Michael Moline, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 17

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.

Personnel note: Rick Scott makes judicial appointments, in Palm Beach, Dade

Sherri Collins, a prosecutor from Loxahatchee, has won an appointment to the Palm Beach County Court.

Gov. Rick Scott announced the appointment Thursday.

Collins has been an assistant state attorney for the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit since 2004. Earlier, she prosecuted cases in the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit.

She holds a law degree from the University of Florida Frederic G. Levin School of Law.

In April, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission named Collins its prosecutor of the year. The award recognized her training programs for prosecutors handling wildlife cases.

Collins replaces Judge Daliah Weiss, appointed by Scott to the 15th Judicial Circuit Court in July.

Also on Thursday, Scott named administrative judge Victoria del Pino to the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court.

Del Pino, of Coral Gables, has served on the Miami-Dade County Court since 2007.

She holds a law degree from St. Thomas University School of Law.

Del Pino replaces Judge Stanford Blake, who stepped down in August after 22 years on the bench.

Jack Latvala defends Visit Florida amid Pitbull contract controversy

Visit Florida, beleaguered over its $1 million promotional contract with the rapper Pitbull, found a defender Thursday in Senate budget chairman Jack Latvala.

In light of a soft construction sector, “what’s kept the whole outlook from softening up has been our strong tourism economy,” Latvala told reporters after the Appropriations Committee heard about the financial demands the state faces during the next three years.

“That’s particularly important today in light of the criticisms that seem to be coming now on a daily basis of how our tourism promotion is being done,” he said.

“I don’t think we can stick our heads in the sand and stop advertising and doing things to keep people coming to Florida, bringing business to Florida, bringing movies to Florida.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran is suing the rapper’s production company in hopes of clarifying that Visit Florida, the state’s tourism promotions enterprise, cannot allow trade-secrets claims to shield contract terms from legislative oversight.

Latvala said that for the past two budget cycles, House members sought more money than the Senate did for tourism promotion.

“Now I see kind of a backing up from that position, and it’s very puzzling to me,” he said.

For years, he said, tourism levels hovered below 80 million visitors per year.

“We put some extra money in, and now we’re consistently getting over 100 million visitors. And they’re top-quality visitors, who are spending money in the state. They’re staying a while. They’re going to upscale places. I just don’t think we can turn out back and retreat from that.”

Latvala conceded this much:

“I think they made a mistake with regard to content. I told the CEO of Visit Florida a year ago that he needed to make that contract public. But, you know, they pay baseball players a lot of money for getting three hits out of every 10 times at bat. One miss out of 10 is not bad.”

Tourism industry leaders agree Visit Florida is an asset, he added. And Thursday’s testimony about the state’s budget problems “lends credibility to the importance of having that promotion on an organized, consistent basis. Not hit and miss depending on how much we want to spend up and down,” he said.

Jack Latvala not keen on raiding oil spill fund to balance state budget

Senate budget chairman Jack Latvala isn’t interested in balancing state government’s books on the backs of counties hit hard by the BP oil spill. And he believes the state might have to let local property taxes increase along with home values.

All in the name of meeting pressing needs in a state in decent financial shape now, but facing scary long-term deficits.

“We made the commitment, and I believe in keeping my commitments,” Latvala said of the BP money.

Of local taxes, he said: “It’s clear to me that if we can’t capture the new property values, there will be slim of any increases for K-12.”

Latvala spoke to reporters following a briefing for Appropriations Committee members by the state’s top economist. They learned that Florida government is in decent financial shape — if you don’t count projected delicits projected at $1.3 billion one year from now and $1.9 billion the year after that.

And unless the state wants to meet its commitment to give 75 percent of its earnings from the BP  spill disaster to the counties worst affected. That would take $300 million away from state-level projects.

And unless you consider the state’s liability in class actions arising from its citrus canker eradication program, now worth nearly $95 million in penalties, interest and legal fees, with additional claims over 540,000 trees in Miami-Dade County still pending.

Also unless the Legislature wants stiff post-hurricane beach restoration.

Those are among the pressures on the state’s finances projected during the next three years, according to Amy Baker, coordinator for state Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

“We’re building a structural imbalance,” Baker said. “Our budget is growing faster than the underlying revenue pieces.”

