January 11, 2019

Does Gov. DeSantis believe in climate change?

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At a press conference Friday morning, Gov. Ron DeSantis took questions from reporters on topics ranging from his latest appointments to the South Florida Water Management District to Thursday's robust environmental policy addressed in an executive order.

The newly minted governor addressed each question fully but when it came to climate change, he danced around his words. DeSantis angered environmentalists on the campaign trail after he repeatedly dismissed climate change as a real threat.

"We put in the executive over that as climate changes, as our environment changes, as water rises in places like South Florida and there’s increased flooding, we want to make sure that we’re taking the steps that we can to combat that," he said.

DeSantis then referred to the part of the executive order that establishes a resiliency office to address climate impacts.

"To me, I’m not as concerned about what is the sole cause. If you have water in the streets, you have to find a way to combat that," he said. "We’re going to work to do that and I think this office will be able to coordinate a thoughtful response."

At the end of the press conference, a reporter asked if the governor believes the scientists who say humans cause climate change.

DeSantis' response?

“Next question.”

January 08, 2019

DeSantis to Florida lawmakers: 'I respect the power of the legislative branch'

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Governor Ron DeSantis told lawmakers Tuesday afternoon that he looks forward to working with a legislature that exercises its power, suggesting Congressional lawmakers aren't sufficiently empowered. 

After DeSantis and the rest of the cabinet were sworn in Tuesday afternoon, lawmakers gathered on the fourth floor of the capitol for a luncheon in celebration. 
 
Addressing the group of legislators, the former Congressman said his main frustration with Congress was how weak the legislature was there, and how "they do not exercise the authority that was granted to them in the constitution." 
 
"The average member did not have much of a voice," he said. 
 
DeSantis, who canceled his inaugural parade in order to "get right to work" said the first order of business is to baptize his son, "knock that out," and then hit the ground running.
 
The Governor then presented House Speaker José Oliva and Senate President Bill Galvano with a framed version of the flag that flew over the capitol as they were sworn into office. 
 
"I am someone who thinks the government is better when the legislative branch exercises the power granted to them in the constitution," he said. 

December 28, 2018

DeSantis taps Seminole County SOE for Secretary of State

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Michael Ertel, courtesy of Seminole County

 

Governor-elect Ron DeSantis' transition team announced the appointment of Seminole County Supervisor of Elections, Michael Ertel, as Secretary of State Friday. 

"As Supervisor of Elections in Seminole County — where he has been elected by the voters four times — Mike has proven that he is vastly qualified to lead the state’s elections efforts as Secretary of State, and will strive to ensure that Florida voters are confident that elections continue to be fair and accurate,” DeSantis wrote in a statement. 

Ertel, who uses inspirational quotes from Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt in his email signature, was appointed to his current role by former Gov. Jeb Bush in 2005. He was re-elected as the Seminole County SOE in 2006, 2008, 2012 and 2016.

His name will come to the foreground in 2019, as the 2018 midterm recounts and calls to investigate claims of voter fraud will likely spur election-related discussion and legislation this legislative session. 

Before Ertel became an elections supervisor, he served as his home county's first public information officer and worked for the state's tourism marketing agency, Visit Florida.

He will replace Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who was appointed to the role first by Bush in 2003 and then again by Gov. Rick Scott in 2012.  

October 04, 2018

Chris King defends Gillum plan to raise corporate tax rate, calls RGA "desperate"

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Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor Chris King speaks to the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce at the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg on Thursday, Sept. 27.

Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Chris King didn't wait a day before responding to the latest ad by the Republican Governors Association, which has blasted his running mate Andrew Gillum's plan to raise the corporate tax rate.

"When I saw the new ad for the RGA yesterday, I think the first word that hit my mind was 'desperate,'" King said on a conference call with reporters this morning.

The Gillum-King plan would increase the corporate tax rate on the state's largest companies from 5.5 percent to 7.75 percent. According to the campaign, the tax would only apply to the largest 2-3 percent of the state's companies.

"98% of businesses would still pay no corporate income tax," said King, a Winter Park entrepreneur.

The plan would generate $1 billion in revenue for the state, and Gillum wants to spend the money raising teachers' salaries and investing in programs like early childhood education.

READ MORE: Politifact: $1 billion Florida tax hike? Andrew Gillum proposes increasing state corporate tax

On Wednesday, the RGA released another ad attacking the plan, comparing it to a car wreck that would bring the state's economy "to a sudden stop."

On Thursday's call, two businessmen said the plan to improve schools was critical to attracting new businesses to the state.

Ken LaRoe, the founder of First GREEN Bank, said his Orlando-based company would make $10 million in net profit next year. Under Gillum's plan, his company would pay an additional $200,000 in corporate taxes, he said.

He called that "a very, very small sacrifice to make" to build a good school system.

