October 13, 2015

Gardiner: It's time for Florida Senate to 'rally around somebody'

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, says he decided to call a caucus meeting of all 26 Senate Republicans in December because of the need for senators to "rally around somebody" and bring to an end to the long-running leadership battle between Sens. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.

"It's been three-and-a-half years that Senator Negron and Senator Latvala have been at it. We are going to get to a point where there's got to be a resolution," Gardiner told the Times/Herald in his most extensive comments on the subject. "The unification of a caucus is very, very important. As a member, you should look at who can unify the entire caucus to come together, and a caucus meeting may allow for that discussion to happen."

Gardiner noted that past Senate caucus meetings to designate future leaders have usually been held in December, though Gardiner's predecessor, Sen. Don Gaetz, was chosen in September. What's unprecedented in this chain of events is that the Senate has acknowledged that its current districts are unconstitutional.

With future control of the chamber not yet settled, the Senate must realign its own districts in a three-week special session that begins next Monday, so the stakes are very high.

What the new Senate map will look like is anyone's guess. The result, subject to the approval of the Florida Supreme Court, could benefit Negron or Latvala -- or the Democrats. Even though Negron has declared victory and has named all 14 of his pledges, a majority of the caucus, Gardiner left open the possibility that the outcome could still change.

"I've made it pretty clear we should have a caucus meeting in December. I'm not speculating on the outcome of that caucus," Gardiner said.

Gardiner said the logjam must be broken, and the losing senator must show humility and accept defeat on Dec. 2. "Our caucus has to rally around somebody to lead them," he said.

October 08, 2015

Confederate Flag in Florida Senate seal on its way out


Citing historical inaccuracies and a need to reflect modern values, a Senate committee unanimously recommended Thursday that the Confederate flag be removed from the Florida Senate’s official seal.

The vote came after little discussion and no opposition from the bipartisan panel. A two-thirds majority vote of the full Senate, or support from 27 of 40 members, is needed to complete the change.

Sixteen different flags have flown over Florida in its long history, and the state shouldn’t endorse flags of illegitimate governments, he said, referring to the Civil War rebellion of the southern states.

For others, the rule change embodies something more personal: a desire to rid the Senate’s insignia of a controversial symbol that has a widespread effect, “especially [for] those of us who have African ancestry as it relates to a dark period in our history that still has a profound effect upon many of us,” said Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner of Tampa.

More here.

October 07, 2015

Florida Senate could remove Confederate flag from its seal


SenatesealLawmakers are meeting Thursday morning to discuss whether to update the decades-old insignia for the Florida Senate and rid it of a reference to the controversial Confederate flag.

The rebel flag has drawn renewed criticism nationwide since the racially motivated shooting at a Charleston, S.C. church last summer.

At the request of Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner of Tampa, the Senate Rules Committee will "review and evaluate" the official seal, which was adopted in 1972.

Per chamber rules, the seal's center contains "a fan of the five flags that have flown over Florida" -- those of Spain, France, Great Britain, the Confederate States and the United States of America.

A proposal that will be presented to the committee tomorrow removes reference to the five flags and lists specific ones that "have flown or presently fly over Florida" -- the "1513 Spanish flag, the current Florida State flag, the current United States flag, the 1564 French flag, and 1763 flag of Great Britain."

The revision swaps out the Confederate Flag in the seal for the current state flag. The change would also affect the coat of arms for the state Senate. Download Senate Seal_Proposed Senate Rule Change

Changes to the Senate seal require a two-thirds majority vote of the Senate.

The "Southern Cross"-style flag that's included in the current insignia is actually battle flag for the Confederacy, not the rebellion's official flag. That banner was known as the "stars and bars," which depicts 13 white stars arranged in a circle on a block of blue, next to horizontal red and white bars.

This is possibly not the only discussion over the Confederate flag that Florida lawmakers could have next session.

Democrats Rep. Darryl Rouson, of St. Petersburg, and Sens. Geraldine Thompson, of Orlando, and Dwight Bullard, of Cutler Bay, have filed bills for the 2016 session that would prohibit local, county or state government entities in Florida from displaying any Confederate flag or similar symbols. House Bill 243 and Senate Bill 154 have each been referred to four committees in their respective chambers, but no hearings have been scheduled yet.

Image credit: archive.flsenate.gov

FHSAA: Harsher penalties needed for high school athletics recruiting

Cook27 MiamiCentralFB SPTS


State law needs to be changed to make it easier for high schools to crack down on the recruiting of student-athletes, the executive director for the Florida High School Athletic Association told a Senate committee Wednesday.

Roger Dearing asked lawmakers to pursue legislation in their 2016 session that would instill harsher penalties for coaches and teachers who recruit athletes and that would make it more reasonable for schools to prove wrongdoing and improper behavior.

