January 14, 2014

Sen. Gaetz says he's 'studying' medical marijuana exception

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said he is "looking at" supporting legislation to decriminalize non-euphoric strains of medical marijuana but there is no Senate proposal yet to address it.

He noted, however, that his wife "had tears running down her cheeks" as she recalled the testimony at a hearing of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee last week conducted by his son, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar. Parents told legislators how the strain is their last, best hope of treating their children who suffer from debilitating seizures and, if Florida doesn't legalize it, many will move to Colorado to get treatment.

Gaetz said he has not yet made up his mind on the issue but, when he knocked on doors in a heavily-Republican district in the Panhandle town of Shalimar on Saturday and half of the people wanted to talk about the issue and all of them who talked about it supported it, he concluded: "it's certainly compelling,'' he said.

Gaetz noted that he has been on the opposite side of issues opposed by doctors, hospitals and the insurance industry before, citing his experience 30 years ago building the state's first for-profit hospice company and working to get legislation passed that allowed for palliative care.

"There were many in the traditional health care community who said, 'that's outrageous; you can't do that' and now palliative care is an accepted form of treatment,'' he said. "So, even in my lifetime, I've seen changes that are rather substantial. So, let's put it this way, I'm studying the issue...and being pummeled by my son." 

 

December 12, 2013

Senate president says bipartisan "initiative" aimed at sexual violent predators on the way

A bipartisan Senate initiative aimed at a “broad range” of issues related to violent sexual predators and the Department of Children & Families is expected to be announced by Christmas, Senate President Don Gaetz said Thursday.

“I think you will see in the next few days a bipartisan initiative in the Senate to address the issue of sexually violent predators and the broader issues associated with foster children and related issues in DCF,” Gaetz, R-Niceville, said at a breakfast with reporters.

While he didn’t outline specifics, Gaetz said that Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, and other senators have been working on these issues over the summer.

The violent sexual predator initiative would involve “a criminal justice element” that affects the jurisdiction of Senators Greg Evers, R-Baker, and Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island; a human services element that impacts Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring; and Sobel who “is right at Ground Zero,” Gaetz said.

He also discussed concerns about DCF. Gaetz, who attended part of a Senate Committee meeting on Children, Families and Elder Affairs Tuesday, said that policy changes should become part of the law. “I don’t think we can rely upon who’s in charge," Gaetz said. "I think we have to make some changes in statute."

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December 02, 2013

Matt Gaetz's dog bites man, Gaetz gets sued

From the Associated Press: 

A Florida legislator has been sued over his pet dog biting someone in the face at a restaurant located near the state Capitol.

Christopher Kent filed a lawsuit last week in Leon County against Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach. Gaetz is the son of Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and recently held a lengthy legislative hearing over a proposal to repeal the state's contentious "stand your ground" law.

Kent's lawsuit alleges that Gaetz's dog bit him last May. The lawsuit contends the dog bite left Kent in pain, disfigured and with injuries that ultimately forced him to withdraw from law school. He said part of the reason he quit the University of Michigan is that the treatment has forced him to take antibiotics that cause stomach problems.

The lawsuit asks for payment of medical bills and damages connected to the bite, but it does not list an amount.

Gaetz on Monday acknowledged that his dog, Scarlet, did bite someone. Gaetz said he does not know the dog's breed because he rescued the 55-to-60-pound dog from a shelter about six years ago.

But he said he was unaware of the lawsuit until reached by a reporter. He said that he thought Kent's attorney was trying to discuss the issue with his insurance company.

Gaetz would not discuss any details about what happened.

"We have a system that allows the courts to make those decisions," said Gaetz, who is chairman of the House Criminal Justice subcommittee.

David Frank, the attorney representing Kent, declined to answer questions about the lawsuit.

November 04, 2013

Panel: Economic impact of marijuana "cannot be determined"

Legalizing medical marijuana could cost the state in excess of $1.1 million to operate each year, but any other financial or tax impact of offering the drug to the seriously ill is still unclear, according to a state economic panel.

The Office of Economic and Demographic Research’s Financial Impact Estimating Conference finished its analysis of the medical marijuana ballot initiative on Monday and concluded that “increased costs from this amendment to state and local governments cannot be determined.”

Aside from the Department of Health, which estimated that it would cost an estimated $1.1 million yearly to regulate the medical marijuana industry, most agencies said the cost would not be significant or did not yet have any hard numbers.

