Michael Moline, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 53

Michael Moline

Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.

Panel seeks pay increase for Florida’s chief investment adviser

Ash Williams, who manages investments for the Florida Retirement System among other funds, would draw a $70,000 annual pay raise under a recommendation approved Monday.

The pay hike, by the state’s Investment Advisory Council, needs the approval of the State Board of Administration, comprising the governor, chief financial officer, and attorney general.

If they go along, Williams would earn $525,000 in base pay, plus incentives. At present, he earns $455,000 in base pay.

Williams thanked the council members — each one an investment heavyweight — following the vote, crediting the overall compensation program for building and retaining a talented group of investment staff.

“The pension funds and the other funds that the SBA manages are performing well,” he said. “Their business models are consistent with best practices, and they’re ahead of their benchmarks.”

Williams performed well against his own benchmarks, according to a performance review conducted by Mercer (U.S.) Inc., a consulting firm. He scored 3.9 overall, on a 4-point scale.

The spike would rank Williams within the 75th percentile of his money manager peers, “which I think is a little less than appropriate because I think he’s been spectacular,” said Michael Price, who chaired the subcommittee that recommended the raise.

View the meeting agenda here (scroll down to Item 8).

Agency staff oversaw $1 billion in growth in the defined-benefits plan for state employees during the past year — for total assets worth $163.1 billion.

Deal on local property tax rates helped stabilize Florida’s budget

A leading Senate budget writer claimed vindication Friday in a lingering dispute with House leaders over whether to allow local school boards to capture all of the value of rising property values when setting local tax rates.

Rob Bradley, co-chair of the Joint Legislative Budget Commission, underscored the point during a presentation on the state’s three-year fiscal outlook by Office of Economic and Demographic Research director Amy Baker.

Baker, the Legislature’s chief economist, expects state revenues to grow by 3.3 percent or so through each of the next three fiscal years. That works out to about $1 billion per year, suggesting a stable budget picture through the near future.

Baker attributed much of that stability to last Session’s legislative compromise on the required local effort, or RLE — the minimum that school districts must raise from property owners to support county schools.

“It would be the RLE decision, mostly — to allow the required local effort to absorb the benefit of new construction,” she said.

For the past four years, the House has insisted on reductions to local property tax rates that leave those taxes level, notwithstanding increases in property values. The Legislature sent state money to help compensate the districts for the revenue losses.

Under the compromise, the House agreed to let local school districts capture the value of new construction for classrooms.

“That one decision really fundamentally changed the nature of short-term and long-term financial outlook for the state budget in a positive direction,” Bradley told reporters following the hearing.

“We need to continue to focus on decisions related to RLE, and we need to very strongly consider going back to the policy of the Legislature from four years ago, whereby the (tax) rate remained the same — there were no tax increases — but there wasn’t a subsidy from the state government to local property taxes,” he said.

Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, took over the chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee after Jack Latvala quit the Senate following sexual harassment accusations.

House leaders, by contrast, had argued that if property owners paid more, that would equal a tax increase — even if their tax rates remain the same.

Capturing the full increase in property values would raise an additional $300 million-$323 million dollars per each of the next three fiscal years, Baker said: “Over the three-year period, that would put you somewhere between $900 million and $1 billion.”

Bradley was asked if he had seen any indication that incoming House leadership might soften its approach to the issue.

“That’s why we have Session — to have these discussions,” he said, adding, “It’s not a tax increase. We’ve plowed this ground before, and I look forward to having those discussions.”

Sanford Republican Jason Brodeur, a leading House budget writer who’s term-limited, and who sits on the commission, said the report vindicated his side’s insistence on budget restraint.

Even though he’s leaving, Brodeur has picked up little enthusiasm among House members for significant spending increases on, for example, expanding Medicare eligibility, as Democrats including gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum have advocated.

Such ideas “are simply out the window,” Brodeur said.

Florida Supreme Court

Apply within: Panel starts process to replace Supreme Court justices

The Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission on Wednesday announced it would start accepting applications to fill three upcoming vacancies.

Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, and Peggy A. Quince face mandatory retirement on the same day that term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Scott will leave office.

Under the state constitution, judges and justices face mandatory retirement at age 70. In Florida, judicial vacancies are filled by appointment by the Governor, from a list of applicants vetted and submitted by judicial nominating panels.

“Based on the Supreme Court’s current composition, one seat must be filled by a qualified applicant who resides in the Third Appellate District (based in Miami); the other two seats are at-large,” a press release said.

