Influence – Page 5 – Florida Politics

Committee to oppose greyhound-racing ban announces formation

Above: Greyhounds race at a Naples/Fort Myers track. Photo courtesy Van Abernathy.

The Committee to Support Greyhounds has been formed for the “purpose of promoting greyhound welfare, racing, and adoption, as well as educating the public regarding the life of racing greyhounds,” the group announced in a Monday release.

“The members of this committee are a group of passionate supporters of the greyhound breed, spearheading a grassroots campaign to boldly go into the heart of greyhound racing in Florida, sharing real life events of happy, healthy, loving greyhounds in ALL stages of life – from young puppies to life at the track to retirement,” it said.

The committee’s announcement comes the same day that advocates for a ballot initiative to put an end to greyhound racing launched their “Protect Dogs – Yes on 13” campaign.

Amendment 13, placed on the ballot by the 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission, would outlaw the racing of dogs and wagering on such races. Amendments need at least 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution.

The proposal also would allow other gambling at tracks, such as card games, to continue even after dog racing ends. In Florida, live dog racing is still conducted at 12 tracks.

“The ex-racing greyhounds you may meet personally or see from a distance did not just ‘happen’; their demeanor and their willingness to adapt to different situations come first from careful breeding over generations, then from being raised with attention and love, and most of all, from being allowed to do what they love to do: Run, chase, and race,” said Committee to Support Greyhounds chairman Jennifer Newcome in a statement.

“If you take any one of those out of the equation, the greyhound you will see in the future will be a very poor imitation of the amazing, athletic, adaptable and loving animals you see now,” she added.

“Greyhound racing has been a proud Florida tradition for decades, as well as an integral part of the Florida economy, creating thousands of jobs, contributing to the tax base and supporting local charities,” Newcome said. “This grassroots committee will work to educate and inspire voters to vote FOR Greyhounds by voting NO on Amendment 13.”

The committee’s website is here.


Updated 3 p.m. — The “Protect Dogs – Yes on 13” campaign issued a statement in response to this post:

“This afternoon, greyhound breeders filed a political committee cynically called the Committee to Support Greyhounds. This is an obvious attempt to confuse voters, and proof that they don’t have a real message.

“It’s worth noting that the chair of this deceptively-named committee lives in Texas, while the Treasurer lives in North Carolina. We will not be distracted by this out-of-state group.

“While greyhou​​n​​d breeders try to sow confusion, we will continue informing our neighbors about greyhound confinement and racetrack deaths. We are confident that once voters have the facts, they will vote Yes on 13.”

Appeal could prove pivotal to auto-glass litigation in Florida

The outcomes of 18 lawsuits — and potentially many more — rest on State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.’s appeal of a court order to reveal how it decides on a fair price to replace a shattered auto windscreen.

State Farm v. Shazam Auto Glass may be the first test of whether the insurer’s “system pricing” mechanism qualifies as a protected trade secret.

At least, it’s the first that plaintiff’s attorney Rob Haynes, of Christopher Ligori & Associates in Tampa, knows of.

But, in a state where auto glass claims have risen markedly during the past decade, the dispute could prove an important test case.

“We have close to 900 total auto glass cases, and similar firms are doing the same volume,” Haynes said in a telephone interview. “Not all of those are State Farm. But, absolutely, it’s going to come up in the future. That’s why we’re pushing so hard to try to get a positive result in this one. Because if we can get it here, we’ll be able to use it in all the others.”

Hillsborough County Judge Herbert Berkowitz, after reviewing State Farm’s information, ordered it turned over. State Farm appealed. Those 18 cases are set for trial in July, Haynes said — presuming the appeal is resolved by then.

Shazam, armed with an assignment of benefits agreement, is standing in for a State Farm customer in the litigation.

Under the pricing mechanism, the insurer solicits competitive bids, but only from shops within its preferred vendor network, which tend to offer “extremely low” bids, Haynes said.

“But they’ll never pay lower than their system price,” he said. “They won’t let us know how they came up with that pricing — was it generated through software? Was it a separate bid?”

If State Farm wants to argue its system pricing is fair, the company needs to explain the system, Haynes argued. State Farm, by contrast, argues the information is a protected trade secret — and that disclosure would “cause irreparable harm by effectively compelling production of ‘cat out of the bag’ materials.”

Shazam bases its prices on the National Auto Glass Specification standards. Other insurers apply separate industry or internal standards. “They each tend to have their own ways of dealing with glass claims,” Haynes said.

