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276 posts from April 2017

April 29, 2017

House passes 'sanctuary' city ban, although Senate version stalled

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Florida’s Republican-led House voted Friday to outlaw “sanctuary” cities and to impose harsh penalties on any elected officials or communities that seek to thwart that ban.

After a divisive debate that spanned almost three hours over two days, the House endorsed the proposed law by a 76-41 vote, with Democrats vehemently opposed.

Republicans said the bill supports American freedom and “the rule of law” by prohibiting local law enforcement from resisting compliance with federal immigration laws and detention requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“To essentially encourage illegal activity should be offensive to everyone,” Rep. Jason Fischer, R-Jacksonville, said in reference to communities deemed to be “sanctuaries” for undocumented immigrants.

RELATED: Judge blocks Trump from cutting off funds to ‘sanctuary cities’

The controversial measures proposed in HB 697 are unlikely to become law this year. A companion bill in the Senate wasn’t heard in committee.

Lawmakers still debated the legislation at length, as Republicans aimed to temper what they viewed as inflammatory rhetoric by Democrats.

More here.

Photo credit: Dozens of immigrant advocates gathered at the Florida Capitol in March to oppose anti-immigrant bills lawmakers are considering this spring. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

April 28, 2017

Black lawmakers, Democrats irate after senator says slavery memorial would 'celebrate defeat'

Stand Your Ground (3)@ByKristenMClark

House Democrats and members of the legislative black caucus are offended and irate after a conservative Senate committee chairman said Friday the reason he didn’t hear a bill to create the first slavery memorial in Florida was because he didn’t want to “celebrate defeat.”

“I would rather celebrate overcoming the heartbreak of slavery. I wouldn’t want to build a memorial to child abuse; I wouldn’t want to build a memorial to sexual abuse,” Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley told the Herald/Times for a story that was published online midday Friday. “I have a discomfort about memorializing slavery. ... I would like to take it in a more positive direction than a memorial to slavery.”

His comments came as the House voted unanimously that day — with roaring applause — to build the Florida Slavery Memorial near the Capitol in Tallahassee. Despite the House support, the proposal stalled in the Senate because Baxley had what another senator described as a “philosophical objection” to the concept.

Baxley — the chairman of the Senate Government Oversight & Accountability Committee who is known for his conservative positions and supporting symbols of the Confederacy — never scheduled a hearing because he said a memorial recognizing slavery would be too negative.

“It was very perplexing to say the least but can easily be taken as an insult,” Rep. Kionne McGhee, a black Democrat from Miami and the sponsor of the slavery memorial bill (HB 27), said of Baxley’s explanation. “His verbiage — if I were to read it as is — without an immediate clarification, it is borderline racism.”

Full story here.

Photo credit: Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala. AP

As the Democratic Party urges a no vote, Democratic senators get behind FPL fracking bill

Fracking AP (1)A crack has emerged over fracking in Florida Democratic Party.

As the Florida Senate gave preliminary approval Friday to a bill sought by Florida Power & Light to allow the company to expand its rate base by charging customers for investments in natural gas fracking operations in other states, the Florida Democratic Party was blasting the measure on its website and urging people to sign up “and tell the Florida Legislature to OPPOSE SB 1238.”

“Republicans in the Senate want Florida families to pay for FP&L’s disastrous and harmful oil exploration methods,” warned the party in a post after the measure passed 9-3 by the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday.

SB 1238, has been opposed by residential and commercial utility customers, and remains stalled in the Florida House but, in the Senate, both Republican and Democratic senators have voted for the measure in committee and are expected to approve it when it comes up for a final vote as early as Monday. The bill was debated on second reading Friday.

Among the supporters of the bill are both Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami and incoming Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth, even though

Democrats voting for the bill in committee with Braynon and Clemens were Sens. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, and Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee. Montford had voted for the measure in a previous committee but changed his vote in the Rules Committee Tuesday and joined Republican Sens. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg and Tom Lee of Thonotosassa in opposing it.

Clemens called the comments on the party website “party politics.”

“I don’t really have any comment on what the Democratic Party is doing,” he said with a laugh.

The measure is a top priority of FPL because it will allow the company to overturn a Florida Supreme Court ruling last year that found the Public Service Commission exceeded its authority when it gave FPL permission to charge customers up to $500 million for expenses incurred in investing in an Oklahoma-based fracking company in 2015. Although the company predicted the project would save customers millions in fuel costs, it resulted in a loss of $5.6 million in the first year.

