March 13, 2013

Legislators react to Carroll resignation, pitch Flores as replacement

Legislators reacted with sadness upon hearing the news Wednesday of the resignation of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll but wasted no time considering replacements. 

"Jennifer Carroll is a very dear friend and anytime you see a friend go through something difficult, your heart goes out to them,” said Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando. "I think she did probably what was the right thing to keep the governor’s agenda moving forward. And so it won’t be a distraction. But it still hurts. It hurts for her, it hurts for her family.” 

Gardiner said he served in leadership in the Florida House with Carroll. “I just feel for her and her family,” he said.

Gardiner also said that he continues to believe Florida should “do away” with internet cafes. “I think they’re taking advantage of loophole in the law,” he said. “I’ve been pretty consistent. I don’t want to regulate them, I want to do away with them.”

Hours after Carroll's resignation, some South Florida political observers took to Twitter to recommend Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican, be tapped for the job. Their hashtag of choice: #Anitere4LT.

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, endorsed that idea. Flores "has all the great qualities of leadership. She's got the background, the experience,'' Detert said. "Geographically she fits. Being Hispanic doesn't hurt in Florida. She's an attractive candidate, smart woman...I don't know if she's interested or where she stands."

House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston called Carroll a dedicated public servant. "I'm very saddened by it,'' he said. "I wish the best to her and her family."

Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, said she was fond of Carroll. "She's going to definitely be missed in the Tampa Bay community because of her strong advocacy on behalf of the military and MacDill Air Force Base. We will miss her."
Republican Party of Florida director Lenny Curry, who is from Carroll's hometown of Jacksonville, called Carroll a "great leader for our party and our state.
"She was a terrific advocate for Florida’s military and economic development efforts,'' Curry said in a statement. "Her resignation is disappointing, but she made the right decision to protect both her family and the work she has done to move our state forward over the
last few years.”

Former Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, who has sponsored a bill to last year to ban internet cafes,  continued his push to get the Florida Senate to agreed to the effort. 

"The Florida House voted to shut down these illicit gambling operations last year,'' he said in a statement. "The Florida Cabinet unanimously agreed. It's now time for the Florida Senate to act to end this scourge on our state."

His bill was written by the general counsel for the Seminole County sheriff, the office that first began the probe and helped to draw federal investigators into the search.

 -- Rochelle Koff, Kathleen McGrory, Toluse Olorunnipa contributed to this report

March 11, 2013

Domestic partnership bill gets a second chance Tuesday

A bill that would give domestic partners certain rights, including hospital visitations, property rights and end-of-life decisions, will have another chance at passing its first hurdle on Tuesday.

At a press conference Monday, Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, said Senate Bill 0196 has been revised and “narrowed” to mirror domestic partnership registries outlined in 18 Florida jurisdictions, including Sarasota and Pinellas, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

A state law would “end the patchwork” of domestic partnership registries around the state and “provide legal protection,” said Sobel, who has tried to get a bill heard the past four years.

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March 04, 2013

Movers & Shakers; Civil Rights Hall of Fame inductees, capital press corps veterans retire

Gov. Rick Scott has named James B. Sanderlin, Margarita Romo and Harry T. and Harriette Moore to the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame.
Here’s a look at the inductees:
Sanderlin, a St. Petersburg judge who died in 1990, was the lead attorney representing six families in civil rights cases over classroom segregation, which resulted in desegregation in Hillsborough and Sarasota Counties. As the lead attorney for a group of 12 black police officers known as the “Courageous Twelve,” Sanderlin won a lawsuit to end discriminatory assignments in segregated neighborhoods.

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Steve Crisafulli officially chosen as House Speaker for 2014

Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, was officially appointed as the incoming Republican Leader of the Florida House of Representatives for 2014 on Monday.

If, as expected, Republicans etain their majority in the 120-member House in 2014, Crisafulli will be the state’s next House Speaker, occupying one of the most powerful positions in state government.

“It is an honor for me to be a small part of this ceremony, and a special day for a very close friend,” said current House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

Crisafulli was chosen for the post a week after last year’s election, when designated Speaker-in-waiting Rep. Chris Dorworth (R-Lake Mary) was defeated in a shocking upset.

As speaker-designate, Crisafulli will play a major role raising money and getting Republicans elected in 2014.

“No one who’s blessed with this opportunity gets here on his own,” said Crisafulli, in a speech where he thanked a slew of people and got emotional at times.

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Pre-session ritual: One last blast of collecting money

On the eve of the 2013 Florida legislative session, the Capitol was bustling with activity, including the pre-session ritual of lobbyists scurrying from one fund-raiser to the next with campaign checks for the lawmakers. On Tuesday, they will convene and begin to talk about the need for more stringent ethics laws in Tallahassee.

Fund-raising is prohibited during the 60-day session that starts Tuesday and will end in early May. So Tallahassee politicians collect what they can before the ban takes effect.

"I'm going to six (fund-raisers) now, but there are a bunch more at 4:30 and 5," said lobbyist Ron Book, who opened his legislative briefing binder to reveal a stack of checks in envelopes. He said there were a lot more fund-raisers during a stretch of three weeks of committee meetings held in February.