The report stated the health department’s costs “will likely be offset through fees charged to the medical marijuana industry and users."

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the Police Chiefs Association and the Sheriff's Association stated there will be increased costs based on the experience of other states, but did not offer any numbers.

The report estimates that about 417,000 to 452,000 will use medical marijuana based on figures from other states. It was also estimated that about 17,178 to 41,271 snowbirds may apply for ID cards to use medical marijuana.

The campaign to put a medical marijuana amendment on the ballot was launched by United for Care, spearheaded by high-profile, Orlando trial attorney John Morgan, whose law firm employs Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist.

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September 26, 2013

A candid moment with Senate President Don Gaetz

Don gaetz new

I've been operating the Tampa Bay Times' Instagram account all week, posting anything I saw interesting as the Legislature returned to Tallahassee for the first committee meetings of the 2014 session. I realized Wednesday night I didn't have any pictures of Senate President Don Gaetz, so I arranged to pay him a visit.

As luck would have it, Gaetz wasn't doing anything "interesting" when I stopped in this afternoon. The office was quiet and he was simply sitting at his desk working on upcoming speeches. So I spent a few minutes talking to him and trying to decide what to shoot.

I noticed a large poster on the wall. A guy named S.J. "Jerry" Gaetz was running for lieutenant governor in North Dakota. The poster was positioned in a way that Jerry would always be watching over Don as he worked at his desk.

"Is that your father?" I asked. Yes, Gaetz replied. "Did he win the election?" No.

The story that unfolded from there was sad and touching. We wrote about it in this 2008 profile of Gaetz, but it's worth telling again.

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September 20, 2013

Lobbying group wants a say in auditing process

With a joint legislative committee planning to discuss auditing lobbying firm compensation on Monday, the organization that represents Florida lobbyists has asked to add its voice to the discussion.  

In a letter to Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, the board of directors for the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists, requested that the group be allowed to "provide input and offer our assistance."  Download FAPL lobby comp ltr-4 (1)

The letter also states that the association's 350 members "have gone above and beyond what is required by Florida law and created and pledged to abide by a self-imposed code of conduct that is signed by and adhered to by each member of our organization." 

State law requires lobbying firms to file quarterly reports that list dollar ranges for how much they pay each client , but a requirement that reports get audited has never been enforced.

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September 12, 2013

With $845 million surplus, Negron makes another bid for auto registration fee cut

As Gov. Rick Scott was on the road Thursday in Tampa promoting his proposal to cut $500 million in unspecified taxes and fees, the lawmakers who will actually vote on next year’s budget huddled during a conference call in Tallahassee.

A joint panel of House and Senate members discussed a projected $845 million surplus in the budget that covers spending from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015. Compared to the surplus of $71.3 million this year, it might sound like it’s time for a spending spree.

But hold on. As chief state economist Amy Baker told the Legislative Budget Commission on Thursday, more than half of the extra money is in one-time revenue. Spend it once, and it’s not going to be available the following year. So it might be a good idea not to spend that money on recurring expenses like salaries. (Baker said if lawmakers spent the entire surplus on recurring expenses, the budget would face a deficit of $264.7 million the following year).

Tax cuts certainly qualify as a dreaded recurring expense. So it’ll be interesting to see what Scott decides to propose. But already, Senate Appropriations Chair Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has staked a claim, once again, to reduce vehicle registration fee increases that lawmakers approved in 2009 by $230 million. He filed a SB 156 on Thursday that does just that.

Negron pushed for the same this year only to see the bill die. That effort would have paid for the fee reduction by eliminating a 15 percent tax credit for the insurance industry that was created in 1987 and was called outdated by Negron.

Negron’s new bill appropriates only general revenue for the cut. But he told reporters after the meeting that he wants to explore eliminating tax incentive programs that have “outlived their usefulness” to help pay for it. He said there are dozens of tax incentives that they'll be looking at.

“If we’re going to do several hundred million in fee and tax relief, I hope this one (vehicle registration fees) can make it to the top of the list,” Negron said. “It was an almost doubling of tag registration fees in 2009, and based on the input that I have gotten from my constituents, it’s one that affects them the most directly.”

Negron’s bill certainly has the support from Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.

