A.G. Gancarski, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 of 324

A.G. Gancarski

Rick Scott to US House Majority Leader: ‘repeal and replace Obamacare’

On Monday, Florida Governor Rick Scott sent a letter to the United States Congress majority leader calling for the body to “repeal and replace” Obamacare.

Scott’s position on what he calls the “excessive overreach” of Obamacare is not necessarily a surprise, given his historic opposition to the president’s approach to the Affordable Care Act.

However, it is newly salient in light of Republican control of the executive and legislative branches.

“For far too long, it has been fashionable in Washington to say Obamacare can only be tweaked. We have seen debate after debate in Washington about this bad law but nothing has been changed. It has to be completely overhauled and now is the time to do it. We cannot let the usual political games or partisan gridlock of Washington get in the way of immediately repealing and replacing Obamacare with a plan that actually works,” Scott noted.

“The impact of Obamacare has been devastating in Florida and our nation. Obamacare was sold on a lie from the very start. Costs are skyrocketing, people have not been able to keep their doctors and many people have fewer doctors to choose from. The increases in health care costs are at a 32-year high and are expected to continue increasing in the coming months. Recent news of Obamacare rates rising 25 percent is absurd and families simply cannot afford it. We can do better and the families and businesses footing the bill deserve better,” Scott added.

In the five-page letter, Scott advocated for “state flexibility,” rather than a “one size fits all” approach to the replacement.

“Specifically,” Scott wrote, “our state needs the greatest possible amount of flexibility from Washington … without creating a massive government program that makes promises to patients that we could never afford to keep.”

Scott’s letter laid out the governor’s suggestions for replacement.

One suggestion: to repeal the individual and employer mandates, allowing people to choose to deposit funds into a health savings account instead of giving the money to an insurance company.

Scott also urged the allowance of insurance companies to sell across state lines, which currently isn’t an option.

Scott also backs greater flexibility in packages sold, and allowing families to opt for a single plan for the entire family, rather than one plan for children and another for adults.

Regarding the state’s needs, Scott told the House Majority Leader that he’d like Florida to have “flexibility to run our own Medicaid program that uses the state’s successful managed care model.”

Scott would also like to see the elimination of “burdensome” Obama regulations, such as the Managed Care Rule, the Access Rule, and the Outpatient Drug Rule, examples of “intensive but often purposeless federal micromanagement” that privileges federal bureaucracy at the expense of the state process.

Lenny Curry previews 2017 agenda at Meninak meeting

The year 2017 has started off with people trying to pressure Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry into positions he thus far has resisted.

Social liberals want the mayor to offer the kind of full-throated support of expansion of the Human Rights Ordinance that thus far has proven elusive.

And the city’s unions, especially police and fire, want Curry to sign on to putting new hires into the Florida Retirement System — something the mayor has resisted thus far.

Those political forces were in the background as Curry kicked off the Meninak Club‘s slate of meetings at a Monday luncheon.

While Curry avoided making news in his statements, he gave a pretty clear rendering of where Jacksonville’s news might go in the weeks and months ahead.

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Curry’s prepared remarks eschewed those hot button issues, focusing instead on topics ranging from the book he gave his senior staff for Christmas (“Relentless” by Tim Grover, which distills lessons about how to win consistently) to other governance issues.

Among them: the city’s response to Hurricane Matthew, which Curry said involved a lot of planning on the front end to push effective delivery of storm cleanup and other recovery functions.

Curry then pivoted to the discussion of the unfunded pension liability. He discussed the “bold” approach in Tallahassee and through the referendum, sold without “promising voters a chicken in every pot.”

“Straight talk and solutions” got the referendum through with 65 percent of the vote.

Curry then gave an optimistic spin to collective bargaining, which he framed as part of the process, and a means toward “putting [the issue] to bed so we don’t have to deal with it again.”

Curry then pivoted to public safety, and his administration’s moves to remedy “significant cuts” and a “lack of investment” from the previous mayor in police and the Jacksonville Journey, which “was almost cut to the bone.”

The mayor discussed adding more officers, replacing “archaic” equipment, and “investing in these at-risk youth” via the Jacksonville Journey.

Budgets came up next, with the mayor discussing the “very robust budget review process,” including meetings with senior staff and other safeguards.

Jobs: another talking point.

“Our international brand is real now,” Curry said, noting jobs gains ranging from the relocation of City Refrigeration’s international headquarters to Amazon expansion locally.

“Identifying a prospect and going after it,” Curry said, “gets results.”

The pivot from there to infrastructure, such as moves to fix neglected projects, such as the Liberty Street span — a fix started without a tax hike, Curry said.

