January 12, 2017

Koch brothers company argues against Gov. Rick Scott's job incentive programs


The uphill battle Gov. Rick Scott faces in getting $85 million of job incentive funds approved by a reluctant Florida Legislature was hard to miss this week.

While new Enterprise Florida CEO and President Chris Hart IV on Wednesday afternoon made his for the Legislature to revive job incentives to lure businesses to Florida to create jobs, he had to do so while sitting next to a pair of ardent opponents, including one with ties to the Koch Industries.

Fatima Perez, regional manager of state government affairs for Koch Companies Public Sector, while testifying before the House Careers and Competition subcommittee, praised Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran for his opposition to giving tax incentives to private companies to spur jobs.

“I would tell you that Koch fully supports continued legislative efforts to end corporate welfare programs whether they come in the form of subsidies, mandates, or tax incentives among others,” Perez said.

Moments later Florida State University economist Shawn Kantor testified that incentive programs like what Scott has sought funding for are inherently unfair because they award some businesses over others.

“I’m not convinced they provide any benefit at all to the economy,” Kantor said.

It was after that, Hart, who has been on the job for just over a week, made his pitch to 15-member subcommittee, saying the incentive money does help Florida draw businesses to the state. Last year, the House rejected Scott’s request for $250 million to support that program and gave him nothing. This year, Scott has asked for $85 million.

The subcommittee’s chairman Rep. Halsey Beshears, R-Monticello, said he wanted Koch Companies to testify to make sure the subcommittee heard more than just support for the incentive programs.

“You can’t have a one-sided panel that is all for them,” Beshears said. “Here you have a huge employer that’s saying we don’t need corporate incentives to come to Florida.”
Beshears said a better use of state funding might be to invest in infrastructure and education - items businesses often list as top draws to relocate.

January 11, 2017

Gov. Scott to name Justin Senior to lead health care agency

@MichaelAuslen and @stevebousquet

Gov. Rick Scott will name Justin Senior the secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration, his office confirmed Wednesday.

Senior, 45, has been serving in the job as interim secretary since October, when the previous secretary, Liz Dudek, left the agency. He earns $142,000 a year.

As secretary, Senior will oversee one of the state’s largest budgets and the department that runs Florida’s Medicaid program. He’ll face confirmation from the state Senate, but the Republican-controlled chamber almost never rejects appointees of the Republican governor.

Senior has been on staff at AHCA since 2007. He figured prominently in the 2015 debate over Medicaid expansion, then serving as deputy secretary of the Medicaid division.

After the state’s program to reimburse hospitals for serving low-income uninsured patients was set to expire, Senior was part of the negotiation team that ensured continued — though decreased — federal funding.

The agency will continue to be a top newsmaker in Florida as federal officials in Donald Trump's administration and the new Congress consider dismantling the Affordable Care Act and revamping health care for low-income people.

Lawmakers haven't proposed medical pot bill, but health officials are moving forward writing rules


B4s_weed010417_17774940_8colThe Florida Legislature has not yet started to put voter-passed medical marijuana into place, but the state Department of Health is about to launch its own rulemaking process.

Facing a "tight" timeline that requires rules be in place by July 3, Christian Bax, director of the Office of Compassionate Use, told lawmakers Wednesday that DOH is starting rulemaking workshops "in the coming days." And they'll take the meetings on the road to each of five regions throughout the state.

Amendment 2, passed by more than 70 percent of voters, gives the health department the job of writing rules for medical pot.

But it's clear the Legislature will weigh in too.

"We are not here to debate whether or not to have a medical cannabis program," state Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, the chairman of the Florida House's Health Quality Subcommittee, said Wednesday. "The voters have spoken convincingly that we will have one."

In the House, the majority leader, Ray Rodrigues, will carry medical marijuana legislation -- a clear signal that leaders are taking the voters' support seriously.

Photo: The state Department of Health has six months to set rules governing the program. The amendment lets doctors recommend marijuana for a long list of conditions. (Associated Press)

House speaker takes aim at tourism, jobs boards, college groups

Having secured the scalp of Visit Florida's CEO, House Speaker Richard Corcoran is quickly moving on to other equally inviting targets of fiscal scrutiny: Florida's tourism councils, economic development boards and college and university foundations.

Dozens of groups are receiving letters on the official House letterhead that demand a wide array of information, in some cases under the threat of subpoena if they don't comply very quickly.

"Recent spending abuses and unwarranted secrecy in the tourism and economic development arena in Florida raise legitimate concerns among both taxpayers and elected offiicials," Corcoran wrote to tourism leaders in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Hillsborough and other large metropolitan areas, referring to the once-secret Pitbull contract that cost Visit Florida's Will Seccombe his job. "Recent news media reports have only heightened that concern and reinforced my belief that it is time we take a close look at where development money is being spent, how it is being spent and whether these expenditures are returning value to the taxpayers."  

Corcoran wants annual dollar amounts from tourism boards for tax revenues, grants, advertising, travel, lobbying, employee salaries, bonuses and reimbursements by Feb. 1. His demands include this love note: "If you choose not to provide this information, please be advised that pursuant to s. 11.143, F.S., you may be compelled by subpoena duces tecum to produce such information." Corcoran wants to see spending for "each event including the number of participants per event and the specifics of the expenditure, for example, food and beverage."

