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Payroll data show gulf in pay between men and women at UF

New payroll data show that only eight women are among the top 100 highest-paid faculty members at the University of Florida.

The Independent Florida Alligator reports that the top woman earner at Florida earned $524,450 and the top male $984,759. Of the top 20 highest paid faculty, one is a woman.

Dr. Shahla Masood, a professor at the College of Medicine, is the fourth-highest paid female faculty member. She told the paper that several factors contribute, including that some female faculty members are fearful of speaking up and being ignored, criticized or retaliated against.

Florida State University in Tallahassee did better, boasting 26 women in the top 100 earners there.

UF spokeswoman Margot Winick says the administration is aware of the disparity and working to recruit a more diverse faculty.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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Florida Supreme Court rejects shift in insurance claims law

The Florida Supreme Court has overturned a lower-court ruling that would have made it harder for policyholders to collect on insurance policies when there is more than one cause for their losses.

At issue in Sebo v. American Home Assurance Co. was competing doctrines for resolving claims under all-risk policies in those circumstances.

Under the so-called “efficient proximate cause” theory, if the first cause of any damage — say, construction defects — isn’t explicitly covered, nothing else is.

Under the “concurrent law doctrine,” however, a homeowner can collect if any of the damage is covered.

“We conclude that when independent perils converge and no single cause can be considered the sole or proximate cause, it is appropriate to apply the concurring cause doctrine,” Justice James E.C. Perry Thursday wrote for a 5-2 majority.

That’s been the law in Florida for 30 years, said Richard Hugh Lumpkin of Ver Ploeg & Lumpkin in Miami, who filed an amicus brief on behalf of United Policyholders, a consumer group.

Still, the 2nd District Court of Appeal applied the stricter policy in ruling on the case. Other states, including California, use that standard.

“What the Florida Supreme Court is saying is that you apply the policy as written. There’s nothing new or different about that,” Lumpkin said.

“But if the efficient proximate cause doctrine had been made law in Florida, that would have changed things — made it more difficult for folks in Florida to collect their due.”

It also would have injected uncertainty into the insurance industry — both for policyholders and their insurers, he said.

“Let’s just say we breathed a sigh of relief” at the high court’s ruling, Lumpkin said.

The case involved a home in Naples, insured for $8 million, that had to be torn down after design and construction defects led to damage from rainstorms and Hurricane Wilma in 2005, according to court records.

Perry wrote that because the insurer “did not explicitly avoid applying the (concurrent law doctrine), we find that the plain language of the policy does not preclude recovery in this case.”

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Another Zika zone cleared as Art Basel opens in Miami

Gov. Rick Scott says the state’s Department of Health has cleared Miami’s Little River area of local Zika transmission.

Scott said in a statement Friday that the timing is great news as visitors are pouring into Miami for the annual Art Basel festival, which features poolside parties, blocks of art fairs and outdoor red carpet events.

Concern that the festival would be thwarted flared in July when the first cases of Zika transmission through mosquito bites on the U.S. mainland were reported in Miami’s arts district of Wynwood and later in Miami Beach. The worry has since subsided.

Scott says people should remain vigilant, wear bug spray and continue to remove standing water around their homes. Health officials believe local Zika transmission is only occurring in southern Miami Beach.

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Jeff Clemens proposes automatic voter registration bill in Florida

Palm Beach County state Senator Jeff Clemens filed legislation this week (SB 72) that would automatically register Floridians to vote when they apply for or renew their driver’s license.

“The reason is pretty simple – nobody should have to jump through an extra hoop to exercise their constitutional rights,” says Clemens, who edged out Irv Slosberg in a fiercely combative primary in the Democratic-leaning Senate District 31 in August.

Clemens says this is either the third or fourth time he’s proposed such a bill, and he says that his fellow Republicans should embrace it.

“There’s been an initial skepticism, as if there’s some sort of Democratic plot,” he says. “As we’ve seen in other states, whatever ratio that the people are registering in that state, that’s the same ratio as we increase registration. We have to alleviate the fears that this is some sort of partisan plot.” If passed, Florida would join Oregon and California in passing such legislation.

Clemens was behind the 2015 legislation that will allow applicants with a driver’s license or state ID to submit voter registration applications online beginning next month. The bill utilizes the electronic signature on file with the motor vehicles department to process the applications, as long as the voter applicants’ names match their DMV records. If the information does not match, the system will populate the applicant’s information into a form that must be printed, signed, and delivered to the election official.

Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer thinks both bills are good public policy.

“Ultimately, we want everyone who is eligible to vote to be registered to vote, and everyone who is registered to exercise their right to vote,” he says. “The Motor Voter Act that allows citizens to register to vote while at DHSMV has already had a dramatic positive impact on voter registration. Senator Clemens’ bill, in conjunction with online voter registration which goes into effect January of 2017, could move us even closer to that goal. “

Clemens has also filed legislation this week (SJR 74) to provide the automatic restoration of ex-felons to be eligible to vote, a provision which on the surface has even less of a chance of passing through the GOP-led Legislature. An attempt to get such a measure on the 2016 ballot as a constitutional amendment came up well short, but activists say they’ll continue to work on gathering signatures to get the measure on the ballot in an upcoming statewide election.

“We’re talking about people who own businesses, who’ve gotten advanced degrees, who have families, who do community service work, they pay taxes, and yet have no say whatsoever in their government,” Clemens says, referring to statistics that indicate that of the nearly six million people nationwide shut out of voting they live in a state that does not grant automatic restoration, 1.5 million of them arena Florida.

And Clemens isn’t finished proposing more reforms to make it easier for Floridians to vote. He says he’ll soon introduce a measure to allow for same-day voter registration, which is or soon will be the law in 15 states, as well as the District of Columbia.

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Georgia-Florida water fight now in hands of special master

A monthlong trial aimed at settling a high-stakes water dispute between Georgia and Florida ended Thursday with a special master imploring both sides to negotiate a settlement.

Special master Ralph Lancaster reminded both parties that there’s much to be lost by booming metropolitan Atlanta or by residents of tiny Apalachicola, Florida.

“Please settle this blasted thing,” Lancaster said. “I can guarantee you that at least one of you is going to be unhappy with my recommendation – and perhaps both of you.”

Florida blames the booming Atlanta metropolitan area and agriculture in Georgia for causing low river flows that have imperiled fisheries in Apalachicola Bay. Georgia contends there’s not enough evidence to support drastic action that could imperil the state’s economy.

The lawsuit played out for a month with dozens of witnesses and hundreds of exhibits in Portland, Maine’s largest city, more than 1,000 miles from the disputed watershed.

Lancaster was appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court to make a recommendation to resolve the matter. The Supreme Court will have the final say in the coming year.

The dispute focuses on a watershed in western Georgia, eastern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. The Chattahoochee and Flint rivers flow through Georgia and meet at the Florida border to form the Apalachicola River, which flows into the Apalachicola Bay.

Florida contends Georgia us siphoning away more than its fair share, causing the fresh water flow to dry up, killing endangered mussels, harming tupelo and cypress trees and increasing the salinity of the Apalachicola Bay, causing a die-off of oysters.

Georgia contends that it consumes only a small portion of the water and that there’s no clear and convincing evidence to support restrictions that would imperil its economy and drinking water with the goal of helping a much smaller number of residents in Florida.

Georgia’s attorney, Craig Primis, and Florida’s attorney, Phil Perry, declined to comment after Lancaster implored them to return to the negotiating table.

“You can’t both be winners,” Lancaster told them.

The mild-mannered Lancaster, who wore a bow tie and jacket instead of a judicial robe, praised the attorneys’ hard work before giving them more work to do during the holiday season. He set an aggressive timetable for briefs to be filed within a month before he completes his report.

Lawyers will have an opportunity to weigh in on the special master’s recommendation before the Supreme Court weighs in with its decision.

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Florida cop killer’s death sentence overturned for 3rd time

A Florida man sentenced to death three times for killing a deputy and two others during a drug-addled rampage is off of death row again – at least for now.

The state Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a new sentencing hearing for Paul Beasley Johnson. It’s the third time the court has removed Johnson from death row, including twice after separate governors signed death warrants.

The court cited two U.S. Supreme Court rulings requiring juries, not judges, to impose sentences. That includes a decision that led the state high court to rule in October that jury decisions have to be unanimous.

The court did uphold Johnson’s murder convictions in the January 1981 shooting deaths of Polk County Deputy Theron Burnham, cab driver William Evans and Darrell Ray Beasley.

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Nation’s largest solar installer to open Florida facility

The largest U.S. solar panel installer is moving into Florida’s residential market after the state’s voters last month rejected a utility-backed ballot measure that critics said would make going solar more expensive.

SolarCity, a San Mateo, Calif.-based subsidiary of electric car maker Tesla Motors, on Thursday said it is opening an operations center in the Orlando area and plans to expand into other areas of Florida.

The company’s decision to enter the Florida market was helped by voters’ rejection of Amendment 1 on Nov. 8. If successful, the utility-funded Amendment 1 would have opened the door to new laws that could have hindered the growth of residential solar power.

Lyndon Rive, the company’s CEO, said the vote strengthened the company’s resolve to move into the state.

“It reinforces to any policymaker or regulator that when you’re making the rules, consider that the voters voted for competition and energy choice,” he said in a telephone interview.

A typical SolarCity operations center employs about 100 people, a company spokesman said, and the company is hiring for sales and installation jobs at its Orlando area facility in Clermont. Right now, that facility has about 40 employees.

SolarCity installs custom solar systems that it leases to homeowners. It also maintains and repairs them, a business model that allows property owners who want to go solar to do so without having to buy and maintain an entire system.

In some states, the company also sells the power directly to consumers from the panels it leases.

In Florida, however, the law allows only utility companies to sell power directly to consumers, so SolarCity has been slow to enter the state’s market even with its abundant sunshine.

The company said it will be serving customers of Duke Energy Florida and Orlando Utilities Commission.

SolarCity was recently acquired by Tesla, whose CEO Elon Musk is also chairman of the solar company.

Musk has said that he wants to sell solar panels through Tesla’s stores so that customers can use them to power their electric vehicles and homes.

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Appeals court allows workers’ compensation premium hike to take effect

A state appeals court allowed a 14.5 percent increase in workers’ compensation insurance premiums to take effect on schedule Thursday, amid legal scrambling over whether the hike was illegal.

The 1st District Court of Appeal acted even before a trial judge could decide on a request to delay her ruling last week invalidating the increase under Florida’s open-government laws.

For her part, Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers ruled following a brief hearing in her chambers that no stay was warranted.

“It would not be appropriate for this court to approve further violation of the Sunshine Law and Public Records Law,” Gievers said.

But she bowed to the inevitability that the case would be resolved on appeal.

“I’m just trying to get you to the appellate court, where you want to be,” she told attorneys present in person and participating by telephone.

Even before resolution of the legal situation, businesses were treating the increase as a fact of life.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce, for example, issued a written statement complaining that the increase, as applied to new and renewal policies written during the next 12 months, would cost employers $1.5 billion.

“Many businesses are telling us they will be forced to delay hiring, or even cut existing jobs, in order to cover this increase in their premiums,” Carolyn Johnson, director for business policy for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, said in a written statement.

“A rate like this puts Florida’s competitiveness and job creation directly at risk.”

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation approved the increase in September, based on recommendations by the National Council on Compensation Insurance, or NCCI.

The office has designated NCCI as the rating agency for workers’ compensation insurers in the state.

James Fee, a Miami workers’ compensation attorney, filed suit, arguing that NCCI’s quasi-official status required it to operate under Florida’s open-government laws.

Fee complained that the council failed to open its deliberations to the public or provide its data to an actuarial expert he’d retained.

Gievers agreed Friday, and issued an order blocking the new rates from taking effect.

On Tuesday, Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier filed a notice of appeal to the 1st District Court of Appeal. His office said that filing placed an automatic hold on Gievers’ ruling.

Altmaier appeared to rely on language in Section 9.310(b)(2) of Florida’s Rules of Appellate Procedure, allowing such stays when sought by public bodies or public officers.

But the rules make an exception for appeals in public records and public meetings cases. In that event, the stay “shall exist for 48 hours after the filing of the notice of appeal.”

In other words, Thursday.

A spokesman for Florida Workers Advocates, which represents workers’ compensation attorneys, said the organization believed the 48-hour rule applied. So did John Shubin, of Shubin & Bass, Fee’s attorney, in arguments to Gievers.

The matter was resolved when the 1st DCA issued an unusual order extending the stay for 10 days.

“On the court’s own motion, we temporarily extend the automatic stay of the order of appeal for 10 days following the trial court’s ruling on the motion to stay which appellant represents has been filed in the circuit court,” the appeals court wrote.

Meanwhile, Johnson argued the rate hike amounts to a massive transfer of wealth from businesses to the workers’ compensation trial bar. NCCI and most business leaders blame the increase on escalating litigation costs — pointing to Florida Supreme Court rulings declaring unconstitutional business-friendly restrictions the Legislature approved in 2003.

Specifically, they cite Castellanos v. Next Door Co., striking caps on attorney fees in workers’ compensation cases.

“This accounts for nearly two-thirds of the rate increase,” the Chamber said. “And although the rate officially increases today, since the decision in April, the number of lawsuits and trial lawyer paydays have already increased.”

Business and insurance leaders hope the Legislature will find a way around the Supreme Court rulings when lawmakers reconvene in the spring.

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Reasons for taxpayers to join prisoners and riot @DOC

Prisoners are rioting on a regular basis at the Franklin Correctional Institution, and taxpayers will join in soon if the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) doesn’t stop using public funds like cheap toilet paper.

It’s been three years since three prison investigators who were doing the jobs we pay them to do confirmed cover-ups of inmate abuse at Franklin Correctional. Instead of firing the abusers and fixing the problems, DOC higher-ups covered up for the miscreants, and punished the good guys with demotions and dubious internal investigations.

Governments do this because oftentimes, it works. For every ignored inspector who lawyers-up and turns whistleblower, there’s many more who shut up and stay on the payroll. Some state workers walk away quietly and try to start their lives over before being tagged with career-ending labels like “troublemaker” and “not a team player.”

When it became clear to DOC inspectors Doug Glisson, Aubrey Land and John Ulm that there was no audience in Tallahassee for their concerns that Franklin Correctional inmate Randall Jordan-Aparo had been gassed to death by prison guards, the trio hired attorney Ryan Adams, whose firm has cleaned several government clocks, including Gov. Rick Scott’s.

No matter how right you are or how good your lawyer is, litigation is no fun. Adams says that early on, his clients would have been satisfied with transfers to a different state agency and payment of their legal fees, which amounted at the time to $25,000.

Since then, the price went up. On Tuesday, as Franklin Correctional was amid its fourth case of “inmate unrest” this year, the state was cutting checks to the whistleblowers totaling $800,000, plus a cool quarter million to Andrews’ firm.

It made for a busy day at DOC’s Department of Nothin’ to See Here, Folks!

The “situation” at the prison “was quickly and effectively resolved and resulted in no injuries to staff or inmates,” agency spokeswoman Michelle Glady told the Miami Herald.

And the million-something? Most of it will come from “the agency’s liability insurance” Glady told reporters, as if that was money that grows on trees. The $320,209.66 balance, Glady said, “will come from the agency’s administrative trust fund,” as if that was a petty cash drawer in Bill Gates’ office.

WJXT’s Matt Galka did some back-of-the napkin calculations, noting that “The average correctional officer makes about $30,000 a year, so the more than $320,000 of taxpayer money being used on the settlement could have filled 10 positions for one year.”

Glady’s salary — $80,000 — would cover a couple more. But this is Florida, where the Swiss Guard that protects public officials from pen-wielding reporters is far more valued than the prison guards who protect us from inmates with shivs, and nothing to lose.

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Business confronts workers’ comp rate increase amid legal skirmishing

A 14.5 percent increase in worker’s compensation insurance premiums appeared to take effect in Florida Thursday, amid legal scrambling over whether the hike was illegal.

The legal situation was unresolved as of Thursday afternoon, but businesses were treating the increase as a fact of life.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce, for example, issued a written statement complaining that the increase, as applied to new and renewal policies written during the next 12 months, would cost employers $1.5 billion.

“Many businesses are telling us they will be forced to delay hiring, or even cut existing jobs, in order to cover this increase in their premiums,” Carolyn Johnson, director for business policy for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, said in a written statement.

“A rate like this puts Florida’s competitiveness and job creation directly at risk.”

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation approved the increase in September, based on recommendations by the National Council for Compensation Insurance, or NCCI.

The office has designated NCCI as the ratings agency for workers’ compensation insurers in the state.

James Fee, a Miami worker’s compensation attorney, filed suit, arguing that NCCI’s quasi-official status required it to operate under Florida’s open-government laws.

Fee complained that the council failed to open its deliberations to the public or provide its data to an actuarial expert he’d retained.

Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers agreed on Friday, and issued an order blocking the new rates from taking effect.

On Tuesday, Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier filed a notice of appeal to the 1st District Court of Appeal. His office said that filing placed an automatic hold on Gievers’ ruling.

Altmaier appeared to rely on language in Section 9.310(b)(2) of Florida’s Rules of Appellate Procedure, allowing such stays when sought by public bodies or public officers.

But the rules make an exception for appeals in public records and public meetings cases. In that event, the stay “shall exist for 48 hours after the filing of the notice of appeal.”

In other words, on Thursday.

A spokesman for Florida Workers Advocates, which represents workers’ compensation attorneys, said the organization believed the 48-hour rule applied.

Meanwhile, Johnson argued the rate hike amounts to a massive transfer of wealth from businesses to the workers’ compensation trial bar. NCCI and most business leaders blame the increase on escalating litigation costs — pointing to Florida Supreme Court rulings declaring unconstitutional business-friendly restrictions the Legislature approved in 2003.

Specifically, they cite Castellanos v. Next Door Co., striking caps on attorney fees in worker’s compensation cases.

“This accounts for nearly two-thirds of the rate increase,” the Chamber said. “And although the rate officially increases today, since the decision in April, the number of lawsuits and trial lawyer pay-days have already increased.”

Business and insurance leaders hope the Legislature will find a way around the Supreme Court rulings when lawmakers reconvene in the spring.

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