

Aaron Deslatte: "Florida's environmental cops are undergoing a quiet, behind-the-scenes restructuring that Gov. Rick Scotts administration attributes to fewer businesses running afoul of regulatory roadblocks."

But it could also be a product of fewer rules for the road.

Sen. Darren Soto is asking questions about the recent departures of four Department of Environmental Protection lawyers, one of whom suggested the firings and resignations were made to the detriment of conservation goals.

The Orlando Democrat sent a public-records request to DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard last week asking for documents related to attorneys Christopher T. Byrd, Kelly L. Russel, Teresa Mussetto and Christopher McGuire.

Byrd and Russel were fired last month by DEP General Counsel Matthew Leopold in identical letters notifying them the office's goals would be "accomplished more effectively by removing you from your positions." The other two lawyers resigned, and one suggested it wasn't by choice.

DEP has said the dismissals were part of a streamlining necessitated by the decreased volume of permits flowing through the agency since the Great Recession.

"State's environmental cop sheds rules, enforcers".

Good luck with that

"A homeowner-advocacy group is pressuring Florida Gov. Rick Scott to veto a bill that would expedite foreclosures in the state starting July 1. The new state law would allow banks to complete foreclosures without court hearings, unless a homeowner requests to have a specific case heard by a judge. In the past, all foreclosure cases have had to pass through the court system, even though a large proportion of the actions have been uncontested by the owners." "Group asks Scott to veto speedier-foreclosure bill".

Scott signs "unconscionable" bill

"Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed a bill that removes the ability of state regulators to challenge health insurance rates for a two-year period. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson had called for the bill to be vetoed, saying the legislation was 'unconscionable.'" "Scott rebuffs Nelson on health insurance rate bill".

Scott hands developers another gift

"Gov. Rick Scott has signed HB 999, a bill so detested by a host of environmental groups that they brought in former Sen. Bob Graham to try in vain to stop it."

Scott’s action Thursday disappointed environmental advocates, but did not surprise them, said Estus Whitfield of the Florida Conservation Coalition. He predicted it might hurt Scott at the ballot box when he seeks re-election in 2014.

“I don’t think it’s any feather in his cap,” said Whitfield, who worked as an aide to four governors, both Democrat and Republican. “I think the general public is getting tired of seeing the environment sold down the river.”

Asked why he signed a bill that drew more than 350 letters or emails urging him to veto it, Scott gave a vague response.

“I care a lot about the environment,” the governor said. “We’ve worked very hard to make sure this is the state where you can get a job, make sure your child’s getting an education, it’s safe, and it’s also a place where we can keep our community clean. One of the things I’m most proud of is the fact that we’ve worked very diligently to get the Everglades, get the water flow increased, get the quality of water increased, so everything we’re doing, whether it’s the Everglades, whether it’s our spring, ... we’re doing everything we can to make this a clean environment where we all want to live.”

The bill that Scott signed into law contains more than a dozen provisions, including:

• Blocking the Florida Wildlife Federation from suing to overturn a controversial decision by Scott and the Cabinet to grant 30-year leases to 31,000 acres of the state’s Everglades property to two major sugar companies.

• Preventing water management districts from cutting back groundwater pumping by any entity that builds a desalination plant to increase its potential water supply. “I don’t think we should be tying the hands of the water management districts to better promote conservation of water,” Graham said.

• Speeding up the permitting for natural gas pipelines that originate in other states, such as the new 700-mile one from Alabama that’s being planned by Florida Power & Light.

• Forbidding cities from asking an applicant more than three times for additional information before approving development permits.

"Gov. Rick Scott signs into law wide-ranging bill opposed by scores of environmentalists".

"Republican vs. Republican"

"It's Republican vs. Republican in the latest round of political battles over health care."

Conservative Republican legislators in major states are trying to block efforts by more pragmatic governors of their own party to accept health insurance for more low-income residents under President Barack Obama's health care law.

Unlike their congressional counterparts, who've misfired in repeated attempts to torpedo the law, state Republicans may well sink the expansion of Medicaid in populous states such as Florida and Michigan.

That would mean leaving billions of dollars in federal matching funds on the table and hundreds of thousands of the poor uninsured. Expansion

"Republican vs. Republican on covering uninsured".

No takers?

"GOP insiders say the governor's pick for the role will likely be his running mate next year and that it will be a critical re-election choice." "Scott searching for a lieutenant governor".

Connie who?

"Connie Mack Struggles to Stay Politically Relevant".

Will backlash provide even more momentum for the elimination of pensions?

"A bill passed in the waning moments of the 2013 legislative session with little discussion and signed two weeks later by Gov. Rick Scott will cost state and local governments nearly $900 million in additional expenses next year, hitting county governments especially hard as they struggle to emerge from a prolonged economic slump."

"The sharp spike in pension payments has some local officials questioning what's really going on. Two years ago, the Legislature moved to have government employees to ostensibly pay 3 percent of their pension costs. This past session, state House members approved a measure to stop offering pensions to new hires and move them into 401(k)-style retirement plans. That was rejected by the Senate."

Recently elected Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez, a Democrat and former state House member, said he was skeptical that lawmakers were trying to improve the pension. He wondered whether its motivated to create a backlash and provide momentum for the elimination of government pensions in Florida.

"We all know this is one of the more solid pension programs in the country," Henriquez said. "Is that money going to FRS to actually shore it up? Or is it a long-term strategy to pressure those of us at the local level to say we can't sustain these increases?"

"Pension bill stuns counties, could force tax increases". Related: "Scott signs new pension law".

Well, it ain't the Batista regime

"Don't Tell Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Cuba Isn't a Terrorist State".

Remember me?

"Jennifer Carroll: GOP Needs Outreach to Black Communities".

Raw political courage

"Gov. Rick Scott signs bill to help human trafficking victims".