One of the most obvious targets of Corcoran's tourism industry wrath is in Hillsborough County, where Corcoran has threatened to "zero fund" Visit Tampa Bay, the county's tourism arm, funded largely through tourism bed tax revenues, for stonewalling requests for payroll data and other information, as WFLA-Channel 8 has reported.

Some of the information Corcoran is demanding is exempt from disclosure under Florida's public records laws, and colleges and universities are nervous about the potential impact on donors. But the Legislature has life-and-death control over higher education spending, so they will comply by a Jan. 23 deadline.

"They are preparing a response," said Browning Brooks, a spokeswoman for the Florida State University Foundation.

January 10, 2017

Visit Florida CEO ousted over Pitbull deal, Ken Lawson named new leader


ORLANDO — The political pressure around a previously secret $1 million marketing contract with musician Pitbull was too much to save the head of Florida's besieged tourism marketing agency.

Even as board members praised Visit Florida CEO Will Seccombe for his work in helping set tourism records four years in a row, they turned around and voted unanimously to fire him, overtly hoping it will save the agency as the Florida Legislature threatens deep budget cuts.

The deal with Pitbull to promote Florida beaches and other mult-million dollar contracts to advertise with a car racing team and a British soccer team have brought scrutiny from the Legislature which determines how much funding the agency will get. Specifically Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran sued Pitbull's management company in December to force him to disclose terms of his contract with Visit Florida when Seccombe refused. That prompted Gov. Rick Scott to call on Seccombe to resign his position and Visit Florida to reform its rules on transparency.

While Visit Florida board chairman William Talbert III lauded Seccombe — who was not at the meeting in Lake Buena Vista — for his work and sounded reluctant to part ways with him, he acknowledged that politically Visit Florida could not afford to lose any of Scott's support for the agency as the political environment gets tougher in the Florida Legislature.

"That is a critical component because the governor recommends and fights for our budget," Talbert said.

Board member Gene Prescott, of The Biltmore Hotel, was even more blunt, suggesting that board members could agree or disagree with the governor's call to change leaders, but there is a political reality looming.

"We have the Speaker of the House who has said he wants to take away all of our funding," Prescott said. "So we really have our work cut out to save our money."

Continue reading "Visit Florida CEO ousted over Pitbull deal, Ken Lawson named new leader" »

Senate will renew push to end major insurance industry tax break

Florida's insurance industry has a political fight on its hands in the upcoming legislative session.

JN-SBSenate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, will renew his effort to eliminate an industry sacred cow: a 15 percent tax credit on the salaries insurance companies pay to full-time employees in Florida.

With Negron as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Senate four years ago voted to repeal the 30-year-old tax break and redirect the proceeds to lower car registration fees, which a few years earlier had risen dramatically to close a budget gap in 2009.

The insurance industry, a major donor to the Republican Party, said the repeal of the 1987 tax credit would drive jobs out of state. The House flatly rejected the Senate's idea and kept the tax credit on the books, where Negron is again targeting it for elimination. The Senate estimates that wiping out the tax credit is worth about $300 million a year in tax savings.

"I think there's a better way to deploy $300 million than to hand-pick one industry to subside their labor costs," Negron told the Times/Herald Tuesday. "We have a choice to continue a subsidy that's no longer necessary or put the money back in the pockets of hard-working Floridians. That will be the choice."

Negron said his proposal should fare better in the House in 2017 than it did before because House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, opposes the Legislature "picking winners and losers ... (and has said) we shouldn't be disrupting market forces."


Progress emerges on gaming compact but can they really do it this time?

CasinoFlorida lawmakers have inched closer to renewing a 20-year, multi-million dollar gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida by allowing owners of declining parimutuels to sell their permits to others who want to install slot machines at newer facilities outside of South Florida.

Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, have been actively negotiating with the Tribe and the governor’s office on a new gaming compact after a portion of the current one expired in October 2015, but the state can’t count on the revenue just yet.

Progress is so close the Senate has started starting drafting a bill but then canceled a meeting to hear the plan this week and will hear it later this month when lawmakers return to Tallahassee for pre-session hearings, Galvano told the Herald/Times.

For the first time in years, House leaders appear ready to allow some expansion of slot machines outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties to appease members from industry-heavy districts. But, in return, they are also abiding by House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s wishes to contract gaming that will lead to a net reduction of live, active permits throughout the state.

The idea, said Diaz, is to allow owners of stagnant dog track or jai-alai fronton operations to sell their live gaming permits to others seeking to obtain a slots license, and to “put the dormant permits out of their misery.” More here. 

January 09, 2017

Andrew Gillum calls for moratorium on deregulating gun control in Florida

Andrew Gillum


Tallahassee Mayor (and potential 2018 gubernatorial candidate) Andrew Gillum said Monday that the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando back in June and Friday's shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport should be wake-up calls for Florida's lawmakers.

