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January 31, 2019

Rick Scott says Trump should use emergency powers to pay for a border wall

Election2018SenateScottFlorida

@alextdaugherty

Florida Sen. Rick Scott is urging President Donald Trump to declare an emergency to pay for a border wall if Democrats won’t agree to it.

Less than one week after the longest shutdown in federal government history was temporarily halted, Scott said the president should bypass Congress and use Department of Defense dollars to pay for a border wall, after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared Thursday that there will be “no wall money” in a bill to fund the government beyond February 15.

“If the Democrats refuse to work with him, then the president needs to use his emergency powers to fund border security and include a permanent solution for DACA and TPS,” Scott said in a statement.

Scott’s position is new. He did not explicitly endorse a move that could divert Department of Defense funds from ongoing disaster relief projects to build a wall during the previous shutdown. An emergency declaration by Trump would almost certainly be challenged in the courts, though it would allow the president to sign spending bills to keep the government open without reneging on a campaign promise to build the wall.

More here.

DeSantis takes aim at Common Core in executive order

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Gov. Ron DeSantis, appearing at Tampa Bay Technical High on Wednesday, announces plans to invest in Florida workforce programs. He said he wants to take Florida from 24th in the nation to first in workforce preparation. [TAILYR IRVINE | Times]
 
Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to create new state curriculum standards that would eliminate “the vestiges of Common Core,” he announced in Cape Coral on Thursday.
 
“We stuck with Common Core then we re-branded it … it’s all the same. It all needs to be looked at, it all needs to be scrutinized,” DeSantis said during the announcement at Ida S. Baker High School, flanked by commissioner of education Richard Corcoran and local school administrators.
 
DeSantis announced an executive order asking Corcoran to spend a year creating new state curriculum standards, which would then be presented to the Legislature for the 2020 session.
 
It’s true that Florida’s current standards are very similar to Common Core, even though they were tweaked and renamed in 2014. Despite criticisms of Common Core being a federal mandate, those curriculum standards were developed by private nonprofit groups and state education departments and then adopted by 45 states. Local districts then altered their lesson plans to meet those standards.
 
But DeSantis said Common Core inspired concerns by parents who felt they were “imposed federally.”
 
“Also, you would have situations where the parents did not like some of the curriculum, I mean they had trouble even doing basic math to help their kids,” he said. “With Common Core a lot of people just didn’t feel like anyone was listening to them and I think that’s a big, big problem.”
 
DeSantis also said the new standards, which Corcoran will work to craft as long as the state Board of Education is also in agreement, should make civics education even more of a “central part” of what students learn so they can “discharge the duties of citizenship." Civics education and learning the Constitution was one of DeSantis' common refrains on the campaign trail, even though students are already required to learn the Constitution.
 
This was DeSantis' second education policy announcement in two days, after he made a stop in Tampa on Wednesday to propose beefing up Florida’s vocational training programs.

January 30, 2019

Here are all the new offices, committees and positions Nikki Fried announced Wednesday

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Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried addressed a room full of reporters Wednesday at the Associated Press' annual pre-legislative session gathering, taking questions on everything from school breakfast to the identity of her new cannabis director. (She didn't disclose, but hinted at an impending announcement). 

In her afternoon speech, the commissioner also rolled out a recital of new additions to the department. Here are some of the key adds she announced:

  • A medical marijuana committee that would work to suggest program changes and new initiatives. Fried said an example of such initiative is a patient portal her department hopes to launch, which would gather patient complaints and feedback about their experiences at dispensaries across the state.

  • A hemp advisory committee, whose members will work to harness the potential of hemp growth and production as an alternative crop for Florida's farmers. 
  • An agricultural innovation committee that would bring in international agriculture experts from nations like Israel and Canada to come with ideas more environmentally-conscious technology.

  • New positions in the department, including a Veterans Affairs director, LGBTQ director and director of water policy.

Attorney General Ashley Moody wants opioid lawsuit finished ASAP

Ashley Moody
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody speaks to reporters during "AP Day" in Florida's Capitol on Jan. 30, 2019. [Lawrence Mower/Times]

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said Wednesday that she wants her office’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest opioid drug makers and sellers finished “as soon as possible.”

But when that might happen, and whether it would end with a jury trial or a settlement, is still up in the air.

Moody said she’s been meeting often with the lawyers leading her office’s lawsuit, which was filed last year, but hasn’t set a timeline for it.

The case against companies such as Oxycontin maker Purdue Pharma and Walgreens could result in millions — or even billions — of dollars for Floridians and communities suffering from an epidemic killing 17 people a day in the state.

