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February 09, 2017

Will Florida become the first state to impose term limits on justices?

Florida supreme court.1_12061496_8col@MaryEllenKlas

Despite a torrent of criticism from both conservatives and liberal lawyers, a House committee on Thursday advanced a proposed constitutional amendment that would impose a 12-year term limit on Florida Supreme Court justices and appeal court judges who now can serve until retirement age.

The idea is a top priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, who accuses the Florida Supreme Court of repeatedly "writing whole cloth law" in violation of the separation of powers. If the measure is placed on the November 2018 ballot, it would need 60 percent of the vote to become law. No other state has such steep limits on its highest courts, although Colorado, Mississippi and Nevada have proposed judicial term limits at the appellate level and voters have rejected it .

The House Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee voted 8-7, for HJR1, by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora. The measure would not apply to judges currently in office but take effect beginning with anyone who is appointed to the appellate courts beginning in 2019.

Under current law, justices and appeals court judges can serve until they reach the retirement age of 70, but must face voters in an up-or-down merit retention election every six years. Sullivan argued that since no justice or judge has been turned out of office in the last 40 years, the system has not worked as intended.

“An accountability system that does not hold people accountable is not truly accountable,'' she said. "This bill seeks to correct that and give the people of Florida another opportunity to implement the accountability they originally intended to place upon our judicial branch of government."

The Florida Supreme Court, however, does have the power to discipline judges and the Judicial Qualifications Commission recommends who to discipline and remove. Most of the appellate judges that have faced sanctions in the last two decades have resigned before being reprimanded, according to a 2015 report by legislative auditors.

The proposed amendment is opposed by the Florida Bar, former court justices and legal scholars and, this year, the conservative Florida Justice Reform Institute, a judicial advocacy organization that has been on the losing side of many Florida Supreme Court rulings, also voiced its opposition to the bill.

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Florida Senate pushes back against House plan to kill Visit Florida


The Florida Senate continues to send unmistakably blunt signals that it is not going along with a House plan to completely kill whole agencies like Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida.

During a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing Thursday, the Legislature’s top economic analyst Amy Baker, showed lawmakers data that indicated that for every $1 the state invests in Visit Florida, it gets $3.20 in return.

That provoked State Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, to ask Baker to clarify that she presents those same numbers to the House.

“You provide services to not just us but to our friends in the House right,” Bradley asked

Baker assured him she did.
“And you’re telling us for every dollar of taxpayer money we spend, we get $3.20 back,” Bradley said in emphasizing the point more than actually asking a question he didn’t know the answer to.

If that was not enough, State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, bluntly told the audience that Baker’s charts showed five of the state’s top economic development programs that generate the biggest return on investment from the state would be killed under a bill the Florida House is pushing that would eliminate Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. Those programs returned as much as $5.60 for every $1 the state invests.

“They all produce a net increase in tax revenue over and above what we invest in them, and all five of those are included in a bill the House passed out of a committee yesterday to abolish,” Latvala said.

Fugate quietly leaves job as FEMA chief

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- Craig Fugate was never one to call attention to himself, so it's fitting that his tenure as the nation's disaster response chief ended without fanfare.

Fugate resigned as FEMA administrator just before President Trump took office, a routine move for political appointees. The acting head is Robert Fenton.

"I'm a Gator," Fugate told the Tampa Bay Times in 2011. "As soon as the president says I am done, I will be on the way back home as fast as I can get in my vehicle and crank the ignition."

Fugate ran the Florida Emergency Management Division from 2001 to 2009,  a time known for a series of punishing hurricanes. President Obama appointed him in 2009 and by all accounts, Fugate ran FEMA well, even as Gov. Rick Scott sometimes complained about a lack of federal funds.

We're seeking information from FEMA.

In early January, Fugate wrote a piece for the Tampa Bay Times on a smarter way to fund disaster recovery in America.

"FEMA has proposed an alternative based on an insurance model. What if states were required to kick in a larger share of disaster recovery costs up front? In other words, states would have to pay a "deductible" toward recovery costs for certain types of assistance after each disaster as a condition of receiving federal funds. Additionally, what if we allowed states to earn credits toward their deductible by making investments in activities that actually save lives, mitigate risks and reduce disaster costs?"

Times staff writer Craig Pittman contributed to this report.


Congressmen Curbelo and Deutch expand bipartisan climate change caucus

Climate Time 01 EKM


A bipartisan climate change caucus launched by two South Florida members has added four new members including U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, a Democrat from St. Petersburg.

