August 17, 2017

House committee reshuffle elevates 21 freshmen

Florida Legislature lobbyHouse Speaker Richard Corcoran released his version of musical chairs on Thursday, giving 21 of the 27 freshman Republicans elected last fall vice chair positions, ousting veterans in many cases and replacing three lawmakers who have resigned since session ended -- Reps. Jose Felix Diaz, Eric Eisnaugle and Dan Raulerson

The big winner appears to be Rep. Jamie Grant, who lost a bitterly fought race for House speaker designate for 2020 earlier this summer, and was awarded the chairmanship of the Health Quality Subcommittee. As we have already reported, Rep. Paul Renner becomes the new chair of Ways and Means and the Ways and Means Chair, Rep. Jim Boyd, becomes the new chair of Commerce, replacing Jose Felix Diaz.

Republican Reps. Kathleen Peters and Cary Pigman, seem to have gotten the biggest demotions.

Last session, Peters resisted but consented to the House leadership's insistence that the committee hear a high priority bills for Florida Power & Light that would have allowed them to charge customers for fracking operations in other states. Corcoran removed her as chair of the Energy & Utilities Subcommittee and a position on the Ways & Means Committee. She will now have two new committee assignments: Public Integrity & Ethics Committee and Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee. The new chair on the utilities subcommittee is Corcoran loyalist Jay Trumbull.

Pigman, a doctor who had an embarrassing arrest for drunk driving last session, lost his chair of the Health Quality Subcommittee.

Here are the other vice chair shuffles:

* George Moraitis, Appropriations Committee, to Jeanette Nunez.

* Larry Ahern, Post-Secondary Education Subcommittee, to Thad Altman.

* Ben Albritton, Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee to Ralph Massullo.

* Justice Appropriations Subcommittee to Cord Byrd.

* Elizabeth Porter, Agriculture & Property Rights Subcommittee to Charles Clemons. She retains Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee vice chair.

* Neil Combee, Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee to Clay Yarborough.

*  Robert Cortes, Education Committee, becomes vice chair of Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee.

* Jake Raburn, Pre-K-12 Appropriations Subcommittee to Byron Donalds.

* Brad Drake, Transportation Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee to Michael Grant

* Jay Fant not only lost the vice chair of the Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee to Erin Grall, he lost his position on the House Judiciary Committee and the Ways and Means Committee. He was added to the Education Committee and the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.

* Careers & Competition Subcommittee to Randy Fine.

* Pre-K Innovation Subcommittee to Jason Fischer.

* Local, Federal & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee to Don Hahnfeldt.

* Gayle Harrell, Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee to Cyndi Stevenson.

* Sean Harrison lost Health Innovation Subcommittee vice chair to Frank White, but gained the Judiciary Committee vice chair -- previously held by Ross Spano -- and retained the Rules and Policy Vice chair.

* Blaise Ingoglia, Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee to Bob Rommel.

* Clay Ingram, Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee, to Robert Cortes.

* Jennifer Sullivan, Public Integrity & Ethics Committee to Thomas Leek. Sullivan, however, is promoted to vice chair of the Education Committee.

* Energy & Utilities Subcommittee to Bobby Payne.  

* Post-Secondary Education Subcommittee goes to Mel Ponder.

* Charlie Stone, Government Accountability Committee, to Jayer Williamson. But Stone retains Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.

Some things will not change. David Santiago will retain the vice chair of Insurance & Banking Subcommittee and Health & Human Services Committee. Mike Miller retains the vice chair of Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee. Rene Plascencia remains vice chair of both Health Quality Subcommittee and Pre-K 12 Quality Subcommittee. Julio Gonzalez retains his vice chairmanship of both the Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee and the Criminal Justice Subcommittee.

Bryan Avila retains his vice chairmanship of the Commerce Committee and remains as alternating chair of the Joint Committee on Public Counsel. Halsey Beshears loses his place on the Ways and Means Committee.

Colleen Burton is elevated in a couple of ways. She's now chief deputy whip and becomes vice chair of Ways and Means instead of the vice chair of Local, Federal & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee. Danny Burgess is added to Oversight, Transparency and Administration Subcommittee.

There appear to be only a handful of changes for Democrats. Tracie Davis was added to the Health and Human Services Committee and Emily Slosberg was added to the Judiciary Committee.

August 03, 2017

For Richard Corcoran, summer is the season for calling in the fundraising chits -- from trial lawyers

Richard Corcoran smiling@MaryEllenKlas

With a second month of fast-paced fundraising, House Speaker Richard Corcoran's newly-formed political committee, Watchdog-PAC, amassed $820,900 in the month of July, fueled in part by large checks from Florida trial lawyers.  

Corcoran, who is expected to seek the Republican nomination for governor, posted July numbers that exceed those of his two likely primary rivals, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala.

Putnam, whose Florida Grown PC has raised $13.6 million with $10 million on hand, raised $211,000 in July through July 25.

Latvala, the Clearwater senator who will announce his candidacy Aug. 16, has raised $8.6 million for his Florida Leadership Committee, has $3 million on hand and collected another $236,000 in July. 

Corcoran's biggest checks came from trial lawyers, who have watched as their star return to an orbit of influence in Tallahassee under the Land O'Lakes Republican.

Last session, the trial bar succeeded at stalling or defeating efforts to rewrite the attorneys fees provision of the workers compensation law that had been ruled unconstitutional, changes to the insurance assignment-of-benefits system and a repeal of Personal Injury Protection for auto insurance. Also, the ice melted on claims bills to compensate people injured in accidents or negligence of state or local government employees -- and pay their lawyers -- as lawmakers sent several claims bills to the governor for his signature. 

Corcoran supporters say those defeats should be blamed on the Florida Senate, not the House, which passed a workers comp bill, and assignment of benefits reform that were rejected by the Senate. They also note that Corcoran isn't the only Republican House speaker who has allowed claims bills to advance. 

Two West Palm Beach law firms each gave Corcoran $100,000 in July: Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart, and Shipley and Lytal, Reiter, Smith. And another $25,000 check came from Orlando trial lawyer Rich Newsome, who Corcoran appointed to the Constitution Revision Commission.

In the dark money category, $100,000 came from the Citizens Alliance for Florida's Economy, a political committee run by Corcoran consultant Anthony Pedicini that has received large contributions from lawyers. Corcoran received another $25,000 from a political committee run by Michael Millner, Leadership for Florida's Future. Millner is the treasurer of Pedicini's political committee and in June his committee received $100,000 from Pedicini's committee and $97,000 from Associated Industries-affiliated political committees. 

This is the second month Corcoran has pulled in the lawyer cash. Last month, Corcoran held a big fundraiser in Orlando, hosted by Democrat and big-name trial lawyer John Morgan. He raised $76,000 from lawyers and law firms. 

Corcoran's other big donors in July: $25,000 from U.S. Sugar, $25,000 from Associated Industries of Florida's political committee, Voice of Florida Business.  

July 25, 2017

Was Adam Putnam, candidate for Florida governor, in favor of amnesty for illegal immigrants?

PutnamannouncesPolkCoTBT

@amysherman1

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has largely had the Republican field for governor to himself, but the camp of one potential primary challenger has portrayed Putnam as soft on immigration and undocumented immigrants.

Tony Fabrizio, a pollster hired by Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran who may challenge Putnam in the 2018 primary, cast Putnam as not being conservative enough.

"He was for amnesty," Fabrizio told Politico July 10, while criticizing Putnam’s positions on a long list of issues.

That a-word can be a powerful weapon in a Republican primary. But we found that Putnam’s record on immigration can’t be boiled down to a soundbite.

As a member of Congress from 2001 to 2010, Putnam represented a Central Florida district that included agribusiness interests that wanted immigrant labor. Putnam supported legislation that would have benefitted undocumented farm workers, and he supported changing immigration laws which included a path to citizenship.

But he also took some stances that didn’t benefit undocumented immigrants, such as opposing the DREAM Act and increasing enforcement.