Latvala said the Legislature will have to cut some programs if lawmakers want to approve Gov. Rick Scott‘s requested increases for economic development, House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s desire for tax relief, and Senate President Joe Negron‘s hopes to boost education spending.

“To do any increases, we’re going to have to find areas to cut. That’s a certainty,” Latvala said.

“Just my luck to be chairman in a year like that.”

Baker and other state economists have estimated that lawmakers will have nearly $142 million more than expected to spend in the fiscal year that begins next July 1. But the Florida Constitution requires the Legislature to plan three years into the future, and that’s where the problems crop up, Baker said.

The good news is that the tourism economy is doing well. And although construction is lagging, there’s a large “shadow inventory” of distressed homes left over from the foreclosure epidemic that followed the Great Recession. They’d likely have to be torn down and rebuilt, and that would mean jobs, according to a report Baker’s office prepared for the committee.

Additionally, it’s been more than seven years since the post-recession bankruptcy wave, meaning those borrowers might again qualify for housing loans.

 

TaxWatch: Revenue boost won’t pay for state leaders’ wish lists

Florida TaxWatch on Thursday welcomed a rosier new state revenue forecast, but said the extra money won’t pay for big-ticket investments sought by Rick Scott and legislative leaders.

“Money will be tight this year and lawmakers who are concerned about a tough budget year should find ways to cut costs and save money,” TaxWatch President and chief executive officer Dominic Calabro said in a written statement.

Earlier this week, Florida’s Revenue Estimating Conference predicted the state would collect $119.3 million more during this fiscal year, ending on June 30, than expected.

The conference, comprising top state economists, increased its forecast for the subsequent fiscal year by $22.6 million.

Still, those experts also expect weaker economic growth, TaxWatch said in its latest Budget Watch report.

Additionally, the state’s response to Zika and two hurricanes has cost $100 million thus far — and that doesn’t account for any lost taxes if Zika fears drives down tourism, the report says.

Meanwhile Gov. Rick Scott is pressing for $85 million for economic development, plus tax cuts. House Speaker Richard Corcoran wants to hold the line on property taxes for schools.

And Senate President Joe Negron wants to boost higher education by $1 billion during the next two years.

Calabro pointed to an official Government Efficiency Task Force report in June that recommended 29 ways to save “upwards of $2 billion in savings and cost avoidance, making a tough budget year little easier to navigate.”

Those recommendations include prison reforms intended to reduce incarceration of nonviolent offenders; consolidating management and construction of state facilities; and shifting all state workers into defined-contribution retirement plans.

Gwen Graham shifts Christmas Trees, offers health advice to men

Gwen Graham spent her last workday as a U.S. Representative at a Christmas tree stand in Tallahassee, helping customers select trees to take home — and reflecting on her time in Washington and plans to run for governor.

“Are you that Gwen?” one customer asked.

She was, engaging in a campaign tactic that propelled her father, Bob Graham into the governor’s office in 1978 and later the U.S. Senate, and helped send his daughter to Washington.

“It’s a real opportunity to know people on a different level than you might if they just came to talk to you in your office or met you in Costco or something,” Graham said.

Underlining her point, a man wearing a UPS polo shirt showed up to wish Graham well. She’d worked with him slinging packages him last Christmas, Graham said.

As for her future, Graham said she fully intends to seek the governorship but that the timing of her announcement would depend on the health of her husband, Steve Hurm, a Tallahassee lawyer. He’s due at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa Wednesday for evaluation of Stage IV prostate cancer.

“Every part of me wants to run for governor,” Graham told reporters. “It’s what I know I need to do for the state of Florida. But things happen in life that might take me off that path. I hope not.”

Hurm has been encouraging her to campaign. “I wouldn’t do it without him by my side,” she said.

Presuming Graham does run, she’ll make campaigning her day job until Election Day on Nov. 6, 2018, she said. She plans to keep her existing team together, including Julia Woodward, her chief of staff and campaign manager during her run for Congress.

Of leaving Congress after a single term (having been redistricted into an overwhelmingly Republican seat), she said the experience was “bittersweet.”

“The opportunity in Washington to work together — Democrats, Republicans — to actually get things done is real. It can be done.”

