January 27, 2015

Facing down a constitutional amendment, FPL plans three new solar plants

By Ivan Penn, Tampa Bay Times @Consumers_Edge 

Florida's largest investor owned utility announced plans Monday to build three new solar farms that would nearly double the state's solar capacity.

In its announcement, Florida Power & Light said it had found a "cost-effective" way to expand solar power in Florida and proposed to install the systems at three sites in its service area. The utility proposes to add 225 megawatts of solar to the state's current 229 megawatts by the end of next year in Manatee, DeSoto and Charlotte counties.

FPL is still refining the details of the project so the utility did not provide cost estimates. But the company said there would be no significant impact on customer rates.

"Over the past decade, we have continuously focused on advancing reliable, affordable, clean energy for our customers," said Eric Silagy, president and CEO of FPL. "In particular, we have been working especially hard to find ways to advance solar energy in Florida without increasing electricity costs, and we have developed what we believe will be a cost-effective plan.

But FPL utility noted in a news release that "solar power — even the most economical large-scale installation — is generally not yet cost effective in FPL's service area."

Continue reading "Facing down a constitutional amendment, FPL plans three new solar plants" »

Taxpayers take it on chin in Miami Lakes mayoral fight


Pity the poor taxpayers of Miami Lakes.

By the time a judge resolves the legal tussle over who should be mayor — Wayne Slaton or Michael Pizzi — the town’s tab could total hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Gisela Cardonne Ely made it crystal clear at a recent hearing that she wants to decide the bitter dispute as quickly as possible.

“The bottom line, as I read this case, is that former mayor, Mr. Pizzi, says that he is entitled to be the mayor as opposed to Mr. Slaton,” the judge declared at last Thursday’s hearing, involving 11 lawyers, with each charging $200 to $375 an hour. “Period. End of report, unless there is some other mysterious thing out there.”

Pizzi’s 2013 suspension from the mayor’s position was revoked in December by Gov. Rick Scott after he sued him, following his acquittal on federal bribery charges. Pizzi argues he is now entitled to his old job under Florida law.

But Slaton, who won a special election to fill Pizzi’s position during his suspension, refuses to give it back, citing the town’s charter.

At Thursday’s hearing, attorneys representing the town and Slaton said they first wanted to pursue a motion to dismiss Pizzi’s lawsuit to unseat the current mayor and then deal with the legal issues surrounding his claim for reinstatement.

The judge did not seem amused with their delay tactics.

“I’m not giving you an hour and a half on a motion to dismiss,” Cardonne Ely told the town’s attorney, Raul Gastesi. “File the motion. I will read it. I’m going to schedule it for 30 minutes very quickly.”

She scheduled a hearing on the motion to dismiss for Feb. 11. No date has been set for the legal question of Pizzi’s claim to his old job.

Meanwhile, Pizzi’s legal team agreed to drop the town clerk, Marjorie Tejeda-Castillo, as a defendant in his suit. But lawyers for the town and Slaton still had not agreed to it.

The result: More delays and legal costs for Miami Lakes taxpayers.


January 26, 2015

WASH POST: Koch-backed network aims to spend nearly $1 billion on 2016 elections

Washington Post's Matea Gold writes ...

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- A network of conservative advocacy groups backed by Charles and David Koch aims to spend a staggering $889 million in advance of the next White House election, part of an expansive strategy to build on its 2014 victories that may involve jumping into the Republican primaries.
    The massive financial goal was revealed to donors here on Monday during an annual winter meeting hosted by Freedom Partners, the tax-exempt business lobby that serves as the hub of the Koch-backed political operation, according to an attendee. The amount is more than double the $407 million that 17 allied groups in the network raised during the 2012 campaign.
    The figure comes close to the $1 billion that each of the two major parties' presidential nominees are expected to spend in 2016, and it cements the network's standing as one of the country's most potent political forces. With its resources and capabilities -- including a national field operation and cutting-edge technology -- it is challenging the primacy of the official parties. In the 2012 elections, the Republican National Committee spent $404 million, while the Democratic National Committee shelled out $319 million.


Consumer advocate: Gov. Scott shouldn't replace Kevin McCarty

Gov. Rick Scott confirmed Monday that he's looking at replacements for insurance regulator Kevin McCarty. But former Insurance Consumer Advocate Sean Shaw is not pleased. 

After news started to spread that Scott's office was considering Louisiana Deputy Commissioner of Consumer Advocacy Ron Henderson to lead the Office of Insurance Regulation, Shaw issued a statement defending McCarty and calling out the governor for circumventing the cabinet. 