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

July 14, 2017

Corcoran amps up his campaign staff with hire of ad guy for the 'unannounced' campaign

Corcoran profile photo AP Steve Cannonvia @SteveBousquet

House Speaker Richard Corcoran's Watchdog PAC has hired Jamestown Associates, the Philadelphia-based Republican media firm that shaped Donald Trump's TV ad campaign against Hillary Clinton in 2016.

The firm's CEO, Larry Weitzner, and Barney Keller will provide strategic advice to Corcoran as he considers a possible run for governor of Florida next year. They will join with the Fort Lauderdale-based pollster Tony Fabrizio, who has advised Gov. Rick Scott in addition to a long list of GOP candidates around the country. Adding Jamestown Associates is likely to accomplish the obvious goal of generating more buzz about Corcoran's political plans.

"Speaker Corcoran founded Watchdog PAC with the intent that it would spread the message of conservative reform across Florida," said Watchdog PAC chairman James Blair. "We will continue to build an organization of people that will help achieve that goal."

Remember Trump's "Deplorables" TV spot? That was the work of Jamestown Associates. Weitzner also was involved with a pro-Trump "super PAC" in the 2016 election. The Washington Post ran this enlightening piece on Weitzner's Trump ad strategy last December.

July 07, 2017

Florida House responds to Broward Schools' threat of lawsuit with promotional video

Capture

@ByKristenMClark

Two days after the Broward County School Board decided to sue over newly enacted and controversial statewide education reforms, Florida House Republicans countered by debuting a promotional video that touts their hotly debated “Schools of Hope” plan.

The “Hope” program — a top session priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes — is one of several provisions within House Bill 7069 that attorneys for the Broward school district plan to argue is unconstitutional.

Corcoran on Wednesday said the Broward School Board’s vote earlier that day to file a lawsuit was “clueless” and “arguably heartless,” in part, because “Schools of Hope” aims to break the cycle of traditional public schools that earn failing grades year after year.

RELATED: “Broward Schools to sue over controversial new schools law”

The House’s new video advertising “Schools of Hope” is the most recent product of an aggressive digital marketing strategy implemented under Corcoran, who took over as speaker in November.

The video’s message — and an accompanying tweet from Corcoran promoting it — are consistent with how Republican lawmakers have argued in defense of HB 7069: By casting critics as people opposed to helping tens of thousands of children in perpetually failing schools who might not have other public education options to turn to.

“As they prepare to sue ... we help prepare kids to soar,” Corcoran wrote Friday on Twitter, appearing to reference the Broward County School Board.

Watch the video and read our full story here.

Image credit: "Florida House of Representatives" YouTube page

July 06, 2017

Lawsuit against HB 7069 looms in Broward; Corcoran calls it 'clueless, arguably heartless'

02BALLET BUS_CPJ (1)

@ByKristenMClark

The bitter fight over new K-12 public school reforms that the Republican-led Legislature approved this spring entered a new stage on Wednesday when the Broward County School Board voted unanimously to challenge the law’s constitutionality in court.

Broward is the first school district to vote to sue over the passage of House Bill 7069, which became law Saturday above passionate objections from school administrators, teachers’ unions and parent groups statewide for its many provisions friendly to charter schools, in some cases, at the expense of traditional public schools.

“I’m in favor of taking aggressive action as soon as we possibly can,” Broward School Board member Rosalind Osgood said during a special board meeting convened solely to authorize Superintendent Robert Runcie to file the legal challenge and to spend up to $25,000 on initial legal fees.

MORE: “Here’s how the controversial new schools law will impact South Florida”

“We’re on life support now, and we have to literally fight for the life of public education in this state,” Osgood said. “If we don’t stand up now, if we miss this opportunity, we’ll never recover from it.”

It’s unclear how soon the lawsuit will be filed.

Broward County’s allegations of unconstitutionality primarily surround how HB 7069 gives charter schools a leg up over traditional public schools through less-restrictive regulations and extra taxpayer funding that make it easier for them to expand.

