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Adam Putnam declares opposition to fracking in Florida

In a brief exchange with an volunteer for an anti-cracking group, Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam declared his opposition to fracking over the weekend.

“We don’t need to be fracking in Florida. Our geology, our limestone, we do not need to be fracking in Florida for oil and gas. It is just not the right spot,” Putnam is seen and heard saying in an exchange with anti-fracking volunteer Ginger Goepper, in a video released Wednesday by the Food & Water Action Fund.

Putnam’s campaign spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice said the statements “are consistent with his platform.”

The organization said the exchange took place at a Putnam campaign event in Sun City Center on Saturday, and was the first statement they’ve seen in which Putnam has declared opposition to fracking. The Food & Water Action Fund is an organization that is campaigning for the reduction of fossil fuel extraction and burning for energy in general, and against fracking in particular.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is an oil and gas extraction technique in which drillers inject high-pressure water and chemicals deep into the ground to fracture the rock and thereby provide the drillers better access to oil and gas reserves. It is not practiced in Florida but has been the topic of intense debate in the Florida Legislature and in local governments for several years. Last year Senate Bill 462, to ban fracking, made some advances but died in the Appropriations Committee. A similar bill in the House of Representatives died in infancy.

Opponents charge fracking risks contaminating groundwater, and they also charge it is the cause of unusual earthquakes hitting such states as Oklahoma and Ohio. The oil and gas industry disputes those risks and insist fracking is an effective and safe way to increase America’s domestic energy supplies.

All of the major Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Philip Levine, Gwen Graham, Andrew GillumChris King, and Jeff Greene, have come out in opposition to fracking.

“This is the first time we have heard Commissioner Putnam take a stance on fracking and as a major candidate for governor,  we are happy to see Commissioner Putnam take such a strong stance against the dangerous drilling practice,” the organization stated in a news release issued Wednesday.

“We hope Congressman [Ron] DeSantis [the other major Republican gubernatorial candidate] will stand with the other gubernatorial candidates in calling to protect Florida’s clean water and environment by banning fracking,” the release continued.

Adam Putnam sidesteps timing question about background check investigation

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, whose department handles concealed weapon licenses, didn’t directly answer questions about why he didn’t sooner divulge problems with applicants’ background checks.

Putnam, also a Republican candidate for governor, spoke with reporters Wednesday after a Florida Cabinet meeting.

The Tampa Bay Times reported last Friday that Putnam’s Division of Licensing stopped using a federal background check database — the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) — in its license approval process for a little more than a year in 2016-17.

That’s because an employee, now fired, lost the password.

Putnam later said applications were still run through two other checks: the Florida Crime Information Center (FCIC) database and the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. Only 365 applications during the gap would’ve required use of the NICS, he said.

“Upon discovery of this former employee’s negligence in not conducting the further review required on 365 applications, we immediately completed full background checks on those applications, which resulted in 291 (license) revocations,” Putnam said in a statement. 

The news came to light when the Times got a copy of an “investigative report” by the Department’s inspector’s general, dated June 5, 2017.

Veteran statehouse reporter John Kennedy, now the GateHouse Media Tallahassee correspondent, asked Putnam on Wednesday: “Did you not consider disclosing the breach of protocol involving one of your own employees?”

“My focus is on preventing this in the future and solving the problem,” Putnam said. “When we became aware of the problem, we initiated the investigation we undertook the process of reviewing the 365 names … and ultimately revoking the 291 licenses.”

Kennedy tried again: “But you chose not to disclose this to the public?”

“We have been very forthcoming with all of your questions and all of the public records requests,” Putnam said. “My focus is on solving the problem so that it does not happen again.

“It was the dumbest thing in the world,” he added. “It was a thing that happens to anybody with a computer: She (referring to the former employee) emailed I.T. and said, ‘my password isn’t working.’ They emailed her back with instructions on how to fix the problem. By her own admission, she dropped the ball.”

With more than 1.8 million concealed weapons permit holders in Florida, nearly 268,000 applications were approved and 6,470 were rejected during the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2017. That was the period when background checks were not conducted.

A long line of Democratic elected officials and candidates has since called for Putnam, term-limited this year, to step down or end his campaign for governor or both.

A Periscope video of Wednesday’s media availability is below:

Rick Scott talks pot, Donald Trump

Gov. Rick Scott made his way through his first Cabinet meeting as a candidate for the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, and while the meeting focused exclusively on state matters, the questions that followed from reporters unsurprisingly centered on federal issues.

Scott is leading his Democratic opponent, incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, in a few early polls and handily outspending him in advertising — at least for now. The race will undoubtedly be competitive and there’s a real chance Scott takes the top of the ticket in November.

So it follows that the Governor was asked on Wednesday for comment on legalizing pot, for his opinion of President Donald Trump and for his thoughts on the Affordable Care Act. 

A bipartisan effort is bubbling in Congress to ease the federal ban on marijuana. If passed, it would give states more discretion with the drug. The President has indicated mild support for the idea, though it would need Congressional approval first. 

“Well, I’ll deal with that when I make it to the Senate,” Scott said.

The Governor also was asked about the issue of medical marijuana — which is currently in the fore in the Sunshine State. A judge recently ruled unconstitutional a state ban on smoking the drug for treatment. Scott’s attorneys have appealed the ruling.

“What’s important to me is that everyone has access to the health care that they need,” Scott said. He said “plenty of doctors” make the drug available and “thousands of people” use it without smoking.

“What this issue is about is how you get to take it,” Scott said. “I’m going to continue to follow the law. The constitutional amendment passed, the Legislature by a bipartisan manner overwhelmingly passed a bill, and I’m going to support it.”  

Another reporter brought up the Justice Department’s decision to no longer fight for patients with pre-existing medical conditions who face higher rates or no option for coverage. Reports the New York Times, “If that argument is accepted by the federal court, it could eviscerate major parts of the Affordable Care Act that remain in place despite numerous attacks by President Trump and his administration.”

Scott remained vague on the issue.

“I think everybody ought to be able to get health care insurance,” Scott said. But he said the Affordable Care Act needs to be fixed because it’s “caused our premiums to skyrocket.”

He added: “But I don’t believe in grand bargains, I believe in incrementally trying to make change.” Among his brief suggestions: more competition, plans that fit individual families, and rewarding “people who take care of themselves.”

After being prompted by reporters to discuss Trump’s presidency, Scott lauded the administration’s work to secure funding for the dike at Lake Okeechobee. Scott said, “I’m optimistic that’s going to happen.”

As well, he said he appreciated the efforts of the Trump administration to reconsider oil drilling off Florida’s shore.

But when asked if Trump was doing a good job, Scott responded: “What I want is results.”

Hurricane Irma produced a litigation wave at Citizens Insurance, committee told

Hurricane Irma-related lawsuits surged at Citizens Property Insurance Corp. early this year, representing a nearly 50 percent increase in the company’s litigation load compared to the same period in 2017.

More than 90 percent of those lawsuits originated in South Florida.

The state’s insurer of last resort fielded 4,287 legal claims in January through April, the vast majority involving residential policies. Irma claims represented 60 percent of that litigation, according to a report delivered to Citizens’ claims committee during a telephone conference call Wednesday.

The Category 4 storm hit the Florida Keys in September 2017 and then ran up the state’s spine. It had generated 924,439 insurance claims in all as of April 6, of which 91 percent have been resolved, according to the state Office of Insurance Regulation. The monetary value exceeded $8.6 billion,

In nearly half of the lawsuits, policyholders hadn’t disputed Citizens’ adjustment decisions before filing, even though the company encourages them to update claims based on emerging information about the scope of their damage.

“These insured are just giving over the option and opportunity to further adjust the claim with us and just going straight to sue,” Elaina Paskalakis, Citizens’ vice president for claim litigation, told the committee.

Even so, more than half of the claims arrived within six months of a reported loss, a 9 percent increase compared to pre-Irma litigation.

“This is trending up despite the fact that insureds who filed suit and had representation at first notice of loss has decreased by almost 22 percent (currently 61 percent as compared to 83 percent pre-Irma) as many insureds reported their own losses,” the report says.

Vendors holding assignment of benefits agreements filed 9 percent of the lawsuits. Citizens — along with other insurers, business more broadly, and officials in the insurance office — blame abusive AOB practices for inflating monetary demands and litigation.

Personnel note: Major B. Harding joins greyhound group’s legal team

Retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Major B. Harding has joined the Florida Greyhound Association‘s (FGA) legal team.

The addition of Harding, a high court appointee of the late Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, was announced Wednesday by association general counsel Jeff Kottkamp. Harding served on the Florida Supreme Court 1991-2002; Kottkamp was Florida’s lieutenant governor from 2007-11 under Gov. Charlie Crist.

The association, which represents owners and breeders, is now fighting against Amendment 13, a proposed state constitutional change put on the November ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC).

The measure aims at ending dog racing in the state. It needs at least 60 percent approval to be added to the constitution. In Florida, live dog racing is still conducted at 12 tracks.

A lawsuit against the amendment was filed in Leon County Circuit Civil court and was assigned to Judge Terry Lewis.

“The suit requests that the court strike Amendment 13 from the general election ballot,” Harding said in a statement. “The basis for our challenge is that the ballot title and summary do not fairly inform the voters of what they are being asked to vote on … In order to maintain the integrity of both the election process and our Constitution, we believe the amendment should be struck.”

