Danny McAuliffe, Author at Florida Politics

Danny McAuliffe

Retailers optimistic about holiday season

Sunshine State sellers should beat 2017’s year-end shopping sales, according to the Florida Retail Federation, the state’s premier vendor association.

That’s welcome news to Florida retailers, who typically rely on the swift-approaching days of festivities for 20-40 percent of their yearly sales.

And “this time of year shines the spotlight even brighter on retailers and their impact,” FRF President and CEO Scott Shalley told reporters Wednesday.

FRF anticipates holiday sales to increase 4.5 percent from last year, a result of strong statewide economic indicators like low unemployment, record-breaking tourism and healthy consumer confidence.

“Holiday shopping is vital to the success of Florida’s retail industry and we are excited about the continued growth in sales for 2018,” added Shalley.

Healthy national projections paint a good image for Florida retailers, who typically outperform or match the country’s expectations.

Across the U.S., consumers on average are anticipated to spend more than $1,000 on holiday items in 2018, a significant increase from last year’s $967 total. Gifts comprise more than half of that projection, with other holiday accessories like food, decorations, flowers, and personal gifts making up the rest. This forecast excludes restaurant and gasoline sales.

The National Retail Federation, which conducts a survey to gauge the country’s shopping habits and is responsible for the national sales projections, predicts 55 percent of Americans will split their purchases evenly online and in department stores.

Meanwhile, a smaller majority should open their pocketbooks in discount stores, with around 44 percent going to grocery stores, 33 percent to clothing stores and 24 percent to electronics stores.

Pomsies, Fur-Real Pets, the Fortnite Version of Monopoly and Hatchimals should join perennial bestsellers like Barbies and LEGOS and Nerf Toys, Shalley noted.

As well, any accessory tied to the “Harry Potter” and “Jurassic World” movies or the Fortnite video game could see popular demand.

According to national projections, most shopping will be started ahead of December.

A great majority (60 percent) of those surveyed by the NRF said they’d wait until November to get going on their shopping lists. The bulk of the remaining respondents said they’d start as early as September (18 percent) or October (21 percent).

A piece of advice from FRF: Don’t hold out for “better” deals, as retailers are evolving with consumers who overwhelmingly choose to start shopping weeks in advance of the big end-of-year holidays, and are being careful not to overstock on inventory.

In Florida, retail jobs account for one out of every five occupations, employing about 2.1 million Floridians in total.

Shalley attributed the size of the state’s industry in part to Florida’s healthy tourism numbers, expected to continue to grow.

“Tourism in Florida plays a huge role in the retail industry,” Shalley said, saying many tourists “leave the state with more than they arrive with.”

David Simmons selected Senate President Pro Tempore

State Sen. David Simmons is primed to be the upper chamber’s second-in-command during the 2019 and 2020 Legislative Sessions.

Senate President-elect Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, on Wednesday announced his selection of the Longwood Republican to fill the role.

The Senate is expected to approve Simmons’ appointment on Tuesday, when the chamber meets for Organizational Session.

Simmons is a longtime state lawmaker, having served an eight-year stint in the state House before being elected to the Senate in 2010. During his first term in the Senate, Simmons served as Majority Whip, another leadership role.

The Pro Tempore “is responsible for ensuring we abide by the letter and spirit of the Senate Rules to ensure all Senators have the opportunity to advocate for their constituents,” Galvano wrote in a memo announcing the selection to his chamber colleagues.

“We share a love of history and an appreciation for the rules and procedures that govern the legislative process,” Galvano continued, noting Simmons previously chaired the Senate Rules Committee. “As President Pro Tempore he will ensure we maintain the high standards of fair and open civil discourse expected of the Florida Senate.”

Simmons has been a “reliable partner” in working through difficult policy issues presented to lawmakers, added Galvano.

“We have all seen David’s unmatched work ethic and tireless determination to fiercely advocate for the issues and causes he supports,” said Galvano. “However, those of us who have served with David in both the House and the Senate have also witnessed the countless occasions where he demonstrates the same tenacity and dedication when speaking up for his fellow Representatives or Senators if he feels that a colleague has been treated unfairly.”