The bill drew opposition from the Florida Retail Federation, the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, the AARP, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups. FPL is the only utility in the state that would be eligible to charge customers for the practice now but Duke Energy could also be eligible if it increases its dependence on natural gas in the future. Both companies were among the largest contributors to legislative political campaigns in the 2016 cycle.

During debate on the measure Friday, Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, said that a preliminary analysis he obtained shows that regardless of how much money the project saves customers, it will allow FPL to make an estimated $100 million a year in profit.

Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, responded that state regulators at the Public Service Commission won’t allow the project to continue unless it demonstrates a savings for customers.

“It’s a long-term investment,” he said. “This would allow the utility to diversify their inventory, their stream of natural gas.”

According to a Herald/Times analysis, FPL gave $10 million to legislative campaigns and political committees since the start of the 2016 election cycle and prior the start of the 2017 session, with about a third going to Democrats. The party relies heavily on utility and sugar industry money.

Food and Water Watch, a non-partisan advocacy group that opposes all fracking-related legislation, chastised Florida Democrats.

“As far as we’re concerned the fact that the Florida Democratic Party is publicly claiming to be against this pro-fracking bill while it’s members are not delivering on the floor is deeply hypocritical,” said Jackie Fillson, spokesperson for the group.

“SB 1238 is a pro-fracking bill that shifts the burden of paying for future fracking endeavors outside of Florida from the company onto the customers. If passed, this bill in effect supports fracking but it also supports paying the rich on the backs of the poor.”

Here's our list of FPL contributions to political committees in 2017:

Continue reading "As the Democratic Party urges a no vote, Democratic senators get behind FPL fracking bill" »

House overhauls medical marijuana plan, but the bill still isn't final

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State lawmakers are inching closer to an agreement on medical marijuana after more than 70 percent of voters declared they wanted to allow patients with debilitating conditions to use the drug.

On Friday, the Florida House made sweeping changes to their legislation (HB 1397), addressing concerns raised by activists that bill initially proposed by Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, made it too difficult for doctors to recommend cannabis to patients and limited access.

“We have listened and we have worked hard to create a patient-centered process,” Rodrigues said. “We believe this bill makes it easier for patients to obtain their medical marijuana.”

Among the changes: 

* Patients who complain of chronic pain can be recommended cannabis, but only if it is linked to another debilitating condition. This is in line with Senate proposals but a major step for the House.

* Marijuana dispensaries can sell edibles and products that can be “vaped.” The bill still bans smoking.

* Eliminating a requirement that patients have a three-month relationship with a doctor before they can recommend marijuana. As well, patients would have to visit the doctor once every seven months to remain in the statewide database of qualified patients, up from 90 days.

* Training requirements for doctors have been reduced to two hours, which is expected to remove barriers to doctors.

Some components remain largely unchanged, including the structure of handing out licenses to companies that will act as grower, processor and dispensary. While one black farmer would be licensed immediately under the House bill, others would not be allowed into the market until 150,000 patients are registered to use marijuana, and those would come from the nurseries denied from an older, more limited cannabis program in 2015.

However, the House and Senate are still in negotiations over their language. Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, who sponsored the Senate’s medical marijuana legislation (SB 406), said the House’s changes are a “reflection of those discussions.”

“I look at it as a very positive development and a good faith step in our direction,” he said. “We’re going in their direction, too.”

Some House members appear concerned about the legislation ahead of a vote that will likely take place next Tuesday.

Several Democrats asked pointed questions about the licensing structure and prohibition on smoking marijuana. 

At their caucus meeting earlier Friday, the common belief was that the House bill still didn’t go far enough to ensure patient access.

As well, at least one conservative Republican who supported the more restrictive language proposed earlier in the spring voted against the changes, saying she was worried it opened up the marketplace too much and citing a general skepticism about medical marijuana, “if there is such a thing.”

“This is a huge expansion of what conditions will be eligible and what physicians will write that prescription,” Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, said. “We’ve already seen the pill mill prescription debacle in this state. You thought that was bad? Wait until you see the big toe pain epidemic."

Welcome to Camp Tallahassee's Superlatives 2017: Who's going to be most likely...?

SuperlativeAs the Florida House was engaged in deep discussion Friday over things like whether to give more power to law enforcement to crack down illegal immigration, two freshmen House members were circulating a little survey in search of a colleagues "most likely to fall asleep," or the "best dressed" or the "life of the party."