“Kevin McCarty has only been doing right by policyholders," Shaw said in the statement. "His job should not be in jeopardy, nor should Governor Scott be attempting to circumvent the constitutional obligations of the Florida Cabinet again. This isn’t how our government is supposed to work.”

Continue reading "Consumer advocate: Gov. Scott shouldn't replace Kevin McCarty" »

Miami-Dade mayor cautions lawmakers about governor's proposed communications-tax cut


Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez asked county lawmakers Monday to be careful if and when they adopt Florida Gov. Rick Scott's proposal to cut taxes on cellphones, cable and satellite television.

Without taking a position on the proposal itself, Gimenez said the Legislature should make sure local governments continue to get the same amount of communications taxes as they do now in spite of the cut.

Scott, a Republican, has pushed a 3.6 percent cut that he says would save the average Floridian about $40 a year. The cut is not intended to affect cities and counties, which receive a share of those tax dollars. Gimenez, also a Republican and a Scott supporter, stressed the importance of keeping municipal budgets whole.

"The actions that you take should be done in a thoughtful manner," he said. Otherwise, the county could be facing a $40 million gap next year, according to Gimenez -- which would likely hit hardest in unincorporated areas, especially in terms of police service.

Scott spokeswoman Jeri Bustamante said in a statement Monday afternoon that the governor's proposal was created "so every Florida family could save real money."

Continue reading "Miami-Dade mayor cautions lawmakers about governor's proposed communications-tax cut " »

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine wants to ban local casino operators from bid for proposed convention center hotel

@joeflech and @doug_hanks

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine wants to ban any operator of a Miami-Dade casino resort from running a headquarters hotel for a renovated Miami Beach Convention Center.

On Monday, Levine told the Miami Herald he does not want the developer or hotel operator for the proposed convention center hotel to be involved with any gaming operations now or in the future in Miami-Dade County.

“The city of Miami Beach is anti-gaming,” he said. “Anyone can bid on this project, as long as they align philosophically with Miami Beach.”

Continue reading "Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine wants to ban local casino operators from bid for proposed convention center hotel" »

Denied conflict-of-interest waiver, lobbying firm drops Miami-Dade County to represent Uber


Tally at least one victory for Uber Technologies over Miami-Dade County.

The ride-for-hire service remains illegal under county rules. But Uber has hired away one of Miami-Dade's outside lobbying firms. 

Ballard Partners has given up its county lobbying contract to represent Uber in Tallahassee, according to a letter the firm sent Monday to County Commission Chairman Jean Monestime.

"It has truly been an honor to represent Miami-Dade County for the last several years and we hope that we will be able to do so in the future," firm president Brian Ballard wrote.

Last week, the firm asked the county for permission to work for both Uber and the county, given that Ballard doesn't directly represent Miami-Dade on ride-for-hire matters and no legislation has been filed -- yet -- that would put the two sides at odds in the state Capitol. Commissioners rejected the request, following advice from the county ethics commission.

"He is wonderful. He is incredible," Commissioner Rebeca Sosa said of Ballard. "But at the same time, we have a situation here."

That left Ballard with a decision to make. He chose the presumably more lucrative Uber gig over the county's annual $50,000 contract, mentioning that his firm "believes strongly" in Uber's technology.

As a parting note, Ballard pointed out that most of Miami-Dade's outside lobbyists represent a variety of interests at the same time without issue. During last week's meeting, Ballard's senior counsel Sylvester Lukis had referenced another county lobbyist in the room -- "his majesty, Ronnie Book," Lukis said -- who works for myriad interests in Tallahassee.

"The point is that Miami-Dade County should take a second look at its policies regarding its lobbyists and potential conflicts," Ballard wrote. "Clearly in those cases where the lobbyist is responsible for covering specific matters, they should not be allowed to represent interests in direct conflict with those matters. On the other hand, in those cases where the lobbyist is not responsible for a matter, it shouldn't be restricted to assist other clients that might be promoting a position that the County doesn't support."

FL GOP senator files major medical-marijuana bill


Seriously sick Floridians and those who can’t find adequate prescription drugs would be allowed access to "medical-grade" marijuana under a major cannabis bill filed Monday by a top Florida Republican state senator.

St. Petersburg Sen. Jeff Brandes’ 28-page legislation, the most far-reaching of its kind by a top legislative leader, seeks to regulate the cultivation, distribution and use of medical marijuana in Florida.