Speaking to reporters at “AP Day” in Tallahassee, Moody reiterated that opioids is one of her top priorities. Her husband is a Drug Enforcement Agency agent, and she said she’s seen the effects of the epidemic firsthand while serving as a Hillsborough circuit judge.

“I literally had mothers cry on my shoulder,” she said.

Moody has also created a bipartisan opioid advisory group to come up with best practices to combat the epidemic, and she said Wednesday that she plans on asking the Legislature to create a permanent opioid panel.

DeSantis: Broward Superintendent Runcie’s job appears safe, no elections “circus” in 2020

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Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to reporters on AP Day in Tallahassee on Jan. 30, 2019. ELIZABETH KOH | Times/Herald
 
Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday that based on legal advice he’s received, he does not feel confident he can suspend Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie, who has come under intense fire for the way his district handled the Parkland shooting and the confessed shooter, Nikolas Cruz, who was a former student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
 
“This came up during the campaign (and) I went back and actually looked at the statute and it seemed pretty clear to me that the statute applied to county-wide elected officials and that it didn’t apply, on its face, to appointed officials,” DeSantis told reporters at the Associated Press' annual AP Day news conference in Tallahassee. “The balance of the advice I’ve gotten since then has said that that’s probably the way to do it.”
 
DeSantis did say that he is looking at other “options” related to the School Board of Broward County and that he would come to a decision on that in the next two or three weeks.
 
“If you talk to those Parkland parents, I think they’re frustrated not just with the superintendent but also with the school board. It seems there’s something every day where someone is not being listened to or whatever,” DeSantis said. “There may be options where we can look at accountability there but it think it will be different than me saying, ‘The superintendent is out’ or whoever is out.”
 
Runcie did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
 
Andrew Pollack, the father of murdered Parkland student Meadow Pollack, said he’s hopeful that DeSantis can put pressure on Broward’s school board members to remove Runcie or face suspension from office. Pollack and several other Parkland families have repeatedly called for Runcie’s ouster, and he said the fact the board hasn’t removed Runcie yet is “despicable.”
 
The school board members “have to look themselves in the mirror, do the righteous thing and remove the superintendent,” Pollack said. “They should get ahead of it before they are removed ... We all know (DeSantis) will be quick to pull trigger on board members who don’t act.”
 
Shortly after he took office, DeSantis suspended and replaced Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel over his department’s failings during the Parkland shooting. Multiple deputies hesitated to go into the building where the shooting was taking place. Israel formally requested a hearing to contest his suspension with the Florida Senate.
 
At the Tallahassee event, DeSantis also said that he expects Florida to do much better in its 2020 elections than the debacles that happened with his own election in the 2018 midterms, after the triple machine recount saw blown deadlines, broken ballot machines and accusations of liberals trying to “steal” the election from former Gov. Rick Scott.
 
“We need to do 2020 where there’s not any type of circus after the votes are in,” DeSantis said. “They should be counted and let the victor go on to take the state of Florida.”
 
He said he’s evaluating potential changes to Florida election law, but thinks it’s more important that the supervisors of elections both in Broward and Palm Beach counties have been replaced because much of the state’s woes in 2018 were because of their individual problems rather than systematic failures.

Senate President calls for focus on rural Florida at AP planning session

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Senate President Bill Galvano outlined his top priorities and goals Wednesday, saying a key goal as the chamber’s new leader is to enhance infrastructure in rural Florida and empower senators from March 5 and beyond.

“As Senate President I have lots of discretion […] I will fulfill those duties to the best of ability but always keeping in mind the opportunities that exist when the Senators are empowered,” he said. “I’ve shared with them a vision that is important going forward in the future.”

Galvano, who created a new Committee on Infrastructure and Security this year, said much of the state's funding for infrastructure has focused on Florida's urban areas. This year, he hopes to focus on large portions of rural Florida that have suffered from impacts on farming. 

The Senate President tasked the new committee's chair, Sen. Tom Lee, with expediting the construction of three new corridors in rural areas of the state. The corridors include one from Polk County to Collier County, a Suncoast Parkway extension to Georgia and a northern turnpike connector.

He highlighted the "exodus and loss" to local economies, and that the state can't solely depend on Florida's coasts to support the state. 

"We need to have access to our rural communities and provide multipurpose right-of-ways so that prosperity can return there," he said. 

Here are some of the other topics the Senate president addressed at the Associated Press’ Legislative Day:

Red tide

Of the myriad issues coming through Senate committees, Galvano said agriculture is high on his list in considering Florida’s future, as well as addressing red tide.

