A.G. Gancarski, Author at Florida Politics - Page 5 of 324

A.G. Gancarski

Florida Senate bill would hike penalties for felon movers

A bill filed in the Florida Senate on Wednesday would hike penalties for moving companies who hire felons and give them access to customers’ homes and property.

Senate Bill 336, filed by Elkton Republican Sen. Travis Hutson, would amend statute related to residential movers, penalizing companies that fail to disclose in writing that a moving company employee with access to property has been convicted of a felony.

Each violation of the amended statute would be a Class IV civil penalty, requiring a fine of at least $10,000.

Companies that don’t pay these civil fines could have their registrations not renewed, if they don’t satisfy that obligation.

HRO reboot dominates Jacksonville City Council meeting

After an agenda full of bills that met little opposition in committees, the Jacksonville City Council turned its attention Tuesday evening to a familiar question: the HRO, which was up on first read with a planned vote on Valentine’s Day.

For the third time in five years, Jacksonville legislators heard pros and cons of expanding Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance to include employment, housing, and public accommodations protections for the city’s LGBT community.

For council regulars, there was a feeling of familiarity: many of those in attendance were the same people making the same points they had in previous years.

The stickers were the same.

The opponents wore “protect first liberties” stickers, as they had previously; the proponents wore Jacksonville Coalition for Equality stickers.

The energy in the air: at once nervous and well-worn.

The turnout: roughly 2 to 1 in favor of HRO expansion.

A measure of the passion: even with five hours to go in the meeting, speakers were allowed just two minutes and fifteen seconds each, to get over 100 people in before the hard stop at midnight.

As before, the arguments were impassioned on both sides.

Early in the program, a transgender woman noted that she and her peers were deprived of “life and human rights,” noting that “being GLBT isn’t a matter of choice” and not a denotation of criminality.

An opponent — an elderly man with a combover and a dated suit — countered with stories of people on the west coast whose businesses were “bankrupted for their consciences.”

Locally, he said that proponents “were collaborators of bullies,” and appeasers of “extortionists.”

Proponents and opponents alike rooted their positions in liberty, with one gentleman saying in opposition that “deplorables make up a large part of your base” and “values voters” are keeping track of the votes of the 12 Republicans on the city council on this issue.

The rhetoric got heated 20 minutes in, with an opponent saying the bill was about “special privileges to a deviant group,” with duped council members “deviously holding the door open … to destruction of our society.”

This re-established a theme from previous considerations of the measure: proponents made plaintive pleas for legislation, making the moral cast against permissible discrimination; opponents painted the bill in lurid tones, casting aspersions on supporters of the measure.

The opponents tended to be more quotable.

Christian right activist Raymond Johnson soon thereafter claimed HRO passage was a public safety issue due to the high incidence of HIV/AIDS in the LGBT community, renaming the bill a “homosexual superiority ordinance.”

Another opponent discussed sexual assault, and the prospect of a “high school football player feeling feminine and taking a shower in the girls’ locker room,” indulging in “perverted pleasures.”

An impassioned gentleman noted that if his three year old son married a man, his blood line would cease to exist.

Opponents continued to press the case, maintaining that expanding the law would infringe on the consciences of opponents, leading to potential legal exposure for not complying with the legislation.

As well, questions were raised as to whether or not member businesses of the Chamber of Commerce, which supports HRO expansion, actually support HRO expansion.

Proponents, meanwhile, discussed the difficulties experienced by those outside binary gender constructs, especially relative to public accommodations, among other issues.

They also depicted the cost of a lack of legislation as being, in part, a loss of the city’s best and brightest to other cities, where the issue of LGBT rights had been resolved years or decades prior.

Darnell Smith of the Jacksonville Chamber brought discussion back to the bill itself, saying that it was a bill of collaboration, with carved out protections for religious institutions and small businesses.

Smith’s comments, unlike many on either side, came back to the substance of the bill, updating code to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Council President Lori Boyer then put a bow on the whole thing, talking about what a great city Jacksonville is, and how during this period of comment, it was established that “people on both sides are passionate, and everyone was respectful of each other.”

That much is debatable.

Not debatable: HRO will drive public comment through February 14, when it will receive a floor vote.