The next justices will likely determine the ideological balance of the state’s highest court: Pariente, Lewis, and Quince are regarded as the court’s liberal-leaning contingent; Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justices Ricky Polston and Alan Lawson are the conservatives. Justice Jorge Labarga is often a swing vote.

On Tuesday evening, Scott said he would agree to confer with the next governor-elect on the three justices. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is the Democratic nominee; Ponte Vedra Beach congressman Ron DeSantis is the GOP nominee.

Quince was the last justice to be appointed that way in 1998, and was the consensus candidate of then Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat, and Gov.-elect Jeb Bush, a Republican.

A Gillum spokesman has all but spurned the idea, saying that “in our understanding of the constitution, the next Governor will appoint the next three Supreme Court justices.”

Scott, now running for U.S. Senate, says he will announce the new justices on Jan. 7, his last day in office, which coincides with their retirement date.

Scott’s insistence on replacing the three spurred a legal challenge earlier this year by the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause. The progressive organization’s implied concern was that Scott would pack the court with more conservatives.

In a 6-1 decision, the Supreme Court said in December that it couldn’t step into the controversy because the Governor hadn’t taken any action yet.

The lone dissenter? Lewis, who said Scott’s plan to make the appointments on his way out the door was “blatantly unconstitutional.”

The application form is here. The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. Oct. 8.

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Capital correspondent Michael Moline and Senior Editor Jim Rosica contributed to this post.

“Market Card’ would replace cash at Miami food emporium

The developer behind a planned food hall in Miami has asked state regulators whether it can offer pre-paid “Market Cards” for use by customers who don’t want to pull out their debit or credit cards.

Time Out Market Miami will be an offshoot of U.K.-based Time Out Group, which publishes entertainment guides and operate a similar food hall in Lisbon, with New York and the Miami debuts scheduled later this year, and more in the works elsewhere.

The 17,500-square-foot Miami food hall will feature local chefs including Jeremy Ford, Jose Mendin, Maria Orantes, and Alberto Cabrera.

There will be 17 kitchens in all, plus three bars, an art space, and a demonstration kitchen within the Lincoln Road complex. Vendors will offer food, drink, T-shirts, and souvenirs to the public.

“This format allows guests to explore and sample a variety of dishes from the surrounding kitchens, and family and friends come together to enjoy their meals at communal tables in the center of the market,” spokesman Alexandra Rieck said via email.

Through attorney Thomas Kearney, of the Akerman law firm’s Washington, D.C., office, the company wrote to the Florida Department of Financial Regulation on Aug. 31 seeking a declaratory statement that its plan for the payment cards would be legal.

“The company will enter into contracts with each concessionaire to act as the concessionaire’s agent for receiving payment from customers using Market Cards,” the letter says.

“The company will also issue receipts to customers who purchase Market Cards from it, indicating payment to the company is deemed to be payment to the concessionaires.”

Customers could use cash or credit or debit cards at Time Out-operated bars. Concessionaires could also accept the usual forms of plastic, but not cash. Instead, the company wants to offer the pre-paid cards as an alternative.

Customers could load no more than $1,000 per day on the cards.

“If customers prefer not to use their debit or credit cards (to avoid any international banking fees for example), then they will have the alternative option to use a pre-paid card using cash which will be accepted universally across the market” Rieck said.

“The card would allow guests to easily and conveniently explore and sample the different dishes from all the kitchens in the market,” she said.

“That said, we can’t say our proposed market card is novel or unusual. It is similar to standard gift cards in many respects. But we understand that state laws are crafted to address each community’s unique needs and we want to be completely clear on how Florida views the issue.”

One question is whether these cards would qualify as “payment instruments” requiring a state license.

“The company’s core business is operating food halls. If it is required to obtain a license it would incur the upfront and ongoing expenses necessary to satisfy the regulatory obligations imposed on licensees,” the letter says.

“If it elects not to obtain the license, it would exclude consumers who do not have access to banking or mainstream credit services and would likely lose customers who do not wish to use a debit or credit card. Either approach would substantially affect the company’s Florida operations.”

The company believes the cards wouldn’t qualify, since they would be redeemable only by Time Out, and only within “a closed loop of restaurant vendors … all of which are located in the same physical location,” the letter says.

“We can imagine circumstances where an issuer seeking to evade the law could offer trivial merchandise or services to fit within the exclusionary language. But that is not the case here.”

Furthermore, Time Out would accept no compensation from use of the cards, neither by customers or concessionaires.

“The company would issue Market Cards only as an accommodation for those customers who do not have access to banking or mainstream credit services or do not wish to use debit or credit cards,” the letter says.

“The company will be compensated by selling beverages and souvenirs at its bars and charging concession fees to its concessionaires. The company’s issuance of Market Cards redeemable for meals would be  strictly incidental to the operation of the food hall and not for compensation.”

Another question is whether Time Out would qualify as a “money transmitter” — an entity that transfers funds for a fee. The letter argues that it would not, since it would collect money only to compensate its vendors for sales using the cards.

“Further, it would not be possible to use the Market Card to move money to any person other than a concessionaire,” the letter says.

Victims’ rights amendment will appear on ballot, justices rule

Justice Jorge Labraga joined the Florida Supreme Court’s conservative wing in ruling that the Constitution Revision Commission’s Amendment 6 including a crime victims ‘bill of rights’ may appear on the November ballot.

“We hereby reverse the circuit court’s judgment and vacate the injunction prohibiting the Secretary of State from action to place the Constitutional Revision Commission’s Revision 1, designated as Amendment 6 and titled ‘Rights of Crime Victims; Judges,’ on the ballot,” the court said in a 4-3 decision.

“No motions for rehearing will be permitted,” it added.

The justices did not explain their reasoning regarding the amendment, sometimes referred to as Marsy’s Law, but said a full opinion would follow.

In addition to expanding victims’ rights, the amendment would raise judges’ retirement age from 70 to 75, and limit the deference courts give to government agencies’ interpretations of laws and regulations.

In addition to Labarga, Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justices Alan Lawson and Ricky Polston voted to OK the amendment for voter consideration. Justices Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince, and Barbara Pariente dissented.

The decision came one day after the justices heard oral arguments in the case.

Circuit Judge Karen Gievers, sitting in Tallahassee, on Aug. 27 had ordered the amendment stripped from the ballot, ruling that the title and summary to appear before the voters did not “fully, fairly, and accurately” describe the amendment; was “misleading;” and did not meet “truth in packaging” requirements for submission to the voters.

In a statement, ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon said he was “disappointed” that the court did not reject Amendment 6 for being “misleading.” He and others complained that the amendment would expand victims’ rights at the expense of criminal defendants, and that the ballot language did not make that clear.

“The rights of victims of crime are already protected by Florida law, though Amendment 6’s appearance on the ballot suggests otherwise,” he said.

“The amendment would upset the balance between the rights of victims and people accused of crimes by deleting part of our constitution that balances the rights of everyone involved in a criminal case,” Simon said.

The state had argued such concerns were misplaced.

“Voters have the common sense to understand that criminal and juvenile procedure are the subject of statutes and procedural rules, and the state Constitution will supersede any conflicting statute or rule,” the government’s brief argued.

Tallahassee litigators Mark Herron, challenging the amendment, and Barry Richard, arguing for Marsy’s Law for Florida, were involved in the case along with lawyers from the Office of the Attorney General.

Sign on dotted line: Appeals court upholds assignment of benefits ruling

A state appeals court has upheld insurance policy language barring policyholders from signing assignment of benefits agreements without the approval of co-insureds, including financial institutions holding mortgages on the property.

The ruling Wednesday, written by Judge Alan Forst for a unanimous three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal, contradicts a finding by the 5th District reached in December.

Both rulings cited a more-than-100-year-old Florida Supreme Court precedent striking down policy language giving insurers a veto over assignments of benefits.

“We begin with the premise that, generally, absent ‘some great prejudice to the dominant public interest’ or specific pronouncement by the Florida Legislature, courts strive to uphold the parties’ freedom of contract,” Forst wrote.

“The contract here does not prohibit assignment — it imposes a condition, requiring the approval of all insureds and the mortgagee. We cannot say that this restriction … creates ‘some great prejudice to the dominant public interest.’”

The opinion arose from a lawsuit filed by Restoration 1, a Port St. Lucie contractor, against Ark Royal Insurance Co. for refusing to pay more than $20,000 in repairs to water damage.

John and Lisa Squitieri owned the insurance policy. Lisa signed an assignment of benefits, or AOB, agreement but John did not. Neither did their bank.

In West Florida Grocery Co. v. Teutonia Fire Insurance Co., the Supreme Court in 1917 upheld a “well-settled rule that the provision in a policy relative to the consent of the insurer to the transfer of an interest therein does not apply to an assignment after loss.”

In its own ruling, the 5th DCA cited that precedent plus a Florida Office of Insurance Regulation policy “restricting the ability of policyholders to assign post-loss benefits absent the consent of all insureds, all additional insureds, and all mortgagees named in their policies” — language essentially the same as for Ark Royal.

However, its sister court misread the precedents, the 4th DCA concluded.

“By its plain terms, West Florida Grocery does not stand for the pronouncement that any restriction is per se invalid,” Forst wrote.

“Instead, the Supreme Court addressed and invalidated only a provision requiring the consent of the insurer, with the court concluding that it is ‘superfluous’ who the insurer ultimately pays as the insurer will still have to cover the insured loss,” he continued.

“In the instant case … it is impossible to brand the contested provision as superfluous — as both of the insureds, as well as the mortgagee, have a vested interest that a reputable, legitimate third-party contractor perform repairs on the home.”

Florida Supreme Court hears arguments over Amendments 6, 8

A critic of Florida’s proposed victims’ right amendment suggested Wednesday that the Florida Supreme Court should block the Constitution Revision Commission from combining multiple proposals into single revisions to place before the voters.

Such “bundling” gives voters a choice to swallow provisions they don’t like to enact those that they do, litigator Harvey Sepler said during oral arguments before the justices.

“That is contrary to what we think of as a free and meaningful vote,” Sepler said.

The high court has long recognized the CRC’s authority to bundle proposed amendments, although a “single-subject rule” applies to revisions proposed by the Legislature and through citizens’ initiatives.

“I have difficulty, in a conceptual way, understanding what that is and why that should be,” Sepler said.

CRC authority to bundle is central to the state’s arguments in favor of Amendment 6, the so-called “Marsy’s Law” amendment, and the separate Amendment 8, which would take away local school boards’ authority to supervise new charter schools and give it to the state.

Tallahassee litigator Barry Richard, arguing for Marsy’s Law for Florida, which is defending Amendment 6 along with lawyers from the Office of the Attorney General, said the court is well within its authority to allow bundling by the CRC.

“It’s a political issue that’s left to the states,” Richard said. “This state has made the decision, and this court has recognized it for many years, and that’s the end of the story.”

The court presided over nearly two hours of argument on the two amendments in the 4th District Court of Appeal’s courthouse in West Palm Beach. Challengers in both cases argue that the title and summary language that would appear on the ballots would confuse voters to the stakes before them.

Regarding Amendment 8, its critics have argued the language doesn’t make clear that the provision would strip school boards of authority over charter schools “established” by the state or some other party.

The measure also would impose eight-year term limits on school board members and would require the promotion of “civic literacy” in public schools. The charter school language — representing a significant change to public policy — comprises the summary’s final clause.

“As a voter, I would find that really hiding the ball,” Justice Barbara Pariente told deputy solicitor general Daniel Bell.

“Not that you can’t bundle unrelated things,” she said. “But the way this is placed is further reason it’s misleading.”

Chief Justice Charles Canady said the language seemed clear to him, and that the challengers’ real beef is with the underlying policy proposal.

“That’s not a reason to keep the people of Florida from having an opportunity to vote on this,” Canaday said.

“The question is whether they’re going to be somehow fooled about what they’re voting on,” he said. “I’m still struggling to understand why they aren’t going to get the main point here — that the school boards are going to lose some authority.”

Arguments over Amendment 8 centered on the degree to which the newly enumerated victims’ rights would infringe on the rights of criminal defendants. Tallahassee litigator Mark Herron split the challengers’ time with Sepler.

Nothing in the ballot language suggests any diminution of defense rights, Richard argued.

“It does do what it says — it creates victims’ rights — and it does not repeal or abrogate any existing rights,” he said.

Pariente did not openly challenge the CRC’s authority to bundle, but still objected that marrying victims’ rights with changes to the judiciary was a bit of a stretch.

“There is something about this — it’s multiple, unconnected subjects,” she said. “It’s almost like it’s worse than logrolling, because the three are just completely unrelated.”

Richard replied: “The very fact that they are so unrelated makes it easier for the voter to distinguish among them. It’s not confusing. And we have to assume that the voter has enough intelligence to see that there are three subjects here.”

Unpaid fee endangers Supreme Court appeal in candidate disqualification

An appeal before the Florida Supreme Court, testing the leeway county supervisors of elections afford candidates in meeting filing deadlines, was in jeopardy Wednesday for failure to pay a filing fee.

In a notice to aspiring Clay County Court candidate Lucy Ann Hoover, high court clerk John Tomasino warned of the impending consequences.

“Failure to file the above-referenced documents with this court within 15 days from the date of this order could result in the imposition of sanctions, including dismissal of the petition,” Tomasino wrote.

“Please understand that once this case is dismissed, it may not be subject to reinstatement,” he added.

Find the case docket here.

Last month, the 1st District Court of Appeal rejected Hoover’s bid for a place on the Aug. 28 primary ballot, finding “no special circumstance” that would justify her failure to file her candidate oath and financial disclosure form ahead of the noon, May 4, deadline.

“This is simply a case of a prospective candidate missing the qualifying deadline because she waited until too late to complete the necessary paperwork,” the intermediate appeal court said.

The county supervisor of elections initially accepted Hoover’s paperwork, notwithstanding the deadline, reasoning that she was physically in the office and filling out the paperwork.

However, incumbent Judge Kristina Mobley, placed on the bench by Gov. Rick Scott in 2015, challenged Hoover’s candidacy.

Hoover is a visiting professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of North Florida. She filed written arguments with the Supreme Court, over her own signature, on Aug. 24, mere days ahead of the election.

The pleading argues the case is worth the justices’ attention as a matter of “great public importance” that “expressly affects” Florida’s 67 supervisors of election, all of whom follow the same policy as Clay County.

“Accepting jurisdiction of this case would allow the decisions below to be corrected,” the brief argues.

“More to the point, it would give the citizenry of the state of Florida confidence in their reliance on the decisions and declarations provided by their respective constitutional state officers, as well as clarify, for the 67 (supervisors of elections) in the state, the parameters of their authority.”

Visit Florida board to vote on new contract oversight rule

A rules change to help Visit Florida comply with legislatively mandated reporting requirements for big contracts will be ready for the organization’s board of directors next week.

State law requires Visit Florida to submit contracts in excess of $750,000 to the Joint Legislative Budget Commission. If the commission’s chair and vice chair — or the Senate president and House speaker — agree any deal is a bad idea, they can block it.

Agency general counsel Craig Thomas explained the rule change to the executive committee during a conference call Tuesday. The full board will gather Sept. 12 in Orlando.

“All of these contracts need to be submitted to the Legislature before we can sign them. The Legislature does have the ability, if both chambers object, to prevent Visit Florida from moving forward,” Thomas said.

“We have, in the past, worked with board members and made them available, but we haven’t been operating under any formal policy or procedure that requires the board be consulted before these are submitted to the Legislature. This procedure is designed to do just that.”

Such reviews will happen at the executive committee level.

“All members of the executive committee will receive a copy of any contract that’s required to be submitted to the Legislature at least five business days before Visit Florida would put it on formal notice and refer it to the Legislature,” Thomas said

The chair would ask the executive committee to review such contracts, with the panel voting either to drop or refer them to the lawmakers.

“We wanted to balance the need to not add additional delay” with giving the executive committee time to review the contracts, Thomas said.

“We’re being transparent,” chairman Lino Maldonado told committee members.

“We’re not going to be rubber-stamping things. But we do need to find the proper balance between efficiency and expediency, and oversight — which is our role — without overstepping our role.”

In other words, he said, “not letting the CEO run the business he was hired to run.”

The legal requirement followed criticism — particularly in the House — of Visit Florida’s practices, including its signature to a $1 million promotions deal with the rapper Pitbull.

Personnel note: Nelson Mongiovi leaving VISIT FLORIDA

VISIT FLORIDA has begun a search for a replacement for chief marketing officer Nelson Mongiovi, who has resigned effective Sept 11.

Vice President for Brand Staci Mellman will serve as interim CMO.

Members of the executive committee heard details of the search during a conference call Tuesday. Officials offered no details of Mongiovi’s plans. He did not reply to an emailed request for comment.

Searchwide Global, the executive recruiting firm directing the search, is developing a job description and recruitment plan with an eye to lining up candidates beginning next week, Senior Vice President Kellie Henderson told the committee.

The plan is to deliver a list of candidates sometime the week of Oct. 22, she said.

“Tentatively, that’s when that will happen. And from there, we’ll go into the interviews,” Henderson said.

The firm is talking with “key industry stakeholders” to design the job description, Henderson added. These 15 people represent different regions and industries within the broader tourism sector.

“To allow us to have a broad input level with regard to the state’s perspective and needs for the CMO,” she said. “Does it play in the international market? Does it work for small business? Again, our industry is very diverse.”

The job will pay in the $200,000-$210,000 range, excluding benefits, which would add 15 percent to 20 percent to the package. That should be enough to attract suitable candidates, Henderson said.

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