Curry then closed his prepared remarks with quoting a song his wife and he love: “the best is yet to come.”

And for those interested in Q&A sessions that gave an insight into the mayor’s agenda for the rest of the term, it was.

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Questions from the audience came next.

Among them: a question about sluggish downtown recovery.

“Let me go back and remind you how bad things got,” Curry said. “The police force [budget] was basically gutted.”

Curry noted that, with 160 new officers hired (80 of them community service officers), “we are digging our way out.”

Curry noted the RFP for riverfront development, and his desire to see construction begin.

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Related: a discussion of the Jacksonville Landing.

“The place is a mess,” Curry said, vowing not to “get caught up in the arguments of the past.”

“I’m going to continue to try — to do something with it,” Curry said, but his focus is on “where development can happen.”

“The Landing is embarrassing,” Curry affirmed.

“Embarrassing.”

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Regarding Hemming Park — a recurrent pressure — Curry noted that he asked to take back control of the plaza.

“I just want results, and somebody’s got to be accountable,” the mayor said, noting a final decision hasn’t been made on who will run the park.

“I’ve looked out my window before and I’ve seen drug use happening in the middle of that park,” Curry said.

“There has to be oversight and a clear statement of goals,” the mayor stated, related to park management.

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Curry was asked then about how to deliver on his “ambitious” programs without a tax hike.

“We did infrastructure the first two years, we added to public safety and the Jacksonville Journey without raising taxes,” Curry said, before ruling out a tax hike even for unfunded pension liabilities.

“We’re going to solve it … and we’re going to do it without raising taxes,” Curry said.

****

Fixing “inner city crime” (to use the questioner’s memorable phrase) was on tap next.

Would Curry accept a federal solution?

“I will be reaching out both to Congressman Rutherford and the Trump Administration to ask for help. We have an opportunity here and I will take advantage of the opportunity.”

To that end, Curry seeks to “lock up the bad guys and get them off the street,” working both with State Attorney Melissa Nelson and Sheriff Mike Williams to “make this city safe.”

Curry noted that the city actively chases state and federal money, and a new Department of Justice grant applicable to the Jacksonville Journey exemplifies that.

“The shootings and the violence in this city is what keeps me up at night … if I could go out today and arrest a gang member,” Curry said, “I would do it.”

****

The HRO came up next.

Curry noted his extension of “protections to city employees,” before passing on a commitment.

“Council’s job is to legislate,” Curry said, noting that “the results speak for themselves in terms of job creation,” a statement that seemed related to his administration’s performance, rather than to the departmental directive that offered employment protections to LGBT employees of the city and its vendors.

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Former police pension fund head John Keane came up next, with a questioner discussing stripping Keane’s pension altogether.

“The suit that he filed he filed against the pension fund board; he didn’t file it against me.”

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Curry was asked about running for re-election.

“Love the job. Love what I’m doing. But if I started thinking about re-election, it wouldn’t be the right thing to do,” Curry said.

After the meeting, Curry stressed that he has had “zero conversations” about running for statewide office, addressing the speculation that might be in the cards for 2018.

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Deepening the port came up also.

While the port hasn’t made an official ask of the city, Curry said, the governor is “bullish.”

“When it’s time to move, we’ll be able to move,” Curry vowed.

African-American golfers to be celebrated at Jacksonville black history event

Jacksonville will kick off Black History Month on February 1 with an event honoring African-American golfers at the Ritz Theater in Lavilla.

Sports and Entertainment head Dave Herrell noted in an internal email that his department is “working with the World Golf Hall of Fame, SMG and JAXSPORTS on a collaborative Black History Month event at the Ritz Theatre & Museum.”

The tentative start time for the “program and light luncheon” is 11 a.m.

The Ritz will host a display of African-American Hall of Fame golfers.

The speaker lineup is still being firmed up; a request is in for Mayor Lenny Curry to offer remarks.

‘Breach of the peace’ may be a relic of the past under new legislation

Florida Statute defines “breach of the peace” with language from a bygone era, describing it as “acts … of a nature to corrupt the public morals, or outrage the sense of public decency, or affect the peace and quiet of persons who may witness them.”

Rep. Cord Byrd, a Jacksonville Beach Republican and 2nd Amendment purist, filed a bill Friday to amend relevant statute to remove that dated term … and to offer recourse for gun owners who had weapons seized by law enforcement and have been frustrated in recovering their property because statutory language allows law enforcement to keep weapons seized in an investigation unless a court order is issued.

House Bill 6013 excises the “breach of the peace” language in statute, reframing offenses like brawling and fighting as “disorderly conduct.”

