Influence Archives - Page 2 of 240 - Florida Politics
neighborhood

Ken Reecy named interim head of Florida Housing

Ken Reecy has been named Interim Executive Director of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation (FHFC), according to a press release.

Cissy Proctor, Executive Director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, announced the move on Friday. Reecy currently serves as the agency’s Multifamily Program Director.

“Ken has extensive experience and is committed to helping Florida families secure safe, affordable housing in communities all across our state,” Proctor said in a statement. “He has a strong understanding of the unique programs used to meet different needs for affordable housing in Florida and is a respected leader at the agency.”

The release added, “A national search for a permanent Executive Director is underway.”

Steve Auger, the previous executive director, resigned after a scathing audit of the organization, the steward of state and federal affordable housing money, disclosed lavish spending on events for lenders and board members.

Auger oversaw expenses for “a $52,000 dinner (for lenders) that featured filet mignon, broiled lobster tails and a bar stocked with deluxe brand liquors,” the audit revealed. 

The agency also put on a board reception, spending “$300 for a bartender, $425 for a pork carving station and $420 for a Spanish charcuterie station.” It also awarded nearly $443,000 in bonuses to its employees.

Last year, federal prosecutors OK’d a criminal plea deal to an alleged $36 million housing fraud that involved the FHFC.

Prosecutors had alleged 70-year-old developer Lloyd Boggio of Carlisle Development Group and others defrauded the government out of millions that went through the FHFC.

They did so by padding South Florida affordable-housing projects to get federal tax credits and grants, then keeping the excess, according to case documents.

The audit also noted the agency “did not require sufficient documentation from underwriting agencies to support their denial of mortgage assistance to some applicants” and “did not take adequate steps to ensure that electronic fund transfers were going to authorized recipients.”

Chuck O’Neal to try again at black bear protection bill with Linda Stewart

Black bear activist and former Senate candidate Chuck O’Neal of Orange County is trying again with the black bear protection bill he coordinated on last year with Darren Soto – though this year he’s working with newly-elected Senator Linda Stewart, as Soto has moved on to higher planes of governance.

The bill, which was only in draft form on Friday, would enact a number of provisions to protect the state’s black bears.

Among those provisions are creating a bear-resistant garbage container account within the Nongame Wildlife Trust Fund, requiring the commission to establish rules for how local governments can purchase those cans, banning the harvest of palmetto berries, which are some of the black bear’s main food sources, adjusting the burn schedules for state parks containing black bears, prohibiting the sale of timber rights to certain trees in forests and parks where black bears live, and establishing a code designating black bear habitats and areas of human-bear conflict.

By adjusting the burn schedules, O’Neal said they could reduce and avoid incidents where bear cubs are burnt alive during controlled burns in the wintertime.

The palmetto berry issue comes from an unusual phenomenon in which palmetto berries are harvested in bulk and sold – especially overseas, Stewart said.

“There’s a market for them overseas,” she said. “Supposedly they’re like an aphrodisiac or something.”

Without the berries available in their natural habitat, Stewart said bears are more likely to come into human garbage cans to scrounge for food.

“They can be destructive,” she said. “They can tear down the screens, hit peoples’ swimming pools… if I walked outside to a bear in my pool I wouldn’t be too thrilled either.”

But the much-talked-about hunt in 2015, she said, was a disaster that she didn’t want to see happen again.

“They were killing mother bears that had cubs,” she said. “Killing bears in parts of the state where problem didn’t exist for them to be going into neighborhoods. It was not very well thought out, nor was it very well monitored.”

The overall effect the bill would have is protecting the black bear from unnecessary killing by lessening interaction with humans.

“If we continue to evict black bears from the forests by creating commercial timber projects out of their habitat, we should not be surprised to see them in our back yards seeking food and shelter,” O’Neal wrote to FloridaPolitics.com.

Stewart said the bill is currently seeking a co-sponsor in the House.

