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11 posts from December 13, 2012

December 13, 2012

Family, friends of former U.S. Marine from Miami detained in Mexico call for his release

When the mother of a military veteran arrested and detained in a dangerous foreign jail called her congresswoman’s office two weeks ago asking for help, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said she had a hard time believing former Marine Lance Cpl. Jon Hammar was in prison for carrying a six-decade-old shotgun into Mexico.

“We said, ‘Surely she must be exaggerating,’ ” recalled Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican.

She wasn’t. Olivia Hammar’s son had been in a state prison in Matamoros, along the Mexican border, for nearly four months.

His parents, who live in Palmetto Bay, tried to resolve the matter quietly, hiring attorneys in Mexico and dealing with the U.S. consulate there. But the effort went nowhere.

Now the family has gone public — so public that even Hammar’s jailors have seen the case in the news.

“What’s going on?” Hammar asked in a late-night phone call Wednesday, according to his parents. “The guards are going crazy down here.”

The story of how Hammar, a 27-year-old who returned from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars with post-traumatic stress disorder and hoped to find peace surfing in Central America, wound up chained to a bed in Mexican prison drew widespread attention after McClatchy, The Miami Herald’s parent company, published a report about the case last week.

State clemency board grants pardon to wrongly imprisoned man

After a wrongful murder conviction that put him behind bars for 27 years, William Michael Dillon received formal forgiveness from the state Thursday.

Dillon, who was awarded a $1.3 million settlement by the state in March, stood before Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet and recounted how far his life has come since he was released from maximum security prison four years ago, exonerated by DNA evidence.

Clemency hearings, in which elected officials grant pardons and rule on whether to restore civil rights for convicted felons, are usually somber, even tearful.

But Dillon's testimony was upbeat, drawing smiles from an audience of freed felons waiting for their own opportunity to ask for the legal system's fullest measure of forgiveness.

Read full story here. 

Citizens to abandon loan program for private companies, floats new 'clearinghouse' idea

Lawmakers and policyholder advocates have panned a proposal by Citizens Property Insurance to allow private insurers to borrow up to $50 million in exchange for taking over Citizens policies. Citizens officials defended the plan to set aside $350 million of the company’s surplus cash to dole out to private insurers but agreed to hire an outside financial consulting firm to assist with the roll out.

What Citizens Property Insurance learned form the firm it hired, Goldman Sachs, apprently wasn't good.  

Citizens President Barry Gilway told members of the company's Board of Governors that for now he won't be asking for them to sign off on the surplus note proposal after all because he doesn't think any insurance companies will want to participate.

“I seriously doubt even if the surplus note program was approved by this committee and the board that we’d have any real takers," Gilway said today, "takers that meet the financial requirements that we believe would be appropriate to make a $50 million or $25 million loan to.” 

Goldman Sachs will still complete its study, and the results are expected next month, Gilway. But that information will be used to inform Citizens as it moves forward with other ideas to reduce the number of policyholders, currently at 1.4 million.

He presented a brand new proposal today. Gilway wants to create a "clearinghouse" to help ensure that people purchasing property insurance have access to all the policies they are eligible for, in hopes that other companies rank higher than Citizens. Right now, because many agents only have access to a handful of companies, homeowners are chosing Citizens despite having other options they don't know about.

Continue reading "Citizens to abandon loan program for private companies, floats new 'clearinghouse' idea" »

Florida, other state secession petitions due White House response

We told you last month about the state seccession petitions that popped up on the White House's "We the People" website shortly after President Barack Obama won re-election. The window to garner enough signatures to warrant a White House response passed this week for most of these petitions; Florida and other states met the mark.

Petitions must have at least 25,000 signatures within 30 days of their submission.  The New Yorker reported that petitions were filed on behalf of all 50 states, but only eight met the threshold needed for a response. Here is that list and the number of signatures the petitions have received as of this blog posting:

    -Texas, 119, 617
    -Louisiana, 37,430
    -Florida, 35,310
    -Georgia, 32, 448
    -Tennessee, 31,479
    -North Carolina, 30,808
    -Alabama, 30,580
    -South Carolina, 25,064

Continue reading "Florida, other state secession petitions due White House response" »

PSC ready to sign onto a four-year FPL rate case deal

The Public Service Commission on Thursday agreed to award Florida Power & Light a $358 million base rate request that includes a series of rate increases over four years and rejected a call from the public counsel that the company scale back its rates.

After a morning hearing discussing the nuts and bolts of a proposed settlement, the five-member commission appears on track to vote 4-1 to modify the settlement agreement presented by the company, and allow FPL to received guaranteed profits of between 9.5 to 11.5 percent through 2016.

The settlement is less than the $378 million the company originally sought in its first settlement offer, but the profit level – which would guarantee a midpoint return on equity of 10.5 percent – is higher than the 10 percent the PSC staff recommended in a draft recommendation.

Commissioner Eduardo Balbis, who supported giving the company the 10.5 percent return on equity, expressed interest in demanding that the company also make a concession to collect at least $10 million less from consumers in other areas. No other commissioners would agree.

Continue reading "PSC ready to sign onto a four-year FPL rate case deal" »

Crist's run-from-the-past run continues (gay-marriage edition)

From Republican to independent to Democrat, Charlie Crist has run the gamut of major political affiliations since 2010. As a statewide office-seeker since 1998, the former Republican governor became an independent when he couldn't beat Marco Rubio in a GOP Senate primary. So Crist became an independent.

Crist now sees a good shot at unseating unpopular incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Scott in 2014.

But he needs to be a Democrat to do it. And he needs to explain some of his past conservative positions.

Today, Crist officially became a Democrat when he registered with the party before posing for pictures with several Pinellas County elections workers. "You know what I will call you three? Charlie's angels," he told three of the staffers.

Get ready for more of that, voters: Crist's treacly one-liners vs. Scott's aloof awkwardness. It's gonna be a helluva battle of style, with a little substance thrown in. Of course, Crist needs to run and win in what could be a crowded Democratic primary.

Continue reading "Crist's run-from-the-past run continues (gay-marriage edition)" »

Private poll: Crist has big lead in Democratic primary

A new private poll of 1,000 Democratic voters gives former Gov. Charlie Crist an overwhelming advantage over all other Democrats in a hypothetical primary for governor, including a 21-point lead in a test matchup against Alex Sink, the party's 2010 nominee.

Neither Crist nor Sink has announced plans to run for governor. The poll concludes that Crist is far better known than Sink and that 75 percent of Democrats believe he has the best chance of beating Republican Gov. Rick Scott in 2014. 

In a coincidence of timing, about half of the poll was done before Crist's Dec. 7 announcement that he was becoming a Democrat, and half was conducted afterward. The poll showed Crist increasing his lead over Sink from 17 points to 25 after his switch became public at a White House holiday reception, for a bottom-line advantage of 21 points (55 percent to 34 percent with 11 percent undecided).

The poll was done for an undisclosed client of ClearView Research from Dec. 4-9, and has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points. ClearView, a market research firm, is run in part by Screven Watson, a former executive director of the Florida Democratic Party and a Tallahassee political operative who said he has no connection to Crist. 

"This was not done to promote or demote anybody," Watson said. "A client had a curiosity. We do not have a dog in this fight."

According to the poll, 79 percent of Democrats have a somewhat or very favorable view of Crist compared to 58 percent for Sink. Crist, a former Republican governor who ran as an independent Senate candidate in 2010, completed his conversion to the Democratic Party Thursday.

The poll tested six other names, all of whom had much lower favorability ratings than Crist or Sink, larggely because they are less well-known: Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, former Sen. Nan Rich, former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, Florida Democratic Party chairman Rod Smith and former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio.

Nearly half of voters (47 percent) said they would be "much more likely" to vote for Crist if he were endorsed by Democratic leaders such as former Gov. Bob Graham, Sen. Bill Nelson or President Barack Obama. The poll shows Crist is weakest where the president is, too: among "Dixiecrats," conservative Democrats in North Florida

The pollster also offered voters a series of "push" statements that did not affect the results in any statistically significant way. Among the statements: that Crist endorsed Sarah Palin for vice-president in 2008 and campaigned for Obama in 2012; that he "can't be trusted" because he has switched parties and positions so often; that Sink and her husband, Bill McBride, have both run for governor and lost; and that Sink is pro-choice.

-- Steve Bousquet

U.S. Rep.-Elect Lois Frankel hires chief of staff

A couple of familiar faces will be working for Lois Frankel when she is sworn in as a member of Congress Jan. 3 to represent Broward/Palm Beach District 22. Frankel has hired Jonathon Bray, her campaign manager, as chief of staff. She has also hired Sarah Rothschild as communications director. Rothschild, a former Miami Herald sports reporter, now works for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and was a spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Ron Klein who held the District 22 seat until he was ousted by Allen West in 2010.

Mel Martinez on higher taxes: “Republicans are going to have to swallow the pill."

Florida’s former senator and a one-time head of the national Republican Party, Mel Martinez, said Thursday that members of his own party need to get ready to go along with higher taxes.

“Republicans are going to have to swallow the pill they don’t want to swallow,” Martinez said on a conference call with reporters about the effects of the so-called “fiscal cliff” debt talks in Washington.

But, Martinez said, Democrats also need to “confront the most-ardent of their supporters” as well. They need to help tackle the “elephant in the room:” entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

If there’s no debt deal between Republicans and Democrats in Washington, Martinez warned, tax increases will rise on everyone, federal programs will be cut, recession could ensue and, according to a defense-industry study, Florida could lose 80,000 jobs.

Continue reading "Mel Martinez on higher taxes: “Republicans are going to have to swallow the pill."" »

Gov. Rick Scott doubles down on testing for voucher students at private schools

Gov. Rick Scott reiterated Wednesday his belief that students attending private schools using tax-credit scholarships should meet the same standards as students in traditional public schools.

This would be a sharp change in policy, and some private school leaders are already voicing concerns, the Tampa Bay Times reported today.

Scott first talked about his views after Tuesday's Cabinet meeting, saying that all students whose education is paid for using Florida tax dollars should have to meet the same academic standards. Later that day, his office said it wanted to "provide context" to that statement by pointing out the governor would be meeting with tax-credit scholarship advocates on Wednesday. That left the Buzz wondering if he would walk back his earlier comments.

Well, he didn't.

Noting Florida's shift to new, national Common Core standards, Scott said Wednesday that traditional, charter and private schools should expect to implement the new testing that comes with it.

"Ultimately, everybody is going to Common Core," he said at a reception in Tampa for administrators of the scholarships and student recipients.

Read the story to see more from Scott and private school leaders.