Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.
By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.
“A defiant Latvala resigns after release of 2 reports detailing sexual misconduct, sex harassment” via Matt Dixon, Alexandra Glorioso and Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida: One of the accusers, Senate aide Rachel Perrin Rogers, soon filed a Rules Committee complaint against him, triggering one investigation, as Florida Senate President Joe Negron launched a second independent probe to examine the charges raised in POLITICO’s report. The reports, respectively released Tuesday and Wednesday, corroborated the style and tenor of the harassment alleged by Perrin Rogers and the five other accusers who first spoke to POLITICO, with some women saying he implied professional help in return for “sexual favors.” One unnamed lobbyist told investigators that Latvala would often ask her “what do I get?” in connection with her work. “But she perceived that the implication was a suggested quid pro quo for sexual favors based on a steady pattern and constant hitting on her,” read the report.
“Attorney: Latvala was blindsided by bribery allegation” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – The Tallahassee attorney for Latvala said his client didn’t know about a quid pro quo allegation that the senator offered his favorable vote for legislation in return for sexual favors. Latvala had “on multiple occasions” offered to vote for bills a certain female lobbyist was trying to get passed if she would have sex with him, according to an investigative report released Tuesday. The allegation “is supported by explicit text messages.” The new charge, part of a probe into sexual harassment claims against the 66-year-old Clearwater Republican, caught many in the The Process off guard—including most of Latvala’s most fervent supporters.
“Senate turns over evidence against Latvala to law enforcement” via Matt Dixon and Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida – As part of the investigation, special master Ronald Swanson received testimony and reviewed text messages showing Latvala suggested offering his help in return for “a sexual encounter.” In his report, Swanson recommended those allegations be “immediately referred to law enforcement for further review.” The state Senate followed those recommendations shortly after the report’s release. “Yesterday, the Senate took appropriate action to implement the special master’s recommendation that certain testimony in his report be immediately referred to the law enforcement for further investigation,” Katie Betta, communications director for state Senate President Joe Negron, told POLITICO.
“Latvala resigns … but is quid pro quo for donations next?” via Nancy Smith of the Sunshine State News – The once-powerful Clearwater Republican has more to worry about than saving his long career in Florida politics. Like how soon the authorities will turn up at his door to arrest him on charges of public corruption, extortion or similar, and lead him away in handcuffs. If, as a Latvala accuser testified, the senator “expressly intimated to her on multiple occasions, that if she engaged in sexual acts or allowed him to touch her body in a sexual manner he would support particular legislative items for which she was lobbying” … if that is so, then how long before the investigation moves from sex to money? How long before investigators look at the $4.7 million Latvala has stashed in his Florida Leadership Fund? I can hear them asking themselves, if the Senate appropriations chair can trade a policy favor for a cuddle, then was he also shaking down lobbyists and lawmakers for money? Are we going to find Florida Leadership Fund donors coming forward to report publicly what so many of them have complained about for years – that if you want a bill passed, you’d better dig out your checkbook.
“Denise Grimsley donates Latvala money to anti-domestic violence group” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Grimsley’s move sets a challenge to dozens of other elected officials and political groups that have received money from Latvala’s primary financial tools of power, his Florida Leadership Committee and other political committees, which have been among the most active and generous backers of Republicans and Republican-leaning political committees in recent years. “I believe Senator Latvala has done the right thing in resigning from the Florida Senate today,” Grimsley, the Zolfo Springs Republican who is a leading candidate for Florida Agriculture Commissioner said … “given the seriousness of the allegations and the findings in the reports, I have directed my campaign and political committee to make a sponsorship donation in the amount of $50,000 from Saving Florida’s Heartland, as well as $12,000 from my Agriculture Commissioner campaign account to the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence … These amounts are derived from contributions received from the Florida Leadership Committee, Sawgrass PAC, Twenty-First Century Florida Committee, and from Senator Latvala.”
“Whatever happens next with Latvala’s district, this much is clear: The voters lose” via Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times – According to the Florida Department of State, a special election is required to be held if a state senate seat becomes open before the end of a term. But Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, a Democrat, acknowledged that the session will be over by the time anyone is seated. “There are no good answers,” Welch said. State law requires 45 days for absentee voting before special elections, which could include a separate primary and general election. If the qualifying period is included, that would push the final election to at least 90 days from now and well past March 9, when the legislative session ends. Welch said he thought Democrats could wage a strong effort to capture the seat, which covers northern Pinellas and western Pasco counties, but cautioned the district’s next senator needs to follow Latvala’s lead in fighting for local interests.
Tweet, tweet: @ChuckTodd: Changing the Tallahassee culture was long overdue. Kudos to Politico for exposing a disgusting atmosphere. Sorry it’s taken so long for FL lawmakers to police themselves. But it’s why the media exists. Hold these folks accountable. Actually draining a swamp.
