A.G. Gancarski, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 of 349

A.G. Gancarski

Jacksonville City Council ‘community events’ policy up for review

Jacksonville City Councilmen Bill Gulliford and Reggie Brown convened Wednesday to revisit an issue from months back: “community events” in the council districts.

Bill 2016-489 allocated $70,000 to be split up among the 19 council members, for the purposes of staging educational community events in districts.

For Brown, this issue is critical — his constituents often have questions about city services.

Among the legislation’s terms: city dollars would only pay for internal costs, such as city resources relative to police and fire/rescue, bleachers, and so on.

Though legislation got through after an extensive review process, Brown still has an issue, and a desire to assist community organizations that might seek to host events, with “simple things like stages and bleachers.”

The hard costs to the city for a four hour community event: just north of $2,000.

Brown noted that those costs add up quickly in a $70,000 budget split 19 ways.

“The city should be responsible for hosting activities in the park,” Brown said.

Gulliford noted the fluid distinction between what is and what isn’t a community group, especially related to associations without a formal structure.

This got to the heart of Brown’s concerns.

“At any park, 1000 people can show up, and [police and fire and rescue] are not out there. It’s better for folks to be unorganized,” Brown said, given that an organized group establishing the same burden would have mandates to have a certain amount of public safety workers out there.

Likewise, Brown said, the city permits “block parties” — street closures between the hours of 8 am and 11 pm, contingent on signed approval of 60 percent of residents whose ingress and egress would be impacted.

“Right now, it’s cheaper to take it to the streets than to our parks,” Brown said, noting that block parties are harder to manage than park events and contain the same liability concerns for the city.

Jacksonville City Council moves microlending, ex-offender jobs, travel budget bills

On a Tuesday agenda largely bereft of drama, the Jacksonville City Council moved bills related to microlending for small businesses, jobs for ex-offenders, and a boost for the council’s travel budget.

All approvals were unanimous.

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Microfinance: 2016-486 revives the city’s Access to Capital program for Jacksonville’s Small and Emerging Business program, allowing microfinancing from $5,000 to $100,000 for Jacksonville’s small and emerging businesses.

A sum of $979,380 will be provided for this third-party administered program from the city. Of that money, $150,000 goes to administrative capital, with the balance going toward the JSEB capital pool.

The hope among policy makers: that more loans can be advanced to local small and emerging businesses. The previous pace was 10 a year, and the hope is that more loans — to be granted at an 8.99 percent interest rate for up to five years — can be offered.

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Ex-offender jobs: A watered-down version of a bill (2017-35) requiring that city contractors hire ex-offenders looks poised to get through the full council.

The substitute version of the bill allows contractors to hire ex-offenders who did not emerge from city-subsidized re-entry programs while requiring “satisfactory evidence” of at least an attempt to hire an ex-offender.

Program providers would be responsible for providing a list of ex-offenders with skill sets, and contact contractors after they win the bid.

The Associated Builders and Contractors balked at the original version of the bill, asserting that it imposed an onerous burden on contractors by requiring them to do the legwork of reaching out to program providers — that argument proved more persuasive to council members as the bill worked through committees, leading to a deferral and the current substitute two weeks prior.

Councilman Al Ferraro noted that, while he is “all in favor of helping offenders,” he’s “not for big government,” which gave him pause on this bill.

Bill sponsor Garrett Dennis explained what had happened during the long and tedious committee process on the legislation at hand, explaining that the bill came down to “consider[ing] hiring an ex-offender.”

That was good enough for Ferraro.

Dennis thanked the council for supporting the measure, saying that it shows “how serious we are about fighting crime.”

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Safe Travels: One unintended consequence of a hard cap of $3,000 on travel budgets for council members has been an impediment to traveling to association events, such as those held by the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties.

The issue has percolated for some time, and 2017-97 resolves that issue, with $15,918 appropriated from the current year’s budget for such travel.

Going forward, $20,000 or 10 percent of association membership fees will be appropriated for delegation travel.

Reggie Gaffney draws second challenger for Jacksonville City Council

Despite the election for Jacksonville City Council seats being two years away, a second candidate has jumped in to oppose incumbent Reggie Gaffney.

Marc McCulloughwho ran in 2011 and 2015, is running again in District 7.

In 2015, McCullough drew 408 votes — good for 3.5 percent — in the first election.

McCullough’s entry follows that of Chaussee Gibson, who filed last week.