While there was no equivalent to Roy Bay or Kenneth Adkins this time out, it’s a long time until Valentine’s Day.

Al Lawson appointed to Agriculture committee

United States Rep. Al Lawson announced Tuesday his appointment to the Agriculture Committee, a key assignment for his largely rural North Florida district.

“Agriculture is a more than $120 billion industry in Florida and one of the strongest pillars of our state’s economy supporting more than 2 million jobs,” said Lawson.  “I am pleased to serve on this committee, this is an exciting time for American agriculture, and particularly Florida agriculture.  I look forward to working with the committee on urban agriculture and food desert issues in the inner cities of the 5th Congressional District, as well as working on some of the rural development and crop issues facing our rural farmers.”

For Lawson, whose biggest outreach issue during the 2016 campaign was to Jacksonville, the Ag appointment allows him to make inroads into solving issues seen in the Jacksonville part of his district — specifically, food deserts in the Urban Core and Northwest Jacksonville.

Lawson, who already has been appointed regional whip by House whip Steny Hoyer, is establishing himself as a candidate for re-election who will have an easier path in 2018 than he did in 2016, when he dismantled the Corrine Brown machine in the Democratic primary.

Jacksonville equal opportunity ordinance picks up momentum

An “equal opportunity” bill introduced to the Jacksonville City Council by Garrett Dennis picked up momentum Tuesday, with a half dozen councilmembers and stakeholders attending a public notice meeting to discuss it.

Dennis framed this bill as an attempt to ensure city agencies and independent authorities to “cast a broader net” in their hiring process.

“This is not a quota bill, not an affirmative action bill,” said Dennis, who maintained that “employees should reflect or mirror the demographics of the community.”

Dennis’ bill calls for the following: annual reporting to the Mayor and City Council on the progress and state of the Equal Opportunity/Equal Access Program; budgetary line-item for the position of Equal Opportunity/Equal Access Assistant Director; and an “annual review” of “adherence and commitment” to the ordinance by the CEO’s of the city’s independent authorities, as part of their evaluation of the CEO.

The annual reporting, said Dennis, requires agencies to discuss with council their diversity initiatives; Dennis would prefer that to be at budget time.

A representative of the general counsel office noted that Dennis’ asks are in ordinance code, but have gone unfunded for many years.

She also noted that, as a condition of federal grants from the Department of Justice, many of these agencies are actually doing the reporting; however, they are not being presented to the city.

These reports could be presented to the city council; however, agencies not getting federal money aren’t required to do these reports.

Thus, the legislation for them would be more of an “encouraging tool.”

Council VP John Crescimbeni urged mandating a separate report, and publishing it, as a “back door way of dealing with the issue” of demographic underrepresentation in the workplace.

Dennis has questioned minority recruitment in city employ, noting that “we have to do a better job of going after the talent that is here.”

“That’s a part of the [equal employment opportunity] plan,” Dennis said, “but we’re not doing it.”

There are still concerns.

Councilman Aaron Bowman cautioned that Jacksonville is near full employment already, which could impact the bill.

Councilwoman Joyce Morgan, meanwhile, called the bill a “good start,” but advised “something needs to be done on a wider scale.”

 

Godwin’s law makes bad law, claim Kratom advocates

According to Kratom advocates, Godwin’s Law makes bad law, as a state representative’s comments undergo sustained scrutiny.

Florida State Rep. Kristin Jacobs, a Democrat from Coconut Creek who filed legislation to outlaw Kratom components, caused outrage in the community of Kratom advocates Monday by saying their advocacy for the palliative properties of the plant reminded her of Adolf Hitler.

“They have a story,” Jacobs told us Monday via phone. “Just like Hitler believed if you tell a lie over and over again, it becomes the truth.”

Jacobs’ comments have led to a tidal wave of responses on the page housing the story, and a robust counternarrative on Twitter.

Meanwhile, prominent Florida advocates for Kratom are speaking up about her comments.

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One such advocate, Kendra Jowers of the Botanical Education Alliance’s advisory board, took particular issue with Jacobs’ characterizations of Kratom users.

