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January 10, 2017

Senate will renew push to end major insurance industry tax break

Florida's insurance industry has a political fight on its hands in the upcoming legislative session.

JN-SBSenate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, will renew his effort to eliminate an industry sacred cow: a 15 percent tax credit on the salaries insurance companies pay to full-time employees in Florida.

With Negron as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Senate four years ago voted to repeal the 30-year-old tax break and redirect the proceeds to lower car registration fees, which a few years earlier had risen dramatically to close a budget gap in 2009.

The insurance industry, a major donor to the Republican Party, said the repeal of the 1987 tax credit would drive jobs out of state. The House flatly rejected the Senate's idea and kept the tax credit on the books, where Negron is again targeting it for elimination. The Senate estimates that wiping out the tax credit is worth about $300 million a year in tax savings.

"I think there's a better way to deploy $300 million than to hand-pick one industry to subside their labor costs," Negron told the Times/Herald Tuesday. "We have a choice to continue a subsidy that's no longer necessary or put the money back in the pockets of hard-working Floridians. That will be the choice."

Negron said his proposal should fare better in the House in 2017 than it did before because House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, opposes the Legislature "picking winners and losers ... (and has said) we shouldn't be disrupting market forces."

 

Rubio backs Trump's choice of Pruitt, a climate-change denier, to head EPA

Supreme Court Water Rights
@PatriciaMazzei

Sen. Marco Rubio said Tuesday he backs President-elect Donald Trump's pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency: Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general who has been an outspoken denier of climate change, a critical issue threatening Florida.

"The next EPA administrator should be someone who understands the important balance between protecting our air, water and environment without needlessly hurting workers with excessive regulations," Rubio said in a statement that made no mention of climate change. "Attorney General Pruitt ‎is the right choice to bring a much-needed dose of common sense to a department where overzealous, out-of-touch regulators have been allowed to operate seemingly unchecked. I look forward to working with him on the many important environmental issues facing Florida."

Pruitt has been a leading opponent of the EPA's Clean Power Plan to limit fossil-fuel emissions from power plants -- a key step to slow climate change. 

Former Gov. Jeb Bush has also praised Pruitt. Trump, who will be inaugurated in 10 days, said last month "nobody really knows" if climate change is real -- though scientists agree it is.

Photo credit: Sue Ogrocki, Associated Press

Bush writes Senate on behalf of Trump education pick DeVos

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- Jeb Bush is making a push for Donald Trump’s choice to run the Department of Education, arguing Betsy DeVos will be an advocate for school choice.

“Betsy is a champion of families, not institutions,” Bush writes in a letter to leaders of the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “For her, local control of education decisions means local control. She trusts parents to choose what is in their unique child's best interests, and she believes in providing every parent with the resources to pursue those decisions.

“I’m confident that, as Secretary, Betsy will pursue every opportunity to improve all of our nation's schools and empower states, districts and parents to maximize the number of high-quality learning opportunities available to our kids.”

DeVos’ policy positions have sparked fierce opposition from Democrats and Sen. Patty Murray, the lead Democrat on the committee, said the nomination should be postponed until DeVos’ ethics review is complete. On Monday night it was announced the hearing, scheduled for Wednesday, will push to next week.

Bush writes that he has known DeVos for more than 20 years — in recent years she has served on the board of Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education — and that DeVos “has become the voice of mothers and fathers who for too long have lacked one in America's education system.”

He goes on to explain “two false narratives about the parental choice movement are pertinent to this nomination and to the future of our education system.”

Read his full letter below.

Continue reading "Bush writes Senate on behalf of Trump education pick DeVos" »

Rubio meets with Tillerson ahead of confirmation hearing

 via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Marco Rubio met Monday evening with Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson, whose ties to Vladimir Putin have raised concerns with Rubio and other lawmakers.

“I appreciate Mr. Tillerson’s visit and for taking the time to begin discussing with me the challenges America faces around the world,” Rubio said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times. “I look forward to his confirmation hearing later this week.”

Rubio’s office did not detail the conversation but undoubtedly Russia came up. Rubio is a key vote on the Foreign Relations Committee, which will begin Tillerson’s confirmation hearing on Wednesday morning.