Patterned after the popular summer camp and high school practice, Rep. Alex Miller, R-Sarasota, and Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, circulated the "2017 member superlatives" aimed at deciding which of the 120 members of the House should be given important designations.

"The Women’s Caucus is pleased to request your anonymous responses to the 2017 member superlatives,'' they wrote. "Please drop off at Rep Alex Miller or Rep Jackie Toledo’s office on the 14th floor (or in person). All 120 members of the House are included. Please submit responses by 5 pm on Monday May 1st."

Here's what they're looking for: 

Best debater; Best closer; Best policy wonk;Most likely to fall asleep; Most likely to put members to sleep; Most likely to promise free lunch & extra recess; Most likely to be on a reality TV show; Most likely to be late for committee;Teacher’s pet; Most Helpful; Best Office; Best dressed – male; Best dressed – female; Mr. Congeniality;  Ms. Congeniality; Funniest member; Life of the party;  Most likely to not know names; Most likely to moonlight as an Uber driver; Favorite new male freshman; and, of course, Favorite new female freshman.  Download 2017 Superlatives

Meanwhile, it was a busy day in the Florida Capitol. House and Senate budget conference committees met briefly to negotiated details to the $83 billion budget, but spent no time publicly discussing or debating the details. The Florida House passed a bill to create a slavery memorial at the state Capitol complex (HB 27) and the House agreed to seal criminal records from the public eye but didn't discuss it (HB 118.) 

At NRA, Gov. Rick Scott bashes Sen. Bill Nelson -- his potential 2018 rival



In his speech to the National Rifle Association, Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott bashed Democrat U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson for his position on U.S. Supreme Court appointments.

Scott may run against Nelson in 2018.

Scott criticized Nelson for not backing Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee with “sterling credentials”  who was confirmed.

"Look at the votes on this Supreme Court nominee and you can see that there are a number of senators who did not represent their states. These senators need to be retired. Unfortunately one of my Florida senators -- Bill Nelson -- has beared far to the left. He voted for Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and he just voted against Neil Gorsuch,” Scott told the NRA crowd in Atlanta. “I will leave you with this. You all have done great and important work but there is no rest for the weary. There is no time to relax. The opponents of freedom and liberty are constantly on the move. But fortunately for America today the defenders of freedom and liberty are stronger but we have to keep fighting to keep it that way.”

Scott’s speech followed President Donald Trump who gave Scott a welcome shout out. Scott also praised Trump for being a “strong supporter of our military and our veterans and he is going to cut our taxes.”

In 2012, the NRA attacked Nelson for voting in favor of Sotomayor. Nelson easily won his 2012 race against U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, but Scott will be a far better financed and formidable opponent.

Scott spoke to the NRA about a week before the end of the Florida legislative session. Nearly all of the bills to expand gun rights this session have died.

File photo of Gov. Rick Scott. 

Senator's 'discomfort about memorializing slavery' could block House-approved state monument



A proposal to create the first slavery memorial in Florida unanimously passed the state House on Friday with roaring applause — but its prospects in the Senate are uncertain after one committee chairman stalled the legislation over a “philosophical objection” to the concept.

Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley — the chairman of the Senate Government Oversight & Accountability Committee who is known for his conservative positions — never scheduled a hearing to consider the Senate’s version of a bill calling for a Florida Slavery Memorial near the Capitol in Tallahassee.

Because of that, the fate of HB 27 now hinges on a rare procedural override that President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, could try to execute.

House members Friday overwhelmingly embraced the idea for a slavery memorial, proposed in that chamber by Miami Democratic Rep. Kionne McGhee.

“I am literally — and many of us in this room, we are literally 7,923 weeks out of slavery,” McGhee, who is black, said on the House floor before the vote. “As we gather here at this defining moment in this Capitol ... this is perhaps one of the most joyous moments in my life to know that the journeys that my forefathers went through were not lost.”

More here.

Photo credit: Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

Jack Latvala: Budget 'driven strictly by the guy that wants transparency'



Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala, the Senate Appropriations chairman, told reporters Friday that in his 15 years in the Florida Senate he's "never seen" a budget negotiated like the one lawmakers are crafting for 2017-18. 

And he cast blame on one person: House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes -- although not mentioning him directly by name.

Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, insisted first on hashing out -- in private -- trades on significant policy priorities they want accomplished this year before they would agree to let public budget conference committee meetings begin yesterday. (Session is scheduled to end May 5.)

RELATED: "Lawmakers — privately — cut $200M deal to help kids in failing schools"

"I haven't seen it to the extent that we've seen it this year of deciding so many issues as a part of the budget process," Latvala said. "I've never seen that before."

"But that's driven strictly by the guy that wants transparency from the other end down there," Latvala added, in a clear reference to Corcoran. "He's the one that said, 'to get this, we need need to do this. To do that, we need to do that.' And all the President did was try to respond, to try to get an agreement so we can have our committees do their work and try to get out of here on time."

Corcoran spokesman Fred Piccolo declined to comment. Corcoran promised "unprecedented openness" and transparency during his time as speaker; however, the budget process appears to be unfolding much the same as it has in previous years.

MORE: "Did House Speaker retaliate against members who supported Visit Florida funding? Jack Latvala says yes"

Latvala also warned Friday that given Gov. Rick Scott's opposition to the budget, there "absolutely" is a chance lawmakers will be back in special session either attempting to override or dealing with a vetoed budget. 

"I'm saying that the governor is very concerned about a number of the decisions that the presiding officers agreed to on spending. That's his prerogative and he gets the last look at the budget,'' he said.

-- Staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed

Photo credit: Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, with Senate Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. AP

Trump signs order on drilling, prompting backlash in Florida


via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - President Trump this morning signed an executive order that could open up more oil drilling, setting up a confrontation with Florida politicians.

The “America First Offshore Energy Strategy” calls for a review of drilling in the outer continental shelf. President Obama before leaving office put into place restrictions that closed off areas in the Arctic and Atlantic as well as the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.

"It’s a great day for America workers, unleashing American energy and clearing the way for thousands and thousands of high-paying American energy jobs," Trump said. "Our country is blessed with incredible natural resources, including abundant offshore oil and natural gas reserves."

Sen. Bill Nelson Thursday filed a bill to block the move but with a Republican majority in both chambers that effort may falter. Still, any changes under Trump could take years to implement.

Florida opposition emerged immediately.

"Florida's coasts and oceans are home to stunning wildlife, beautiful beaches and support a robust tourism economy, all things that stand to lose from offshore drilling,” said Jennifer Rubiello, state director of Environment Florida. “The President’s action opens the door to expanded drilling into our public waters, including the Eastern Gulf of Mexico – a move that goes against the values a majority of Floridians share: that our oceans and beaches should be preserved, not sold off to the highest bidder.”


Will Democrats hold and block the homestead amendment? Clemens: 'it blows the entire session up'

Jeff Clemens TBTWith the absence of Sen. Dorothy Hukill and the resignation of Sen. Frank Artiles, the 15 Democrats in the Florida Senate now have the power to block any vote that requires a three-fifths vote of the 40-member chamber. Enter the debate over putting an expanded homestead exemption on the November 2018 ballot. 

Will Democrats hold? "We're evaluating whether or not to do that or not,'' said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, the Senate's incoming Democratic leader. 

He added: "It blows the entire session up. Because this is a trade with [House Speaker Richard] Corcoran,'' he said. "So if we take that step the budget stops and the session stops so that's what we're evaluating."

As evidence this is a policy trade for the budget resolution, the Florida Senate added the bill to the Senate Rules Committee agenda, amended it and passed it out on Friday.  The full Senate will take it up on Monday. 

Sen. Jose Javier Rodriquez, D-Miami, who voted for a version of the homestead amendment in committee, said he expects "if Democrats take a position it holds,'' adding that leadership is deciding whether or not to do it. 

He added, however, that the impact is not monolithic because in districts with lower valued homestead property the impact on local revenues is greatest and the number of properties helped the fewest. 

"In my district, I have the opposite problem -- a booming real estate market and a lot of families who have been in their homes a long time and a lot of working class, single family areas where the volatility of the real estate market has a big impact,'' Rodriguez said. "In some areas, it is a measure of protection that you would want and in other areas that are already hard hit and are running out of tax base, it is a tax shift.

"This amendment is designed for a district like mine but to apply it across the whole state maybe doesn't make sense,'' he said. "It's a tax shift in my district but it's hard not to sympathize with homeowners where the real estate is booming and they are stuck."

 Photo: Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth