The Miami Herald editorial board: "Sad to say, the interests of the taxpaying public and the two most relevant questions have been lost in the conflict of special interests over prison privatization. Those questions are why so many Floridians are in prison and why the prisons do not do a better job of changing prisoners’ lives and prospects, the ultimate test for public safety."
Instead of examining those questions or seriously studying the value of private vs. public prisons, lawmakers working with Gov. Rick Scott merely slipped into the state budget a measure that provided for the farming out of 29 prisons and corrections operations in 18 South Florida counties to private contractors." The state now has seven private prisons."
The Florida Police Benevolent Association, representing 19,000 corrections officers and fighting off inroads from another union, went to court. It won a sensible ruling that, yes, existing law provides for privatization but through a considered process, not jamming it through in a one-year budget. The Legislature is appealing."Special interests rule prison dispute".
Of course, this is an issue of whether the savings for the state, if realized, and profits for the industry will come at the expense of jobs, job security and benefits for government workers.
"Glittering promises and pitches"
"In the debut debate over the resort casinos bill Wednesday, the head of Genting Americas offered legislators glittering promises and pitches — from guaranteeing non-stop flights between Asia and Miami, to $1.7 billion in new revenue to the state, to the purchase of thousands of Disney World tickets for resort patrons."
But the sales job, including the creation of 100,000 jobs, seemed “over the top” to the Senate sponsor of the bill and even to some of the Las Vegas companies that also want a piece of the action. The bill’s sponsor said Genting’s presentation may have backfired on the company."Genting’s spectacular promises raise legislative doubts". See also "Casino builders betting big as bill gets fast-tracked in Senate" and "Pari-Mutuels Want Restrictions Lifted, Taxes Lowered If Legislators OK 5-Star Casinos".
“They actually kill their own case because, based on what they want to do, they’re going to put all the pari-mutuels out of business and every restaurant in Miami — and a couple hotels too,’’ said bill sponsor Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, a Fort Lauderdale Republican, after the meeting of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee. Genting’s numbers for the economic potential of three $2 billion mega resorts proposed in her bill, she said, “are over the top.”
During the two-hour committee workshop, potential competitors to Genting took aim at the company’s spectacular claims, and some took a swipe at the Bogdanoff’s bill as well. The bill calls for allowing three giant resort casinos to be built in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
Meanwhile, "Estimates on permitting S. Fla. casinos range from break even to $1.7 billion in new taxes".
Always a teabagger
"While some see Rubio's bill as a genuine attempt to get something moving in the nation's capital, others view it as a smart political move from a fresh face, widely touted as a vice presidential contender. For his part, Rubio says he has no plans to serve as the nation's No. 2." "Sen. Marco Rubio says bipartisan jobs bill built on common ground".
Despite the meaningless gesture, Rubio remains a teabagger to the end "Despite Working with Democrats in the Senate, Marco Rubio Fires Away at Obama".
Robaina leads the way for Hernandez
"After longtime Mayor Raul Martinez suffered a spectacular defeat at the polls in his comeback bid Tuesday, the incumbent mayor wears the crown in Hialeah politics." "Robaina led the way for Hernandez victory".
Proposal to merge toll collection functions
"The proposal is short of the full consolidation considered last year in the Senate, but does urge lawmakers to contract for a study to consider the issue further." "Expressway authorities should merge toll collection functions, task force urges".
Grubbing for wingnuts
"Former state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, now running in a crowded Republican primary to see who will emerge to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in 2012, looked to highlight his right-of-center credentials as he reached out to conservative bloggers and media on Wednesday."
While trailing in the Republican primary polls to GOP rivals U.S. Rep. Connie Mack and former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, Hasner insisted that his campaign is in good shape, pointing to solid fundraising in the third quarter, winning a straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference event in Orlando in September, and endorsements at the state and national level."Adam Hasner Looks to Become Conservative Choice in 2012 Senate Race".
