Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 127

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster

Rick Scott launches TV ad taking aim at ‘politicians in Tallahassee’ over tourism, jobs

The fight between Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida House continues to heat up, with the governor taking to the airwaves to bash “the politicians in Tallahassee.”

The Naples Republican released a 30-second advertisement Thursday. The ad — paid for by Let’s Get to Work, his political committee — is expected to air across the state beginning next week, according to Gary Fineout with The Associated Press.

The advertisement comes one week after the Florida House voted overwhelmingly to approve a bill to eliminate Enterprise Florida. The House also voted to adopt a measure to slash Visit Florida funding.

“The politicians in Tallahassee don’t get it. They don’t understand how jobs are created,” the governor is shown saying in the advertisement. “If the politicians in Tallahassee say they don’t want to market our state and we lose tourists, then we’re going to lose jobs. If we lost 2 percent of the jobs in tourism, that’s 28,000 jobs.”

Scott continues by saying the “politicians are wrong.”

“There is not a job that is expendable,” he says. “Every job is important. Florida will compete.”

Scott has been traveling the state rallying support from business, economic development and tourism leaders. He held a tourism rally in the Capitol, and hosted roundtable discussions in Tallahassee and Sarasota this week.

Genetically modified mosquito trial in Keys could begin this year, company scientist says

A British company could begin releasing genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys sometime this year, a scientist with the company said.

Simon Warner, the chief scientist at Oxitec, said the company is hopeful it can begin its genetically modified mosquito trial in Monroe County this year.

The trial, which has been in the works for years, will mark the company’s first trial in the United States.

But Warner said the company has also been in discussions with leaders across the state interested in learning about what it would take to begin trials in the own communities. Those discussions, he said, were fueled in part by the Zika outbreak that occurred last year, when hundreds cases of homegrown Zika were discovered throughout South Florida.

That some lawmakers are interested in learning more about the technology isn’t that surprising. Over the summer, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Minority Leader Janet Cruz sent a letter to then Health and Human Service Secretary Sylvia Burwell and FDA Commissioner Robert Califf asking the federal government to grant Florida’s “state and local governments access to a self-limiting mosquito capable of controlling the Aedes aegypti population.”

“Clearly, our existing mosquito control measures are not adequate,” they wrote in the letter. “We must find and utilize new strategies to both curb the spread of the virus and prevent additional outbreaks.”

The company, Warner said, has had very preliminary discussions with some state lawmakers, who inquired what a trial would include and what kind of community outreach would be needed.

Warner said the company is currently approved to do research in Monroe County. While the trial was initially planned to take place in Key Haven, voters in the small community shot down a nonbinding referendum placed on the 2016 ballot meant to gauge support for the trial.

A second referendum covering the entirety of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District passed. Days later, local officials gave Oxitec the OK to move forward with the trial.

For more than a decade, Oxitec has found its genetically modified insects have served as effective mosquito control tool, effectively reducing the population and slowing the spread of mosquito-borne diseases. The company has seen success in the Cayman Islands, Panama and Brazil.

The reason for the success? The company has figured out how to modify Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to include a self-limiting gene. Bred in a lab, offspring can survive in controlled settings because the water is laced with an antidote that blocks the gene. But when non-biting males are released into the wild, they mate with the local female population. Outside of a lab setting, the offspring can’t survive.

In an urban environment, the Oxitec mosquito can reduce a population within six months. By comparison, insecticides can reduce a population by 30- to 50 percent.

With results like that, Warner — who is in Miami this week to participate in the International Conference on Global Health at Florida International University — said Oxitec is beginning to look at how their mosquitoes have impacted public health.

The company has long believed that reducing the mosquito population will lead to reducing mosquito-borne diseases; Warner said it’s now planning to do research on the topic.

Florida’s unemployment rate ticks up to 5% in January

Florida’s unemployment rate ticked up in January, reaching 5 percent for the first time in a year.

The January unemployment rate marks a slight uptick from December, when state officials reported an unemployment rate of 4.9 percent. The statewide rate is higher than the national unemployment rate of 4.8 percent.

Despite the increase in the unemployment rate, Gov. Rick Scott lauded private sector employers Monday for creating more than 50,000 jobs in January.

The governor made the monthly jobs announcement at Herc Rentals in Bonita Springs, and used his appearance to once again take aim at lawmakers who voted to support a bill (HB 7005) to eliminate Enterprise Florida and a slew of other economic incentive programs.

“It makes no sense to me,” said Scott. “The House took a vote last week, and they said we don’t need Enterprise Florida anymore. That’s going to absolutely kill jobs. That’s going to kill opportunities.”

On Friday, the Florida House voted 87-28 to approve the measure, with more than half the House Democrats voting for the proposal. All of the House members who represent Lee and Collier counties voted in favor of the bill.

Scott was quick to point out that several of those members who voted for the bill attended a 2013 event announcing rental car giant Hertz would be relocating its offices to Lee County. Scott said that bringing Hertz, and later Herc Rentals, to Southwest Florida likely wouldn’t have been possible without the work of Enterprise Florida.

“We’re on a roll, this state is booming. Why would we mess this up,” said Scott. “I’m going to be out there fighting for jobs every day.”

Scott is scheduled to hold a roundtable with business and economic development leaders in Tallahassee later today, where he’ll talk about Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. The event is expected to be similar to ones he’s held elsewhere across the state, and will likely target lawmakers in the Big Bend region who supported the House measure.

The jobs report showed the professional and business services industry saw the largest year-over-year gains, adding 55,900 jobs between January 2016 and January 2017. The report also showed 23 out of the state’s 24 metro areas saw year-over-year gains, with the Orlando metropolitan area once again leading the state with 54,600 jobs during the one year period.

“With the creation of 51,500 new jobs and the second-highest job demand in the state, Orlando’s economy is booming,” said Scott in a statement. “Across the state, jobs are growing and businesses are succeeding, and we will continue to cut taxes and support initiatives that foster further economic development, so every Floridian can get a great job.”

The Tampa Bay region added 38,200 jobs between January 2016 and January 2017, while Miami metropolitan area added 31,800 jobs in the one-year period.

While the unemployment rate ticked up from December to January, the report shows it is unchanged from January 2016.

The Department of Economic Opportunity is scheduled to release February jobs numbers on March 24.

Matt Caldwell raises more than $700K in anticipation of agriculture commissioner run

Matt Caldwell raised more than $700,000 ahead of the the 2017 Legislative Session, building up his coffers ahead of an anticipated 2018 run for Agriculture Commissioner.

State records show Friends of Matt Caldwell, the North Fort Myers Republican’s political committee, raised $412,075 in February. That one-month fundraising haul marked the largest fundraising raising period since August 2016, according to state campaign finance records.

The committee raised $66,000 in January. And according to contributions posted to the committee’s website, Caldwell raised another $224,980 between March 2 and March 6. All told, the committee raised about $703,000 between Jan. 1 and March 6.

“I am deeply honored by the broad support we have received,” he said in a statement. “We far exceeded our pre-session goals.”

Caldwell, the chairman of the Government Accountability Committee, told FloridaPolitics.com in February that he intended to file to run for Agriculture Commissioner in August. That decision is meant to honor a request from House Speaker Richard Corcoran that members of his leadership team hold off filing to run for higher office until after the legislative session.

Caldwell isn’t the only 2018 Agriculture Commissioner hopeful posting big numbers. Sen. Denise Grimsley, who filed to run in February for the seat being vacated by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, raised $735,000 between her Feb. 1 announcement and March 7, the first day of the 2017 Legislative Session.

The Sebring Republican brought $295,000 for her official campaign and $440,00 for her political committee, Saving Florida’s Heartland.

“Denise is so very honored by the support she received in these first 35 days, and while she is working during the Session to represent her constituents and work for a greater Florida, her campaign team will focus on the road ahead to the primary,” said David Johnson, who is serving as the general consultant to Grimsley’s campaign.

Putnam can’t run again because of term limits; however, the Bartow Republican is widely believed to be gearing up for a 2018 gubernatorial bid.

Darryl Rouson, Lori Berman urge Florida to become a ‘Tobacco 21’ state

Two Florida lawmakers want to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco in the Sunshine State.

Sen. Darrly Rouson and Rep. Lori Berman held a press conference Thursday to tout legislation they filed to raise the age to purchase tobacco to 21. The proposals (SB 1138 and HB 1093), lawmakers said, would help lower the number of young adults who become addicted to tobacco and cut down on the state’s leading cause of preventable death.

“I’ve seen many struggles with addiction and its consequences,” said Rouson. “I believe we should firmly protect the youth and teens of this state from the dangerous addictive properties … in tobacco. Protecting them, their welfare, and their health is essential.”

The American Cancer Society estimates there will be an estimated 19,000 new lung and bronchus cancer cases in Florida in 2017. The organization estimates 11,790 people will die from lung and bronchus cancer in Florida in 2017.

“The benefits of this bill are not only for the individual who can have a longer lifespan, but also for our state, because we can decrease our health costs,” said Berman. “This is a nationwide movement that we are proud to be a part of, with two states already on board. It’s time for Florida to lead and this Legislature to make Florida a tobacco 21 state.”

Berman said California and Hawaii have already passed laws increasing the age to buy tobacco products.

Neither bill have received its first committee hearing yet.

