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.

Continue reading "Movers & Shakers" »

Crist's Mostly False attack on Scott about raising taxes

Sorting through this year’s gubernatorial campaign attacks has long since become taxing -- namely, who raised taxes and how much they’ve cost voters.

The latest charge from Democratic challenger Charlie Crist comes from a campaign ad released July 31, 2014. In it, he attacked Republican incumbent Gov. Rick Scott’s budget decisions. "Rick Scott raised property taxes," the ad said. A narrator doubles down on the claim, saying Scott raised "your" property taxes.

Scott came into office promising to cut property taxes, so PolitiFact Florida thought this claim deserved an audit. Did Rick Scott raise Florida’s property taxes? PolitiFact Florida budgeted some time to sort this one out and rated it Mostly False

This fact-check was written by Joshua Gillin.

FMA says no to pot for debilitating ailments, opposes Amendment 2

Marijuana samplesThe Florida Medical Association has come out against Amendment 2, taking the position that the amendment will open the door to untrained doctors prescribing the marijuana for medical uses.

The FMA position, however, is silent to the fact that if the amendment passes, the Legislature and state regulators will have the power to regulate the use of cannabis. The Florida Department of Health is designated as  the regulating body under the amendment. It is currently undergoing a rigorous rule-making process to regulate low_THC cannabis which the Legislature legalized last spring.

Here's the FMA press release: 

Continue reading "FMA says no to pot for debilitating ailments, opposes Amendment 2" »

Judge upholds ruling disqualifying write-in candidate for Tampa House seat, opening GOP primary


Leon County Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey has reaffirmed her decision to disqualify a man from running as a write-in candidate for a Tampa Bay House seat. She also refused to call for a temporary halt on her order that the planned August primary be postponed and the House District 64 race between two Republicans be opened up to all voters, regardless of party affiliation, in November.

Dempsey ruled last week that Daniel Matthews was not eligible to run as a write-in candidate in House District 64, which includes parts of northern Pinellas and northwest Hillsborough counties, because he didn't live in the district at the time of qualifying. Dempsey said that the primary between incumbent Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, and challenger Miriam Steinberg had erroneously been restricted to Republican voters only.

Tia_HD64noticeBallots have already been printed for the August primary, so Dempsey directed the Hillsborough and Pinellas supervisors of elections to put out notices letting voters know the primary has been rescheduled to November and opened to all voters in the district.

Matthews' attorney has asked the First District Court of Appeal to take up the case, but it is too early to know if that will happen. In the meantime, Matthews requested an emergency hearing with Dempsey to ask her to put aside her ruling while the matter is pending in the higher court.

Dempsey gave each side about 30 minutes during the lunch hour today to make its case. In the end, she upheld her ruling and declined the request for a stay.

Another casualty of the redistricting special session: legislative fundraising

Benacquisto fundraiserFlorida legislators not only have to cut short their summer vacations, but legislative rules require them also to put a halt to their fundraising for as long as they're in session this week to fix the invalid redistricting map. 

Legislative leaders indicated there's a chance theycould finish their work quickly and adjourn by Monday or, depending how willing the Democrats are to working with them to move things along, they could be in session until their Aug. 15 deadline to complete the map. 

Either way, the House staff reminded members today that House rules -- not state law -- prevents them from raising money while in session. The Senate has the same rule. 

So far we know that Sen. Lisbeth Benacquisto's Aug. 14 fundraiser in Fort Myers could be a victim and may need to be rescheduled.

Here's the memo from House Deputy General Counsel Steve Godwin to members:

Continue reading "Another casualty of the redistricting special session: legislative fundraising" »

Legislators set special session schedule, Galvano and Corcoran chair committees

Florida legislators will convene in special session at noon on Thursday and could adjourn as early as Monday under a proposed schedule released by House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz on Monday.