The Bradenton Republican said he hopes the Senate looks toward more solutions to mitigate red tide issues plaguing animals and the tourism industry on the west coast.

One specific collaboration he mentioned was working with Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota as a “clearinghouse for real scientific information” to address the problem.

Amendment 4

The Legislature is tasked with implementing Amendment 4, or the constitutional amendment that passed this fall to restores voting rights for felons who have completed their sentences and paid off any restitution.

Galvano said writing implementing legislation is not necessary, and that the legislative process should not be an obstacle for new voters who hope to take advantage of the constitutional amendment.

“I think it’s worthy of us to look and language — not implementing but supplementing language,” he said.

Medical marijuana

Two weeks ago, Gov. Ron DeSantis asked the Legislature to change Florida law to allow smoking medical marijuana. If lawmakers don’t comply by mid March, he’ll drop the state’s appeal of a court decision that says banning it violates a constitutional amendment.

Two bills to reverse the smoking ban have already been filed in the Senate and Galvano said he is confident the Legislature will get something to the Governor’s desk by March 15.

Galvano said he also expects to see bills filed to address marijuana vertical integration, which requires medical marijuana companies to grow, manufacture, sell and market their own product. The system has been widely criticized from both those in the medical marijuana community and the Governor himself. 

“Right now, we are with the Governor,” he said. “Smoking is the issue we are going to address first and foremost.”

Fracking

When it comes to banning fracking — an item the Governor called for repeatedly during his campaign — Galvano said there are bills being drafted in his chamber, but did not expand. 

“It’s an issue that will definitely come up and go through the session,” he said.

School safety

Galvano said the program created last year to arm school staff — called the “guardian” program — is something he will continue to support.

He added that there is more work to do on school safety and that he plans to take seriously recommendations from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which was created in 2018 after the fatal shooting at the high school last February.

Gaming

The Senate President said this year, he hopes his chamber will make moves to regulate sports betting in the state. 

Since Amendment 3 passed on the 2018 ballot, expanding gambling options in Florida now requires a statewide vote.

“It’s an activity that’s occurring but we are not collecting revenue,” he said.

January 29, 2019

DeSantis: aircraft malfunction “strange deal,” but FDLE has fixed faulty drug plane

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SCOTT KEELER | Times New Florida Governor Ron DeSantis gives the crowd the thumbs up as he holds his son Mason. Florida's First Lady Casey De Santis applauds, left at the Old Capitol after DeSantis was sworn in, Tuesday, January 8, 2019 in Tallahassee.
 
Being the new governor of the nation’s third-largest state already has a steep learning curve. But it got much sharper when, three days after he was sworn in, Gov. Ron DeSantis' plane had a critical mechanical issue and was forced to make an emergency landing in St. Petersburg while he was on his way to Fort Lauderdale.
 
New details about the emergency landing emerged Tuesday, when DeSantis recounted the harrowing event to reporters at a regular press conference in Tallahassee.
 
“We’re in the plane and we’re flying. I have my chief of staff, the attorney general, Helen (Aguirre Ferré) our communications (director), and the masks ... drop from the ceiling. And I’m thinking, ‘Oh, it’s an old plane, maybe something just triggered, whatever,’” DeSantis said, chuckling. “I just look around like, ‘We’re not actually supposed to do this?’ And the pilots are telling me, ‘Put it on.’ So we’re all huffing into this thing.”
 
After the emergency landing, DeSantis and the rest of the passengers took another plane to Fort Lauderdale to still make their news conference that evening. But since then, DeSantis said he took the original plane to Sebring last week after a shooter killed five people there and DeSantis joined law enforcement in a press conference.
 
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said “they’ve got it fixed,” DeSantis said, adding: “I have never had to do that before in all my years of flying in different aircraft whether it’s a civilian or military, so it’s a little bit of a strange deal ... (but) we’re back at it again.”
 
The governor had an announcement of his environmental budget scheduled in Naples for Tuesday afternoon, and they would be taking the formerly faulty plane to that event as well, he said.
 
The entire ordeal has been a consistent reminder of now-Sen. Rick Scott’s move to sell off the state’s airplane fleet when he took office as governor in 2010, instead insisting he would use his own private plane to travel the state. Years of controversy plagued the planes when officials used them for trips outside official business.
 
Scott is a millionaire who made his fortune as a chief executive of the Hospital Corporation of America.
 
But DeSantis, whose financial disclosure filed during the campaign lists his net worth at $310,971, does not have his own private plane and thus has been forced to get creative. Because the Florida Department of Law Enforcement provides his security detail, he’s been allowed to use a Beechcraft King Air (a small, twin-turbo prop plane) that the agency seized as part of a drug raid.
 