Students are supposed to change schools for academic reasons or because they move into a different district; coaches and teachers are not allowed to entice a student to change schools to play for a sport. But athletic recruiting is still a somewhat-common, yet hard-to-prove practice, particularly in highly competitive areas such as South Florida.

Dearing told the Senate Pre-K-12 Education Committee that he continues to hear stories from parents about coaches or school representatives who have approached student-athletes to convince them to join their programs -- even going so far as using burner phones to contact the teenagers in secret.

"We really need some statutory help with that. Recruiting is our hugest problem," Dearing told senators. The FHSAA is a private, non-profit organization that, under Florida law, serves as the official governing body for interscholastic athletics. It has 800 member schools statewide.

Why is recruiting prohibited? "You can’t have adults manipulating children for their own gain," Dearing told reporters after the hearing.

Dearing told the committee the FHSAA has received 12-15 complaints of alleged recruiting in the past four years. None were investigated last year, but two schools have investigations underway now: one in the Florida Panhandle and another in South Florida. (Dearing declined to say which South Florida school, but did confirm it's not in Miami-Dade.)

State law was changed a few years ago to set a higher bar in order to prove recruiting: “clear and convincing evidence,” which Dearing said is the “same preponderance of evidence in a murder case.”

"It’s next to impossible to prove recruiting," he said. "The level of proof is just a little bit higher than we can actually reach in most cases."

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, asked Dearing to suggest wording for legislation that could replace the existing law.

The FHSAA's oversight of high school athletics has been the subject of legislative discussions for several years. Last year, for instance, a bill that, some said, threatened the very existence of FHSAA cleared the House by an 86-29 vote. It died in the Senate.

Lawmakers are expecting "several bills" to be filed for the 2016 legislative session that could affect high school athletics and the FHSAA's governance authority.

The Senate committee's workshop on Wednesday was being held to prepare members for those future discussions, said Vice-Chairwoman Nancy Detert, R-Venice.

Photo credit: Miami Central running back James Cook gets tackled by Booker T. Washington defensive back Marquis Decius during first half of a high school football game Saturday night Sept. 26, 2015. Gaston De Cardenas / Miami Herald

October 05, 2015

Jones: ‘No performance issues’ with corrections’ I.G. who resigned

Julie jones


Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones told a Senate committee Monday that the re-assignment of her agency’s inspector general was of his own choosing, not because of performance issues.

Jeffery Beasley announced last week that he is stepping down to head up the department’s intelligence division. Beasley’s job change comes as the corrections department has been plagued for more than a year by widespread criticism and allegations that Beasley and his office failed to investigate or may have even hindered investigations into suspicious deaths, beatings and medical neglect of inmates in the state prison system.

While giving an update to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Monday afternoon, Jones spoke about ways she's trying to improve the environment within the agency by focusing on values, such as supervisory accountability. Senators had one question about Beasley's job change -- specifically, how Jones' vision jibes with Beasley's re-assignment.

“I’m trying to understand how someone goes from being an I.G. that perhaps they didn’t perform well or something, and then they get integrated in the system,” said Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, vice-chairwoman of the committee. “What kind of signal does that send?”

Jones said there were “no performance issues” with Beasley.

“He did four years’ worth of good duty and has elected to step away from his position and do something different,” she said.

Beasley, 41, similarly told the Miami Herald last week that he elected voluntarily to move into the new role.

“This is a phenomenal move and opportunity," Beasley told the Herald. “This is not the secretary running me out of the position. This is not the governor forcing me out of the office."

Beasley is expected to continue as inspector general for a few more weeks. The intelligence division, which Beasley will now oversee, is tasked with probing inmate-generated crime, including identity theft and drug and tobacco trafficking.

Jones told reporters she will have no role in recommending Beasley's successor.

"That is not my responsibility," she said, adding that Melinda Miguel -- Gov. Rick Scott’s appointed chief inspector general -- will advertise the position and put together an interview board, which will make recommendations to Miguel and Jones.

 Photo credit: The Florida Channel

Bill allowing open carry of guns in Florida gets first hearing Tuesday



As the national debate over gun laws has resurfaced in the wake of last week's deadly community college shooting in Oregon, Florida continues to debate its own proposals here in Tallahassee.

Next up is a bill that would relax existing state law by allowing anyone who is licensed to carry a concealed weapon to also openly carry that firearm in public. The proposal gets its first hearing before the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Tuesday morning, and it's sure to draw input from both gun-rights advocates and gun-control supporters.

HB 163 is sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach. It's co-sponsored by Republican Reps. Neil Combee of Polk County, Brad Drake of Eucheeanna, Dane Eagle of Cape Coral, Jay Fant of Jacksonville and Charles Van Zant of Keystone Heights.  Van Zant and Fant both sit on the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. Download HB163_AsIntroduced

Gaetz's father, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, introduced the Senate companion (SB 300), which has yet to be referred to a committee in that chamber.