Florida dodges medical loss ratio requirements
"Florida will have to wait to hear whether it will be exempt from the new medical loss ratio requirements required under federal law, state officials learned Wednesday. The federal government sent a letter to the state advising that it would take another 30 days to determine whether it should exempt individual carriers from meeting a requirement that 80 percent of the premium it collected for individual policies be directed toward patient care." "Feds delay decision on new medical loss ratio requirements".
Entrepreneurs in action
Nancy Smith: "Even with the greedy insurance industry and the robber financial institutions and the lineup of fat Fortune 500 pharmaceutical giants, Spirit Airlines still makes my list of Top 10 Suckiest Companies in America. ... never mind that they're a Florida company ... some of Spirit's cheapest advertised fares don't include the cost of fuel, which can add on anywhere between about $11 and $76, depending on mileage flown." "Spirit Airlines, the Scum of the Skies: Just Ask Spirit Passengers".
"Cain stumped Wednesday morning in South Florida"
"Returning to the state that made him a rising star seven weeks ago, Herman Cain stumped Wednesday morning in South Florida as a different candidate, nagged by questions about his foreign policy expertise and his handling of sexual harassment allegations." "Herman Cain stumbles on Cuba question in South Florida". Related: "Is he ready? Cain's gaffes raise some questions" and "In West Palm Beach stop, Cain stresses 'clarity,' 'leadership,' downplays gaffes".
"Field hearings into Florida’s controversial new voting law"
"Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., has granted Sen. Bill Nelson’s request for field hearings into Florida’s controversial new voting law that many say could disenfranchise minorities, young voters and low-income citizens."
Durbin replied in a letter yesterday saying he agrees that “regardless of its state intention, Florida’s new voting law will almost certainly disenfranchise a wide swath of young, minority, senior, disabled, rural and low-income voters.” ..."Senator OKs field hearings on ‘disenfranchising’ voting law". See also "Nelson to get hearing on restrictive election laws". Related: "ACLU of Florida asks Senate for speedy hearings on voting law".
Durbin wrote that he will hold a “field hearing of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights in Florida … that will explore the impact of the Florida law, as well as the impact of similar laws recently passed in neighboring states.”
Nelson also sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder requesting that the Justice Department launch an investigation into whether the “new state voting laws resulted from collusion or an orchestrated effort to limit voter turnout.”
Florida is currently waiting for a ruling on controversial aspects of the law from a court in the District of Columbia.
"The latest salvo"
"A panel charged with keeping Florida's workers' compensation delivery system running smoothly wants the state to cap how much physicians can charge for dispensing prescriptions to injured workers. The decision is the latest salvo in an intense battle that has been going on for the past two years and has resulted in vetoes, a near-veto override push and lots of campaign contributions." "Workers' comp panel votes to limit drug, outpatent charges".
Lobbyists rolling in dough
"Legislative lobbying firms reported earning up to $42 million in the third quarter of this year, according to disclosure forms that were due late Monday. The totals represent a likely increase from the same period a year ago, continuing a string of quarters showing growth over 2010. Income for legislative and executive branch lobbyists combined was between $31.3 million and $74.7 million." "Lobbying income continues to grow".
"To call attention to its ongoing struggle against power company Progress Energy’s plan to install 100-foot power poles through the downtown area, the fishing town of Apalachicola will stage a mock funeral for itself on Sat., Nov. 19." "Protesting Progress Energy, town to stage mock funeral for itself".
"Las Vegas-style slot machines have arrived at 'Casino Miami Jai-Alai'"
"Las Vegas-style slot machines have arrived at Casino Miami Jai-Alai, in anticipation of the facility’s planned January reopening as a jai-alai fronton/slots casino." "1,050 slot machines arrive at Miami Jai Alai".
Scott squanders public dollars on out-of-state law firm
"Florida has spent nearly a half-million dollars - and could spend even more - with a large, well-known law firm that has connections to both the Republican Party of Florida as well as Gov. Rick Scott."
Since August the state has paid nearly $400,000 to the law firm of Alston and Bird to defend a new state law that requires public employees to contribute 3 percent of their pay to the state pension fund."Fla. hired law firm with ties to Gov. Scott".
The firm was hired at the urging of the Scott administration which asked Attorney General Pam Bondi to approve paying the firm hourly rates at $495 an hour or nearly $300 more than what is normally allowed.
The Scott administration and Bondi have defended the hiring of the firm, saying it specializes in the kind of litigation that the state is now involved in.
But the firm's roster also includes a one-time business associate of Scott.
"Just trying to help a constituent"
"State Sen. Greg Evers has been subpoenaed for a Florida grand jury's investigation of tree removal by a billboard company."
Senate President Mike Haridopolos said Wednesday that Evers, a Baker Republican, told him he was just trying to help a constituent."Fla. senator subpoenaed in billboard investigation".
That constituent is Bill Salter Outdoor Advertising Inc. of Milton.
The grand jury in Tallahassee is looking into Salter's removal of some 2,000 trees along Interstate 10 in the Florida Panhandle.
"Unable to negotiate a penalty short of being removed from office, 1st District Court Judge Paul M. Hawkes is resigning from the court to avoid facing a trial before the Judicial Qualifications Commission." "Facing ethics trial, 'Taj Mahal' courthouse Judge Paul Hawkes says he's resigning". See also "1st DCA Judge Paul Hawkes resigns".
The Saint Petersburg Times editorial board: "As Hawkes attempted to defend the indefensible, he first claimed that the appellate judges were jointly responsible for the new courthouse when public records show that is not the case. When that didn't work, he berated F. Wallace Pope Jr., the Clearwater lawyer ably prosecuting his case before the JQC. When he couldn't spread the blame, intimidate Pope or persuade the JQC to dismiss the charges, Hawkes had no one else left to bully. The only way to avoid more ridicule in a public trial was to resign from the appellate court." "Gavel should fall on 1st District Court of Appeal judge Paul Hawkes' career".
Vern's partner gets a pass ... for now
"A federal judge has denied the Federal Election Commission’s motion to fine a former business partner of Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, over contributions made to Buchanan’s 2006 and 2008 campaigns."
Buchanan himself has not been punished by the FEC, even though, at the time of the alleged reimbursements, he was majority owner of the dealership. Instead, the FEC fined his former business partner, Sam Kazran, and the dealership the two co-owned together, Hyundai of North Jacksonville."Federal judge rejects FEC motion against former Buchanan business partner".
U.S. District Judge Roy Dalton yesterday denied the FEC’s “Motion for Partial Summary Judgment,” which would have fined Kazran nearly $68,000 for the reimbursements. In his ruling, Dalton writes that the FEC “does not provide any guidance in its Motion” and “rests its case primarily on certain statements made by Kazran, which the FEC contends conclusively establish that Kazran solicited others to make campaign contributions in their own names and either advanced the money or promised to reimburse them.”
Though Kazran has admitted to knowing about the reimbursement scheme, he has long maintained that Buchanan was the one orchestrating it. The Independent has spoken with two former Buchanan employees who backed Kazran’s story.
According to Dalton, Kazran’s statements “are not judicially binding admissions,” as he proceeded without legal counsel and may not have known that he was admitting to liability. In his own words, Kazran says that he is a “political outsider” who had no knowledge of campaign finance laws and was only following his boss’ orders.
Stating that “the Court is not persuaded by the FEC’s position,” Dalton adds that he is “reluctant to grant partial summary judgment on the issue of liability where the FEC’s theory of liability is unclear, especially where one theory may suggest that individuals who are not defendants in this enforcement action may have violated the statute as well.”
Chamber, AIF push for tax
"Out-of-state online-only retailers will cost the state roughly $450 million next year by not having to collect and pay Florida's government for sales taxes on online purchases, according to a study released Wednesday by the Florida Alliance for Main Street Fairness."
The alliance, which includes the Florida Retail Federation, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida, held a conference call Wednesday as they continue to pressure state legislators to close the existing tax loophole that gives a sales and marketing advantage to out-of-state online dealers."Study: Lack of Sales-Tax Collections by Out-of-State, Online-Only Retailers Cost Florida $450 Million a Year".
Legislators have been reluctant to tackle the issue, as it could be seen by consumers as a new tax when making an online purchase.
"Free Market Sugar Act" filed
"The high costs of American sugar, coupled with quotas that make it near-impossible for the product to be imported, have led two congressmen to file a bill that would overhaul the way the industry does business. One of the bill’s sponsors, Danny Davis, D-Ill., tells the Independent that filing the 'Free Market Sugar Act' was a no-brainer, considering the impact that sugar prices have had on his constituents." "Free Market Sugar Act sponsor: High sugar prices have caused ‘outflow of jobs’".
"State Rep. Scott Randolph is the new chairman of the Orange County Democratic Party." "Randolph to lead Orange Democrats".
"Renewed lobbying battle looms"
"A Senate committee Wednesday approved two claims bills that are priorities of Senate President Mike Haridopolos -- but a renewed lobbying battle looms about a proposal to award more than $15 million to a Broward County man."
But Pete Antonacci, a lobbyist for the sheriff's office insurer, said the bill is part of a "scheme" by Brody's attorneys to bring what is known as a bad-faith lawsuit against his client. Antonacci said the insurer is willing to pay $8.5 million to Brody to settle the dispute but has been rebuffed."Lobbying Battle Looms Over Victims' Claims Bills". Related: "Haridopolos seeks $1.35M for William Dillon".
"$8.5 million is a lot of money,'' Antonacci told the committee. "It's real cash, and it purchases a lot.''
But Lance Block, an attorney for Brody, said $8.5 million would not cover the costs to care for the Broward County man, who suffered brain damage and was in a coma for six months after the accident.
Block argues that the insurer, which operated as Ranger Insurance Co. at the time of the accident, had repeated opportunities to settle the case for $3 million before it went to trial. A Broward County jury in 2005 awarded $30.6 million to Brody, but state sovereign-immunity laws place a $200,000 limit on what the county could be forced to pay without lawmakers approving a claims bill for a larger amount.
"The insurance company handled this case so egregiously -- that is why they're offering $8.5 million,'' Block said.
"Reality is a pseudonym for [Pinellas County commissioner] Norm Roche, who won office last November. Roche has written as Reality for several years — before and after he was elected — attacking political correctness involving gays and racism and what he considers shoddy reporting by the Times."
Roche has written as Reality for several years — before and after he was elected — attacking political correctness involving gays and racism and what he considers shoddy reporting by the Times."Official admits snarky postings".
Roche defended the comments as his free speech right and a necessity in the Internet era. He said using an assumed name removes the risk that comments are dismissed for partisan reasons.
"A lot of it can be rhetoric and rants. Unfortunately it's part of our communication base now, and you have to be part of it, you have to track it," said Roche, a 49-year-old Republican whose countywide district includes St. Petersburg. ...
Asked this week if he was Reality, Roche said: "Yeah, yeah I have posted under Reality and Norm Roche. Sometimes in the discussion thread."
The comments are often posted before and after workday hours or on weekends.
A recently registered commenter also uses the acronym YRTTNRTT, which the commenter said stands for You Read The Times, Now Read The Truth.
Records show Roche bought the domain name yrttnrtt.com through GoDaddy.com in July — he estimates it cost him $20 — but it hasn't launched.
Roche is a longtime critic of the Times. He singled out a 2006 editorial criticizing his unsuccessful commission campaign against Calvin Harris. Roche's brother ran as a write-in candidate, restricting the election only to Democrats. The editorial noted Harris was a leading African-American officeholder, and Roche inferred he was being accused of racism.
When his rebuttals on that and other topics were not published as he wanted, Roche said he began looking for alternatives.
Reality announced in a Web comment Oct. 12 that yrttnrtt.com site was "coming soon." That announcement came after the County Commission voted 4-3 to stop adding fluoride to drinking water. Roche — and Reality — supported the decision, and criticized news coverage that scrutinized or criticized his stance and the tea party's role.