"Florida’s a sh--hole," he said, repeating how it's a "sh--hole" in its programs, including programs for the developmentally disabled. LaRoe said he has a developmentally disabled child.

LaRoe later apologized for his language, expressing his frustration with the last two decades of Republican leadership in the state. He said his comments were referring to how other people perceive Florida.

"I’ve entered a very profane stage of life," LaRoe said. "I love this state, and in my travels around the country and the world on business, the rest of the country, especially, is looked at disdain at the state of Florida. ... I’m just sickened by what’s happened in this state."

When asked about LaRoe's comments, King said he disagreed with them.

"Mayor Gillum and I don’t share that view," he said. "I love Florida. Mayor Gillum loves Florida."

June 12, 2018

Remember when Cabinet meetings used to focus on agency oversight?

Florida Cabinet KeelerThe state agency in charge of regulating taxation in Florida has four equal bosses — Gov. Rick Scott and the three elected members of the Cabinet — but in the past two years, in public meetings and correspondence, they have asked few questions and have given the agency scant public scrutiny.

The agency's director, Leon Biegalski, was the governor's choice to lead the Department of Revenue when he was elevated from deputy secretary at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation in April 2016. Since then, the governor has canceled DOR's regular appearance in 9 of 19 before the Cabinet meetings.

When Biegalski appears before the Cabinet on Wednesday, it will be the first time this year. Will they ask any questions?

Judging from the transcripts of the previous meetings, that's not likely. Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam asked only two questions in Biegalski's 10 appearance before them — and both came from Putnam. Story here. 

Until Scott's tenure, the Florida Cabinet had a tradition of meeting every other week. 

Florida, unlike most other states, has a unique power-sharing relationship between its governor and the Cabinet members. They share oversight and hiring authority of the directors of the departments of revenue, law enforcement, highway safety, the division of bond finance and the state board of administration.But the shared role also underscores the structural weakness of Florida's governor in controlling the shared agencies and Scott has ratcheted down the amount of substantial dialogue that takes place during Cabinet meetings.

In the last seven years, Cabinet sessions have been more ceremonial and less substantive. More time is devoted to award ceremonies than under previous governors, and a regular feature is Bondi’s promotion of offering dogs for adoption.

Scott, who is running for U.S. Senate, sets the calendar and has convened only three Cabinet meetings this year. He scheduled eight meetings for the entire year, the fewest in recent memory, and canceled the meeting in May.

When the Cabinet had both Democrats and Republicans on it, there were more questions of agency heads in the public forum than there have been under Scott.

At a Nov. 20, 2008, Cabinet meeting, as former Revenue Director Lisa Echeverri Vickers presented her legislative budget request and annual performance report, former CFO Alex Sink grilled her about enforcement of tax revenue collection. Vickers acknowledged that she is asking for more auditors to help them collect the unpaid taxes.

Sink, a former banker and a Democrat, then asked about tax collections on short sales, a policy based on the rule because the Legislature failed to pass a statute, and the agency's application of "a glitch in the depreciation laws" that had left many businesses vulnerable.

The discussion provided an opportunity for the public to hear the agency's response to handling two important issues in an open forum.

Under Gov. Jeb Bush, former Revenue Director admitted during his annual performance review on Sept. 21, 2004, that the measures related to review of property appraisers "were fairly easy to achieve."

"You're an honest man, Zingale,'' Bush replied.

"Well, we want to do better than that,'' Zingale responded.

June 01, 2018

Gwen Graham would end private prisons and decriminalize pot possession

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Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham.

Gwen Graham would phase out private prisons in Florida and decriminalize the personal possession of marijuana if elected governor, according to a nine-point plan her campaign laid out today.

"For too long, the politicians in Tallahassee have ignored the inequity and pervasive prejudice in Florida’s criminal justice system," Graham said in a statement. "While they’ve failed to act, Floridians have been hurt by mass incarceration, increasing costs and devastating cuts."

Graham, one of four Democrats running for governor, laid out proposals that she thinks can pass in Florida's Republican-dominated Legislature, where some Republicans have led the charge for criminal justice reform - with mixed success.

Graham said she supports reforming the bail bond system, which keep poor people who can't afford to pay bail in jail longer. Orlando-area State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced in May that prosecutors in her office would no longer seek bail for low-level offenders, one option that Graham says she is considering.

Some of her other ideas include:

  • Pay raises for prison guards.
  • Require state attorneys to get the opinion of a panel of in-house prosecutors before seeking the death penalty.
  • Reduce sentencing for nonviolent drug possession.
  • Restore voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences.

Graham said her first priority is "upholding the will of the people" and making medical marijuana accessible to those who need it. But she also believes that possession of marijuana in small amounts should not have a criminal penalty.

Some Florida counties have changed their ordinances so that being caught with small amounts of marijuana results in a civil fine, rather than an arrest.