Insurance office finds workers’ compensation market stable, competitive

Despite broad consternation over rising workers’ compensation insurance rates, Florida’s market is relatively stable and competitive, according to an analysis released Friday by the Office of Insurance Regulation.

The market “is served by a large number of independent insurers and none of the insurers have sufficient market share to exercise any meaningful control over the price of workers’ compensation insurance,” the report says.

Entrants to and withdrawals from the market produce “no market disruptions,” the report continues, signalling “that the Florida workers’ compensation market is well-capitalized and competitive.”

Furthermore, there have been no bankruptcies by insurers requiring the Florida Workers’ Compensation Insurance Guaranty Association to absorb policies.

“There are some good things about the workers’ compensation system — which is that the market is stable and very diverse, and that’s a good thing for the small business insurance consumer,” said Bill Herrle, Florida director for the National Federation of Independent Business.

The Florida Supreme Court threw the market into a tizzy last year by striking down elements of reforms passed in 2003 to drive down costs. They included a cap on attorney fees and limits on temporary disability payments.

The attorney fee ruling accounts for around 10 percent of the 14.5 percent premium hike approved the insurance office last year, according to ratings agency the National Council on Compensation Insurance.

The legality of that increase is before the 1st District Court of Appeal.

The report says the attorney fee provisions “were a significant factor in the decline of workers’ compensation rates and continues to impact them. It is also the case, however, that most of the improvements resulting from legislative changes may have been realized, as there were four rate increases from 2010 to 2014 after seven years of decreases following the 2003 reforms.”

The report points to additional price pressures, including the cost of drugs and of treatment in hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers, which are running ahead of the national averages.

The recent rate increase, which began to take effect last month and will roll out as employers buy new or renewed policies this year, has sparked calls for renewed reforms. Insurers and business groups have focused on controlling attorney fees, but the Legislature also may look at additional cost drivers.

Herrle, who serves on an Associated Industries of Florida task force on workers’ compensation reform, argued attorney fees are the chief enemy.

”We don’t need to be making changes to the rating process,” he said. “That dynamic is good. The dynamic that is not good is the (Supreme) Court cases.”

The report notes that, before the 2003 reforms, Florida tended to rank either No. 1 or No. 2 among the states in terms of high rates, according to data collected by the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services. It had dropped to No. 40 by 2010.

Even before last year’s rate hike, the state had climbed to No. 33.

Even so, Florida’s rates ranked below the national median.

House bill would mandate career development for police, fire departments

A bill filed Friday in the Florida House would mandate police, correctional, and fire departments to have career development paths for employees.

House Bill 247, filed by first-term Palatka Republican Bobby Payne, would require that agencies offer these career development plans, but would also have those plans be “voluntary” for public safety employees.

The bill would also mandate pay raises for employees who hit achievement goals, though those goals are the choice of local agencies via a collectively bargained process.

Postsecondary education, advanced training, and other professional development tasks would be examples of those achievement goals.

THC DUI blood test bill filed in Florida House

A bill filed Thursday in the Florida House proposes to impose DUI penalties for drivers or boaters with a certain amount of THC in their blood samples.

The timing of the measure from West Palm Beach Democrat David Silvers is interesting, coming as the state expands its medical marijuana program.

House Bill 237 — the “Driving Under the Influence of Drugs Act” — proposes a threshold of 5 nanograms or more of THC per milliliter of blood to constitute DUI.

There has been scientific pushback against such blood testing for THC, a fat-soluble compound that is absorbed differently than alcohol, being a reliable measure of impairment.

The law, if passed, would go into effect in October.

It is the second interesting piece of drug-related legislation from a South Florida Democrat this session, following up on Rep. Kristin Jacobs‘ proposed kratom ban.

New video from Richard Corcoran boasts ‘We are One House’

A new video produced by the Florida House seeks to remind citizens of the Sunshine State that lawmakers, who will soon convene for the 2017 Legislative Session in March, are united in service to all Floridians.

In the clip from Speaker Richard Corcoran’s First Principles Production, group of Florida House members show that — despite political differences — “We are One House.”

