« September 9, 2013 | Main | September 11, 2013 »

10 posts from September 10, 2013

September 10, 2013

Cyclists rally to pass Aaron Cohen Act

When the driver who fatally struck cyclist Aaron Cohen was sentenced to less than a year in jail, members of the South Florida cycling community were outraged.

“We needed to do something,” said Enda Walsh, who was riding with Cohen at the time of the February 2012 hit-and-run crash.

Their response: a legislative proposal known as the Aaron Cohen Act Life Protection Act. The bill seeks to create tougher penalties for drivers who leave the scene of an accident.

Read more here. 

Crazy or loyal? Lobbyist holds fundraiser for Nan Rich campaign


FriedmanBernie Friedman, whose income as a Becker & Poliakoff lobbyist hinges in no small part on a Republican-led Legislature, is hosting a fundraiser for his friend and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Rich.

The folks in Tallahassee have noticed. And Rich, who has campaigned tirelessly but has little money to show for it, sure could use the financial help to unseat incumbent GOP Gov. Rich Scott and his mega-millions campaign.

Indeed, there's a theory that Friedman et al are actually helping Scott, too, by propping up Rich in an effort to combat former Republican-turned-Democrat Gov. Charlie Crist, who is likely to run.

"I have had the honor and privilege of calling Senator Nan Rich my friend and mentor for more than twenty years," Friedman wrote. "Nan is a tireless advocate for those in need. With her passion, integrity and leadership, she will be a great Governor for the State of Florida.  I hope you will join us at this event."

The host committee for the fundraiser, at the home of trial lawyer Howard Talenfeld Sept. 26 (click image to enlarge): Alex & Maria Abate, Elaine Appel, Cindy Arenberg Seltzer, Howard Bakalar, Emilio Benitez, Nancy & Louis Berlin, Elliot Borkson, Comm. Claudette Bruck, Sen. Walter “Skip” Campbell, Alan Cohn, Maureen S. Dinnen, Bishop Thomas Douglas, Richard & Mindy Drath, Rep. Katie Edwards, Joel & Susan Fass, Clerk of Courts Howard Forman, Sarah Franco, Bernie & Marta Friedman, Randall & Heather Gilbert, Dr. Ira & Marietta Glazer, Amy Goldin & Brian Strelitz, Ruth and Sylvan Goldin, Evan Goldman, Comm. Angel Gomez, Comm. Sue Gunzburger, Dennis Haas, Rabbi Sheldon J. Harr, Marc Harris, Hal & Lois Herman, Joan & Henry Karp, Mark Ketcham, Comm. Martin Kiar, Babette Kosar, Arlene Lakin, Hon. Laurie Rich Levinson, Alan & Marsha Levy, Bruce & Jane Levy, Rebecca Miele, Audrey Millsaps, Alan Mishael, Dr. Arthur Palamara, Mayor Judy Paul, George Platt, Lourdes Pons, Dr. Allan Ribbler, Brett Robins, Derrick S. Roberts, Harry & Jackie Rosen, Hon. Franklin & Leslie Sands, Hon. Mike Satz, Mindy Shrago, David Schulman, Rep. Richard & Debra Stark, Mitch Talenfeld, Jeffrey Wank, Diane Weinbrum, Karen Zemel.

**This post has been updated.

Gov. Scott provides no details on which tax cuts he prefers


Gov. Rick Scott heard from business leaders several ideas for getting him to his goal of cutting $500 million in taxes or fees in Broward Tuesday.

Scott seemed open to all ideas but expressed no clear preference for how to get to his goal at an event held at Broward College in Fort Lauderdale.

“My primary goal next session will be to reduce taxes and fees in the state by $500 million,” Scott told the crowd.

Scott’s tax cut announcement coincides with what could be his tough re-election battle next year -- potentially against his predecessor Gov. Charlie Crist, now a Democrat. He made a comical nod to the political backdrop when a businessman suggested that cutting sales tax on commercial leases would grow jobs -- though not overnight.

“Just by next November,” quipped the Republican governor.

Scott repeated claims he often makes contrasting job losses under Crist (without naming him) and contrasting that with job growth during his tenure. He made those comments without acknowledging that the economy tanked nationally during Crist’s tenure and improved during his own.

During Scott’s “tax cut tour” his office displayed a few posters listing various ideas for “tax cuts  for Florida families” including car registration fees, sales tax holiday, property taxes and communications services tax. Another posted displayed “tax cuts for job creators” such as the business tax and sales tax on commercial leases.

The crowd of business leaders pushed heavily for the sales tax cut on commercial leases. Scott seemed very interested in that idea and said that Florida is the only state in the country that charges that particular tax -- though he later said New York City also does.

