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15 posts from November 19, 2012

November 19, 2012

Weatherford and Thurston tell parties to stand their ground in upcoming session

TALLAHASSEE -- The day before he takes over the reins of the Florida House, incoming Speaker Will Weatherford told fellow Republican colleagues Monday to hold strong to what they believe is true.

 “Fear is sometimes masked as partisanship, sometimes it’s masked as politics, but political fear, fear of what someone will do if you vote a particular way, what someone will say, what a lobbyist will say, fear is what’s broken Washington D.C.,” Weatherford told the 76-member Republican caucus, just moments after it unanimously nominated him for the speaker’s job. “Fear is what has put America where it is today. We will not lead with fear.”

His words of encouragement came after Republicans lost five seats in the house, the super-majority status that it enjoyed, and Weatherford’s successor as speaker in 2014, Rep. Chris Dorworth, who lost a shocking battle for reelection. 

Weatherford congratulated the caucus for agreeing on Dorworth’s replacement, Rep. Steve Crisafulli, with little melodrama.

 “We could have fought, we could have scratched, we could have argued over who’s going to have power and who’s not, who’s going to be the speaker, who’s not,” Weatherford said. “We didn’t do that, we defied all the odds, we supported a man who I think will be a great speaker of the house.” 

For a man often credited with being bipartisan, he challenged the Republicans to stick to their core principles and to be loyal to each other – all of which could make compromise with the 44 Democrats difficult.

 “I expect you to make your decisions whether I agree or disagree with them, based on principle,” Weatherford said. “If you are standing on principle, you’ll always be standing on solid ground. You’ll always have the underpinnings that will protect you if you are basing it on principle, not politics. I expect you to be loyal, not to me, but to each other. This is a family. We are in this together. And I expect you to treat each other like a family and to be loyal to each other.” 

He called the Republicans a “New Spirit of 76”.

“It will be a spirit of resolve, a spirit of freedom, and a spirit of courage,” he said. “You are part of a family. Tomorrow, the whole family will get together. But you are the nucleus.”

Minutes later, Weatherford’s counterpart, Perry Thurston, the incoming minority leader, told the 44 members of the Democratic caucus that they were “Soul of the Legislature.”

“We will continue to stand up for our unions, we will continue to stand up for every day men and women across Florida working hard every day to make a living,” Thurston said before accepting his nomination as speaker. “We’re going to be here. And we are going to ready to fight. We’re going to be here for Floridians, to move this state in the right direction.”

Thurston braced the caucus for the setbacks ahead.

“We are going to be the loyal opposition,” Thurston said. “Yes, our numbers have increased. Yes, we’re going to be more effective in the House of Representatives.

“We won a lot of debates, a lot of debates, where we wound up losing the vote,” Thurston said, citing their opposition to HB 1355 that limited early voting hours, among other changes. “That will continue to happen, not as much, but that will continue to happen.”

Thurston is expected to cede the speaker’s job to Weatherford in Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony, but with a resurgent Democratic Party, the Republicans will have to contend with a more organized opposition.

As Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, said Monday in introducing Weatherford, his “Mr. Nice Guy label” may be fleeting.

 “That too shall pass,” Hooper said.

Thrust into spotlight, Miami-Dade supervisor defends elections

Two days after the Nov. 6 election, a weary Penelope Townsley, the Miami-Dade elections supervisor, stood before a gaggle of reporters who peppered her with pointed questions about what had gone wrong on Election Day.

Her week had been fueled by coffee and adrenaline. She arrived at the office at around 5 a.m. Tuesday and didn’t leave until 9 p.m. Wednesday. No change of clothes, no meals, except for a cup of instant oatmeal her staff insisted she wolf down.

By Thursday’s press conference, Miami-Dade had finished counting absentee ballots. Other counties were still going. The state’s presidential results remained too close to call. Everyone wanted to know what had taken so long, and why some voters had to wait in such slow lines.

The job of answering fell to Townsley, a previously little-known figure in county government thrust into the unforgiving elections spotlight. While admitting some problems, she has staunchly defended her department’s performance in the first presidential election under her charge.

“I think it was generally a very good election,” she said in an interview last week. “We knew it was going to be a challenge going into it.”

But some outsiders have disagreed, noting that Florida — and Miami-Dade and Broward counties in particular — once again became the butt of post-election jokes, and that some voters were deterred by the lengthy waits.

Speaking on Spanish-language television two days after the election, former Miami City Manager Joe Arriola called for Townsley’s ouster.

“Just because Broward County got a double ‘F’, we still got an ‘F’, didn’t we?” Arriola later told The Miami Herald. “This is very poor preparation. I am absolutely adamant that if she’s in charge, she needs to pay the price.”

But Townsley’s boss, County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, has backed his appointee. Unlike in every other county in the state, the Miami-Dade elections supervisor is not elected. More here.

Former Board of Governors chairwoman tapped to lead Florida Polytechnic

Ava Parker has resigned her seat on the board overseeing state universities in order to accept the position of interim chief operating officer at Florida Polytechnic University.

Parker has served on the Board of Governors for about a decade and was chairwoman last year when the board initially voted to allow Polytechnic to spin off from the University of South Florida, as well as during the Legislature's controversial maneuvers to make the split immediate. Her first day at Polytechnic is Dec. 1 and she has agreed to serve for two years, according to a news release from the university.

As interim chief operating officer, Parker will be tasked with helping to shape this new university, the state's 12th. Her duties will include hiring staff, developing the new campus and helping to get the school accredited while also recruiting students.

"As we started to think about the interim leader of the Polytechnic, it became clear that we needed someone not only with a background in higher education, but with real-world savvy to help us communicate our vision to the many, varied stakeholders interested in seeing this university succeed,” said Rob Gidel, chair of the Florida Polytechnic Board of Trustees. “Ava Parker is the right person for the job. We are excited she agreed to take on this challenge."

An attorney by trade, Parker also resigned today from the Board of Governors. Her term was up in January.

“Ava Parker would be a great asset to any organization that is lucky enough to have her. We wish her the best," said Board of Governors Chairman Dean Colson.

Continue reading "Former Board of Governors chairwoman tapped to lead Florida Polytechnic" »

North Miami mayor gives keys to the city to Kardashian sisters, calls them 'productive members of the community'

The Kardashian sisters may be celebrities non grata in South Beach, but North Miami has rolled out the proverbial red carpet for Kim, Khloe and Kourtney.

On Monday, a few weeks after the starlets’ plan to shoot their reality show on Miami Beach was rejected, they were lauded and given the key to North Miami during a ceremony that featured a invocation by a local pastor and words of praise by North Miami’s mayor.

“Thank you again for choosing North Miami as your home away from home,” said Mayor Andre Pierre, who told the audience that the Kardashians will bring national attention to North Miami.

A slew of paparazzi and local television crews greeted their arrival at City Hall.

But the ceremony was decidedly unburdened by Hollywood glitz: a buffet-style reception featured paper plates, clear bags stuffed with dinner rolls and a sheet-caked decorated with a frosted turkey.

Kim and Kourtney did not partake in the feast, but were nonetheless gracious. (Khloe, the youngest of the sisters, was a no-show. She had to head to L.A. to film X Factor.)

“We are just so excited that everyone welcomed us with open arms,” said Kim Kardashian, the most high-profile of the sisters due to a famously short-lived marriage to an NBA player and who is currently dating hip-hop superstar Kanye West.

Before the presentation, Pastor Gregory Toussaint prayed for the Kardashian family and asked God “to bring great and godly success,” to the sisters’ endeavors — which includes their reality-show empire on the E! network.

Smith, Thurston take over as Democratic leaders at Capitol

In separate ceremonies in the historic Old Capitol Monday, Senate and House Democrats elected their leaders for the new term: Sen. Chris Smith and Rep. Perry Thurston, both of Fort Lauderdale.

