Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 of 121

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster

Greg Steube picked to chair Senate Judiciary Committee

Proposals to expand the rights of gun owners could fare better in the Florida Senate in the coming years.

Senate President Joe Negron announced Tuesday that Sen. Greg Steube will serve as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee for the 2016-18 legislative term. The appointment now puts Steube in charge of the same committee that blocked gun bills.

In 2016, Senate Judiciary Chairman Miguel Diaz del la Portilla refused hear a bill to allow Floridians with concealed weapons permits to openly carry handguns.

The Miami Republican also declined to hear a bill that would have allowed concealed weapon permit holders to bring their weapons onto public colleges and universities, and a proposal to allow concealed weapons in airport terminals.

Diaz de la Portilla, one of the Senate’s moderate Republicans, won’t be returning to the Florida Senate. Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Democrat, defeated Diaz de la Portilla in a hotly contested South Florida Senate race.

Gun rights advocates are poised to push several proposals during the next legislative session. Rep. Jake Raburn, a Lithia Republican, filed a bill earlier this month to allow concealed weapons in airport terminals.

While in the House, Steube backed measures to allow guns on public campuses and at schools. According to the Miami Herald, the freshman senator said he plans to file a broad bill to expand concealed carry permit holders rights.

Wilton Simpson appointed Senate Majority Leader for 2016-18 term

Sen. Wilton Simpson has been appointed Senate Majority Leader for the 2016-18 legislative term, marking the second term in a row a likely Senate President has held the role.

Senate President Joe Negron appointed Simpson to the position Tuesday. The announcement came as the Stuart Republican announced committee chair assignments for the two-year legislative term.

“Wilton is a conservative leader whose tremendous success in the private sector serves as a foundation for his belief in limited government and the supremacy of the individual, values many Senators on both sides of the political aisle share,” said Negron in a statement. “Over the last four years, Wilton has gained the confidence of his colleagues in matters both large and small.”

First elected to the Senate in 2012, Simpson was re-elected earlier this year when no one else filed to run for the seat. The Trilby Republican represents Senate District 10, and is the owner of Simpson Environmental Services and Simpson Farms.

“Today I am both humbled and honored to have the trust of Senate President Joe Negron and my colleagues in the Republican Caucus. Leading the Senate Republicans comes with a responsibility to continue our caucus tradition of advocating for the success of this great state, and the people who call Florida home,” said Simpson in a statement. “During the next two years, we will continue job growth and economic development by instituting more common sense instead of more government regulation, inspire and provide the means for a world-class education system, and protect our water and other natural treasures that God has bestowed upon Florida.”

Rachel Perrin Rogers, Simpson’s chief legislative aide, will stay on as Simpson’s top staffer and spokeswoman. Brian Hughes, her husband, is an outside political advisor to Simpson.

Simpson is on track to assume the Senate presidency in 2020-22, as long as the GOP maintains its controlling majority in the upper chamber. Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, served as Majority Leader for the 2014-16 role. Galvano is line to be Senate President for the 2019 legislative session, assuming the GOP maintains its majority.

Negron also announced Tuesday that Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican, will serve as the Deputy Majority Leader. Stargel will also serve as the chairwoman of the Senate finance and tax appropriations subcommittee.

“Kelli is a fighter who is not afraid to take on difficult issues,” said Negron. “She is a dedicated conservative with a wealth of legislative experience. Together, Senator Simpson and Senator Stargel will be strong leaders for our Republican Caucus.”

Anitere Flores to push for mandatory recess during 2017 session

A push for mandatory play time at Florida’s elementary schools will once again be on the agenda during the 2017 legislative session.

Sen. Anitere Flores filed legislation Tuesday that would require school to provide “at least 100 minutes of supervised, safe, and unstructured free play recess” each week. The mandatory recess would apply to students in kindergarten through fifth grade, and would break down to at least 20 minutes each school day.

The bill, Senate Bill 78, is similar to a bill that moved through the Legislature during the 2016 legislative session. That bill received overwhelming support in the Florida House, passing 112-2. But it failed to gain traction in the Senate, despite calls from parents and lawmakers to consider the proposal.

Former Sen. John Legg, who chaired the Senate’s education policy committee at the time, declined to hear the bill. The Tampa Bay Times in February reported Legg considered the issue a local one, and said at the time it didn’t “merit a Tallahassee solution.”