The 90-second video — which begins with the passing of the gavel between former Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Corcoran — features a stream of House members such as Republican Reps. Jose Diaz (HD 116), Alexandra Miller (HD 72), Michael Grant (HD 75), Dane Eagle (HD 77) and Democrats Sean Shaw (HD 61) and Matt Willhite (HD 86) among others.

Each lawmaker talks about how the are representing all Floridians, first responders, seniors, veterans and those in need.

“I am so thankful to our colleagues who participated in our ‘One House’ project,” Corcoran said in a statement.  “With this video, we aimed to show the public, the press, and each other, that we share many broad goals and in the end, we are no different, and no more important than any of the people we collectively represent.

“Because, as the video says, ‘all of them, are all of us,’” he added.

Corcoran encourages everyone to watch, share, and participate in the next video, as well as “always remain honored — even when we disagree — to serve together.”

 The video is available on YouTube.

Campaign against guns on campus adds lobbyist

The Campaign to Keep Guns off Campus has added Jacob Elpern, the former chief of its Florida State University chapter, to its lobbying team in Tallahassee.

Elpern, who graduated this year, joins the organization’s staff full time, state affairs director Kathryn Grant said.

His registration took effect on Dec. 14. Grant also lobbies for the group, which belongs to the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence.

Targets this year, Grant said, include SB 140, which would allow people to openly carry guns on college campuses, local government meetings, the Legislature, airport passenger terminals outside security screening areas, and elsewhere.

HB 6005, meanwhile, would allow concealed weapons on campus but not in the other places envisioned in the Senate bill.

Bill Galvano files 112-page gambling bill for 2017

This year’s first big gambling bill has something for everyone: Lottery ticket sales at gas pumps, fantasy sports, more slot machines, and a provision to finally OK the long-delayed gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

As he promised, state Sen. Bill Galvano filed this year’s bill (SB 8) on Thursday afternoon, coming in at 112 pages – with a 16-page summary separately provided.

One notable highlight: It would expand blackjack from just the state’s Seminole casinos to South Florida’s pari-mutuels, including Pompano Park.

Coincidentally, the legislation came the same day that Atlantic City’s casinos posted “their first revenue increase in a decade,” according to The Associated Press, helped largely by internet gambling. New Jersey casinos “won $2.6 billion from gamblers in 2016, an increase of 1.5 percent from a year earlier.”

No Casinos, the state’s anti-gambling expansion organization, tweeted its opposition Thursday night.

“This bill massively expands gambling throughout Florida by legalizing new forms of gambling at tribal facilities, and legalizing slot machines outside Miami-Dade and Broward counties, allowing for two new casinos in South Florida and expanding blackjack,” the group said. “…We will vigorously oppose this bill and urge legislators to stop Florida from becoming the next Atlantic City.”

Galvano, a Bradenton Republican expected to be Senate President in 2018-20, called his bill “an important step in the development of a comprehensive, statewide approach to reforming current gaming laws.”

“This legislation in large part builds upon Senate work that has taken place over the last several years,” he said in a statement.

“My goal has been to address all aspects of gaming in a comprehensive manner that balances the interests of an industry that has contributed to Florida’s economy for nearly a hundred years, our ongoing revenue-sharing agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and the authority of local voters, while maximizing revenues to the state.”

To avoid complaints that the measure represents an expansion of gambling, Galvano – an attorney – included provisions to pare down the number of state gambling licenses, for instance.

The changes to gambling law “represent a myriad of ideas advocated by various Senators and address industry concerns regarding antiquated and ambiguous provisions of current law,” he added. “The bill balances the will of the voters who have authorized additional games and locations with a retraction of gaming permits across the state.”

State Rep. Mike La Rosa, the St. Cloud Republican who chairs the House Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee, earlier Thursday had told reporters he hadn’t seen Galvano’s bill.

But he hoped “it would be the best deal for the citizens of the state of Florida, and we’ll see what happens,” La Rosa said.

In an email, spokesman Gary Bitner said “the Seminole Tribe prefers to carefully review the bill before commenting.” Expanded gambling is a condition for the tribe to stop sharing revenue from its casinos.

Galvano admitted “further negotiations to reach a new agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida are necessary … While this legislation represents an important step, there is still a great deal of work to be done.”

A great deal of work is already in the bill, however. In order, the bill would:

Allow lottery tickets at “point-of sale” terminals – This could include customers could buying lottery tickets at the gas pump, an idea proposed before.

Critics had worried about minors, lower-income Floridians and compulsive gamblers having easier access to tickets. Galvano’s measure restricts sales to minors and wouldn’t allow games to use “slot machine or casino game themes.”

Approve a new Seminole Compact – Gov. Rick Scott and tribal representatives agreed on a new deal for continued rights to blackjack in exchange for $3 billion over seven years. But that agreement couldn’t get to either floor for a vote last Legislative Session.

This year’s bill would ratify the new agreement – with conditions. The tribe must agree that all ongoing legal actions over the agreement will be dropped, and accept “revised exceptions from exclusivity” on slot machines and certain card games now being offered at pari-mutuel facilities with card rooms.

But the tribe would get craps, roulette, and could offer blackjack at all its casinos in the state.

Make clear that fantasy sports play is legal in Florida – The bill would “find that fantasy contests … involve the skill of contest participants,” and thus aren’t games of chance, i.e. gambling.

It sets up an “Office of Amusements” to regulate fantasy contests in the state, similar to Senate President Joe Negron‘s measure last year.

That means sites like DraftKings and FanDuel, now seeking federal approval of a merger, would have to have a state license and contract for independent audits.

Provide for ‘decoupling’ at horse and dog tracks – Under the bill, the state would no longer require dog and horse tracks to run live races if they wish to offer other gambling, such as slots or cards. The move is known as decoupling.

Pari-mutuels say they want decoupling because the audience for dog and horse races – and thus the money bet on them – continues to decline. But horse and dog interests say it will kill their industry.

The bill “would change Brand Florida to Brand Mississippi, would cost over 3,000 Florida families their small businesses and put over 8,000 beautiful greyhounds at risk,” said Jack Cory, spokesman for the Florida Greyhound Association.

Establish a pari-mutuel permit reduction program – It would authorize the state to buy back “and cancel active pari-mutuel permits.” The money would come out of the revenue share payments from the Seminoles, up to $20 million.

A pre-condition of a sale could be something “most likely to reduce gaming in Florida.”

Expand the availability of slot machines – The legislation amends the definition of “eligible facility” so that “any licensed pari-mutuel facility” could get slots.

But the tracks must be in a county where voters OK’d slots by referendum, such as Brevard, Duval and Palm Beach, and have “conducted a full schedule of live racing for two consecutive years.”

The bill could also allow for one extra slot machine license each in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Expands blackjack beyond Seminole casinos – It OKs blackjack in South Florida pari-mutuels, but at no more than 25 tables per facility.

Wagers may not exceed $100 for each initial two card wager,” the summary says. “Each pari-mutuel permitholder offering banked blackjack must pay a tax to the state of 25 percent of the blackjack operator’s monthly gross receipts.”

Among other provisions, the legislation reduces the state slot machine tax from 35 percent to 25 percent, would allow slots and cards to be played 24 hours a day, and let “all cardroom operators … offer designated player games.”

In banked card games, players bet against the “house,” or the casino, and not each other. In traditional poker, people play against each other for a pot of money. Designated-player games are a hybrid, where the bank is supposed to revolve among the players.

Jack Latvala to House: The Senate makes its own rules

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala sent a message Thursday to the House leadership: Don’t expect to force the Senate to abide by your strict new budget rules.

“We have our own rules in the Senate. We are going to abide by our own rules,” Latvala told reporters following a committee meeting.

“I think it would be unfortunate if we got to a position where, because the House is trying to force their rules on the whole process, that we get into some kind of government shutdown or something like that,” he said.

