Michael Moline, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 41

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.

Adam Putnam: Hack of concealed weapons list produced names only

Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam moved Tuesday to calm fears amid reports that hackers into his agency’s computers might have compromised the identities of 16,000 concealed weapons permit holders.

“We on average had 100 attacks a month into our system that we successfully fight back,” Putnam told reporters following the morning’s Cabinet meeting.

“This was an unprecedented attack. It came just a couple of days before the global hack that occurred. We know that it originated overseas, and we’re learning as much as we can in addition to that.”

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced the breach Monday of the online payment system that processes payments for applications and permits.

Two groups were affected, Putnam said.

The first, comprising “at most approximately 470 individuals,” had used their Social Security numbers for non-gun-related transactions with the department — food permits of licenses to apply pesticides, for example, he said.

The other target was the concealed weapons database.

“The only information that was stolen by the hackers as it relates to the CWL database, was their name. Which, in any other database, would not be much of a concern, because you can’t use that name to steal your identity, to steal your money,” Putnam said.

“In Florida, the mere naming of someone who has a CWL is protected information. In an abundance of disclosure, I released both instances that resulted from the same attack that impacted those two databases.”

The state is offering identity-theft protection to the first group.

“The other individuals have nothing to fear in terms of identifying information that could be used to further impact their credit rating, their money, their financial accounts, identity theft, or anything else,” Putnam said.

Time growing short for Rick Scott to decide ‘whiskey & Wheaties’ bill’s fate

A history of alcoholism in Gov. Rick Scott’s family will inform his decision about whether to sign the “whiskey & Wheaties” bill, which would tear down the wall of separation between hard liquor and other goods.

“I’ve gotten a lot of feedback on that bill,” Scott told reporters.

“I’ve had family members who have had the challenge of alcoholism,” he said when asked about that history. “It concerns me. As I review the bill — I think I have to be finished sometime tomorrow on it — I take all those things into consideration.”

Scott said he was scheduled to talk to representatives of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. — one of the big-box stores supporting the bill — and ABC Fine Wines & Spirits — which is opposed.

Scott still wasn’t prepared to say whether he would veto the state budget approved by the Legislature during an extended session this month. “I’m going to review my options,” he said.

“One thing the governor doesn’t have the opportunity to do is put more money into the budget,” he said.

“I’m going to continue to fight for making sure that we do everything we can to fully fund Visit Florida and fully fund Enterprise Florida. If we don’t, it’s more difficult to believe we’re going to continue to see the job growth rate that we’ve seen.”

The Legislature took away Enterprise Florida’s economic incentives budget, and gave Visit Florida about one-quarter of the $100 million Scott requested.

Meanwhile, Scott took at least some of the credit for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s six-month extension of temporary protected status for Haitian refugees, announced Monday.

Scott said he’d pleaded their case to Secretary John Kelly.

“I brought up the issue that our Haitian community is dealing with,” Scott said. “He was receptive.”

Adam Putnam plays down aides’ departure from his campaign for governor

Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam suggested that the departure of two key aides from his campaign for governor was no big deal.

“You’re always adjusting and modifying as you move forward,” Putnam said, adding that he wished both ex-staffers well.

Speaking to reporters following Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Putnam emphasized the crowds at his campaign stops thus far.

“We had a fantastic launch — 2000 people in downtown Bartow; a minimum of 22 stops across the state. You missed a good barbecue in the big city of O’Brien, where we had 630 people,” he said.

“This is a grass-roots movement, and I’m very excited about the team that we have, and I wish the team members who have moved on to other things the very best.”

Campaign manager Kristin Davison was relieved of her duties Monday. Political director Jared Small also exited the campaign.

In other news, Putnam criticized a controversial education conforming bill the Legislature approved in an extended session, but stopped short of calling for Gov. Rick Scott to veto it.

“I have concerns about the way that bill, along with much of the budget, was fashioned completely in the dark and behind closed doors — to the point that, not only the public, but many of the members who were asked to vote on it were unaware of all the different things that were taped together at the last second and then shoved into the pipeline,” he said.