In a statement to the Herald/Times, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, blasted the Broward School Board for its decision, saying in part: "Not only is it clueless, it is also arguably heartless."

Full story here.

Photo credit: Miami Herald file

June 21, 2017

Corcoran's Watchdog PAC pulls in $608,000 in first month -- including $100k from Norm Braman

Corcoran profile photo AP Steve CannonStraight off a controversial session, House Speaker Richard Corcoran ignited his month-old political committee this week with $608,000 in contributions -- half of it in the form of generous gifts from the political committees of his two top deputies, Reps. Jose Oliva and Carlos Trujillo. But the other generous check to the Watchdog PAC came in the form of a $100,000 contribution from Miami auto magnate Norman Braman.

The contribution of $250,000 from Oliva's political committee and the $100,000 from Trujillo's PAC, are noteworthy, but in the secret world of shape-shifting transfers between political allies in Florida, they are not all that meaningful.

The Braman gift, however, is telling as Corcoran is rumored to be using the PAC to position himself for higher office. Miami's business leaders were in a serious tizzy in late April, when it appeared that Miami Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the House's lead negotiator on a gambling bill, presented an offer to the Senate that indicated House leadership was prepared to overcome years of resistance and agree to authorize a new gaming facility in Miami-Dade. 

Braman joined Healthcare executive Mike Fernandez, and Miami developer Armando Codina calling legislators enraged that they would move forward with the idea without understanding the impact it could have on the city, local businesses and the city's successful economic boom. In less than a week, talks collapsed and the bill was declared dead. 

Corcoran's report, posted on his Watchdog PAC site, indicates he raised another $183,000 in donations of between $100 and $1,000 before his much publicized fundraisers hosted by Orlando trial attorney John Morgan at the home of another Orlando trial attorney, Zander Clem. Reports show the fundraiser brought in about $17,450, mostly from attorneys, chiropractors and health care types -- likely many looking forward to the expanded application of medical marijuana. Absent from the contribution list was a check from Morgan. Clem gave $2,500 and former Democratic House Rep. Mike Clelland, who works for Morgan, gave $500. 

Another round of checks came in June 20 from mostly attorneys and health care folks raising $56,250. Corcoran's next fundraiser is set for June 28 in Miami, hosted by the speaker's many friends in the Miami delegation. 

Oliva's political committee, Conservative Principles for Florida, had $778,810 on hand after its last report on June 8. The June 6 donation to Corcoran's committee has not yet been recorded on the Division of Elections web site. Trujillo's political committee, Conservative and Principled Leadership for Florida, however, had only about $40,000 on hand on June 8 and reported the contribution to the Watchdog PAC on May 31. 

Photo: Steve Cannon, AP

 

June 13, 2017

With the governor's signature of HB 7069 expected, is a legal challenge coming?

Gary farmerWith Gov. Rick Scott expected to sign the controversial charter-school friendly bill -- that incited a groundswell of criticism -- at a press conference somewhere in Orlando on Thursday, opponents are mounting a last minute effort to lay the groundwork for a legal challenge or legislative retooling of HB 7069. 

In a letter to the governor on Tuesday, Sen. Gary Farmer, a freshman Democrat from Lighthouse Point, urged the governor to veto the bill because it would "dramatically reduce the ability of school districts across the state to devote resources towards improving our public education" as well as allowing private management companies to profit off taxpayer dollars, and local communities to be cut out of zoning decisions relating to schools.  Download SenatorFarmerLetterRe7069

But Farmer, a lawyer, also outlined his case -- for why he believes it could be challenged on the grounds that it passed illegally -- and in violation of the Senate rules and may be ripe for a legal challenge.

"I do intend to look into it,'' Farmer told the Herald/Times. "Process is supposed to matter. There are supposed to be boundaries and limitations so everybody is on equal footing. When we don't follow the rules, it erodes and denigrates the process."

For example, he said, HB 7069 morphed from a six-page bill "which dealt entirely with the Best and Brightest Scholarship Program" to a 278-page amendment" that included provisions that were the subject of 55 other bills "the vast majority of which either had been voted down in committee or had stalled."

