« November 27, 2012 | Main | November 29, 2012 »

9 posts from November 28, 2012

November 28, 2012

ACLU opposes proposal to reinstate opening prayer at Miami-Dade commission meetings

The ACLU of Florida on Wednesday formally opposed a proposal to reinstate opening prayers at Miami-Dade Commission meetings.

The proposal, by Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz, is scheduled for a final vote Tuesday.

In a letter to commissioners, ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon and John de Leon, president of the organization’s Greater Miami chapter, urged commissioners to keep their opening moment of silence, warning that prayer could be “divisive” and lead to a possible lawsuit.

“Inevitably, as the Commission has experienced in the past, some religious leader will offer an invocation that may genuinely be intended not to ‘advance any particular faith,’ but which will not be so interpreted by members of the community who are in attendance and who may be made to feel uncomfortable, marginalized and like second-class citizens of our community because their religious views differ from those offered by the Commission-invited religious leader,” the letter says.

Diaz’s proposal would require the county to create a database of local religious leaders who would be limited to the number of invocations they could deliver at the county each year. Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s administration estimates that setting up the database would cost $22,000, with about $4,000 in annual maintenance costs.

More background on the prayer proposal here and here.

Advisory group begins examining what went wrong in Miami-Dade elections

For an advisory group convened to find a cure for what ails Miami-Dade’s election system, Wednesday marked the first step toward a diagnosis.

The symptoms are common knowledge by now: Long lines during early voting and on Election Day. Slow counting following a surge in absentee ballots.

But what caused the illness, and how can it be prevented in the future?

To figure it all out, the group appointed by Mayor Carlos Gimenez spent its first meeting getting to know state and local elections laws and practices — a lesson that also offered a glimpse at exactly what went wrong.

The goal, Gimenez told the group, is to make sure that the next time Miami-Dade makes international Election Day headlines, they don’t become fodder for late-night comedians.

“I want our citizens to walk out of the ballot box and say, ‘Wow, that was the way to conduct a presidential election,’ ” he said.

The group heard from the assistant county attorney in charge of elections and from Elections Supervisor Penelope Townsley, whose department runs about 20 elections a year.

“We’re very proud of the policies and procedures that we have in place,” she said. “However, we do realize that there’s opportunity for improvement.”

Among the challenges on Nov. 6 that Townsley outlined:

Miami-Dade ethics board rebukes two city of Miami commissioners

The county ethics commission dinged Miami Commissioner Frank Carollo this week for phoning the police chief after Carollo was pulled over.

The grievance against Carollo said that he called Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa during a traffic stop in Coconut Grove in August. Carollo was pulled over after attempting to drive his black Lexus around a stopped recycling truck. He called the chief, who called the district commander, who reached out to the officer making the traffic stop.

The officer let Carollo go with a warning.

Carollo denied wrongdoing in a response to the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust written by his attorney. He declined comment Wednesday.

Separately, Miami Commission Vice Chairman Marc Sarnoff was reprimanded for not filing a gift disclosure when the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau paid his way to Brazil.

Sarnoff said his travels did not constitute a gift because he carried out public business. “I did everything I could do, including getting legal advice, to determine that the trip was not a gift,” he said.

Read the story here.

Bondi says 'Obamacare' already having negative effect on businesses

Other Republican leaders in Florida may have softened their tone on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but not Attorney General Pam Bondi. Addressing business leaders at the Florida Chamber's Annual Insurance Summit via video, Bondi said the Supreme Court ruling in June allowed an unjust law to take effect.

She had the sharpest words for the individual mandate provision that Florida challenged but the high court upheld because the related penalties could be viewed as a tax.

"We all know this law would never have gotten through Congress if it had been sold as a new $4 billion tax on the American people," she said. "In this case, the Constitution’s limits on government power did not fail. Political accountability failed because the president and supporters of this law apparently were not straight with the American people."

Bondi also painted a grim picture for how the law is already beginning to impact Florida businesses.

"Unfortunately, national studies are already showing the negative effects that the healthcare law is having on businesses and our economy," she said. "Businesses across the country are raising their prices in order to compensate for their added costs due to Obama’s healthcare plan. If they aren’t raising prices, they’re cutting jobs as a result of the added cost, both of which hurt our economy."

Continue reading "Bondi says 'Obamacare' already having negative effect on businesses" »

Six appeals filed in 'Taj Mahal' case

The Florida Supreme Court has assigned the 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach to hear appeals in a squabble over an unpaid $357,000 bill for framed photos ordered for the new 1st District Court of Appeal building in Tallahassee.

Six interlocutory appeals have been filed in a heavily lawyered civil suit filed by Signature Gallery, a small Tallahassee business that contracted with Peter R. Brown Construction to frame and hang 369 historic photographs in the halls of the new courthouse.

Chief Judge Robert Benton asked the high court to send the cases to a panel of judges who do not have offices in the new courthouse.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and his predecessor Alex Sink refused to pay the bill saying no money was appropriated by the Legislature that could legally be spent on photos. They have also questioned whether the photos should be considered art. Under state law expenditures for art cannot legally exceed $100,000 and the court has already spent about $150,000 on oil paintings and other framed photos for the grandiose courthouse building.

Story here.