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— CAPITOL INSIGHT —
“Bill would create a fair system for Florida’s early learning funds” via Ryan McKinnon of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune – The Office of Early Learning’s method of dishing out hundreds of millions of school readiness funds has been described by auditors as both “outdated and unexplained,” and it is not based on current demographics. Attempts to establish a needs-based formula in the past have been stymied by legislators from areas enjoying the benefits of the outdated system. Sen. Greg Steube wants to change that. Steube has filed legislation to require that the state’s Office of Early Learning develop a funding formula to allocate more than $600 million to the state’s Early Learning Coalitions. Under the current setup, each county’s slice of the pie remains the same. Even a massive change in the number of poor families will not alter the portion a county receives. That has resulted in Miami-Dade and a handful of other counties being overfunded, while counties like Sarasota and Osceola consistently don’t get their fair share … Steube’s legislation would require all funding to be based on the level of need, but it faces significant challenges from the Miami-Dade area lawmakers.
“Workers’ comp bill headed to House floor” via Lobby Tools – Members of the House Commerce Committee agreed to file its proposed committee bill during a November public hearing. The plan was refiled in HB 7009 and sent to the House floor. Florida courts have recently found parts of workers’ compensation law to be unconstitutional, and House Republicans say the bill would address the rulings. Injured workers would be allowed to pay for their own attorney under the bill, which was previously prohibited. The temporary wage replacement benefit would be increased from 104 to 260 weeks. And it would “fill the gap” between temporary and permanent wage replacement benefits for some workers. Attorney fees, a major point of contention, would remain as a percentage of what they obtained for a client, but the bill allows a judge to award hourly fees as an alternative. In some cases, the percentage-based fee is too low to fairly compensate an attorney, so allowing a departure in certain instances ensures workers can find an attorney, the House majority argues. The bill also allows insurers to decrease premiums uniformly up to 5 percent, in the name of creating competition for consumers.
“Needle exchange program proposed for Palm Beach County” via the News Service of Florida – Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon filed a proposal that would expand a pilot needle-exchange program into Palm Beach County. Pointing to the need to prevent the spread of infectious diseases by intravenous drug users, lawmakers in 2016 approved a pilot needle-exchange program in Miami-Dade County to be run by the University of Miami and its affiliates. Braynon’s proposal (SB 1320) – and a similar bill (HB 945), filed last week by Rep. Wengay Newton – would allow the university to also run the program in Palm Beach County.
***Nursing home care is better in states with a Certificate of Need process, because it ensures seniors have access to the right type of care where in the areas they need it most. The best way to ensure a high-quality long-term care sector that balances the need for nursing home care and home and community-based services is to preserve Florida’s Certificate of Need process. That’s why everyone who cares about Florida’s elders should reject the Constitution Revision Commission proposal to eliminate Certificate of Need in Florida.***
— NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL —
Tweet, tweet: @ElectionSmith: Florida to go from 27–>29 Congressional seats according to latest Census population estimates
“Rick Scott to headline fundraiser for Diane Black” via The Associated Press – Scott is headlining a fundraiser for Republican Black’s gubernatorial campaign in Tennessee. According to an invitation to the Jan. 11 event in Franklin, it will cost a $1,000 donation to the Black campaign to attend. Black’s campaign has criticized gubernatorial rival Randy Boyd for holding a fundraiser featuring another onetime Florida governor, Jeb Bush.
“New poll shows Brian mast trailing hypothetical Democrat in 2018” via Florida Politics – Mast is on thin ice with voters in Florida’s 18th Congressional District, especially after his vote in favor of the GOP’s tax reform plan. A survey from the Democrat-leaning Public Policy Polling found Mast had a 40 percent approval rating and 45 percent disapproval rating in the district, which puts his net favorability only a few points ahead of President Trump, who garnered a 45 percent approval rating and 53 percent disapproval among CD 18 respondents.
“Josie Tomkow qualifies for HD 39 by petition” via Florida Politics – … for the special election to replace former Rep. Neil Combee … Tomkow was the first candidate to file for the seat after the announcement, and she quickly earned Combee’s endorsement. The Auburndale Republican reiterated his support of Tomkow, 22, after some reports questioned whether she was too young for the job. Also running for the seat is fellow Republican Jennifer Spathand Democrat Ricky Shirah, a perennial candidate for the Lakeland City Commission who stands little chance of victory in deep-red District 39.
“Anna Eskamani qualifies for HD 47 ballot by petition” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Eskamani qualified by collecting more than 1,400 petition signatures. Eskamani, an Orlando-based executive for Planned Parenthood, faces Winter Park businessman Stockton Reeves, a Republican, in the 2018 race. They seek to succeed state Rep. Mike Miller, who is running for Congress. The deadline to qualify for the 2018 election is in June 2018.