In December, Rubio "While Rex Tillerson is a respected businessman, I have serious concerns about his nomination. "The next secretary of state must be someone who views the world with moral clarity, is free of potential conflicts of interest, has a clear sense of America's interests, and will be a forceful advocate for America's foreign policy goals to the president, within the administration, and on the world stage. I look forward to learning more about his record and his views.‎ I will do my part to ensure he receives a full and fair but also thorough hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee."

Monday afternoon in Tampa about 75 people showed up outside Rubio's Tampa office to protest Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil CEO, on environmental grounds.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Progress emerges on gaming compact but can they really do it this time?

CasinoFlorida lawmakers have inched closer to renewing a 20-year, multi-million dollar gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida by allowing owners of declining parimutuels to sell their permits to others who want to install slot machines at newer facilities outside of South Florida.

Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, have been actively negotiating with the Tribe and the governor’s office on a new gaming compact after a portion of the current one expired in October 2015, but the state can’t count on the revenue just yet.

Progress is so close the Senate has started starting drafting a bill but then canceled a meeting to hear the plan this week and will hear it later this month when lawmakers return to Tallahassee for pre-session hearings, Galvano told the Herald/Times.

For the first time in years, House leaders appear ready to allow some expansion of slot machines outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties to appease members from industry-heavy districts. But, in return, they are also abiding by House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s wishes to contract gaming that will lead to a net reduction of live, active permits throughout the state.

The idea, said Diaz, is to allow owners of stagnant dog track or jai-alai fronton operations to sell their live gaming permits to others seeking to obtain a slots license, and to “put the dormant permits out of their misery.” More here. 

January 09, 2017

Fort Lauderdale airport shooting prompts closed-door Broward County commission meeting

FLL Airportpeoplerunning

@amysherman1

The deadly rampage at the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International airport Friday has prompted the Broward County Commission to hold a closed-door meeting about airport security Tuesday.

The commission will hold the private meeting following the 10 a.m. regular commission meeting at County Hall.

The agenda contains no details such as who will attend the meeting and simply states that the purpose is to "discuss security systems and information related to security systems" at the airport.

Broward Sheriff Scott Israel told the Miami Herald in a text he was unaware of the meeting.

County Attorney Joni Armstrong Coffey said that only Broward County officials and employees will attend.

"Because the statute exempts these meetings entirely from the open meetings requirements, no record is made," she told the Herald in an email. "That is because security sensitive information is confidential and prohibited from disclosure.

Florida law allows for governmental bodies to ban the public and media from meetings under narrow circumstances including to discuss security of public buildings.

The suspected shooter, Esteban Santiago, made his first appearance in federal court Monday. He faces a possible death penalty or life in prison on charges related to fatally shooting five people and injuring six others.

Miami Herald photo by David Santiago

Former Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli won't run for Ag Commissioner

Crisafulli-keeler

@ByKristenMClark

Previously expected to run for state agriculture commissioner in 2018, former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli announced Monday that that campaign isn't in the cards for him.

"After much consideration and prayer, I have decided not to run for Commissioner of Agriculture in 2018," Crisafulli said in a statement shared on social media. "I plan to remain politically active, but after years of travel to fulfill my obligations to the House Republican Conference and as Speaker of the Florida House, there is nothing I want more than to spend time with my wife Kristen and our daughters as they finish out their final years of being at home before going off to college."

Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican, had been a Florida House member since 2008, before finishing his legislative career as House speaker in the 2014-16 term. He left the House due to term limits, and running for agriculture commissioner had long been thought to be his next move. (His official House portrait depicts him standing next to a table with an orange on it.)

"Agriculture is a vital part of my family’s history and of Florida’s history; in order for this state to continue to prosper, agriculture must remain a significant part of our state’s economy," Crisafulli said. "Commissioner (Adam) Putnam has done an outstanding job, and his successor will need an equally deep understanding of the fundamental role agriculture plays in Florida and how to address the challenges facing the industry. I look forward to supporting our next Commissioner of Agriculture, and I have no doubt a capable field of candidates will emerge who will be dedicated to the success of this critical industry.”

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

Florida Democratic Party chair candidate Stephen Bittel leads Dwight Bullard in endorsements

Bittelbullard

@amysherman1

Miami-Dade donor Stephen Bittel released a list of about two dozen endorsements in his race for Florida Democratic Party chair -- including four three members of Congress Monday.

