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Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster

Andrew Gillum proposes constitutional amendment declaring affordable health care ‘a fundamental right of all Floridians’

Andrew Gillum is calling for a constitutional amendment declaring affordable healthcare is a fundamental right for all Floridians.

Gillum, one of three Democrats running for governor in 2018, announced Tuesday he was proposing a constitutional amendment to declare affordable health care a “fundamental right of all Floridians.”

The proposed amendment, according to a ballot summary provided by the Gillum campaign, would add “a new section to Article 1 of the Florida Constitution.”

“The following language shall be added to Article 1 of the Florida Constitution,” reads the draft text of the proposed constitutional amendment provided by the Gillum campaign. “Affordable health care is a fundamental right of all Floridians. In weighing priorities and allocating available resources, the Legislature shall afford the highest consideration to securing this right.”

The announcement comes as the U.S. Senate prepares to consider a health care bill that, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, would leave 22 million more people uninsured by 2026 than the current health care law.

The Senate plan would end the tax penalty that law imposes on people who don’t buy insurance, in effect erasing the so-called individual mandate, and on larger businesses that don’t offer coverage to workers.

It would also cut Medicaid, which provides health insurance to over 70 million poor and disabled people, by $772 billion through 2026 by capping its overall spending and phasing out Obama’s expansion of the program. Of the 22 million people losing health coverage, 15 million would be Medicaid recipients.

“It’s time for Florida to finally enshrine healthcare as a right for all,” said Gillum in a statement. “There is a public trust for the government to care for its citizens, and our state can no longer be ambiguous about that moral obligation. When healthcare is under attack in Washington, we’re going to lean into the challenge of healthcare in the Sunshine State and live our values.”

In Florida, amendments can be proposed to the Constitution through an initiative petition process. According to the Division of Elections, in order for a proposed amendment by initiative to get on the 2018 general election ballot, a petition must be signed by 766,200 voters. Signatures must come from at least 14 of Florida’s 27 congressional districts.

Gillum faces Gwen Graham, a former U.S. representative from Tallahassee, and Orlando businessman Chris King.

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

It’s official: Jimmy Patronis appointed as next CFO

Gov. Rick Scott made it official Monday, formally announcing former state Rep. Jimmy Patronis will serve as the state’s next Chief Financial Officer.

The announcement, which occurred at Patronis’ family restaurant in Panama City, puts an end to months of speculation about who would replace outgoing CFO Jeff Atwater, who is leaving June 30 for a job at Florida Atlantic University. Patronis, an early supporter of Scott’s, was long believed to be a top contender for the post.

“The biggest legacy you have as governor is the people you get to work with,” said Scott during brief remarks. “I think today is going to continue the Jimmy Patronis legacy of if you … stand up for the right things, if you work your tail off, every opportunity is afforded to you. This is a great day for the Panhandle, and it’s a great day for our great state.”

Patronis served in the Florida House from 2006 until 2014. He spent his final two years in the House as the chairman of the House Economic Affairs Committee.

Scott appointed Patronis to a four-year term to the Public Service Commission in 2015. And earlier this year, the governor appointed Patronis to the Constitution Revisions Commission. Patronis submitted his resignation to the Public Service Commission, and told reporters Monday he had already submitted his resignation to the CRC.

Patronis said was honored the governor selected him for the post, and said he has spent his life trying to give back to his community.

“I truly believe every family that every family, from Pensacola to Jacksonville to Miami to the Florida Keys, should have every opportunity to succeed here,” said Patronis. “That is in my heart, that is what I believe, that’s my commitment to all of you in the room; that’s my commitment to you, governor; and that’s my commitment to the people of Florida. I take this honor tremendously seriously, and I really look forward to serving as your next CFO of this state.”

Patronis will serve out the remainder of Atwater’s term, and could have an advantage over other Republicans if he chooses to run for a full term in 2018. The 45-year-old was tight-lipped about his 2018 intentions, telling reporters in Panama City “there will be plenty of time to talk about politics later.”

