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257 posts from November 2016

November 30, 2016

Another Floridian who was 'drug czar' has advice for Pam Bondi

If Attorney General Pam Bondi is considering serving as the nation's next drug czar in Donald Trump's White House, she might think twice -- especially if she talks with the other Floridian who held the same job nearly three decades ago.

That would be Bob Martinez, the former Republican governor and mayor of Tampa, who held the post in 1991 and 1992 in the last two years of President George H.W. Bush's term. When Bush lost to Bill Clinton in 1992, Martinez headed back to Florida.

In the alphabet soup of the federal bureaucracy, the Cabinet-level agency is known as ONDCP, the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

After Martinez lost his 1990 re-election bid to Lawton Chiles, he was hired as the nation's second drug czar, succeeding Bill Bennett, who went on to a career as a leading Republican pundit and talk-show host.

MartinezWFSUMartinez (left), now a lobbyist at Holland & Knight's Tampa office, knows the route to Senate confirmation. He schmoozed with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, then chaired by Democrat Joe Biden of Delaware; completed the lengthy Senate questionnaire for high-level appointees; and won Senate confirmation on an 88-12 vote. He also endured his share of negative press coverage along the way, like the 1992 Orlando Sentinel editorial that said: "The drug czar office of Bob Martinez is a joke. It has neither the power nor the right people to fight the nation's drug war."

Back in the early '90s, crack cocaine and marijuana use were seen as major drug problems. Lately, the drug czar's mission hasn't been attracting a lot of attention, even though overdoses and deaths from heroin, fentanyl and opioids have reached crisis proportions in many parts of America.

"I've not seen much from that office," Martinez told the Times/Herald. "It doesn't seem to have the same visibility as it did when I served. It has declined in terms of visibility."

He said the job required working with other federal agencies, law enforcement agencies, states and local governments, and to get drug treatment money to where it was needed most.  "You do a lot of jawboning to get things done," Martinez said. "It's not something that's direct. Policy is your domain."

Bondi is the subject of much speculation that she'll be offered a job in Trump's administration after working to help him win Florida.

November 29, 2016

Florida Rep. Dennis Ross joins Trump transition

via @learyreports

Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, has been named to President-elect Donald Trump's transition team, joining a group that includes Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Trump announced Ross and other additions in an email tonight:

Vice Chairs: Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis, Kathleen Troia "KT" McFarland, Congressman Tom Reed and Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and U.S. Senator Tim Scott. Also joining the Executive Committee are: Congressman Sean Duffy, Congressman Trey Gowdy, Congressman Dennis Ross, Pastor Darrell Scott and Kiron Skinner.

Days before the election, Ross appeared at a Tampa rally for Trump "As Hillsborough County goes," Ross said, "so goes the state of Florida."

In the small sense, he was wrong. Hillary Clinton actually won Hillsborough, going from bellweather to outlier. But Trump won the state on way to a stunning national victory.

"Thank you!" Ross said in response to congratulations from a supporter on Twitter.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Fourth prison riot this year breaks out at troubled Franklin Correctional Institution in North Florida

Franklin CorrectionalThe Florida Department of Corrections was forced to quell yet another disturbance at a North Florida prison early Tuesday, deploying a response team to quiet an inmate unrest for the fourth time this year at Franklin Correctional Institution.

"The situation was quickly and effectively resolved and resulted in no injuries to staff or inmates,'' said Michelle Glady, spokesperson for the agency. "At this time the facility remains on lockdown. The Department is currently assessing the facility for damages and has placed involved inmates in confinement pending disciplinary review."

In June, inmates jumped a corrections officer and took over two dorms for several hours during a late-night riot at the facility in rural Carrabelle.  During that riot, about 300 inmates stormed two housing dorms, using makeshift tools to drill through a concrete and brick wall and smash bathroom fixtures, TVs, ceiling fans, toilets and sprinkler systems, destroying nearly everything in the dorms, officials with the Florida Department of Corrections and sources confirmed at the time.

The incidents are constant reminders that Franklin and other facilities are dangerously understaffed. Yet, the unrest comes on the same day a settlement was announced in a lawsuit in which three prison inspectors accused the agency of covering up an abusive inmate death in 2010 at Franklin Correctional. The officers filed the lawsuit alleging that they had been systematically retaliated against for attempting to bring their claims forward. 

Rather than investigating the claims, FDC officials demoted the whistleblowers and filed a series of internal investigations against them. The three inspectors filed a retaliation lawsuit and, a year ago, agreed to drop the charges in exchange for the state finding them different jobs at another state agency and releasing them from the investigations. They only cost to the state would have been the attorneys fees of about $25,000, said Ryan Andrews, their lawyer. FDC refused.

Tuesday, a settlement agreement was filed in Leon County Circuit Court showing the state agreed to pay the whistleblowers $800,000 to end the lawsuit.

Glady said that the portion of the settlement payment not covered by the agency's liability insurance will come from the agency’s administrative trust fund: $320,209.66.

Miami stop likely on Trump's victory tour

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Miami appears to be a likely stop for President-elect Donald Trump's victory tour, which will kick off Thursday in Cincinnati.

Trump is expected to visit key states that helped win him the election, such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida. Several sources have told the Miami Herald that Trump's "thank you tour" is planning to hit Miami in the next few weeks, though a date isn't firm yet.

The president-elect is said to miss the energy of his massive campaign rallies.

Photo credit: Pedro Portal, Miami Herald

Florida prison agency ends years of denials and agrees to pay whistleblowers $800,000

Julie JonesYears after three prison investigators came forward with evidence of inmate abuse and cover-ups at the Florida Department of Corrections, the state has agreed to settle a retaliation lawsuit — and pay them $800,000.

The prison agency also agreed to end lawsuits by three other department whistleblowers, closing a chapter in what has been one of the most tumultuous eras in state prison history.

The agreement, filed in Leon County Circuit Court on Tuesday, exonerates investigators of the FDC inspector general’s office, Doug Glisson, Aubrey Land and John Ulm, after they came forward with evidence that they believed an inmate at Franklin Correctional Institution, Randall Jordan-Aparo, had been gassed to death by prison guards. The Aparo’s family has filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the state.

The agency does not agree to the allegations but does agree to pay Glisson, Land and Ulm each $133,333 and drop all pending internal investigations. Glisson and Ulm will also receive more than $4,100 in wages lost from a recent demotion, in return for agreeing to leave the agency.

The settlement also ends the retaliation claims by employees James Padgett, David Clark and Christina Bullins, who each will receive $50,000. The attorneys who handled the case, Steven R. Andrews and his son, Ryan Andrews, will be paid $250,000.

“They didn’t offer up this settlement because they liked us,” said Glisson, a supervisor whose last day at the agency he has worked at for more than 20 years will be Wednesday. “They really didn’t want this to go to a jury trial.” Story here. 

Photo: Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones 


Broward Democrats to elect leaders who will help pick next Florida Democratic Party chair


Broward Democrats will elect their own leaders Saturday including some who will play a key role in selecting the next Florida Democratic Party chair.

About 600 Democratic activists who represent precincts across the county will gather at the Signature Grand hotel in Davie Saturday afternoon to elect a chair, state committeeman and state committee woman and other representatives.

The state committeeman and committee woman elect the state chair based on a formula that gives weight to the number of registered Democratic voters in each county which means that Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach are the key decision-makers. After Broward Democrats elect the committeeman and woman, these county leaders will get lobbied by the long list of candidates vying for state chair to replace Allison Tant in January.

Broward state committeeman Ken Evans will run to keep his position and faces Thaddeus Hamilton, who lost a race against Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam in 2014. Evans has been endorsed by several politicians including local members of Congress Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Lois Frankel and Ted Deutch.

Grace Carrington, a Democratic leader in Coral Springs, is running for state committee woman.

Mitch Ceasar, who has been Broward chair for about two decades, isn't seeking re-election. In 2015, he stepped aside while running for Clerk of Courts, handing off the leadership to vice chair Cynthia Busch. (Ceasar briefly returned to the chair post after losing his primary.)

Busch appears to be the favored candidate in the chair race against vice chair Christine Jones

Since Donald Trump's victory over Hillary Clinton, Busch says interest has spiked in volunteering for the county party.