"Florida should embrace the principle that no young person should go to jail or have their lives ruined over an incident of marijuana use — we can and should decriminalize," she said in a statement.

Her ideas were endorsed by former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, state Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, Leon County Public Defender Nancy Daniels and the state's largest police union, the Police Benevolent Association.

“We believe Graham’s plan to better support officers, close the state’s private prisons, and expand rehabilitation programs will make Florida safer," PBA executive director Matt Puckett said in a statement.

Her ideas didn't go quite as far as Orlando businessman Chris King's, who is trailing in the polls. King wants to eliminate the death penalty in Florida and legalize marijuana completely.

Graham's plan prompted King campaign spokesman Avery Jaffe to take a shot at her, calling it "half-hearted" and "lame."

January 09, 2018

Negron: “The Florida Senate has zero tolerance for sexual harassment”

Senate President Joe Negron opened the 2018 Legislative Session by vowing to crack down on sexual harassment, saying the Senate has "zero tolerance for sexual harassment."

"I would like to begin today by addressing a very important issue that addresses not only the Florida senate, but also our counterparts in Congress, the entertainment industry, employers large and small across the country, and our culture in general," Negron said.

"Let me be clear: The Florida Senate has zero tolerance for sexual harassment or misconduct of any time against any employee or visitor," he said.

Allegations of sexual harassment have promised to overshadow the Legislature since last fall, when reports of sexual harassment against Negron's then-budget chair, Sen. Jack Latvala, surfaced.

In November, the Stuart Republican ordered an investigation into the allegations, which eventually led to Latvala's resignation.

He added that the Senate, led by Senate Rules Chair Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, is working to revise its administrative policies regarding harassment.

"I am committed to ensuring we all have a safe workplace environment to do the people's business," Negron said Tuesday.

Negron, is in his last session as Senate president, also emphasized expanding Bright Futures scholarships for college students and addressing the state's opioid crisis.

He also said he supported Scott's push for raises for state law enforcement, and that he supported House Speaker Richard Corcoran's efforts toward "school choice."

"I don’t love my children enough to homeschool them," he quipped. "But I respect the decision of parents to homeschool theirs."

Negron

 

May 01, 2017

Adam Putnam formally launches bid for governor

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via @adamsmithtimes

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam today filed papers to run for governor in 2018, making official what has long been expected.

Putnam: “I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world because I get to call Florida home. It’s our responsibility as Floridians to keep our economy at work, to increase access to high quality education, to fiercely protect our personal freedoms, to keep our state safe, and to welcome our veterans home with open arms. I hope everyone will join me on May 10 at 11:00 a.m.on the old county courthouse steps in Bartow, where I’ll share my vision for Florida’s future.”

Democratic former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee has an announcement scheduled for tomorrow in Miami-Dade County that is expected to make her bid for governor official too.

Photo credit: AP

April 12, 2017

Andrew Gillum: House Republicans 'have a credibility problem'

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@ByKristenMClark

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum — a Democrat running for governor next year — is accusing Republicans in the state House of having “a credibility problem.”

Speaking at a press conference today at the Florida Capitol about House Republicans' "schools of hope" legislation, Gillum said Republicans contradict themselves with their legislative priorities.

RELATED: " 'Schools of hope' are not the answer, Democrats say" (w/ video) 

Gillum said that, for instance, while Republicans say they want to help students in failing schools by bringing in charter-operated "schools of hope," they’ve also proposed this session little to help those same communities, which are often neighborhoods with low-income families who are predominantly black or Hispanic.

Gillum noted that Republicans have proposed limitations on government welfare programs, such as food stamps, and they also have not prioritized early childhood education spending or investing in health care programs that help low-income families afford medical services.

"The Republican House, right now, is trying to take $200 million and put into the hands of their friends who are well-healed and well-connected," Gillum said referencing the "schools of hope" plan. "They want us to trust them on this issue — when by and by, and time and time again, they have turned the other direction when it comes to meeting the needs of the most indigent in this state."

Photo credit: Courtesy of CateComm

February 20, 2017

Senate Democratic leader to Gov. Rick Scott: Treat opioid crisis as a public health emergency

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@ByKristenMClark

Florida Senate Democrats are urging Gov. Rick Scott to declare a public health emergency over the growing opioid epidemic in the state.

“No longer confined to small urban enclaves, heroin and fentanyl have become the scourge of communities throughout Florida, wreaking widespread devastation not only from the ravages of addiction, but the resurgence of deadly diseases associated with drug abuse,” Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon, of Miami Gardens, wrote in a letter to Scott on Monday.

“There is no family, no race, no ethnicity, no income level this epidemic cannot touch — and no effective state bulwark in place to stop it,” Braynon added.

More here.

Photo credit: Steve Cannon / AP