“Right now, I’m just focused on doing the best job I can as CFO for the state,” he said.

Patronis will be sworn in Friday during a ceremony in Tallahassee.

Rick Scott signs bill updating state building code

Change is coming to the way the Florida Building Code is updated.

Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill (HB 1021) into law Friday that, among other things, changes the way the state’s building code is updated. The new law, which goes into effect July 1, requires the Florida Building Commission to review and determine which parts of international and national codes to adopt, instead of automatically adopting the national codes.

Florida currently uses the International Code — building regulations developed by the International Code Council and used across the country — as its baseline. The Florida Building Commission adopts the International Code, and then makes Florida-specific amendments and changes when it adopts the Florida Building Code.

Under the bill signed into law Friday, the Florida Building Commission would be allowed to review international and national codes to determine which provisions need to be adopted, instead of adopting the entire code and making amendments. The commission would be required to adopt any provisions necessary to maintain eligibility for federal funding and discounts from the National Flood Insurance Program, the Federal Emergency Agency, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The change was backed by the Florida Home Builders Association, which said streamlined future changes to the building code. However, building code officials had called on Scott to veto the measure saying that by signing it Scott would be abandoning “a process that has worked effectively since Hurricane Andrew.”

“The Florida Building Code is widely regarded as among the most effective set of building codes in the nation,” wrote Doug Wise, the president of the Building Officials Association, in a June 16 letter to Scott asking for a veto. “This is because the code development process established by the Florida Legislature ‘got it right’ when the decision was made to base Florida’s codes on the national model codes. These model codes are developed and updated through a consensus process and are the foundation documents which are modified to address Florida-specific conditions.”

Wise went on to say that signing the bill could lead to a weakened building code, which would “disconnect Florida’s building professionals from the ongoing updates of the national model codes and will lead to a stagnate, out-of-date, set of regulations, harming the citizens of Florida by creating a less safe built environment.”

Earlier this year, Jeremy Stewart with the Florida Home Builders Association told Florida Politics that suggestions that changing the way the code is updated would diminish home building safety are “flat out false, disappointing, and coming from vendors in the process who manufacture items installed in homes, not those who shake hands with the consumers at the end of the day.”

The law goes into effect July 1.

Is U.S. Term Limits coordinating a grassroots campaign against Jamie Grant?

Several state lawmakers — including Reps. Scott Plakon, Neil Combee, and Randy Fine — have received messages from their constituents asking them to block Grant from running for re-election and running for Speaker during the 2022-24 term, saying the Tampa Republican has already served eight years in office and any more would be in violation of the state Constitution.

The push comes just days after Nick Tomboulides, the executive director of U.S. Term Limits, wrote a post on the group’s website urging Floridians to contact their legislator to stop “Grant from cheating term limits.”

“He has not only filed to run for a fifth consecutive term in 2018, but Grant says he wants to stay in the House to become Speaker in 2024! That would make 14 consecutive years in office, almost double the legal limit,” wrote Tomboulides in a June 21 post on U.S. Term Limits’ website.

“Grant must believe he is above the law. He is attempting to justify his actions by pointing to a brief pause in his service from 2014-2015, when Grant’s friends in the Legislature vacated his seat. He was back in his job just 155 days later, mostly missing time when the House wasn’t in session,” he continued. “According to Grant, this meaningless gap started his term limit clock all over again, giving him a fresh eight years-plus.”

Tomboulides wrote a similar op-ed also ran on Sunshine State News website on June 16. Established in the early 1990s, U.S. Term Limits, a Washington, D.C.-based group, advocates for term limits at all levels of government.

First elected to the Florida House in 2010, Grant’s 2014 re-election campaign was embroiled in controversy. In the months leading up to the election, Tampa attorney Michael Steinberg filed suit over write-in candidate Daniel Matthews.

Steinberg, who was married to Grant’s GOP opponent Miriam Steinberg, said the write-in candidate should be disqualified because he didn’t live in the district. At the time, the Tampa Tribune reported that Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey agreed, and disqualified him. However, Matthews appealed, and panel of judges with the 1st District Court of Appeal sided with him.

While the legal battle was continued, the election played. Grant would eventually win the election; however, the House threw out those election results and vacated the seat. According to a Tampa Tribune report at the time, the House cited the months-long and unresolved litigation over the write-in candidacy.

Gov. Rick Scott ordered a special election, which Grant handily won. And since the seat was vacant when Grant won the special election, he won a new term — not a re-election.

That has left some Floridians irked, and they’re sounding off to their state representatives. In an email to Plakon, Casselberry resident Janet Leonard said she was “very disheartened to learn that Rep. Grant is evading the eight-year term limit set in place by 77 percent of Florida voters in 1992.”

“Why does one man believe he is above the law and not subject to these limits,” she wrote Plakon, according to an email provided to “A 155-day hiatus doesn’t change the fact that he’s been in office for each of eight consecutive years. As my state representative, you should stop grant from cheating term limits and becoming a future Speaker.”

In another email, Longwood resident Albert Simpson tells Plakon that “term limits are an essential part of Florida government that stop elected officials from abusing their power.” He goes on to ask Plakon to tell Grant to step down from office instead of violating term limits.

Grant is one of four candidates in the running to be the Speaker of the House beginning in 2022, if Republicans keep their majority. Grant and Rep. Paul Renner, who was elected in a special election in April 2015, are considered to be the leading contenders for the post.

The freshman GOP caucus is expected to vote for its leader, and eventual Speaker, during a meeting in Central Florida on June 30.

Rick Scott remains tight-lipped about U.S. Senate bid

Gov. Rick Scott remains tight-lipped about his 2018 plans, telling CNN he won’t make any decision about the U.S. Senate race until “later.”

“I’ve always said the same thing: It’s 2017. The race is in 2018. I won’t make a decision until later,” said Scott during an interview with Erin Burnett on her show Erin Burnett OutFront. “Politicians seem to worry about their next job. I’ve got 570 days to go in this job. I’m trying to make Florida No. 1 for jobs, No. 1 for people being safe … and No. 1 for education.”

Scott is widely believed to be considering a U.S. Senate run in 2018. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson has already said he plans to run for re-election.

The Naples Republican has been boosting his national profile for months now. In May, he announced he would chair the New Republican, a federal super PAC aimed rebranding the Republican Party and helping President Donald Trump.

The super PAC was founded by GOP strategist Alex Castellanos, and several Scott allies have been tapped to oversee the day-to-day operations. Melissa Stone, the governor’s former chief-of-staff and campaign manager of his successful 2014 re-election campaign, serves as the executive director; while Taylor Teepel, served in the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and spent two years as former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s chief of staff, is New Republican’s finance director.

If Scott decides to run, he’ll have a big-name backer. President Donald Trump has encouraged Scott to run on several occasions, including last week when they were in Miami to announce the president’s Cuba policy.

“He’s doing a great job,” the president told the crowd. “I hope he runs for the Senate.”

Scott told Burnett that wasn’t the first time Trump put him on the spot, telling Burnett that Trump “did the same thing … a week and a half ago” when he was with him at an infrastructure conference.

Matt Caldwell releases video highlighting #2LaneTravels Work Days Tour

Rep. Matt Caldwell spent Friday afternoon elbow deep in shark carcasses.

The North Fort Myers Republican heaved the sharks onto a scale, weighed them and packed them back in ice, preparing them to be shipped. It was a dirty job in an industry that he will oversee if elected Agriculture Commissioner in 2018.

Caldwell kicked off his #2LaneTravels Work Days at Key Largo Fisheries in Key Largo on Friday. The statewide tour is a chance for Caldwell to showcase the industries that the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services oversees.

“The Commissioner of Agriculture oversees all the blue collar jobs in Florida. If I’m going to be in charge of overseeing and regulating these jobs, I need to understand what goes into it,” said Caldwell. “The people who end up at top are the ones who started in the mail room. For me, the same thing is true here, if I can do the best job I can … if I’m blessed to come out on top, I have to understand (the jobs).”

