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12 posts from September 9, 2013

September 09, 2013

Rep. Joe Garcia's former staff chief/adviser under FBI investigation for ties to faux Tea Party candidate


U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia’s former chief of staff and top advisor is under FBI investigation for his ties to a phony Tea Party candidate’s secretly funded mail campaign, the Miami Herald has learned.

Consultant Jeffrey Garcia, no relation to the Miami Democratic congressman, already faces a separate state criminal investigation for allegedly requesting absentee ballots of voters without their permission.

Rep. Garcia has denied participating in or knowing about either scandal. Jeffrey Garcia won’t comment.

In the newly opened federal investigation, a political consultant who worked for Garcia’s campaign told the Herald and the FBI that Jeffrey Garcia was behind then-Tea Party candidate Roly Arrojo’s mailers that attacked a rival of Garcia’s, Republican David Rivera, in the 2010 congressional election.

More here

Regulators approve 6.3 percent average hike for Citizens policyholders

Homeowners who have policies with Citizens Property Insurance Corp. will see their premiums rise an average of 6.3 percent next year, the fifth consecutive increase in rates from the state-run insurer.

The average premium increase approved Monday by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation comes on the heels of a 10.8 percent hike approved last year, but is less than the 7.9 percent sought by Citizens as part of its aggressive attempt to shed policies.

Homeowners with standard “multi-peril” lines will pay an additional $111 on average --  4.4 percent higher than current average rates -- when their policy renews next year. Those with wind-only residential policies will pay an average increase of $265 more, or 10.5 percent, and businesses with commercial lines coverage will see a 10 percent hike.

Since 2009, rates have risen 43 percent for Citizens’ standard homeowners policies and officials say the company’s rates are still below market. 

"We are grateful to OIR for its diligence in reviewing Citizens' 2014 rates and pleased that it has agreed with our overall approach," said Citizens President and CEO Barry Gilway in a statement. "The agency’s action will allow Citizens to continue providing quality service to our 1.2 million policyholders while reducing the risk of assessments on all Floridians." 

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Rouson closes "slush fund", but Crisafulli keeps his open

According to Florida’s Division of Elections, the controversial Florida House Democratic Caucus Affiliated Party fundraising committee opened by Rep. Darryl Rouson was closed on Monday.

Meanwhile, incoming Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, Rouson’s Republican counterpart in the House, explained in a letter why he’s keeping his “affiliated party committee” open.

Dear Colleagues,

My promise to you when elected Speaker Designate was to use every tool that Florida law and election regulations give me in our campaigns for the Florida House of Representatives.

Since 2010, the law has included the opportunity for certain state leaders to create Affiliated Party Committees. After reviewing the law and discussing it with RPOF Chairman Lenny Curry, I decided to utilize this resource in the elections of House Republicans.

The new entity, the House Republican Campaign Committee, is simply one more way for me to do the job you elected me to do. Chairman Curry, RPOF staff, and I continue our cooperative and collaborative process with one common goal: electing Republicans to the Florida House.

If you have any questions or require additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me.


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Tom Lee wants Citizens to give customers more info on benefits and risks of takeouts

Concerned that Florida customers of Citizens Property Insurance could be "duped" into trading their policy from the state-run carrier to a private insurer, a state senator on Monday called for the company to provide clearer warnings to customers about the unknowns involved.

"I've become convinced that the disclosures that are being provided to the consumers paint a very rosy picture of the private market -- they don’t tell you the whole story,'' said state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon.

In a letter to Citizens CEO Barry Gilway and state insurance regulators, Lee urged Citizens executives to provide stronger disclosure warnings to include “the benefits and risks of remaining with Citizens or being insured in the private market.”  Download 9-9 Lee Letter to Gilway

In the next month, nearly 400,000 Citizens customers will be receiving letters from private companies offering to provide them property insurance coverage as an alternative to Citizens. Customers will have 30 days to decide whether to join the new company or stay with Citizens. But the pressure is heavy for customers to switch.

Continue reading "Tom Lee wants Citizens to give customers more info on benefits and risks of takeouts" »

Rollins resigns from Citizens board to explore returning to the company

John RollinsJohn Rollins, an insurance analytics guru who was appointed to Citizens Board of directors by Gov. Rick Scott two years ago, submitted his resignation from the board today in a letter to the governor.

Rollins, 43, told the Herald/Times that he resigned to avoid any ethical breaches as he considers returning to Citizens as part of the company's reorganization. Rollins, president of Rollins Analytics Inc. in High Springs, served as chairman of the board's Actuarial and Underwriting Subcommittee. He previously served as director of corporate analytics at Citizens Property Insurance Corporation from 2006 to 2007.

"I've accomplished a lot and the board has accomplished a lot,'' Rollins said in an interview. "There is a reorganization of the company and it's possible I would have a place in that reorganization. It's also possible there may be opportunities in the private insurance market."

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Rouson's fate as incoming House Democratic Leader may be decided soon

Whether Rep. Darryl Rouson withstands the controversy swirling around him and remains the incoming Democratic House Leader could depend on the week of Sept. 23.