Incoming House Speaker Jose Oliva announced his leadership team last week, along with committee assignments.

Snubbed by Amazon: Lack of LGBTQ protections hurt Florida, group says

Online retail giant Amazon won’t be setting up its new headquarters in any Florida city.

Why? Equality Florida is pointing to the absence of statewide non-discrimination policies for the LGBTQ community.

Under current state law, it’s still legal to discriminate against LGBT individuals in employment, housing and public accommodations. Statewide civil rights protections — provided in the 1992 Florida Civil Rights Act — only prevent discrimination based upon race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age, handicap, or marital status.

Miami was among the 20 cities that made Amazon’s shortlist for a new headquarters search. But the company announced Tuesday that it will set up its new headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, and Queens, New York.

In a USA Today analysis of cities that didn’t make the cut, the publication faulted Miami’s transportation network, along with Florida’s lack of uniform LGBTQ protections.

It’s estimated that a majority of Floridians, about 60 percent, still are covered under updated human rights ordinances that include LGBT civil rights protections in the 12 municipalities that have them.

But “the reality is the patchwork quilt of municipalities with full protections next to ones with none is unacceptable,” said Nadine Smith, who heads Equality Florida, the state’s leading LGBTQ rights organization. 

Companies like Amazon search for “diverse places that provide a good quality of life for their employees, not a roulette wheel of equality for some but not all,” Smith added.

Indeed, the request for proposal issued from Amazon to cities during its highly publicized quest for a new headquarters listed the “presence and support of a diverse population” as a “key preference and decision driver.”

In contrast to the Sunshine State, both Virginia and New York have statewide LGBTQ protections, Smith noted. Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have similar provisions.

The recent HQ2 decision is sure to resurface during the 2019 Legislative Session, when the near-annual, bipartisan push to extend civil rights protections to LGBTQ Floridians returns. 

A lobbyist for Florida Competes, a growing coalition of more than 450 local businesses and at least 12 Fortune 500 companies, told Florida Politics in April that the protections, known colloquially as the Competitive Workforce Act, would be filed again ahead of next year’s lawmaking session.

But it’s too early to tell whether legislative leaders will consider any changes to the state’s civil rights code.

In 2018, the Competitive Workforce Act failed to reach a committee, despite carrying support from 45 percent of the state Legislature. 

Resistance, according to those backing the proposals, comes from some lawmakers who contend that any changes to civil rights could lead to an uptick in lawsuits, or that any increased protections would cause some businesses in Florida to leave.

Hurricane Michael unlikely to affect population growth

Hurricane Michael probably won’t change the trajectory of the Florida’s population, according to state economists.

The Florida Demographic Estimating Conference, an arm of the Legislative Office of Economic and Demographic Research, recently adopted a revised population growth projection: About 14,000 more people are expected to set up residency in the Sunshine State by April 2019 than previously thought.

The increased estimate reflects “stronger residential electric meter growth than anticipated in July,” according to the panel’s executive summary. The growth is attributed to “mostly to net migration, as the forecast for natural increase remained relatively unchanged.”

Meanwhile, Hurricane Michael, the powerful Category 4 storm that prompted an emergency disaster declaration in 16 counties, is “unlikely” to negatively affect overall population growth. 

“The population of the 16 disaster-declared counties represents 3.9 percent of the state’s population, and the 6 hardest hit counties represent 1.5 percent of the state’s population,” reads the executive summary.

“There will likely be some shifting among counties and cities,” it adds, but not enough to merit a “discrete adjustment … to the forecast.”

In total, Florida is projected to add nearly 330,000 new residents by April 2019, upping the forecasted statewide population to about 21.1 million from the current 

Similar yearly increases — “analogous to adding a city slightly larger than Orlando every year”— are expected through 2024.

The panel pointed to a large discrepancy between the state’s forecast and the U.S. Census projection.

The latest Florida growth estimate from the Census is about 420,800 persons higher than what the state recently adopted.

The Census continually produces projections much higher than what’s adopted by the state, and the conference said it will aim to find out why, continuing its efforts to identify how the differing underlying methodologies contribute to the gap between the two sets of estimates.