“Danny Burgess draws 2018 challenger” via Lobby Tools – No-party candidate John David Hayes has filed against Rep. Burgess in the 2018 election cycle. The incumbent has more than $90,000 raised for his re-election to the GOP-leaning seat while Hayes has not reported raising any money.
“Democrat challenges Rene Plasencia in HD 50” via Lobby Tools – Democrat Pamela Dirschka has filed to run for House District 50 in the 2018 cycle. She says her background is “quite varied” but includes working as a teacher, community activist and owning a small business. Dirschka is running against Rep. Plasencia … who has a voter registration advantage in the district and has raised more than $100,000 for his re-election effort.
— STATEWIDE —
“Children’s health program funding in jeopardy” via Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida – With money for Florida’s subsidized children’s health-insurance program due to run out in a matter of weeks, the state has not warned the parents of roughly 200,000 children that they could soon lose coverage. Florida’s decision contrasts with other states that have decided that they can no longer wait to see if Congress restores money for the 20-year-old Children’s Health Insurance Program … Federal funding for the so-called CHIP program ran out in September, and while there have been promises to restore it, a final deal has not emerged from Congress. State officials have verified that funding for Florida’s program – which is operated primarily through the Florida Healthy Kids Corp. – would run out at the end of January. Twenty-four other states are also projected to run out of money at the same time. The funding shortfall does not impact the roughly 2 million children who are in Florida’s Medicaid program – but instead affects those children whose families are just above the poverty line.
“Grand jury report into death of Andrew Coffey skewers FSU’s fraternity culture” via Karl Etters of the Tallahassee Democrat – A scathing Leon County grand jury report released in the wake of the death of Florida State Pi Kappa Phi pledge Coffey denounced the fraternity system and the lengths its members went to obstruct the investigation. It also condemned Pi Kappa Phi’s “tradition” of attempting to skirt Florida’s broad hazing laws as a new way to get around an old problem. The abuse of alcohol was alarming and egged on by older fraternity members, grand jurors wrote. Nearly everyone, including members and prospective members, drank straight from liquor bottles to the point of extreme intoxication … what was more startling, grand jurors, FSU administrators and national hazing experts say, was the participants’ delay in seeking medical help and their lack of cooperation with investigators as they tried to protect the fraternity.
“Imported citrus numbers continue to grow in Florida” via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida – An increase in imported orange juice is anticipated by the Florida Citrus Commission to offset a decline in tax revenue from the state’s hurricane-battered growers, who await congressional action on disaster relief. The commission … agreed to shift $556,147 from reserves to help cover the Department of Citrus’ budget for the current fiscal year, with the transfer leaving a $682 negative balance. Taxes on citrus pay for the department’s operations. Christine Marion, commission secretary, said continued demand by Floridians for orange juice is expected to increase the need for citrus to be imported, which – because it is taxed like citrus grown in the state – should offset the negative balance. Unlike in past years, imported citrus now accounts for more than half – currently topping 55 percent – of the citrus taxed by the state.
“Union workers reject Disney’s wage proposal” via Gabrielle Russon of the Orlando Sentinel – Walt Disney World union members overwhelmingly rejected a new contract that would give them a raise of at least 50 cents an hour, as some argued they deserved a bigger salary increase. About 93 percent of dues-paying members who voted turned down the two-year contract. The nearly 10,000 votes cast was the highest turnout in the history of labor votes for the Service Trades Council Union, the coalition of six unions that represents about 36,000 Disney employees … Union members cheered and chanted, “Union!” “Fight!” “If we don’t get it, shut it down!” after union leaders announced the election results at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. The next move is for union leaders to regroup in February.
“Judge backs proposed Pinellas trauma center” via the News Service of Florida – An administrative law judge said the Florida Department of Health improperly rejected a proposal to open a trauma center at a St. Petersburg hospital. Judge Robert S. Cohen issued a 46-page ruling that said Northside Hospital had met criteria to win approval for a trauma center. The Department of Health, which decides whether to approve trauma centers, denied Northside’s application May 1, saying it found three deficiencies. Under administrative law, Cohen’s ruling is a recommended order that will go back to the Department of Health for a final decision. Bayfront Health-St. Petersburg and Tampa’s St. Joseph Hospital, which have long operated trauma centers, have opposed Northside’s proposal to open a trauma facility.
