Last week in Tallahassee, Patricia McGrath and Laurie Swanson (Middle Keys) met Jean Siebenaler (from the panhandle) and Dee Melvin (from the Villages) to observe the Special session of the Florida legislature. The subject of the Special Session, called by Ron DeSantis, was to take up Florida property insurance. Ostensibly the session was to address the rising costs of property insurance with the goal of taming the runaway rate increases levied by insurance companies. Exorbitant rates that are often devastating to homeowners.

We settled first in the Senate Appropriations Committee to see the bill (2D) being legislated; then moved to the House Appropriations Committee to see the bill legislated there. I expected a give and take of ideas during this part of the legislative process. Instead, I saw a bill fully constructed in some secret place and plopped onto the legislative floors. These bills came fully formed from the governor’s office it seems. The bills were not changed from the original no matter how many suggestions were made for improving the bill or improving outcomes for the homeowner.

Oh yes, the Democrats tried to change the bill by presenting amendments, amendments that were summarily voted down mostly with “no” voice votes. When 5 hands went up there was a compulsory recorded individual vote. At that time, the congressperson was to flick a switch on their desk to register a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ vote. During these amendment presentations and votes many of the congress people were out of the room and so a neighboring congress person voted for the absent congress person. In other words, a quorum was not present on the floor for most of the votes on amendments and the votes were not posted by the congress persons themselves. I saw Rep. Melo (80) vote for Keys’ Rep. Mooney (120) on numerous occasions. Mooney repaid the favor by voting for Melo by activating the switch on her desk when she was absent.

Rep. Mooney casts vote for Rep. Melo while she was absent. Melo voted for Mooney on numerous occasions while Mooney was not at his desk during the vote.

I learned that DFS (Department of Financial Services) and OIR (Office of Insurance Regulators) are the two offices whose job it is to hold insurance companies to the statute. They are to collect data and watch where the money goes. The members of OIR are appointed by the governor.

Through discussion (labeled debate) on the insurance bill, that is soon to become Florida law, it became apparent that OIR had collected little or no data on the state of the current insurance companies. Data needed to craft the current legislation. Legislators asked for that data numerous times and were told that it did not exist. When asked how they could know how to craft a bill to improve insurance rates without data, they were either stonewalled or told there was no data. Yet the proponents of the bill would not call into question actuarial tables used by the insurance company—data that no one had bothered to access or perhaps it was hidden in the back room where this bill came from.

When legislators asked why OIR did not do its job, various excuses were proffered. It was confirmed that OIR, who has the power to deny rate increases proposed by individual insurance companies, has persistently rubber-stamped double digit rate increases. The main reason proffered by the Republican sponsors of the bill for OIR’s failure was that OIR had ~ 13 regulators to cover the whole state of Florida and a 22% vacancy. Proponents of the bill said it was not possible to fill those positions because private industry pays more. Why does Florida only have 13 people in OIR when comparable states have many multiples of 13 to regulate their insurance companies?

The bill’s highlights as discussed were as follows:

  • Insurance will be granted for roofs over 15 years if the roof, after an official inspection funded by the owner, indicates that the roof has 5 more good years. If the roof is found wanting the owner will be denied insurance on the roof.
  • There will be 2 types of roof insurance offered to the homeowner. The no-deductible roof insurance will be at the ballooning rates that are in force today with no cap. Insurance companies are required sign up for RAP (Reinsurance to Assist Policyholders) this year or next. That program allows the insurance companies to offer homeowners roof insurance policies with up to 50% deductible. There is no provision in the law that forces the insurance company to lower rates on these policies.  Also, the State is putting up $2 billion for the insurance companies to fund this program. Representative Geller pointed out that if the homeowner cannot pay the deductible which could be thousands of dollars, they could lose their house. Shoulder shrug by the Republican proponent of the bill.
  • The insurance company can drop the homeowner mid-claim if the homeowner challenges the insurance company for non-payment of claims. Many of the Democrat led amendments tried to rectify this. It was classed by Rep. Trumbull (the proponent of the bill) as an unfriendly amendment. “Unfriendly to who?” Shrug. Note that this leaves the homeowner without a fixed roof and unable to get other insurance because they have an open claim.
  • In egregious cases when the insurance company is the bad actor, judges will not be able to penalize the insurance company by multiplying the award to the homeowner for his mistreatment.
  • This bill allows the insurance companies to draw out the claim payout for years with no penalty on the insurance company. The insurance company is within their rights to put off an appraisal for years if they so wish.
  • This bill does not consider that climate continues to aid and abet the destruction of property in Sunshine State. There is no provision for climate change in the bill. Hurricane and sea level rise are not addressed.
  • Trumbull (R) and company admitted that it would make no difference in ballooning rates this year and possibly not for 18 months. He also said there is no guarantee that rates will come down at all even with 50% deductible.