A House companion bill to the 2017 proposal has not yet been filed.

Florida Medical Association applauds Donald Trump for HHS pick

The Florida Medical Association is praising Donald Trump for his Health and Human Services pick.

The Associated Press reported on Monday that the president-elect selected Georgia Rep. Tom Price, a critic of the Affordable Care Act, to head the Department of Health and Human Services. If confirmed by the Senate, he is expected to play a critical role in Republican efforts to repeal and replace the current health care law.

“As a physician, Dr. Price understands the impact that government policies have on the delivery of care and we believe he will bring common-sense solutions to the challenges facing our health care system,” said Dr. David Becker, president of the Florida Medical Association.

Price, a 62-year-old six term congressman and orthopedic surgeon, has chaired the House Budget Committee for the past two years. A conservative from the Atlanta suburbs, he has worked closely with House Speaker Paul Ryan to craft GOP budgets aimed at reducing the deficit.

“President-elect Trump has made an excellent decision in nominating Dr. Price,” said FMA CEO Timothy J. Stapleton. “He has spent his entire career serving as an advocate for patients, as both a physician and a legislator.  We look forward to working with him to improve our nation’s health care system.”

He’s been one of the leading critics of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. According to the Associated Press, Price has said whatever Republicans do to replace the law will bear a “significant resemblance” to a 2015 proposal vetoed by the president.

Price has also insisted Republicans can keep protections for people with existing medical conditions, without requiring that all people have coverage or pay a penalty to support an expanded insurance poll.

Trump, according to the Associated Press, was expected to formally announce Price’s nomination as early as Tuesday morning.

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

Several top Florida fundraisers among those listed as hosts for Donald Trump transition event

Donald Trump’s transition finance committee will host a major fundraiser in New York next week, and several well-known Florida politicos are among those supporters listed on the invitation.

The fundraiser, which was first reported by POLITICO, is scheduled for Dec. 7 in New York. According to POLITICO, the $5,000 per person fundraiser will benefit Trump for America, the group funding the transition. Trump is expected to attend the breakfast, according to POLITICO.

The hosts include Brian Ballard, the president-elect’s top Florida fundraiser and a well-known lobbyist, former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, former Ambassador Mel Sembler, and Darlene Jordan.

Crisafulli was a top supporter for Trump, raising money for the New York Republican and helping to bring him to the Space Coast for rallies. His name has been mentioned as one of several Floridians who could land jobs in the Trump administration, and earlier this month he told the Tampa Bay Times he would consider working for him if he was offered a job.

Another top fundraiser, Sembler is the former U.S. ambassador to Italy and the former U.S. ambassador to Australia and Nauru. He signed on to help Trump earlier this year, and was named the vice chairman of the Trump Victory Committee in May.

Jordan, the executive director of the Gerald R. Jordan Foundation, is another top Republican fundraiser in the Sunshine State. She served as co-chairwoman of Gov. Rick Scott’s 2014 re-election bid. Scott was an early supporter of Trump, penning an op-ed in January praising him.

Blaise Ingoglia launches Florida GOP Chair re-election bid

Blaise Ingoglia clearly wants another term as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. And he’s lining up the grassroots support to win re-election.

Ingoglia, the current chairman of the RPOF and a state representative, officially announced his candidacy Monday. The Spring Hill Republican also announced the support of dozens of Republican leaders from across the state, including state committeemen and women from Miami-Dade, Pinellas, and Palm Beach counties.

“Two years ago, when I announced I was running for RPOF Chairman, I did so after talking to many of you about the importance of emphasizing the grassroots in our elections and our party,” he said in an email to executive committee members across the state. “Your support launched us on an incredible journey that included a lot of lofty goals and expectations.”

For a full list of the state executive committee members backing Ignoglia, click here.

Ingoglia was elected chairman in 2015, after Republican activists rejected Gov. Rick Scott’s hand-picked chairman. He had served as the party vice chairman, and was backed by grassroots leaders throughout the state.

He’s hoping that same support will help him win another term as chairman. In an email formally announcing his candidacy, he said he was running again “with the support of many of our fellow RPOF members — the grassroots who knocked on doors and made the phone calls that pushed Republican candidates across the finish line.”

“Now, we’re standing together as we get ready for a 2018 cycle that will determine Florida’s future for years to come,” he wrote. “I cannot thank you enough for all the hard work and dedication you have given to the party over the last two years. I can’t wait to see what we’ll be able to accomplish together during the next two.”

