June 12, 2018

Remember when Cabinet meetings used to focus on agency oversight?

Florida Cabinet KeelerThe state agency in charge of regulating taxation in Florida has four equal bosses — Gov. Rick Scott and the three elected members of the Cabinet — but in the past two years, in public meetings and correspondence, they have asked few questions and have given the agency scant public scrutiny.

The agency's director, Leon Biegalski, was the governor's choice to lead the Department of Revenue when he was elevated from deputy secretary at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation in April 2016. Since then, the governor has canceled DOR's regular appearance in 9 of 19 before the Cabinet meetings.

When Biegalski appears before the Cabinet on Wednesday, it will be the first time this year. Will they ask any questions?

Judging from the transcripts of the previous meetings, that's not likely. Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam asked only two questions in Biegalski's 10 appearance before them — and both came from Putnam. Story here. 

Until Scott's tenure, the Florida Cabinet had a tradition of meeting every other week. 

Florida, unlike most other states, has a unique power-sharing relationship between its governor and the Cabinet members. They share oversight and hiring authority of the directors of the departments of revenue, law enforcement, highway safety, the division of bond finance and the state board of administration.But the shared role also underscores the structural weakness of Florida's governor in controlling the shared agencies and Scott has ratcheted down the amount of substantial dialogue that takes place during Cabinet meetings.

In the last seven years, Cabinet sessions have been more ceremonial and less substantive. More time is devoted to award ceremonies than under previous governors, and a regular feature is Bondi’s promotion of offering dogs for adoption.

Scott, who is running for U.S. Senate, sets the calendar and has convened only three Cabinet meetings this year. He scheduled eight meetings for the entire year, the fewest in recent memory, and canceled the meeting in May.

When the Cabinet had both Democrats and Republicans on it, there were more questions of agency heads in the public forum than there have been under Scott.

At a Nov. 20, 2008, Cabinet meeting, as former Revenue Director Lisa Echeverri Vickers presented her legislative budget request and annual performance report, former CFO Alex Sink grilled her about enforcement of tax revenue collection. Vickers acknowledged that she is asking for more auditors to help them collect the unpaid taxes.

Sink, a former banker and a Democrat, then asked about tax collections on short sales, a policy based on the rule because the Legislature failed to pass a statute, and the agency's application of "a glitch in the depreciation laws" that had left many businesses vulnerable.

The discussion provided an opportunity for the public to hear the agency's response to handling two important issues in an open forum.

Under Gov. Jeb Bush, former Revenue Director admitted during his annual performance review on Sept. 21, 2004, that the measures related to review of property appraisers "were fairly easy to achieve."

"You're an honest man, Zingale,'' Bush replied.

"Well, we want to do better than that,'' Zingale responded.

June 01, 2018

Gwen Graham would end private prisons and decriminalize pot possession

Gwen Graham 10 EKM
Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham.

Gwen Graham would phase out private prisons in Florida and decriminalize the personal possession of marijuana if elected governor, according to a nine-point plan her campaign laid out today.

"For too long, the politicians in Tallahassee have ignored the inequity and pervasive prejudice in Florida’s criminal justice system," Graham said in a statement. "While they’ve failed to act, Floridians have been hurt by mass incarceration, increasing costs and devastating cuts."

Graham, one of four Democrats running for governor, laid out proposals that she thinks can pass in Florida's Republican-dominated Legislature, where some Republicans have led the charge for criminal justice reform - with mixed success.

Graham said she supports reforming the bail bond system, which keep poor people who can't afford to pay bail in jail longer. Orlando-area State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced in May that prosecutors in her office would no longer seek bail for low-level offenders, one option that Graham says she is considering.

Some of her other ideas include:

  • Pay raises for prison guards.
  • Require state attorneys to get the opinion of a panel of in-house prosecutors before seeking the death penalty.
  • Reduce sentencing for nonviolent drug possession.
  • Restore voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences.

Graham said her first priority is "upholding the will of the people" and making medical marijuana accessible to those who need it. But she also believes that possession of marijuana in small amounts should not have a criminal penalty.

Some Florida counties have changed their ordinances so that being caught with small amounts of marijuana results in a civil fine, rather than an arrest.

"Florida should embrace the principle that no young person should go to jail or have their lives ruined over an incident of marijuana use — we can and should decriminalize," she said in a statement.