Work days are a political tradition in the Sunshine State. Bob Graham, the state’s former Democratic governor and senator, made them a staple of his political career.

“Everyone knows Gov. Graham and his work days,” said Caldwell. “(It showed he) wasn’t afraid of doing hard work and was committed to understanding Florida top to bottom.”

Gov. Rick Scott held several work days during his first term in office, including selling doughnuts in Jacksonville and working as a park ranger at Hillsborough River State Park. Gwen Graham, a former U.S. and Democratic candidate for governor, is following in her father’s footsteps and doing her own workdays, including installing rooftop solar panels.

For Caldwell, the work days serve a dual purpose. While it helps it him better understand Florida, he’s also hopeful it will help Floridians better understand what the Agriculture Commissioner does.

“When you go around and try to explain to people who aren’t farmers, I remind them of the show ‘Dirty Jobs,’” he said. “Pretty much everything he does is what the Commissioner’s Office oversees.”

Caldwell said he expects future work days to include working on cattle ranches, with timber crews, and in tire shops.

Caldwell is one of four Republicans vying for their party’s nomination to replace Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in 2018. Sen. Denise Grimsley, former state Rep. Baxter Troutman, and Paul Paulson have also filed to run.

Putnam, who can’t run for re-election in 2018 because of term limits, is running for governor.

Poll: Daniel Perez has 24-point lead over Jose Mallea in HD 116 race

Daniel Perez has a big lead over Jose Mallea, at least according to one poll of House District 116 voters.

But the same survey shows more than half of Republican voters in the South Florida House district remain undecided with about one month to go before the special primary to replace Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, who resigned his seat effective Sept. 26 to run in Senate District 40.

The poll conducted by McLaughlin & Associates from June 13 to June 15 shows Perez with a 24-point lead over Mallea. The survey of 234 likely Republican special election voters was done by phone, and 62 percent of the interviews were conducted in Spanish.

According to a polling memo, 37 percent of respondents said they would vote for Perez, compared to 13 percent who picked Mallea. Fifty-one percent of respondents said they were still undecided.

The survey had a margin of error of 6.4 percent.

According to the memo, voters were “then given various statements about both candidates (positive and negative), which included topics such as personal backgrounds, issue positions, Gov. Jeb Bush’s endorsement of Jose Mallea and the reports about Perez and Mallea in regards to Cuba as published in the Miami Herald and Miami New Times.”

Once voters took that into account, pollsters wrote that Perez’s “24-point margin increases significantly, with voters selecting him with an outright majority of the vote (passes 50%).”

Perez, a political newcomer, has raised $83,450 in his bid to replace Diaz in House District 116. He the first week of June with $35,418 cash on hand.

By comparison, Mallea has raised $140,156 and ended the first week of June with $88,488 cash on hand. A long-time political operative, he’s also racked up a series of big name endorsements, including Bush and former House Speaker Will Weatherford.

The special primary is July 25, with the general election scheduled on Sept. 26.

Rules changes sparked Byron Donalds to seek Speakership

Byron Donalds started thinking about running for Speaker early on in his legislative career.

He knew he could be a voice for change and offer a different perspective than some of his classmates, but also knew the traditional method for electing a leader meant the Speakership was unlikely for a lesser known freshman. Then the rules changed; and in some ways, so did the state of the race.

When members voted to change the rules to prohibit speaker candidates from campaigning or accepting pledges before June 30, Donalds said he decided “it was something to take on.”

As the Speaker’s race speeds toward a June 30 vote, the 38-year-old Naples resident is one of five freshmen —including Randy Fine, Erin Grall, Jamie Grant and Paul Renner — trying to make the case for why he is the best the person for the job.

“No. 1, I think I’m willing to take on major issues, like education and tort reform, things that are critical to the future of the state,” said Donalds in an interview. “Secondly, I think I resonate well with the people in general.”

As a freshman lawmaker, Donalds has made a name for himself as someone who is willing to take on tough, even unpopular issues, from proposing changes to the state’s Sunshine Law to supporting sweeping changes to education policy.