It came to light during the debate session that was not a debate, but a statement of position, that this bill fulfils the insurance companies wish list. SB-HB 2 disables the consumer and rewards the insurance companies by allowing them to continue the shell game that they have been playing for years. Democrats charged (not refuted) that when an insurance company is in trouble or wants to exit the Florida market, they can offload assets to a sister company and declare bankruptcy. This leaves their customers with no insurance and/or unable to get their claims filled. This bill was created without any verifiable statistics. Statistics were not verifiable because OIR did not collect any statistics. This bill was created to fix problems that were no more than rumors and hearsay proffered by the insurance companies. The session was called and executed on such short notice that there was little time to write a bill that considered possibilities that would be sounder. The bill was passed as it came in from the governor’s office probably right out of the insurance lobby.

At 1:25PM on Wednesday, May 25th, Mooney got up and gave a speech praising the bill. He said that the insurance problems will not be fixed this week, but “this bill is better than doing nothing.”

Rep. Mooney sending and reading emails while amendments were presented. Mooney voted “no” on all amendments.

FYI Monroe County and Miami/Dade are not covered by this insurance. We are covered by the insurance company of the last resort—Citizens.

Watching the sham that masquerades for Florida government was incredibly disappointing to me and my fellow travelers.

The following excerpts have been extracted from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army General Mark Milley’s remarks at Princeton University on May 25, 2022, during Princeton’s ROTC Class of 2022 ceremony. Milley reminded the new officers that the oath they were swearing was the same taken by the president of the United States and others in government, and that the oath was to the Constitution, which he said is, “more than a document — it’s an idea.”

“You’re not taking an oath to a dictator or wannabe dictator, or tyrant, you’re taking an oath to the Constitution of the United States of America.

The idea that you’re willing to die for it, that is an extraordinarily powerful idea. It defeated Britain in the Revolutionary War, the Nazis, Imperial Japanese, brought down the Berlin Wall, defeated Soviet communism, al Qaeda and ISIS, the Taliban and Al Shabaab and all the terrorist groups. They hate this idea.

So many fear it. We have people in this country who fear it. We have people trying to overturn it, right inside our own country. What this idea says is that you and I, no matter who you are, it doesn’t matter. If you’re a male or you’re a female, it doesn’t matter. If you’re gay or you’re straight, or in between … it just doesn’t matter. No matter if you’re black, you’re white, you’re Asian, you’re Indian. None of that matters. Doesn’t matter what the color of your skin is. It doesn’t matter what country you came from. Doesn’t matter your last name or place of origin. Doesn’t matter whether you’re tall or short. None of that matters. Doesn’t matter if you’re rich, poor, went to Princeton or didn’t go to college at all…

What this idea says is that every single one of us is born free and equal. And every single one of us is an American. That you’re going to rise or you’re going to fall based on your perseverance, your hard work, your knowledge, your skills, your attributes. And you’re going to be judged by the content of your character, not the color of your skin. That is the very essence of this idea. That we hold these truths to be self-evident. That we hold these truths to be self-evident that every one of us is equal, that every one of us has a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. You’re not taking an oath to a person. You’re not taking an oath to a president, a king or a queen. You’re not taking an oath to a dictator or wannabe dictator, or tyrant. You’re taking an oath to the idea that is America. That you will do anything and everything, if necessary to sacrifice even your life, to preserve that idea and pass it on unscathed to the next generation. That is what you’re doing. You’re committing your lives and your fortune to it. And I want to congratulate you. I’m extraordinarily proud of each and every one of you. I know your family is and I know this country is so thank you very much. Thank you.”

Today, a gunman murdered at least 19 children and 2 adults at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. 

