South Florida Sun Sentinel. March 6, 2023.
Editorial: A money-grubbing culture at Florida’s Capitol
For some Florida legislators, the day before the start of the legislative session is one of their busiest days of the year, and for all the wrong reasons.
Monday was the last day they can collect money for the election campaigns and political committees under their control — the cesspool of Florida’s campaign finance system.
It’s a shakedown. Lawmakers put the arm on lobbyists and their clients for checks to beat the clock before a 60-day fundraising ban begins Tuesday. Under the rules of conduct for the House and Senate, lawmakers cannot solicit or accept campaign money during session (Tallahassee knows a quid pro quo when it sees one). The ban does not apply to Gov. Ron DeSantis, but should, because he has absolute control over every bill and appropriation.
It used to be that a money-grubbing politician in Tallahassee had enough respect for lobbyists to personally ask for money, but even that’s gone now. The obsession with fundraising is so deeply ingrained in this one-party, post-term limits culture that some lawmakers now pay political consultants to do their asking for them. Those consultants keep part of what they raise, which makes the obsession with money even worse.
No self-respecting lobbyist should answer a fundraising pitch from a consultant. But they do, because those same lobbyists desperately need access from the legislators with their hands out — even though the next election is nearly two years away.
‘A check pick up’
Eight lawmakers signed onto one dash for cash, which listed their names but was signed by Rich Porter of Political Capital Florida, a consulting firm. The email circulated to lobbyists, obtained by the Sun Sentinel, appears to make meetings with the lawmakers conditional upon sending money. Read it. You decide.
“We are working on client schedules this week,” the email said. “Please let us know if you may be in need of a meeting or check pick up with any of our folks (list below). If you have support for them and DO NOT need a meeting Monday, please let us know ASAP so we can schedule a check pick up this week.”
The Republican lawmakers listed were Sen. Nick DeCeglie of Indian Rocks Beach, Sen. Blaise Ingoglia of Spring Hill and Reps. Alex Andrade of Pensacola, Shane Abbott of DeFuniak Springs, Tom Fabricio of Miami Lakes, Mike Giallombardo of Cape Coral, Fred Hawkins of St. Cloud and Keith Truenow of Tavares.
The joint sales pitch listed all of their political committees or PCs, which are special interest cash cows exempt from the $1,000 limit on contributions to lawmakers’ campaigns. PCs can take money in unlimited amounts.
Fabricio, the only South Florida lawmaker among the group, represents District 110 in northwest Miami-Dade. A lawyer with an interest in a real estate title company, he’s a former Miramar resident who was elected in 2020 and won a second term last fall without opposition.
‘True Freedom’ — at a price
One reason Fabricio waltzed back into office without an opponent is that he raised six-figure sums twice, as both a candidate and through his PC, which is named True Freedom (the same name of his title firm, which has the same initials, T.F., as he does).
With no opponent, Fabricio raised $150,334 for his re-election and $129,250 through the True Freedom committee, whose address is a nondescript strip mall on University Drive in Tamarac, which is also the law office of the PC’s listed chairman, attorney Kevin Tynan. Fabricio did hand out about $18,000 to other candidates, but he spent another $80,000 on consultants, travel, meals, hurricane supplies and even a Rotary Club sponsorship.
When Florida legislators legalized member-controlled political committees a decade ago, they specified no contribution limits and very few restrictions on how money is spent. It’s become a free-for-all where elected officials use money from lobbyists’ clients to augment their personal lifestyle. A responsible Legislature would end the use of this political money to literally feed at the trough.
Steak dinners and doughnuts
Fabricio, who reported a modest net worth of $192,000, did not respond to email, phone and text messages.
Online public campaign records, accessible to everyone, show that Fabricio’s committee reimbursed him nearly $25,000 for expenses, including $7,580 for travel to an event last August — the committee’s largest expenditure. At the same time, he used campaign committee money for meals, rental cars, gas, even Krispy Kreme doughnuts. A tab of $190.49 at an Outback Steakhouse paid for a “policy discussion dinner.”
Like us, Fabricio’s constituents might wonder why he spent $7,622 of campaign money last year on “postage” from his other fund, a campaign committee. That’s a lot of stamps.
With so much campaign money on hand and no opponent to fret about last year, Fabricio put $20,000 in his legislative office account, which is allowed by law, to cover other expenses, and put $18,000 in the bank for his next race in 2024, to discourage opponents. That’s business as usual in Tallahassee.
Tampa Bay Times. March 3, 2023.
Editorial: Florida should pass this bill to allow speed cameras in school zones
Anyone flying through a school zone more than 10 mph over the speed limit deserves a $100 fine.
It is dangerous to speed through school zones, and it’s against the law. Speeders should be caught and penalized every time. It’s that simple.
So let’s congratulate Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Doral, and Tampa Bay’s own Rep. Traci Koster, R-Tampa, for sponsoring bills that would allow cameras in school zones to record cars traveling 10 mph or more over the speed limit. The owner of the car would face a $100 fine, but not a moving violation or points against their license.
This would be a solid step toward improving pedestrian safety in Florida, one of the most dangerous places to walk in the United States. Tampa Bay is the fourth-deadliest metro area for pedestrians in the nation, according to the most recent Dangerous by Design report by the advocacy group Smart Growth America. In fact, a pedestrian is far likelier to die in Tampa Bay than in New York City. Just two months into this year, at least nine pedestrians have died trying to cross the road in Pinellas County.
These bills — SB 588 and HB 657 — are just now wending their way through committee. They deserve the full support of the Legislature. Rodriguez sponsored a similar bill in the Senate last year where it sailed through committees before being withdrawn and dying without a floor vote in the Senate. No one should let that happen this year. “When we look at the data showing Florida at the bottom of the list when it comes to school zone safety, it’s clear something has to be done,” Koster told the Times Editorial Board by email.
This legislation is about protecting little kids, not promoting the interventions of big government. School zones are readily marked with signs, flashing lights and even orange traffic cones. They’re hard to miss. If nothing else, all of those other law-abiding drivers who have slowed down should offer yet another clue to the clueless speeding driver. Anyone blowing through a school zone either isn’t paying attention or doesn’t care. It doesn’t matter which is worse. The behavior deserves a $100 fine.
Here’s how it would work. First, the speed cameras would not be required at all schools. Local officials would decide where they are appropriate. Second, there wouldn’t be any fines for at least the first 30 days as a mandatory education program informs drivers about the new law. Third, in addition to all of the regular school zone markings, the law would require new signs that indicate cameras are in use.
The cameras would capture the license plate of any vehicle going more than 10 mph over the active school zone speed limit in the 30 minutes before the school day starts or the 30 minutes after it ends. A designated officer will review the photographs or video and decide whether to mail a $100 fine to the vehicle’s registered owner. During the school day itself — between the opening and closing bell when the 15 mph school zone is not in effect — the bill would still allow fines for those caught going more than 10 mph over the regular speed limit. The vehicle’s owner would have the right to review the photo or video and have ample chances to contest the fine, including requesting a hearing. The system is designed to be more than fair.
The money collected would help to make walking to school safer. Of each $100 fine, the bulk would stay in the local school district to pay for safety measures: $60 for local public safety initiatives, including speed detection systems in school zones; $12 toward initiatives such as making it safer to walk to school; and $5 to recruit and retain crossing guards.
School speed zones are usually 15 mph — they are 20 mph only when the normal speed limit is 35 or higher. The zones don’t stretch very far, and they are in effect only the half hour before and after school or a regularly scheduled breakfast program. For drivers, school zones are a minor inconvenience, worth it for the safety of children. And remember, the cameras will catch only drivers who are excessively speeding through a school zone — at least 25 mph in a 15 mph zone. That is hardly a speed trap.
The Editorial Board will be writing more about pedestrian safety in the months ahead. But let’s start with a simple premise: If we can easily make school crossings safer for our children, we should. It’s hard to argue with that idea, and legislators would look good by looking out for the safety of children walking to school. Koster’s hopes for the proposed law are straightforward: “I expect this bill will lead to changed behavior among drivers.” The Legislature should listen to this voice of reason and slow down speeders in school zones. Our children deserve nothing less.
Miami Herald. March 3, 2023.
Editorial: Florida’s insane insurance market has a dirty little secret. Know why lawmakers won’t fix it?
The Florida property-insurance market is so complicated, lawmakers tell us. Fixing it is hard, they moan. It’s not our fault costs have gone bonkers. It’s a bunch of other stuff: too many people suing, or the bad storms that keep hitting our state, or shoddy construction.
Also lawmakers: We are really, really busy fighting drag queens and going through elementary school bookshelves with magnifying glasses to detect “wokeness.”
And yet there’s an interesting and important idea, one that has surfaced repeatedly in Florida, on how to stabilize our insane property insurance market that they should pay attention to. The Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee Bureau wrote about it this week. It deserves serious discussion. But it keeps getting kicked aside by Tallahassee for all the wrong reasons. Political ones, in other words.
MAKES US MAD
That should infuriate anyone who has looked at their insurance bill lately and seen their ever-rising premiums. Or those who have raised their own deductibles, praying all summer that they don’t get hit. Or those going bare, dropping all hurricane insurance once the house is paid off and hoping for the best, because the cost of insurance costs in this state is utterly untenable. It’s unpredictable, too, a terrible thing that can push you out of your home if you are retired and on a fixed income.
The idea that might actually help Florida’s homeowners goes like this: The state should offer hurricane insurance, while private insurers cover the rest — fire, theft. To cover the costs, the state could use a combination of Citizens Property Insurance (the state-backed “insurer of last resort” that now has almost 1.2 million policies) and the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund. Windstorm premiums from Floridians would go into a common fund, rather than toward profit.
It’s neither a perfect idea nor a new one. It’s been brought up a bunch of times — in 2006, 2011, for starters, and even late last year in an op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times. It’s been pushed by Republicans in Florida — former lawmakers, in fact — and business people and lawyers who all have been trying to find ways to bring the market under control. There’s even a similar model in Republican-controlled Texas, called the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, to check out for lessons. Florida TaxWatch concluded that the idea, at least the version floated in 2011, was viable.
But here’s the dirty little secret: The idea never goes anywhere because domestic insurers wouldn’t make as much money. That’s how beholden the Florida Legislature is to special interests.
They won’t tell you that. Who would confess to being controlled by interests that run counter to your constituents’ interests? But that’s what’s going on, as the Herald/Times story outlined.
The idea, despite its obvious value in any discussion of the market, was considered a “political hot potato,” the story said. Small insurers may struggle to pay out claims in storm-heavy years, but they were making enormous profits in storm-free years. Also, they were big political donors. Stripping hurricane premiums from their companies and putting the money into a state fund was a non-starter for political reasons.
Lawmakers insist they are trying. Last year, they held a short special session allegedly to tackle the insurance problem. They ended up passing legislation limiting lawsuits that insurers blame for many of the belly-up insolvencies and record premiums.
Will that help? Some maybe, but of course they also couch that by saying we have to wait a few years before seeing results. Wait? That’s mighty convenient for them. There’s no way to measure for sure if they did any good or are simply buying time while we all suffer.
But what about a statewide insurance pool to break the boom-and-bust cycle on insurance for good? Where’s the discussion on that?
Republicans in Tallahassee seem to be living in a fever dream, where wokeness is an actual enemy, and Gov. Ron DeSantis will lead them to the promised Land of Reelection. They may be in for a rude wake-up call. Their constituents, even the ones who embrace the woke wars, can’t vote for them if they’re priced out of Florida by insurance costs.
Culture wars, they should remember, don’t pay our bills.
Orlando Sentinel. March 7, 2023.
Editorial: What does the Legislature plan to do for you this session?
Today, the state Legislature officially kicks off its 60-day annual session, and it will look a lot like most opening days throughout the years. There will be flowers on every desk. There will be ceremony and introductions of spouses. And there will be speeches.
So many speeches. House and Senate leaders, then Gov. Ron DeSantis, then Democrats’ hapless complaints.
If you listen in — and it’s probably going to be worth it, just for the drama — we would suggest keeping one question foremost in your brain.
How well do these speeches, by Republicans or Democrats, line up with what you really want and need your Florida leaders to be doing?
You’re almost certain, for example, to hear at least one leader going on about “billboard lawyers.” We agree that the ads with people holding big checks can be annoying. But what’s more annoying? Having nothing but those ads to stare at while you sit through three traffic-light cycles, because your local roads are so congested. Your lawmakers aren’t proposing to do much about that. In fact, there’s a raft of bills out there that would make it almost impossible to stop developers who want to pave their way without paying their way.
If culture war issues come up, ask yourself this: When is the last time you worried about a drag queen forcing your kid to listen to a “woke” story about Jackie Robinson’s successful breaking of the color barrier in baseball? (Or, to put it more broadly, what the heck is up with Florida leaders and this whole “woke” thing? Have you ever heard a really coherent explanation of why “woke” is bad?)
They might talk about guns and the need for Florida to adopt permit-less carry. Do you really feel all that disenfranchised because you can’t strap a Colt .45 to your hip when you make a grocery run? Or are you more concerned about affording the apartment or house you’re bringing your groceries home to? If early indications are any predictor, expect almost nothing from lawmakers about expanding access to affordable housing.
When is the last time you worried about your doctor giving needed treatment to someone transitioning genders? We think it might be a bigger problem, for most Floridians, if their family doctor were suddenly thrown in jail for giving treatment (whether we thought it was necessary or not) to somebody else. Even if that person were a drag queen.
Speaking of health care, do you expect to hear anything about the vast number of Floridians who have almost no access to health insurance? Us neither.
As for all this ESG business, we’ll admit it: We had to do some research to figure out exactly what it was all about. Even now, we have trouble understanding why the governor and legislative leaders would be so intent on meddling in the business of companies who make investments in environmentally friendly policies, or community service, or ethical behavior. Yet they don’t seem at all concerned about mounting evidence that some big corporate leaders are making “investments” in clandestine campaign contributions (and asking for “returns” on their investments in the form of historic rate increases).
DeSantis did sound some promising notes this weekend when he talked about fighting human trafficking and doing something about the fentanyl crisis. Unfortunately, he seems to be putting most of his effort toward going to war with prosecutors for criticizing him. He’s offered little support for efforts to make neighborhoods across Florida safer.
And we can certainly understand the governor’s desire to catch the truly evil predators who trick innocent people — often immigrants — across state lines to serve their own nefarious needs. But why is he asking the Legislature for more money to trick innocent asylum seekers across state lines to serve his need to be on Fox News?
Don’t expect him to get into that.
We could do this all day. At the same time, we recognize that our priorities might not be the same as yours.
And that’s just fine. All we ask is that you listen to (or read about) today’s events with this question on your mind: Why should I care about any of this? And when are they going to start talking about things I really need them to care about?
Palm Beach Post. March 2, 2023.
Editorial: More change needed to FHSAA menstrual record rules
It started with an investigation by The Palm Beach Post. It ended with an organized effort by an outraged community of parents, students, educators, physicians and politicians across the state and nation, who wanted the Florida High School Athletic Association to drop its nonsensical requirement that young athletes in Florida share their menstrual cycle histories with local school officials before participating in high school sports.
Finally the FHSAA board backed down and dropped the five “optional” questions from the sports medical history after critics railed that the questions targeted transgender athletes and urged the association to drop them outright. But in a legislative sleight of hand, the board then added a question, asking to identify the athlete’s sex “at the time of birth,” making the victory a partial and pyrrhic at best.
Those who called for change should take a moment to celebrate that their voices were heard. But now they need to put that power back to use to make sure the discrimination they fought is truly put down. Credit goes to the Post’s Katherine Kokal for doggedly pursuing the issue when few noticed.