Greetings from Florida, a state whose Democrats still show up for quorum call.
The last several days have produced a flurry of political news in Florida, despite headlines being dominated by the anarchy in Bahrain, Cairo, Tripoli, and Madison. The biggest news again was made by our new Governor Rick Scott when he recently announced that he would not accept the $2.4 billion in federal stimulus dollars, which would fund approximately 90 percent of a high-speed rail project between the metropolitan areas of Tampa and Orlando. He cited taxpayer risk as his main concern, indicating that any cost overruns of the project or revenue shortfalls once it is completed would likely be assumed by taxpayers and the state, which is currently grappling with a multi-billion dollar revenue shortfall of its own.
His decision was welcomed by conservative legislators and many fiscal conservative groups, but derided by proponents of the project, including a bipartisan group of legislators. Others merely questioned whether the governor has the unilateral authority to reject the federal money without approval from the legislature. Despite the concerns of some legislators and outright anger from others, Scott appears to have the support of the Speaker of the House Dean Canon and President of the Senate Mike Haridopolos, who is widely expected to jump in the United States Senate race in 2012.
Regardless, the proponents of high-speed rail are vowing to continue challenging Governor Scott’s position.
Upon completing her first clemency hearing this week, newly-elected Attorney General Pam Bondi has announced her intention to reverse the Crist-era practice of granting automatic restoration of civil rights to felons. Citing a belief that every convicted felon should actively apply and undergo a waiting period, Bondi says that when the Florida Board of Executive Clemency reconvenes in a few weeks, she will propose a revision of the rules to restore them to what they were prior to changes made at the behest of Governor Charlie Crist a few years ago.
“The burden of restoring civil rights should not fall on the shoulders of government, but rather it should rest on the individual whose actions resulted in those rights being taken in the first place,” she said.
In other news, a Memorial (a Florida version of a non-binding resolution to congress) in opposition to a tax on offshore affiliated reinsurance companies sailed through its first committee hearing in the Florida Senate. At the same meeting, SB408 relating to property insurance with an emphasis on sink holes was hotly debated for the third consecutive meeting, and was eventually approved by the Senate Banking & Insurance Committee, albeit in a close vote.
The bill aims to close loopholes which many unscrupulous policyholders, public adjusters, and plaintiffs attorneys have used to file illegitimate sink hole claims, costing the insurance industry and the state several millions of dollars over the past few years. Among other things, the bill seeks to tighten the definitions of what constitutes a sink hole loss, structural damage, and other definitions. It also clamps down on misleading advertisements by public adjusters, as well as the amount they can charge for their services. Other issues not related to sink holes are enclosed in the bill, including increasing the surplus requirements for startup property insurers from $5 million to $15 million. Similar legislation is expected to be filed in the House in the next few days.
Session begins March 8th. That gives me some time post some more torches and pitchforks on eBay for the folks in Madison.
Until next time!
Christian R. Cámara, Florida Director