January 26, 2017

Key Florida Senate budget writer not ready to back Rick Scott's tax cut plan

LatvalaTimes

@JeremySWallace

Add the chairman of the Florida Senate's budget writing committee to the list of those not quite ready to jump on board Gov. Rick Scott's plan to hand out $618 million in tax cuts primarily to businesses next year.

Senate Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, didn't give a flat no to the Republican governor's tax plan. But when asked about it on Thursday, Latvala took a wait-and see approach and listed out other important areas of state government that need to be addressed.

"We're 50th in mental health funding," Latvala said. "We're 49th in infrastructure. We have a lot of challenges with our prisons. And our state employees haven't had a raise in 9 years."

Latvala said the specifics of Scott's plan will take a review by the Legislature. But lawmakers are already facing a tighter budget situation this year than last year when they cut taxes by $129 million.

"We’re just going to wait and see," Latvala said. "I support the governor's efforts to lower taxes. I think he's done a wonderful job on that. I've been here and voted for everyone of them."

Latvala's voice is important because Scott can propose a budget and ask the Legislature for funding, but it is up to the House and Senate to craft a state budget. Latvala's committee is the primary budget writing committee in the Senate.

Scott on Thursday continued to fly around the state to promote his tax cut plan. The centerpiece of Scott's plan is a $454 million cut in the state's sales taxes charged to businesses that lease commercial space. Florida is the only state in the country with the 6 percent tax. Scott wants to roll that back to 4.5 percent. Doing so, he said, will put more hands in the pocket of private businesses, which will then hire more people.

Scott also wants to exempt more businesses from having to pay corporate income taxes. Combined with the commercial lease tax, three quarters of Scott's plan would directly benefit businesses.

His plan also includes:

- A 10-day back-to-school shopping period with no sales taxes.

- A nine-day disaster preparedness sales tax shopping period.

- A three-day sales tax-free shopping period for military veterans.

- A one-year tax break on book sales at school book fairs.

 - Eliminating sales taxes on college textbooks for one year.

December 02, 2016

Latvala bristles at freshman senator's attempt to repeal in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants

via @JeffSolochek

Without mentioning any names, or even the issue at hand, Florida Sen. Jack Latvala took a clear swipe Thursday at a newly minted Senate colleague who filed legislation to undo a university tuition measure that Latvala worked hard to broker two years ago.

Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, proposed a bill Wednesday to void a law granting in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant students who graduate from Florida high schools. Latvala initially had little to say about the proposal, which he hadn't yet read.

MORE: "In-state college tuition rates for Florida's undocumented students could be in danger"

A day later, in a room filled with school board members from across the state, Latvala let loose. He made his comments in response to the question of what might be his biggest non-financial challenge in the 2017 session.

That challenge, Latvala said, will be coming to grips with the largest freshman group of senators in memory — 20 in all, 17 of whom came from the Florida House with their own set of protocols and behaviors that differ from the more collegial Senate.

He paused, then continued to speak about "one of" the House transplants who, just a few days into the term decided to file a bill that would repeal all the hard work a longstanding senator — the Appropriations Committee chairman, no less — spent significant effort moving through the Legislature.

Latvala is the Appropriations chair.

"It gets your back up," he said. "The final chapter hasn't been played on that."

FSBA executive director Andrea Messina, who moderated the panel, playfully asked, "It wasn't Sen. (Dana) Young, was it?"

A grinning Young sat three seats away from Latvala, who responded quickly, "She wouldn't dare."

Sen. David Simmons, another Senate long-timer at the table, said he spent eight years in the House before coming to the upper chamber. The operating models of each differs greatly, he said, and it will take time for all to acclimate to one another.

But one thing is certain, Simmons said: Newcomers quickly learn that "the toe or foot you step on is attached to another part of the anatomy you might need to kiss" later on to get what you want.

The room burst into laughter. Steube was not present.

September 30, 2016

Latvala 'very upset' with Florida's water quality woes

@MichaelAuslen

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, expressed concern Friday about contamination in Florida's water, saying the state and local governments have failed to fulfill one of their most basic jobs: ensuring people have access to safe, clean water.

"I'm very upset with the totality of what's happening to our water supply around the state," said Latvala, who will be the powerful Senate budget chairman next year. "It's maybe not as sexy as talking about tax cuts or new programs but it's just a fundamental responsibility of government to protect citizens and their water supply."

Months ago, green algae blooms caused by discharges from Lake Okeechobee made national headlines. Then, in the wake of Hurricane Hermine, local governments including Tampa, St. Petersburg, Largo and Clearwater began dumping excess sewage into Tampa Bay. Now, a sinkhole has opened at a Polk County phosphate processing plant owned by fertilizer giant Mosaic, which both the state and company initially kept quiet.

These incidents, said Latvala, "all portend for some attention because it's just hard to imagine they're all happening at the same time."

He pointed specifically to cutbacks in staffing at the Department of Environmental Protection, the state agency charged with ensuring state waterways aren't polluted. But Latvala would not go as far as to say DEP is to blame for not taking a more active role.

"I don't know if there's any culpability there," he said of the Mosaic sinkhole. "I will tell you in Tampa Bay, DEP has been very responsive to the concerns of our delegation in Pinellas County."

February 19, 2016

Jack Latvala says Don Gaetz is hypocritical for attacking Miguel Diaz de la Portilla

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@ByKristenMClark

So much for peace among Republicans in the Florida Senate this session.

After Sen. Don Gaetz issued a statement last night blasting fellow Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla for killing his open-carry bill, another Republican senator today is accusing Gaetz of being a hypocrite.

"When Don Gaetz was Senate president and throughout my time serving with him, he has never hesitated to use whatever procedural options were open to stifle the will of anyone else in the Senate," Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said today.

He cited a couple of instances during Gaetz's presidency from 2012-2014 when he said he felt the Niceville Republican used his power as president to halt the progress of Latvala's own priorities.

"For him to be talking about one senator stifling the will of the Senate, he needs to make sure he has clean hands," Latvala said.

Latvala and Gaetz are not ones to mince words about each other and they have a history of showing publicly their dislike for one another. During the special session on Senate redistricting last fall, Gaetz rose for a 17-minute tirade on the Senate floor in which he called Latvala a "bully" and criticized him for being critical of Senate leadership.

Latvala retorted to Gaetz shortly after, but those wounds clearly haven't healed.

"This is a perfect example of him doing the same thing to somebody else, and I’m just tired of it," Latvala said today. "Senator Gaetz is used to having his way, and he didn’t get his way this time. It’s unfortunate for him to put out a statement about another senator like that, and I’m just sick of it."

Gaetz today declined to respond to Latvala's comments.

His controversial legislation would have allowed 1.5 million people with concealed-weapons permits in Florida to openly carry handguns.

Earlier this month, the Republican-heavy House easily passed its version -- sponsored by Gaetz's son, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach -- but Don Gaetz's companion bill stalled in the Senate in front of Diaz de la Portilla's Judiciary Committee.

The Miami Republican announced Tuesday he won't take up the bill, which prompted Don Gaetz's statement Thursday evening. Gaetz accused Diaz de la Portilla of "fearing the debate" over open carry, "stretching" his authority as a committee chairman and of "promising and then reneging" on plans to find a compromise on the legislation.

Diaz de la Portilla stands by his decision. He said Thursday he couldn't see a workable solution for something he called "such lousy public policy and so dangerous for the state of Florida." He also said Gaetz was "disingenuous" to criticize him for exercising his authority as a committee chairman. (Gaetz himself is currently in charge of the education budget committee.)

Latvala also said today that he doesn't think Gaetz really had the votes to pass his open-carry bill, which Gaetz maintains he does.

The Republican majority isn't as large in the Senate, where there are 26 Republicans and 14 Democrats. Twenty-one votes are needed to pass a bill.

Latvala said he's among the senators who had reservations about open carry and "probably would've voted against it" if it came to the floor.

He said open carry isn't a constitutional issue, as the Gaetzes have proclaimed. Latvala said he sees the motive as more political and described it as something to help the National Rifle Association "gin up their numbers and to keep their members involved."

"Nobody’s trying to take anybody’s rights away from them," Latvala said.

Photo credit: Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, speaks on the Senate floor in 2014. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

January 13, 2016

Capitol Buzz: Five things to watch today in Tallahassee

Via @stevebousquet

Day 2 of the Florida legislative session is here. Here are five things to watch:

* Focusing on education, a Senate budget subcommittee considers a bill to let students count computer coding as a foreign language, and will discuss whether to use alternative exams in lieu of the Florida Standards Assessments, as well as how much local property tax money should be spent to increase spending for schools.

* Another Senate budget subcommittee will allow groups from across the state to make pitches for taxpayer dollars. The panel's chairman, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, held a similar hearing last year.

* A House panel takes up a bill (HB 505) to allow Florida voters to use their concealed weapons license as a form of identification at the polls for future elections.

* The Florida Chamber of Commerce kicks off its annual two-day Capitol Days with speeches and panel discussions focusing on major issues facing the Legislature.

* Senate President Andy Gardiner. R-Orlando, will speak at the annual dinner of Florida TaxWatch at the Hotel Duval.

December 11, 2015

Will Jack Latvala run for Congress? Against Charlie Crist?

By William March, Tampa Bay Times

State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, dropped a tantalizing hint Friday that he may have political plans beyond the state Senate.

Asked in a public meeting about his loss of a campaign for the Senate presidency, and what he hopes to accomplish despite that loss, Latvala said, “I think that I’m going to sort of paraphrase what Mark Twain said -- rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated. I don’t think that we’ve written the last chapter of what I’m going to try to do in the public service arena. So stay tuned.”

After the Tampa Tiger Bay meeting at which he made the comments, Latvala refused to elaborate or directly answer questions about what office he might run for in the future, including the District 13 Congressional race to replace Rep. David Jolly.

Through his long career in Florida politics, Latvala hasn’t previously expressed much interest in leaving Florida to go to Washington.

But his loss of the Senate presidency frustrates a goal he’s had for years, and he has no love for the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for the D-13 seat, Charlie Crist.

After a battle lasting several years, Latvala agreed recently to cede the Senate presidency from 2016-18 to Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, in return for a promise that he’ll chair the powerful appropriations committee.

Re-elected to the Senate in 2014, he is currently in what would be his final term unless redistricting affects his term limit.

He told the Tiger Bay audience he’s not bitter. He said the fact that there’s been no senate president from Pinellas County for 90 years was “one of the driving factors of me trying to get that job.

He added, “I am satisfied with the outcome that was worked out. I think I’ll be able to make a significant contribution to our area in the role that I’ll be assigned and I am satisfied with the kind of president that Sen Negron will be.

November 09, 2015

Joe Negron's Florida Senate presidency designation set for December

Joenegron

@ByKristenMClark

With the battle for the next Senate presidency settled last week between Sens. Joe Negron and Jack Latvala, Senate Republican leaders announced today the date for Negron's designation ceremony.

It will be held 2 p.m. Dec. 2, during the middle of the final committee week scheduled in advance of the 2016 legislative session.

The planned vote by the Republican caucus is to designate Negron, R-Stuart, as the next Senate president for a two-year term starting in November 2016.

Praising Negron's legislative experience and leadership, current Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said he is “pleased to see the caucus unite around Senator Negron.”

Up until Thursday, Negron had been engaged in a three-year battle for the chamber's top post with Latvala, a Clearwater Republican. In exchange for Latvala withdrawing from the race, Negron announced he would make Latvala the next chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Photo credit: tampabay.com

October 28, 2015

Conflicts erupt as Florida Senate passes map 22-18

via @MaryEllenKlas

The personal and political conflicts that have divided Florida Senate Republicans for months reached the boiling point on Wednesday as the Senate narrowly approved a redrawn redistricting map 22-18 and two powerful senators pointedly used the opportunity to finger each other for the chamber’s mistakes.

Democrats voted together in opposition to the map, which they said would be struck down by the court as unconstitutional violation of the anti-gerrymandering rules of the Florida Constitution. They were joined by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and three other Republicans.

Following the debate, however, angry emotions spilled into view as Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, who was redistricting chairman when the invalidated 2012 maps were approved, rose for a rare “point of personal privilege," a rule that supercedes all others, and used it to criticize Latvala for blaming Gaetz for the Legislature having to redo the Senate map.

“Sen. Latvala says Don Gaetz is the cause for the special session. You decide. I am am sorry for my mistakes. Sen. Latvala should be sorry for his,’’ he said, reading from prepared remarks. “I take no satisfaction from this exchange. I did not seek it. But when a bully throws a sucker punch, you hit back and never give in.”

Over the last two months, Latvala has been harshly critical of Senate leadership because of the court’s rejection of the map drawn during the 2012 term, pointing out a Herald/Times report that the taxpayer cost of the redistricting litigation has risen to $11 million and suggesting the blame should be placed on Gaetz.

In arguing against the map on Wednesday, he did not mention Gaetz by name but said, “there’s a lot of doubt whether we here in this Senate have handled this issue in a way that we can be proud of.”

Continue reading "Conflicts erupt as Florida Senate passes map 22-18" »

September 15, 2015

Florida Republican lawmakers court donors during committee week

@ByKristenMClark

Lawmakers are multi-tasking their brief time in Tallahassee this week between official duties and fundraisers to bolster their re-election campaigns in 2016.

By day, lawmakers are attending committee meetings in advance of the 2016 legislative session, but by night, they're wining and dining with campaign supporters at fundraisers, where cocktails are openly served. 

The festivities are being hosted tonight through Thursday by the House Majority and are perfectly timed to the designation of Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, as House speaker. Corcoran is in charge re-electing Republicans and is focused on retaining a strong majority. (More here on that.)

Another round of fundraisers will be held for the feuding factions of the Senate, where Sens. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Joe Negron, R-Stuart, continue to compete for the 2016 Senate presidency.

The House Majority fundraisers include events for Republican Reps. Mike La Rosa of St. Cloud and Mike Miller of Winter Park tonight, for Carlos Trujillo of Miami on Wednesday and for Miller, Elizabeth Porter of Lake City, Larry Metz of Yalaha, Ben Albritton of Wauchula, Cyndi Stevenson of St. Johns, Rene Plasencia of Orlando, Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs, Manny Diaz Jr. of Hialeah, Jason Brodeur of Sanford and Frank Artiles of Miami on Thursday.

More events are planned in the coming weeks, including for Republican Rep. Kathleen Peters of South Pasadena on Sept. 28, and during the next committee week (Oct. 5-9) for Republican Reps. Greg Steube of Sarasota, Heather Fitzenhagen of Fort Myers, Holly Raschein of Key Largo and Brad Drake of Eucheeanna.

Senjacklatvala reception

In the Senate, Latvala is hosting a cocktail reception Wednesday at his Tallahassee home and he's inviting his guests to "please bring your contributions to the re-election campaigns" of Republican Sens. Denise Grimsley of Sebring, Alan Hays of Umatilla, and John Legg of Trinity.

Meanwhile, the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee is continuing its run of extravagant getaways to raise money "benefiting (the) Senate Majority 2016."

Senate Republican leaders are gathering in Chicago on Sunday for a "VIP Dinner Cruise," followed by a Cubs-vs.-Brewers game Monday evening at Wrigley Field. Download Chicago Cubs Invite

The list of hosts includes Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, Majority Leader Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and Republican Sens. Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers, Aaron Bean of Fernandina Beach, Rob Bradley of Fleming Island, Anitere Flores of Miami, Tom Lee of Brandon, Latvala, Joe Negron of Stuart and Wilton Simpson of Trilby.

The trip to the Windy City comes just a couple weeks after Senate Republicans hosted a two-day fishing trip in the Florida Keys. They also hosted a golf fundraiser at California's Pebble Beach in July.

September 14, 2015

Fundraising surge raises financial stakes in Florida Senate presidency race

@JeremySWallace

There is quite a financial arms race developing in the battle to become the next Florida Senate president.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, in May raised $623,550 for a political action committee he leads called Treasure Coast Alliance. He now has raised almost $1.1 million just since the start of 2015 for the committee which can be used to spread his influence around the state by helping his allies win elections.

In August announced he has enough support to become the Senate President starting for the 2017 Legislative Session.

But now State Sen. Jack Latvala is on a fundraising binge of his own and is refusing to concede that Negron has the 2017 presidency locked up. Just since August first, Latvala, R-Clearwater, has raised $442,431 for his political action committee, called Florida Leadership Committee. That surge – including $190,000 in the first five days of September – means Latvala now has raised $1.3 million for his committee.

In late August, Negron released the names of 14 Republican senators who pledged to vote for him, enough to ensure victory in a vote by the 26-member GOP caucus in December. Latvala however is pushing to delay a caucus vote because looming redistricting in October has the potential of shuffling the make-up of the Florida Senate in 2017. In other words, some supporters of Negron or Latvala could be drawn out of their districts in 2016.