Statewide Archives - SaintPetersBlog

Lisa Edgar steps down from state parks post

Lisa Edgar has resigned as director of the Florida Park Service after less than two months on the job, citing “an immediate family emergency.”

Edgar notified Gary Clark, the Department of Environmental Protection’s deputy secretary for land and recreation, in an emailed note Thursday.

“Gary. Thank you for the opportunity to work for you and the Florida Park Service. It has been an honor. Unfortunately, an immediate family emergency requires my full attention. As such, I regretfully must resign at this time,” Edgar wrote.

“I wish continued success to you and the agency.”

The Tallahassee Democrat appears to have been first to report the development. A DEP spokeswoman forwarded Edgar’s email to Florida Politics.

Edgar, a three-term member of the state’s Public Service Commission, previously was deputy secretary of DEP. She decided not to seek another term on the PSC and was replaced by water use engineer Donald Polmann of Dunedin.

She switched jobs around the first of the year.

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Child Abuse Death Review Committee to examine fatality emergency calls

A total of 931 combined child deaths were reported in Florida in both 2015 and 2016, according to the state’s Child Abuse Death Review Committee (CADR), which met in Tampa Friday to discuss the issue.

Broken down, 474 of those reviewable fatalities were in 2015, with another 457 reviewable notifications made in 2016. More than 200 of those are still open cases — 29 from 2015 and 175 from 2016, per graphs compiled in documents by the committee and released to FloridaPolitics.com.

The committee also released their 2016 annual report recently.

Among the 20 circuit districts the judicial courts and the Department of Children and Families (DCF) offices fall under across the Sunshine State, only three had completed, and closed, all of their investigations in 2015:  Circuits 3, 7 and 18.

One, Miami’s 16th Circuit Court, had not completed or closed a single investigation into the deaths of minors, as said in a CADR review.

A call was placed to the child protection office for the 16th Circuit early Friday afternoon, but was not immediately returned.

Moving from 2015 into 2016, no districts had both completed and closed all their investigations.

(Again, the 16th Circuit had not completed or closed a single case, though without speaking to officials in the district, it was not immediately clear if other factors play.)

CADR is led by the Florida Department of Health, which is tasked with reviewing closed investigations into child deaths, Jessica Sims, DCF communications director in Tallahassee, told FloridaPolitics.com.

“DCF is a member of the committee and is one of many entities with a representative on each local review team, which are led by the local health departments,” Sims said by email. “DCF has no oversight of the committee or local review teams. … DCF’s quality assurance reviews or Critical Incident Rapid Response Team deployment to review child death cases are not related to the CADR — it is important not to confuse these different types of reviews.”

Death investigations conducted by DCF or by sheriff’s offices are generally closed within 30-60 days, say both DCF and CADR officials.

“Cases that remain open longer are usually due to a law enforcement hold, medical examiner determination, state attorney involvement or other factor,” Sims explained.

Various factors are considered in each investigation — primarily whether the deaths were preventable or not.

If they were, or are, found to be deemed preventable then they are classified as neglect, which the committee reported more dangers to children than most other settings.

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Anitere Flores wants to replace one tax cut with another

In a move sure to ire the insurance industry, state Sen. Anitere Flores is proposing a cut in the state tax on mobile phone and satellite and cable TV service by repealing a tax break to insurers.

Flores, the Senate President pro Tempore, on Friday said she was filing legislation (SB 378) to swap the insurance break for a 2 percent reduction in the state’s communications services tax (CST). The proposal is a priority of Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican.

The move also aligns with Gov. Rick Scott‘s and the Florida House’s appetite for continued tax relief. Flores’ proposal “could provide $300 million in recurring tax relief for families and businesses,” according to a news release.

“Florida’s CST is one of the highest in the nation,” said Flores, a Miami-Dade Republican. “In 2015, we made great progress by permanently reducing Florida’s CST by 1.73 percent. This year, we can reduce this burdensome tax even further and provide additional monthly savings to every Floridian with a cell phone or cable or satellite TV.”

The state’s communications services tax charges “direct-to-home satellite service” at a total rate of 11.44 percent. Cable TV, however, is taxed at a total of 7.44 percent; the state reduced the CST on that two years ago.

In 2013, Negron tried to get rid of the now 30-year-old tax break to insurance companies, at the time was worth around $225 million, to decrease automobile fees.

The insurance industry helped kill that effort in the House. Fees were later reduced without scuttling the tax break.

