A.G. Gancarski, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 334

A.G. Gancarski

Legislature mulls extending statute of limitations in crimes against minors

A legal loophole that may have allowed some criminals against minors to escape prosecution may be closed soon.

House Bill 791, filed by Jacksonville Republican Jay Fant, would extend statute of limitations periods for kidnapping & false imprisonment of minors under a certain age.

For those abducting and holding hostage young people under the age of 13, the statute of limitations would never run out on the alleged perpetrator.

For those perpetrating such crimes on a minor between 13 and 17 years old, time wouldn’t calculate under the statute of limitations until the victim turns 18 years old or the victim has his or her liberty back.

The Fant bill is predicated on a simple principle: for such life-altering crimes against society’s most defenseless victims, justice demands proper time for them to secure recourse.

Outgoing CFO Jeff Atwater extols Florida’s economic performance, talks ‘legacy’

Late last week, Florida CFO Jeff Atwater announced that, instead of running for another office in 2018, he will take a gig at Florida Atlantic University later this year, vacating the office of CFO.

That announcement gave a speech from Atwater to Jacksonville’s Economic Roundtable — his first major speech since announcing his plans to leave the CFO slot — a bit more weight and general interest than it might have had otherwise.

Media was told at first, regarding the scramble to replace him as CFO, that the decision was “too new” for him to talk.

But it came up, even in the introductory remarks, when the speaker quipped that “47 people” had told him Atwater was leaving … however, the show goes on all the same.

“I’ve had the privilege to be in Tallahassee for 17 years, and Mrs. Atwater’s calling me home,” Atwater said. “I have about 120 days to go.”

Among Atwater’s new mission: building “strategic partnerships” for the university in his hometown.

“It’s been the honor of a lifetime,” Atwater added, drawing a line between his political endeavors and the beginning of his career with Barnett Bank in Jacksonville in 1981, before discussing changes that hit Florida’s and the United States’ economy since the latter part of the last decade, when contraction set in.

Unemployment rose. Housing prices fell. Credit ratings were imperiled.

Atwater then discussed the process of moving forward from the doldrums of the last decade.

“The gap in our books was not as critical,” Atwater said, “as the gap in the books of every small business in Florida.”

The newspapers, except for the Florida Times-Union, didn’t buy in.

But “we had to make some really hard decisions,” said Atwater, including cutting taxes and spending, while boosting reserves — at a time when other states were hiking taxes.

By 2015, top line revenue was up, population was booming, and housing prices were nearly up to where they were in 2006 .. before the last bubble popped.

45 states, meanwhile, increased taxes. Over half of the states increased their debt ratio.

Florida was one of three that took a different path, Atwater said.

Florida’s AAA credit rating speaks to the enduring benefit of moving “quickly and decisively.”

“New York is smaller now than Florida,” in terms of economic performance, despite a budget with half the money in it than the Empire State has.

The influx of residents and income into Florida: $75 billion of household income over the last decade, coming at the expense of big states elsewhere, such as New York, Illinois, and California.

A low debt burden and new economic influxes give Florida an advantage other states do not, Atwater said.

“It took a tremendous amount of being in sync to accomplish all of this,” Atwater said, crediting Gov. Rick Scott for his attention to these issues.

“I know it doesn’t look that way all the time, but it takes a lot of teamwork,” Atwater said.

There are challenges: the expanding cost of Medicaid, said Atwater, threatens the state’s finances.

Because of Medicaid and educational costs growth, Atwater issued a common refrain: “it’s going to be a very tight fiscal year” with “hard decisions.”

Atwater did make time for questions from this outlet after the meeting.

The one of most interest: was he leaving too soon, with Gov. Scott headed into the lame duck portion of his second term.

Any “apprehension … second thoughts … or misgivings” Atwater feels about leaving, he said, only has to do with himself and the timing of the departure.

“I hope I can leave a legacy,” Atwater said.

With challenges around the corner, expect that the governor will want someone as dedicated to “fiscal discipline” as Atwater in the role.

The question soon enough will become who that person is.

Monday, however, was a victory lap for Atwater, who served as the state’s CFO as Jacksonville and the rest of Florida recovered, for the most part, from the bubble and the crash of last decade.