McCullough conducted a 2015 candidate interview with the Florida Times-Union, in which he outlined his positions on the issues of the day.

Gaffney has not filed to run for re-election yet; what is clear, however, is that people in the district see him as vulnerable.

Anna Brosche, Aaron Bowman gain support in bids for Jacksonville council leadership

On Tuesday, the race to be the next president of the Jacksonville City Council tightened up, with Anna Brosche getting her fifth commitment.

Meanwhile, Aaron Bowman — the frontrunner in the race for vice-president — expanded his lead over Scott Wilson.

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On the presidential side, Matt Schellenberg pledged to support his fellow Republican, joining Sam NewbyAl FerraroAaron Bowman and the candidate herself in support of Brosche.

Brosche has five pledges. The current council vice-president, John Crescimbeni, has seven committed supporters (Tommy HazouriBill GullifordGreg AndersonJim LoveScott WilsonJoyce Morgan, and Crescimbeni himself.

It takes ten to win.

Currently uncommitted: Danny Becton, President Lori BoyerReggie GaffneyKatrina BrownGarrett DennisReggie Brown, and Doyle Carter.

Gaffney, Brown, Dennis, and Brown are all Democrats, like Crescimbeni. They held a meeting last week to hear what candidates for the top job had to offer their districts. They have yet to commit to any candidate, and Gaffney was a question mark until the vote itself last year, when he voted for Crescimbeni, swinging the election.

The other three are Republicans.

Meanwhile, the race for veep is also lively.

Aaron Bowman, came out of Tuesday with six commitments, compared to three for Scott Wilson.

Schellenberg backs Bowman, as does Doyle Carter.

‘Religious expression in public schools’ ready for full Senate vote

Legislation that could extend the concept of religious expression in public schools cleared its second and final Senate committee, and now awaits a floor vote.

The “Florida Student and School Personnel and Religious Liberties Act”  [SB 436], carried in the Senate by Sen. Dennis Baxley, was passed along party lines by the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

The bill, should it become law, would ban school districts “from discriminating against students, parents, & school personnel on basis of religious viewpoints or expression,” with the Florida Department of Education offering policy guidance for the state’s districts.

The bill would allow for “religious expressions,” such as prayer, at school-sponsored events as part of a “limited public forum.” It would also allow “religious expression” in coursework, and also allow for prayer groups and “religious gatherings” that could be organized at any time a commensurate (and undefined) secular activity is permitted, including during the school day.

Baxley framed the contents of the bill a “very essential right,” guaranteed in the Constitution.

Though religious expression in schools historically has been contested, Baxley asserts that his is an “enabling bill,” precluding “variant interpretations of what is appropriate” in the public school setting.

“Students need the advent of this expression in our society … people of faith feel there has been a chilling effect,” Baxley said.

Democratic Senators had questions and quibbles.

Audrey Gibson, whose Duval Delegation Democratic colleague Rep. Kim Daniels is carrying the House version along with Rep. Patricia Williams, wondered how the bill protected students and parents from discrimination based on religious belief.

Baxley, in answering, said “misunderstandings of the law” in the past have led to students being sent home from school for religious apparel, or chided for writing about faith figures, or reading the Bible during school hours.

“Some people overreact in fear of a lawsuit,” Baxley said. “Let freedom reign.”

Baxley said the bill is “worth the risk that somebody may see or hear something they don’t want to hear.”

Gibson continued to press for a specific definition of “religion” and “religious.”

Baxley hemmed and hawed, saying that he was using a “pretty common definition of what is religious.”

“If we can’t define — and I’m not sure what your vision of your faith belief is … if someone has no faith, are they covered in this bill if they choose to express that,” Gibson said.

Baxley said the bill protected those who are “atheist … or some other world religion … or they made up a religion of their own.”

Sen. Bobby Powell, another Democrat, lauded the “noble concept” of religion, but advanced the potential of a “hate group” under the purview of religion.

Baxley invoked unspecified case law, and it was left to staff to discern the definition of religion, as members of the public argued for the bill (“freedom of religion, not freedom from religion”) and against the bill (a concern from a Volusia County teacher that faith-based arguments could undermine the teaching of Evolution).

A definition was rendered, but it was inconclusive.

Sen. Gibson spoke up again after all that.

“Part of the premise of the bill,” said Gibson, is “Christianity.”

Gibson, a practicing Christian herself, asserted that the bill came at the expense of a “very broad … religious spectrum,” potentially creating more discrimination.

“There are many issues with the bill,” Gibson noted, calling the bill “confusing statutory language.”

For his part, Baxley said he wouldn’t chase the “rabbits and red herrings” from Democratic critics.

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The House version [HB 303] had a stop Tuesday afternoon also in the PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee, ahead of two more committee stops before a floor vote.

The bipartisan reception of the legislation could be described as rapturous, with unanimous approval and applause at the end of it all.

On the House side, Republican Rep. Rick Roth wondered if the bill was going far enough, with his GOP colleague Mike LaRosa saying the bill was “long overdue” and that he was interested in “jumping on as a co-sponsor.”

Republican Byron Donalds was so excited by the bill that he “jumped” (as in physically) when he heard about it.

Democrat Shevrin Jones also affirmed his support of the bill, talking of the comforts delivered by prayer when he was in elementary school in the 1990s. His colleague Matt Willhite said that the bill allowed “us to say we are one” and that includes “all religions.”

Daniels’ Duval Democrat colleague, Rep. Tracie Davis, congratulated Rep. Daniels on the bill.

“This is about options. I’m especially excited that there are protections for school personnel,” Davis said.

Rep. Daniels, in closing, said “the bill was placed on [her] heart” because of what she heard from her community, coupled with her “passion for positive change.”

“I say — let the son — s-o-n — shine,” Daniels said.

Jacksonville City Council contemplates crowded agenda Tuesday

There is never a dull moment at a meeting of the Jacksonville City Council. On Tuesday, councilors mull microfinance, ex-offender jobs, and travel budgets.

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Microfinance: 2016-486 revives the city’s Access to Capital program for Jacksonville’s Small and Emerging Business program, allowing microfinancing from $5,000 to $100,000 for Jacksonville’s small and emerging businesses.

A sum of $932,032.65 will be provided for this third-party administered program from the city. Of that money, $425,000 goes to administrative capital, with the balance going toward the JSEB capital pool, which will have $829,000 available after this appropriation.

The hope among policy makers: that more loans can be advanced to local small and emerging businesses. The previous pace was 10 a year, and the hope is that more loans — to be granted at an 8.99 percent interest rate for up to five years — can be offered.

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Ex-offender jobs: A watered-down version of a bill (2017-35) requiring that city contractors hire ex-offenders looks poised to get through the full council.

The substitute version of the bill allows contractors to hire ex-offenders who did not emerge from city-subsidized re-entry programs, while requiring “satisfactory evidence” of at least an attempt to hire an ex-offender.

Program providers would be responsible for providing a list of ex-offenders with skill sets, and contact contractors after they win the bid.

The Associated Builders and Contractors balked at the original version of the bill, asserting that it imposed an onerous burden on contractors by requiring them to do the legwork of reaching out to program providers — that argument proved more persuasive to council members as the bill worked through committees, leading to a deferral and the current substitute two weeks prior.

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Safe Travels: One unintended consequence of a hard cap of $3,000 on travel budgets for council members has been an impediment to traveling to association events, such as those held by the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties.

The issue has percolated for some time, and 2017-97 resolves that issue, with $16,408 appropriated from the current year’s budget for such travel.

Going forward, $20,000 or 10 percent of association membership fees will be appropriated for delegation travel.

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Springfield Overlay: Public hearing continues on a bill (2017-36) that could affect the Springfield Overlay.

This bill amends the zoning code to amend the definition of administrative deviation, ensuring consistency with federal civil rights legislation, offering a process providing disabled people reasonable accommodations from the code.

n 2014, Ability Housing set out to renovate an apartment building in Springfield to create 12 units of housing for the chronically homeless and disabled.

The planning director balked, likening the proposed use to that of an assisted living facility. Soon thereafter, the Department of Justice, Disability Florida, and Ability Housing sued.

The proposed settlement ensures that the city not discriminate via zoning against those with disabilities, including via so-called zoning “overlays” such as Springfield and other neighborhoods have.

To that end, the proposed ordinance would block people from using planned unit developments to “discriminate or violate civil rights,” to quote the bill summary.

As well, the bill would “remove prohibitions on new community residential homes, housing for the elderly, nursing homes, hospice facilities, and group care homes, allow group care homes by exception in the RMD-S District, and to allow residential treatment facilities and emergency shelters by exception in the CCG-S District.”

Springfield residents are less than thrilled with recent developments.

“The board members in attendance voted unanimously to oppose this legislation, on the grounds that the recommended changes to the Springfield Zoning Overlay and Historic District Regulations were drafted without appropriate community input; are unnecessary; are unfairly applied; and are potentially harmful to future development of the historic district.

“Further, the proposed changes do not accomplish the stated goal of the settlement agreement, which is to protect the rights of disabled citizens to live wherever they choose in Jacksonville. Instead, the effect of the agreement is to single out Springfield to be the default and de facto area in Jacksonville for disabled housing,” contends the Springfield Preservation and Revitalization Council.

The position of neighborhood activists is convincing in a vacuum, but the federal Department of Justice is unconvinced by NIMBY arguments.

 

 

Jacksonville PFPF expected to vote on pension deal Friday

In February, the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund Board of Trustees balked at a Mar. 15 deadline to vote on the city’s latest pension plan.

The board had worried that there would not be enough time to review the data of the new plan, which offers raises and uniformity of benefits for current employees, while providing a new defined contribution plan for future hires — offering a 25 percent city match and assurances that death and disability benefits would substantially be the same as they are for current employees.

Since then, the Fraternal Order of Police and the corrections officers had approved the deal, with the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters voting on it this week.

And now, after a prolonged period of negotiations, which included candid emails between PFPF Trustee Board Chair Richard Tuten and the city’s chief administrative officer, Sam Mousa, the board and the city have struck a compromise.

The board is expected to vote on the deal two days after the city’s unilaterally imposed deadline: Friday, March 17, at its regular 9 a.m. board meeting, according to emails between Mousa and the heads of the police and fire unions.

Facilitating the compromise to extend the deadline two days — cooperation of the members of the board not named Richard Tuten, as Mousa wrote to PFPF Plan Administrator Tim Johnson.

“The Mayor has asked me to ask you to please extend his thanks and gratitude to the four (4) PFPF Board Members (Scheu, Brown, Payne and Patsy) who took time out of their busy schedule to meet individually with me and Mike Weinstein concerning pension reform. Mike and I are furthermore appreciative of those members as we believe the meetings were very productive,” Mousa wrote.

If this vote is successful (and if it actually happens, the pension deal will move on to the Jacksonville City Council, whose own members have serious questions about the actual hard numbers in the deal — numbers that have yet to be produced for public review by the Lenny Curry administration.

Curry contends that the deal will save the city money, saying that the 25 percent city match is far short of what the city pays for pension costs for current employees.

“Right now we’re spending 119 percent of for [pension costs] for every JSO employee and fireman,” Curry said. “If we hired you today, we would take your salary and put 119 percent of that in the pension fund. That’s not sustainable …. 25 percent is a fraction of 119 percent. It works. It will attract and retain people.”

“As to when the numbers will be made available,” Curry said, “City Council will have to vote on this, and all of these numbers will be laid out before them, which is how the budget process works.”

Religious expression legislation slated for Tuesday committees in House, Senate

Legislation that could extend the concept of religious expression in public schools will have committee hearings in the Florida House and Senate Tuesday.

The “Florida Student and School Personnel and Religious Liberties Act” [HB 303 / SB 436] is being carried on the House side by Democratic Rep. Kim Daniels and the Senate side by Sen. Dennis Baxley.

The bill, should it become law, would ban school districts “from discriminating against students, parents, & school personnel on basis of religious viewpoints or expression,” with the Department of Education offering policy guidance for the state’s districts.

The bill would allow for “religious expressions,” such as prayer, at school-sponsored events as part of a “limited public forum.” It would also allow “religious expression” in coursework, and also allow for prayer groups and “religious gatherings” that could be organized at any time a commensurate (and undefined) secular activity is permitted, including during the school day.

The Senate Judiciary Committee hears the Baxley version of the bill Tuesday at 2 p.m.

At the same time, the House PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee hears the Daniels version of the legislation.

The Baxley version cleared the Education Committee by a 5 to 2 margin last Monday. If the bill clears committee tomorrow, it moves to the full Senate.

The House PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee is just the first of three stops for the Daniels bill, which also would have to clear the Judiciary and Education committees before getting a full hearing by the House.

 

Bill cracking down on sanctuary cities clears Florida House committee

On Monday, the Florida House Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee approved the House version of a bill intended to crack down on so-called “sanctuary cities” in the Sunshine State, over the objections of Democrats and committee members on myriad grounds.

