February 20, 2015

Weatherford polishes up his resume

WeatherfordblogHow does he do it all?

Just last month, former House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, announced that he and his brothers Sam and Drew were opening a consulting company. The aptly-named Weatherford Partners would provide clients "with a broad range of business expertise and will invest capital directly into private companies with a strategic focus on Florida."

Sounds complicated. And still Weatherford has found time to get involved in other activities.

Only a day after he announced his fledgling company, the Florida Chamber of Commerce announced Weatherford was to sit on its Board of Directors, allowing him to join his father-in-law, former House Speaker Allan Bense, a longtime Chamber power player.

Talk about timing. Weatherford got good mileage out of the previous day's announcement. The Chamber release identified Weatherford as managing partner of Weatherford Partners BEFORE it mentioned he also happened to be Florida's former Speaker of the House.

And then on Friday came news of yet another appointment, this time to the board of directors of the Republican State Leadership Committee. The committee's chairman, former Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum said in a release that he was "thrilled to welcome Will to our Board of Directors. Electing new, talented Republicans to state legislative chambers remains among the RSLC’s top priorities, and Will’s knowledge from his four consecutive terms with the Florida House of Representatives will be extremely valuable to our mission."

RSLC is a major force in campaign fundraising for legislative races nationally. In the 2014 election cycle it helped raise more than $600,000 for House and Senate races in Florida. Weatherford was known as a formidable rainmaker himself, so he should fit in nicely.

When term limits forced Weatherford out of the House last year, he was coy about his future. He said he was going to be a more present husband and father, and he was going to focus on bolstering his private sector bona fides. 

His political future? "I'm not looking for something," Weatherford said then. "If there's an opportunity, I'll take a look, but there's a value in stepping back."

As Friday's RSLC announcement shows, Weatherford might have stepped back, but he still has an eye on the stage. 

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January 20, 2015

Will Weatherford’s next big move

@MarcACaputo

Former House Speaker Will Weatherford today announced that he and his brothers are forming a family-named business and consulting firm – a move that allows the 35-year-old Republican to beef up his bank account and his political resume as he decides whether to run for higher office in the future.

Weatherford’s next political campaign -- governor, CFO, U.S. Senate or even agriculture commissioner or another legislative seat -- is anyone’s guess. And he isn’t closing the door on the speculation even as he announces the formation of Weatherford Partners.

“It has been an honor to serve the state for the last eight years. Right now I am focused on spending time with my four children and working with my brothers to grow our business,” Weatherford said via email. “Public service and public policy is a passion I will always have. I look forward to seeing what the future holds.”

Weatherford made sure to point out that his firm is not a lobby shop.

Here’s the Weatherford Partners press release:

Tampa, Fla. – Weatherford Partners, a strategic business advisory and investment firm, announced its official launch today. The firm will provide clients with a broad range of business expertise and will invest capital directly into private companies with a strategic focus on Florida. Weatherford Partners is led by Will Weatherford, former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with my brothers, Sam and Drew, to launch this exciting business,” said Will Weatherford. “We share the same values, goals, and faith. It’s a natural fit, and one I know will be a successful and lasting partnership.”

 

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August 04, 2014

Movers & Shakers

Sen. Grimsley named to new human trafficking council

Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, has been appointed by Senate President Don Gaetz to the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking, which was established by the legislature this session.

The first meeting of the 15-member council will be held at 2 p.m. Aug. 18th in Room 214 of the Knott Building at the Capitol.

Grimsley, chairwoman of the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, is the newest addition to the council. Rep. Jeanette Nunez, R-Miami, was appointed by House Speaker Will Weatherford. The two remaining members will be appointed by Gov. Rick Scott.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, the council's chairman, appointed Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle; Martin County Sheriff William SnyderTerry Coonan, executive director of the Florida State University Center for the Advancement of Human Rights; and Dotti Groover-Skipper, chairwoman of the Community Campaign Against Human Trafficking to the council.

The other members are Mike Carroll, interim secretary of the state Department of Children and Families, who will serve as vice chairman; State Surgeon General Dr. John ArmstrongElizabethDudek, Secretary of the state Agency for Health Care Administration; Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey; Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Interim SecretaryChristina Daly; and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

Florida ethics commission elects a new chairman

Linda McKee Robison, the former vice chairman of the Florida Commission on Ethics, was elected its chairman at the panel's July 25th meeting.