But Negron earlier this year said he was again looking to eliminate the insurance deal this year, a 15 percent tax credit on the salaries that insurers give their full-time workers here in the state. “The same benefit is not provided for other industries.” he said in a statement.

“When originally put in place thirty years ago, this taxpayer-funded subsidy for insurance companies was well intentioned, but times have changed and we need to reprioritize,” Negron said. “We can take the revenue we save from eliminating a tax credit that only benefits one industry and use it to provide a meaningful, monthly, and permanent tax cut for Florida’s families and businesses.”

We’ll add reaction from the state’s insurers when we receive it.

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Legislating free speech? Toughen up, buttercup

Of the many wonderful things the late University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt said and did in her life, perhaps none echoes with more relevance today than these simple words: Toughen up, buttercup.

Sally Jenkins, the terrific Washington Post columnist, reported that’s how Summitt dealt with an assistant coach who was upset almost to the point of tears over what must have been a relatively minor team problem.

It was good advice. People on either side of the political equation should listen, especially given the debate bubbling up about the First Amendment right of free speech.

As Mitch Perry of FloridaPolitics.com reported Thursday, the Florida House Subcommittee on Post-Secondary Education pondered on proposed legislation called the Campus Free Speech Act. Stanley Kurtz, a conservative academic, told lawmakers the measure would defend the right for people to speak their minds at the state’s universities.

It would require universities to create policy that reminds students that free speech is vital to the nation.

Well, OK so far.

It also would prohibit administrators from disinviting speakers, no matter how controversial, if people on campus want to hear from them.

The slope is getting a little slippery, but go on …

It would subject students or anyone else who interferes with the free-speech rights of others to official discipline.

Getting very slippery …

It would allow people who believe their free-speech rights were hindered by the university to recover court costs and attorney’s fees.

Getting a little out of control …

Conservatives have complained for decades that college campuses are liberal “safe spaces” where political correctness is the understood rule and dissent is not tolerated. I’ll concede that there have been many cases where seemingly innocent remarks have exploded into firestorms.

Take the case of former Yale University lecturer Erika Christakis, who resigned under immense pressure after having the audacity to challenge an edict by the school administration that set guidelines for Halloween costumes. Students were prohibited from choosing a costume that could be considered racially or sexually insensitive.

Christakis’ high crime?

She wrote this: “What happens when one person’s offense is another person’s pride? Should a costume wearer’s intent or context matter? Can we always tell the difference between a mocking costume and one that satirizes ignorance? In what circumstances should we allow — or punish — youthful transgression?”

The backlash from students and faculty was furious, almost mob-like. That a grand bit of irony since the university’s demand for tolerance turned into intolerance for anyone who strayed an inch outside of the lines.

I know what Pat Summitt would have told the protestors.

Students everywhere should learn that lesson because – listen closely now – when they get into the real world, not everyone will agree with them. Not everything they hear and see will reaffirm their values. They will be told “no” when the answer they expect to hear is “yes.”

Their ears will be assaulted by cretins like Milo Yiannopoulos, the creepy former Breitbart wingnut whose recent speaking engagement at Cal-Berkeley was canceled but not before rioters protesting his appearance caused thousands of dollars in damage.

Protest: good.

Riot: bad.

Protesting is a form of free speech, too. Kurtz’s proposal would limit that by punishing people who try to shout down a speaker with whom they disagree. If that’s the case, what would have happened to Joe Wilson, the South Carolina congressman who yelled “You lie” at President Obama during a 2009 speech about health care?

We don’t need another law to protect free speech. The First Amendment has that covered. It wouldn’t hurt for universities to remind students and faculty that dissent must be tolerated and conflicting opinions should be openly and civilly discussed.

If it strays over the line into personal attacks about a person’s lifestyle, religion or looks, punishment is appropriate.

Otherwise, heed Pat Summit’s advice.

Life is a contact sport.

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Richard Corcoran says philosophy, facts drive his EFI, VISIT Florida axe

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran made it clear Friday he is sticking to his drive to abolish Enterprise Florida Inc. and VISIT Florida saying the moves are right in philosophy and facts.

“I’m telling you we’re right. We’re absolutely right,” Corcoran declared in a speech before the Central Florida Urban League.

Corcoran described Enterprise Florida as an organization that serves the top 1 percent of companies and most of them did not deliver and  belittled VISIT Florida for paying for Pitbull‘s video that he said essentially declared, “Come to Florida and have sex.”

“Here is what we know about VISIT Florida and Enterprise Florida. First, Enterprise Florida and VISIT Florida didn’t exist in this state until the mid-’90s. Guess what we had before that? I’m going to shock you. We had visitors. I’m going to shock you. We had businesses that came to this state.”