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami, and U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, announced Thursday that the caucus now has 24 members and is evenly split between both parties. Both Curbelo and Deutch represent coastal areas that are impacted by climate change.

The other new members are David Reichert, R-WA, Earl Blumenauer, D-OR and Don Bacon, R-NE.

Curbelo has been a leading Republican voice speaking in favor of finding solutions to combat climate change.

The mission of the caucus is to explore options that address the impacts and causes related to climate change.

“We have a lot of work to do on this issue, and coastal communities like mine in South Florida are counting on us to come together and have productive discussions about what we can do to mitigate the effects of climate change and make our nation more resilient,” Curbelo said in a statement. “The caucus has such a diverse group of members that each brings unique perspectives to the table. I’m confident that together we can work on bipartisan solutions that will unleash a new era of American innovation and protect our environment, infrastructure, homes, and livelihoods.”

Deutch said in a statement: “Across the country, Americans understand the urgency of climate change. Whether they see rising tides in Fort Lauderdale, intensifying tornadoes along the Central Plains, or worsening droughts affecting farm production, Americans are starting to feel the impacts of climate change to their homes, their livelihoods, and their wallets. They want action from their elected officials, and I’m proud that this Caucus offers a space to develop bipartisan solutions.”


VIDEO: 'We are a nation of rules,' lawmakers say in unveiling plan to ban 'sanctuary' cities

@ByKristenMClark @JeremySWallace

State Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, and Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, say their 2017 legislation seeking to outlaw "sanctuary" cities is about maintaining the rule of law and keeping communities safe from those who are in the United States illegally and may wish to do harm.

They explain more below. Find our full story here, which includes details on their legislation.

Proposed Stand Your Ground changes ready for Florida Senate vote


A controversial plan to change Florida’s Stand Your Ground law is ready for the full 40-member Florida Senate to vote on when the 2017 session begins March 7.

The Rules Committee voted, 8-2, on Thursday to send the measure to the floor, despite renewed objections from prosecutors and gun-control advocates who argue the plan (SB 128) would “dangerously expand” Stand Your Ground and make gun crimes “harder to prosecute.”

The bill is endorsed, though, by public defenders and the powerful gun lobby, including Marion Hammer, the NRA’s Tallahassee lobbyist.

Full story here.

Abortion legislation letting women sue doctors for physical, emotional harm clears House panel


TP_375838_OROU_2_PrayerWomen who are injured or experience "emotional distress" after having an abortion could sue their doctors for up to 10 years after the procedure under legislation passed Thursday by a Florida House subcommittee.

"This bill provides a remedy for women who are physically or emotionatlly damaged from abortions by creting a specific cause of action against negligent physicians," said the legislaton's sponsor, Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach. "A doctor would be held responsible if that doctor failed to give the informed consent appropriately."

Members of the House Civil Justice and Claims Subcommitee passed the bill (HB 19) on a 10-6 vote, including Majority Whip Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral, who was added to the panel under a rule that lets Speaker Richard Corcoran shore up votes by appointing members of his leadership team to any committee.

The bill has drawn criticism from all sides.

Abortion-rights activists say providers would be singled out and forced to obtain additional medical malpractice insurance coverage that could make the procedure more expensive. As well, advocates worry doctors could be targeted years down the road in expensive court cases by a small number of women who regret having an abortion.

"I made a difficult choice and I had an abortion and despite growing up in a time and a place surrounded by people who think abortion is the ultimate sin, and I don't regret it," said Erin Foster, a Planned Parenthood volunteer from Tampa. "I would mostly regret if my representatives failed to trust more than half of their constitueency -- which is women -- to make these decisions for themselves."

Those in the insurance industry are concerned, too.

It's a "shocking" piece of legislation, Mark Delegal told lawmakers. He's a lobbyist for The Doctors Company, a medical malpractice insurance business. He urged lawmakers not to create new laws similar to medical malpractice because doing so could cause problems with the existing system.

State Rep. Shawn Harrison of Tampa, the lone Republican to vote against the bill, echoed those concerns, and several other G.O.P. lawmakers, including subcommittee vice chair Jay Fant of Jacksonville, said they wanted to see Grall make some changes in upcoming committees.

Grall countered criticism, saying that medical malpractice cases have a two-year statute of limitations, and that a stigma associated with abortion means women are less likely to speak up in that shorter period of time, even if they have been injured or experienced emotional trauma as a result of a doctor's negligence.

HB 19 must clear two more committee hearings before being considered by the full House, and it does not yet have a Senate sponsor, though Grall said expects a bill to be filed in the upper chamber soon.