Matt and Don Gaetz are holding a press conference at 8 a.m. Tuesday to discuss their legislation at the Capitol.

Continue reading "Bill allowing open carry of guns in Florida gets first hearing Tuesday" »

October 02, 2015

Florida Sen. Joe Negron's fundraising surges as he eyes presidency


You’ll have to forgive state Sen. Joe Negron if he’s feeling like a million bucks these days. That just happens to be how much money the Republican from Stuart has raised since May in his quest to lock up the race to be Senate President in 2017.

When official campaign finance reports are posted next week, Negron’s political action committee will report having raised over $500,000 in just September. In fact, in just three days earlier this week, Negron’s Treasure Coast Alliance pulled in $301,000 from various businesses and interest groups to complete his fundraising surge. Since May 1, he has raised $1.2 million.

“I am fortunate to have an extraordinary team,” Negron said about supporters in the Senate who are supporting his campaign to be the Senate president. “There is a lot of momentum.”

In August, Negron declared he had enough votes to secure the presidency and current Senate President Andy Gardiner has called a caucus vote for Dec. 2 to designate his successor. However, State Sen. Jack Latvala, the Clearwater Republican who is challenging him for the powerful position, has refused to concede and is raising money aggressively in his own political action committee called Florida Leadership Committee. Not to be outdone, Latvala has raised over $300,000 just in September and has pulled in more than $830,000 since May 1.

The money is critical for the two camps because money raised in the political action committees can be used to spread their influence, and more specifically help elect Republicans who will vote to make them Senate president. 

Analysis: 1 in 3 Florida legislators were elected without a single vote

@ByKristenMClark @MaryEllenKlas

When Florida lawmakers return to Tallahassee for another redistricting special session on Oct. 19, they will talk a lot about how to comply with court guidelines when redrawing state Senate districts, but they’ll say much less about how competitive to make them.

That’s because in 2012, lawmakers redrew the House and Senate maps to adjust for population changes in the decennial census and to comply with the new anti-gerrymandering amendments to the state constitution. The result: a third of all legislators were elected in their last election without a single vote. They got here by default.

Legislators wield tremendous power in Florida — from crafting the state’s annual budget and determining how much taxes people pay to deciding whether to implement environmental preservation spelled out in Amendment 1.

Drawing the political boundaries for the next decade through redistricting is like creating the rulebook for who calls the shots.

With that as the backdrop, the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times examined how many votes each legislator received in their last election, and assessed the intensity of competition and voter support for all 160 of them.

October 01, 2015

2 Florida state senators from Miami back Marco Rubio instead of Jeb Bush


The Florida Capitol has been Jeb Bush Country for months, something the former governor's presidential campaign noted this week by trumpeting that 20 of 26 GOP state senators have endorsed him. The list was first published by Politico.

Two of the senators not on the list are from Miami, Bush's hometown. And they're backing the other local Republican running for president, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

State Sens. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and René García say they're bucking their colleagues because they're closer to Rubio, the former state House speaker -- not because they have anything against Bush. (The third Miami Republican state senator, Anitere Flores, is on Team Bush.)

"I respect and admire both Jeb and Marco," Diaz de la Portilla said in a text message to the Miami Herald. "I share their political philosophy. But I particularly like Marco's vision for America's future; Marco's energy, optimism, and passion are contagious."

García, of Hialeah, said he has known Rubio since the 1996 Bob Dole presidential campaign.

"I really think he could bring this country together," he said. "I will never speak ill of Jeb -- he was a great governor. When you go to Tallahassee, you do feel everyone is supporting Jeb Bush.

"But I do feel some people are giving Marco a second look."

The other senators missing from Bush's endorsement list are Charlie Dean of Inverness, Alan Hays of Umatilla, Travis Hutson of Jacksonville, and Tom Lee of Brandon.

Here are the senators who endorsed Bush, per his campaign:

Continue reading "2 Florida state senators from Miami back Marco Rubio instead of Jeb Bush" »

September 25, 2015

House Rules chairman sets kick-off for Florida Senate run


Republican state Rep. Ritch Workman plans to celebrate the launch of his Florida Senate campaign on Oct. 10 with a bash at his Melbourne home.

Workman, who is chairman of the House Rules Committee and a noted part-time Uber driver, is one of many House members gearing up for state Senate campaigns in 2016. 

An invite for Workman's campaign kick-off fundraiser notes that Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, is on his host committee, as well as several local officials in Brevard County.  Download Invitation for 10-10-15 Kick Off

In inviting family, friends and political supporters to his home, Workman emailed his guests that he's not asking for any specific contribution amount. "Anything is welcome," he wrote.