03/26/15 State Roundup
TALLAHASSEE — A group of Pinellas County business leaders who pitched their priorities to hometown lawmakers Thursday heard predictions that a budget stalemate could force the session into overtime.
About 30 members of seven Chamber of Commerce groups in central and North Pinellas made the overnight bus trip to the state Capitol to lobby for a common set of goals on education, health care, land and water protection, property insurance and transportation....
A visiting delegation of local business leaders from Pinellas County got insights Thursday on where the 2015 session might be headed. The Pinellas Chambers Legislative Coalition heard Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater predict that a "vast gap" between the Senate and House over health care spending will force the session into overtime.
"My prediction is we won't get done on time this year," said Latvala, in his 13th year in the Legislature. "I think the Senate is pretty committed to properly funding health care, and I think the House is pretty committed to their position of whatever we do has got to be done with just state funds." He added: "I'm not making any plans for the month of May to do anything other than to be here."...
03/24/15 State Roundup
TALLAHASSEE — In an emotional clash between race and Southern heritage, Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet on Tuesday refused to honor three prominent Floridians who were Confederate heroes during the Civil War.
The trio were a former governor, Edward Perry; Florida's first adjutant general, David Lang; and Samuel Pasco, a Harvard-educated prisoner of war and U.S. senator for whom Pasco County is named....
03/24/15 State Roundup
TALLAHASSEE — After nine straight years without a major hurricane, Florida's catastrophic insurance fund is flush with cash to pay claims and the cost of backup reinsurance is cheaper than ever.
"Reinsurers are hungry for new business," said Ash Williams, director of the state Board of Administration, which oversees the so-called CAT Fund. "We've never had the stars line up in this way."...
Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet voted Tuesday to spend up to $50,000 in additional legal fees for an outside counsel to represent the Cabinet, the fifth named defendant in a lawsuit by more than a dozen news outlets over the ouster of former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey.
Scott and all three Cabinet members are individual defendants in the case, which accuses them of violating the Sunshine Law. The lawsuit also names the Cabinet as a defendant, but the Cabinet as a separate entity has no representation in the case. Attorney General Pam Bondi said she learned last Friday that the Cabinet needed its own counsel and that the state risks being in "default" with a court if the Cabinet has no representation by April 6 and no time extension is granted....
03/23/15 State Roundup
He's gruff and he's tough, and those are just two of the more endearing traits of state Sen. Jack Latvala.
Or, as he told a packed hearing the other day, "I'm kind of a blunt talker."
The veteran Republican lawmaker from Clearwater is having another Latvala-esque legislative session, relishing his role on a wide range of issues, from housing to beer to state troopers to Florida's space program....
FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen, whose surprise appointment followed the secretly orchestrated ouster of his predecessor, Gerald Bailey, cruised through his first Senate confirmation hearing Monday. After a series of questions, mostly about FDLE's role in investigating deaths and serious injuries in state prisons, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted unanimously to confirm him....
Gov. Rick Scott has pitched his tax cut package in appearances across the state. He has taken the unique step of running paid television ads to promote it. On Tuesday, Scott unveils a "tax cut calculator" on the first floor of the Capitol to call new attention to his call for a reduction in taxes on cell phones, cable TV and satellite service that will save a typical family about $43 a year.
For three days, taxpayers can bring their bills and use the calculator to figure out their savings. Scott will be at the booth on Tuesday and Wednesday. He'll be with University of Florida President Kent Fuchs and UF mascots Albert and Alberta Tuesday (as part of Gator Day festivities; photo op alert!) He'll be joined on Wednesday by FSU President John Thrasher and football coach Jimbo Fisher....
On the eve of Tuesday's meeting of Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet, Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, wants state officials to reject a proposal by the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund to issue $2.2 billion in reinsurance bonds. The issue will be decided by the three officials who serve as trustees of the so-called CAT fund: Scott, CFO Jeff Atwater and Attorney General Pam Bondi.
"Here we go again," Artiles wrote in an op-ed sent to Florida newspapers. "The proposed transfer of billions in risk from the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund to the private offshore global reinsurance market is nothing more than corporate welfare and would mean higher property insurance rates for Floridians. If CAT Fund Chief Operating Officer Jack Nicholson is permitted to gift $2 billion into the private re-insurance market, the only beneficiaries would be the reinsurers themselves, mostly based in Bermuda. These are people who actually hope for catastrophes so that they can demand higher rates and larger profits."...
03/19/15 State Roundup
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott's chief of emergency management testified Thursday before the Legislature and had a half dozen chances to use the term "climate change."
But Bryan Koon would not say the C words.
Scott has denied news reports that Department of Environmental Protection employees were barred from using the terms "climate change," "global warming" and "sustainability," but he has declined to discuss the subject in detail....
03/19/15 State Roundup
TALLAHASSEE — There's a familiar one-liner about Tallahassee that to get to heaven, you have to go through Atlanta.
It's no joke. Airline service in and out of the capital of the nation's third-largest state is often expensive and inconvenient.
Things get worse during the annual nine-week legislative session, when South Florida lawmakers in particular, along with thousands of lobbyists and advocates, discover how hard it is to get there. "It's an embarrassment," said Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach....
Gov. Rick Scott's chief of emergency management, Bryan Koon, testifying Thursday before the Legislature, had a half-dozen chances to use the term "climate change."
But he would not say the C-words.
Scott has denied news reports that employees of the Department of Environmental Protection were barred from saying "climate change," "global warming" and "sustainability," but he has declined to discuss the subject in detail....
For years, people trying to get to and from Tallahassee have had to cope with a lack of reliable air service. Delta's in-state flights to the capital of the third-largest state go through Atlanta and most carriers' flights are costly and are on cramped commuter planes.
"It's ludicrous," said Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach. "It's an embarrassment."
Tired of the problem, two Pinellas lawmakers Thursday offered possible solutions to a problem that Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, blamed on the federal government. Latvala said airline officials have told him that the FAA's training requirements for pilots who fly small commuter planes are the same as for pilots who fly larger jets....
Gov. Rick Scott regularly holds one-on-one meetings with members of the Legislature -- usually Republicans. But Scott has scheduled a meeting Wednesday with Democratic Sen. Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, who wants to head off potential Scott opposition to his plan to secure state money for a project to increase the number of African-American police officers in Florida....
Ousted FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey on Tuesday confirmed a report that he met with the U.S. attorney’s office in Tallahassee this month.
Bailey said he met with prosecutors at their request for more than an hour on March 5. He declined further comment.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Patricia Marsh has declined to confirm that the agency is investigating the circumstances of Bailey’s removal from office or his subsequent allegations of repeated political interference in FDLE’s operations by Gov. Rick Scott’s office and his campaign....