Jacksonville freshman legislators are already fundraising for 2018

Three Jacksonville Republicans who are in their first terms in the Florida Legislature have already begun fundraising for 2018.

Though Representatives Jason FischerClay Yarborough, and Cord Byrd aren’t likely to face any credible opposition in running for re-election, their early attention to fundraising indicates the reality of the perpetual campaign.

Of the three listed, Fischer made the most progress in January toward next year’s run for re-election, with $7,614 of new money in January bringing him close to $8,000 on hand.

Of that new money, $5,000 came from the pari mutuel/dog track industry, with the Jacksonville Kennel Club and Orange Park Kennel Club among those gambling interests maxing out to the Southside Jacksonville Republican representing House District 16.

Clay Yarborough, a Christian conservative representing House District 12 (also on Jacksonville’s Southside), brought in $2,500 between Jan. 10 and Jan. 31 — his first filing period of the 2018 campaign.

Yarborough collected no money from gambling interests. However, he shared other donors with Fischer, such as Kaleo Pharmaceuticals and Southern Gardens Citrus Holdings.

Byrd, who represents Jacksonville Beach and Nassau County in House District 11, brought in $4,500 of new January money. Of that money, $2,500 came from the dog track industry.

Jacksonville strikes historic, tentative pension accord with police, fire unions

The city of Jacksonville on Saturday struck a historic, revolutionary (and still tentative) pension accord with the Fraternal Order of Police and the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters.

And not a moment too soon: Feb. 11 was the city’s “deadline” for the unions to take its offer.

The deal offers long-delayed raises to current employees (a 3 percent lump sum payout immediately, and a 20 percent raise for police and fire over three years) and gives all classes of current employees the same benefits.

As well, all police and fire officers will have DROP eligibility with an 8.4 percent annual rate of return and a 3 percent COLA.

The deal, if approved without modification, will bring labor peace through 2027 — though it can be renegotiated by the city or the unions at 3, 6, 9, and 10 years marks in the agreement.

For new employees, however, the plan is historic — a defined contribution plan that vests three years after the new employee for police and fire is hired.

The total contribution: 35 percent, with the city ponying up 25 percent of that — and making guarantees that survivors’ benefits and disability benefits would be the same for new hires as the current force of safety officers.

Members of both unions, and the Jacksonville City Council, have to approve the deal.

But all parties projected optimism after months of tough talk and hard bargaining from both sides.

“This represents another step toward solving Jacksonville’s pension crisis once and for all in a way that is good for taxpayers, first responders, and the future of our city. I want to thank the union leadership for working with me and reaching this historic agreement. I look forward to next steps with union membership,” said Mayor Lenny Curry.

FOP President Steve Zona had this to day.

“When I chose to run for president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5-30 I committed I would be transparent and include the members in decision making. After much deliberation, I feel negotiations have brought us to a point where the voice of the body needs to be heard by way of a vote on the current proposal offered by the city,” Zona said.

JAFF President Randy Wyse likewise confirmed that the members of his union would decide if the deal was good for them.

“Benefits reduced since 2015 will be restored with wage increases and pension equality for existing employees,” Randy Wyse, the President of the JAFF, said.

“Our main purpose and goal is the safety and security of Jacksonville’s Firefighters and their families. The JAFF has negotiated faithfully and openly a tentative contract that has been long overdue for existing employees,” Wyse added.

Between this and a tentative agreement with AFSCME to put its new hires into defined contribution plans, the city is on a roll when it comes to revolutionizing public pensions.

With a $2.85 billion unfunded pension liability growing every year, time was of the essence for the city to close its plans, which despite best efforts of previous pension reform, were choking out the city’s general fund.

The deal allows the city to stop making the extra payments to the Police and Fire Pension Fund that were required by the 2015 pension reform deal. Those payments were slated to eventually rise up to $32 million a year.

As Florida girds up for 2018 elections, and the post-Jeff Atwater as CFO era, expect the quiet whispers about Curry’s statewide future to get progressively louder going forward.

Lenny Curry PAC rakes in $63,000 in January

The second half of 2016 was quiet for “Build Something That Lasts,” the political committee of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.

The first month of 2017? A different matter.