Adam Putnam invites wounded veterans to fishing, hunting excursions

The state offers a unique experience for wounded veterans to connect with each other on the home front.

And Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is helping get the word out about the program — Operation Outdoor Freedom — as state offices observe Veterans Day.

“Operation Outdoor Freedom is a special way of connecting the natural resources and beauty our state is blessed with to the men and women of our armed services who have courageously sacrificed for our nation,” Putnam said.

The term-limited Agriculture Commissioner established the recreational and rehabilitative program in 2011 to provide wounded vets with opportunities to connect outdoors in state forests and other holdings at no charge. It’s overseen by the Florida Forest Service, a division of Putnam’s Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services agency.

There are three Operation Outdoor Freedom camps: Camp Prairie in Lake Wales, Peace River Camp in Arcadia and American Warrior Pride Lodge in Hernando. All camps “are outfitted to accommodate the needs of every wounded veteran participating in the program,” according to the state.

But events also occur in other areas across Florida, regularly on state forests, private lands and along the coast. They are funded by private donations.  

To be eligible, veterans must either have a Purple Heart or meet the service-connected disability rating of 30 percent or greater from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

On Sunday, the program partnered with the Davie Golf Club to host a golf tournament benefitting the program.

Operation Outdoor Freedom typically hosts events that allow participants to fish, hunt, boat and do other Florida-based outdoor activities. A series of deer, hog and turkey hunts are listed in the program’s upcoming events.

Added Putnam: “Providing our wounded veterans opportunities for recreation and rehabilitation in Florida’s great outdoors is the least we can do, and I’m incredibly proud of the growth of this program and the number of veterans we’ve been able to reach.”

Earlier this year, Putnam was recognized by the Purple Heart Veterans of Florida for his work to establish Operation Outdoor Freedom. The group awarded the Commissioner with the Military Order of the Purple Heart Distinguished Service Award.

Takeback: Andrew Gillum retracts concession as recount begins

Andrew Gillum is walking back his prior acknowledgment that Florida voters elected Republican Ron DeSantis as Governor.

Gillum, the Mayor of Tallahassee, told news media on Saturday that he conceded the election to DeSantis on Tuesday night because he “had operated with the best information that was available.”

“Since that time, more information has come in,” he added.

Gillum said there are outstanding votes across the state. He also said there is “uncertainty” in the total number of votes that have been counted.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner earlier on Saturday ordered a recount for six races in the state, including the gubernatorial election. All fell within the 0.5 percent margin needed to trigger a statewide recount.

Gillum, as of 4 p.m. on Saturday, trails DeSantis by 33,684 votes, or 0.41 percent.

Gillum said he is prepared to accept the outcome of the race, so long as “we count every vote.”

But that could mean multiple recounts.

Barry Richard, a Tallahassee-based elections lawyer retained by Gillum’s campaign, did not rule out the possibility of the race heading to a manual recount after the machine recount is complete.

“Mayor Gillum is not waiving any legal right that he has to ensure that all of the votes are counted — that’s one of the reasons that he hired me,” Richard said.

A manual recount is triggered when the vote differential falls within 0.25 percent of the total vote.

Richard did not say whether Gillum would contest the final vote tally if he still comes up short.

“When the machine recount is finished, if [Gillum] is satisfied that the system has worked properly and there are no uncounted votes … I imagine he’ll be satisfied,” he said.

Rick Scott says ‘unethical liberals’ are trying to steal Florida’s U.S. Senate race

After two days of watching his U.S. Senate lead slowly wane, Gov. Rick Scott is suggesting two South Florida counties are actively engaging in partisan-fueled election fraud.

The Governor has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate Broward and Palm Beach counties’ Supervisor of Elections, calling them a “rag-tag group of liberal activists.”

“I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election from the great people of Florida,” Scott said during a Thursday evening news conference at the Governor’s Mansion.

Scott’s comments came as his campaign and the National Republican Senatorial Committee filed a lawsuit against Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes. The lawsuit, which seeks an immediate hearing, contends her office continues to withhold crucial voter information and has blocked access to the office.

The campaign also filed a separate lawsuit against Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher, accusing her of refusing to allow Scott’s representatives to personally witness the ballot counting. The suit, filed in Palm Beach County, also accuses Bucher of keeping the county canvassing board from performing its duties.