Average PIP savings under new car insurance law: 2.5 percent

On the last day of the legislative session this year, Florida lawmakers said they wanted guarantees from insurance companies that PIP premiums would go down by 10 percent in 2013. Right now, it's looking like the savings under the new no-fault car insurance law will be about one-fourth of that.

HB 119 required insurers to submit new rate filings by Oct. 1 that either reduced PIP premiums by 10 percent or explained why they could not. Most insurers chose option No. 2.

The state is still in the process of reviewing most of the 141 rate filings from 151 companies selling auto insurance in Florida, said Sandra Starnes, director of property and casualty product review at the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation. She was speaking during a session on PIP Reform at the Florida Chamber's Annual Insurance Summit.

The rate filings are all across the spectrum. Some companies said they would reduce PIP by as much as 25 percent while the biggest requested increase is 41 percent. The average, as of Nov. 16, is a 2.5 percent reduction in PIP, Starnes said.

As of this week, 64 rating filings have been approved.

Drivers who renew their auto policies after Jan. 1 will see their new HB 119-affected PIP rates reflected on their bills. That is also when many provisions of the new law take effect.

Scott finds support for toll roads

To make way for a proposed network of sprawling toll roads, Florida transportation officials are considering reserving tracts of remote timberlands, cattle ranches and phosphate mines from some of the state's largest landowners.

According to a memo released this week by the Florida Department of Transportation, five companies who own a combined 5 percent of the land in the state support the concept of Future Corridors, a series of massive toll roads that would crisscross the state's rural areas to spur economic growth.

"While the need for future roads may be far off in the future," the memo states, "reserving land now provides certainty for planning and may be more cost efficient than future condemnation or acquisition."

Land acquisition can be a deal killer for any road project, so the memo, while brief and vague, could boost the prospects of a project that until recently had appeared dead.

Hatched by former Gov. Jeb Bush, Future Corridors was shelved by former Gov. Charlie Crist, who instead emphasized improving existing infrastructure and urban areas. Gov. Rick Scott, who like Bush killed a high-speed rail plan linking urban centers upon taking office, revived the Corridors project and views it as an economic engine for rural counties that will create jobs.

Continue reading "Scott finds support for toll roads " »

Gaetz announces committee assignments, pushes bipartisanship

The committee assignments are out for the Florida Senate, and Sen. President Don Gaetz said he worked across the aisle to ensure fairness and effectiveness during a time when the Senate has a large new freshman class.

“The Senate is blessed to have Senators whose talents reflect the experience and abilities of the Floridians each Senator represents,” said Gaetz, R-Niceville. “In determining the attached committee assignments, each Senator’s subject area expertise and interests were considered, as well as the work we need to accomplish over the next two years.” 

Gaetz said that all 40 Senators were assigned as either a chair or a vice chair of a committee.

He assigned Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, as budget chair and Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, as Rule Chair, rounding out his leadership team.

Negron will also lead the select committee on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as the 11-member group works on Florida’s implementation of Obamacare.

There are five Democrats serving as chairs of committees, compared to two last year. Two of the committees chaired by Democrats this year are less critical joint committees.

Several committees are split between Republican chairs and Democratic vice chairs, or vice versa—giving Democrats more clout than they had last year when chairmanships and vice chairmanships were overwhelmingly Republican. Committee-leadership in the Senate is also more evenly split between parties than the Florida House.

The party breakdown in the Senate is 26 Republicans and 14 Democrats and, compared to a 28-12 split last year. There are more than a dozen freshman Senators after the once-a-decade redistricting process.

The budget committee is the most lopsided, with 13 Republicans and 5 Democrats.

Gaetz said he has asked each Senator to serve on two appropriations subcommittees.

“My goal is to ensure that ensure all Senators, new and returning, understand what is included in the base budget so that each Senator can be equipped with the information necessary to make decisions on what should be funded moving forward,” he said.

Other key assignments:

Ethics and Elections

Jack Latvala, Chair
Eleanor Sobel, Vice Chair (Sobel is running an independent task force to figure out what went wrong during this year’s elections). 

John Legg, Chair
William Montford, Vice Chair 

John Thrasher, Chair
Chris Smith, Vice Chair

Health Policy
Aaron Bean, Chair
Eleanor Sobel, Vice Chair

Banking and Insurance
David Simmons, Chair
Jeff Clemens, Vice Chair

Tom Lee, Chair
Darren Soto, Vice Chair 

Select Committee on Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
Joe Negron, Chair
Eleanor Sobel, Vice Chair

Garrett Richter, Chair
Maria Sachs, Vice Chair

See other committee assignments here:  

The Full memo from Gaetz is below:

Continue reading "Gaetz announces committee assignments, pushes bipartisanship" »

Florida says no to public input on license tags

Florida will not accept license tags offered by public relations professional Kevin Cate, or by anyone else.

The state will stick with one of the four choices up for a vote at vote4floridatag.com.

Cate criticized the tags designed by the department and offered his own. At the very least, Cate said, the state should use the 15 million tags roaming the country to advertise visitflorida.com, which promotes tourism, restaurants and businesses.

Cate created the tag alongside squarefactor, a Florida design firm. It took about an hour and a half.

"It's basic branding," said Cate, founder of Kevin Cate Communications.

But highway safety spokeswoman Kirsten Olsen-Doolan said Florida will not take input from the general public. Instead, a panel of 20 people from law enforcement officers to tax collectors offered ideas for the new tags.

Continue reading "Florida says no to public input on license tags" »