Corruption of the public morals and outraging the sense of public decency didn’t make the cut in Byrd’s rewrite.

Byrd frames this “repealer bill” as an attempt to remove “duplicative laws” and “arcane provisions” from statute.

Meanwhile, the semantic revisions have a purpose.

Byrd asserted, in a Friday conversation with FloridaPolitics.com, that “breach of the peace is used as a mechanism to deny people their firearms.”

His bill seeks to strike a provision from statute: “No pistol or firearm taken by any officer with a search warrant or without a search warrant upon a view by the officer of a breach of the peace shall be returned except pursuant to an order of a trial court judge.”

Byrd frames this requirement for a court order to return a citizen’s firearms as a “statewide problem,” one he has litigated himself, most recently in a case involving the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office.

Breach of the peace, Byrd says, is used as a catch all to allow law enforcement overreach against citizens.

That said, in a case where someone has been accused of a crime involving a firearm, the court order would apply.

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Byrd filed a second bill on Friday also.

HB 175 tweaks provisions related to the Florida Court Educational Council, mandating that “The Florida Court Educational Council shall adopt a comprehensive plan for the operation of the Court Education Trust Fund and the expenditure of the moneys deposited in the trust fund.”

Byrd asserts that his bill “reduces wasteful government administration which will save tax dollars so that they can be used to better serve Floridians not bureaucrats.”

Among other changes, the bill caps administrative costs at 15 percent, and caps employee count at 3 full-time workers.

The bill also requires yearly reporting on the uses of the fund to leadership of the Florida Senate and Florida House.

Jacksonville stakeholders fret over lack of match money for central receiving facility

One of the major talking points of Jacksonville leaders and stakeholders: the need for a central receiving facility for those with mental issues.

However, thus far there has been more talk than action in terms of getting the $7.5 million needed as a match to the $15 million of state funds.

Stakeholders are worried that a golden opportunity is being squandered.

An email from Amy Crane, the program director of the Community Foundation of Northeast Florida, that found its way to mayoral chief of staff Kerri Stewart (via Gary Chartrand) tells the tale.

Crane notes that “there was, and continues to be, concern about [Mental Health Resource Center]’s ability to raise the funds necessary to match the grant. After the articles appeared, I followed up with Denise.  She indicated that she is going to work directly with MHRC to develop a strategy to try to raise the funding. In short. she believes that if Duval County were to be unsuccessful, MHA’s advocacy efforts in Tallahassee over the past two years would have been for nothing.”

Stakeholders will meet in the mayor’s office later this month to discuss a path forward.

Senate bill offers redress for hurricane-damaged homes

Florida bore the brunt of Hurricane Matthew last fall. For homeowners who suffered damage, a particular burden was imposed, via property appraisals that fit the period before the storm wrecked their houses.

In light of that act of God, and those to come, St. Johns County Republican Sen. Travis Hutson filed a bill Friday that would compel property appraisers to reduce the assessment of properties “damaged or destroyed” by natural disaster.

Natural disasters are defined in Senate Bill 272 as including earthquakes, fires, floods, hurricanes, sinkholes, or tornadoes.

Residential properties, in Hutson’s bill, are restricted to the actual living quarters; toolsheds, swimming pools, and such would not qualify for relief.

The legislative threshold for relief: properties rendered “uninhabitable” by the damage.

The deadline for filing for relief: March 1 in the year after the natural disaster.

The property tax bill would be adjusted, on a month by month basis, to prorate the difference between the pre and post-damage appraisals of the property.

The legislation has a provision for those who suffered damage, such as many of those in Hutson’s own district, from Hurricane Matthew.

The property owner must file an application with the property appraiser before March 2018; the reduction would be on the 2018 bill.

The financial impact for local governments is unknown from the loss of revenue at this point; however, tax collectors would be required to report the decrease in collections by May 2018.

President Obama in Jacksonville Saturday, but not for the public

President Barack Obama is taking time away from wrapping his term up to visit Jacksonville for a staffer’s wedding Saturday.

He has no public events slated, and no media availability … almost as if he’d exhausted his quota of such in the Sunshine State during the presidential campaign.

President Obama arrives at Jacksonville International Airport at 5:50 p.m., and will be “fired up and ready to go” 90 minutes later, according to an advisory from the White House.

The arrival and departure of Air Force One are closed to the public.

However, media will show up to film his arrival and departure.

Perhaps President Obama will wave and offer a bon mot so they have sound.

Bill filed in Florida House to make Kratom a controlled substance

Florida State Rep. Kristin Jacobs, a Coconut Creek Democrat, filed legislation on Friday to add Kratom to the 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.