“Vetoing the entire budget is probably a blunt-force instrument. But there are wide latitudes within the line-item veto that is the executive’s prerogative that I think is the way to go.”

Noah Valenstein hired as DEP’s new secretary

Noah Valenstein got the job as secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection on Tuesday, after a unanimous vote by Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet.

Valenstein

He will take the helm on June 5, with a salary of $150,000 per year, Scott said.

“Noah has 15 years of environmental policy experience and I’m confident will continue to be a strong leader and advocate for preserving the future of our state’s beautiful and pristine environment,” Scott said.

Valenstein, now the executive director of the Suwannee River Water Management District, is closely tied to Scott, having served in the administration and the 2014 re-election campaign.

During a short job interview, Valenstein said he believed in giving the various stakeholders — including environmentalists, agricultural interests and local governments — a seat at the table.

“If we’re getting input from all the parties that depend on our natural resources, we get a better product at the end of the day,” he told reporters.

His first priority is “getting up to speed on all the issues the department is currently dealing with, getting to know the dedicated staff and helping to bring the philosophy I’ve had at Suwannee River over to the department.”

He was the only candidate interviewed for the job.

Valenstein replaces interim secretary Ryan Matthews, who had taken over from former secretary Jon Steverson. He quit in January to join the legal-lobbying firm of Foley & Lardner.

Jack Latvala tells Pensacola crowd that Tallahassee’s becoming too much like D.C.

If Jack Latvala runs for governor — and, mind you, he’s not saying he is — it would be to keep career politicians from taking over Tallahassee like they have done in Washington.

“They start out as legislative aides, they become House members, then they become senators, with very minimal experience in the real world,” Latvala told an audience in Pensacola Friday.

“The real world, to me, is making a payroll, paying workers’ comp insurance. We couldn’t get a workers’ comp bill done this year. Part of that is because, of 40 members of the Senate, there’s only six or seven of us who actually have businesses where we employ people — who have to pay workers’ comp,” he said.

“We need a business perspective. We need experience in the real world. I just don’t see that on my side of the aisle in the governor’s race.”

Latvala was in town to address the Panhandle Tiger Bay Club. He traveled in the footsteps of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, another potential aspirant to the governorship, who visited in March. Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, who campaigned elsewhere in the Panhandle Friday, has already declared.

Latvala said he’ll announce his attention in August.

Introducing Latvala, former Senate President Don Gaetz claimed his former colleague as a vacation neighbor in Seaside. “He knows our area. He cares about our area,” Gaetz said. “He made sure there’s more money to protect our beaches than ever before in Florida’s history.”

Pensacola Republican House member Frank White agreed.

“People in the Panhandle like Sen. Latvala,” White said. “He spends a lot of time on 30-A, along the beaches. He has some long-term friendships. He was particularly helpful in getting the Triumph legislation across the finish line.”

They referred to legislation on the governor’s desk to spend $1.5 billion over 15 years — Florida’s share of the BP Deepwater Horizon settlement — in the Panhandle counties worst affected by the 2010 spill. Next year’s share is $300 million.

Latvala was a “bulldog” for the legislation, Sen. Doug Broxson of Pensacola said. “If he tell you he’ll do something, he’ll do it.”

Discussing the recently concluded Legislative Session, Latvala complained that term limits have given the House and Senate presiding officers too much power. That’s how the House forced the Senate to swallow a massive education bill containing elements the Senate had defeated in committee, he said.

“I felt 95 percent positive the governor will veto. I still believe he will veto that bill. I’ve asked him to veto that bill. Then we start over with the House on the defensive, because it will be their priority that got beat,” Latvala said.

Latvala’s pugnacious manner seemed to go down well — he drew a standing ovation.

“He understands things south of the I-4 corridor. The people here in the Panhandle understand that the vast majority of the population lives down in that area,” developer Cris Dosev, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress last year, said.

“At the same time, he recognizes the value of the Gulf Coast,” Dosev said.