Corcoran, a Republican from Land ‘O Lakes, began Friday by defending his positions against criticism from Democratic Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who, in an earlier speech, declared both organizations are valuable to Florida’s economic growth.

Yet Corcoran’s fight has not been with Democrats, and certainly not with mayors, but with Gov. Rick Scott and others in the Republican Party. Corcoran acknowledged that, referring to “my fight with the governor” and “members of my own party.” He then accused them of launching personal and uncivil counter attacks.

“I always try to maintain civility. I’ll stick to the facts. We ought to do that in a civil way. I will tell you that words matter. Words hurt. Words destroy,” Corcoran said. “And you ought to be very careful with your words. Especially now more than ever in this environment. And we ought to be speaking the truth.”

Corcoran also took a shot at the state’s Urban Crime Tax Credit, which has been criticized for creating loopholes that allowed, for example, Universal Orlando to receive the credits because the broad region of Orlando which the park is located qualifies.

“It sounds great, it sounds noble,” he said of the program. “All of your benefactors are the top 1 percent of companies, like Universal. I’ve been there with my family and my six kids. I never felt threatened by high crime.

That’s what happens when you engage in that kind of philosophy. And then you find out they start wasting money; they start spending money, on everything under the sun. Bonuses. High-end furniture.”

He accused Enterprise Florida of sponsoring the arrival of 232 businesses to Florida, but said 124 of them never met their contractual obligations, and that less than 2 percent of the capital obligations and delivering less than 2 percent of the jobs.

“And we just pour more money into it,” he said.

He said he was not offended by Pitbull’s video, saying he went to the University of Florida for three years, “all of them freshmen.”

“That’s not offensive to me. But it’s the philosophy behind that,” he added. “And all of that money that goes to those things that are gratuitous waste of money, is money that could go to education, that could go to infrastructure, or creating a fair and equitable tax structure.”

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Senator seeks probe into whether lobbyist Lisa Miller posed as ‘concerned citizen’ during call

Sen. Kevin Rader is asking Gov. Rick Scott to investigate whether Tallahassee lobbyist Lisa Miller posed as a “concerned citizen” to mislead participants in a conference call with a company that rates Florida insurers.

“I know you understand that matters such as these must be completely in the sunshine and all principals must play by the rules. This is crucial to the integrity and transparency of the insurance market,” Rader wrote in a letter to Scott dated Thursday.

“The citizens of our state have had a difficult time with their insurance matters over the last decade and they deserve to have a full accounting of this incident. We are talking about peoples’ homes, and it is absolutely critical to get to the bottom of this. Insurers and their rating companies must play by the rules and not orchestrate false or misleading presentations with impersonations of ‘concerned citizens’ intended to deceive government officials and the public.”

In an interview with Florida Politics on Feb. 16, Miller denied posing as someone named Mary Beth Wilson to praise Ohio-based Demotech Inc. during the call on Feb. 10.

“No,” Miller said when asked whether she had done it. “I did not make that call.”

“Let me assure you that if this occurred, no one at Demotech coordinated it or scripted it,” Demotech president Joe Petrelli said by email that day.

In his letter to Scott, Rader — a Democrat from Boca Ramon who sits on the Government Oversight and Accountability Committee — called the possibility “troubling.” Legislative staff and other government officials participated in the call, he said.

He asked the governor to investigate whether the company or Miller “violated Florida’s lobbying statutes or other statutes regarding misleading acts or statements to members of the legislative and executive branches, including having the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and/or inspector general investigate this matter.”

Demotech held the call to explain a change in its rating system and discuss the downgrade of some Florida insurance companies.

Jeff Grady, president and CEO of the Florida Association of Insurance Agents, first reported on his blog (password protected) that “most industry professionals” believed the caller was Miller, of Lisa Miller & Associates.

He did not name her, but posted a link to her lobbyist registration page, which identifies her as representing Demotech, among other clients.

Grady said he’d known Miller for 15 years and recognized her voice, as did other participants.

Rader asked Scott to look into whether anyone on the call purported to be Wilson; whether Demotech and Petrelli or any of Miller’s other clients directed her to do it; and how a “concerned citizen” would come by the call-in number, date, and time of the call.

We suggested investigating whether any other participants could identify the caller, whether any government staff were misled, and whether Florida laws or rules had been violated.