Selling, delivering, manufacturing, or importing these Kratom chemical constituents into Florida would be considered a misdemeanor of the first degree, should the law go into effect.

Kratom has been used as herbal medicine in Southeast Asia for centuries, serving as a palliative and an alternative to opiates, though it only recently has become popular in the United States.

As we noted in 2016: “Traditionally, kratom leaves are chewed to treat a variety of ailments: in reducing pain, as an anti-diarrheal, and to reduce dependence on opiates. Kratom is also thought to provide energy, as well as decrease symptoms of opiate withdrawal and extend the duration of sexual intercourse.”

Concomitant with that surge in popularity: interest of the enforcement state.

President Barack Obama’s Drug Enforcement Administration issued an “emergency” ban on Kratom in Aug. 2016, then repealed it due to a popular backlash the DEA did not anticipate.

Reason, the libertarian website, notes that reports of Kratom’s danger to the general public may very well be exaggerated.

“As further proof of kratom’s dangers, the DEA noted that “U.S. poison centers received 660 calls related to kratom exposure” from 2010 through 2015, an average of 110 a year. By comparison, exposures involving analgesics accounted for nearly 300,000 calls in 2014, while antidepressants and antihistamines each accounted for more than 100,000,” observed Jacob Sullum.

The bill as of yet lacks a Senate companion. However, when first filed by Rep. Jacobs in 2015, the Senate version was filed by Greg Evers.

On the federal level, the Food and Drug Administration has been agitating against Kratom for three years and counting.

Among the FDA actions: seizing shipments of the herb.

On the state level, Kratom has had what may seem like unlikely defenders.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement contended in late 2015 that “a review of information currently available through identified law enforcement and laboratory sources in Florida indicates that Kratom does not constitute a significant risk to the safety or welfare of Florida residents. The Florida Department of Health (DOH) reports no pervasive health issues attributed to the ingestion of Kratom products in Florida.”

We have reached out to Rep. Jacobs for comment; this piece will be updated when we hear back.

Jacksonville council auditor and ethics director clash over Kerri Stewart investigation

Kerri Stewart, the chief of staff for Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, spent much of 2016 under the cloud of an ethics investigation.

During a previous stint with the city, Stewart served as chief administrative officer for Mayor John Peyton. While serving in that role, a lobbying group – Infinity Global Solutions, known during the period in question as “Agency Approval and Development” – got a contract in 2007.

The agreement with what would eventually become the current IGS started as a purchase order in March, 2007 for $85,000, and over the years, expanded to a contract with amendments that grew to $953,000.

The deal was for consulting. It was a no-bid contract. And Stewart ended up working for IGS after leaving city employment, before coming back to the mayor’s office.

This raised questions for a private citizen, which spurred a report from the council auditor as part of what would become an ethics investigation.

Meanwhile, the ethics director, Carla Miller, cast some doubt as to the integrity of the council auditor process.

“I have been told that the Council Auditor’s report did not involve taking any statements from any of the interested parties,” Miller noted. “That is typically how they do it, though — paper audits. Whereas, the IG’s office takes sworn statements.”

As one might expect, Council Auditor Kirk Sherman defended his process, clarifying what he saw as misconceptions and misrepresentations in a December memo to council members.

“I feel a response is necessary, because some statements made by the ethics director and [Stewart’s] attorney were inaccurate and misleading. Ideally,” Sherman wrote, “the ethics director would have discussed the specifics of our audit with me to avoid issuing correspondence requiring my response.”

Sherman takes issue with a number of Ethics Director Carla Miller’s findings.

For starters, Sherman dinged Miller for not acknowledging that the original complaint came from a private citizen, rather than the council auditor’s office itself.

“Our audit report never alleged that any ethics code provisions were violated,” Sherman wrote.

In a conversation with FloridaPolitics.com Friday morning, Sherman said that he wished Miller had reached out to him before crafting a perfunctory memo that was “almost like two pages of notes in her file.”

“I would have had the courtesy of at least having copied me,” Sherman said, noting that the only reason he got a copy was because he was on the TRUE Commission email list.

Sherman also takes issue with Miller issuing sole “blame” to the procurement division for the ever-expanding consulting contract.

The contract and the amendments that led to ballooning costs, Sherman said, were authorized by the housing division, the mayor’s office, the general counsel’s office, and the finance office.

Sherman’s report provides documentation signed by Stewart, authorizing four $100,000 expenditure requests (the maximum allowed without legislation) on May 27, 2011. This date was after the election of Alvin Brown as mayor, with John Peyton closing out his term.