“The way to avoid that is to have conversation and negotiation early on in the process. Next month, you’ll see us take some steps to try to bring that about.”

Under rules approved when Richard Corcoran assumed the speakership, members must file a specific bill describing each project they hope to insert into the state budget. The idea is to get away from secretive logrolling late during sessions.

Corcoran has suggested that senators seeking projects find a House co-sponsor, to remain within the spirit of the House’s drive for transparency.

Latvala, a Republican from Clearwater, wasn’t having it.

“We are going to have our own process, just like we have from time immemorial. We are going do things differently than the House does,” he said.

“Each subcommittee is going to have one or more hearings where we’re going to thoroughly vet those projects that people have put forward. Each of our conference meetings that we host this year, we are going to make sure there’s time for public participation. Some of these things haven’t been done in the past. There’s different ways of getting transparency.”

As for whether senators should file project bills, Latvala allowed that might be a good idea.

“I’m encouraging people to file these bills. It kind of helps catalog what’s in the system. I have no objection to it,” he said.

“It’s important to have a consistent set of rules that both sides adhere to and agree to,” he said.

“But you can’t have a set of rules in the House and a set of rules in the Senate and they’re different. That’s never happened before. There’s a lot of case law that says this is a bicameral legislature, and that one house in this legislature can’t encumber or make decisions for the other house.”

He added: “It’ll all work out.”

As for the House’s tightened disclosure requirements for lobbyists, Latvala said:

“All that’s done is create some more bookkeeping for the lobbying firms. It’s helping Tallahassee employment, because some of the lobbying firms have told me they’re having to add people to fill out the paperwork. So much for government staying out of business.”

Meanwhile, Latvala welcomed news from the Division of Bond Finance that Florida’s debt load has declined by $4 billion during the past six years.

It means “we’ve got some room to do some bonding for projects like Sen. (Joe) Negron’s Everglades project,” Latvala said.

State lawmaker gets national attention for comparing Kratom lobby to Adolf Hitler

For the third straight year, Rep. Kristin Jacobs filed a bill in the Florida House to ban Kratom.

However, this time is different for Jacobs, who submitted her proposal earlier this month.

Not only is she carrying a bill that already failed twice, but Jacobs also decided to sell the bill by calling the Kratom lobby “just like Hitler.”

****

Reaction came from Kratom advocates very quickly, contending that — as we wrote — “Godwin’s law makes bad law.”

Kratom supporters in Florida (and well beyond) bristled at the comparison to the author of one of history’s most horrific genocides, simply for advocating for their own natural right to benefit from the analgesic properties of a plant.

We saw the reaction, via dozens and dozens of comments on our site.

No comments were advocating a ban on the constituent parts of Kratom.

There were comments from veterans; those suffering chronic pain; others who had shaken off the legitimately life-threatening effects of opioids, ranging from Big Pharma to street heroin.

The consistent message: Kratom is a lifesaver.

Jacobs, who equated Kratom to heroin in our interview, also maligned those who have traveled to Tallahassee to testify in the House. She mocked them for being “addicts with glassy eyes and shaky hands.”

Those so-called “addicts” will have some new ammunition for committee hearings, as Jacobs’ comparison of Kratom advocates to Hitler has received some national exposure this week.

****

In the Huffington Post, Nick Wing follows up on our pieces on Jacobs’ “meltdown” earlier in the week.

“The drug warrior mindset is alive and well in the Florida state legislature,” Wing observes.

Wing was unsuccessful in getting a comment for his post from Jacobs, an indication that the lawmaker may be trying to distance herself from her unguarded polemic days back.

Meanwhile, just as a Florida-based advocate for Kratom’s medicinal benefits took umbrage at Jacobs, national Kratom advocates have gotten into the act, as quoted by the Huffington Post.

Susan Ash, the founder of the American Kratom Association, told the website that she had “never been more offended by a comment made about our efforts.”

Kratom advocates have reached out to Jacobs, Ash adds, but have been rebuffed.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons