A cornucopia of reactions to today’s gubernatorial bill signings

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The flood of 95 bills signed by Gov. Rick Scott on Friday, was followed by an equally lively surge of reactions — many of them positive — over the various reforms enacted into Florida law.

HB 629 Charity Reform

Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam applauded the approval of HB 629, which reforms the way charities operate in Florida. The bill arose from several reports by the Tampa Bay Times that uncovering the activities of a number of fraudulent charities in the state, which Putnam said, “severely damaged our state’s reputation of goodwill.”

“Collectively, thousands of charities throughout Florida have a positive impact on our communities, from supporting the local Little League to funding research to find a cure for cancer,” Putnam wrote in a statement. “This law will weed out the bad actors who are defrauding generous givers and thus bring integrity back to Florida’s network of reputable charities.”

The new law:

  • Bans organizations that have violated certain laws in other states from soliciting funds in Florida
  • Prohibits felons from soliciting funds for charity
  • Requires professional solicitors who operate like telemarketers to provide fingerprints for background checks if they collect sensitive financial information, submit scripts used to conduct solicitations and have charities report the percentage of contributions collected
  • Requires a charity that receives more than $1 million, but spends less than 25 percent on its cause, to provide detailed information, including board members and family relationships between board members and staff
  • Increase fines for fraudulent or deceptive acts in violation of the law

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes and Rep. Boyd, also creates an interactive online database where consumers can access the information on charities, including leadership, location, contact information, financial reports and any violations.

HB 7093 Petroleum Restoration Program and Contamination Sites

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard also approved of the passage of HB 7093, which reforms the state’s Petroleum Restoration Program.

“During the past two years, the department has undertaken an extensive overhaul of the state-funded Petroleum Restoration Program, which is a taxpayer funded program, designed to cleanup petroleum contamination from leaking underground storage tanks,” Vineyard said. “The department has transitioned the program to be more open and competitive, ensuring the Petroleum Restoration Program is operated in a manner that promotes greater transparency for future site cleanups.

“Governor Scott’s approval of this important legislation will provide more fiscal accountability for expenditures, lower the cost of site rehabilitation and focus rehabilitation activities on those sites that pose the greatest risk to human health and the environment,” he added. “The program empowers the department to cleanup sites more quickly, at a better value to taxpayers and without lowering any standards of environmental protection.”

SB 708 Homeowner Claim Bill of Rights

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater congratulated Scott today for signing Senate Bill 708, which creates a Homeowner Claims Bill of Rights to provide important consumer protections and greater transparency in the insurance claim-filing process.

“The Homeowner Claims Bill of Rights is a much-needed resource to help homeowners understand their rights and responsibilities when filing an insurance claim,” Atwater said. “When someone is dealing with the unexpected loss of their property, they need to know they will be treated fairly by their insurance company and the contractors who are providing services.”

Provided to every homeowner filing a claim will be a one-page Homeowner Claims Bill of Rights, which references current Florida law about the rights of policyholders in the claims process. It will inform policyholders about what to expect during the process, and provide advice on the steps they should take.

The Homeowner Claims Bill of Rights goes into effect on October 1, 2014.

HB 1385 Inspectors General Reform Bill

Government watchdog groups, such as Integrity Florida and Florida TaxWatch, are encouraged by the signing of HB 1385, which gives state inspectors general a further degree of independence from the agencies they scrutinize.

Dan Krassner, executive director of the nonpartisan research institute and government watchdog group Integrity Florida called the new law “an important reform,” one that holds government accountable.

“Inspectors general are the public’s watchdogs within state government, but they need more independence to do their jobs effectively,” Krassner said. “This law should reduce the influence of state agency heads over the internal government watchdogs who audit and investigate their agencies.”

Prior to the enactment of the law on July 1, state agency heads were able to appoint and remove inspectors general, a situation open to conflicts of interest.  Krassner said agency heads and deputies should not be able to inhibit an inspector general from conducting audits or investigations.

“Florida TaxWatch commends the Florida Legislature and Governor for approving a measure to increase accountability in state government by ensuring inspectors general are truly independent from the agencies they serve,” said TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro. “The internal watchdogs of our state’s public offices can now more effectively advocate for the hard working taxpayers of Florida due to this landmark reform.

In 1983, Florida TaxWatch first recognized the need for independent review and monitoring of state agency activities and called for the Office of the Inspector General to be established in Florida,” Calabro added. “I applaud the Legislature and Governor for again making increased government accountability a priority by passing this important reform.”

HB 1385 calls for inspectors general to report directly to the governor’s chief inspector general, who makes the appointment and removal decisions for the agency inspectors general.  This change helps civil government watchdogs do their jobs with less fear of retribution from leaders of the agencies under investigation.

“Floridians are counting on internal watchdogs to root out fraud, waste and abuse within state government,” Krassner said.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.