Senate President-designate Don Gaetz and other GOP senators were on hand for the late afternoon event, and two busloads of community activists made the seven-hour trip from Broward County to witness the ceremonies. 

Smith, a lawyer, was elected to the House in 1998 and the Senate in 2008. He listed three priorities: improving Florida's schools, implementing President Obama's health care act and reducing the burden of high property insurance premiums on homeowners. His reference to Obamacare brought loud cheers from the audience.

"The election is over," Smith said, referring to Obamacare. "The issue has been deliberated, debated, litigated and procrastinated. Now it is time to be implemented."

Smith leads a 14-member Senate Democratic Caucus, following the party's pickup of two seats in the recent election. The bow-tied senator joked proudly about the presence of his hometown cheering section which he called the "Sistrunk Mafia," a reference to the historic boulevard that runs through the heart of the Fort Lauderdale African-American community.

-- Steve Bousquet  

Scott asks top inspector to probe Citizens Property Insurance

Gov. Rick Scott is calling for a new investigation into Citizens Property Insurance, after the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau reported that the organization had mishandled investigations, shown favoritism and handed out big severance checks to top-level executives accused of misconduct.

"The people of Florida are entitled to accountability and transparency within every aspect of our government," Scott wrote in a letter to his Chief Inspector General. "Accountability and transparency require an adequate number of independent, highly trained professionals.  My administration will not tolerate any action taken to undermine these safeguards."

On Friday, the Herald/Times reported that Citizens had fired four corporate watchdogs who had been investigating misconduct by high-level executives. Citizens said it terminated the employees as part of a restructuring. 

Scott said that he was concerned by the new revelations and would like his top inspector to take a look and see if "corrective action" was needed. It's the second time this year Scott has asked for an investigation into Citizens after a Herald/Times article. In September, Scott asked his inspector to look into reports of lavish corporate spending on travel and meals by executives.

In opinion pieces that ran in several Florida newspapers over the past month, Sean Shaw, of Policyholders of Florida and Dan Krassner, director of watchdog group Integrity Florida, called for Scott to investigate further.

Shaw welcomed the news that Scott had called for further investigation.

"This is great news, exactly what we wanted and what policyholders deserve. Without watchdogs on the inside, safe from retribution, it's impossible for consumers and consumer advocates to know exactly what is happening inside the people's insurer of last resort," he said.

From Friday's story:

Continue reading "Scott asks top inspector to probe Citizens Property Insurance" »

Conservative group wants Florida to continue resisting health care reform

Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy group affiliated with the billionaire Koch brothers, doesn't like Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders' new, more conciliatory tone when it comes to implementing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Scott told the Associated Press last week that he is dropping his staunch opposition to the health care law, and he sent the federal government a letter on Friday saying he wanted to start a conversation on the topic.

For months, new House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz have said they want to study the issues and decide what is best for Floridians. They sent their own letter last week saying they needed more information from the federal government before deciding whether on not to implement a health exchange under the new law. Gaetz announced today that he will appoint a special committee on the health care law.

Americans for Prosperity, who has been affiliated with the tea party movement, doesn't want these Republican lawmakers to cave.

“AFP is extremely disappointed in leaders in Florida suggesting that the Sunshine state should create a health insurance exchange” said Slade O’Brien, the organization's Florida state director, via a news release. “An exchange will increase insurance premiums on consumers and taxes on hardworking families. Florida’s best intentions will be masked by the federal government’s onerous requirements.”

Americans for Prosperity wants Scott to join other governors who have said their states will not create a health exchange. According to the group, that list includes Texas Gov. Rick Perry, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Continue reading "Conservative group wants Florida to continue resisting health care reform" »

Unions' lawsuit targets prison medical privatization

State employee labor unions were back in a Tallahassee courtroom Monday, trying to block Gov. Rick Scott's administration from outsourcing all health care for  inmates in the nation's third-largest prison system. Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper posed questions to both sides for nearly two hours and promised a quick ruling.