That far outpaces the number of endorsements released Monday by his local rival -- former state Sen. Dwight Bullard -- who announced a handful of endorsements.

Bittel, a major donor to Democratic candidates and a Coconut Grove developer, and Bullard will compete in the state party chair election in Orlando Saturday. The other candidates are activist Alan Clendenin -- from Hillsborough County who moved to Bradford to keep his bid alive -- Duval County's Lisa King and Osceola Democratic party chair Leah Carius.

State committeemen and women who represent large Democratic counties get the most powerful voice in the election because their votes are weighted based on the number of registered Democrats in their counties. 

Holding a county party position is a prerequisite to running for state chair. After Bullard lost a state committeeman race to Bittel, he moved to Gadsden County and won a similar position there.

Bittel has been endorsed by three members of Congress who live in Palm Beach County: Alcee Hastings, Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel.

Bittel's list initially included U.S. Rep. Val Demings who represents the Orlando area. After we posted this blog, a spokeswoman for Demings, Caroline Rowland, said Demings did not endorse Bittel or anyone else. Rowland provided a statement from Demings: 

“While Mr. Bittel asked for my support, I told him I had not decided and would not decide until I had the opportunity to look at all of the candidates.”

Bittel's team said it was a "cut and paste error."

One key statewide politician is missing from the official endorsement list: U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, the only statewide Democrat in Florida. Nelson has stopped short of officially endorsing Bittel but has praised him. Ultimately the votes are public so Nelson will have to make it clear Saturday which candidate he supports.

Also missing on endorsement lists: U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston who appears to be staying quiet about the race this time after stepping down as national party chair in July. In 2013, Wasserman Schultz urged activists to vote for Allison Tant, the eventual winner who isn't seeking the position again. Bittel has fundraised for Wasserman Schultz in the past.

A spokesman for Wasserman Schultz, David Damron, said she isn't commenting on the chair race and will send a proxy to vote for her.

One group that weighed in earlier in the process has since gone quiet: Our Revolution, the political organization formed by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. Our Revolution endorsed Bullard in December for his race in Miami-Dade County but a spokeswoman, Arianna Jones, told the Miami Herald that it is no longer involved in the race for state chair. Jones didn't respond to an email asking why Our Revolution is no longer involved.

Here are the endorsements Bullard and Bittel announced Monday -- all of them get a vote Saturday unless otherwise noted:

Here are Bullard's endorsements:

  • Democratic Black Caucus of Florida
  • Brevard County state committeeman Sanjay Patel
  • Martin County state committeewoman Dawn Abate. 
  • Alachua County Democratic Executive Committee (doesn't get a vote but Bullard won their straw poll)

Here are Bittel's endorsements:

   ·    Chris Reilly, President of Florida College Democrats

·      Catherine Michiels, Lee County Committeeman

·      Michael Bonacolta, Lee County Committeewoman

·      Rhett Bullard, Hamilton County Committeeman

·      Shauna Faries Adams, Hamilton County Committeewoman

·      Lucy Garner: Charlotte County Committeeman

·      Thomas Garner, Charlotte County Committeewoman

·      Thomas Byrd, Bay County Committeeman

·      Patricia Byrd, Bay County Committeewoman

·      Diane Krumel, Escambia County Committeewoman

·      David Dew, Martin County Committeeman and Chair of the Small County Coalition of FL

·      Brad Culverhouse, St. Lucie County Committeeman

·      Cong. Ted Deutch, US Congress

·   ·  Cong. Lois Frankel, US Congress

·      Cong. Alcee Hastings, US Congress

·      Volusia Councilwoman Joyce Cusack, State Executive Committee

·      Joseph Falk, State Executive Committee

·      State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, State Executive Committee

·      Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner, State Executive Committee

·      Rep. Janet Cruz, Florida State House Democratic Leader

·      Andy Tobias, State Executive Committee

·      Carlos Odio, State Executive Committee

·     Miami-Dade Democratic Party (Bittel gets a vote as state committeeman)

·      Escambia Democratic Party steering committee (the party itself doesn't get a vote)

 

 

Andrew Gillum calls for moratorium on deregulating gun control in Florida

Andrew Gillum

@ByKristenMClark

Tallahassee Mayor (and potential 2018 gubernatorial candidate) Andrew Gillum said Monday that the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando back in June and Friday's shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport should be wake-up calls for Florida's lawmakers.