For years now, after one massacre or another, I have written some version of the same article, explaining that the nation’s current gun free-for-all is not traditional but, rather, is a symptom of the takeover of our nation by a radical extremist minority. The idea that massacres are “the price of freedom,” as right-wing personality Bill O’Reilly said in 2017 after the Mandalay Bay massacre in Las Vegas, in which a gunman killed 60 people and wounded 411 others, is new, and it is about politics, not our history.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution, on which modern-day arguments for widespread gun ownership rest, is one simple sentence: “A well regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” There’s not a lot to go on about what the Framers meant, although in their day, to “bear arms” meant to be part of an organized militia.

As the Tennessee Supreme Court wrote in 1840, “A man in the pursuit of deer, elk, and buffaloes might carry his rifle every day for forty years, and yet it would never be said of him that he had borne arms; much less could it be said that a private citizen bears arms because he has a dirk or pistol concealed under his clothes, or a spear in a cane.”

Today’s insistence that the Second Amendment gives individuals a broad right to own guns comes from two places.

One is the establishment of the National Rifle Association in New York in 1871, in part to improve the marksmanship skills of American citizens who might be called on to fight in another war, and in part to promote in America the British sport of elite shooting, complete with hefty cash prizes in newly organized tournaments. Just a decade after the Civil War, veterans jumped at the chance to hone their former skills. Rifle clubs sprang up across the nation.

By the 1920s, rifle shooting was a popular American sport. “Riflemen” competed in the Olympics, in colleges, and in local, state, and national tournaments organized by the NRA. Being a good marksman was a source of pride, mentioned in public biographies, like being a good golfer. In 1925, when the secretary of the NRA apparently took money from ammunition and arms manufacturers, the organization tossed him out and sued him.

NRA officers insisted on the right of citizens to own rifles and handguns but worked hard to distinguish between law-abiding citizens who should have access to guns for hunting and target shooting and protection, and criminals and mentally ill people, who should not. In 1931, amid fears of bootlegger gangs, the NRA backed federal legislation to limit concealed weapons; prevent possession by criminals, the mentally ill and children; to require all dealers to be licensed; and to require background checks before delivery. It backed the 1934 National Firearms Act, and parts of the 1968 Gun Control Act, designed to stop what seemed to be America’s hurtle toward violence in that turbulent decade.

But in the mid-1970s, a faction in the NRA forced the organization away from sports and toward opposing “gun control.” It formed a political action committee (PAC) in 1975, and two years later it elected an organization president who abandoned sporting culture and focused instead on “gun rights.”

This was the second thing that led us to where we are today: leaders of the NRA embraced the politics of Movement Conservatism, the political movement that rose to combat the business regulations and social welfare programs that both Democrats and Republicans embraced after World War II. Movement Conservatives embraced the myth of the American cowboy as a white man standing against the “socialism” of the federal government as it sought to level the economic playing field between Black Americans and their white neighbors. Leaders like Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater personified the American cowboy, with his cowboy hat and opposition to government regulation, while television Westerns showed good guys putting down bad guys without the interference of the government.

In 1972, the Republican platform had called for gun control to restrict the sale of “cheap handguns,” but in 1975, as he geared up to challenge President Gerald R. Ford for the 1976 presidential nomination, Movement Conservative hero Ronald Reagan took a stand against gun control. In 1980, the Republican platform opposed the federal registration of firearms, and the NRA endorsed a presidential candidate—Reagan—for the first time.

When President Reagan took office, a new American era, dominated by Movement Conservatives, began. And the power of the NRA over American politics grew.

In 1981 a gunman trying to kill Reagan shot and paralyzed his press secretary, James Brady, and wounded Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy and police officer Thomas Delahanty. After the shooting, then-representative Charles Schumer (D-NY) introduced legislation that became known as the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, or the Brady Bill, to require background checks before gun purchases. Reagan, who was a member of the NRA, endorsed the bill, but the NRA spent millions of dollars to defeat it.

After the Brady Bill passed in 1993, the NRA paid for lawsuits in nine states to strike it down. Until 1959, every single legal article on the Second Amendment concluded that it was not intended to guarantee individuals the right to own a gun. But in the 1970s, legal scholars funded by the NRA had begun to argue that the Second Amendment did exactly that.

In 1997, when the Brady Bill cases came before the Supreme Court as Printz v. United States, the Supreme Court declared parts of the measure unconstitutional.

Now a player in national politics, the NRA was awash in money from gun and ammunition manufacturers. By 2000 it was one of the three most powerful lobbies in Washington. It spent more than $40 million on the 2008 election. In that year, the landmark Supreme Court decision of District of Columbia v. Heller struck down gun regulations and declared that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms.

Increasingly, NRA money backed Republican candidates. In 2012 the NRA spent $9 million in the presidential election, and in 2014 it spent $13 million. Then, in 2016, it spent over $50 million on Republican candidates, including more than $30 million on Trump’s effort to win the White House. This money was vital to Trump, since many other Republican super PACs refused to back him. The NRA spent more money on Trump than any other outside group, including the leading Trump super PAC, which spent $20.3 million.

The unfettered right to own and carry weapons has come to symbolize the Republican Party’s ideology of individual liberty. Lawmakers and activists have not been able to overcome Republican insistence on gun rights despite the mass shootings that have risen since their new emphasis on guns. Even though 90% of Americans—including nearly 74% of NRA members—support background checks, Republicans have killed such legislation by filibustering it.  

The NRA will hold its 2022 annual meeting this Friday in Houston. Former president Trump will speak, along with Texas governor Greg Abbott, senator Ted Cruz, and representative Dan Crenshaw; North Carolina lieutenant governor Mark Robinson; and South Dakota governor Kristi Noem—all Republicans. NRA executive vice president and chief executive officer Wayne LaPierre expressed his enthusiasm for the lineup by saying: “President Trump delivered on his promises by appointing judges who respect and value the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and in doing so helped ensure the freedom of generations of Americans.”

Tonight, President Joe Biden spoke to the nation: “Why are we willing to live with this carnage? Why do we keep letting this happen?… It’s time to turn this pain into action. For every parent, for every citizen in this country, we have to make it clear to every elected official in this country, it’s time to act.” In the Senate, Chris Murphy (D-CT) said, “I am here on this floor, to beg, to literally get down on my hands and knees and beg my colleagues….find a way to pass laws that make this less likely.”

But it was Steve Kerr, the coach of the Golden State Warriors basketball team, whose father was murdered by gunmen in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1984, who best expressed the outrage of the nation. At a press conference tonight, shaking, he said, “I’m not going to talk about basketball…. Any basketball questions don’t matter…. Fourteen children were killed 400 miles from here, and a teacher, and in the last ten days we’ve had elderly Black people killed in a supermarket in Buffalo, we’ve had Asian churchgoers killed in Southern California, and now we have children murdered at school. WHEN ARE WE GONNA DO SOMETHING? I’m tired, I’m so tired of getting up here and offering condolences to the devastated families…. I’m tired of the moments of silence. Enough. There’s 50 senators…who refuse to vote on HR 8, which is a background check rule that the House passed a couple years ago…. [N]inety percent of Americans, regardless of political party, want…universal background checks…. We are being held hostage by 50 senators in Washington who refuse to even put it to a vote despite what we the American people want…because they want to hold onto their own power. It’s pathetic,” he said, walking out of the press conference. 

“I’ve had enough.”

This letter was republished from Letters from an American, a collection of daily newsletters from Heather Cox Richardson. Please visit her site and support her work.

Would you support a plan that “sunsets” Social Security and Medicare within five years? Because that’s exactly what Senator Rick Scott’s GOP agenda is proposing.

First, let’s clarify what Republicans mean when they say they want to “sunset” programs like Social Security and Medicare. A “sunset provision” means that funding for Social Security and Medicare would expire automatically — in the case of Scott’s plan, in just five years. In other words, if Scott gets his way, Social Security and Medicare would cease to exist.

So, what would that mean for you and your family? In Florida alone, nearly 5 million people — almost 25% of the population — rely heavily on Social Security and Medicare to cover the rising cost of rent and pay for routine medical expenses.

These programs are not just supplemental income for a handful of Floridians — they are the backbone of our state’s economy.

Seniors who have paid their fair share into these programs for decades shouldn’t have to deal with Scott’s threats to snatch their livelihoods out from under them as a political stunt ahead of the midterm elections.

But Scott isn’t the only Florida Republican who would like to get rid of Social Security and Medicare. His fellow senator, Marco Rubio, has a lengthy record of fighting to cut the benefits that Florida’s seniors count on.

In 2010, Rubio ran for Senate on a platform of massively cutting Social Security benefits by raising the retirement age and reducing cost-of-living increases. He falsely claimed that Social Security would “bankrupt” the nation, ignoring the fact that Social Security is an earned benefit that doesn’t add a single penny to the federal deficit.