His commitment to education policy and school choice is no secret. He mulled a run for Collier County school board in 2012, but opted instead to run for Congress when a seat opened up. His wife, Erika, ended up winning a school board seat and is now a member of the Constitution Revision Commission. Together they played an active role in getting Mason Classical Academy, a Collier County charter school, off the ground. Donalds served on its board until he went to Tallahassee.

And Donalds isn’t a stranger to tough campaigns, either. He was one of six Republicans who ran in Florida’s 19th Congressional District in 2012. A relative unknown back then, he won Collier County and made a good showing, capturing 14 percent of the total vote. By comparison, Trey Radel, the Fort Myers Republican who would go on to win the general election, won the primary with just 30 percent of the vote.

He easily won his House District 80 race, despite another tough primary. But unlike those races, Donalds said it’s tough to gauge where he stands in the race for Speaker.

That’s because under new Republican conference rules, candidates may not directly or indirectly solicit or accept any “formal or informal pledge of support” prior to June 30. And Donald said acting within the rules means he’s not asking for votes, like he would if he were if he were a candidate for any other type of office.

Still, Donalds said he thinks he’s been received warmly and plans to “just keep talking to people” as the vote approaches. And Donalds sees the push for a secret ballot, instead of accepting pledge cards, to “transformational in and of itself.”

“I think you show who you are by your work, and talk to members about what you’re trying to accomplish,” said Donalds. “In our political world, the messenger matters, it just does. I’m a little different. I’m not the prototypical Republican. It shows the depth of our party and it shows the depth of our Legislature.”


Could Erin Grall become ‘Madam Speaker?’

Erin Grall first thought about making a run for legislative leadership during the 2016 election cycle.

At the time, she said it didn’t seem like there would be a chance for her to run for Speaker. But then Republican members voted to change the rules governing the election of their leader. Now every freshman had a full session to make an impression before the real campaigning was supposed to start.

“When the rules changed, I saw it as an opportunity to work really hard … and get to know my classmates and let them get to know me,” she said in an interview Wednesday.  “I feel like that’s the best approach to servant leadership.”

As the Speaker’s race speeds toward a June 30 vote, the 39-year-old Vero Beach attorney is one of five members of the Republican freshman caucus running for Speaker. If elected, Grall will be the first female to serve in the position.

Grall said that isn’t the only reason why she’s running, but acknowledged that she would offer a “new and different perspective.”

“I very much believe that role models are important. To the extent that I could get other women involved in the process, I think it’s important (they are involved,)” she said. “Our perspective is a little different. I think that it is lost in the process. It is important. I believe I was successful, but I think some women don’t feel there is going to be support.”

Grall was elected in 2016 after a tough primary election in House District 54. Four Republicans, including Grall, were vying to replace Debbie Mayfield, who was term-limited and running for the Florida Senate.

The House District 54 race marked the second time Grall has run for office. She ran in House District 29 in 2010, losing the race to Rep. Tom Goodson by just 1 percentage point. It was that race, though, that made Grall realize she wanted to be in public service.

Tough races, both in 2010 and again in 2016, have helped shape Grall. She said it’s shown constituents, as well as her colleagues in the Legislature and others in The Process, that she has a strong center and is a “voice for advocacy.”

Grall said she has started to have discussions with her colleagues about her candidacy in a more open way. She said she thought having discussions about it “during session could have provided a distraction,” and has recently started talking to members about her vision for the future.

“My conversation is about how do we bring new members to a collective vision of a 20-year plan, and not a 2-year election cycle,” she said.

That means building on the ideas put forward by current leadership and making sure future classes understand that vision; looking at ways to make sure “each and every member’s talents are being utilized” to their best potential; and offer training and mentoring to people who want it.

With about two weeks until the vote, Grall said she was “not certain” about her chances. Under new Republican conference rules, candidates for the office of Republican Leader-designate may not directly or indirectly solicit or accept any “formal or informal pledge of support” prior to June 30.