Ingoglia will face Christian Ziegler, a Sarasota Republican committeeman, in the race to serve as the RPOF chair.

Ziegler, 33, announced his candidacy earlier this month.

Repealing PIP, implementing Amendment 4 top priorities for Jeff Brandes in 2017

Sen. Jeff Brandes will once again file legislation to repeal the state’s no-fault auto insurance requirement, saying it’s time for Florida to move away from the troubled system.

The St. Petersburg Republican said repealing the state’s Personal Injury Protection (PIP) system will be one of his top priorities during the 2017 legislative session. The decision to file the bill comes just a few months after a study revealed Floridians could save an average $81 a car if the state drops the system.

“We believe that PIP is not the right product for Floridians going forward,” said Brandes.

Brandes and Rep. Bill Hager filed legislation in 2016 to repeal the law, which requires drivers to buy $10,000 PIP coverage. The proposal, which would have ended the requirement by 2019, did not receive a hearing during the 2016 legislative session.

Brandes is hoping 2017 is different, and thinks a recent analysis that showed consumers could see a savings if the program is repealed will help his cause.

Florida is one of ten states that has personal injury protection auto insurance, according to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation. The program was intended to provide injured drivers up to $10,000 in medical coverage in lieu of establishing fault, but in recent years the number of PIP claims have increased.

In fact, the National Insurance Crime Bureau reported Florida led the nation in PIP Questionable Claim referrals in 2009. And not only was it the highest in the nation, a National Insurance Crime Bureau report found Florida had twice as many claims as the next highest state, New York.

In 2012, state lawmakers approved legislation aimed at curbing fraudulent claims. A recent analysis for the OIR showed the 2012 reforms reduced fraud and abuse, but also suggested the state could save Floridians $1 billion a year if they get rid of the system entirely. The Palm Beach Post reported, however, those savings would only apply if lawmakers get rid of PIP without putting new requirements to offset the impact in place.

And with a host of insurance issues expected to be on the table this year, Brandes said he understands repealing PIP could be a tough sell. Still, he’s hoping the potential savings will help move the issue along.

Repealing PIP might be a heavy lift, but Brandes is hopeful the implementation of Amendment 4, which gives tax breaks to companies that buy and install solar devices and equipment.

The ballot initiative, which was on the Aug. 30 ballot, passed with 73 percent support. While backers of amendment were criticized for putting it on the primary ballot, Brandes said he thinks the decision to keep it separate from the utility-backed solar amendment was “absolutely the right one.”

Amendment 1, the utility-backed solar amendment, received 51 percent support in November, just short of the 60 percent needed to become law.

Brandes said the passage of Amendment 4 shows there is “clear mandate to implement” the amendment as passed. He plans to roll out a bill implementing the amendment in the coming days, and said he is hopeful House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, who supported the bill to get the amendment on the ballot in 2016, will sponsor the implementing bill in the House.

The amendment removes the state’s tangible personal property tax, which taxes solar equipment installed. It also authorizes the Legislature to prohibit the devices from being considered when assessing the value of the property for tax purposes.

Removing those tax barriers means more large, scale commercial property owners could begin installing solar panels or other renewable energy devices. And that, Brandes said, could give consumers more access to solar.

Brandes said he believes the implementing bill “should go through very smoothly.” That’s because it will be easy to show legislators that their community supported the amendment, even down to the precinct level.

In addition to repealing PIP and implementing Amendment 4, Brandes said he will once again take a look at local pension reform.

“We don’t file easy legislation … we file things to do with real problems,” he said. “We think pension obligations are a huge untold story in politics, that they are taking down states and nations.”

Editors note: This story has been updated.

Florida school choice advocates praise selection of Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Florida leaders praised Donald Trump’s choice of education secretary, calling Betsy DeVos an excellent pick.

The president-elect announced Wednesday he tapped DeVos, 58, to lead the federal agency. The choice reinforces his pledge to make school choice an education priority. In September, he pledged to funnel $20 billion in existing federal dollars into scholarships for low-income students, an idea that would require congressional approval.