“If necessary, based on the outcome of that investigation, action or response by Demotech or its lobbyist may be warranted,” Rader wrote. “Or, in lieu of an investigation, please provide a written response as to why one is not required in this case.”

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Florida GOP lawmakers hosting annual ‘Mardi Gras’ fundraiser this weekend

Ever wanted to ask Senate President Joe Negron what he’d do to earn some Mardi Gras beads?

Well, you’ll have the chance to do just that if you take part in a “Mardi Gras Celebration” at Universal Studios in Orlando where Negron, Speaker Richard Corcoran, Senate Presidents-to-be Bill Galvano and Wilton Simpson and House Speakers-to-be Jose Oliva and Chris Sprowls and other legislative leaders will come together for a fundraiser the weekend before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session.

According to an invitation obtained by FloridaPolitics.com, on March 4-5, the Republican lawmakers will take part in a full schedule of activities, including VIP tours. There will be a lunch and dinner, followed by a VIP viewing of a Mardi Gras Celebration Parade & Concert.

Funds raised at the event will benefit House Majority 2018, one of the campaign arms of the Republican Party of Florida.

Presumably, it would be during the parade when an adventurous donor could trade some beads for a check — if only doing so were not against the gift ban.

Let’s hope Negron, Corcoran and Co. do not partake too much in the Mardi Gras festivities. The legislative session will kick-off just two days later.

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Patrick La Pine: Make 2017 the year for depository choice

As private citizens, most of us are trying to make the best financial decisions for our family, which starts with where we bank and who we trust with our money.  And, it stands to reason that, as taxpayers, we would want our local government entities to do the same.

Yet, Florida law does not allow for credit unions to accept deposits from local government entities and, instead, only allows for local governments to bank with commercial, for-profit banks. This means school boards, universities and colleges and local governments, to name a few, cannot take advantage of, and bank at, their local credit unions.

While it seems like common sense that our local government entities should have the same freedom we do as private citizens to bank where our needs will be best met, year after year the banking lobby protects the interest of banks and their shareholders, and blocks all attempts to grant public offices and municipalities depository choice. As the 2017 Legislative Session quickly approaches, we urge lawmakers to allow municipalities and public offices the freedom to bank where they want.

Credit unions return all of their profits back to their members, and in turn, the community. Credit unions are also 100 percent member-owned, whereas banks are usually shareholder-owned, management and board driven, for-profit establishments that transfer their earnings back to shareholders.

As current law only permits commercial, for-profit banks to receive deposit requests from local government entities, credit unions are forced to turn them down, limiting municipalities from seeking more competitive return rates for their investments with financial institutions. Credit unions are not asking for special treatment when it comes to the public funds market, rather the opportunity to provide depository choice for such entities, which many can provide lower rates and bigger savings to, and would allow universities, local governments and school boards, to keep their funds within local communities.

While opponents may argue that credit unions should not serve local governments because “they do not pay taxes,” this is simply a self-serving and disingenuous argument. It is strictly a claim so that for-profit banks may maintain their monopoly to conduct business with municipalities and public offices, and keep credit unions — accessible, competent and deserving institutions — from widening the marketplace and spurring competition for public deposits.

Because their mission is to serve the community and their not-for-profit structure, credit unions are exempt from paying federal income taxes. However, credit unions pay tangible personal property taxes and property taxes, and as employers, pay all employment taxes, as would any other bank. Credit unions essentially pay the same taxes as a Sub S corporation, of which there are currently 29 in Florida — 20 of which are qualified public depositories.

Just as many Florida’s families are under economic pressure, so too are our local government entities and it’s imperative that they are granted freedom in banking, in order to make the best financial decisions for their respective entity and maximize their returns.

Let’s make this the year fairness prevails for depository choice. This legislation is good for the community, as well as those public entities that could achieve financial savings from this move.

___

Patrick La Pine is president and CEO of the League of Southeastern Credit Unions & Affiliates.

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Rick Scott’s newest title – lame duck

Gov. Rick Scott has added a new title to his resume in the last few weeks – lame duck.

Sure, he officially retains the job of Florida governor until a successor takes over in 2019, but for all intents, it appears a majority of state House members aren’t waiting until then to stop listening to him.

The House Appropriations Committee euphemistically threw a pie in the governor’s face Tuesday by voting to eliminate Enterprise Florida and eviscerate Visit Florida, the state agency that markets the glory of the Sunshine State to people in the cold, frozen north.

This happened despite perhaps the most aggressive public pitch by Scott in his six years as governor to preserve both entities. It was a stinging rebuke by his own party, and what we can conclude is that it almost certainly is the shape of things to come.