Office of Insurance Regulation veteran Belinda Miller announces retirement

Belinda Miller, a stalwart of Florida’s insurance regulation efforts since 1985, will retire on July 2, but plans to keep her hand in the industry via consulting work.

”I’m going to retire from the state,” Miller said during a telephone interview Thursday. “It’s just time. I’ve been there a long time, so I’m going to play a little bit.”

She expects to do some work for Celtic Global Consulting, the firm former Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty set up after he left office last year.

“I’m not going to sit on the porch and retire,” Miller said.

Miller joined the old Department of Insurance under Bill Gunter, when the insurance commissioner was an independently elected member of the Cabinet. She started out in the receivership office, taking over insolvent insurance companies.

In 1999, she became director of the Division of Insurer Services — overseeing most of the work the Office of Insurance handles now. Miller later served as deputy commissioner for property and casualty and as general counsel, before becoming chief of staff last year.

She was a candidate to replace McCarty after he stepped down, but the job when to David Altmaier. At the time, Florida Politics wrote of her:

A force in her own right, Miller is one of the smartest and knowledgeable people in insurance regulation today. The long-standing general counsel and current chief of staff of OIR, Miller is one of McCarty’s closest allies. Her ties to McCarty and record as a super voting Democrat may not put her views for moving OIR forward in line with those on the conservative Cabinet.”

In 2014, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners gave her its Robert Dineen Award for outstanding service to the field of insurance regulation.

Not getting the top job had nothing to do with her departure, Miller said.

“I’m happy that David is the commissioner,” she said.

“He is very good. I worked with David for maybe nine years now. We have a good team. I hate to leave that group of people. They’re wonderful.”

Altmaier praised Miller’s “almost 30 years of dedicated public service” in a written statement through his office.

“She was instrumental to the office through several significant market events, including the rebuilding of our property market after the 2004-‘05 hurricane seasons and economic crisis, the examination of the asymmetrical use of the death master file by life insurance companies, and the receivership of several significant carriers in our state,” Altmaier said.

“Her knowledge of Florida’s insurance market and her steadfast devotion to consumers is unparalleled.”

A single candidate scores interview for DEP top job: Noah Valenstein

Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet will interview a single candidate for the vacant secretary slot at the Department of Environmental Regulation — Noah Valenstein, a former environmental aide to the governor.

His was the only name put forward for an interview during a meeting of aides to the governor and Cabinet Wednesday morning.

“The governor would like to schedule an interview with Noah Valenstein,” Scott aide Kristin Olson said.

“If there’s anybody else that any other principal would like to be interviewed, let us know and we’ll make sure they’re there,” Olson asked the aides flanking her in the Cabinet meeting room.

None piped up with a nomination.

“My sense from checking in with the Cabinet leaders is that they knew Noah was likely to be the candidate and were comfortable with it,” Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida, told reporters following the meeting.

In fact, Draper had lobbied for Valenstein.

“I think Noah’s a great choice,” he said.

“I’ve worked with him a long time. He was part of the conservation community at one time. We lobbied together up here. He’s got a great reputation,” he said.

Left on the shelf is interim secretary Ryan Matthews. He’s been running the agency since Jon Steverson quit in January to join the legal-lobbying firm of Foley & Lardner.

Draper described Matthews as “a really good guy” who “would have been a good choice, also.”

The Audubon chief praised Valenstein for his work at Suwanee River.

“We’ve seen a change in the tone over there since he’s been the executive director. Noah’s really demonstrated his leadership skills. I think he has the potential to be one of our best environmental secretaries.”

Valenstein is closely tied to Scott, having served in the administration and the 2014 re-election campaign. With Scott likely poised to run for U.S. Senate, are they too close?

“I certainly would hope that Noah’s not coming over to just be part of a campaign. Running an environmental agency is a lot different that running the environmental policy office in the governor’s office,” Draper said.

“I don’t think there’s anything more important for the success of our conservation mission than good leadership at DEP,” he added.