“Students, parents, and education reformers across the United States should be thrilled by the selection of Betsy DeVos to serve as Secretary of Education.  Betsy is a tireless, fearless, and intelligent national leader in high quality education,” said House Speaker Richard Corcoran in a statement. “I can think of no one better to break down bureaucratic barriers, eliminate the institutional intransigence on school choice, and reduce federal costs and interference in the state and local decision-making process.”

A supporter of school choice, Corcoran railed against the state’s largest teacher’s union in his fist remarks as Florida House Speaker. The Land O’Lakes Republican said the Florida Education was “fixated on halting innovation and competition,” according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Corcoran pointed to the ongoing fight over the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program as an example. The program helps low-income children attend private schools. The teacher’s union has been fighting the program in the courts for years, saying it diverts money from traditional public education.

The Associated Press reported that DeVos’ support of school choice goes back more than 20 years. She was politically involved in the passage of Michigan’s charter school bill in 1993 and worked on an unsuccessful effort to change Michigan’s state constitution to allow tax-credit scholarships or vouchers. She has described that loss as her biggest setback.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush also praised Trump’s decision, saying she “is an outstanding pick for Secretary of Education.”

“She has a long and distinguished history championing the right of all parents to choose schools that best ensure their children’s success. Her allegiance is to families, particularly those struggling at the bottom of the economic ladder, not to an outdated public education model that has failed them from one generation to the next,” he said in a Facebook post on Wednesday. “I cannot think of more effective and passionate change agent to press for a new education vision, one in which students, rather than adults and bureaucracies, become the priority in our nation’s classrooms.”

 DeVos’ appointment is subject to confirmation by the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate. According to the Associated Press, Sen. Lamar Alexander said the Senate’s education committee would move swiftly on the nomination in January.

The new education secretary will oversee implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal law passed last year to replace No Child Left Behind. The Higher Education Act is up for reauthorization.

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

Fidel Castro’s death offers opportunity to reevaluate U.S.-Cuba relations

The death of Fidel Castro reverberated throughout South Florida this weekend, and one expert said it could lead Cuban Americans to reevaluate their positions on the island.

Guillermo Grenier, one of the lead researchers in charge of the FIU Cuba Poll, said the coming weeks and months “will be a time for reevaluation.” Some Cuban Americans, he said, will be faced with deciding whether to double down or take steps to reshape the country.

“The diaspora of Cuban Americans … have an incredible opportunity to influence Cuba,” he said. “Fidel outlived my father, he outlived a lot of presidents. (Now that) Fidel is gone, do you take the opportunity to recognize you can reshape Cuban society.”

The Associated Press reported President Raul Castro announced on state television his older brother died at 10:29 p.m. He died 10 years after a life-threatening illness led him to turn over power to his brother.

“You have this death that has been forecast for many many times and rumored for many others that is actually happening,” said Grenier, who was in Miami’s Little Havana on Saturday morning. “There is jubilation. There is ambivalence. There is mourning. There is all kind of things.”

Grenier was born in Havana, and came to the United States when he was very young. He said his 95-year-old mother is “very happy today.” Grenier, however, said he doesn’t “share that happiness and I don’t share that hate.”

“For me, he’s been not around for a long time. He was alive, but not relevant,” he said. “For me it was just an inevitable moment. It’s one of those moments I talked about with my friends for a long time.”

But Grenier said much has changed in the 10 years since Castro has been out of power, and many of those changes “would not have taken place if he had been in power.”

It is unclear what impact Castro’s death will have on U.S. relations with the small island nation. In 2014, President Barack Obama announced the United States and Cuban would move to restore diplomatic ties for the first time since 1961.

The 2016 FIU Cuba Poll showed a majority of Cuban-American residents in Miami-Dade County favored increasing economic relations with the island. The survey also found 69 percent of respondents supported the decision to open diplomatic relations with Cuba.

But Grenier said many respondents who came to the United States in the 1960s and 1970s still say they would not support relations “until Fidel and Raul are dead.”

“Fifty percent of the equation is gone, and the other 50 percent has turned its back on the initiatives of Fidel,” said Grenier. “Not only is Fidel dead, but a lot of his attitudes are dying. It’s all symbolism. With Fidel out of the way … we have to reevaluate.”

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

Thanksgiving 2016, as brought to you by these Florida lobbyists and political organizations

It’s time to talk turkey. And stuffing, pie and football.

Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the winter holiday season; the first stop in a month of non-stop holiday parties and celebrations. It’s also a day for Americans to reflect on what they’re grateful for, something that is especially important in these tense times.

