Florida Government and Politics Weekly Update

01 June 2009 Publication
Authors: Robert H. Hosay Thomas J. Maida

Public Affairs News Alert

Politics: Who Is in and Who Is Out of the 2010 Statewide Races
For several months, it has appeared that Florida would have five open races for statewide office in 2010, with Governor Charlie Crist running for the U.S. Senate, at least two current state cabinet members running for governor, and no cabinet member running for reelection. As the 2010 races come into focus, here are the most recent developments:

  • U.S. Senate: Among Republicans, Gov. Crist faces opposition from former state House Speaker Marco Rubio (R-West Miami). On the Democratic side, state Sen. Dan Gelber (D-Miami Beach) announced on May 30, 2009 that he was withdrawing from the race for the U.S. Senate, apparently leaving U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-17th Congressional District) a clear path to the nomination. However, according to recent press reports, U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown (D-3rd Congressional District) has expressed an interest in running for the Senate.
  • Governor: Florida Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Alex Sink appears to have no serious opposition for the Democratic nomination for governor. Some uncertainties about the Republican contest for governor seemed to have been resolved on May 21, 2009, when state Agriculture Commissioner Charles H. Bronson announced that he would not run for governor. However, state Attorney General Bill McCollum may still have primary opposition even after Commissioner Bronson’s decision not to run. State Sen. Paula Dockery (R-Lakeland) has announced that she is considering entering either the race for governor or a congressional contest.
  • Attorney General: On May 20, 2009, George LeMieux. former Chief of Staff for Gov. Crist, announced that he would not seek the Republican nomination for state attorney general. Republicans who still appear to be considering the race include Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, state Rep. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton), and state Rep. Tom Grady (R-Naples). State Sen. Dan Gelber (D-Miami Beach) is expected to join likely candidates state Sen. Dave Aronberg (D-Greenacres) and former state Sen. Rod Smith (D-Alachua) in the race for the Democratic nomination for attorney general.
  • Chief Financial Officer: Senate President Jeff Atwater (R-North Palm Beach), a likely Republican candidate for state CFO, lost one potential opponent but gained another as former state CFO Tom Gallagher announced that he would not seek to return to that office in 2010, and state Rep. Pat Patterson announced that he was considering a run for CFO. State Sen. Ted Deutch (D-Delray Beach) is generally considered the leading Democratic candidate for CFO, but state Senate Minority Leader Al Lawson (D-Tallahassee) has stated that he may run for CFO instead of running for Congress against a fellow Democrat, U.S. Rep. Allen Boyd (D-2nd Congressional District).
  • Agriculture Commissioner: Eric Draper, Deputy Director of the Florida Audubon Society, has announced that he will run for the Democratic nomination for Agriculture Commissioner. Republicans in the race include U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam (R-12th Congressional District) and state Sen. Carey Baker (R-Eustis).

State Budget: Gov. Crist Signs Budget but Vetoes Two Items
On May 27, 2009, Gov. Crist signed the $66.5 billion general appropriations act for fiscal year 2009 – 2010 and related legislation, including substantial increases in tobacco taxes and motor vehicle fees.

The governor used his line-item veto power to veto two provisions: a transfer of money from the trust fund that supports processing of concealed weapons permits and a two-percent pay cut for state employees making more than $45,000 a year.

In response to the pay cut veto, state Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair JD Alexander (R-Winter Haven) stated that the governor had gone beyond his power. According to Sen. Alexander, the governor has the power to veto specific appropriations, but he does not have the power to veto “proviso” language that dictates how money will be spent unless he also vetoes the spending item. The pay cut was a proviso in the appropriations act. Sen. Alexander said, “It’s clearly unconstitutional.”

It is not clear how many of his colleagues share Sen. Alexander’s view, and it also is not clear whether the legislature is willing to consider suing over Gov. Crist’s exercise of his veto powers, regardless of legislators’ view of the merits of the governor’s position.

Economy: Unemployment Drops in April
Florida’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped in April 2009, raising the possibility that the state’s economy may have begun to recover. On May 22, 2009, the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation announced that the state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for April 2009 was 9.6 percent, with 885,000 jobless out of a total workforce of 9.2 million. The April unemployment rate was 0.2 percentage points lower than the revised March 2009 state unemployment rate of 9.8 percent, and four percentage points higher than the April 2008 state unemployment rate.

The April unemployment rate represents a narrowing of the gap between the state and national unemployment rates. In April, the Florida rate was 0.7 percentage points above the national unemployment rate of 8.9 percent. Florida’s March 2009 unemployment rate was 1.2 percentage points above the national rate.

Continuing current trends, the counties with the lowest March unemployment rates were Liberty (4.6 percent), Alachua (5.6 percent), Leon (5.8 percent), Monroe (5.8 percent), Franklin (6.1 percent), and Lafayette (6.2 percent). The counties with the highest unemployment rates were Flagler (14.4 percent), St. Lucie (12.7 percent), Hernando (12.2 percent), Indian River (11.9 percent), Lee (11.9 percent), and Marion (11.7 percent). Twenty-four counties had unemployment rates of 10 percent or higher.

Legislature: Gov. Crist Signs Insurance Bills, Vetoes State Contracting Bill
Gov. Charlie Crist has signed into law two bills of great importance for the insurance industry and the business community.

On May 27, 2009, Gov. Crist signed HB 1495, property insurance legislation that, among other things, provides a multi-year “glide path” by which rates charged by Citizens Property Insurance Corp. can become actuarially sound. The bill also provides for gradual reductions in the size of the financially strapped Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, which protects residential property insurers from some hurricane losses.

On May 29, 2009, the governor signed HB 903, which restored the attorney fee schedules for workers’ compensation cases that had been enacted in 2003 and had been declared invalid by the Florida Supreme Court in the 2008 case of Murray v. Mariner Health.

In his most controversial veto so far this year, Gov. Crist on May 27, 2009 vetoed SB 2694, which would have substantially increased legislative control over the state contracting process. The bill was the top legislative priority for state Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair JD Alexander (R-Winter Haven), but was opposed by business groups and the Department of Management Services.

 


Legal News Alert is part of our ongoing commitment to providing up-to-the-minute information about pressing concerns or industry issues affecting our clients and our colleagues. If you have any questions about this alert or would like to discuss these topics further, please contact your Foley attorney or any of the following individuals:

 

Marnie George
Tallahassee, Florida
850.513.3398
marnie@thegeorgegroup.com

Michael P. Harrell
Tallahassee, Florida
850.513.3373
mharrell@foley.com

Robert H. Hosay
Tallahassee, Florida
850.513.3382
rhosay@foley.com

Jonathan P. Kilman
Orlando, Florida
407.244.3256
jkilman@foley.com

Thomas J. Maida
Tallahassee, Florida
850.513.3377
tmaida@foley.com

Leonard E. Schulte
Tallahassee, Florida
850.513.3380
lschulte@foley.com

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