“It’s difficult to know how to respond to what Representative Jacobs said, because what she said was borderline lunatic. And I think any sane, rational person could recognize it as such — whether they have personal ties to kratom or not,” Jowers told us Tuesday in a phone conversation.

“When Representative Jacobs feels the need to compare an advocacy organization like the Botanical Education Alliance to the Third Reich, she’s already lost the argument. She’s already shown that she has no winning hand; that’s why she resorts to such absurd and outrageously dishonest appeals to emotion and irrationality. We are a group of professionals from across the country who have volunteered our time to fight for people’s right to use a natural supplement to curtail their pain and wean off of addiction to opioids and alcohol. To liken us to Hitler is reprehensible and entirely unprofessional,” Jowers continued.

“That is not to mention how abhorrent and obscene it was for her to trivialize one of the worst atrocities in human history.”

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In addition to taking umbrage to Jacobs’ comparison of users of a plant-based palliative to the author of one of the worst genocides in recorded history, Jowers also disputed Jacobs’ lurid depiction of the “glassy eyes and shaky hands” of “Kratom addicts.”

“She may not have named names, but those were personal attacks. Because when she characterizes kratom users this way — glassy-eyed, shaking, helpless addicts who aren’t competent to understand what they’re fighting for here — she is personally attacking the tens of thousands of Floridians who use kratom to responsibly manage their health conditions,” Jowers noted.

“Kratom users are mothers, grandmothers, brothers, sisters, and notably, veterans suffering from PTSD, pain, and addiction that may have resulted from what they’ve endured in the course of their service to this country. I guarantee, you encounter kratom users all the time, and you would have no idea that they are using it unless they were to tell you — contrary to Representative Jacobs’ histrionic and inaccurate characterization,” Jowers added.

Jowers also took issue with Jacobs’ assertion that the DEA was on the verge of making Kratom a Schedule 1 drug.

“It’s far too premature for her to make such an assessment,” Jowers said, given that it’s unknown who will run the DEA or the Department of Justice in the Trump Administration.

“What the DEA did when it pulled back from the emergency Kratom ban was unprecedented,” Jowers said, noting the agency responded to 20,000 comments from people “devastated” by the federal action.

Jowers also questioned Jacobs’ conflation of Kratom with Heroin and opioids.

“Kratom is not comparable to opioids. Period. We’ve submitted a 248 report to the DEA and FDA that includes toxicology analysis, historical analysis, and safety information. No person who cares about the facts can honestly compare kratom to opioids or heroin,” Jowers said.

The bill has yet to be assigned to committees, or have a Senate sponsor, but both those are imminent.

We will track Kratom legislation this session as it moves through the process.

Jacksonville HRO expansion opponents preview talking points, malign city council president

At Tuesday night’s Jacksonville City Council meeting, expect opponents of LGBT rights to use the following talking points against HRO expansion.

While advocates of expanding the Human Rights Ordinance believe that they have the votes to pass the third version of the bill, opponents see it as more of the same … and intend to tell the council about it.

Blake Harper, a vocal opponent of the bill, made some points in an email circulating on Jacksonville’s religious right.

Harper calls the bill the “LGBT railroad express,” and compared the process behind it to “Obamacare.”

Council President “Lori Boyer‘s (Pro LGBT, voted for the first LGBT law in 2012) intention [is] to get this done by February 14th, 2017…… [with] the bare minimum number of subcommittee meetings, the least amount of public input and scrutiny,” Harper said, before betraying a misunderstanding of the committee process itself.

“Boyer has established a clear practice of using the sub-committees to do the work.  The Council has rarely overturned the decision of the committees…. even to the point that City Council voted to allow liquor to be sold within previously iron-clad distances from churches,” Harper notes.

Harper then goes on to suggest the committee process itself is intended to be secret: “The committees meet during the work day…when hard-working people most impacted by this bill are not available. Also, they have stacked the Committees in favor of the HRO amendment.”

“IN SHORT………….they are trying to accomplish with this law what Obama tried to accomplish with Obama-care,” Harper writes.

The letter also includes commentary from Roger Gannam of the Liberty Counsel, who was ubiquitous during previous debates on the HRO.

Gannam calls it a “bad bill,” a rehash of the previous efforts.