That leaves the rest of the Cabinet — Attorney General Ashley Moody, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis —to fend for themselves, because they are not granted the same protections from state police. Before Scott took office, Florida’s governor, lieutenant governor and Cabinet could all use three planes that made up the state fleet.
 
Fried, the only Democrat on the Cabinet, has said previously that “as statewide public servants in one of the largest states in the nation, an efficient method of air transportation is prudent to best serve our constituents." However, there hasn’t been any visible movement toward adding more planes, and Fried has been driving or flying commercial to her events throughout the state.
 

Florida Cabinet confirms Zingale to lead revenue department

The Florida Cabinet confirmed Jim Zingale to lead the state’s Department of Revenue this morning.

Zingale, 72, was Gov. Ron DeSantis' choice to lead the department, which is responsible for collecting taxes and managing the state’s child support program.

A Democrat, Zingale led the department for seven years, including under Florida’s last Democratic governor, Lawton Chiles. He was most recently working as Research Director of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida.

“Jim’s knowledge and experience at the department make him uniquely qualified for this position," DeSantis said in a statement, "and his innovative ideas for modernization will bring needed changes for the future of our state.”

Zingale’s salary will be $151,000.

Andrew Gillum joins CNN as a political commentator

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@alextdaugherty @elizabethrkoh

The election may be over, but Andrew Gillum isn’t leaving your television screen.

The former Florida gubernatorial candidate announced Tuesday he is joining CNN as a political commentator, the latest 2018 also-ran to snag a television gig.

“Thrilled to be joining CNN as a political commentator,” Gillum tweeted.

Gillum, whose recent meetings with Barack Obama and big-time Democratic donors fueled speculation about a 2020 bid for president, is still facing political trouble from his time as mayor of Tallahassee.

The CNN announcement comes on the heels of an advancing ethics complaint alleging Gillum flouted ethics laws on two trips in 2016. The trips, to Costa Rica and New York City, were taken with a lobbyist and former friend who is believed to be a center of an FBI investigation into public corruption in Tallahassee, and the second trip also included two undercover agents who were part of the investigation.

More here.

January 28, 2019

Ousted Palm Beach elections chief says she won't pursue Senate hearing

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@elizabethrkoh

Susan Bucher, the former Palm Beach County supervisor of elections who was suspended earlier this month, said Monday she would not contest the decision before the Florida Senate and submitted her resignation.

In a statement, reported by Sun Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel columnist (and former bureau chief for this blog) Steve Bousquet, Bucher said she had reviewed her legal options and had decided against moving forward with a hearing, citing the political balance of the chamber. The Senate is tasked with reviewing executive suspensions.

"The process established in Florida law would require that I go before a handpicked State Senate Committee with the Governor's lawyers as the prosecutors," Bucher wrote. "Prior to my service as your supervisor, I was a very vocal member of the House Minority Party in Tallahassee. As such, I do not believe I can receive a fair hearing before a very partisan Senate." 

Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Bucher in mid-January, citing missed deadlines and delays in counting ballots during the contentious November 2018 election and recounts. But Bucher, a Democrat, alleged "political agendas" were the real reason she was removed from her position.

"Florida elected officials should not be afraid to express their views and stand strong for their constituents without fear of being removed from office through fabricated allegations which would not stand up in a court of law," she wrote. "Where is the established threshold that allows a Governor to circumvent the will of the voters? There should be documented rules for these Senate hearings."

Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta said it was aware of news reports of Bucher's resignation but "does not have a formal response [from Bucher] at this time."

Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, pushed back against Bucher's assertion a Senate hearing would be unfair: "I respect Supervisor Bucher, who I served with in the Florida House, as I do all elected officials in our state," he wrote. "The Senate’s constitutional responsibility to judge the merits of an executive suspension is an important feature of the checks and balances that allow for the separation of powers under our Constitution. I have and will continue to make every effort to ensure fair, unbiased due process for all involved with this important constitutional responsibility of the Florida Senate.”

Bucher's resignation would have been submitted to the Secretary of State's office — DeSantis on Monday named Judge Laurel Lee to replace Michael Ertel in the post, after Ertel resigned in disgrace over blackface photos that surfaced two weeks into his job.

When he suspended Bucher, DeSantis had named Republican lawyer Wendy Link as her replacement but said Link would not seek to be re-elected in two years when the term is up.

Bucher, however, suggested she was eyeing the next election year in determining her future plans: "Our laws need to ensure that every elected official recieves fair and equitable treatment, no matter what the accusations or their political party," she wrote. "I will work on just such language and consider my options for 2020."

Image: AP