Scott noted that counsel hired by his opponent, Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, is an election lawyer with a history of working for the Democratic Party. He accused Nelson’s attorney of being willing to break laws to win the election.

Marc Elias, Nelson’s attorney, said Wednesday that the campaign is pursuing a recount “not just because it’s automatic, but we’re doing it to win.”

Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin said Thursday that Scott’s newly announced investigation and comments appear “to be politically motivated and borne out of desperation.”

“The goal here is to see that all the votes in Florida are counted and counted accurately,” he added.

Scott said every voter should be concerned of “rampant fraud” in Palm Beach and Broward counties.

Snipes has “a history of acting in bad faith,” Scott said. He listed a series of problems in years past with elections — all under Snipes’ tenure. Scott noted that earlier this year a judge found Snipes had engaged in unlawful ballot destruction during the 2016 Democratic primary.

“Every day since the election, the left-wing activists in Broward County have been coming up with more and more ballots out of nowhere,” Scott said.

Out of Florida’s 67 counties, only Broward and Palm Beach were “mysteriously” finding more ballots, he added.

Florida Politics reported an influx of ballots from Suwannee County were posted to the state Division of Elections website earlier Thursday.

Scott did not rule out “incompetence” as a causal factor of ballots adding up after Tuesday’s election. He said he is confident in FDLE’s ability to determine whether any intentional wrongdoing occurred.

“I am considering every single legal option available,” Scott added.

Overall, Scott’s criticism echoed tweets from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio on Wednesday. The Florida Republican has already congratulated Scott on a victory.

“Florida law requires counties report early voting and vote-by-mail within 30 minutes after polls close,” Rubio wrote on Twitter. “Forty-three hours after polls closed two Democrat strongholds Broward County and Palm Beach County are still counting and refusing to disclose how many ballots they have left to count.”

“The people of Florida deserve fairness and transparency,” Scott said. “The supervisors are failing to give it to us.”

Currently, Scott leads Nelson by just more than 15,000 votes, or 0.17 percent. A hand recount in Florida is triggered when the difference reaches one-quarter of 1 percent of the vote, or about 20,413 ballots in this contest.

If the contest’s spread remains below that level, the hand recount would be announced on Saturday by Secretary of State Ken Detzner, and hand recounting would start on Monday and run through Nov. 18.

There still are more ballots to be counted, including provisional ballots and other ballots that were set aside because of anomalies on Tuesday. They are now being counted by the election canvassing boards in each of Florida’s 67 counties.

President Donald Trump, who supported Scott during the election, weighed in late Thursday.

Florida Politics Orlando correspondent Scott Powers and the News Service of Florida contributed reporting. 

Andrew Gillum closes gap with Ron DeSantis ahead of expected recount

On Friday, nearly three days after ballots began to be counted, we still lack clarity in who the next Governor will be.

We do know there will be a machine recount.

With a vote lead of 36,211 with over 8.2 million ballots counted (rounding up to a 0.46 percent edge) Republican Ron DeSantis, the 40-year-old former three-term Congressman who took the nomination with the President’s blessing has seemingly defeated Democrat Andrew Gillum to become the next Governor of Florida.

Seemingly being the key word.

The Governor’s race, like the U.S. Senate and Agriculture Commissioner races, has margins under the 0.50 percent threshold that triggers a recount. The world’s eyes again are on Florida elections, and this one especially as provisional ballot verification (a typically Democratic stronghold) comes into play.

The Gillum campaign wants every vote counted: “On Tuesday night, the Gillum for Governor campaign operated with the best information available about the number of outstanding ballots left to count. Since that time, it has become clear there are many more uncounted ballots than was originally reported.

“Our campaign, along with our attorney Barry Richard, is monitoring the situation closely and is ready for any outcome, including a state-mandated recount. Mayor Gillum started his campaign for the people, and we are committed to ensuring every single vote in Florida is counted,” asserted a campaign spokesperson.

Gillum, addressing supporters during a Facebook Live appearance Thursday, noted that he’s still trailing DeSantis.