"People are really really angry," she said. "We need to channel that constructively and work toward maintaining what we have and making sure we don't lose ground in this off-year."

Broward has about 600,000 registered Democrats -- the highest contingent in the state but it often lags behind the statewide average in turnout, particularly in years when presidential candidates aren't on the ballot.

Busch doesn't get a vote for state party chair but she says one of the candidates called her so far: Stephen Bittel, a prominent Coconut Grove fundraiser and developer. Bittel told the Miami Herald on Nov. 14th that he "might" be interested in the chair position. He could not be reached Monday or Tuesday.

Bittel isn't a Miami-Dade precinct committeeman, a prerequisite to run for state chair but he has said that the party can figure out a way to make it happen. Miami-Dade Democrats hold their election Dec. 6th.

In Miami-Dade, the current chair Sen. Dwight Bullard of Cutler Bay told the Miami Herald that he will run for vice chair for the county -- that allows him to avoid the competitive six-way race for county chair. Bullard, who lost to Republican State Rep. Frank Artiles Nov. 8, said that he will then run for state chair.

Susannah Randolph, former district director for U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, is also running for state chair. Alan Clendenin, the Tampa activist who lost to Tant told Naked Politics that he will decide no earlier than Dec. 15th about whether to run for state chair. 





As Atlanta Braves search for new spring training home, donations flow to key Florida state senators


The Atlanta Braves still don’t know where in Florida they will move their spring training operations in 2019, but that is not stopping them from sending campaign donations to key state legislators who could help them with stadium financing when they do find a new home.

Earlier this month, the Braves gave $1,000 to a political committee run by new Senate Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. That is just months after the team sent $1,000 donations each to new Senate President Joe Negron and Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, who will run the Senate Rules Committee.

The Braves are in a bit of a spring training stadium limbo. Their 20 year lease to train at the Disney’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando ends in 2017. The team and Disney are working on a one year extension to cover 2018 while they search for a new home. Team officials told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this year that with spring training teams for the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals moving out of Osceola and Brevard County respectively, the team is left with few teams close to play regularly, putting them on longer bus rides to Florida west coast or southeast Florida where more teams are now clustered.

Over the last year, the Braves have explored new stadium options in Pinellas, Palm Beach, Sarasota and Collier counties, but have not reached a deal yet.

The donations to the three lawmakers are not very big in comparison to other teams with pressing stadium needs. The Tampa Bay Rays, for instance, have put $20,000 to Latvala's Florida Leadership Committee since 2014.

What if anything the Senate can do about either stadium issue is questionable. The Florida House has taken a hardline against future professional team stadium funding, though the Legislature had previouisly set up a process for counties to apply for a pot of state money for spring training retention through the Department of Economic Opportunity. The state can give up to $20 million to a county for a spring training team that agrees to a lease of at least 20 years without a vote of the Legislature.

Galvano to advocate medical pot research at Moffitt

@MichaelAuslen and @kmcgrory

OT_400761_KEEL_17_FLGOVAs lawmakers grapple with implementing medical marijuana in Florida, a powerful senator is pushing for the state to set up a pot research program at the Moffitt Cancer Center.

State Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, is working on legislation establishing Florida's first major cannabis research center at Moffit, focusing on the drug's potential benefits for cancer patients. He wants to put money in the state budget to start the program, as well.

"We have always played a role in those types of research facilities," Galvano said. "And given the importance of this issue and the massive state role in establsihing the parameters for medical marijuana, having the state participate in the research side of it seems very appropriate."

Moffitt spokesman Steve Blanchard confirmed that Galvano had been in touch with Moffitt.

He called the conversations “very preliminary.”

“Right now, Moffitt still does not advocate the use of medical marijuana,” Blanchard said, noting that the drug is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “But we would be willing to help the legislature research whether it is effective.”

Galvano, who first mentioned the research center plan in a Bradenton Herald editorial board meeting Monday, hopes additional information could help fill a void as lawmakers debate marijuana policy issues, as well as aiding medical professionals.

In recent years, lawmakers have passed two major medical marijuana bills, and the overwhelming victory in the Nov. 8 election of a constitutional amendment expanding medical cannabis means lawmakers will continue addressing the issue.