In a lengthy point of order on the Senate floor on May 8, Farmer noted that the conference committee on May 5, the last scheduled day of session, between House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron settled up the final budget package but the final wording of HB 7069 was rolled out two hours after they had met at the conference. At that meeting, Corcoran and Negron did not take a vote on the final budget agreement, except to announce that the agreement was made.

 

Although most of the bills’ provisions had been discussed at least conceptually by one of the chambers, not all of them had. The concept of the “Schools of Hope” was only discussed for only 90 minutes in the Senate prior to the final passage.

A Herald/Times analysis of HB 7069 also found that HB 7069 not only included language from 55 bills but also from bills never before discussed or considered publicly and — in one case — a bill that was defeated by a Senate committee.

For example, a new bonus scheme whereby all “highly effective” teachers would get $1,200 in each of the next three years and all “effective” teachers could get up to $800 as never discussed before in either chamber.

House Pre-K-12 Appropriations Chairman Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, acknowledged the language was new but defended it. “That’s new, granted,'' he told reporters on May 5. "But it’s within the context of teacher bonuses”  as part of the “Best & Brightest” program.

 

June 05, 2017

New economic development bill gives governor $85 million grant fund with few strings attached

Scott at MIA 60217

After spending the session peeling back what they deemed was taxpayer-financed “corporate welfare” in the name of jobs, the Florida House returns this week with a plan to replace those programs with a new $85 million economic development fund that gives Gov. Rick Scott exclusive control — and few strings attached.

The agreement, between House Speaker Richard Corcoran and the governor, and signed off on by Senate President Joe Negron last week, paved the way for Scott to sign the $83 billion budget on Friday and call for a three-day special session starting Wednesday.

In calling back legislators, the governor directed them to add $215 million in K-12 funding to the budget, restore $75 million to the tourism marketing agency, Visit Florida, and create an $85 million grant program within the Department of Economic Opportunity. If they pass the bills, many expect the governor to sign Corcoran’s priority legislation, HB 7069, a controversial public education bill intended to expand charter schools by giving them control of the state’s struggling schools.

READ MORE: “Another backroom deal stokes distrust in Florida’s Legislature”

The economic development bill proposed by the House, HB 1a, will regulate how taxpayer money is used for economic development. It creates the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund within the Department of Economic Opportunity to finance projects that fit broad criteria to help targeted industries: rural infrastructure, transportation projects for local governments and individual training programs at state colleges and technical schools.

The bill says that DEO and Enterprise Florida will “identify projects, solicit proposals, and make funding recommendations to the Governor, who is authorized to approve” them.

There are no restrictions on how the grant money is dispersed except that it “shall not be used for the exclusive benefit of any single company, corporation, or business entity.” Nothing in the legislation requires an audit. There are no application requirements, no job metrics and no mandate that the project show it is developing jobs.

After feuding with the governor all session, many lawmakers were surprised that the House was willing to turn over unfettered control for economic development spending to Scott, and Senate leaders say they may not be ready to accept the House bill entirely. Story here. 

 

June 03, 2017

Second backroom budget deal is sowing seeds of distrust

Scott at MIA 60217@MaryEllenKlas and @Steve Bousquet

Another backroom deal, this time involving the governor who has blasted the Legislature for secrecy, is leaving a trail of frustration and distrust in the state capital as elected lawmakers are being called back for a special session this week to rubber stamp a budget they were excluded from negotiating.

After stoking rumors that he might veto the Legislature’s budget and an accompanying controversial public school reform bill because they were negotiated behind closed doors, Gov. Rick Scott emerged this week with House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron in Miami with an announcement. He would sign the budget, veto $409 million in local projects, and order lawmakers back June 7-9 to add $215 million to the public education budget.

The announcement caught most legislators off guard, even ranking Republicans who were left out of the deal-making.

“Other than a seeing a press release, I haven’t talked to anyone about any of it,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who chairs the Senate budget panel on tourism and economic development.

“Is this how the process is supposed to work?” he asked. “There has to be a better way.” Story here.