“There are new words, but no added meaningful exemptions for religious citizens. Business owners who do not want to participate in someone else’s same-sex wedding receive no protection in the new HRO. Women and girls who do not want to share a public bathroom with a man dressed as a woman receive no protection in the new HRO,” Gannam notes.

Jacksonville City Council to push local bills, notable board nominees Tuesday

The Jacksonville City Council starts off 2017 with an agenda light on controversial legislation, which presumably gives the body more time for HRO-related public comment.

That said, the agenda Tuesday evening in Council Chambers is highlighted by notable board nominees and local bills to be pushed in Tallahassee.

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One interesting moment that likely will be passed up: an opportunity to discuss the council auditor’s reaction to the ethics director undercutting one of his audits of a lobbying group that Mayor Lenny Curry’s chief of staff once worked for.

There has been an interesting back and forth between the council auditor and the ethics director regarding this, with each of them casting aspersions on the other one’s investigative techniques.

Nestled amidst a series of reports at the top of the agenda, it’s a good example of how the most interesting game in town often is inside baseball.

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The consent agenda features two interesting confirmations to city boards.

Tracy Grant, the leader of the Eureka Gardens tenant association, is headed to the Jacksonville Housing and Community Development Corporation.

Grant became nationally known when Sen. Marco Rubio turned a national spotlight on the dilapidation of the 400-unit Section 8 complex, by way of introducing meaningful HUD reforms in the Senate.

Grant also endorsed Rubio in a campaign ad seen in the Jacksonville market, which quite likely helped the senator dominate in this area.

Rev. Fred Newbill, who last dipped his toe into political waters by collaborating with Pastor Ken Adkins on a number of fiery press conferences, including one of opposition to the expansion of Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance, is slated to be confirmed to the JEA Board.

JEA’s anti-discrimination policy, which protects LGBT workers, was deliberately not brought up during a Rules Committee hearing where council members fawned over Newbill like he was paying off their student loans.

Newbill apparently has reversed course on the HRO. Yet the fiery preacher was decorously mute when he and JEA Board Chair Tom Petway ducked out the back of city hall without taking reporters’ questions last week.

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As well, the city council is expected to officially approve a series of local bills that the body wants to see move through Tallahassee this session.

Two of them involve drinking. And one involves the school board, which drives people to drink.

Resolution 2016-782, sponsored by Councilman Aaron Bowman, would express support for a J-Bill that would amend the Florida statute so that the vote of the Duval County School Board chair would not break a tie. In 2006, the Legislature adopted a measure for Orange County that dictated that, in counties with between 800,000 and 900,000 people, the school board chair’s vote breaks the tie.

The second local bill, “J-2”, asks for “special zones” in older neighborhoods, such as Murray Hill, Springfield, and San Marco, to lower the required seating for a restaurant serving liquor from 150 to 100.

The bill is similar to a resolution the council pushed last year, regarding the Riverside/Avondale Commercial Character areas.

As with that previous iteration, seating requirements for liquor-serving restaurants in affected parts of Springfield, San Marco, and Murray Hill (with more than half of their revenue derived from food sales) are requested to be cut from 150 seats to 100, and space reduced from 2,500 to 1,800 square feet.

Resolution 2016-828 (“J-3”), meanwhile, completes the local bill troika.

The bill summary asserts that the measure waives “open container restrictions on alcoholic beverage consumption within the A. Philip Randolph Entertainment District during 15 designated ‘special events’ and any other event designated as ‘special’ by the City Council.”

Legislative bill J-3 would amend the Florida Statute chapters regulating beer and wine sales and consumption to provide that for purposes of the application of the state law, the open container law exemption in Jacksonville’s special events district shall apply to “premises” licensed for “consumption on premises” that are either within or located contiguously to the A. Philip Randolph Entertainment District.

Kristin Jacobs: Kratom lobby ‘just like Hitler’

On Friday, Florida Politics brought you the first look at a House bill that would add Kratom to the state’s controlled substance list.

House Bill 183 would add Mitragynine and Hydroxymitragynine, constituents of Kratom, to the schedule of controlled substances, offering an exception for any FDA approved substance containing these chemicals.