On the third floor of the nearby Governor's Club, Senate Rules Committee Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, greeted a small but steady stream of lobbyists bearing gifts for a lawmaker who plays a central role in setting the legislative agenda. Thrasher readily agreed to allow a Times/Herald reporter and photographer to attend his midday fund-raiser, and most lobbyists quickly scattered at the sight of a news camera.

"I'm going to run again," Thrasher said. "It's just a way of reaching out and telling people you're out there." Among the lobbyists stopping by to shake Thrasher's hand and say hello to his wife, Jean, were Book, Brian Ballard and Reginald Garcia.  

-- Steve Bousquet

February 25, 2013

Movers & Shakers: New Democratic Deputy Whips; Sachs retools firm

Democratic state representatives Lori Berman, of Delray Beach, Reggie Fullwood, of Jacksonville, José  Rodríguez, of Miami, Hazelle Rogers, of Lauderhill,  and Joe Saunders, of Orlando, have been appointed Democratic Deputy Whips by House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston (D-Plantation) and House Democratic Whip Alan Williams (D-Tallahassee).

Thurston called the representatives outstanding public servants who have demonstrated qualities of leadership, organization and a rigorous work ethic that are essential to the task of Deputy Whip,” in a press statement.

From Williams:  “Deputy whips are an important position, which includes the careful review of all legislation that comes before the Florida House of Representatives. Their task also involves counting votes and communicating the Democratic Caucus position to other Caucus members. I am confident that we have assembled an effective and great team.”

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February 19, 2013

Back to drawing board for domestic partnership bill

Vowing not to give up, Democratic state Sen. Eleanor Sobel delayed a committee vote of a domestic partnership bill that looked unlikely to pass and still faces long odds.
The bill, which Sobel has been trying to pass for five years, would have extended rights of married couples in areas such as health benefits, hospital visitation and medical decision-making to non-married couples.
“This is an issue that affects hundreds of thousands of Floridians,” said Nadine Smith of Tampa, who is the executive director of the advocacy group Equality Florida.

Continue reading "Back to drawing board for domestic partnership bill " »

February 18, 2013

Movers & Shakers: TaxWatch exec resigns abruptly

H. Steven Hammond, who has been the executive director of the TaxWatch Center for Smart Justice since May, has resigned, effective immediately.

“I feel it is time for me to move on to pursue other interests and opportunities, not the least of which is further commitment to prison ministry,” the management executive and consultant stated in a press release.

Florida TaxWatch, a private, nonprofit, non-partisan research institute, will be conducting an “extensive search,” according to the release, for a new executive director over the next four months. In the meantime, Robert Weissert, vice president for research and general counsel, will be in charge.

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February 17, 2013

Party loophole in campaign finance bill comes under fire from former party leader

The man who blew the whistle on former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer is now crying foul on House Speaker Will Weatherford’s self-described campaign finance reform.

“It’s the same old money laundering and money hiding approach that’s been in place as long as I can remember in Florida politics,’’ said Allan Cox, former vice chairman of the Republican Party and the man who exposed Greer’s secret strategy to steal party funds.

Cox said he hoped Greer’s case would serve as a catalyst to end the tradition of legislators using party funds to skirt state law and live lavish lifestyles. Greer on Monday pleaded guilty to theft and money laundering charges for setting up a consulting firm and steering party money to his personal account.

A bill moving through the House attempts to crack down on political slush funds known as Committees of Continuous Existence, which legislators use to cut themselves checks and get around a 10-year-old law that bars legislators from accepting meals, travel and entertainment from lobbyists. The proposal bans the committees and imposes new disclosure rules on spending done by political committees and candidates. The legislation is a priority for Weatherford.

Absent from the bill, however, are any rules that would require the state’s two dominant political parties to disclose details of how they spend millions of dollars in contributions. Cox believes that will encourage legislative leaders to continue to use their party to finance dinners, travel and entertainment — and escape public scrutiny.

“If we really want to have sunshine for campaign finance reform, we should eliminate the massive loophole that allows the speaker [of the House] and president [of the Senate] to raise funds on behalf of the party, park them at the party and then dictate to the party how and where they will be spent,’’ Cox said. “This is the delicate issue that has been skirted for years and years and years and years.” More here.

February 12, 2013

For the first time, Gov. Rick Scott needs votes from Democrats

For the first time in his brief and turbulent political career, Gov. Rick Scott needs a little help from Florida’s Democrats to turn one of his wishes into law.

Scott’s top legislative priority this year — a $141 million tax cut for manufacturers — comes with an asterisk: It has to garner ‘Yes’ votes from two-thirds of the Legislature to pass.

That means Democrats — whose gains in November breached the Republican supermajorities in Tallahassee — suddenly find themselves in an unfamiliar power position as they try to defeat Scott in 2014.

“I doubt that’ll be able to get a supermajority,” said Rep. Perry Thurston, a Plantation Democrat and minority leader in the Florida House. “It’s just another [business] incentive. We don’t know if it works.”

The bill seeks to eliminate sales taxes on all manufacturing equipment and machinery.

Scott has already put considerable political capital behind the tax cut, stating on numerous occasions that this was his top priority for 2013, along with a $1.2 billion boost in education funding.

“We need to build up manufacturing jobs in the great state of Florida,” he said in unveiling a $74.2 billion budget plan last month. Scott said the tax cut would create jobs and increase exports.

A failure on the measure would be politically embarrassing for Scott, who has staked his governorship on job creation and CEO-like efficacy.

Read more here