He wasn’t aware of any other insurance companies confronting similar challenges.

“Normally, these cases were resolved via settlements — we were able to work them out,” he said. “Since State Farm insisted on going to trial, we had to take the next step and do our best to protect our clients.”

Not to say that State Farm is more aggressive than its competitors in litigation, he added — just that any trade secrets they asserted were not dispositive.

Polarizing ‘report card’ grades given to legislators on education

Sometimes, grades depend on who makes up the exam.

This week, the Florida Education Association gave higher marks to Democrats than Republicans in the GOP-dominated state Legislature. The report card was based on priorities of the teachers’ union ranging from committee and floor votes during the 2017 and 2018 sessions to “behind-the-scenes” efforts on those priorities and access between union leaders and lawmakers.

In the union’s grades, seven Senate Democrats and 12 House Democrats got “A+” marks, while “F” grades were assigned to 16 Senate Republicans and almost every Republican in the House.

Among the more-notable grades was a “C” given to Sen. Daphne Campbell, a Miami Democrat, and a “C+” received by Democratic Sen. Bill Montford, of Tallahassee.

Montford, the chief executive officer of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, joined 19 Republicans this year in supporting a controversial measure that expanded publicly funded programs to send students to private schools (HB 7055).

Campbell didn’t vote on the bill, which got through the Senate in a 20-17 vote.

Not surprisingly, Montford was the only Senate Democrat to land on the honor roll in grades released in late April by the Foundation for Florida’s Future.

The foundation, created by former GOP Gov. Jeb Bush, was more supportive of Republicans — seven senators and 16 House members got “A+” grades. Bush and the foundation have been key supporters of issues such as school choice.

Unlike the union, the foundation’s lower grades went to Democrats. In the Senate, the lowest mark was a “D,” given to three members — Democrats José Javier Rodriguez of Miami, Annette Taddeo of Miami and Victor Torres of Orlando.

In the House, 13 Democrats received “F” grades.

Each year, numerous interest groups come out with usually-predictable report cards for state and national lawmakers.

Retiring Florida Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney offered an interesting point in an interview posted Thursday with Sarasota Magazine titled, “Rep. Tom Rooney’s Escape from Washington.

Rooney noted several issues influenced his plan to leave office after five terms. One was the shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise of Louisiana during a practice for the annual congressional baseball game. Rooney has been the first baseman for the Republican team.

Another issue was scoring of lawmakers by think tanks and political groups.

“I’ve heard from people in my district, ‘Why can’t you be more like Congressman X who has a 100 percent rating from the Heritage Action for America?’” Rooney is quoted in the article. “It leaves me dumbfounded because I’ve never heard Congressman X make a single argument on the House floor or propose a single piece of legislation. For these think tanks, it means not just going against (House Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi, it means you’ve got to stick it to (Speaker) Paul Ryan.”

Many nursing homes, ALFs don’t meet power requirements

Months after Gov. Rick Scott promised a hard line against nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, much of the industry is not in compliance with new rules as the state heads into the 2018 hurricane season.

Scott pushed to require that nursing homes and assisted living facilities have backup power systems to make sure that residents can remain cool for 96 hours in case buildings lose electricity.

The Agency for Health Care Administration this week released data showing that nearly 66 percent of nursing homes in the state have complied with the new rules but that only 18 percent of assisted living facilities have done so.

Mallory McManus, a spokeswoman for AHCA, said the state expects full compliance with the rules, which required special approval from the Legislature because of the steep costs for businesses. The state will cite facilities that aren’t in compliance, which could lead to fines, she said.

“AHCA will stop at nothing to ensure assisted living facilities and nursing homes are following this important rule,” AHCA Secretary Justin Senior said in a statement. “We will hold all facilities accountable.”

But compliance doesn’t necessarily mean that facilities have equipment, such as generators, and fuel in place to meet the requirements, which call for being able to keep buildings at 81 degrees Fahrenheit for 96 hours. That’s because nursing homes and assisted living facilities that requested six-month extensions to meet the mandates also are considered compliant, McManus said.

A review of the data shows that 102 nursing homes can meet the requirements and that 348 facilities have asked the state for more time. There are 686 nursing homes in Florida.

The data is as of May 25, a week before the requirements took effect Friday with the start of hurricane season.

Florida Health Care Association spokeswoman Kristen Knapp said nursing homes that requested extensions could face challenges at the local level such as delays in zoning approvals.

“I don’t believe it’s fair to say that if a facility submitted a request for an extension it doesn’t mean they won’t be ready,” she said in an email.