Photo: Anti-abortion advocates take part in a 40 Days for Life event at Tampa Women's Heath Center in 2013. (Skip O'Rourke, Tampa Bay Times)

Sen. Bill Nelson faces pressure over Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch


via @learyreports

WASHINGTON — Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is about to face intense pressure from a well-funded conservative coalition to vote for President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, a decision that will likely resonate into Nelson's 2018 re-election campaign.

Proponents are targeting Nelson and nine other senators from states Trump won in November who are also up for re-election — an effort that will include advertising and mailers, petitions and phone banks.

"Don't let Senate Democrats and the radical left block President Trump's great Supreme Court Justice nominee, Judge Neil M. Gorsuch," reads a postcard that will arrive this week in the mail of Florida activists. "Tell Senator Nelson to vote yes."

At the same time, Nelson will hear from a newly charged Democratic base that is demanding rejection of Trump's agenda, and the party remains bitter over GOP refusal last year to take up Obama's pick to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

"Whatever the pressure is," Nelson said in an interview, "I'm going to make up my own mind as to what I think is in the best interest of our country and Florida."

Keep reading Alex Leary's story here.

Gov. Scott's job incentive programs get yet more scrutiny today



For the second straight day, one of Gov. Rick Scott’s biggest priorities will be under scrutiny at the hands of the Legislature today but with a big difference.

When Enterprise Florida goes before the before the Senate Appropriations Committee later today, it will be doing so in a committee that is lead by Sen. Jack Latvala, who has called the House Republican’s idea of killing that agency and Visit Florida the “dumbest idea.”

Cissy Proctor, the director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, is expected to testify that economic incentive programs under Enterprise Florida can “tip the scales” in the state’s favor when it comes to convincing companies to move to Florida.

Scott has argued that the incentive programs have been critical to the state adding more than 1.2 million private sector jobs since 2010.

Still, House Republicans yesterday took their first step toward killing Enterprise Florida. The House Careers & Competition Subcommittee voted 10-5 in favor of a bill pushed by Rep. Paul Renner, R-Jacksonville, which would eliminate Enterprise Florida completely and put all other economic development programs under the Department of Economic Opportunity.

“The problem with economic incentives is that they are selective and they absolutely pick winners and losers,” Renner told the committee yesterday.

Renner said the government shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners and losers in a free market.

Renner’s legislation comes as House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, has called the idea of giving tax credits to businesses to relocate or grow their operations in Florida a form of “corporate welfare.” He said other factors like improving education and infrastructure has the potential of attracting businesses more than tax credits.

Scott has warned Legislators that killing Enterprise Florida will damage the state’s economic momentum over the last 6 years.

Latvala’s Senate Appropriations Committee meets at 1 p.m. today.

Showdown looms over budget rules between House and Senate

At Florida's Capitol, far from the noise over tourism spending, a bigger clash looms between the House and Senate over stark differences in the Legislature's sole constitutional responsibility: the writing of a state budget.

For weeks, Senate President Joe Negron and his lieutenants have worked on a proposed new joint rule in response to House changes to the budget process, including a separate bill for each member project and a filing deadline of March 7, the first day of session. The Senate opposes those changes and considers them a procedural straitjacket that gives the House too much control over writing a budget while limiting public access to spending decisions.

Senators will offer a compromise Thursday at a Rules Committee meeting in what Negron calls a "show of good faith" to the House. "I'm putting forth a proposal that hopefully will allow us to work out this issue before we get to session," Negron told the Times/Herald.

Senators are critical of House Speaker Richard Corcoran's changes, approved by all House members. But without a two-chamber agreement, work on the budget can't get very far, virtually ensuring an overtime session. The Senate proposal would largely roll back the House changes, which Corcoran considers unacceptable.

"It's a giant move backwards against accountability and transparency," Corcoran told the Times/Herald.

Negron says the Legislature should not "artificially shut down the budget process" and that the Florida Constitution is clear: Neither chamber can establish a budget process that the other chamber must follow. "We're a bicameral Legislature," Negron said.

The Senate proposal, known as Joint Rule Two, says any member's spending project can be included in the final budget if it "is provided to the public at the time the funding is proposed in the conference committee and the conference committee has provided time for public testimony." The Senate also would replace a Corcoran priority, an online 37-question survey on every project, with eight general criteria, such as "the legal entity designated to receive and expend the funding." The Senate also wants to prohibit any lawmaker from raising a point of order to challenge any item in the final budget.