“Build Something That Lasts” brought in $63,000 in January, with $50,000 of that from the Jacksonville Kennel Club and the other $13,000 from Vestcor Companies and subsidiaries thereof.

The committee spent a bit over $23,000 in the same period, with $17,000 of that going to Data Targeting Research for consulting.

As well, $750 of that sum went to Jacksonville disc jockey Nick Fresh, an entertainer who has a regional following, and who is apparently branching out into political events now.

The committee has just over $200,000 on hand, but a reasonable expectation is that number will balloon as Curry plans his next campaign, and as the 2019 field for City Council takes shape.

Of the 19 seats on the panel, eight will be open in 2019, and Curry almost certainly will want allies in place.

Ron Salem launches 2019 run for Jacksonville City Council

Local Republican insider Ron Salem is the first of dozens of candidates to file to run for Jacksonville City Council in 2019.

Salem filed to run in At Large Group 2 — a seat held by longtime Councilman John Crescimbeni, who will be termed out the same year.

Salem has a connection to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.

He served on Curry’s transition team as Curry prepared to take office, and confirmed in January as a member of the Renew Arlington CRA Advisory Board at the mayor’s request.

Before that, Salem served multiple terms on the city’s Sports and Entertainment Board.

How well regarded was he?

In 2010, Mayor John Peyton — the 2018 chair-elect of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce — requested Salem’s appointment for a third term to that board, and that legislation included a waiver to allow Salem up to five terms on that board.

Salem is said to have substantial financial commitments to his cause already.

As well, Curry’s high-powered political consultant Tim Baker will serve as Salem’s strategist for this campaign.

For many candidates, the sight of Baker’s name will inspire them to reconsider their nascent bids.

There may be one exception, however.

Despite Baker playing a role on his behalf, Salem likely won’t be alone in that race in At-Large District 2 for long. Former two-term councilman and mayoral candidate Bill Bishop is exploring his options for a political comeback in that same district.

Bishop became persona non grata with many local Republicans in 2015 after running against Curry and then endorsing Democrat Alvin Brown after his elimination.

Bishop, though he polled well in 2015, arguably did so as an alternative to the two better-funded candidates.

Meanwhile, Salem’s strategist offers an edge that Bishop won’t be able to match.

Aaron Bean revives bill proposing elected Secretary of State

There may be one more statewide office for Florida voters to select the occupant of soon.

Senate Joint Resolution 882, filed by Aaron Bean, proposes an amendment to the Florida Constitution for direct election of Florida’s Secretary of State starting in the 2022 election.

The Bean bill also would elevate the Secretary of State to a Cabinet position in June 2019.

The language of the legislation denotes a perceived flaw in the current model: “Currently, the secretary is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of the Governor and is not a Cabinet member.

Bean filed a similar bill in 2016: SJR 1424 cleared committees, but died on the Senate’s Second Reading calendar.

Bean explained the rationale behind it to WFSU back then as follows.

“We all know that four is an even number, unless four is the total number of your board of directors, your committee roster or your cabinet. Four is indeed a very odd number should it be the number of your cabinet officers,” Bean told WFSU.

Regarding the governor’s “super vote,” Bean allowed that, while “maybe the governor should have a super vote … debate  [and] majority [should] rule in those cabinet discussions.”

An elected secretary of state, Bean added, would be more directly accountable to the voters.

We spoke with Bean Friday afternoon, and he felt more optimistic about the bill’s chances in 2017.

For one thing, the 2016 bill “did really well in the Senate.”

As well, said Bean, House sponsor Rep. Gayle Harrell has a “little bit of juice” and can push it farther along on the House side than it got in 2016.

An elected secretary of state, Bean said, is a “better way to govern the state,” and an odd number in the cabinet strikes the senator as a salient point for the future as much as the present.

Republicans, said Bean, “won’t always have the Governor’s Mansion.”

Bean is realistic: it “may take a few years to get this conversation going.”

But given that he’s filed this bill two years running, it clearly is a conversation Bean believes is worth having.

Lawmakers would require two-thirds vote to amend Florida constitution

If the people of Florida want to make their voices heard in Tallahassee, they may have to speak a bit more emphatically going forward.