“If that leadership is focused on getting the agency to enforce the laws, and to come up with a water plan for the state, which we desperately need, and to get the land acquisition program moving again, I think that DEP can be what people expect it to be.”

State will exhaust budget for agriculture conservation easements by year’s end

The state would run out of money to buy agricultural conservation land easements by the end of 2017 under the budget approved by the Legislature, the head of the Florida Forest Service said Wednesday.

The service asked for $50 million and got $10 for the Rural & Family Lands Protection Program, land program administrator John Browne told aides to Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet. Combined with about $11 million for the current fiscal year, that would leave around $21 million for easement acquisition, Browne said.

“So you’ll see easements at least until the end of this calendar year. After that, it’s kind of questionable,” Browne said.

That would mean placing “one or two” acquisitions per month before the governor and Cabinet though the year’s end, he added.

Last year, the Legislature gave the service $35 for easements under the program. The new budget would take effect on July 1.

Scott and the Cabinet have two acquisitions on their May 23 agenda — $7 million on 4,177 acres of the Triple S Ranch in Okeechobee County, and $1.5 million in state and federal money for 1,034 acres of the S.Y. Hartt Ranch in Highland County.

Both are Tier One targets for the Forest Service, and both are deemed critical to recharge zones for the Kissimmee River, Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades, and other state waterways.

The $11 million would be left following those acquisitions. Surveys, site assessments, and related costs take up between 5 percent and 7 percent of the cost of acquisitions, Browne told reporters following the meeting.

Being ranked Tier One means “we want them bad,” he said.

Both Triple S and Harrt support extensive natural habitat and represent important water recharge areas. “These ranches are impeccable,” Browne said.

Moreover, the Harrt Ranch easements would protect the military’s Avon Park bombing range from encroaching development — helping to keep the facility and its payroll in Florida.

The program keeps valuable agricultural lands free from intensive development — and also to protect historical and environmental treasures.

The Legislature did pass SB 10, a $1.5 billion plan to restore Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades. That commitment absorbed many of the state’s resources for environmental conservation.

Does Browne worry about the program’s future?

“I’m not really worried about it, because the constituency that we support, they’re very vocal about it. They love the program. They’ll continue to lobby. We’ll continue to push for it. We’re doing a lot of good things. This just happened to be a year where there were other things that were determined to be more important,” he said.

Without money to spend on new acquisitions, the service will continue to scout prospects for the future and keep an eye on existing easements, Browne said.

“We’ve got a really small group of people who do this. Actually, there’s only three or four of us. So we’ve got plenty of work to do.”

Still, without new money, the program will leave “a lot — thousands” of acres on the table, Browne said.

“This is a real problem,” Audubon Florida executive director Eric Draper said.

“Florida is developing very quickly and these landowners have a choice — ‘Do I develop the land, or do I try and hold onto it in difficult economic circumstances, or to I try to wait until the state can come up with some money to provide an easement,” Draper said.

“These landowners are stepping forward and being willing for essentially a fraction of the price of the land commit to protecting it perpetually,” he said. “Fifteen hundred dollars an acre is a huge bargain for the state of Florida.”

Thousands of acres of conservation easement on Cabinet aides’ agenda

The Triple S Ranch lies 15 miles north of Lake Okeechobee — a 7,000-acre cattle operation, relatively untouched by development, within the recharge zone for the Kissimmee River.

Rare and endangered species, including a Florida panther, wander its streams and cypress swamps.

On Wednesday morning, aides to Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet will peruse a proposal to buy a conservation easement on 4,177 acres of the Okeechobee County property, for close to $7 million.

The deal is scheduled to go before Scott and the Cabinet on May 23.

“The property has been in the Scott Family since 1948 and is primarily improved pasture,” according to a summary prepared for the governor and Cabinet.

“About one-fifth of the property supports natural upland vegetation, including scrub and mesic flatwoods, which are considered underrepresented communities on public lands in Florida. With the exception of the improved pasture, the property has remained in its natural state as acquired in 1948,” the summary says.