Her ideas were endorsed by former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, state Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, Leon County Public Defender Nancy Daniels and the state's largest police union, the Police Benevolent Association.

“We believe Graham’s plan to better support officers, close the state’s private prisons, and expand rehabilitation programs will make Florida safer," PBA executive director Matt Puckett said in a statement.

Her ideas didn't go quite as far as Orlando businessman Chris King's, who is trailing in the polls. King wants to eliminate the death penalty in Florida and legalize marijuana completely.

Graham's plan prompted King campaign spokesman Avery Jaffe to take a shot at her, calling it "half-hearted" and "lame."

January 09, 2018

Negron: “The Florida Senate has zero tolerance for sexual harassment”

Senate President Joe Negron opened the 2018 Legislative Session by vowing to crack down on sexual harassment, saying the Senate has "zero tolerance for sexual harassment."

"I would like to begin today by addressing a very important issue that addresses not only the Florida senate, but also our counterparts in Congress, the entertainment industry, employers large and small across the country, and our culture in general," Negron said.

"Let me be clear: The Florida Senate has zero tolerance for sexual harassment or misconduct of any time against any employee or visitor," he said.

Allegations of sexual harassment have promised to overshadow the Legislature since last fall, when reports of sexual harassment against Negron's then-budget chair, Sen. Jack Latvala, surfaced.

In November, the Stuart Republican ordered an investigation into the allegations, which eventually led to Latvala's resignation.

He added that the Senate, led by Senate Rules Chair Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, is working to revise its administrative policies regarding harassment.

"I am committed to ensuring we all have a safe workplace environment to do the people's business," Negron said Tuesday.

Negron, is in his last session as Senate president, also emphasized expanding Bright Futures scholarships for college students and addressing the state's opioid crisis.

He also said he supported Scott's push for raises for state law enforcement, and that he supported House Speaker Richard Corcoran's efforts toward "school choice."

"I don’t love my children enough to homeschool them," he quipped. "But I respect the decision of parents to homeschool theirs."

Negron

 

May 01, 2017

Adam Putnam formally launches bid for governor

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via @adamsmithtimes

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam today filed papers to run for governor in 2018, making official what has long been expected.

Putnam: “I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world because I get to call Florida home. It’s our responsibility as Floridians to keep our economy at work, to increase access to high quality education, to fiercely protect our personal freedoms, to keep our state safe, and to welcome our veterans home with open arms. I hope everyone will join me on May 10 at 11:00 a.m.on the old county courthouse steps in Bartow, where I’ll share my vision for Florida’s future.”

Democratic former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee has an announcement scheduled for tomorrow in Miami-Dade County that is expected to make her bid for governor official too.

Photo credit: AP

April 12, 2017

Andrew Gillum: House Republicans 'have a credibility problem'

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@ByKristenMClark

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum — a Democrat running for governor next year — is accusing Republicans in the state House of having “a credibility problem.”

Speaking at a press conference today at the Florida Capitol about House Republicans' "schools of hope" legislation, Gillum said Republicans contradict themselves with their legislative priorities.

RELATED: " 'Schools of hope' are not the answer, Democrats say" (w/ video) 

Gillum said that, for instance, while Republicans say they want to help students in failing schools by bringing in charter-operated "schools of hope," they’ve also proposed this session little to help those same communities, which are often neighborhoods with low-income families who are predominantly black or Hispanic.

Gillum noted that Republicans have proposed limitations on government welfare programs, such as food stamps, and they also have not prioritized early childhood education spending or investing in health care programs that help low-income families afford medical services.

"The Republican House, right now, is trying to take $200 million and put into the hands of their friends who are well-healed and well-connected," Gillum said referencing the "schools of hope" plan. "They want us to trust them on this issue — when by and by, and time and time again, they have turned the other direction when it comes to meeting the needs of the most indigent in this state."

Photo credit: Courtesy of CateComm

February 20, 2017

Senate Democratic leader to Gov. Rick Scott: Treat opioid crisis as a public health emergency

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@ByKristenMClark

Florida Senate Democrats are urging Gov. Rick Scott to declare a public health emergency over the growing opioid epidemic in the state.

“No longer confined to small urban enclaves, heroin and fentanyl have become the scourge of communities throughout Florida, wreaking widespread devastation not only from the ravages of addiction, but the resurgence of deadly diseases associated with drug abuse,” Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon, of Miami Gardens, wrote in a letter to Scott on Monday.