Among other claims, the suit says the ballot title and summary “… fail to inform voters that its passage would essentially expand gambling by allowing pari-mutuel facilities in Florida to convert to mini-casinos.” The amendment would allow other gambling activities such as card games to continue at tracks after dog racing ends.

Kottkamp and Paul Hawkes, a former appellate judge and now also on the FGA legal team, have previously opined against the measure, saying the CRC “was never intended to be a ‘super-Legislature’ or a vehicle to propose putting issues in the constitution that ‘can’t get through the Legislature.’

“And, it was certainly never intended they would place proposals on the ballot merely because they were thought to be a ‘good idea,’ ” they said.

Advocates of the racing ban, supported by Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi and GOP state Sen. Tom Lee, have launched a “Protect Dogs – Yes on 13” campaign, while opponents formed The Committee to Support Greyhounds to inveigh against the amendment.

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Postscript: Since retiring from the Supreme Court, Harding has been a shareholder at Tallahassee’s Ausley McMullen law firm, specializing in alternative dispute resolution and appellate law.

Earlier this year, Harding registered to lobby for Keep Our Constitution Clean, Inc., a nonprofit corporation, based in Fort Lauderdale. It was formed Jan. 24, state records show, by three principals: Jason BlankRichard Corey and Jason Haber.

Blank and Haber are partners in the Haber Blank law firm of Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Corey has his own law firm, also in Fort Lauderdale. They have declined to answer questions about the organization. Critics have privately mused whether it was formed by dog-racing interests.

The nonprofit’s stated aim, however, is to “promote a responsible amendment process,” referring to the CRC.

In February, Ausley McMullen lobbyist Stephen Craig Emmanuel told Florida Politics his clients’ main goal is to ensure the state constitution is “not cluttered by things that should be in state statute.”

Dark-money committee attacking Ron DeSantis on Orlando TV

A dark-money committee that has been attacking Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis for months with radio and cable commercials is now going after him on broadcast TV, with a $200,000 buy on Orlando broadcast TV stations.

The National Liberty Federation, a 501(4) organization based in Palm Beach Gardens, began running commercials on broadcast TV Tuesday in Orlando and reportedly in other markets, charging that the Republican U.S. Rep. DeSantis has missed numerous important votes in Congress involving immigrants, but voted for an amnesty bill.

DeSantis’ campaign responded Wednesday that the claims in the spot are ‘lies” and counter charging that DeSantis’ opponent in the August 28 Republican gubernatorial primary, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, is the one supporting amnesty for undocumented immigrants.

The National Liberty Federation’s sources of money, are unreported, though Politico and the Tampa Bay Times both have reported it has close ties to Florida’s sugar industry, which is unhappy with DeSantis’s congressional votes on sugar subsidies.

Federal Communication Commission records show that the group has purchased $239,000 worth of time, through Sunday, on Orlando’s top three television stations.

“This is another lie from the same special interest group who’s been lying about Ron DeSantis for months,” DeSantis’ spokesman David Vasquez stated in a written response. “The record on immigration is clear and simple, Adam Putnam has stood against E-verify and he supported amnesty for illegal immigrants to help his special interest friends. Ron DeSantis has never supported amnesty and Florida voters aren’t falling for these fake news attack ads.”

New Rick Scott ad compares Bill Nelson to Ford Pinto

The Ford Pinto, a tragicomic compact car that came out of Detroit in the 1970s, was known for a design flaw: its rear-mounted gas tank made the car prone to explosion when rear-ended.

Despite these issues, the car was still the most popular American compact even in 1978.

A new ad from the Senate campaign of Gov. Rick Scott invokes the dread image of the Pinto, noting that forty years ago, as the car still filled lots from coast to coast, current Sen. Bill Nelson was just entering Congress.

Forty years later, the ad posits, most Pintos are rusting away in junkyards … but Nelson is still in D.C., a member of the Senate.

The juxtaposition of the bygone commuter car and the long-serving U.S. Senator is at the heart of Scott’s latest ad, “Pinto,” which uses a horn-driven, funkafied backing track to drive home a message.

“Forty years later, a lot of things changed, but Bill Nelson is still in Washington, still collecting a paycheck,” the narrator intones.

“And besides reading speeches, what has Nelson done all those years? 349 times, he’s voted for higher taxes. Isn’t a half century in Washington enough?”

The ad will air statewide, with $2.7 million behind the buy.

Scott has already spent $17 million on anti-Nelson ads this cycle.

New Florida Majority endorses Andrew Gillum in governor’s race

The New Florida Majority, the progressive organization focused on racial justice that co-sponsored Monday’s Democratic gubernatorial candidates debate, has endorsed Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum for governor.