Other suggestions included a week-long tax holiday for businesses to make major purchases while another complained about the high penalties for businesses that pay their taxes late.

Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca, the lone GOPer on his board who faces a tough re-election in a left-leaning district, was one of the rare voices to argue for cutting property taxes.

“Property taxes affect everybody who owns a home or a condominium,” LaMarca said.

Scott responded that he cut property taxes by $210 million in 2011. That’s a reference to taxes by water management districts -- a small slice of a homeowners’ bill.

Some participants urged Scott to not simply cut taxes and fees but reinvest in K-12 or higher education. Scott used the event to tout what he has already done including cutting corporate taxes, increasing workforce training and funding a pay raise for teachers.

In response to a student’s question about unemployment among college graduates, Scott said that there are about 250,000 job openings in the state. He said the key is making sure students get jobs in fields that have openings.

In a brief press gaggle after the event when asked if he preferred some tax cutting ideas rather than others Scott didn’t narrow down the list and said he is “open minded” about ways to get money back into families’ hands.

Scott was also asked a question about whether the 6.3 percent increase for Citizens insurance would wash out the tax or fee cuts he has proposed. Scott didn’t directly answer the question but reiterated comments that Citizens should be the “insurance company of last resort” as well as “efficient as possible.”

He also said that he only has two of the eight board members and “I don’t pick the chairman.”

When asked about whose idea it was to hold a gator hunt fundraiser Scott simply said: "Call RPOF."

Free Willy... from Obamacare; Rubio pens Sebelius over SeaWorld work-hour cuts


After the Orlando Sentinel reported that SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. is cutting work hours for thousands of part-time workers to save money due to Obamacare, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio raised the issue today in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Here's the Sentinel:

"SeaWorld confirmed the move Monday in a brief written statement to the Orlando Sentinel. The company operates 11 theme parks across the United States and has about 22,000 employees — nearly 18,000 of whom are part-time or seasonal workers. It has more than 4,000 part-time and seasonal workers in Central Florida.

"Under a new corporate policy, SeaWorld will schedule part-time workers for no more than 28 hours a week, down from a previous limit of 32 hours a week. The new cap is expected to go into effect by November."

And here's Rubio:

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today urged Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to visit with Orlando area workers who are seeing their part-time hours capped due to ObamaCare’s looming implementation on October 1.

In a letter to Sebelius, Rubio urged Sebelius to use her trip to Orlando this Friday to meet with impacted workers at local businesses like SeaWorld, which yesterday announced it would reduce the hours part-time workers can work in order to avoid ObamaCare’s penalties.

“[P]otentially thousands of Florida families will be taking home less income due to their hours being capped at 28 per-week rather than the 32 hours-per-week allowed before ObamaCare,” wrote Rubio. “Especially for families living paycheck-to-paycheck, cutting their hours and income is exactly how ObamaCare devastates middle class Americans.

“It is my sincere hope that meeting with these men and women will help give you a better picture of what is truly happening in communities across America, as well as why my colleagues and I remain committed to defunding ObamaCare before it inflicts additional damage on hard-working Americans,” he added.

Gov. Scott's Brow event shows ideas for tax cuts

Posters at the Broward College event where Gov. Rick Scott is about to speak show a long list of what appear to just be ideas at this point about his plan to cut taxes. Among the options of taxes to cut: property, business tax, sales tax on commercial leases, business tax on electricity, sales tax holiday, car registration fees, communication services taxes.

Politicos in the crowd: Former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca (the lone R on the board), state Rep. George Moraitis (Fort Lauderdale), former Hallandale Beach commissioner Keith London, former Broward GOP chair Richard DeNapoli (a candidate for state legislature in western Florida).


Gov. Rick Scott pays a visit to Democratic Broward to talk taxes

When former Gov. turned Democrat Charlie Crist was in Broward last week, the political hype was all about his comments on Steve Geller's wife's brisket. There wasn't much meat for a fact-checker to dig into there. (Hey it's Broward...gotta have a little Jewish fact-checking humor.)

But today Gov. Rick Scott pays a visit to Broward to talk about his goal of reducing taxes. He'll be at Broward College at 4 p.m. 

Scott will likely be a regular in Broward as he campaigns over the next year. The Democratic-rich county has about 250,000 registered Republicans and even more independents -- and the county has a lousy turnout record in non-presidential years which could help Scott. We hear that Scott is headed to a fundraiser at "Alligator Ron" Bergeron's Broward pad later this month. (Anybody have the invite please forward.)

While we wait for Scott to speak, here's a look at @PolitiFact Florida's recent claims by Scott about taxes.