Robison, who is a partner in the Corporate Transactions Group of Shutts & Bowen, LLP, has served on the commission since 2011.

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May 20, 2014

Weatherford: I never asked staff to make Brown's district more compact

Weatherford redistricting trialFor the first time in state history, House Speaker Will Weatherford took the stand in the redistricting trial over the state's congressional districts Tuesday and defended the congressional map the Republican-controlled legislature drew. Story here. 

Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, defended the map, and the decision to boost the black population in the meandering congressional district held by U.S. Rep Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville. He acknowledged he never asked his staff to make the district more compact but supported the Senate version in a compromise that brought the number of black majority voters in the district over 50 percent. 

The distict, which stretches through several counties, was first drawn by a federal court in 1996 to increase the odds of electing a black to Congress and has been a central objection in the now-pending lawsuit against the congressional districts drawn by the GOP-controlled legislature. Brown has held the seat since then.

Plaintiffs allege that Republicans sought the district and Brown, the incumbent, supported it because it helps to pack Democrats into a district in a way to make adjoining districts stronger for Republicans. The multi-county district became the foundation of the map that legislators ultimately approved in 2002 and again in 2012. The 2012 map came despite new constitutional guidelines approved in 2010 that Florida's districts be compact -- and not reduce minority representation.

Weatherford, who headed the House redistricting effort, testified on Tuesday that the compromise "made the map better" because it reduced the number of cities and counties that were divided. When pressed under questioning, he also said he never asked staff to try to make the Jacksonville-based minority district more compact. 

"We relied heavily upon counsel and staff to make sure it was drawn in a legal manner,'' he said. It was the first time a sitting legislator has been called to testify in a pending lawsuit and the first on redistricting. The Florida Supreme Court ruled in December in a landmark decision that legislative privilege is secondary to the protections in the constitution, which prohibit legislators from redrawing maps with the intent of favoring for an incumbent or political party.

Plaintiff's lawyer David King pressed Weatherford: "You never gave your staff any direction to try to draw it in a more compact manner?"

Weatherford repeatedly avoided a direct answer: "I don't remember asking my staff to draw District 5, aside from asking them to draw in a way that was legally complaint."

Later, King asked about the seven proposed congressional maps and noted that none of them deviated from what King called the "serpentine district."

"We drew the best set of maps we thought we could,'' Weatherford said. "We wanted to give members as much opportunity to see the different methods in drawing a map but there is more than one way to draw legally compliant maps."

Weatherford said the final congressional map was a compromise agreed to between Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, who led the Senate redistrictin effort.

"We knew and we believed that our map was superior to the Senate map, particularly as it relates to cities and counties splits,'' he said.

May 13, 2014

ALF reforms fail again in Legislature

TALLAHASSEE -- Legislative leaders identified reform of Florida’s assisted-living facilities as one of their top goals this session, but once again lawmakers did not adopt measures to improve conditions in the 3,048 facilities around the state.

It is the third year the Legislature has not passed reforms proposed after a 2011 Miami Herald investigation that revealed the neglect, abuse and death of residents at some in ALFs.

The most recent Senate and House proposals fell apart in the final days when the House attached other health care related bills to the Senate’s ALF bill and they couldn’t resolve their differences.

“We still have the same antiquated, dangerous system that was in place when the Miami Herald wrote its series,” said Brian Lee, executive director of Families for Better Care. The state “has not fixed the abuse and neglect, and residents are still in trouble.”

Getting rid of the “bad apples” in the ALF industry and adding more oversight affects not only the elderly who live in facilities that can house a total of more than 80,000 residents, but also Florida’s economy and future generations, said Jack McRay, advocacy manager for AARP Florida.

“Florida seniors pay more in taxes than they get back in services,” McRay said. “It’s essential that they are able to remain and stay in Florida... We need to get it right.”

What happened this session “is a classic example of politics again trumping policy,” McRay said. “It became part of a healthcare ‘train’ that became a train wreck.”

The Senate unanimously passed SB 248 early in the session. The House passed its version, HB 573, at the end of April. While House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz identified ALF reform as one of their session goals in their “Work Plan 2014” program, it failed to make any progress.

Gaetz blames the House, and the ALF industry, for the bill’s demise.