"There's a lot on the line here," Cooper said.

The Department of Corrections has a signed contract with Corizon Healthcare to take over health care operations in central and north Florida prisons by mid-January. The state is still negotiating with Wexford Health Sources, which won the right to operate prisons in South Florida. Both vendors have said the overwhelming majority of their employees will be state workers displaced by the privatization.

But a negative court decision would be bad news for the state. Prison health care unions are challenging the state's authority to outsource inmate health care without a specific appropriation from the Legislature in the current budget. The unions say it's improper for the prison system to move forward with the project based only on approval from the Legislative Budget Commission (LBC) in September.

The judge also questioned whether that's lawful. "These are the questions I'm raising," Cooper said.

The unions argue in court papers that the only specific appropriation to privatize prison health care operations in the current budget is for $41.4 million in the South Florida region only, and that it's contrary to state law and the Florida Constitution for the LBC to go beyond that. 

In court, Jonathan Sanford, an assistant general counsel at the prison system, said the LBC simply allowed an accounting transfer, as requested by the governor's office, to let the privatization proceed. "I think that's standard procedure," Sanford said. 

But neither side's lawyers, nor Corizon attorney William Williams, sounded very authoritative in explaining how the legislative budget process worked in this case. "It's a fairly arcane process," Williams told the judge, who asked all sides to file legal memoranda by Nov. 28.

The unions left the courtroom hopeful they have a chance to thwart the project from moving forward after seeing the judge hone in on the LBC's power. "I feel good about the issue, and the judge did recognize that it was an issue," said Tom Brooks, attorney for the employee unions.  

-- Steve Bousquet

Rick Scott backs Lenny Curry to lead RPOF for another term

From Gov. Rick Scott:

Fellow Republican,

Building a winning organization requires a leader with talent, vision, and a relentless dedication to the pursuit of excellence.   RPOF Chairman Lenny Curry embodies all of those qualities, and it is without hesitation that I support him for reelection next year.

Under Chairman Curry’s leadership, RPOF posted record-breaking fundraising totals, including over $9.5 million dollars in 2012 alone. Florida Republicans still have sizable majorities in the Florida House and Senate and within our Congressional delegation, and our party holds all of the Cabinet offices.  I look forward to working with each of these office holders to meet the needs of Florida families – from creating opportunities for new jobs, to ensuring the best education system possible and lowering the cost of living. 

Like you and I, Chairman Curry was disappointed with the outcome of the 2012 election cycle.  However, we must continue to move forward.  That means offering solutions to the people of Florida.  To that end, I am confident Chairman Curry will continue to communicate our vision for a bright and prosperous future and work even harder to win the hearts and minds of every person in our great state.

Continue reading "Rick Scott backs Lenny Curry to lead RPOF for another term" »

Gaetz announces new ethics guidelines, will form 'Obamacare' committee

Senate President Don Gaetz announced today new Senate rules that require senators to abstain from voting on issues where he or she has stated a conflict. In previous years, senators only had to disclose their conflicts within 15 days of a vote.

The Florida House already has a conflict-of-interest voting ban. The Senate has tried unsuccessfully in recent years to pass ethics reform legislation.

Gaetz is also proposing that starting next year, all senators be required to complete an ethics training course that goes over such things as the meeting in the sunshine and public records.

Gaetz will ask the Senate to adopt his proposed rules during Tuesday's organizational session.

He also said today that he will form a Select Committee on Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to study the implementation of the health care law.

Here are some other changes to the committee structure Gaetz is proposing:

  • Merging the appropriations subcommittees on higher education and K-12 education into one education subcommittee. 
  • A new Gaming Committee
  • A new Ethics and Elections Committee. Previously, there was an Rules Subcommittee on Ethics and Elections.
  • Renaming the Health Regulation committee Health Policy.