As for her husband’s health, Graham had this advice for gentlemen of a certain age: Get your PSA test and take the results seriously.

“In today’s world, you can Google anything and you can find a reason to not see it as a real health warning,” she said. A positive result “means that you seriously need to go the next step and find out if it’s prostate cancer. That’s my new crusade.”

Jeff Brandes backs House lawsuit to make Pitbull contract public

A key state senator on Wednesday endorsed House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s lawsuit seeking to open Visit Florida’s contract with the rapper Pitbull to promote tourism.

“That’s a public record,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, chairman of the Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development Subcommittee, which oversees Visit Florida.

Corcoran sued in state court Tuesday seeking permission to subject the contract to public committee hearings. His suit named PDR Productions Inc., the rapper’s management company. The company maintains the document contains protected trade secrets.

“I want to understand the contract, and I want to understand the deal-making behind it,” Brandes told reporters following the subcommittee’s first meeting since the elections.

The rapper, born Armando Christian Perez, has released a rap video promoting Florida’s “Sexy Beaches.”

“I’m not against people having bold ideas and executing on them. But I want to make sure that, at the end of the day, that reflects the values of the state of Florida. That’s the major concern here — that dollars were spent in a way that doesn’t represent our values.”

The meeting was a chance for the Departments of Military Affairs, Emergency Management, State and Economic Opportunity to introduce themselves to new members and present their legislative priorities.

That last agency oversees Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, a business-development program supported by Gov. Rick Scott but which Corcoran considers crony capitalism.

Enterprise Florida is supposed to involve a 50:50 match between public and private dollars. It does not, Brandes said.

“The Legislature was very clear that it be a fairly equal match. There hasn’t been an equal match in some time, if ever. We should go back to what the Legislature intended,” he said.

The chairman said he hadn’t met yet with Chris Hart IV, hired in November as Enterprise Florida’s new chief executive officer. Hart had been president and CEO of CareerSource Florida, a jobs development program also operated by the state.

“I haven’t even had a chance to sit down with him yet,” Brandes said. “Once I sit down with him, we are going to develop our vision for what it’s going to look like in the future.”

As for his own top priority, Brandes said it’s affordable housing.

“We’re going to be more tenant-focused in the future, versus developer-focused,” he said. “You’re going to see us spend multiple committee meetings trying to discover the right pathway forward on affordable housing.”

Asked about money the Legislature has shifted in the past from Florida’s affordable housing trust fund to other priorities, Brandes promised a “fundamental shift” in approach.

“People make decisions that really impact their lives when they have the ability to move into market-based rentals that are closer to transportation, closer to their jobs, and that are in better school districts for their kids,” he said.

Tallahassee lobbyists have a learning moment about ethics reform

House ethics guru Don Rubottom wrote a poem to explain what the chamber’s new ethics regime is all about:

“If you propose it, it should be disclosed before you discuss it,

“Before it shows up in any draft of a bill or amendment,

“Long before it is filed in the House.

“If others propose, disclose by number.”

OK, it’s not for the ages, but it captures the spirit of the thing.

Rubottom, staff director of the Public Integrity and Ethics Committee, was among the House aides who briefed lobbyists Tuesday evening on the arcana of the new ethics rules imposed under Speaker Richard Corcoran.

It was part of an ongoing re-education program for the lobbying corps.

Such was the interest that the gathering was moved to a massive hearing room that takes up most of the second floor of the Knott Building, adjacent to the Capitol. It was standing room only, with a television audience submitting questions via email.

Budget committee staff director JoAnne Leznoff explained the process for pushing an appropriations line item. It entails filling out a detailed form describing the amount sought, where the money should come from, and who would benefit.

Lobbyists must deliver the forms electronically to a House member. Members alone are allowed to enter the data into the House’s IT system, which will spit out a bill containing the relevant details.

Rubottom explained the ethics angle, including lobbyists’ obligation to promote a professional and ethical environment even if that means “supporting honorable behavior by members” and discouraging the other kind.

The House has tightened disclosure requirements for lobbyists — they must report in advance any issues, bills, amendments, specific appropriations. Once per year will do the job — no need to refile on a particular topic if the Legislature goes into special session, although you ought to update your disclosure filing to reflect changed bill numbers.