“I want you to know that in spite of the fact that we’re a little bit down in the numbers, we’re hopeful that every single vote will be counted in this race,” Gillum said.

The narrative has changed from Election Night when Gillum called DeSantis and conceded victory, before the margin dwindled from what was a more than 1 percentage point lead.

DeSantis thumped his chest in victory at the time, delighting his base.

“The pundit class gave us no chance … the political and media class seemed eager to write our obituary … On Election Day, it’s the voice of the people that rules,” DeSantis said.

And based on available information, he was right. His base prevailed.

But with something less than a mandate, DeSantis even then extended a rhetorical olive branch to opponents.

“I don’t care if you were against me in the campaign,” DeSantis added, saying that his goal was to work together for the state.

An ameliorating coda to an explosive campaign.

And a campaign that may not be officially over if yet another recount scenario comes into play here.

DeSantis isn’t worried about that, though.

“I was honored Tuesday night to be elected 46th Governor of the State of Florida.  The results of the election were clear.  I am now focused on the transition effort and will allow the legal efforts regarding the election to proceed, as is necessary, as the process unfolds,” he told us Thursday afternoon.

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This razor’s edge outcome is fitting for a battle of the bases, and a referendum both on President Donald Trump and the burgeoning progressive movement, that unlikely nominee Gillum has become a national leader of in recent months.

DeSantis, thus far, is the “apparent winner.” Though that doesn’t mean things will be predictable if he is inaugurated as expected.

While DeSantis has promised continuity with the Rick Scott era, those who have covered state government throughout Scott’s eight years know that some of the harshest battles were between the populist right in the state House and the more pragmatic Senate.

On the campaign trail and in outreach, DeSantis contrasted himself with Gillum, suggesting the Tallahassee Mayor’s policies are too far left for Florida.

The Ponte Vedra Republican pledged to veto any and all tax increases for the next four years, contending that a state’s low-tax environment is its greatest asset for expanding the economy. In contrast, Gillum in part ran on a corporate tax rate hike.

DeSantis, who has described himself as a “Teddy Roosevelt-Republican,” is outspoken on environmental concerns.

He railed against his primary opponent Adam Putnam for not faulting the state’s massive sugar industry for the proliferation of toxic algae blooms plaguing the Treasure Coast. He has promised to expedite the construction of a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, expected to help ease the amount of toxic overflow into nearby estuaries.

Adding weight to his environmental policy platform was support from The Everglades Trust.

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But ultimately, the issues of the day didn’t define Florida’s race for Governor.

Republicans put forth a candidate hand-picked by President Trump.

Democrats selected a candidate who was once considered a long shot, arguably the most progressive to ever run for statewide office and the only African-American gubernatorial candidate in the state’s history.

Accordingly, Trump and race occupied the mind of nearly every voter in the most polarized statewide campaign in the modern era.

DeSantis kicked off his post-primary campaign by claiming that electing Gillum would “monkey this up,” before dealing with a number of racial controversies regarding supporters that culminated with Gillum saying in a debate, “I’m not saying you’re a racist, but the racists think you’re racist.”

Identity politics factored into this campaign in a way few expected before the August primary.

Before Tuesday, Trump would visit the state three times to rally for DeSantis. The President would periodically commend DeSantis via his Twitter account, and in the final weeks made a point of condemning Gillum’s leadership skills, calling Tallahassee “the most corrupt city” in the country — even suggesting Gillum “is a stone-cold thief.”

DeSantis defended Trump as the campaign closed.

“From an economic perspective and a results perspective,” DeSantis said, Trump’s message is a “good message for folks.”

“You people have to decide: if you’re more concerned about tweeting than results, I respect that. That’s your vote, you can do what you want. To me, it’s all about results,” DeSantis added.

In the backdrop, ethics scandals involving both candidates drove campaign narrative, though Gillum’s was more affected.

A two-year-long investigation into corruption in Tallahassee plagued Gillum’s candidacy. The Mayor had vehemently denied being a “target.” But DeSantis made it stick, even though Gillum has yet to be subpoenaed by the FBI, and the agency hasn’t commented on his vulnerability as a leader.

But eleventh-hour developments in a state ethics investigation separate from the FBI’s suggested Gillum is more implicated than previously thought.