The 501[c][4] organization‘s board unanimously ratified a committee decision to endorse Gillum Tuesday, a few hours after he, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and Winter Park entrepreneur Chris King took part in the Florida Freedom Forum Gubernatorial Debate at the Miramar Cultural Center Monday night.

“We looked at the candidates, their answers to our survey and their performance at tonight’s debate and determined that Andrew Gillum is the leader Florida needs to guide the state towards a more equitable future,” NewFM Executive Director Andrea Mercado stated in a news release. “His performance today and his campaign so far has proven that he is willing to be bold and unapologetic in standing up for our communities.”

Gillum was the clear favorite among the Spanish and English speaking New Florida Majority endorsement committee who assembled Monday night, according to the organization’s press release.

Judge: Nursing home to pay ‘reasonable fee’ for records

The state can’t charge the Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills anywhere close to $30,000 to produce the records of deaths occurring statewide during and immediately following Hurricane Irma, a judge said Tuesday.

The Department of Health wanted the Broward County nursing home, where 12 people died because of sweltering conditions when the power failed, to pay $5 each for paper records of the nearly 6,000 deaths that occurred across the state at the same time.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis in Tallahassee told an attorney representing the state to produce electronic copies instead, and to charge only reasonable costs of preserving the records on a computer disk or flash drive.

“They don’t even want paper copies,” Lewis told assistant general counsel Michael Williams.

Williams argued that state law required extensive redactions of the records to shield the causes of death. However, Timothy Elliott, of Smith & Associates’ Tallahassee office, representing the nursing home, said officials routinely produce such redacted records at minimal cost.

In light of that, the state’s demand is “inherently unreasonable,” Elliott said. “There has to be a reasonable fee.”

Lewis agreed: “That would make it silly to me, and illogical, to require your department to spend all that time, and have them pay all that money, to redact something that’s not necessary and that the public can get otherwise,” he said.

“If all they want is take that information and put it on a disc, that shouldn’t take that much,” Lewis added.

Lewis also ruled that the nursing home is entitled to recover its costs in litigating its records demand against the state. He told the parties to confer on language summing up his ruling from the bench and return it for review.

The state went after the home’s license following the tragedy, but staff responded that they’d tried phoning Gov. Rick Scott and received no answer. Meanwhile, the Legislature passed a law requiring homes to acquire electric generators, but many remain out of compliance.

Lewis ordered the agency to turn over the records in April, provoking the fresh litigation over its fee demand. Earlier court documents had placed the amount at around $6,000, but the larger figure emerged during Tuesday’s hearing.

The nursing home hopes to establish that its staff acted reasonably in declining to evacuate its residents. The law firm’s Geoffrey Smith said research suggests evacuating frail elderly ahead of a natural disaster can cause more deaths than sheltering in place.

“It’s important to place the whole thing in some perspective,” Smith said. “When we get away from the sensationalism, most people would see it was pretty reasonable to do what they did.”

Jimmy Patronis expands cash lead in CFO race

The campaign cash keeps rolling in for CFO Jimmy Patronis.

The Panama City Republican brought in $463,251 last month, including $217,601 for his campaign account and $245,650 for political committee Treasure Florida. That haul boosts his overall tally to $3.6 million with $3.17 million in the bank at the beginning of June.

Topping the committee report was a pair of $25,000 checks, one from a political committee tied to Coral Gables billionaire Mike Fernandez and another from South Florida recovery center Deerfield Florida House. Utility company TECO Energy, law firm Lydecker LLP, medical marijuana dispensary Surterra and a political committee linked to the Florida Chamber of Commerce followed at the $15,000 level.

The campaign report listed 270 contributions, including 35 for the maximum allowable contribution of $3,000. Notable names among the max donor crowd were lobby firms The Rubin Group and The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners as well as half-dozen checks linked to U.S. Sugar and its subsidiaries.

Patronis was appointed to the CFO job by Gov. Rick Scott last summer. He faces light opposition from Antoanet Iotova in the Republican primary, while former Democratic Sen. Jeremy Ring is likely to face him on the November ballot.

Ring’s finance reports combined to $59,603 last month with $35,000 of that sum raised via his political committee, Florida Action Fund, and the balance heading to the campaign account.

The former Yahoo! executive’s most prominent contribution in May was a $15,000 check from the Greater Florida Leadership Group, one of three committees chaired by Tallahassee lobbyist David Ramba to donate to Ring’s committee last month. Also on the committee report was a $10,000 check from Florida Alliance for Better Government, a committee chaired by lobbyist and Democratic consultant Screven Watson.

The campaign haul included a trio of $3,000 checks political committees tied to the Florida Police Benevolent Association. The PBA endorsed Ring for CFO last month.

Ring has raised about $1.1 million for his campaign, including $150,000 in loans. He started June with $458,674 on hand.

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