“It wasn’t the trains that killed the bill. It was the House that killed the bill,’’ he  told the Herald/Times. “Speaker Weatherford gave me his commitment they would try to do this. The ALF industry lobbied very hard against reforms. They lost a lot of credibility. It’s a real shame.”

He said that when the House bill began to be “picked apart” in that chamber, he urged the Senate prime sponsor, Sen. Eleanoer Sobel, D-Hollywood, to start attaching it to several high priority House bills. In retaliation, the House attached language to the ALF bill that the Senate didn’t want -- language about surgery centers and visitation rights for grandparents.

“Healthcare is a complex issue, and we just weren’t able to get agreement between the two chambers,” Weatherford said after the session ended May 2.

Gaetz said he vowed to be Sobel’s first co-sponsor and will work to pass the bill next year.

"Frankly,’’ he said. “Those of us who support her efforts need a little bit more enthusiastic help.”

Sobel and House sponsor, Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, both vowed to renew their efforts next session.

"I’m very disappointed,” said Sobel, who also blamed “special interests” for the bill’s failure. “I believe we were very close and got further than we have in previous years,” she said.

Ahern said the important thing for next year “is to agree on something the first month of session and get this done early.”

Among the provisions, the ALF bill would have required facilities with one or more, rather than three or more, state-supported mental health residents obtain a limited mental health license; authorized ALF staff members, with increased training, to perform additional medication-related duties; and to assist with the self-administration of medication with increased training.

The most contentious issue was a new rating system for all licensed ALFs, similar to the system used for nursing homes. It would help consumers pick the best home for their loved ones. Family members often find themselves in a quandary when the hospital discharges a patient who cannot go home, McRay said.

“The consumer doesn’t know where to go or which ALFs are good and which are bad. A rating system has worked very well with nursing homes.”

The idea of a ratings system rankled the ALF industry. One industry group, the Florida Assisted Living Association (FALA), raised objections that people could post anonymous, possibly damaging comments on a website that would be managed by the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration.

The ratings system, along with a change in the fine structure that FALA said could affect smaller homes, were among the group’s key objections, said  Shaddrick Haston, its CEO, but he contends that members were not trying to sabotage the bill.

“Actually, most of the bill had great things to help residents age in place,” said Haston, who is AHCA’s former head of licensing for assisted-living facilities. “The industry wanted an ALF bill this year.”

One concern of Lee's, director of Families for Better Care, was a change that would reduce monitoring visits for homes that met certain criteria. Even a home that has had a good reputation can falter, he said.

In the fall, he noted, the state fined the Royal Palm Retirement Centre, an ALF in Port Charlotte, $22,500 for several violations found during a visit. AHCA’s inspection report noted that among resident-care problems, the facility “failed to provide adequate nursing supervision in providing care for four insulin-dependent diabetic residents.”

AHCA, Lee said, “needs to put more boots on the ground in ALFs, not fewer.”

Herald/Times staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report. Contact Rochelle Koff at rkoff@miamiherald.com

May 06, 2014

Weatherford exits stage left, but will return

Weatherford waves goodbye@mikevansickler

As he looks ahead to an uncertain future, Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford wants to be remembered as a compassionate conservative who promoted the hopes of the working class with measures like lower auto tag fees for all and in-state tuition for undocumented children.

"This is a session that cut taxes for every Floridian," Weatherford said Friday night. "This is the session that created educational opportunities for more children."

Yet the Pasco County Republican may best be remembered for what he didn't do: expand Medicaid, leaving at least 750,000 Floridians without affordable health care.

His sunny, upbeat conservatism was supposed to be an antidote to the win-at-all-costs brinksmanship of his predecessor, Dean Cannon. But the publicly unflappable 34-year-old didn't hesitate to retaliate against those who got in his way.

Read story here.

May 04, 2014

How Will Weatherford saved the 'Dreamer' tuition bill

@MarcACaputo

Politicians are people. People fib.

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford is a politician. And on Thursday, he misled — but in the rarest of ways.

Weatherford praised someone else (Gov. Rick Scott, to be exact) for something he really deserves the greatest credit for: securing the passage of a controversial bill giving in-state college tuition rates to some Florida high school graduates who are undocumented immigrants.

“I have to say, the bill would never have passed the Florida Senate had the governor not engaged,” Weatherford said at an impromptu news conference with Scott and other politicians after the legislation passed.

However, it was Weatherford —not Scott, not anyone else in the Capitol rotunda —who most forcefully used his office to pressure the leaders of the Florida Senate to clear up a procedural impediment that stalled the legislation.

Weatherford employed the bluntest of political tools: a veiled threat to hold hostage the state’s $77.1 billion budget until the Senate un-stuck the bill.

“I will not have a budget on the desk,” Weatherford said in a phone call he placed Monday to the office of Senate President Don Gaetz, an opponent of the legislation.

Gaetz decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. The bill started moving. So did the budget, which was agreed upon, printed and placed on the desks of lawmakers.

After the tuition bill passed, Weatherford downplayed —but didn’t deny —his power play.

Column here

April 02, 2014

Senate advances sweeping child welfare reforms; will money follow?

Innocents LostA key Senate committee approved a sweeping overhaul of Florida’s child welfare law Wednesday, the first step toward passage of a series of reforms designed to stanch the deaths of children at the hands of their parents or other caregivers.

The proposal, an amendment to SB 1666 approved by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, is the most significant revamp of the state’s child welfare system in at least a decade. It aims to increase the quality and quantity of child protection investigators and strengthen the ability of the state to remove a vulnerable child from an unsafe home after the parents have demonstrated a pattern of neglect or abuse.

The 142-page bill merges several different Senate bills and adopts language from a companion measure passed out of a House committee last week. It contains several recommendations from Innocents Lost, a Miami Herald series that detailed the deaths of 477 Florida children whose families had prior contact with the Florida Department of Children & Families.

“We have had some of the best and brightest minds working on this and we are troubled by the 477 innocent lives lost, as written by the Miami Herald,” said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, who chairs the Senate Families and Elder Affairs Committee. “This is a tremendous movement from the past.” Story here. 

 

 

March 06, 2014

GOP leaders approve Capitol ban on protests, but does it go too far?

@mikevansickler

Capitol protests, like last summer’s 31-day sit-in by the Dream Defenders, are no longer allowed thanks to a rule change that will limit more than just demonstrations.

With little fanfare, Gov. Rick Scott, Florida Senate President Don Gaetz and Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford approved a proposed rule by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that bans overnight stays at the Capitol and shoos members of the public from the building after 5 p.m. or 30 minutes after an official function.

Members of the public who don’t have a Capitol Access Card, or who aren’t the guests of staff or lawmakers, will be told to leave after those times. That sets up a scenario that sounds problematic for free speech advocates.

“Those invited to stay could stay, but those exercising their First Amendment right would be told to leave,” said Barbara Peterson, executive director of the First Amendment Foundation. “If the building is open to others, why wouldn’t it be open to me? I would argue it would violate the First Amendment.”

 

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March 03, 2014

Weatherford's base shows up to give him boost before pension battle

Pushing pension reform has been no easy task for Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford in the last two years.

The Florida Senate narrowly defeated it last year. Now even Gov. Rick Scott seems to be losing interest.

Yet Weatherford persists, listing it at the top of his legislative agenda for this year’s session, which begins Tuesday.

A chief reason why Weatherford won’t let it drop, and potentially puts him on a collision course with Scott, was the throng of activists who were bussed in Monday afternoon by Americans for Prosperity, the conservative group founded by billionaire libertarian brothers David and Charles Koch.

A cause celebre with the group is the very overhaul Weatherford is pushing for Florida’s $135 billion pension system. Close it for new employees and steer them into private investment plans. Rather than having the taxpayer cover the shortfalls, make the employees responsible for any drops. It’s popular with small government groups and anti-tax organizations. It’s opposed by unions.

Clutching signs that read “Support Pension Reform Now”, the activists stood on the steps of the Capitol chanting “Will, Will, Will, Will” after Weatherford spelled out three main goals for the upcoming session: Tax cuts, school choice, and pension reform.

“We cannot continue to spend $500 million a year, year after year.” said Weatherford, 34, R-Wesley Chapel. “If we wait too long, the state of Florida will at some point find itself like California or Illinois where they raise taxes to bail out a broken pension fund.”

If Weatherford needed a shot of confidence, he got it from the cheering crowd.

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