After Obama meeting, Sen. Bill Nelson credits president's gun-boat Syria diplomacy


The right and left are spinning over the latest Syria developments: is the president lucky/clueless or calculating/bold in the Russia-brokered chemical-weapons deal with Bashar al-Assad's regime?. Enter Democratic Florida Sen. Bill Nelson with this statement after meeting with Obama:

"It is the threat of military force that has brought Assad to the point of considering international control of his chemical weapons.  What Congress should do is authorize a request, if it comes to a vote, to back the president's use of limited, short-duration retaliation aimed at degrading Assad's chemical weapons capability and to deter him from using any of them again.  Authorizing such a strike in Syria may also be enough to convince Assad he must surrender all his chemical weapons to international control and sign the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention outlawing their production, use and stockpiling.  To ensure this happens, I believe a credible threat of American military force must remain on the table."

Meantime, Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (a no vote that cancels out Nelson's on a war resolution) was interviewed live in CNN shortly after the Russia deal was announced. He didn't have much to say that he hasn't said in the past (find what moderate rebels we could and try to arm them, bash Obama for not doing so sooner), and said he was still studying the matter.

Prediction: He'll weigh in soon (wild guess: FOX?) and fault the deal or the president. Consider: When Obama's administration was instrumental in deposing Libya's dictator, Rubio and some other Republicans went out of their way to give credit.... to the French and the British.

Florida Guard asks: Can gay soldiers’ spouses sign up for benefits at state offices?


A week after the Pentagon began processing the spouses of gay troops as equally eligible for federal benefits, the Florida National Guard has yet to decide whether it will embrace the policy or follow the path of Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana and refuse to enroll same-sex spouses.

At issue is not whether the legally married gay spouses of Florida National Guard troops can receive federal benefits. They can.

The question is whether, because the Florida Constitution forbids gay marriage, the Florida National Guard armories and other outposts will refuse to process gay husbands and wives just like heterosexual spouses. If so, gay Guard members would have to go to federally controlled military bases in the state — such as the U.S. Southern Command in Doral or Homestead Air Reserve base — to sign up their spouses.

“The matter has been submitted to Tallahassee for legal review to ensure that the Florida Department of Military Affairs is in compliance with Florida law,” Florida’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Emmett R. Titshaw Jr., told the Miami Herald in response to an email inquiry Monday.

More here.

Greer remained on voter roll six months after plea

Gov. Rick Scott's administration will soon launch a new statewide hunt for suspected non-citizens on the voter roll, a process that last year led to lawsuits and lots of frustration in county elections offices because of a flawed "purge list." But if the state wants a clean roll, it might find out why it takes so long for a voter to be removed after a felony conviction.

Case in point: Jim Greer, the former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida who pleaded guilty last Feb. 11 to five counts of grand theft and money laundering, but was still listed as a registered voter until last week, when we started asking questions. Now there was no election for Greer to vote in, and no chance of him obtaining a ballot at the Gulf Forestry Camp near Port St. Joe, where he's serving an 18-month sentence. The question is the reliability of the state voter database.

Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel said he was still waiting for the state Division of Elections to send the paperwork necessary to initiate removal, including a certified copy of Greer's guilty plea and other documents.

"Good question," Ertel said when we asked him why Greer was still on the roll more than six months after he pleaded guilty. "We have flagged his record and are beginning the process of removal." Greer is now listed as "inactive" on the Florida Voter Registration System (FVRS), the state voter database.

In an earlier email, Ertel said: "Our office has yet to receive the information packet from the Department of State concerning Greer’s conviction. We are well aware of his conviction, and have been on the lookout for the packet from the state."

Ertel is removing Greer's name from the roll based on a provision in law that allows his office to remove a voter based on information from a source other than the state. "To be clear, Jim Greer will not be casting a ballot in any election anytime soon," Ertel said.

-- Steve Bousquet

Change coming to budget offices of Scott, Senate

Change is coming to the budget offices of Gov. Rick Scott and Senate President Don Gaetz, with a historical twist. It's believed to be the first time in state government history that women will hold all three key staff budget positions in the executive and legislative branches in Tallahassee.

With the long-awaited retirement of Scott's budget director, Jerry McDaniel, at year's end, Scott has chosen an experienced hand: Cynthia Kelly, a former staff director for both the Senate and House budget offices. Kelly has been director of administrative services for the Department of Environmental Protection since 2010. She previously worked in the governor's budget office in the 1990s when Democrat Lawton Chiles was in office.

Sen. Gaetz has promoted Cindy Kynoch to be staff director of the Senate Appropriations Committee replacing Mike Hansen, effective Oct. 21, at a salary of $140,000 a year. Kynoch had been Hansen's top deputy. And JoAnne Leznoff continues to hold down the fort in the House as the long-time staff director of the House Appropriations Committee.

-- Steve Bousquet