But it’s also a day to gorge yourself on goodies, sneak a snack in between meals, and loosen your belts while watching the big game. And you can’t enjoy a Thanksgiving feast without a stop at the supermarket.

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual price survey, the average cost of Thanksgiving dinner for 10 people is $49.87. That’s a 24-cent decrease from the 2015 average of $50.11.

The survey found a 16-pound turkey will cost $22.74, or about $1.42 per pound. That’s a two-cent-per-pound decrease from 2015. The American Farm Bureau Federation estimates consumers will pay about 30 cents less per whole turkey this year compared to last year.

Hosting Thanksgiving dinner? You probably made a trip to Publix this week to pick up the essentials. Shopping is a pleasure there, with employees itching to help customers make their meal perfect. When the grocery store giant needs a hand in the Florida Legislature, it turns to Jorge Chamizo, Thomas Culligan, Charles Dudley, Lindsey Napier, and Teye Reeves.

But don’t even think about running to your neighborhood Publix to pick up whipped cream for your pumpkin pie. The store is closed on Thanksgiving so staffers “can share the day family and friends.”

Don’t cook? Don’t worry. With more than 85 million tourists flocking to the Sunshine State so far this year, there’s plenty of restaurants to choose from if your family’s tradition is dinner out.

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association aims to “protect, educate and promote,” the state’s $82 billion hospitality industry. And the association has a team of A-list lobbyists, including Jim Daughton, Warren Husband, as well as Aimee Diaz Lyon, Andy Palmer, and Alli Liby-Schoonover on its side when it needs help pushing the industry’s priorities in the Florida Legislature.

While the holiday is chance to give thanks and reflect on the previous year, it’s also the start of the holiday season. And for many people, Thanksgiving and shopping go hand-in-hand.

For some, Thanksgiving morning isn’t complete without a cup of coffee and newspaper. The Florida Press Association is working to protect the freedom of the press in the Sunshine State. When the association needs a hand fighting for its rights in the Legislature, it turns to Kimberly Case, Samuel Morely, Dean Ridings, Steven Uhlfelder, and Karen Walker.

Many Floridians aren’t just turning to their local newspaper for the news of the day, though. Instead, they’re on the hunt for deals and plotting their Black Friday plan of attack.

The National Retail Federation estimates 137.4 million Americans are planning to or considering shopping during the Thanksgiving weekend. The survey found that 74 percent of Americans plan to shop on Black Friday, while 21 percent plan to shop on Thanksgiving.

“Black Friday remains one of the busiest shopping days of the year, with Americans planning to take advantage of aggressive in-store and digital promotions over the entire holiday weekend,” said Matthew Shay, the president and CEO of the organization, in a statement.

Looking for a good deal? Wal-Mart — represented by The Mayernick Group, The Rubin Group, Pittman Law Group, and Corcoran & Johnston — might be a good place to start. After you battle the crowds there, a trip to Target — which turns to GaryRobinson when it needs help in the Florida Legislature —  might be in order.

The Florida Retail Federation is looking out for retailers big and small throughout the state. When the in-house team of Randy Miller, James Miller, Samantha Hunter Padgett and Melissa Joiner Ramba need an assist, they look to Travis Blanton, Jon Johnson and Darrick McGhee at Johnson & Blanton.

While stores across the state will be slammed this weekend, hundreds of thousands of Floridians will do all their shopping without leaving the comfort of their couch. According to the National Retail Federation survey, 36 percent of consumers said they planned to shop online on Cyber Monday.

That probably means a lot of Floridians will be clicking their way over to, picking up everything from books and dog toys to records and gift cards. The online shopping behemoth is expanding its footprint in Florida, recently submitting plans for a second Jacksonville fulfillment center.

When the digital marketplace needs some help navigating through the Legislature, it turns to Brian Ballard, Carol Bracy and Matthew Forrest.

If you’re looking to make a difference for the less fortunate this holiday season, consider helping out at your local food bank. The Florida Association of Food Banks, now called Feeding Florida, is a statewide network bringing together 14-member food banks across the state to try to reduce hunger. The association has teams at Johnson & Blanton and Larry Williams Consulting backing it up when it needs a helping hand.

And as you consider other ways to help Floridians in need this holiday season, use the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ “Check-A-Charity” tool to get detailed information about the organization you want to give to this year.


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