A series of records released in late October linked Gillum to the FBI, showing in part that the Mayor may have accepted a ticket to the Broadway musical “Hamilton” from an undercover agent posing as a developer wanting to do deals in the city.

Republicans used the news as attack fodder, while the left countered with questions about $145,000 of taxpayer-funded travel by DeSantis, which included trips to Fox News studios to boost his candidacy.

The election, however, came down to those quintessential Florida constants: Base turnout and the disposition of the No-Party-Affiliated voters.

And in outreach, neither had a tangible advantage.

Fueling each candidate’s appeal to voters was a near-even cash race, which ended in excess of $106 million. Each candidate would surpass the $50 million mark in fundraising before Tuesday’s showdown.

In trackable money, DeSantis led by just $1 million, meaning cash ultimately wouldn’t decide who prevailed.

But if the primary election’s principles were any indication, money meant little, to begin with.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, DeSantis’ primary opponent, put more than $30 million into his race but lost to DeSantis, who spent around $16 million.

Gillum doled out less than $7 million ahead of the Aug. 28 primary and won against the other four Democratic hopefuls — all of which had outspent him.

Because DeSantis and Gillum bucked traditional political wisdom by beating the better-funded establishment favorites in the primary, the race was essentially impossible to forecast. The gubernatorial finalists in 2018 weren’t supposed to be there in the first place.

And while polls almost entirely showed Gillum ahead by some margin, even he dismissed them as junk science.

In this case, that appears to be right. But the recount may (repeat, may) change things.

Check back for updates.

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Tallahassee correspondent Danny McAuliffe and The News Service of Florida contributed to this post.

Incoming House Speaker Jose Oliva names committee chairs

With the election behind them, the Republican-led state House is swiftly organizing.

On Wednesday, incoming House Speaker Jose Oliva, a Hialeah Republican, unveiled the committee structure for the 2019 and 2020 Legislative Sessions.

Filling in as Speaker Pro-Tempore is Rep. MaryLynn Magar, a Hobe Sound Republican. She replaces state Rep. Jeannette Nunez, who was elected Lieutenant Governor alongside Governor-elect Ron DeSantis on Tuesday.

The Republican Majority Leader is Rep. Dane Eagle, a Cape Coral Republican. Eagle replaces Estero Republican Rep. Ray Rodrigues. Rodrigues will instead head the Health and Human Services Committee.

Chairing the powerful Appropriations Committee is state Republican Rep. Travis Cummings, of Orange Park. He replaces former House budget chair Carlos Trujillo, who left the Legislature after being appointed Ambassador to the Organization of American States.

Cummings, elected to the Legislature in 2012, has served through six regular lawmaking sessions. During the 2018 Legislative Session, Cummings was among the 67 other legislators to pass the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act as a standalone bill. At the time, it came with an estimated $400 million price tag. He has yet to file any bills ahead of the 2019 Session.

Cummings received his masters in business administration from the University of North Florida. Before being elected to the Legislature, he served in a variety of roles at the local level in Orange Park, including a stint as Mayor of the town.

Much of Cummings’ sponsored bills have sought to benefit the Northeast portion of Florida he inhabits. And this will be the second year in a row in which that part of the state has direct representation in a powerful post in the Legislature. Fleming Island Republican state Sen. Rob Bradley chaired the Senate’s budget committee in 2018, helping to secure millions for nearby restoration projects in the St. Johns River and Keystone Heights areas.

Generally well-liked by legislators in both chambers, Sachs Media Group’s Public Affairs Director Herbie Thiele, a longtime observer of the Tallahassee’s political process, said Cummings “is a great appointment,” from Oliva.

And a close relationship with Bradley could mean that Cummings is better-equipped — almost like a quarterback understudy — to handle the budget negotiations in the later days of the upcoming session, Thiele added.

Eustis Republican state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan will take the reins of the Education Committee.

By vote, Sullivan has shown a demonstrated willingness to further expand school choice and charter schools in Florida. In 2017, Sullivan voted in favor of the “Schools of Hope” plan. The eventual law provided for “hope operators,” who could set up charter schools within five miles of “persistently” low-performing public schools. It also provided money for traditional low-performing public schools.

