News from Tallahassee for 3/4/15

FCC votes 3-2 to override state bans of city broadband posted on 2/26/15

by Jeff John Roberts | GigaOM

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday morning voted to push aside laws in two states that restrict municipalities from building out their local high speed broadband networks.

In a 3-2 vote, the FCC granted petitions from Chattanooga, North Carolina and Wilson, North Carolina that asked the agency to invoke its powers under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act to “remove barriers” to infrastructure access.

The upshot is that the FCC has invoked federal power to pre-empt state laws that, according to advocates for the municipalities, were passed at the behest of big telecom companies.

While Thursday’s vote applies only to Tennessee or North Carolina, it will provide legal ammunition for towns in more than twenty other states that confront laws banning or restricting municipal-run broadband services.

The Democratic Commissioners who voted in favor of pre-emption used their platform at the hearing to call attention to towns across the country that lack basic broadband access because private companies won’t build it.

Commissioner Marsha Clyburn observed that millions of Americans are “trapped in digital darkness,” and can’t access high-speed internet service that would let them access telework and school services, especially during snow days.

The two Republican Commissioners questioned the legal authority of the FCC, under Section 706, to override the state laws, and raised concern about its effect on the private market.

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Putnam's staff wrote hard-hitting opinion piece on Bailey fiasco posted on 2/26/15

by Steve Bousquet | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

At the height of the outcry over the forced ouster of an FDLE commissioner by Gov. Rick Scott's office, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam was poised to go public with a strongly-worded denunciation of the Gerald Bailey fiasco, including a reference to "key actions" made in secret that deny Floridians the constitutional right of access.

The words, under Putnam's byline, are in the form of a draft opinion piece for newspaper editorial pages that was never submitted.

Putnam's deputy chief of staff, Amanda Bevis, drafted the op-ed on Jan. 21. She said it was not sent because Putnam was giving interviews to Capitol reporters and making similar points that third week in January. "Because of the volume of media coverage around the issue, we decided not to do an op-ed," Bevis said.

The tone of the unpublished piece makes points similar to the court pleadings by Florida media outlets that accuse Scott and Cabinet members of violating the Sunshine Law by quietly sacking Bailey with no public discussion or vote.

"The members of the Cabinet are required to meet on a regular basis to consider items that are required by statute to come before the Cabinet," Putnam's piece reads. "The recent, sudden transition in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, however, represents a breakdown in the Cabinet process. When key decisions are made without the concurrence of all Cabinet members and outside of Cabinet meetings, we are robbing our constituents of their right to witness these deliberations. Moreover, such activities are not reflective of the governing body that was established in Florida's Constitution and do not represent the open process and shared responsibilities that were intended to be carried out by this governing body."

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Study: Municipal retiree health-care liabilities a 'ticking time bomb' posted on 2/25/15

by Steven Lemongello | Orlando Sentinel

A "ticking time bomb" awaits many Florida cities and counties that are not providing enough money to fund health benefits for retirees, according to a new study that shows Orlando to have one of the highest liabilities in the state.

In response, Orlando officials said Tuesday that they have taken measures to shore up their health-retirement assets and feel confident that there should be no future crisis here.

Retiree health-benefit liabilities are a "hidden" issue facing local governments, according to the study released Tuesday by the LeRoy Collins Institute, a government think tank. They are almost as large as pension liabilities but mostly unfunded, leaving it to future taxpayers to pay the costs of its obligations.

The study concludes that most local governments should increase their contributions by 2 percent to 10 percent of their payrolls in order to avoid problems down the road, instead of the current "pay-as-you-go" approach.

"These costs will not only likely be significantly higher, but also quite possibly unsustainable in the future," the institute stated.

The total size of unfunded local retiree health-benefit liabilities in Florida in 2011 was almost $8.4 billion, the study states.

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Bills could make state government less open posted on 2/24/15

by William March | AP

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- The Florida First Amendment Foundation is tracking more than 80 bills in the Florida Legislature, some of which it says would hide important government records from public view.

The independent watchdog group released its list of bills Monday. It labelled some of the bills neutral in their effect on government openness but said it would oppose others. Those include a bill by Rep. Neil Combee, R-Polk City, to allow identities of applicants for top state university offices to remain anonymous.

The foundation said it's undecided on a bill by Rep. David Santiago, R-Deltona, to keep secret videos shot by police body cameras in private homes, schools and health care facilities.

Fla state sens worth combined $144-million posted on 2/24/15

by adam c. smith | Tampa Bay Times poured through the financial disclosure reports filed with the state Commission on Ethics:

...The richest lawmaker? Former Senate President Don Gaetz, a Republican, whose net worth was listed at $26,077,030 — more than $8 million above the next wealthiest senator, Wilton Simpson. Gaetz actually lost $142,000 by the end of 2013, but he was up 5 percent overall since becoming the Senate’s most powerful lawmaker.

Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, was the only member of the Legislature’s upper chamber with a negative net worth. Soto self-reported minus $6,663, a reduction of nearly $25,000 of his negative net worth the previous year.

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