“There is no family, no race, no ethnicity, no income level this epidemic cannot touch — and no effective state bulwark in place to stop it,” Braynon added.

More here.

Photo credit: Steve Cannon / AP

January 13, 2017

John Morgan doesn't know if he'll run for governor. But he's talking like he will.

Morgan

@ByKristenMClark

Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan isn't a candidate for public office and says he's still not sure he'd ever be one. But he sure was talking like one Friday in a speech to the Panhandle Tiger Bay Club in Pensacola.

In a half-hour speech during a club luncheon, Morgan -- who is considering a run for governor in 2018 -- spoke like a politician testing the waters and trying out a potential stump speech.

He recounted his youth in Lexington, Ky., his wealth and success owning multiple businesses from a billboard company to hotels, and his recent high-profile work to get Amendment 2 passed in Florida, which legalized medical marijuana.

He said he had hoped the Legislature would take action first and when lawmakers didn't, he was forced to step up to the plate.

"They wouldn't do it in Tallahassee," Morgan said. "You all ask yourselves a question: When is the last time in the last 10 years that Tallahassee's ever done anything -- anything -- to help you? That's benefited your life?"

Continue reading "John Morgan doesn't know if he'll run for governor. But he's talking like he will." »

December 08, 2016

Republicans go on offensive against Gwen Graham

Gwen1_ap

@ByKristenMClark

Gwen Graham hasn't officially launched a campaign for Florida governor in 2018 -- but that's not stopping the Republican Governors Association from taking a pre-emptive swipe at the outgoing Democratic congresswoman from Tallahassee.

In a statement Thursday, the RGA accused Graham of not being transparent, saying her congressional office hasn't responded to a Freedom of Information Act request made by the RGA.

However, the federal FOIA applies only to the executive branch, i.e. federal agencies. Congress, like federal courts, is exempt so Graham -- or any other member of Congress -- is under no obligation to respond to FOIA requests.

Nonetheless, RGA spokesman Jon Thompson said, "when it comes to transparency, Gwen Graham says one thing, but does another."

"Graham says she believes that Florida families deserve full transparency, but as her actions have demonstrated, she only believes in full transparency until it could impact her quest for political power," Thompson said.

Graham dismissed the RGA's criticism, saying in a statement: "We are 23 months away from the governor's election in Florida, and there will be plenty of time for the RGA to engage in this petty nonsense and partisan attacks."

Continue reading "Republicans go on offensive against Gwen Graham" »

October 10, 2016

Congress more stingy on providing disaster relief than it once was

 

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@jamesmartinrose

The final damage tally from Hurricane Matthew across Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas isn't yet known, but it’s certain those states will ask Congress for billions in disaster aid.

President Barack Obama, after speaking with their governors, suggested that he’ll be seeking emergency funds for damage from Matthew and earlier storms when lawmakers convene after the Nov. 8 election, and Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio said Florida was certain to seek assistance.

“While the state has yet to commence an assessment of damage due to unsafe conditions remaining in many areas, we must be prepared for the long road of recovery ahead,” Rubio wrote Friday in a letter backing up a request from Scott that Obama declare Matthew a “major disaster” for his state, a designation that would allow it to seek more emergency aid from Washington.

For more, read here.

Photo credit: Pedro Portal, El Nuevo Herald

 


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/national/article106789687.html#storylink=cpy

 

September 23, 2016

Can Zika aid bill overcome its DC partisan past?

  NP-ZikaDemo-092316-IMG_zika1_free_lnew_cmg_7_1_HQ9DAKVA_L258389043

@jamesmartinrose

WASHINGTON Senate Republican leaders revealed what they called a breakthrough in Zika funding Thursday under renewed pressure from Florida lawmakers and mayors to break a seven-month political impasse.


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/latest-news/article103560742.html#storylink=cpy

Democrats, however, said disputes over funding other urgent needs could still block any final deal, with the Zika money now part of a larger appropriations measure meant to fund the federal government through Dec. 9.

Just a few hours after Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine met with South Florida members of Congress and visited the White House to push for the stalled Zika money, the Senate Republicans disclosed the new Zika effort.

For more, read here:

Photo credit: C. M. Guerrero, El Nuevo Herald

 


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/latest-news/article103560742.html#storylink=cpy