House Democrats leaders confirmed Monday they are considering holding a caucus meeting of all 44 Democrats that week when lawmakers come up to Tallahassee for committee meetings. At this meeting, which has yet to be scheduled, members would be able to vote Rouson out as incoming minority leader.

“Rouson will have an opportunity to explain his actions,” said Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, who is a member of the House minority leadership team. “Members are concerned about the legalities of what went on. This meeting is being set up for Rouson to explain himself.”

Last week, it was learned that Rouson had formed a fundraising committee that only he could control without telling other Democratic leaders. When Florida Democratic Chair Allison Tant discovered the committee, she fired the two staffers involved.

At issue for Democratic rules chairman Rep. Jim Waldman of Coconut Creek, however, is not that Rouson formed an independent fundraising committee without telling other leaders. It’s that donors contributed checks to the Florida Democratic Party and they were deposited instead to Rouson’s committee, the Florida House Democratic Caucus Affiliated Party Committee, which only he controls.

“From what I  understand, the checks were made payable to ‘House Victory 2014’,” Waldman said, referring to the Florida Democratic Party’s fundraising arm for House races. “And instead they were deposited in another account.”


Continue reading "Rouson's fate as incoming House Democratic Leader may be decided soon" »

Scott: Bondi asked to delay execution, didn't say why

Gov. Rick Scott confirmed Monday that he agreed with Attorney General Pam Bondi's request to delay the upcoming execution of a murderer because it conflicted with her campaign kickoff in Tampa on Tuesday evening. But Scott told reporters he did it as a courtesy and did not know the reason why.

The schedule change, as the News Service of Florida first reported, moves the execution of Marshall Lee Gore from Tuesday to Oct. 1.

"Her office contacted my office and asked for a postponement, and that's what we did. No, I did not know (the reason)," Scott told reporters at the Capitol. Pressed for an opinion on the propriety of such a decision, Scott demurred."We set the date," Scott said. "The attorney general's office asked for a postponement, so we went along with that ... When another Cabinet officer asks for something, we try to work with them."

Florida's Sunshine Law prohibits Scott and Bondi from having private conversations about official business. Bondi, as the state's legal officer, has defended a new state law known as the Timely Justice Act, designed to prevent Death Row inmates and their lawyers from using dilatory tactics to delay executions.

Gore's execution is set for 6 p.m. Oct. 1 at the death chamber at Florida State Prison in Starke.

When Gore's execution was delayed previously this past summer because of legal questions about his sanity, a relative of Gore's victim, Robyn Gayle Novick, publicly criticized the decision.

-- Steve Bousquet


As tea party backlash fades, Marco Rubio parades in major mainstream news coverage


ParadeThe tea party backlash against Sen. Marco Rubio for his stance on immigration has been covered to death. And the backlash might be, in fact, dying as the issue fades amid debates about Syria, Obamacare and the federal budget.

At the same time the conservative rage began subsiding, Rubio's media team lined up at least two mainstream-media news pieces that money couldn't buy.

The first dropped this weekend in PARADE, a newspaper insert read by an estimated 63 million Americans, making it the most-widely read magazine in the country.

"At Home with Marco Rubio's Modern Family," said the headline of the piece replete with Norman Rockwell-meets-Miami photos of the telegenic Rubios, a video package and personality-based reporting.

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Coalition renews push for Medicaid expansion

"Back and ready to act."

That is the tagline for a coalition of 87 political, health care and civic organizations renewing their push for Medicaid expansion in Florida. Now that lawmakers are returning to begin committee work ahead of the 2014 session, the coalition -- Health Care for Florida Now -- says it is back again, too.

The group, led by Progress Florida and Florida CHAIN, was not successful in convincing legislators to accept federal dollars to reduce the number of uninsured during the 2013 session. After spending all summer lobbying lawmakers individually, the coalition is hopeful Republican leaders may have a change of heart.

"With #FLlawmakers back in Tally in 2 weeks, the #HealthFLNow Campaign is back & ready to ACT!" Florida CHAIN tweeted today. 

The coalition includes labor unions, religious groups, civic organizations representing women, Latinos and blacks and health care groups like the American Heart Association and Florida Nurses Association. 

Initially, Health Care for Florida Now worked closely with the Florida Hospital Association, which also supported Medicaid expansion through its Florida Remedy campaign. But we haven't heard much from Florida Remedy since session ended.

Groups lining up to oppose next round of purge of non-citizens

Florida Gov. Rick Scott didn’t wait long before stating that he would renew the state’s efforts to remove non-citizens from voter rolls.

Just hours after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act, Scott told reporters, "If there's anybody that we think isn't voting properly, from the standpoint that they didn't have a right to vote, I think we need to do an investigation."

While the state’s Supervisors of Elections have been informed that a new purge will begin soon, groups that have long opposed another round are voicing their objections.

On Monday, five Florida-based and national civil rights groups announced their plan to object to the upcoming effort.

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