The leaders announced that the redistricting committees will work in tandem on Friday and all legislators are expected to return to Tallahassee on Monday and be prepared to stay until noon Aug. 15, at the latest.  Download Special Session Proclamation (1)

Gaetz has appointed Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, as chairman of the Senate redistricting committee and Weatherford has appointed Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity.

Meanwhile, Gaetz echoed Weatherford's concern about applying the congressional map to the 2014 elections and accused the opponents of being partisans "masquerading as voting rights groups." 

Continue reading "Legislators set special session schedule, Galvano and Corcoran chair committees" »

First Lady Ann Scott enters campaign fray


There's a fresh face on the campaign trail in Florida’s bare-knuckle gubernatorial contest: First Lady Ann Scott.

Scott has spent the summer crisscrossing the state, a photographer in tow. On some days, she reads to children or visits new mothers in the hospital. On others, she makes the hard sell for her husband’s reelection over afternoon tea.

She is quick to point out that only some of the events are associated with her husband’s campaign. She distributes books to kids, for example, as part of a first-lady initiative known as the Summer Literacy Adventure.

Still, with each stop, she is helping shape Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s image with an important group of voters: women.

He could use the assist. A Quinnipiac poll last month put Rick Scott 15 points behind Democratic front-runner Charlie Crist among female voters.

"Scott is in trouble when it comes to the female vote," said Mirya Holman, a professor at Florida Atlantic University who studies gender and politics.

Read more here.

August 03, 2014

Weatherford announces session but warns of disrupting election with new districts

In an email to House members and staff late Sunday, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, acknowledged that he and Senate President Don Gaetz have called members into session starting Thursday, Aug. 7 "for the sole and exclusive purpose of reapportioning Florida's Congressional Districts" but he warned of the problems of applying the changes to this year's elections. 

Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis on Friday ordered lawmakers to revise their congressional redistricting map to fix two districts he had previously ordered unconstitutional — those held by U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden.

Lewis gave the Legislature until Aug. 15 to fix the map and said he was considering calling a special election after the Nov. 4 general election for the affected districts. He called for an Aug. 20 hearing to allow lawyers for the plaintiffs in the case, a group of voting organizations, and the defendants, the GOP-led Legislature, to present their arguments on what the court should decide.

"We continue to maintain our strong objection to any attempt to disrupt the current election process. Florida’s Supervisors of Elections have raised serious concerns over changing the elections process at this late date,'' Weatherford wrote.

"The NAACP also pointed out in their response to Judge Lewis that, “In a special election, get-out-the-vote infrastructure simply does not exist. Voters who face challenges to political participation – be it financial, job scheduling, transportation, or other impediments – will be irreparably harmed by conducting the election at a time where that infrastructure does not exist.”

Here's Weatherford's email: 

Continue reading "Weatherford announces session but warns of disrupting election with new districts" »

Legislators plan to return for redistricting session on Thursday

Facing an Aug. 15 deadline, Florida legislative leaders will announce Monday that they will bring lawmakers back for a week-long special session on Thursday, Aug. 7, to revise the congressional redistricting map declared invalid by a judge.

Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis on Friday ordered lawmakers to revise their congressional redistricting map to fix two districts he had previously ordered unconstitutional, those held by U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville and Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden.

Lewis gave the Legislature until Aug. 15 to fix the map, an action that requires a special session of the Legislature and an abrupt halt to their summer vacations and primary campaigning.

Lewis also said he was considering calling a special election after Nov. 4 for the affected districts and he called for an Aug. 20 hearing to decide how to go forward.

The plan is to allow most of the legislature return to their districts after they convene for the opening session on Thursday. Only those legislators who are members of the House and Senate redistricting committees will stay to work out the details of the revised map. The full House and Senate will then return on Wednesday, Aug. 13 or Thursday, Aug. 14, to pass the final map before the deadline.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said Senate leaders had advised him late Sunday that "we gavel in on Thursday."

In an email late Friday to Senate members and staff, Senate President Don Gaetz said they had not decided how to respond to Lewis' ruling but asked everyone to "keep and do not delete" all redistricting records in light of the pending litigation over congressional districts.

House deputy general counsel Steve Goodwin sent a similar email late Friday with the same directions to House members and staff. House members were informed in an email from House chief of staff Kathy Mears on Sunday that they will have an announcement about the legislative response on Monday.

In his July 10 ruling, Lewis concluded that Florida's legislative leaders destroyed documents and allowed political consultants to "make a mockery" of their self-described transparency in the redistricting process. He found that GOP political consultants conspired "to infuence and manipulate the Legislature into violation of its constitutional duty" under the Fair District amendments.

The Legislature has chosen not to appeal the ruling but had asked the wait until after the Nov. 4 elections to revise the map. Lewis rejected that argument but left open the possibility that the revised map will not be in place this election cycle.

There is no indication whether political consultants or the public will be allowed to provide input into the redistricting session this time but House and Senate leaders are now officially asking members not to destroy any records.

Gaetz's memo defines documents that must be preserved as "all records related to the enactment of new congressional districts, including copies of unfiled draft maps, unfiled draft bills and amendments, correspondence, emails, texts and other electronic communications related to the enactment of new congressional districts, whether sent or received on official Senate accounts or devices or personal email accounts or devices.”


On the defensive over climate change, Scott offers new focus: increase funds for environment

On the same day the Miami Herald reported that billionaire activist Tom Steyer is targeting GOP Gov. Rick Scott for his environmental record and position on climate change, the governor's campaign advanced word that on Monday  he is promising to increase the state's spending on the environment if he's given a second term.

From the Associated Press @Fineout

TALLLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida Gov. Rick Scott, caught in a tight campaign with his chief rival challenging his environmental record, has pledged if re-elected to spend millions more on everything from cleaning up springs to buying more lands for conservation.

Scott is scheduled to roll out a substantial environmental platform during campaign stops Monday in Martin County on Florida's east coast.

Several of the "Let's Keep Florida Beautiful" proposals Scott plans to announce represent a marked turn-around from his 2010 campaign when he pledged to slash government spending and tear away regulations that he said were harming the state's economy.

"Florida's natural beauty is a big reason why this is the best state in the country to call home," Scott said in a statement. "Our natural resources are the foundation of our economy - they drive tourism, housing, business, and agriculture - and they deserve our long-term commitment."

The Republican incumbent is vowing to dedicate $500 million to springs restoration over the next 10 years as well as $500 million over the same time period to help create alternative water supplies. He also wants to keep moving ahead with projects designed to steer excess and potentially polluted water from Lake Okeechobee away from the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

Scott also plans to promise to spend $150 million a year for Florida Forever, the state's environmental and conservation land-buying programs. The state once spent as much as $300 million a year on the program before legislators enacted steep cutbacks amid Florida's souring economy.

The governor is also pledging to crack down on polluters during a second term by increasing the fines that can be assessed against "bad actors" who violate permit terms. Scott said he also wants to consider making it harder for some companies to secure permits if they have had a history of harming the environment. Similar proposals in the past have been blocked by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist has been vocal in his criticism of Scott's handling of the environment, especially over Scott's reluctance to espouse a firm opinion on climate change. The Scott campaign has pushed back by contending that Crist didn't do enough to help the Everglades or springs during his time in office.

Scott himself did not emphasize environmental issues during his 2010 run for governor and during his first campaign expressed skepticism about climate change. In the last two years he has directed more attention to issues such as water quality and Everglades restoration, but Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida, said some of Scott's proposals marked a new direction for the governor.

"Florida has a history of governors with strong environmental records and Gov. Scott's proposal reflect a continuing shift in that direction," Draper said.

He added, "The proposed funds for Florida Forever, water supply and springs protection are in line with our expectations and build on the funds already put into the Everglades. The focus on water conservation and enforcement is new and grabs our attention."