In 2018, Sullivan successfully championed two education-reform bills. Among those were HB 731, which provided greater flexibility to family-administered homeschooling programs. Another, HB 1279, changed accountability and transparency mandates for schools, requiring school districts to post financial summaries to their websites, among other things.

Sullivan also supported the House’s “Hope Scholarship” plan, a tax-credit funded program that allows students who are victims of bullying or other violence to receive public funding to move to private schools or other public schools.

The next two House Speakers in line also received committee chair appointments from Oliva.

Clearwater Republican Rep. Chris Sprowls, in line to preside over the House beginning 2021, will chair the Rules Committee. Palm Coast Republican Rep. Paul Renner, set to become Speaker in 2022, will chair the Judiciary Committee. Renner is a former Assistant State Attorney.

St. Cloud Rep. Mike La Rosa will chair the Commerce Committee under Oliva’s leadership. In the past, LaRosa has sought to change the state’s alcoholic beverage laws, including allowing “cooperative” advertising in theme parks. That measure, however, failed to pass in 2018 after reaching the House floor. LaRosa also has championed legislation that would pre-empt local regulation of vacation rentals, though that measure too died after reaching the House floor.

Overall, Oliva commended the talent of lawmakers now leading the chamber’s committees.

“I am blessed by a deep bench of talent to pull from when it comes to leading our committees and working with the Senate and Governor-elect DeSantis,” Oliva said in a statement. “The chairs named today are men and women of principle, integrity, and an unrelenting desire to serve the people of Florida.”

The remaining, all-Republican committee chairs: Hialeah Rep. Bryan Avila, Economic Affairs Committee; Daytona Beach Rep. Tom Leek, Public Integrity & Ethics Committee; Spring Hill Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, State Affairs Committee; and Monticello Rep. Halsey Beshears, Ways & Means Committee.

Background provided by Florida Politics Senior Editor Jim Rosica and the News Service of Florida.

Florida approves automatic restoration of voting rights to felons

Floridians have passed Amendment 4, which provides for the automatic restoration of voting rights to nonviolent felons who’ve completed their sentences.

The margin of victory as of 9 p.m. Tuesday was 64 percent-36 percent, with at least 60 percent needed to pass.

Currently, Florida is one of just three states with a “lifetime voting ban for people with felony convictions,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. 

The Center estimates Florida’s disenfranchised felon population exceeds 1.6 million.

Amendment 4 will apply to felons who have completed all aspects of their sentence, including probation and compensating victims, if required.

It does not apply to those convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses. The Governor and Cabinet will continue to review those on a case-by-case basis. 

Notably, Amendment 4 was one of just two statewide measures to be placed on the 2018 ballot through citizen initiatives. It reached the required signature threshold — 766,200 — in January.

In the following months, groups like Floridians for a Fair Democracy, Second Chances and the Florida Restoration of Rights Coalition would wage an enormous outreach effort, including several statewide television spots.

Before Tuesday, Floridians for a Fair Democracy spent $19.3 million in the Sunshine State, according to the state Division of Elections.

The issue of race suffuses Florida’s disenfranchisement policy.

The practice, which dates back more than 150 years, was likened to Jim Crow-era policies, which describe post-Civil War laws passed with the goal of segregation.

The New York Times reported in 2016 that more than 20 percent of African-American men in Florida were ineligible to vote because of disenfranchisement.

It’s because of these tensions in the backdrop that news of the movement was covered nationally, drawing celebrity endorsements and support from high-profile commentators.

As well, Amendment 4 brought large and influential groups together from both sides the political aisle, like the ACLU and the Koch network.

Currently, Florida felon who have completed their sentence can restore their voting rights through the state’s clemency process involving the Governor and three Cabinet members.

That process, however, was deemed unconstitutional in February by U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker. In March, Walker followed up by ordering the Executive Clemency Board to devise a new method for restoring voting rights.

But in April, a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet a stay for Walker’s mandated deadline, meaning no immediate changes would come to Florida’s clemency system. It was considered a win for the state’s clemency process.

Now, that will no longer shape the narrative of felon rights in Florida.

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