As the Legislature prepares to vet several bills in the 2017 session that would expand gun-owners' rights, Gillum is calling for a moratorium on "all gun deregulation bills until we find a solution to protect our communities."

RELATED: "Bloodbath shows why guns should be allowed in airports, lawmakers say"

"In light of back-to-back mass shootings in less than a year and the daily pain that gun violence inflicts on our cities, it is clear that attempts to weaken our gun safety laws have failed to keep Floridians safe," Gillum said in a statement provided to the Herald/Times. "No mother or grandmother should fear walking into an airport. No father, son, or daughter should lose their life for meeting those they love for a night out. No parent should lose sleep wondering if a stray bullet will take their baby that day."

"It is time to bring commonsense back to the Capitol by ending the attack on gun safety and passing reform measures that protect our families from harm," Gillum added. "Our prayers for the victims and their families should be matched by our vigorous actions to keep families safe from repeated incidents of gun violence."

Florida's Republican-led Legislature is unlikely to heed the call from Gillum and other gun-control advocates. Many members of legislative leadership are strident supporters of Second Amendment rights.

In the wake of Friday's shooting in Fort Lauderdale, two conservative Republican lawmakers -- Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, and Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Lithia -- who had previously been proposing to lift the ban on concealed weapons in airport terminals doubled down on their proposal.

While their bills would not have prevented Esteban Santiago from killing five people and wounding six others, they argue that allowing Florida's 1.7 million concealed weapons permit-holders to carry in airport terminals could have, perhaps, given bystanders a chance to defend themselves.

RELATED: "Airport shooter had mental health problems but no apparent ties to terrorism"

Legislative committees begin meeting this week to start vetting bills filed for the upcoming 2017 session, which begins in March. Gun legislation is not scheduled to be heard this week. 

Gillum's name is among a handful of Democrats who are said to be considering a run for governor next year. He's been outspoken lately against the gun lobby, including the NRA. The First District Court of Appeals is hearing oral arguments on Tuesday in a lawsuit filed by gun rights groups, who sued Gillum and other Tallahassee officials after they failed in 2014 to repeal a ban on guns in a city park.

Photo credit: City of Tallahassee

As Florida again poised to consider campus-carry, Texas offers recent example

Ut austin guns on campus

@ByKristenMClark

As Florida lawmakers prepare to grapple again — for the third year in a row — with whether to allow concealed guns on public college and university campuses, another state has recent experience with this polarizing debate.

Conservative lawmakers in Texas also took several years before ultimately approving guns on their state’s campuses two years ago. They, too, faced resistance from many university presidents and attracted both praise and outrage from residents, as Florida lawmakers are starting to experience again this year.

Texas’ law took effect only five months ago on Aug. 1, making the state the eighth — and most recent — to allow concealed guns on public higher ed campuses. Twenty-three other states leave the policy up to individual colleges and universities, while 19 states, including Florida, have essentially a full ban.

When Texas’ law was implemented this summer, “the reaction was varied,” said David Daniel, deputy chancellor of the University of Texas System, which has 14 institutions including U-T Dallas where Daniel was president until 2015.

“On some campuses, there was a very high level of angst, tension and it was a distraction from the core work of the university,” Daniel said, whereas in “a small area with predominantly ranching communities where people are comfortable carrying firearms in a routine manner, it could be not a big deal.”

Texas has around 40 public universities, while Florida has 12. Florida has more active concealed weapons permits: 1.7 million compared to Texas’ nearly 1.2 million, as of Dec. 31.

After five months under the law, “we have been fortunate that there hasn’t been any major issues that have ratcheted up the level of concern,” said Chris Meyer, associate vice president for safety and security at Texas A&M University. “Campus has relaxed from the very tense state it was in. We’re much closer to being back to normal.”

Read more.

Photo credit: University of Texas at Austin anthropology professor Pauline Strong posts a sign prohibiting guns at her office on the first day of the new campus-carry law Monday, Aug. 1, 2016.  Jay Janner / AP