The Florida Forest Service has rated the property Tier One for easement acquisition under the Rural & Family Lands Protection Program, intended to keep valuable agricultural lands free from intensive development — and also to protect historical and environmental treasures.

The state holds easements on close to 36,000 acres under the program.

Streams including Cow Creek, Gomez Creek, Quail Creek, and Telegraph Branch, which feed into the St. Lucie Estuary, run through the ranch.

“Other species that occur are bald eagles, gopher tortoise, Florida scrub Jay, indigo snakes, burrowing owls, and fox squirrel,” the summary says.

The Smiths would retain title, but would be barred from developing the land, or exploiting any mineral wealth.

“Activities that affect the hydrology of the land or that detrimentally affect water conservation, erosion control, soil conservation, or fish and wildlife habitat,” would be banned.

Also on the agenda is the $1.5 million state-federal purchase of an easement on 1,034 acres of the S.Y. Hartt Ranch in Highland County — another Tier One project. That deal would bring total state and federal easements on the property to 6,622 acres.

“S.Y. Hartt Ranch drains to Arbuckle Creek, which eventually flows into Lake Okeechobee. It is located within the Northern Everglades Watershed and the recharge range for the Kissimmee River Basin and contains freshwater marshes, oak hammocks, swamps, wet and dry prairies, cypress domes, improved pasture, and citrus,” the summary says.

Watchdogs decry Constitution Revision Commission’s proposed rules

Proposed rules for the Constitution Revision Commission could let members deliberate in secret, limit public participation, bottle up ideas in committee, or bog down debating proposals with little support, government watchdog groups warned Monday.

Sixteen organizations, including the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, Florida Consumer Action Network, and unions, including Florida AFL-CIO, critiqued the proposed rules in a letter to the commission’s rules committee.

“Transparency and a clear set of ground rules are essential to the credibility of the CRC. As members of the Rules Working Group, you have an opportunity to enhance public confidence in the work of the CRC,” the organizations wrote.

They warned of “the potential for leverage and influence over commission members” and an “unclear track for approval of proposals.”

For example, they said, draft rules appear to allow chairman Carlos Beruff to limit distribution of literature outside commission meetings. Furthermore, committee chairs would decide whether to recognize members of the public to speak during meetings.

“This discretion should be removed and committee chairs should be required to permit the public to he heard on all issues taken up at each committee meeting,” subject to reasonable time limits, the organizations wrote.

“The only reason to exclude members of the pubic should be for public disturbance or disorderly conduct,” they said.

The commission has begun hearing public testimony about proposed revisions without benefit of formal rules. Beruff has promised them by the end of June.

“The letter was received by commissioners and we are reviewing it,” commission spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice said.

“The CRC encourages all interested Floridians to attend the Rules Working Group meeting on Wednesday, May 17 in Tampa from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. at Hillsborough Community College’s Dale Mabry Campus. There will be opportunity for public comment before the working group,” Beatrice said.

Rules governing the last commission, which deliberated in 1997-98, placed greater emphasis on openness and transparency, the organizations said.

Another example: “The draft rules limit transparency by changing the requirement that records be ‘open’ to requiring that the commission’s records be ‘accessible.’ What does ‘accessible’ mean? The word ‘open” is the word that is used in the open records laws.”

Furthermore, the draft rules would allow private meetings between members to discuss business, in violation of the spirit of Florida’s open-government laws. Committee meetings could be scheduled to conflict with each other, the organizations said.

The chairman would be empowered to shunt proposals into hostile committees, and limit the full committee’s power to override committees.

The draft rules would remove a 1997-98 requirement that 10 commissioners vote to consider proposals; instead, a single commissioner could move to take up ideas.

“This new rule has the potential to burden the commission with many more proposals than might be otherwise necessary, taking time away from other more widely approved proposals,” the organizations wrote.

The proposed rules ban commissioners from accepting gifts from lobbyists, except for campaign contributions.

“That means legislators and other elected officials might be influenced to vote on issues based on whether their votes will yield campaign contributions,” the organizations said.

Here is the full list of suggestions.

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