Bill sponsor Rep. Kristin Jacobs, a Coconut Creek Democrat who has filed anti-Kratom legislation in three straight sessions, framed this bill as a “fall on the sword issue” for her, while framing the Kratom lobby in the harshest possible terms.

“They have a story,” Jacobs told us Monday via phone. “Just like Hitler believed if you tell a lie over and over again, it becomes the truth.”

For Jacobs, the issue is personal: a legislative quest against a “lie machine … a powerful lobby with a lot of money,” undertaken by one representative who isn’t being backed financially to fight this issue.

“It’s not just what they’re doing here,” Jacobs said. “They’re doing [the same thing] around the country.”

Jacobs, who believes Kratom is a “scourge on society,” expects the DEA to temporarily schedule Kratom as Schedule 1 now that its period for public comment has elapsed; that would leave it up to state legislators to move toward rulemaking in the session.

Jacobs also stresses that her legislation is intended to punish the industry, not the “unfortunate people who [are] addicted.”

That said, she sees no functional difference between the use of Kratom and opiate addiction. Jacobs is comfortable talking about Kratom in the same breath as heroin and the late and unlamented pill mills.

Kratom, said the representative, “is an opiate.” And Jacobs believes it’s used because it’s legal, and “people turn to something.”

Jacobs paints nightmare scenarios: babies born with withdrawal symptoms to pregnant mothers who enjoyed kava tea during their pregnancy; emergency room physicians treating Kratom addicts who are in the throes of withdrawal symptoms.

And, implies Jacobs, it is that dependency on a drug that leads activists to mobilize in Kratom fights outside of their home areas.

“Why do addicts in Michigan care about what’s happening in Florida?”

Meanwhile, says Jacobs, “the Kratom Association stands to lose a lot of money if they aren’t able to continue profiting off the misery of addicts.”

Those “addicts with glassy eyes and shaky hands,” claims Jacobs, are having to go to the same places that sell “bongs and gasoline” for their fixes.

“How come pharmacies don’t sell it? How come GNC doesn’t sell it?”

Jacobs is girding up for a presence of Kratom advocates in Tallahassee this session, complete with “cute little t-shirts.”

Those are the tactics, the representative says, that are being used across the country.

But to her, the fight is worth it.

“How many more are going to die?”

House freshmen to Pres. Obama: light the White House blue

Freshman Congress members, led by Rep. John Rutherford (a former Jacksonville sheriff), called for President Barack Obama to “light the White House blue” on Monday.

The significance is obvious: the blue light denotes support for law enforcement on National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day, which is Monday.

This support is especially critical in the wake of the assassination of a police officer in Orlando on Monday.

“As newly-elected freshmen members of Congress, we urge you to join us and Americans across the nation in observing this day by lighting the White House blue.  Recent events across the country have drawn negative attention to law enforcement officers, and some have even resulted in targeted violence, making it harder for law enforcement to protect towns and cities across America.  Now more than ever, it is imperative that communities, leaders, and our government show support for the millions of public servants who risk their lives every day to keep our communities safe,” the letter begins.

“Each of us has seen and heard firsthand the tireless work by law enforcement officers to ensure the safety of their communities, all while putting their lives on the line.  They serve with little reward and at great personal risk.  It is our duty to support them and their families. We once again urge you to join us in supporting law enforcement officers on Monday by lighting the White House blue,” the letter concludes.

Many of the freshman signatories to the letter are from Florida, including Matt Gaetz, Val Demings, Charlie Crist, Brian Mast, and Francis Rooney.

Demings, a Democrat, is a former Orlando police chief.

Rutherford lauded the bipartisan support among those who signed on.

“Our law enforcement officers represent the best that our country has to offer, putting their lives and well-being on the line each day.  We witnessed yet another example of their daily heroism [Friday] as we watched public safety officers respond to the terrible attack in Ft. Lauderdale.  We owe our law enforcement officers a level of respect and support befitting of their commitment to us.  I thank my House freshman colleagues on both sides of the aisle for their willingness to stand up for law enforcement and hope the President will join us in that effort,” the Jacksonville Republican said.

No word yet from the White House as to whether the president will comply with the request.

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