“We are going to apply common sense,” Rubottom said. The point is that interested parties should receive sufficient notice.

Say hello to a member at a bar or a meet-and-greet? No need to disclose. Monitoring or tracking legislation without advocating for it? “You don’t have anything to report,” Rubottom said.

And if a member buttonholes you in a hallway and demands to know what you think about a proposal? You’ll have wanted to disclose already if there was any chance you intended to lobby the issue, he said.

“If it surprises you, let the member know you are not free to discuss it because of the requirements” of the new ethics rules, Rubottom said.

“If your member is impatient with your respect for the rule, feel free to let chairman Oliva or chairman Metz know of the discourtesy.”

That’s Rules Committee chairman Jose Oliva and Ethics chairman Larry Metz.

A lobbyist, speaking confidentially, found the exercise worthwhile and said the rules may help undisclosed client conflicts emerge into the sunshine.

“We’re dealing with transparency,” this lobbyist said. “Transparency helps people in our business.”

Another lobbyist thought meeting the new requirements is “doable. But as they say, there may be speed bumps on the way.”

This lobbyist chafed a little that the rules don’t apply to people not accepting money to influence the Legislature — including the cadres of activists who barnstorm the Capitol on particular issues.

“They’re lobbying their guts out — it’s not casual stuff. It’s 50 activists going from meeting after meeting.”

And registered lobbyists are no longer allowed to text members during meetings, but these activists can.

“We all want a level playing field,” the lobbyist said.

Trial bar allies turn guns on ratings council in workers’ comp hearing

As debate opened Tuesday over Florida’s 14.5 percent increase in workers’ compensation premiums, trial attorneys on the Florida Senate’s Banking and Insurance Committee targeted the group that proposes insurance rates for carriers in the state.

Sens. Greg Steube and Gary Farmer Jr., both attorneys, endeavored to shift the focus from attorney fees — widely blamed for rising workers’ comp rates — and onto the need for carriers to compete rather than charge common rates.

“I support a competitive marketplace,” committee member Greg Steube said following the hearing. “That’s one of the things the committee and the Legislature should look at.”

Chairwoman Anitere Flores, herself an attorney, said the issue was “definitely on the table” during what she hopes would be a thorough look at the situation.

“It seems that the NCCI and rate-making portion is something that had not been really discussed in previous workers’ compensation reforms,” Flores said.

Committee members Steube, Randolph Bracy and Debbie Mayfield had trial lawyer support in their recent campaigns. Farmer is a past president of the Florida Justice Association, representing trial attorneys.

NCCI is the National Council on Compensation Insurance. The group operates around the country, but Florida is one of just a few states in which it proposes rates on behalf of all carriers to state regulators — in Florida’s case, the Office of Insurance Regulation.

That office relied on NCCI data in developing the rate increase that began to take effect on Dec. 1. Businesses will absorb the higher premiums as they file for new or renewed policies during the next year.

The 1st District Court of Appeal has allowed that increase to take effect pending litigation over whether NCCI and the insurance office violated Florida’s open-government laws by closing its internal deliberations and documents to the public.

NCCI cited its inability to discuss that open court case in declining to appear during Tuesday’s hearing, Flores said.

“It’s hard to conduct a meeting when you know the answers you’re going to get are, ‘We can’t talk about that,’ “ Flores said.

However, “they were watching,” she said of NCCI. “I would hope they see the message and the tone and the questions that are being asked by the committee members.”

The hearing featured testimony by a range of business and attorney groups, a risk manager for Bay County, and organized labor.

The business side tended to blame greedy lawyers for the rate hike. Those interests point to Florida Supreme Court rulings declaring unconstitutional business-friendly reforms enacted in 2003, including a measure tying attorney fees to benefits secured without regard for the amount of legal work required.

The insurance office blames that one ruling — Castellanos v. Next Door Co. — for around 10 percent of the 14.5 percent hike.

The other side blamed greedy insurers. Richard Chait of the Florida Justice Association urged going after any excess profits, letting workers choose their own doctors, and establishing a mid-tier category of benefits for workers not yet deemed permanently disabled.

And he wanted to liberalize attorney fees, which he called “the great equalizer” and “the only hammer in the system” available to workers.