State lawmakers applaud Florida TaxWatch during annual State of Taxpayer dinner

State lawmakers applauded Florida TaxWatch this week, hailing the organization for its role in the legislative process.

“The folks that formed Florida TaxWatch had a good focus in mind,” said Sen. Jack Latvala. “And as a result of Florida TaxWatch’s efforts, we’ve turned things around.”

The taxpayer advocacy group hosted its State of the Taxpayer dinner Wednesday. The annual event is meant to highlight issues affecting the average taxpayer, and features speeches from Latvala, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Rep. Jim Boyd and Rep. Manny Diaz. House Speaker Richard Corcoran was scheduled to attend, but was unable to make it, according to a spokesman for the organization.

While speakers used the event as a chance to promote the work they’re doing, some took a few moments to show their support for Enterprise Florida, one of Gov. Rick Scott’s top priorities.

Latvala, who serves as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said at some point the state needs to start thinking about how it can balance its desire to keep taxes low, while still meeting the needs of the state.

“I believe the way we do that, just like the governor believes, is by growing the economy organically,” said Latvala. “We need to bring in high paid employees and get them in to the Florida economy, get them buying homes. And that’s been a function that’s been performed admirably by Enterprise Florida.”

While the program has come under fire in recent years, Latvala told attendees the program was the “creation of Republican leaders.” And before Enterprise Florida, there was a “zero match” when it came to companies putting in dollars to recruit businesses.

“We’ve come a long way,” he said. “If we get rid of our (economic incentive) programs, we’re going into the world in a competition situation naked as a jaybird. And I don’t want to do that.”

Florida TaxWatch has opposed legislation by the Florida House that would eliminate Enterprise Florida and a slew of other economic incentive programs. The bill cleared the House Appropriations Committee last week, and is scheduled to get its first hearing in the full House on Thursday.

“The session has gotten off to a slow start, with not much happening in the next couple of days,” joked Lopez-Cantera.

Boyd, the chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, discussed what his committee was doing, and said the House wants what is best for Florida.

“I do believe with all of my heart, and I know leadership of the House does as well, that we’re all out for the same thing. At the end of the day we want a vibrant economy, we want jobs, we want good education,” he said. “I know that as we move through this process … we share the same goal. This is a marathon, not a sprint. We’re getting closer every day.”

Mandatory recess bill sails through second Senate committee

Call it another small victory for recess.

The Senate PreK-12 Education Appropriations Subcommittee unanimously approved a bill (SB 78) requiring school districts to provide at least 100 minutes of supervised, unstructured free play each week — or 20 minutes of free play each week — to students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

While the bill received strong support from the committee, some members expressed concern they were issuing a mandate to local school districts.

“Who can be against recess? I loved it. It was one of my favorite portions of the day, and I was pretty good (at it),” said Sen. Doug Broxson. “However, this is a mandate and we are telling our 67 school districts that they must do this. I would’ve preferred to make a strong suggestion and see if they could work it out themselves, but it appears we’re not going to do that.”

Sen. Anitere Flores, the bill’s sponsor, said she would have preferred not to have had legislative mandate recess ether, but said “maybe the school districts need a little more guidance with this.”

According to a recent report by the Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability, 11 school districts across the state had a school board approved recess policy in 2015-16.

Eight districts, including Miami-Dade and Lee counties, required recess for students in kindergarten through fifth grade; while while three district encouraged recess but did not require it. But the report found found district policies regarding time and number of days varied from district to district.

“We know recess is essential for the health and well-being (of students),” said Marie-Claire Leman, a Leon County mother who supports the bill. “We know without your leadership, many kids across the state will continue to go without daily recess.”

The 2017 measure has bi-partisan support in the House and Senate, and is similar to one that moved through the Legislature during the 2016 session. That bill received overwhelming support in the Florida House, but failed to gain traction in the Senate, despite calls from parents and lawmakers to support the proposal.

While the 2016 bill sailed through the House, the 2017 proposal doesn’t seem to be getting much traction. The proposal (HB 67) has not yet received its first committee hearing.

fracking

Senate committee unanimously approves bill to ban fracking

The Senate Environmental Preservation & Conservation Committee unanimously approved a bill to ban fracking Tuesday, marking a reversal from previous legislative actions on the issue.

“Florida has such a unique geological make up and one-of-a-kind environment that we should not be putting it at risk by allowing fracking in the State of Florida,” said Sen. Dana Young, the bill’s sponsor. “This is the same sentiment that I’ve heard echoed from concerned Floridians from the panhandle all the way to the Florida Keys – we should not be jeopardizing our drinking water supply or our beautiful natural environment.”