It is the first of three committee stops for HB 697, sponsored by Republican Rep. Larry Metz. The Senate version, carried by Aaron Bean, has yet to be heard in committee.

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The so-called “Rule of Law Adherence Act” requires wayward local authorities to comply with federal immigration law, giving the State Attorney’s Office and the Attorney General the “right to nudge” noncompliant jurisdictions toward enforcement.

The bill creates a “duty to report” immigration violations for local authorities, while allowing for local ordinances compelling reimbursement of costs incurred on the local level in immigration enforcement.

Duty to report would extend to anyone in government who knew immigration law was being violated, Metz said, though there is an exemption related to educational records — and therefore school staff, as Metz pointed out.

“It’s not really intended that school districts would have a sanctuary policy beyond that federal law allows,” Metz said.

Metz noted that the bill requires the repeal of existing sanctuary policies among cities that have them within 90 days of enactment. The bill provides a civil cause of action for those assaulted or killed by illegals also, against a jurisdiction that permitted that alien to be here.

In discussing the damage potentially caused due to lack of enforcement, Metz explained the Kate Steinle example in San Francisco, noting that cause of action had to be proved about the sanctuary policy of a given jurisdiction.

Metz noted that sanctuary policies, across the country, inhibit the flow of information from local to federal authorities about people in the country illegally.

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Regarding potential wrongful detention of naturalized citizens under this bill, and potential claims bills in the future, as a result, Metz noted that “those are rare occurrences” and that there would be “due diligence” on the federal level, mitigating the chance of error.

“To me, I’m going to get locked up. Even if I have my paperwork, I’ll be locked up,” said Rep. John Cortes, a Kissimmee Democrat concerned with the potential of wrongful imprisonment.

Metz stated his belief in the “good faith” of enforcement personnel, expressing hope that “reasonableness” would continue.

Cortes was unmollified, looking for safeguards in the legislation to protect people with similar names as illegal aliens. who might be scooped up by law enforcement.

Answering a question about a detainer request, Metz noted that the outer limit of such a detainer is 48 hours, except on weekends and holidays.

Rep. Jared Diamond questioned the phrase “facial sufficiency” as grounds for detainment, which Metz defined as “reason to believe … that person is here illegally and ought to be detained.”

A prior felony conviction, over three misdemeanors, or evidence that the person should not be in the United States all exemplify facial sufficiency, in Metz’s conception.

After Metz answered a series of questions on the bill, waves of opposition abounded, presaging speakers expressing concerns about the bill leading to racial profiling and other consequences.

Ingrid Delgado, representing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, noted that “unlawful presence, in and of itself, is not a crime” and that local law enforcement of immigration violations compromise both ability of local police forces to fight crime and their ability to get information from those communities.

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Democrats continued to press their case in debating the bill, even as the committee numbers were against them.

Rep. Cortes continued expressing his concerns, including raising the specter of municipal bankruptcies based on lawsuits over wrongful detention.

Rep. Sean Shaw, another Democrat, was concerned over “our federal government’s recent attitude toward immigration,” giving ICE detainers the “force of law.”

Rep. Ben Diamond withheld support for the bill also, saying that reasons for detainment didn’t reach the threshold of probable cause.

Despite these objections, Metz held fast — and the committee backed the bill.

“If you’re going to have a system of legal immigration,” Metz said, it’s essential to reinforce “rule of law” relative to illegal immigration.

It will move on to the Local, Federal and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee and the Judiciary Committee before getting considered by the full Florida House.

Jacksonville corrections officers overwhelmingly approve pension deal

On Monday, another Jacksonville union — the correctional officers — overwhelmingly approved the pension deal on offer from the city.

Of sergeants/lieutenants/captains, 88.8 percent voted in favor of the deal; the raw tally was 72 to 9.

Of officers, 87.53 percent voted in favor of the deal, with 12.16 percent against; the raw tally was 316 to 44.

The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue workers vote on this deal this week. Additionally, the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund Board of Trustees may vote on the deal Friday.

Correctional officers will get a 3 percent lump sum pay out, followed by a phased-in 20 percent pay raise over three years, and benefits for all current employees returned to pre-2015 levels.

Future hires will get a defined contribution plan with a 25 percent city match.

Defined contribution plans for public safety workers are still a novelty on the municipal level, but what is clear is that these unions thus far have not resisted these changes for new hires.

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