The bill mirrors parts of a proposed constitutional amendment that garnered 57.6 percent of the vote. That amendment, which failed because it didn't meet a 60 percent threshold for approval, has been redrafted and could appear on the 2016 ballot.

Brandes said he opposed the amendment, largely because he thought the Legislature should be in charge of making such a major change to healthcare and criminal law in Florida.


Continue reading "FL GOP senator files major medical-marijuana bill" »

Gov. Scott eyed Louisiana official as possible McCarty replacement

An online news service that covers the insurance industry reports that Gov. Rick Scott's office contacted a Louisiana insurance regulator as a potential replacement for Florida insurance regulator Kevin McCarty two weeks before Scott first publicly suggested McCarty's removal from office.

UPDATE: Scott's office confirms it asked Henderson for his resume and did not float the idea on a staff level with the three Cabinet members who also oversee the Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR). Scott's office issued this statement: "As we made the transition to a second term in office, Ron Henderson was brought up as a possible candidate for Commissioner of OIR. We reached out and asked for his resume.  We did not discuss Mr. Henderson with other Cabinet staff. As the governor said last week, the next Cabinet meeting would be a good time to discuss a process to begin a full search for new candidates to lead OIR, OFR and DOR. The governor believes government needs to be more like business and frequently change leadership to bring in new ideas and fresh energy.”  

Continue reading "Gov. Scott eyed Louisiana official as possible McCarty replacement " »

January 25, 2015

Priebus and Wasserman Schultz mislead on immigration, but Dems have political edge

One of the most bipartisan aspects of immigration reform is the inability of the Republican and Democratic leaders to talk honestly about it.

Simply look at how Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and his Democratic counterpart, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, handled the issue last week.

Rather than provide hard facts, they reverted to the political parties’ default position: Recrimination for political point-scoring. The problem for Republicans, though, is the issue benefits Democrats more in presidential election years.

More here

January 24, 2015

WASH POST: GOP presidential candidates face delicate balancing act

Washington Post's Dan Balz and Robert Costa, writing from Iowa on Saturday:

 The most wide-open Republican presidential nomination campaign in memory had its unofficial opening here on Saturday at a gathering that highlighted anew the thorny path ahead for candidates as they try to attract support from the party's conservative base without compromising their hopes of winning a general election.

(MIssing from event: Bush, Romney, Rubio, Paul and Jindal.)


January 23, 2015

Vanity Fair's David Margolick's revisits Jeb Bush's Andover days

Vanity Fair's David Margolick writes in Vanity Fair ...

Andover back then was a thoroughly cliquish place, divided neatly into “jocks,” “nerds,” “freaks,” and “zeroes.” [Jeb] Bush was hard to pigeonhole—he was captain of the tennis team and was friendly with several black students—but was also, improbably (as one classmate called him) “a budding hippie.”



The InnoVida scandal, with Jeb Bush now the lead character


As the InnoVida scandal unfolded in the Miami media, Jeb Bush was part of the supporting cast.

The former governor was just one of several well-known figures the smooth-talking CEO, Claudio Osorio, recruited to bring respectability to a company that would ultimately be the vehicle for a $50 million swindle. Miami Heat great Alonzo Mourning, retired general Wesley Clark and condo king Jorge Perez were also reliable mentions in InnoVida coverage for their ties to the failed company. 

But with Bush readying a presidential run, he finds himself fully in the InnoVida spotlight. The Washington Post put the saga on the front page this week, with some new details that highlight the kind of money that Bush's consulting deal with InnoVida could have generated if the company had been legit. 

In our story, we revisit the business scandal that unfolded like a classic Miami fraud -- one with the requisite fancy cars, lavish mansion and wealty, prominent friends.

At the time, it didn't also involve a presidential candidate. But stay tuned. 

Read the story here

Scott avoids reporters amid calls for investigations into FDLE

As Gov. Rick Scott on Friday continued to brush off questions about allegations of political meddling made by the state's former top law enforcement officer, pressure mounted elsewhere in Florida to get answers.

A Land O'Lakes man filed a formal complaint with the FBI asking for an investigation into a series of claims made last week by Gerald Bailey, whom Scott ousted as commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

"There's a clear indication of tampering with criminal investigations and FDLE that an impartial investigator needs to take a look at," said Jim Frissell, a 58-year-old engineer.

Frissell sent his complaint to Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, who, along with Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, said on Thursday that a third party should investigate Bailey's allegations, which included charges that Scott's office or campaign pressured him to fudge details in a criminal investigation, shuttle campaign workers in state vehicles, expedite a criminal investigation of a possible Scott appointee and craft Scott's campaign platform on law enforcement.

Scott's office has broadly deemed Bailey's allegations to be "false" or "petty" but has refused to provide details.

Frissell disagrees with Putnam's suggestion that the FDLE's inspector general could handle the case and hopes to persuade him to push for a federal investigation.

Read story here

Senator conducts surprise inspections at two prisons with troubled history

Suwanee CorrectionalThe chairman of a key legislative committee and an entourage of Senate staff dropped in for an evening of surprise inspections at two of North Florida’s troubled prisons late Thursday.

The initial findings after touring Suwannee Correctional and Jefferson Correctional: dormitories that had been abandoned because of leaking roofs, facilities dependent on community donations for supplies, and dangerously low staffing levels at two prisons with a history of inmate abuse.

 “I’m sorry to be the only fool who has taken it on himself to check it out but I don’t like dog and pony shows,’’ said Sen. Greg Evers, R-Crestview, in an interview with the Herald/Times. 

He said he decided he needed to conduct the surprise inspections to “get to the bottom of what needs to be done at the Department of Corrections” after a series of reports in the Miami Herald have called attention to a record number of inmate deaths and allegations of cover-up by officials involved.

He said he relied on a state statute that allows authorized visits by legislators, governors, judges, Cabinet officials and states attorneys and brought along his staff to chronicle the experience.

The reaction from the close-knit prison establishment: complete surprise.

“A Senator or Representative, touring a State Correctional facility, afterhours, is unheard of,’’ wrote Samuel Culpepper, director of prisons for Region 1 in North Florida, in an email message to wardens on Friday morning. “We’re in a new day and a new time.”

Continue reading "Senator conducts surprise inspections at two prisons with troubled history" »

Olenick to join state Board of Education

Michael-OlenickGov. Rick Scott has appointed Michael Olenick to the state Board of Education.

Olenick, 62, is a former general counsel for the state Department of Education. He currently chairs the Florida Virtual School Board of Trustees.

"I know Michael shares our goal of making sure all of our students succeed in the classroom, and I am pleased to appoint him to the State Board of Education today," Scott said in a statement.

Olenick is vice president of corporate affairs and chief compliance officer of The Morganti Group, an international construction company. A graduate of Nova Southeastern School of Law, he previously served as assistant state attorney for Broward and St. Lucie counties, as well as Martin County attorney.

He will replace Ada Armas, a Miami-Dade physician who resigned from the education board to spend more time with her family. 

His term ends December 31, 2016.

The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

This time in Winter Park, Scott sidesteps more questions on FDLE


During a Friday afternoon news conference in Winter Park, reporters continued to push Gov. Rick Scott to answer questions that he’s been dodging for a week about why he ousted Gerald Bailey from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the allegations that Bailey has made since then.

And for the second time Friday, Scott avoided answering most of the questions.

“This is by far the most hostile I’ve seen any interaction between Scott and the media,” said Jason Garcia, a Florida Trend editor who attended the Winter Park news conference.

Here’s Garcia’s transcript of the Q & A:

Question: Are you willing to either call for or accept an outside investigation into the ouster of FDLE Commissioner Bailey?

Scott: “Here are the facts: Gerry Bailey was eligible for retirement. My belief is, in all your agencies in government, you ought to be looking for new talent all the time, looking for new ideas. He agreed to step down. Then a new commissioner was approved by all the Cabinet. Then after that, he decided to make attacks. It’s unfair to the individuals that work at FDLE. They do a great job. It’s also unfair to the new commissioner, Rick Swearingen, who also does a great job.”

Question: Will you just tell us, yes or no, did you tell FDLE to target Colleen Reilly or say that it was targeting Colleen Reilly? Just answer yes or no. Why dance around the question?

Scott: Sure. My press office put out a frequently asked questions yesterday. So you can call them.

Question: Will you accept an outside investigation?

Scott: If there’s an investigation, I’ll work with them.

(There was a second media availability as Scott was leaving.)

Question: (Inaudible, but it was about Reilly.)

Scott: The questions have all been answered in the frequently asked questions. So you should call the press office.

Question: Why don’t you answer it now?

Scott: Go to what the press office put out.

Question: It’s not answered in the release --

Scott: Is that all you have? See you guys. (Scott pushes through TV cameras and into a waiting car.)

The "frequently asked questions" that Scott was referring to was released by his office on Thursday. As one of the reporters implied, it did not answer many questions about Bailey's ouster.

So the public still awaits a full account... 


Police body camera bill loses its teeth

A South Florida lawmaker proposed legislation last month that would require every police officer in the state to wear a body camera while on duty. 

The cameras became central to the debate about law enforcement accountability following the police-involved deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York City.  

But they have been questioned by many policymakers and leaders in law enforcement because of concerns about costs, privacy and how they would be used in internal police investigations. 

In the first House committee workshop on the bill (H.B. 57) Tuesday, those same concerns were brought up -- and are leading sponsor Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, to dramatically change his proposal. 

There'll be no more requirement that every officer wear a camera, he said. 

"We all should have some type of accountability," Jones said. "I thought it was a great accountability tool on both sides, the citizens and the police officers." 

Instead of putting a camera on every officer in the state, the new bill will set guidelines for policies to be put in place by police departments that choose to implement cameras, such as the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, which will start training its officers next month and plans to have more than 300 deployed by the end of February. 

The issues that will likely remain hot topics as this moves through the legislature -- costs and privacy chief among them -- are questions the Pasco sheriff has already grappled with, said Maj. Mel Eakley, who has been intimately involved with the process. 

The biggest cost is data storage, which is problematic largely because no one's certain just how much memory would be needed, is being handled by obtaining unlimited server space. 

And privacy? Eakley said all interactions with the general public will be recorded unless it's in private property, the owner asks for cameras to be shut off and there isn't a clear crime being committed. The cameras are collecting evidence, he said. 

The Pasco policies are fluid, Eakley said, and he recommends that as the Legislature starts finalizing its rules for departments, it ought to look at what his department is doing. 

"We think that the things that we're trying to accomplish are probably a good start for the legislation," he said. "This is an evolving technology, and we think that our policy as it's written is a good start."

Jeb Bush headlines fundraiser, education summit in Tallahassee


Jeb Bush used to jokingly call the state capital "Mount Tallahassee" and on Feb. 10 he's making the treck back there to raise money for his (likely) presidential campaign and to talk education.

The $1,000-per-head fundraiser is closed to the press. The education forum, which could feature Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner and Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, is open to reporters.

Here's the press release for that:

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush... will participate in Keeping the Promise: A Florida Education Summit, hosted by the Foundation for Florida’s Future (@aFloridaPromise) on Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015. The half-day event, 2-5 p.m., at The Alumni Center in Tallahassee, Fla., is convening top Florida policymakers and education stakeholders for a conversation about accountability and choice, two of the most important factors for unlocking student potential. Event cohosts include Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Council of 100, Hispanic CREO, the James Madison Institute, the Multicultural Education Alliance, and the Urban League of Greater Miami.

“Florida’s impressive gains in student achievement began 15 years ago with the A+ Plan for Education,” said Patricia Levesque, executive director of aFloridaPromise, “Annual testing, data-driven accountability and educational choices were a huge part of the transformational improvements that followed, supporting work in classrooms to keep students from falling through the cracks. We must work together to ensure policies are implemented thoughtfully and in the best interest of students. We’re thankful to be joining with partners to bring stakeholders together for an informative, honest discussion on how to keep the promise we make to students.”

Attendees at #FLpromise15 will hear from leading policymakers, researchers, innovators and educators. New, national research by ExcelinEd Senior Policy Fellow Dr. Matthew Ladner relating to the changing demographics in Florida will also be shared – it will highlight Florida’s population outlook and what that means for education and the economy. The event will conclude with a myth-busting discussion on one of the most talked-about and misunderstood topics today: educational choice.

Keeping the Promise: A Florida Education Summit is free, and registration is open to the public. Space is limited. Registration for individuals and the media is available at http://keepingthepromise.eventbrite.com.

Scott's proposed budget will include more money for people with disabilities

Another day, another budget recommendation.

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday unveiled new additional of his budget proposal, including $8 million to enroll all individuals "with critical needs" from the waiting list to the Developmental Disabilities Medicaid Waiver Program.

"I am pleased to announce that for the second year in a row, Floridians will be removed from the critical needs waiting list with our proposed funding," he said in a statement.

Scott is also prioritizing the Personal Learning Scholarship Account program. The program provides scholarships worth $10,000 or more to children with profound special needs. The money can be applied toward private school tuition, tutoring, educational materials and therapy.

The governor's proposed budget will include an additional $5 million for the program.

"Every individual should have the opportunity to get a great job and education regardless of the challenges they may face, and that is why we are making this funding a priority," Scott said.

He is expected to release his entire budget proposal next week.