As the Legislature prepares to vet several bills in the 2017 session that would expand gun-owners' rights, Gillum is calling for a moratorium on "all gun deregulation bills until we find a solution to protect our communities."

RELATED: "Bloodbath shows why guns should be allowed in airports, lawmakers say"

"In light of back-to-back mass shootings in less than a year and the daily pain that gun violence inflicts on our cities, it is clear that attempts to weaken our gun safety laws have failed to keep Floridians safe," Gillum said in a statement provided to the Herald/Times. "No mother or grandmother should fear walking into an airport. No father, son, or daughter should lose their life for meeting those they love for a night out. No parent should lose sleep wondering if a stray bullet will take their baby that day."

"It is time to bring commonsense back to the Capitol by ending the attack on gun safety and passing reform measures that protect our families from harm," Gillum added. "Our prayers for the victims and their families should be matched by our vigorous actions to keep families safe from repeated incidents of gun violence."

Florida's Republican-led Legislature is unlikely to heed the call from Gillum and other gun-control advocates. Many members of legislative leadership are strident supporters of Second Amendment rights.

In the wake of Friday's shooting in Fort Lauderdale, two conservative Republican lawmakers -- Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, and Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Lithia -- who had previously been proposing to lift the ban on concealed weapons in airport terminals doubled down on their proposal.

While their bills would not have prevented Esteban Santiago from killing five people and wounding six others, they argue that allowing Florida's 1.7 million concealed weapons permit-holders to carry in airport terminals could have, perhaps, given bystanders a chance to defend themselves.

RELATED: "Airport shooter had mental health problems but no apparent ties to terrorism"

Legislative committees begin meeting this week to start vetting bills filed for the upcoming 2017 session, which begins in March. Gun legislation is not scheduled to be heard this week. 

Gillum's name is among a handful of Democrats who are said to be considering a run for governor next year. He's been outspoken lately against the gun lobby, including the NRA. The First District Court of Appeals is hearing oral arguments on Tuesday in a lawsuit filed by gun rights groups, who sued Gillum and other Tallahassee officials after they failed in 2014 to repeal a ban on guns in a city park.

Photo credit: City of Tallahassee

As Florida again poised to consider campus-carry, Texas offers recent example

Ut austin guns on campus


As Florida lawmakers prepare to grapple again — for the third year in a row — with whether to allow concealed guns on public college and university campuses, another state has recent experience with this polarizing debate.

Conservative lawmakers in Texas also took several years before ultimately approving guns on their state’s campuses two years ago. They, too, faced resistance from many university presidents and attracted both praise and outrage from residents, as Florida lawmakers are starting to experience again this year.

Texas’ law took effect only five months ago on Aug. 1, making the state the eighth — and most recent — to allow concealed guns on public higher ed campuses. Twenty-three other states leave the policy up to individual colleges and universities, while 19 states, including Florida, have essentially a full ban.

When Texas’ law was implemented this summer, “the reaction was varied,” said David Daniel, deputy chancellor of the University of Texas System, which has 14 institutions including U-T Dallas where Daniel was president until 2015.

“On some campuses, there was a very high level of angst, tension and it was a distraction from the core work of the university,” Daniel said, whereas in “a small area with predominantly ranching communities where people are comfortable carrying firearms in a routine manner, it could be not a big deal.”

Texas has around 40 public universities, while Florida has 12. Florida has more active concealed weapons permits: 1.7 million compared to Texas’ nearly 1.2 million, as of Dec. 31.

After five months under the law, “we have been fortunate that there hasn’t been any major issues that have ratcheted up the level of concern,” said Chris Meyer, associate vice president for safety and security at Texas A&M University. “Campus has relaxed from the very tense state it was in. We’re much closer to being back to normal.”

Read more.

Photo credit: University of Texas at Austin anthropology professor Pauline Strong posts a sign prohibiting guns at her office on the first day of the new campus-carry law Monday, Aug. 1, 2016.  Jay Janner / AP

January 08, 2017

Some Florida lawmakers have wanted to allow concealed guns in airport terminals


Two conservative Republican lawmakers who want to lift Florida’s ban on concealed weapons in airport terminals say Friday’s shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport strengthens the need for their proposal.

Weeks before Esteban Santiago opened fire on Friday in a baggage-claim area, killing five people and injuring six others, state Sen. Greg Steube and state Rep. Jake Raburn had filed bills in the Florida Legislature that would allow the 1.7 million people with concealed weapons permits in the state to carry their guns in airport passenger terminals.

Raburn, R-Lithia, said Saturday that the proposal wasn’t inspired by any particular incident but is a matter of allowing “lawfully abiding citizens” to protect themselves, even if it’s simply while picking up loved ones from the airport.

Raburn told the Herald/Times “it’s hard to say” if his bill, if in place now, would have made a difference on Friday. He said 44 states already allow guns in airport terminals.

“There’s always the potential — if it were allowed and there were someone in that area that had a concealed weapon — that it could have gone differently,” Raburn said. “I’m not going to say that it would have, because my understanding is we’re talking about a span of time that’s less than a minute. It may not have changed anything.”

More here.