August 08, 2013

Could Fasano's exit tip balance of power for Senate presidency?

Ex-Rep. Mike Fasano's appointment as Pasco County tax collector didn't just end his legislative career. It put an end to an intriguing scenario that he might have sought a return to the Senate by taking on fellow Republican Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, next year -- which would have improved Sen. Jack Latvala's chances of becoming Pinellas County's first Senate president.

Fasano shares Latvala's moderate philosophy and he's very popular in Pasco, so Simpson would have been in serious trouble. But Fasano says Simpson is "doing a wonderful job" and never seriously considered a Senate run, though he said there was "a big push by some people."

Simpson has heard the story that a privately commissioned poll showed Fasano with a huge lead over Simpson. Simpson calls that "a myth," but he'd like to know why anyone would have wanted Fasano to take him on. "I would love an answer to that question," Simpson said.

Simpson and the other 25 GOP senators must choose between Latvala and Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, for the presidency in 2016, following Sen. Andy Gardiner of Orlando. The Latvala-Negron race is described as close. "It's basically tied," Latvala said. (Negron could not be reached; 16 of the 20 senators facing re-election in 2014 are Republicans).

Simpson is complicating the Latvala-Negron battle by holding out, at least publicly. "My opinions of both of them are forming," he said. He insists he's neutral even though Negron held a fund-raiser for him: "Jack Latvala has been very gracious to me ... Both gentlemen are fine people."

Another Tampa Bay senator who won't publicly take sides is Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. "I have" made a commitment, Brandes said, "but I don't want to get into the inner workings of Senate leadership."

Latvala aggressively backed Brandes' rival, Jim Frishe, in 2012 and Negron attended Brandes' election night victory party; Negron and Brandes also share libertarian views on some issues.

Brandes dismissed the idea that he should support Latvala because they are both from Tampa Bay. "You should support people you're philosophically aligned with," Brandes said. "You've got to think statewide."

The fight for control of the Florida Senate will likely go on until the 2014 session, and Brandes said: "I would say it's a very close race."

-- Steve Bousquet and Michael Van Sickler

July 18, 2013

Lee wants to give Senate presidency another whirl

Sen. Tom Lee said when he decided earlier this month to run for president, he did so because other lawmakers in Tampa Bay were running for the same post.

“I’ve been calling a few members, which is actually when I learned a couple have made a commitment to Sen. (Wilton) Simpson,” Lee said. “I know Simpson is running very hard, and so is Bill Galvano.”

Lee, R-Brandon, was Senate president in 2004 to 2006 and was elected back to the Senate last year for a two-year term after the former incumbent, Ronda Storms, left the seat to run unsuccessfully for Hillsborough County property appraiser.

The 51-year-old homebuilder said he he was seeking the presidency in 2020 (where he would preside over the 2021 and 2022 sessions). Even though he concedes it’s too early to run for such a far out date (Lee would have to win next year’s election, plus a second in 2018), but said since others were doing so, he felt compelled to announce now.

“They’ve forced me to run,” Lee said.

Tampa Bay hasn’t had a Senate president since Lee in 2006. With Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, currently locked in the race for 2016 (for the 2017 and 2018 sessions) with Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, Lee is laying out a scenario in which four Tampa Bay lawmakers are now in the mix for the job (if one includes Manatee County as part of Tampa Bay).

According to our friends at The Bradenton Herald, Galvano, R-Bradenton, is being coy about his plans for the presidency in 2018 (for the 2019 and 2020 sessions).  As for Simpson, R-Trilby, the Times/Herald asked him on July 11 if he was running for the presidency and he said he was too busy being a regular senator.

“I would be very humbled if my colleagues suggest I can do that job,” Simpson said. “I’m working very hard to be a humble public servant. If that adds up to more than me representing Senate District 18, I would be honored. But right now, all I’m focused on is representing my constituents.”

July 10, 2013

Matt Gaetz raises $252,000 in sprint for Senate seat

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, raised $252,000 over seven weeks in his bid to succeed his father, Don, the Senate president, in a Panhandle Senate seat. Gaetz's fast and formidable out-of-the-gate showing may help explain why Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, decided to end his campaign for the same seat after raising $2,800 in the past three months.

Most of young Gaetz's money is from local supporters in Northwest Florida, not Tallahassee insiders. But he did get $2,500 from an Orlando-area network of injury clinics, $2,000 from the HCA hospital chain and $1,500 from private prison builder Geo Group and two company execs. Former House Speaker Dean Cannon, now a lobbyist, and his wife Ellen each gave Gaetz $500 as did Bradenton real estate investor and former Senate president John McKay and Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.

The younger Gaetz, dubbed "Baby Gaetz" by Tallahassee lobbyists, is running for a seat that might not be open until 2016. That's when Don Gaetz's term would expire, and he has said he "intends" to fill out his term. It's unusual, but not unprecedented, for a Senate president to make the awkward transition to being just another senator after residing in the presidential suite for two years. The last one who did it, Ken Pruitt of Port St. Lucie, had a change of heart and resigned his seat on the last day of the 2009 session.