Senate Joint Resolution 866, filed by Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley, would require a 2/3 majority to amend the Florida Constitution. The current threshold is 60 percent.

Recent high-profile ballot measures have cleared the two-thirds marker.

In 2014, Amendment 1, dealing with water and land management funds, cleared with almost 75 percent of the vote.

2016’s Amendment 2, expanding qualifying conditions and types of medical marijuana available, passed with 71 percent of the ballot.

Baxley’s bill is the Senate companion to the House version, filed on Monday by State Rep. Rick Roth, a Loxahatchee Republican.

Baxley told us that Roth visited him to pitch the bill, and Baxley agreed to carry the Senate version, under a shared “agreement to protect the Constitution” as a “defining document.”

“The Constitution,” said Baxley, “is not the place to do appropriations or policy.”

A “cottage industry” of activists, claimed Baxley, is “making it very hard for the legislature to adjust … to change in our culture.

On 2016’s push to liberalize regulations for medical cannabis, Baxley said regarding the assertion that the Legislature was “unresponsive,” that “no is a response.”

Baxley would be open to legislation requiring a 2/3 vote to pass laws in the House and Senate also, though none has been filed yet.

Former Florida Times-Union writer likens Trump inauguration to 9/11, loses job, sues

Those of a certain age in Jacksonville will remember Bart Hubbuch.

Hubbuch, who left the River City some years ago, used to cover the Jacksonville Jaguars for the Florida Times-Union.

He moved on, ending up with the New York Post.

Hubbuch is back on the job market now, reports Deadspin, after an ill-advised Tweet comparing the inauguration of President Donald Trump to September 11, 2001 and the Pearl Harbor attacks.

“12/7/41. 9/11/01. 1/20/17,” Hubbuch wrote, clearly not sticking to sports on Inauguration Day.

The Tweet got some traction — if you call eight Retweets traction, that is.

However, it proved to be fateful for Hubbuch’s career in the sports capital of the United States, given that New York suffered most grievously on 9/11, with people still experiencing psychological and physical consequences from the attacks to this day.

Hubbuch was fired soon after Tweeting that, despite complying with an organizational directive to delete the Tweet.

As Vocativ reports, Hubbuch is now suing the New York tabloid.

Hubbuch’s case is predicated on a statute in New York labor law, which boils down to not being able to be fired for political activities off the clock.

Vocativ also notes that Hubbuch asked about the Post’s social media policy.

The response boiled down to “what policy?”

Hubbuch had a history of controversial Tweets, which Vocativ also documented, and which no doubt will serve as a foundation for the Murdoch empire’s defense against Hubbuch’s legal action.

Meanwhile, as an at-will employee, Hubbuch essentially has no recourse in New York state. The employer can can him at any time, for any reason.

And the New York Post did exactly that.

Joint resolution filed to make Miami-Dade sheriff an elected office

Voters in Miami-Dade County may vote for a sheriff soon, if a joint resolution filed in the House by Jason Fischer and the Senate by Frank Artiles becomes law.

HJR 721/SJR 134 would make the Sheriff of Miami-Dade a Constitutional officer.

Currently, the position is appointed by the executive branch, foreclosing the voters’ right to decide their chief law enforcement officer.

The joint resolution proposes an amendment to Section 1 of Article VIII and the creation of a new section in Article XII of the State Constitution to remove authority for a county charter to appoint sheriffs and other such officials.

Artiles described this effort as being a long time coming.

“Having a locally elected sheriff incentivizes transparency and accountability. When it comes to public safety, every citizen should have a seat at the table,” Artiles said.

“Miami-Dade County has not had a Sheriff in over 50 years, what it boils down to is giving power back to the people. Direct representation through the county officers was originally written in the 1885 Florida Constitution,” Artiles said, adding that “our bill will allow the voters to reinstate that.”

Fischer hails from Jacksonville, where sheriffs are elected — generally in elections that are more expensive and competitive than any other on the ballot.

“Public safety is an issue that every voter should have the opportunity to weigh in on. In Jacksonville, our elected Sheriff Mike Williams has gone above and beyond the call of duty to keep Duval County safe. The people of Florida deserve to have a say at every level of government and this bill will make sure the Sheriff is independent and accountable to the people,” stated Fischer.

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