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(light music) - Right now on WEDU: there is a bill in Tallahassee that have passed would eliminate the Democratic Party in Florida; insurance companies are slow to pay homeowners whose property was damaged by Hurricane Ian; the legislature prepares for a debate on permitless carry; and backers of Donald Trump file an ethics complaint saying that Governor DeSantis is already running a shadow campaign for president.
All this and more next on "Florida This Week".
(theatrical music) Welcome back.
Joining us on the panel this week: Blaise Ingoglia is a state senator representing parts of Citrus, Sumter, Hernando, and Pasco Counties and he's a Republican; Susan Lopez-Valdes is a state representative for Hillsborough County and she's a Democrat; Mary Ellen Klas is the Capital Bureau Chief for the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times; and Mitch Perry is a political reporter for the Florida Phoenix.
And thank you for joining us from the great city of Tallahassee.
Well, a Republican state lawmaker wants to eliminate the Democratic Party entirely with a bill filed shortly before the current legislative session started.
It's called The Ultimate Cancel Act, SB 1248, and is sponsored by State Senator Blaise Ingoglia of Spring Hill.
It would de-certify and cancel the filings of any political party that once supported slavery.
The Democrats did support slavery up until the Civil War more than 150 years ago.
As you might guess, the proposal is drawing widespread criticism from Democrats today.
And Senator Ingoglia, is this a serious bill, or are you just simply trolling the Democrats?
- Well first, I would say that, yeah, it is getting widespread criticism from the Democrats, but it's also garnering widespread praise from Republicans from across the nation.
It's a serious proposal meant to start a very serious conversation and it's about cancel culture.
Cancel culture says that no matter what you did in the past you should be held to account for that.
And we've seen that people, places, and things have been torn down, renamed because of support for slavery in the past.
So under those same metrics, you should cancel the Democrat party itself.
Basically, what this bill is pointing out is the hypocrisy of the Democrats.
And look, let me remind you, it's not just slavery.
You know, the Florida Democrat Party put forth the Jim Crow laws that they love to criticize today because it was a Democrat legislature in Florida, a Democrat governor in the state of Florida that signed bills instituting poll taxes and literacy tests meant to prevent Black people from voting in years past.
And let us not forget that it wasn't up until recently that Democrats were still raising money from their Jefferson-Jackson Dinners.
This bill is just pointing out the hypocrisy of the Florida Democrats.
- And Senator Ingoglia, you have a veto proof majority there.
You've got total power there in the legislature.
If you want to get this bill passed, it could pass.
- It could pass.
There's not a House sponsor so it's not gonna go anything this year.
I wish there was 'cause I would love to have this bill heard in committee and I would love to see if the Democrats voted for or against this bill.
That would be very enlightening.
- Susan, what do you think about the bill?
- You know, this bill is just hilarious.
Let's talk about the real problems that we're having in Florida that's really facing Floridians.
We have to talk about the things that matter for Floridians, the affordability.
Let's talk about our environment.
We have red tide happening right now in our beaches.
These are just opportunities for headline news and just to be able to continue with culture wars.
- Mary Ellen, there are a lot of culture war bills in Tallahassee being considered, but you wrote a piece recently about some of the environmental laws that have been proposed in Tallahassee, things that deal with growth management, water quality, and the power of local governments.
What kind of bills are up there that deal with these issues in Tallahassee?
- Well, this year it does seem as if there really are a lot of bills that are sort of aimed at the fact that we really are a fast growing state and there is kind of pressure now on some of these restraints to development.
And so we're seeing a bunch of bills that really stifle municipal authority over things like water quality and water quantity.
There are bills that would kind of reduce the opportunities for local governments to put impositions and restraint sprawl.
There's bills restricting citizen opposition to controversial development plans, some things that even local governments like.
But then there's also other measures to repeal like longstanding environmental and water rules.
So, when you put these all together, it does look as though there could be some additional restrictions that take away the local government's role in sort of managing growth and the environment.
- And does it look like these kind of bills will pass?
For instance, will the power to regulate local water quality be taken away from the local county government up to the DEP in Tallahassee?
- Well, the state has a really important role already, but what this particular bill that's really moving in the House is, it is designed to make it a little bit, right now the state cannot enforce all the laws that it's got in terms of water quality and protection.
So local governments in different parts of the state have used their own ordinances to reinforce some of these goals.
This bill is very sweeping and it would take it away.
And the presumption is that the state would have more responsibility, but the sponsor of the bill says it's not gonna increase the need for more state government.
Of course, the water quality advocates disagree with that.
- Mitch, you've written about a bill that also Senator Ingoglia has put forward.
The bill would prevent public employee unions from having dues automatically deducted from their paychecks, members would have to pay separately.
It doesn't apply to all unions, it only applies to some unions.
Tell us a little bit more about this bill and then we're gonna go to Senator Ingoglia.
- Yeah, correct.
Police, firefighters, correction officers would not be subject to this.
It would also impose a membership threshold requiring that 60% of workers eligible for union representation to be dues paying members or else they would become de-certified.
A 2018 law made that already the case for teachers unions if they didn't get over 50%.
Florida is a right-to-work state, which means you could be part of a union without having to pay dues.
The Senator has talked about how he thinks this will actually encourage more people to be more involved with their union.
Obviously, the union folks who came up here yesterday in Tallahassee spoke down on the bill very vehemently.
This is a legislation reform.
This has been attempted for years and the Florida legislature hasn't been accomplished.
It's gonna be interesting if it gets over the line this year.
- And Senator Ingoglia, I've talked to some union folks who are involved in the public sector unions and they say this could destroy, for instance, the teachers union in the state.
What do you say?
- I say that just scare tactics, because as Mitch alluded to, there was a bill passed in a couple years ago that raised the threshold specifically for teachers unions up to 50%.
And what you're seeing, what we had with that was you had a bunch of teachers unions that were sitting in the low 40s and it forced them to get up to 50%.
Here's the problem, and there's no way to get around this, is that, unfortunately, there is a small group of union representatives or people involved in their unions that are dictating the terms via collective bargaining of how much money they're gonna get in terms of salary and how much they're gonna get in terms of benefits.
What this proposed bill is aimed to do is increase participation in your union so you have more voices in the union.
So, leadership listens to more people, not less because that's what we have now.
The problem is is that when you do all the math from the amount of the people in the bargaining unit and then you take the amount of dues paying members and then you take the amount that people actually show up to vote in their elections, it's roughly around 22 to 25% of the people in the union are casting and making decisions about people's paychecks for 100% of the bargaining unit.
That's what we're trying to accomplish.
- And Susan, how do Democrats view this issue?
- Democrats view this issue as attack on teachers unions, and teachers unions should be able to have their dues taken out of their check like all the other unions, all the other bargaining units.
Well let's go to our next topic.
There are problems with insurance company payments to victims of Hurricane Ian in Southwest Florida.
Last month, data from the state Office of Insurance Regulations showed nearly 40% of insurance claims from Hurricane Ian have either been rejected or are stuck in limbo.
And now The Washington Post reports that two regional insurance companies have in some cases paid only a small portion of the claims they received.
An investigation by The Post found that a dozen policy holders and their families had their Hurricane Ian claims reduced by 45 to 97% by adjusters hired by the insurance companies.
In one claim reviewed by The Post, a nearly half million dollar damage estimate on a house was reduced to just $13,000.
In another, the adjusters blamed roof storm damage on past wear and tear, meaning it would not be covered at all.
Mary Ellen, the Governor held a press conference in Fort Myers on Friday and was asked about The Washington Post story and some of these other stories about homeowners not being paid full compensation.
And he said he would be open to legislation, but as I was watching the press conference I took it that there is no legislation there in Tallahassee that would do more to force insurance companies to pay the complete claim.
And I'm just wondering, in that ongoing battle between trial lawyers and insurance companies and consumers in Tallahassee, what's the latest on that battle up there?
- Well, this session, we've had a couple special sessions relating to property insurance, which would certainly apply to these claims from these Hurricane Ian victims.
But going forward, they're now talking about other insurance claims and that relates to tort reform.
So we've got two bills moving through the House and Senate very quickly that will limit the amount of liability that insurance companies are forced to withhold, or forced to absorb when they are sued by their claim holders.
Now one of the things that we have always watched is this epic battle between the trial lawyers and the insurance industry.
And right now this session does seem to be really leaning favorably toward the insurance industry and that is after all these changes have come about in the property market.
I think one of the questions that I hear from readers and certainly among reporters is when do they connect the dots?
You know, when they give an industry a break or make it easier for them like limiting their liability, are they asking anything in return?
Should they have some increased restrictions on them using these third party insurance adjusters that have contributed to a lot of the things The Washington Post has written about?
We're not seeing those kinds of specifics emerge at this point.
- Susan, a consumer group told the Orlando Sentinel on Friday that some of these insurance companies have committed crimes by reducing payments for Hurricane Ian claims.
And I just wonder, we've had two special sessions about homeowner's insurance.
Who won in those special sessions?
Did the consumers win?
- Let me share with you something.
Let's put this in perspective.
For the last 20 plus years, Republicans have been in charge of all three chambers: the Executive Office, the House, and the Senate, and this is a can that's been kicked down the road.
And in these last two sessions, we have only bailed out the insurance companies.
We've been told, "Oh, our residents will be able to get relief anywhere from one and a half years to two years."
Floridians need relief now.
They need relief now.
We're losing Floridians to other parts of the state because they cannot afford to continue to live in the state that they grew up in.
And we must do better.
We must do better.
- So Blaise, did the special sessions help?
Or were they just a bailout, a giveaway to the insurance companies?
- The special sessions will eventually help and I would just caution everyone to be patient here because rate relief is going to come.
But what everyone has to remember is that contracts have to run out.
So your homeowner's insurance, your HO-3 policy, that is a contract.
When that has to run out, then you have reinsurance contracts that have to run out.
So, while this was probably too late, and I've been advocating for changing these insurance laws years ago, we finally got it done.
Big structural reform and rates are eventually gonna lower.
It may take a year, year and a half, but it is coming.
We can't deliver anyone rate relief right now without the heavy hand of government coming in and mandating what rates should be.
That's the challenge that we have with citizens because they're not actuarily sound.
So it is a very, very complicated situation, but I will tell you that I think in the end, to answer your question, the citizens are gonna wind up winning, the rate payers are gonna wind up winning in the long run.
But I will also tell you that if they don't and if this winds up giving an advantage to the insurance companies, I'm telling you, we're gonna come back into session and we're gonna fix it and make sure that we're protecting the rate payers.
- All right.
Well, on Thursday, at a gun control rally in front of St. Petersburg City Hall, participants put body bags on the steps to illustrate the additional deaths they say are likely coming from legislation being considered in Tallahassee.
The event was organized by the groups Prevent Gun Violence Florida and the League of Women Voters who voiced their opposition to SB 150, HB543, and HB1543.
One bill would reduce the required age to purchase or transfer a rifle from 21 down to 18-years-old.
The others would do away with any license or training in order to carry a concealed firearm.
- We have legislators and a governor that are not taking gun violence seriously.
Instead of doing the right thing and making more laws that will keep us safe, they're eroding our existing laws.
- Debate on the permitless carry of guns is set for the coming week in the House and Senate.
Mitch, backers of this legislation in Tallahassee say they want good guys with guns protecting the public.
So where's this legislation right now?
Where's it headed?
- It's gonna pass in both chambers.
The bills are ready to go to the full House and Senate.
Now, Florida is one of 25 states that currently don't have permitless/constitutional carry, as the supporters call it.
It means basically you need to get a license through the state to carry concealed weapon.
And in fact, what that requires basically is taking a safety training course.
So critics, like you heard on the tape right there, say this is gonna make Florida less safe.
Advocates say, like Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, representing the Florida Sheriff's Association, has said in committee that that training course is kind of a joke.
That some cases you can just go online or go to a motel off of I-4 on a Saturday morning, and it's something that robust.
The critics would say then, "Let's make the training a little more serious."
It's interesting in this whole debate of course has been gun right supporters are unhappy about this though, because they want what they call true constitutional carry, which includes open carry, which is not part of this legislation, where you could openly carry a weapon.
And we're one of only three states actually in the country that doesn't have any type of open carry.
The other states being Illinois and New York, the District of Columbia.
California has somewhat of a portion like that.
That's said an area that Ron DeSantis has said he doesn't wanna be a part of.
And he has said if the legislature brings in a bill which includes open carry, he'd sign it but the legislature isn't going to do that.
They've been pretty firm on that in terms the leaders.
By the way, Rob, you mentioned the bill proposed to go from 18 to 20, or from 21 to 18 to buy a long gun, that was part of the course of the Parkland legislation that passed five years ago.
That seems to be dead on arrival because there is right now no senate companion and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo has said that she does not support that.
- Okay, and Blaise, are there studies that show that that will be safer once we have permitless carry?
- I don't know if there's any studies that say that, but on a converse, I don't know if there's any studies that say that we're not going to be safer.
And almost everything that I've heard from the left and opponents of this legislation has just been absolutely erroneous.
Even the Giffords group, which came to Committee to testify started spouting out erroneous information saying that we were taking away background checks and stuff like that.
Look, I agree with Sheriff Gualtieri.
The training is really not much.
The bottom line is this, we have a fundamental Second Amendment right to defend ourselves and you should not need a permission slip from the government in order to exercise that right.
And as far as the training is concerned, this is what everyone is forgetting.
The training to get a concealed carry permit is a joke, but what's not a joke is the free market.
When you go buy your gun, most gun shops, almost all gun shops that I know actually have shooting ranges also.
It is in their best interest from the people that you are buying the gun from, that you become the most proficient shooter that you can.
Because they sell ammunition.
They want you shooting as much as possible.
It's a good piece of legislation.
I'm voting for it.
And just for the record, I am also for voting the lowering the age from 21 to 18 full long rifles.
I was one of the few people, Republicans, that actually voted against the Marjory Stoneman Douglas piece of legislation.
- Susan, will permitless carry make us safer?
Are there studies that show it will make us safer?
- We have in the state of Florida a gun crisis, and just the thought of having permitless carry in our streets is dangerous at the least.
When is it that the legislature is gonna be listening to our constituents?
This is not a popular topic.
You have folks on both sides of the aisle that do not like this because they don't feel that we will be safe.
And you know what's so saddening for me?
Is that we are sacrificing Floridians lives for an A plus rating for the NRA.
- All right.
Well, allies of former president Donald Trump filed a complaint with the Florida Commission of Ethics accusing Governor Ron DeSantis of violating campaign finance and ethics rules by conducting a shadow campaign for the White House.
The complaint asks the commission to investigate Florida's Republican leader for allegedly using his elected office to develop his national profile, enrich himself and his political allies, and influence the national electorate.
It says DeSantis is already a de facto candidate for president, citing the Governor's meetings with donors, outreach by allies to potential staff, and his travel and speech making in early voting states.
The complaint asks the nine member commission, five of whose members were appointed by DeSantis, to punish the Governor by having him suspended from office, publicly censured or fined.
The spokesperson for the Governor called the ethics complaint frivolous and politically motivated.
And we all have a minute.
I wanna ask both Susan and Blaise, is there merit to this complaint?
And Susan, let's start with you.
Is there merit to this?
Is the Governor violating any sort of law in doing what he's doing?
- We'll leave that to the Ethics Commission.
But we as Floridians know that Governor DeSantis has been running for president and has made it known.
I mean, the way that he's traveling around the nation and all of these policies that are culture wars are all about his presidential elections.
Think about it: banning books, the wars on the LGBTQ+ community, the policies that we are undertaking, all of these, all of these are platforms that he will be using in the national scene and hilly Floridians behind for sure.
- Blaise, you just have 25 seconds.
Is the Governor in violation of any sort of law?
- No, I'm almost positive he's not.
I know him, I know his team.
I know that they make sure that they're not.
If they're doing something on official business, it's paid by for the state.
And if they're doing something that has a political component to it, then it's probably being paid for by the party.
As the past chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, I've been involved with these type of decisions.
I can assure you that they're following the law.
We only have a short time, but before we go, what other news story should we be paying attention to?
Blaise, your other big story of the week?
And we just have about 20 seconds.
My immigration bill just passed committee.
It's the largest, most comprehensive state-led anti-immigration bill ever put forth by any legislature.
Hopefully, the federal government will stand up and finally fix the poorest order that they've created.
- All right.
Susan, your other big story.
- I have to agree with Blaise.
This for me is the most alarming piece of legislation.
We talk about cancel culture and things of that nature, yet this bill in Section 10 literally mirrors the verbiage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and where he talks about conceals harbors or shields from detection.
This is egregious and so anti-American.
- Mary Ellen, your other big story.
- But it was the Democrats who created that act.
- Okay, hold on.
(chuckles) Mary Ellen, you're other big story.
- Well, I'll just say that I'm keeping an eye out for the resign-to-run legislation being attached to some election-related bills.
Potentially, as you said, the race between Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump is already accelerating even though our Governor is not an announced candidate and he's gonna have to have this legislation likely pass if he becomes qualified for federal office.
- All right.
Mitch, your other big story.
- Yeah, Rob, in Pinellas County, specifically Indian Rock Beach has become ground zero in the battle of the short-term vacation rental issue.
And this week in Tallahassee, the state senator representing the area, Nick DiCeglie, introduced a new bill that he hopes to take away more state preemption of the issue, take away some local controls.
Tallahassee's been trying to do this for a decade since they passed a big law in 2011, repealed some of in 2014.
It's a big mess.
The first bill I said came up this week and all the major stakeholders said they didn't like it.
So very debatable whether this is to get through this year.
- Hey, thank you all for a great show.
There's so much more to talk about.
We breezed through some really important issues, but thank you for coming on.
It's great to see you.
And thank you for joining us.
Send us your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can view this and past shows online at wedu.org or on the PBS app.
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From all of us here at WEDU, have a great weekend and have a happy St. Patrick's Day.
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