“Any one who comes before you and suggests that the Castellanos case and the return of reasonable fees creates a crisis is essentially admitting a business model to deny benefits,” Chait said.

Jim McConnaughhay, a defense-side workers’ compensation attorney speaking for Associated Industries of Florida, said a task force would release its AIF’s proposals for dealing with the rate hikes in January.

A representative of the Florida Chamber of Commerce said its own task force’s recommendations would be ready at about the same time.

Bill Herrle, Florida director for the National Federation of Independent Business, a member of AIF’s task force, and a veteran of the workers’ compensation debate, said Florida has a diverse marketplace, with around 200 Florida-based and national carriers and a self-insured sector.

He warned that returning competition to the marketplace carries its own dangers — “It leads to the potential for one big carrier to come in and say, ‘OK, now we’re going to run it tight and low-ball this for a couple of years until we buy in market share. And then where are you after that, when you don’t have all the carriers you desire?”

He called a House proposal to let businesses opt out of the system and take their chances in the trial courts “truly a remedy of last resort.”

Kevin McCarty misses out on job leading national insurance association

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has passed over former chief Florida insurance regulator Kevin McCarty in selecting its next chief executive officer.

The organization went with Michael Consedine, former insurance commissioner for Pennsylvania.

The CEO represents the state insurance regulators who comprise the association and acts as go-between with federal and international policymakers, the states, and consumer and industry representatives.

SNL Financial had reported in January that McCarthy was discussing the job with other insurance commissioners.

McCarty, who had served as president of the association, tendered his resignation as insurance commissioner in January under pressure from Gov. Rick Scott.

As he left, the Office of Insurance Regulation circulated a list of McCarty’s accomplishments since becoming commissioner in 2003. They included coordinating an investigation by several states that returned $5 billion to insurance customers across the country.

Business interests, attorneys dominate insurance and banking panel

The House committee that will craft legislation addressing two of the hottest topics in Tallahassee is dominated by business people and attorneys.

Ten Republicans and five Democrats were among those named Monday to the Subcommittee on Insurance and Banking.

Speaker Richard Corcoran had already named Danny Burgess Jr. to chair the panel.

Rounding out the leadership are vice chairman David Santiago, a Republican financial manager from Deltona; and ranking Democrat Richard Stark, an insurance broker from Weston.

The panel is expected to address twin crises facing the insurance industry — sharply rising workers’ compensation insurance premiums, and assignment of benefits agreements blamed for driving up property insurance costs.

Here’s the rest of the committee membership:

Halsey Beshears, a Republican business owner from Monticello, also serves as chairman of the Careers and Competition Subcommittee. He was first elected in 2012.

Charles Wesley “Chuck” Clemons Sr. is a Republican from Newberry launching his freshman year. He is a Santa Fe College administrator and a former Alachua County commissioner.

Bobby DuBose, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, was first elected in 2014. He is Democratic leader pro tempore and the ranking Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee.

Jay Fant is a banker and businessman from Jacksonville beginning his second term in the House. He is vice chairman of the Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee and chairman of the Duval County delegation.

Michael Grant, a Republican business owner from Port Charlotte, was re-elected to the House this year after having served between 2004-08.

Blaise Ingoglia is a Republican homebuilder from Spring Hill who was first elected in 2014. He was the grassroots GOP choice for party chairman in 2015 and is now running for re-election to that post. He is chairman of the Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee and vice chairman of the Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee.

Kionne McGhee, a Democrat, is a Miami attorney who was first elected in 2012.

George Moraitis Jr. is a Republican real-estate attorney from Fort Lauderdale first elected in 2010. He also serves as alternating chairman of the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee and as vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

Barrington Russell, a freshman Democrat, is a real estate broker from Lauderdale Lakes.

Sean Shaw, also a freshman, is an attorney from Tampa. He is a Democrat.

Cyndi Stevenson is a Republican CPA from St. Johns. A former St. Johns County commissioner, she was elected in April 2015 in a special election.

Charlie Stone, a Republican, is a business owner from Ocala first elected in 2012. He also serves as alternating chairman of the Joint Select Committee on Collective Bargaining; as vice chairman of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee; and as vice chairman of the Government Accountability Committee.

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