While Grall might not be willing to handicap her chances, a push for a secret ballot come election day might be to her benefit. Grall said that method will “allow people to vote for the best people to serve the class and Florida.”

Three candidates — Randy Fine, Jamie Grant and Paul Renner — have been in the race for a significant period of time, while Byron Donalds, like Grall, is a relatively recent entrant into the race.

Grall said there has been value in the conversations she has been having, and it is clear her colleagues “have a great deal of respect” for her. She said she’s hopeful that will translate to success come June 30.

“I know I will be able to work with all of them in success for Florida,” she said.


Rick Scott vetoes higher education bill, priority for Joe Negron

Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a wide-sweeping higher education bill, saying the legislation “impedes the ability of state colleges to meet the needs of the communities and families they serve.”

The bill (SB 374) was a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron, who has made improving the State University System a cornerstone of his term as Senate President.

The bill, among other things, enhanced policy and funding options for state universities to “recruit and retain exemplary faculty, enhance the quality of professional and graduate schools, and upgrade facilities and research infrastructure,” according to a May 5 conference report. It also restructured the governance of the Florida College System and modified “the mission of the system and its institutions.”

Scott appeared to take issue with the provisions dealing with the state college system. In a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner explaining his veto, Scott said the legislation “impedes the State College System’s mission.”

“This legislation impedes the State College System’s mission by capping the enrollment level of baccalaureate degrees and unnecessarily increasing red tape. This interference impedes the ability of state colleges to meet the needs of the communities and families they serve,” he wrote. “In addition to this legislation, the total budget of the State College System was cut by $26.7 million during the 2017 Regular Session.”

Scott went on to say that while the bill makes “positive changes to several State University System programs, and there are many provisions I think would be good for students, it does so at the expense of the Florida College System.”

Negron said he fundamentally disagrees with that assessment.

“I fundamentally disagree that SB 374 makes positive changes to our universities at the expense of Florida’s community colleges. Like Governor Scott, many members of the Senate attended our state’s community colleges and we recognize the vital role they play in our public education system,” said Negron. “For that very reason, we crafted SB 374 to further elevate Florida’s nationally-ranked community colleges through a renewed focus on their core mission – on-time completion of vital associate degrees and workforce credentials that prepare students for jobs in communities across our state.”

In addition to changes to the state university and state college systems, the bill also increased student financial aid and tuition assistance by expanding the Florida Bright Futures Academic Scholars award to cover 100 percent of tuition and specified fees, plus $3000 per fall and spring semester for textbooks and other college-related expenses; expanding the Benacquisto Scholarship Program to include eligible students graduating from out-of-state; and establishing the Florida Farmworker Student Scholarship Program.

In his veto letter, Scott said the expansion of Bright Futures will still occur in fiscal 2017-18.

“Because this important expansion currently exists in the budget and proviso language in SB 2500, Florida’s students will still benefit from this critical program,” wrote Scott. “I urge the Legislature to pass legislation that revisits these issues and expands Bright Future Scholarships permanently while recognizing the importance of both our state colleges and universities in the 2018 Legislative Session.”

Negron said his travels across the state have taught him the importance of Bright Futures, and said the governor’s veto makes advance planning “much more difficult.

“As I have traveled the state talking to families, I have learned what an important role Bright Futures plays as students plan their financial investment in a college or university education,” he said. “Students and families deserve certainty when making these important decisions, and today’s veto makes advance planning much more difficult.”

The veto comes just days after the end a Special Session, where Scott saw many of his priorities approved. While the Senate backed Scott throughout the regular Session, there appeared to be some tension between the Senate and the governor during the three-day special session.

The special session also saw a reconciliation between Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who were often at odds with each other throughout the regular session.

Scott and Corcoran embarked on a one-day, multi-city victory tour Tuesday to highlight the legislative victories. A spokeswoman for Negron said Tuesday that Negron had already departed for a prior commitment in California before the events were confirmed, but said he “looks forward to attending future events with the Governor and Speaker Corcoran to discuss the important accomplishments of the 2017 Session.”

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