Joking about having a son in the Legislature, Don Gaetz told a crowd at a campaign appearance for Gov. Rick Scott on Sunday that when people ask, "What has Gaetz gone and done now? There's a 50-50 chance it ain't me."

Matt Gaetz, speaking at the same event, displayed his father's knack for feisty rhetoric. "A lot of times we have to take second fiddle to those folks in South Florida," he said in Graceville. "But whenever we pick a fight with them we know we're going to win, because we've got all the guns, and we're a better shot than they are."

-- Steve Bousquet 

 

 

 

July 05, 2013

Legislative leaders spread the love this session, giving select staff pay raises

When Florida legislators this year broke the freeze on employee pay and offered state workers salary increases for the first time in seven years, legislative leaders made sure to give some of their own employees pay raises, too.

Using criteria based on performance and promotions, the increases amounted to about three to five percent for most workers but as much as 20 percent for others.

House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz took different approaches. Gaetz provided bonuses and salary increases to 35 staff members, beginning last month. Weatherford gave raises to 71 full-time employees, starting this month.  Download Senate - Promotions Salary Increases - 2013 Session

Weatherford attempted to keep the House annual budget the same by reorganizing, and using retirements and departures of some staff members, said Ryan Duffy, spokesman for Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. The net cost of the raises to taxpayers was about $27,000, he said.  Download House Salary Review Summer 2013 Press Request (1)

The Senate bonuses, by contrast, cost taxpayers an additional $105,848, said Katie Betta, Senate spokeswoman. More here. 

June 28, 2013

Update: Sachs draws ethics complaint for living outside her district, denies claims

A Broward Republican voter has filed an ethics complaint against Sen. Maria Sachs, a Democrat, accusing her of leasing a Fort Lauderdale apartment to comply with the residency requirements of her district which stretches from Delray Beach to Fort Lauderdale.  Download Sachs.Ethics.Complaint 

Matthew G. Feiler, 32, filed the complaint with the Florida Ethics Commission accusing Sachs of violating state ethics laws, committing perjury for signing an oath of office paperwork claiming she lived in Broward County, and violating Article III, section 15 (c) of the Florida Constitution which requires legislators to live in the district they are representing.

Feiler, a registered Republican living in Tamarac, according to Broward County voter registration records,  cited a television news report by Bob Norman of Channel 10 news who obtained video footage from a private investigator showing Sachs arriving at night at the Boca Raton home she owns with her husband in Boca Raton and leaving the next morning. 

The report did not indicate who paid for the private investigator to stalk Sachs. Sachs was re-elected to the Senate in November after a bitter election battle against former Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale. 

Update: Sachs denied the allegations and attributed them to "partisan Republican attacks."

"Of course I live in my district,'' she said in a statement. "I love to call the 34th District home. Republicans have spent millions attacking me and those attacks unfortunately did not stop with the election.  But sadly, the Republicans' well-funded attacks against me are getting more and more personal, but the people in my district aren't buying it. And everyone I represent can be certain of this, too: I'm not going to take my eye off what's important for a single moment. I'm focused on my constituents and their needs."

Continue reading "Update: Sachs draws ethics complaint for living outside her district, denies claims" »

June 24, 2013

Gov. Scott signs 'landmark' foster care legislation

Gov. Rick Scott signed the Nancy C. Detert Common Sense and Compassion Independent Living Act Monday -- for the second time.

Scott initially signed HB 1036, which gives kids the option of staying in foster care until age 21, on June 14th, but Monday's ceremonial signing gave supporters a chance to celebrate a bill advocates call "landmark legislation." 

"This is the most important bill the governor will have signed all year. It immediately impacts the lives of thousands of children and I don't see a bill that's more important than that," said Senate sponsor Detert, who attended the signing at Valencia College in Orlando with House sponsor, Rep. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins, Florida's Advocate for Foster and Adoption Tanya Wilkins, children's advocates and current and foster care youths from all over Florida.

Along with giving young adults the option of staying in foster care, the new law requires a transition plan be made for those who are leaving the child welfare system. 

“This new law will ensure kids entrusted in our care have the best start possible into adulthood and provide them the opportunity to obtain the life skills necessary so they may live the American Dream,” Scott said.

About 70 percent of teens in foster care have not graduated high school or received their GED by the time they "age out" of the system.

Continue reading "Gov. Scott signs 'landmark' foster care legislation" »

June 12, 2013

Ethics commission finds Sachs left off condo from disclosure form but drops complaint

The Florida Commission on Ethics has found probable cause to conclude that Sen. Maria Sachs failed to properly disclose a Tallahassee condominium on her annual financial disclosure forms for three years but, because Sachs amended her forms to correct the omission, the commission chose not to pursue any further action. 

The complaint alleging  alleging that Sachs violated state financial disclosure law by failing to include her Tallahassee condominium on her annual report for three years was filed by Palm Beach County Republican Party chairman Sid Dinerstein on Oct. 15.

Sachs, a Democrat, was embroiled in a hotly contested race against former state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale at the time, which she won. They were forced to run against each other because of redistricting.

Continue reading "Ethics commission finds Sachs left off condo from disclosure form but drops complaint" »

June 07, 2013

Gov and GOP leaders use hurricane season start to blast DC over sequester cuts

As the first tropical storm of the season bore down on Florida Thursday, Republican state officials seized the moment to blast Washington and warn that the required budget cuts to federal programs could impede the state’s ability to respond to hurricanes or floods.

Gov. Rick Scott had just mentioned Tropical Storm Andrea at his briefing with reporters Thursday morning when he launched into a critique of the federal budget storm that is causing the Florida National Guard to order 993 of its full-time staff to go to a four-day work week beginning July 1.

Known as sequestration, the across-the-board cuts were agreed to between President Obama and the Republican-controlled Congress in 2011 to resolve the debt ceiling standoff. Now, Scott, Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford have written to Congress and the Department of Defense asking them to exempt National Guard staff from the mandatory cuts because of Florida’s hurricane season.

“It doesn’t make any sense why they’re doing it this way,’’ Scott said, adding that the defense department could have excluded the National Guard from the budget cuts. “I’m very concerned about our preparedness. … It will take more days to be up to speed.” More here. 

 

May 29, 2013

Scott signs Citizens Insurance reform bill, blasts company in sharp-tongued letter

Gov. Rick Scott wasted no time signing a bill to reform Citizens Property Insurance Corp., which has seen a whirlwind of criticism since it approved a special $52 million deal for an upstart company with ties to top politicians last week. 

Scott signed SB 1770 on Wednesday, one day after the reform proposal reached his desk. The bill creates a “clearinghouse” to direct policies out of Citizens and into the private market, and includes several reforms that address controversies and scandals that have taken place at Citizens. 

In a sharply worded missive, Scott focused mainly on those scandals, using words like “outrageous,” “egregious,” and “fraud, waste and abuse.” 

The bill creates an Inspector General at Citizens, something Scott has called for ever since media reports documented the company’s missteps, which include: lavish travel expenses for executives, huge salary hikes, large severance packages for disgraced employees, overpriced contracts, mishandled investigations and the abrupt dismissal  of corporate investigators who uncovered some of the misconduct. 

“This new Inspector General will be accountable to the Cabinet and will not be an entity Citizens can fire, as they did with their old compliance officers,” Scott said in a statement. “A strong Inspector General is needed to provide independent oversight at Citizens and to end the fraud, waste, and abuse which has plagued Citizens for too long.” 

Scott also called on Citizens to change its policies after a controversial deal worth up to $52 million deal for Heritage Property and Casualty Company, which is looking to take over 60,000 policies from the state-run insurer. Critics have blasted the quickly-approved deal for the nine-month-old St. Petersburg company, which contributed $110,000 to Scott’s reelection campaign in March. Scott said the board should require at least seven days notice before any future board meetings, in accordance with state agency guidelines. The Heritage deal was unveiled on a Friday, and voted out on the following Wednesday in a 3-2 vote. Several board members complained that there was not enough time to vet the proposal, a concern echoed by House Speaker Will Weatherford and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater

Citizens has stood by the Heritage deal, saying that it was thoroughly vetted for several weeks and would significantly reduce the company’s liability, which is backed by the state’s consumers. 

"The financials associated with this deal are significantly in our favor," Citizens President Barry Gilway said Wednesday.

Continue reading "Scott signs Citizens Insurance reform bill, blasts company in sharp-tongued letter" »

April 30, 2013

Horse trades begin -- pension vote for medmal shaping up

It's that time in the Florida Legislature when surprises emerge from every corner as votes become commodities and policy debates take a back seat to raw gamesmanship as the clock tick toward's Friday's end of session.

So it is that we saw action this morning on House Speaker Will Weatherford's priority -- his bill to end the state's defined benefit system for new employees so that the state can shift the risk from taxpayers to workers. Senate leaders agreed to allow a version of his plan come up for a vote in the Senate, with no guarantee of passage. The board vote is being sought by the Florida Chamber and other proponents of the plan,which could potentially use it against Republicans in a primary. 

In return for the favor, the House is expected to take up a bill to limit medical malpractice for doctors that is the priority of Senate President Don Gaetz's. Reps. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, James Grant, R-Tampa, told the Herald/Times they have agreed to withdraw their amendments. The amendments were opposed by the bill's sponsors, including Gaetz' son Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar.

Among them was an amendment by Grant who believes that the medmal bill could be used by insurance companies who represent the doctors to create a private registry of gun owners. 

Grant said he wasn't aware of a trade but wouldn't be surprised. He expects the House to take up the Senate bill.

"I have no idea what’s been negotiated,'' he said. "If you are asking me whether or not I’m surprised trades are happening back and forth, that happens it’s the end of session. Nobody has asked me to withdraw because of a vote on pensions or any other bills." Stay tuned.