Scott went down swinging.

“(Tuesday’s) vote by politicians in the Florida House is a job killer. I know some politicians who have voted for this job killing bill say they don’t necessarily want to abolish these programs but instead want to advance a ‘conversation.’ This is completely hypocritical and the kind of games I came to Tallahassee to change,” Scott said in a statement that wound up in my mailbox and no doubt hundreds of others.

“Perhaps if these politicians would listen to their constituents, instead of playing politics, they would understand how hurtful this legislation will be to Florida families.”

That’s feisty talk, but the truth is undeniable. The governor has been powerless though in the face of opposition by House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O’Lakes.

Corcoran sees both programs as revenue-sucking wastes of taxpayer money. He has called Enterprise Florida and its job-creation incentives “corporate welfare” and basically a colossal failure.

All Scott has been able to do is complain. He has been unable to summon the political clout to combat this insurgency within his own party, so what does that tell you?

Well, a couple of things.

Most important for the moment is that it says House Republicans have tuned out their Republican governor on an issue he cares passionately about. Once that happens, the disconnect only gets worse.

It also further stamps Corcoran as a legitimate contender to succeed Scott in the governor’s mansion, if future political ambitions take him in that direction. That makes the relative silence lately by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam even more interesting. Putnam is widely considered to be the likely Republican nominee for governor next time around.

Meanwhile, I wouldn’t expect Corcoran to give an inch going forward. When it comes to issues like these, compromise doesn’t seem to be in his playbook.

That’s not good news for Rick Scott after all the effort he has put in to save these programs, but as a lame duck, there’s not much he can do about it.

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Randy Fine: Bill bolsters local businesses, not victimize LGBT community; detractors not buying it

Rep. Randy Fine introduced HB 17 simply as a measure to keep commerce moving on an upward trajectory under the leadership of local governments, flourishing enough to bring prosperity to their respective communities.

“Its intent is to help businesses thrive and grow – that’s its purpose,” Fine told FloridaPolitics.com by telephone on Thursday from Tallahassee. “There are folks that think business should be left up to local government and then there are folks like me who think the nexus of business runs through the state.”

Nothing could be further from the truth, according to Gina Duncan, transgender inclusion director for the Equality Florida Institute, a partnership between advocacy and charity nonprofits that form the largest civil rights group dedicated to the civil rights of Florida’s LGBT community.

“HB 17 basically reverses the work that has been done in the last two decades to provide protection to LGBT people in employment, housing and accommodations,” Duncan said by phone. “HB 17 is basically a watered-down version of the North Carolina House Bill 2. … We find it especially alarming and dangerous because we’ve been unable to get Tallahassee to move off this conservative track they’ve been on.”

Fine refuted the claim by LGBT advocacy groups that his bill was backdoor legislation to legal discrimination of minority groups.

“That’s not what the bill is going to do,” Fine said, at first not understanding a reporter’s question about criticism of what he strictly views as a pro-commerce measure. “There are all kinds of groups that feel their local governments have gone outside state lines.”

And he doesn’t get how it would affect the LGBT community, for example, either.

Barely a full day has passed since President Donald Trump’s administration put directives to public school’s reversing the previous policy outlined in 2015 and 2016, granting transgender students certain rights when it came to the equal use of bathrooms and locker rooms based on what gender they identify.

With the sweeping Trump action, the greater LGBT community as a whole across Florida – and the nation – is worried that it’s a slippery slope to further repeals gained in recent years, like gay marriage and the right for gay couples to adopt children.

Transgender students at the University of South Florida in Tampa were anxious to speak about what was happening in Florida and across the U.S., beginning with President Trump.

“Seeing him promise ‘protection’ for the LGBT community during his inauguration speech didn’t really convince me, so I’m not really surprised he would do this kind of thing,” said Max Morinelli, who serves as the president of the campus organization USF Trans+ Student Union and as historian of USF P.R.I.D.E. Alliance. “I still can’t believe an issue like bathroom is so controversial – still beyond me really. I know, in the end – but who knows how long that will be – some equal rights bill will be passed protecting our rights.”

Though it might seem like everyone was ganging up on Fine, the wave of voices coming from the LGBT community was overwhelming, something Duncan also noted.

When asked why she thought Fine didn’t understand their point of view on the bill, she answered curtly.

“This façade of ignorance is wrapped around a smokescreen of religion,” she said. “And it’s usually veiled in the dialogue of running their businesses as they see fit when they actually don’t but into what they view as the LGBT agenda.”

 

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