The bill (SB 442) passed with little public comment, with most of the public speakers waiving in support or opposition of the bill. Four of the seven members of the committee are co-sponsoring the legislation, including Sen. Lauren Book, the committee’s chairwoman, and Sen. Jack Latvala, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

“As the old and wise voice of the Senate here, as was announced earlier all four people sitting here are co-sponsors of this bill,” said Latvala at the beginning of the public comment period, before encouraging speakers to waive their time. “I feel pretty confident of the success of this bill. You’ve got the votes here.”

Industry officials did not waive their time, using their time to speak out against the measure. And on Tuesday, an attorney for one landowner said the proposal indicated the proposal could lead to litigation.

Jake Cremer, an attorney with Stearns Weaver Miller, said his firm represents Collier Resources, which manages and develops more than 800,000 mineral acres in Collier, Lee and Hendry counties.

“No matter whether good policy or bad policy, this bill will be a lightning rod for litigation in the state,” he said.

But Sen. Gary Farmer, a trial attorney who spent years representing consumers, pointed out more than 30 cities and counties have already passed bans. Farmer asked Cremer how many of those bans have resulted in successful litigation; Cremer said he didn’t know of any.

Young seemed unfazed by the threat of litigation, saying the bill doesn’t prohibit traditional oil and gas drilling.

Advocates call on Legislature to focus on working Floridians during annual ‘Awake the State’ event

State lawmakers aren’t looking out for everyday Floridians, an advocate for one of the state’s largest labor unions said Tuesday.

“In 2010, Rick Scott said ‘let’s get to work.’ In 2014, he said ‘let’s keep working,’” said Rich Templin, the legislative and political director for the Florida AFL-CIO. “The problem is, Florida is not working for most of our families and nobody in the building is fighting for them.”

Templin was one of several advocates who spoke out during the “Awake the State” event at the Florida Capitol. The annual event generally serves as a response to the governor’s State of the State speech, and this year speakers touched on a variety of issues, including poverty, the environment and immigrant rights.

Citing the United Way of Florida’s 2017 ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) report, Templin said millions of Floridians are struggling.

“They’re doing everything they’re supposed to do, working a job, working two jobs, working three jobs, but they still have to make decisions between food and rent, medicine and child care, decisions no worker should have to make in this state,” he said. “Millions of Floridians are suffering, and the state is doing very little to support (them).”

Templin said the state is at the bottom when it comes to K-12 and higher education spending, and said schools have been “saddled with policies driven by ideology and a desire to privatize education, not by sound educational principles.”

Instead of focusing on programs like health care and education, Templin said state leaders have been focused on “slashing vital programs for big tax cuts for the wealthy and well connected in the process.”

“None of this is working for most Floridians,” said Templin.

Advocates called on Scott and lawmakers to invest in public education, increase access to health care coverage, protect the state’s natural resources, and upgrade infrastructure.

“This is Day 1. We have a lot of work to do,” said Francesca Menes, director of policy and advocacy for the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “This is just the beginning.

Rick Scott criticized for not mentioning LGBT community in State of State

Advocates blasted Gov. Rick Scott for failing to mention the LGBT community in his State of the State address, despite dedicating a significant portion of his comments on the June shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

“We heard about the horror that our state has experienced; we heard about the heroism from first responders and ordinary Floridians, and we heard about the pain of the families who lost loved ones,” said Hannah Willard, the public policy director for Equality Florida, during a news conference after Scott’s State of the State address.

“What we didn’t hear was any mention of the LGBT community. We didn’t hear … that the attack was a direct attack on LGBTQ Floridians in a nightclub in Orlando,” she continued. “Thoughts and prayers are not enough; we demand action. The LGBT community deserves action from our elected officials.”

Forty-nine people were killed, and dozens of others wounded, in a June shooting at an Orlando nightclub. The attack was the deadlines mass shooting the U.S. since Virginia Tech in 2007.

Scott spent days on end in the Orlando area, meeting with families and first responders. And the incident was featured heavily in his State of the State address.

“The days I spent in Orlando following the shooting will always be with me. I talked to many parents who lost their children,” he said in prepared remarks. “The hardest thing I have ever had to do as Governor is try to find the words to console a parent who lost their child, and I truly cannot imagine the grief of losing a child.”

Prepared remarks show the governor made no direct mention of the LGBT community in his speech.

“He called it a terrorist attack,” said Sen. Gary Farmer. “He had the audacity to not once mention the LGBT community that was so torn apart and was the target of a madman.”

Willard called on the Legislature to take action this year to pass the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, saying the law was needed “more than ever before.”

“This piece of legislation has been introduced for almost a decade … and it does something very simple. It would add LGBT people to existing protections into our state, to make sure that no one faces discrimination in employment, in housing or in public spaces,” she said. “Every single Floridians deserved to be treated fairly under the law, no matter who they are and who they love.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

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