Wight Gregor, who was director of the Housing and Neighborhoods Department and who was also investigated in this matter, issued a memo in early June – with Peyton still mayor – to “increase the maximum indebtedness to the city by $400,000.”

What did the city get for that money?

Sherman told us he saw “nothing tangible delivered” in the “flawed … sole source” deal that ballooned almost tenfold from its original $85,000 scope in just a few years.

The projects in the Northwest Jacksonville district – which included community center renovations, bleachers for a park, building improvements at the Community Rehabilitation Center (which has its own interesting history), and renovation of a vacant medical building – were “not colossal projects,” said Sherman.

Whereas a big-ticket project such as the courthouse might merit investing several hundred thousand dollars into bringing in $5 to $10 million in grants, the work that IGS was doing wasn’t on that scale, Sherman said.

For the kind of investment the city made, “brick and mortar” or “drawing up plans” might be appropriate, but “$400,000 toward lobbying doesn’t make sense” – especially in context of these funds being for capital improvements.

Also concerning Sherman: the lack of transparency in the IGS reporting.

“I didn’t see any reports,” Sherman said.

IGS did provide timesheets in response to the investigation, and we reviewed them.

The going hourly rate from IGS: $110 an hour, which – month after month – seemed padded with extended meetings with city employees, staffers, and stakeholders to discuss what seemed to be big picture concerns.

On at least one project, IGS billed beyond the scope of the contract.

Multi-hour meetings with people like former Councilwoman Denise Lee and Paul Tutwiler, “research” of various components of the projects, and three-hour phone calls with employees of the Community Rehabilitation Center – all of these were billed at the $110 rate.

And even at that rate, IGS was able to pad its billing. The lobbying outfit assessed 85 percent of invoiced hours for “overhead and administration” and another 10 percent for “profit” – leaving aside the question as to how much “overhead” is involved in city hall meetings by lobbyists who are ensconced in the building.

Sherman notes that the city council and the mayor’s office, in 2016, approved an ordinance reimbursing the district account for “ineligible expenditures.”

The matter, at least in theory, is closed.

The news cycle on this story has come and gone. IGS is still lobbying the city of Jacksonville. Stewart is still serving as chief of staff.

However, there clearly is some room for improvement in communication between the office of the council auditor and the ethics director, as their disparate takes on what happened with these allocations and this process suggest.

For her part, Ethics Director Miller offered the following in an email responding to Sherman in December.

“Please read my  report to the Ethics Commission; I did not make any ‘findings.’ I just summarized the citizen Complaints and the letter from the attorney that I had received.

“The Ethics Commission did not have jurisdiction to make any findings as the statute of limitations had run. They dismissed the case for that reason and did not delve into the merits of the case.

“I stand by the recommendation in my report that the procurement processes noted in the audit, especially as to capital improvement projects, should be reviewed by the Office of the Inspector General for ‘better practices, safeguards and procedures’.”

Jacksonville mayor, sheriff’s office prepare for ShotSpotter legislation

Emails between senior staff in the Jacksonville mayor’s and sheriff’s offices offer a unique look at how legislation is nurtured through the process.

The subject of the emails: the ShotSpotter technology that Jacksonville leaders have touted as a possible corrective to the hail of gunshots in high-crime areas.

Ordinance 2016-795 will, among other things, “appropriate $435,001 already allocated in a ShotSpotter reserve account to an equipment purchase account for installation of the test site … acoustic gunshot detection and surveillance technology in a 5 square mile area of Health Zone 1.”

Health Zone 1 encompasses five Jacksonville Journey zip codes, including 32209, which was described by the Florida Times-Union as “Jacksonville’s killing fields.”

Mayor Lenny Curry‘s chief of staff, Kerri Stewart, emailed stakeholders with her expectations as to how the bill might proceed through its three committees of reference: the Neighborhoods, Community Investments, and Services committee on Tues. Jan. 17; the Public Health and Safety committee on the 18th; and Finance on the 19th.

Stewart’s advice: expect questions relative to the Jacksonville Journey anti-crime initiative, rebooted by Mayor Curry early in his term.

“We are not anticipating any/many specific questions related to ShotSpotter; but the committees are chaired by CM Scott Wilson (NCIS) CM Sam Newby (PHS) and CW Anna Brosche (Finance).  All 3 councilmembers/chairs have specific interest in the Jacksonville Journey and so some questions may inevitably come up,” Stewart noted.

Those questions won’t waylay the legislation, however: “Upon successful passage of the bill in the 3 committees, the entire Council will take up the legislation for final passage on Tuesday, January 24, 2017.”

JSO, meanwhile, feels confident enough to begin the procurement process.

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