“A tax collector trying to play traffic cop? Another reason to ax this political post” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel – For years, I’ve argued that we don’t need to waste time, energy and money electing tax collectors in this state. Collecting taxes doesn’t require a politician. It requires a competent office administrator. The only time tax collectors usually make headlines is when they’re doing something stupid … Seminole County has proven this twice in a row. Seminole County leaders — either the charter review commission or the county commission — should look at eliminating it as an elected office. Either group could ask voters to make the final call. The same thing should be considered in Orange, where we know an elected collector isn’t needed, because the last one rarely showed up to do his job.
“Venus Williams fatal crash: no one is to blame, police say” via Tonya Alanez and Erika Pesantes of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel – “Based upon this investigation and relevant Florida state statutes, no charges will be filed in this case,” according to an 18-page traffic homicide investigation released by Palm Beach Gardens police. Jerome Barson, 78, was a passenger in a 2016 Hyundai Accent driven by his wife, Linda Barson, 68. The car T-boned Williams’ Toyota Sequoia as she waited in an intersection in Palm Beach Gardens. Jerome Barson died 13 days after the June 9 wreck. Barson and his wife drove into the intersection when the light turned green, hitting Williams’ SUV. The tennis star was not injured. In the aftermath of the crash, Williams explained to an officer that a dark-colored car turned left in front of her, trapping her in the intersection when her light turned red and before she was T-boned by the Barsons’ Hyundai. The investigative report concluded that neither Barson nor Williams violated the other’s right of way.
Assignment editors – The “grand reveal” of the Tiny House Project that the Brevard Schools Foundation is hosting in partnership with The Able Trust is today at 9:30 a.m., at Bayside High School in Palm Bay. State and local leaders have been invited to the debut.
— OPININION —
“Latvala resignation should not be last word on toxic Legislature” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board – Latvala made the correct decision to resign from the Florida Senate following a special investigator’s conclusion that there is reason to believe he verbally and physically harassed a Senate staffer and a former lobbyist. The behavior described in the report would be intolerable in any public or private workplace, and his colleagues likely would have expelled the Clearwater Republican if he did not leave voluntarily. It’s a bad day for Florida and for the Florida Legislature, which has lost all credibility following a series of resignations involving sexual misconduct and other misbehavior … None of the good work that Latvala did excuses the inexcusable sexual harassment described by his accusers. Latvala made the right decision to resign from the Senate. Now the Florida Legislature should make the right decision to root out other misconduct and regain some of its credibility and public trust.
— MOVEMENTS —
“Georgia Ackerman named new Apalachicola Riverkeeper” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat – A veteran of North Florida environmental battles is the new executive director of the Apalachicola Riverkeeper … Ackerman will succeed Don Tonsmeire as the Apalachicola’s leading spokesperson and advocate, after the New Year. Tonsmeire intends to retire but will remain long enough to ensure a smooth leadership transition. Charley Kienzle, the newly elected president of the Riverkeepers’ board, said he’s delighted Ackerman is willing to take on the challenge of growing local, state and federal support for the protection and restoration of the iconic panhandle waterway. “Her leadership and deep involvement in this organization’s efforts to effectively address the long-term health of the Apalachicola River basin will be critical as we build upon the work of Dan and his predecessor,” Kienzle said.
Douglas Bell, Metz Husband & Daughton: Florida Health Organization
Ellyn Bogdanoff, Becker & Poliakoff: Whiskey Creek Civic Association
Carole Green, Capitol Strategies Consulting: Lee County Public Schools
Andrew Ketchel, Capital City Consulting: Southport Financial Services
— ALOE —
— Sen José J Rodríguez (@JoseJavierJJR) December 20, 2017
“Mar-a-Lago hikes New Year’s Eve party ticket prices” via Darren Samuelsohn of POLITICO Florida – Ticket prices for the annual Dec. 31 bash at Trump‘s Mar-a-Lago club in South Florida are going up to $600 for dues-paying members and $750 for their guests, according to members of the private Palm Beach club. Last year’s tickets went for $525 for members and $575 for guests. The lavish party in the Donald J. Trump Grand Ballroom and the surrounding grounds has plenty of perks, including a red-carpet entrance, a multi-course meal, a popular cover band and the chance to meet celebrities … as well as the president himself. Bobby Burchfield, the Trump Organization’s outside ethics adviser, said in an interview that while he had not been consulted about the Dec. 31 event, he wasn’t bothered by the arrangement. “I personally don’t see any issues that are raised,” he told POLITICO. “It’s not a campaign event. It’s a normal business New Year’s Eve party.” And, he said, an increase in ticket prices also shouldn’t be a surprise. “In this economy, we’re seeing prices for a lot of things go up,” he said.
Finally, a note of congratulations to Mark Pudlow, who worked his last day as spokesman for the Florida Education Association yesterday. Before his over 20 years at FEA, he was a news editor at The Tallahassee Democrat. Best wishes upon his retirement.