When Rubio ran for president in 2016, he once again called for raising the retirement age to 70 — a position so extreme that even Donald Trump rejected it! Rubio also enthusiastically supported a plan to privatize Medicare, which would end the program as we know it.

In 2017, just before voting for a massive tax handout to the wealthy, Rubio referred to Social Security and Medicare as “the drivers of our debt” and called for “structural changes” to the programs. That’s Washington-speak for “massive benefit cuts for seniors.” Rubio believes we can afford to give endless tax cuts to his corporate donors, but we can’t afford our own earned benefits that keep over 22 million Americans out of poverty.

Why is Rubio so dead set on gutting Social Security and Medicare, even though that’s incredibly unpopular with voters across Florida? The answer lies in a 2011 speech he gave at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. In the speech, Rubio said that Social Security and Medicare “weakened us as a people” because “it was no longer necessary to worry about saving for security because that was the government’s job.”

Rubio wants to take us back to a time before Social Security and Medicare, when over 50% of American seniors had incomes below the poverty line. When it was every man and woman for themselves. When your only option if you became disabled, lost a family breadwinner, or outlived your savings was moving into the poor house.

Rubio is on the ballot this November. Everyone who cares about the future of Social Security and Medicare should pay close attention to his record — and vote accordingly.

Special to the Sun Sentinel, May 4, 2022

Manny Diaz is the chair of the Florida Democratic Party and former mayor of Miami.

Jon “Bowzer” Bauman is president of Social Security Works PAC.

Regarding the draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion on Roe v. Wade

We do not know whether this draft is genuine, or whether it reflects the final decision of the Court.

With that critical caveat, I want to be clear on three points about the cases before the Supreme Court.

First, my administration argued strongly before the Court in defense of Roe v. Wade. We said that Roe is based on “a long line of precedent recognizing ‘the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty’… against government interference with intensely personal decisions.” I believe that a woman’s right to choose is fundamental, Roe has been the law of the land for almost fifty years, and basic fairness and the stability of our law demand that it not be overturned.

Second, shortly after the enactment of Texas law SB 8 and other laws restricting women’s reproductive rights, I directed my Gender Policy Council and White House Counsel’s Office to prepare options for an Administration response to the continued attack on abortion and reproductive rights, under a variety of possible outcomes in the cases pending before the Supreme Court. We will be ready when any ruling is issued.

Third, if the Court does overturn Roe, it will fall on our nation’s elected officials at all levels of government to protect a woman’s right to choose. And it will fall on voters to elect pro-choice officials this November.  At the federal level, we will need more pro-choice Senators and a pro-choice majority in the House to adopt legislation that codifies Roe, which I will work to pass and sign into law.

By Laurie Swanson, Chair, Mid-Keys Democrats
mid-keys@keysdems.com

This gentleman voted for Biden and 10 Democrats on Friday because we had a sign rally on Thursday. While my fellow Marathon Democrats were basking in the honks, toots and beeps of the energized traffic on Overseas Highway, I was helping him find his license. He had stopped to ask if he could vote with a voter’s registration and license that said he lived in Naples, Florida. I told him that I thought we could make it happen, and we did.

Now I am no stranger to accents, having lived in the Middle East for nearly 30 years, but his Haitian Creole almost outdid my comprehension. This morning we met at the DMV (which has moved) to pursue changes to his address on his driver’s license. About three hours later, after many trips to his aged beige Toyota Camry where he carries his whole life in little pieces of paper stuffed into every nook and cranny, we emerged with a new, updated, and renewed license in hand.

Off to 100th Street and the Supervisor of Elections Office (SOE) to finish off the voter registration. Although the DMV offered to register him to vote, I thought it wiser to go directly to the SOE office next to the Early Vote location to complete our mission. Kathy worked her magic on the computer and in no time at all my new friend was making his way into the poll room to vote.

While he was voting, I straightened our Democrat signs and retrieved a Biden Harris that had rudely been removed to make way for multiple Trump signs. I re-rooted Biden directly in front of a Trump sign.

I then planted myself on the steps and waited for my friend to emerge from voting. He came down the stairs smiling under his mask and told me that he voted for 10 Democrats and Biden. We got the Deputy to snap our picture. I wished him luck. We both drove in our separate directions knowing that our lives will probably never intersect again.

The Florida Keys Democrats offer many kinds of assistance to anyone wanting to vote. Please click here for more information.