"Most of the direction we have been given medically has come from testimony and other anecdotal types of evidence," Galvano said. "With information comes power, and it will help us choose the right decisions."

More research could also help sway lawmakers who say they oppose medical marijuana because there has not been enough research into the drug's effects, Galvano said. 

He could face an obstacle from the federal government, however. Because marijuana remains an illegal substance, the Drug Enforcement Administration used to block universities' and other institutions' requests to grow and possess marijuana for research purposes. The Obama administration recently announced it would roll back those restrictions.

However, with President-elect Donald Trump naming notably anti-marijuana Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general and uncertainty surrounding other high-level appointments, it is not clear whether President Barack Obama's rule will remain intact.

Photo: Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times

Florida Senate's committee leaders for 2016-18 announced

Florida Senate-Renovations (2)


Senate President Joe Negron R-Stuart, announced his leadership team for the 2016-18 term on Tuesday, a list that includes some expected appointments but also some surprises and a few snubs.

Negron put many of his most trusted allies in key positions, such as naming Trilby Republican Sen. Wilton Simpson as majority leader. Simpson is in line to take over as Senate president in four years. Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel was named Simpson's deputy.

President Pro Tempore Anitere Flores, R-Miami -- Negron's No. 2 in the chamber -- will helm two committees: Banking and Insurance and the subcommittee in charge of the Health and Human Services budget. She'll also be vice-chairwoman of the full Appropriations Committee. Meanwhile, Bradenton Republican Sen. Bill Galvano -- last year's majority leader who is likely to succeed Negron as president in 2018 -- will be in charge of the higher education budget, a reflection of the emphasis Negron plans to put on the state's public colleges and universities during his tenure.

Because half of the Senate is new this term, many freshman senators landed key leadership spots -- including several recently former House members and two Democrats, Lauren Book and Randolph Bracy. Veteran Democrats Bill Montford, of Tallahassee, and Audrey Gibson, of Jacksonville, also were given committee chairmanships, affording the minority party's 15 members a level of influence in the chamber.

Of note, as well: The Senate's former steadfast firewall that last spring had halted a couple controversial measures to expand gun rights in Florida is gone, potentially giving such bills an easier route in the 2017 session.

Rather than keep a moderate lawmaker as chairman of the powerful Judiciary Committee, Negron named conservative Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, to the leadership post. The committee was previously led by Miami Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, who lost his re-election bid to now-Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami.

Steube, an ardent supporter of gun rights who last year was in the Florida House, told the Herald/Times last week that he's drafting comprehensive legislation for 2017 to reduce various types of restrictions on conceal-carry permit holders. Some of those same proposals were considered last year but failed to pass because of Diaz de la Portilla's decision to kill the bills. Diaz de la Portilla had said the proposals lacked support in the 40-member Senate, which is generally more moderate than the House and where Republicans hold a narrower majority.

In the absence of Diaz de la Portilla, though, Bracy could potentially be a different obstacle as head of the Criminal Justice Committee. The Orlando Democrat supported last year's campus-carry bill but opposed a measure to allow the open-carrying of firearms.

Here's the full list of chairmanships for main committees in 2016-18:

Continue reading "Florida Senate's committee leaders for 2016-18 announced" »

Mandatory school recess proposal coming back for 2017 session

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A popular, parent-backed proposal to require daily recess at all of Florida’s public elementary schools will be back before the Florida Legislature next spring.

Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, filed a bill on Tuesday that mirrors one that died in the spring — despite fervent support — when one key senator from Pasco County refused to hear it in committee.

The measure, SB 78 for the 2017 session, mandates local school boards offer 20 minutes per day of “supervised, safe and unstructured free-play recess” for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Orlando Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia, who led the effort last year, will again champion it in the House. He said he’s in the process of drafting his bill for 2017 and plans to file it soon.

Last session’s proposal was initiated by passionate parents from all across Florida — primarily self-described “recess moms” in Tampa and Orlando, as well as Miami-Dade — who pleaded and lobbied for their lawmakers’ support in the 2016 session.

Read more here.

Photo credit: Marsha Halper / Miami Herald

*This post has been updated.