“I’m glad we’re giving tax breaks to businesses,” Gaetz said. “I was all for them. But it’s past time we help hard-working middle class families.”

Task force takes shape to study mandatory paid-sick-leave

UPDATE: House Speaker Will Weatherford sent over his list of appointees to the task force.

  • -Florida State University economics professor Randall Holcombe, filling the slot set aside for a business economist.
  • -Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven.
  • -Walter Carpenter, an Orlando real estate appraiser representing Florida business owners with less than 50 employees.
  • -Gregory Riehle of Wesley Chapel, the owner of Saddlebrook Resorts representing Florida business owners with more than 50 employees.
  • -Marcia Gonzalez, Political Director of the Florida Carpenters Regional Council, a labor union.

ORIGINAL POST:

Senate President Don Gaetz has announced the first four members of a task force that will study how state law affects the benefits companies can offer employees. The group will eventually grow to 11 people to bring recommendations to the Legislature next year in hopes of creating one statewide standard regarding mandatory paid-sick-leave.

Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott signed House 655 into law a bill, which temporarily banned cities and counties from requiring local employers to offer paid-sick-leave. Companies like Disney and Darden Restaurants, as well as the Florida Chamber of Commerce, argued the ban was needed to avoid having to deal with a patchwork of different rules.

The outcome of the law was to block efforts pushed by liberal organizations and labor unions in Orange County to enact mandatory paid-sick-time there. The issue was scheduled to be included on the county's ballot in August 2014 after supporters collected 50,000 signatures to trigger the referendum.

Gaetz, who says his fifth pick will be a doctor, and House Speaker Will Weatherford will appoint a total of 10 people to the task force. The president of Workforce Florida, Chris Hart, will serve as the 11th member and chairman.

Here is the full press release from Gaetz: 

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September 10, 2013

Change coming to budget offices of Scott, Senate

Change is coming to the budget offices of Gov. Rick Scott and Senate President Don Gaetz, with a historical twist. It's believed to be the first time in state government history that women will hold all three key staff budget positions in the executive and legislative branches in Tallahassee.

With the long-awaited retirement of Scott's budget director, Jerry McDaniel, at year's end, Scott has chosen an experienced hand: Cynthia Kelly, a former staff director for both the Senate and House budget offices. Kelly has been director of administrative services for the Department of Environmental Protection since 2010. She previously worked in the governor's budget office in the 1990s when Democrat Lawton Chiles was in office.

Sen. Gaetz has promoted Cindy Kynoch to be staff director of the Senate Appropriations Committee replacing Mike Hansen, effective Oct. 21, at a salary of $140,000 a year. Kynoch had been Hansen's top deputy. And JoAnne Leznoff continues to hold down the fort in the House as the long-time staff director of the House Appropriations Committee.

-- Steve Bousquet

September 04, 2013

Matt Gaetz urges tea party to fight for Stand Your Ground

The Republican leaders of the Legislature don’t want to change Florida's Stand Your Ground law. Polls show that a majority of voters agree. But that doesn’t mean conservatives should stand back as lawmakers prepare for hearings on the self-defense law, Rep. Matt Gaetz told tea party activists Tuesday night.

During a 90-minute conference call, Gaetz said the tea party needed to show up in Tallahassee in big numbers to offset proponents of changing the law, who have vowed to do the same. Gaetz also listened to the callers' ideas about what else can be done leading up to the yet-to-be-scheduled hearings, such as circulating petitions and lobbying local elected officials.

House Speaker Will Weatherford called for the hearings after activists and Democrats said the issue needed more attention after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin. But he assigned the task of chairing the hearings to Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, chairman of the House’s Criminal Justice Subcommittee and a vocal proponent of the law without “changing one damn comma.” 

Even though he doesn’t think there should or will be changes to Stand Your Ground, Gaetz said the hearings will be beneficial.

“These hearings will give a great opportunity, I think, for the people of Florida to see what the Stand Your Ground law really does,” he said. “Why it was enacted. Who it protects. Who it doesn’t protect.”

A general disdain for the Dream Defenders’ 30-night sit-in at the Capitol to push for changes to Stand Your Ground after the Zimmerman trial was a common theme of the phone call. Gaetz defended the activists' right to protest but said he wasn’t happy about the expense to the state and other things he heard.

He also claimed most of the activists, including those who planned to return for the hearings, were paid for their time and/or bused in from other states.

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