Likewise, 205 assisted living facilities have proper equipment to meet the mandates. Another 344 are deemed in compliance because they have approved extensions or have submitted extensions. Six requests for extensions have been denied.

Unlike nursing homes that will be able to offset the costs of equipment with Medicaid funding, there is no assistance for the 3,102 assisted living facilities in the state.

Skip Gregory, who served as Florida’s chief of health care facility plans and construction for 17 years, said the industry is moving to comply with the new rules but that it takes time.

“It’s not as simple as snapping your fingers and saying. ‘Let there be air conditioning at all nursing home and ALFs,’ ” he said.

But Gregory said there still are “gray areas” regarding the rules and rattled off a number of issues such as long-term storage of diesel fuel and the use of natural gas for generators.

He also warned that allowing assisted living facilities to use gasoline generators to meet the requirements is a mistake.

He predicted that it would take 100 gallons of fuel to keep the generators powered for 96 hours and said owners of small ALFs would stockpile five-gallon gas tanks.

“I just don’t think that’s a good idea,” Gregory said. “That’s like a bomb waiting to go off.”

The rules are not what Scott initially sought in 2017 after the deaths of residents at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in Broward County following Hurricane Irma. The hurricane knocked out the nursing home’s air-conditioning system, leaving residents in sweltering conditions for three days. Authorities have attributed 12 deaths to the problems at the nursing home.

The Scott administration initially issued emergency rules that required facilities to have generators installed. But the emergency rules sparked successful legal challenges from some industry groups concerned about the potential costs. The state appealed the decision and continued to enforce the rules but also worked with Republican legislative leaders on codifying a pair of permanent rules.

The new rules don’t require that the equipment be installed, which indicates it could be portable, and don’t mandate a generator be used to keep air temperatures cool. They instead suggest generators but allow for each provider to determine the most appropriate equipment to meet their facility needs.

Moreover, the new rules require facilities to be able to cool off a set amount of square feet based on the number of residents. Nursing homes are required to cool at least 30 square feet per resident, and assisted living facilities are required to cool 20 net square feet per resident.

“By June 1, 2018, facilities must have access to an emergency power source such as a generator for use during a power outage, have arrangements to bring a power source onsite when an emergency is declared, or evacuate if the facility is in an evacuation zone,” AHCA said in a news release.

Justice for Aging attorney Eric Carlson supported Scott’s original rules but was more reserved in his support of the new ones, noting that the square footage requirements were “pretty tight.”

“They’ve been watered down,” he said.

Lawyer with lupus sues Health Department for discrimination

A black attorney who has lupus is suing the state’s Department of Health for race and disability discrimination, saying she was wrongly forced to quit.

Sharmin Hibbert, 36, filed her lawsuit in Leon County Circuit Civil court on Thursday, court records show, seeking her rehiring.

Among other things, Hibbert said her supervisor—current General Counsel Nichole Geary—“reprimanded (her) for not walking to (Geary’s) office” to let her know she was not going to a meeting because of pain from a broken ankle, the suit says.  

Hibbert’s complaint says she started with the department in January 2009 and was promoted twice, reaching the position of Deputy General Counsel in 2015.

That’s also when Gov. Rick Scott hired Geary, who is white, the suit says. She soon “began to create a hostile work environment” for Hibbert, including criticisms about “failure within (her) unit” and not turning in timesheets.  

Hibbert also said she continued to work—including from home while on sick leave—through several injuries, such as the broken ankle, a broken nose and other complications from lupus, an autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack its own tissues and organs. It often causes debilitating inflammation.

Hibbert said she was “constructively terminated” in April 2016, having “resigned under duress,” her suit says.

She claims having suffered “significant emotional duress” while she worked for Geary, and then “severe depression” since leaving the department. Hibbert also says she’s had “significant financial loss” because of difficulty finding further employment.

A spokesman on Friday said the Health Department “will review the lawsuit.

Hibbert is represented by Tallahassee employment-law attorney Marie Mattox, known for suing state agencies for discrimination and retaliation cases.  

Debbie Mayfield backs Vero Beach utility deal

State Sen. Debbie Mayfield, a Rockledge Republican, is urging regulators to approve Florida Power & Light’s planned purchase of a utility system run by the city of Vero Beach.

“This is a unique and unusual situation involving a municipal utility whose electric rates have historically been some of the highest in our state,” Mayfield wrote Wednesday to members of the Florida Public Service Commission. “Over 60 percent of the utility’s customers reside outside the city of Vero Beach’s corporate limits and have no vote on how the utility operates or the rates it charges.”

Mayfield previously lived in Vero Beach and represents Indian River County in the Senate.

The Public Service Commission will take up the issue on Tuesday. The planned purchase comes after a long-running battle in Indian River County about electric service. That battle, at least in part, has pitted the city against Indian River County and led in 2016 to a Florida Supreme Court ruling in favor of the city.

Vero Beach has provided service for decades in some unincorporated areas of the county, with FPL serving surrounding areas.

But with the planned deal, FPL would provide electricity to all of the areas through elimination of what is known as a “territorial agreement” that carved up the county. The Public Service Commission needs to approve a series of issues, such as ending the territorial agreement and giving FPL the authority to charge its rates to Vero Beach’s customers.

A commission staff analysis said FPL would make a $185 million cash payment as part of the deal.

Vero Beach currently serves 35,123 customers, with 29,258 of them residential customers, the staff analysis said.

Drew Breakspear out as state’s chief financial regulator

Office of Financial Regulation Commissioner Drew Breakspear has resigned, another political casualty of the Rick Scott administration.

CFO Jimmy Patronis formally announced the departure, first reported by POLITICO Florida’s Matt Dixon last night, on Friday.

“I appreciate Commissioner Breakspear’s years of service to the state,” Patronis said in a statement. “During his time as commissioner, he had an understanding of the financial needs of Floridians, and it is my hope his years of service will help ensure a smooth transition for Florida consumers and stakeholders. I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

Patronis – Gov. Scott’s friend and political ally – had recently told Breakspear he “no longer ha(d) confidence” in Breakspear’s ability to lead the office, which acts as the state’s watchdog for the financial industry.

In a resignation letter published online by Dixon, Breakspear said he was resigning effective June 30, the last day of the state’s fiscal year, to “ensure a smooth transition.”

Beginning in 2015, Breakspear was one of three agency heads in Scott’s crosshairs to replace, including now-former Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty and former Department of Revenue executive director Marshall Stranburg. He quit in December 2015, followed by McCarty in January 2016.

With Breakspear’s resignation, the term-limited Scott – a Naples Republican now running for U.S. Senate – finally scored his trifecta.

“I am very grateful for the opportunity to serve the state of Florida, and I look forward to retirement,” Breakspear wrote.

Dixon reported last night that Breakspear “clashed with a host of powerful interests he oversees in the months leading up to … Patronis calling for his ouster, an unusually public move that shocked Florida’s political world.

Earlier this week, Patronis spokeswoman Anna Alexopoulos Farrar outlined a number of issues to support Breakspear’s potential removal, from poor decision-making and a failure to follow emerging trends and technology to “a lack of responsiveness to our office and others.”

One of the issues dealt with a sexual-harassment allegation involving employees of the Office of Financial Regulation during an after-hours event. An agency deputy declined to take action on the allegation.

“Most of the motivating factors behind Patronis’ head-turning May 3 call for (Breakspear’s) resignation … have not been discussed publicly. Hundreds of pages of public records reviewed by POLITICO indicate Patronis’ push to fire Breakspear came amid fights with scorned companies and high-profile securities traders who lobbied Patronis after disagreements with Breakspear’s office.”

Breakspear answers to the state’s Financial Services Commission, made up of Patronis, Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Under state law, the Commission could have fired Breakspear “by a majority vote consisting of at least three affirmative votes, with both the Governor and the Chief Financial Officer on the prevailing side.”

Patronis, a Panama City Republican running for re-election this year, sent a letter to Breakspear last month, saying “over the last 10 months, I have developed concerns over the lack of cooperation, responsiveness, and communication from your office in its dealings with your customers and Florida’s financial services community.”

“My experiences with you and your office, and the feedback I have received from my staff, have validated these concerns. I believe this is due to a lack of leadership at the top.

“… I no longer have confidence in your ability to lead the Office of Financial Regulation.  I am extending you the courtesy of letting you know that I am prepared to discuss these issues during your assessment review at the Cabinet meeting on May 15, 2018. Should there be a change in leadership, I am prepared to recommend an interim commissioner to ensure continuity of operations.”

That meeting was later canceled, and the Breakspear matter was deferred to the next scheduled Cabinet meeting on June 13. Breakspear has served as Commissioner of the Florida Office of Financial Regulation since November 2012. A Naples resident with an MBA from Harvard, Breakspear has been in the $135,158-a-year position since 2012. A longtime executive in international banking and management consulting, he had been an executive vice president and general auditor at Boston-based State Street Corp. prior to taking the state job.

“I am proud of the work the Office of Financial Regulation has done to protect the people of Florida and regulate the financial services industry,” he said in a later statement. “To date, I have had no discussions with CFO Patronis concerning the issues raised in his letter. I have since reached out to him and look forward to discussing his letter with him soon.”

Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this post.

Kelli Stargel

Bill Galvano to help boost Kelli Stargel fundraising next month

Incoming Senate President Bill Galvano is planning to host a fundraiser in Bradenton next month for fellow Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel, one of a half-dozen GOP state senators whose seats are being targeted by Florida Democrats this fall.

The casual fundraising reception will be held at Gio Fabulous Pizza, 4805 Cortez Rd. W, from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm on July 10.

Stargel is unopposed in the Republican primary, but she faces two Democrats in her SD 22 re-election bid: former circuit court judge Robert Doyel and former state Rep. Ricardo Rangel.

Though there’s still a primary election to be had on the Democratic side, that hasn’t stopped Doyel from ramping up his campaign, complete with some heated rhetoric.

As of April 30, Stargel had raised $183,583 and had $133,614 in cash reserves. Doyel entered May with $75,650 banked, while Rangel had $3,467 on hand.

The fundraiser invitation is below.

Kelli-Stargel-Invitation-July 10


Second Democrat enters crowded HD 10 contest

A second Democrat has entered the race for House District 10, currently held by term-limited Rep. Elizabeth Porter.

Lake City resident Ronald Winston Williams II filed his paperwork for the North Central Florida seat on Wednesday, possibly setting up primary battle with fellow Democrat Evan Tharpe Leslie.

Leslie filed for the seat in March, but his campaign appears to be DOA — he hasn’t filed a campaign finance report since entering the race and will face a heap of fines levied by the Florida Division of Elections if his campaign ever does show any contributions.

If either Williams or Leslie makes the ballot, the winner of their contest will face the winner of a three-way Republican Primary between Benjamin Leon and Chuck Brannan III and Marc Vann, who leads in fundraising and has snagged endorsements, including one from Porter.

Unaffiliated candidates Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson and Fred Martin are also vying for the open seat.

As of April 30, Vann had raised $54,730 since filing in October and had $44,814 in the bank. Brannan has a little over $52,000 banked, though that includes $25,000 in candidate loans. Malwitz-Jipson is the only other candidate to have shown signs of life on the fundraising trail — she has just shy of $1,100 on hand.

Vann, Brannan and Malwitz-Jipson have also gathered enough signatures to make the 2018 ballot by petition.

HD 10 covers the whole of Baker, Columbia, Hamilton and Suwannee counties as well as a small piece of northwestern Alachua. Outside of the Panhandle, the seat is one of the most reliable Republicans strongholds in the state House.

mcguire woods

New name, same solid results for Rhett O’Doski and Co.

Multi-state firm McGuireWoods Consulting showed an estimated $235,000 in lobbying compensation in its first quarterly since acquiring Advantage Consulting Team.

Though McGuireWoods is the new kid on the block, at least in the Sunshine State, the members of its Florida lobbying corps are anything but. Rhett O’Doski, Ryder Rudd and Sean Stafford have more than six decades of combined government relations experience and spent the decade prior to the acquisition working under the Advantage Consulting Team banner.

Based on median figures, the trio showed $190,000 in earnings on its legislative report and another $45,000 on its executive report, though that tally could have topped $300,000 if their 28 principals topped out in their reported pay ranges.

McGuireWoods top client overall was FCCI Insurance Group, which cut a check in the ballpark of $35,000 for lobbying help during the 2018 Legislative Session. The commercial property and casualty insurer kicked in up to $10,000 more to influence the Governor and the Cabinet.

Following FCCI on the legislative report were environmental group The Nature Conservancy and health insurer United Healthcare Services, each of which paid between $20,000 and $30,000 on the legislative side and up to $10,000 more on the for executive branch lobbying.

Among the half-dozen clients paying between $10,000 and $20,000 to ply the legislature was Florida Poly, the state’s newest public university which only recently celebrated the graduation of its inaugural class. The STEM-focused uni also made the executive branch client sheet, and like every other paying principal on that report, was marked down in the $1 to $10,000 range.

The healthy Q1 haul is consistent with the numbers O’Doski, Rudd and Stafford pulled in as ACT, which reported between $150,000 and $350,000 in total lobbying pay for the fourth quarter of 2017.

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