Michael Moline, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 of 41

Michael Moline

Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.

House warms to Joe Negron’s ambitious higher education agenda

House negotiators gave ground toward Senate President Joe Negron’s ambitious plan to bolster Florida’s state colleges and universities Friday.

They accepted a series of spending amounts for specific programs.

“Tuition assistance was real big in our offer,” House negotiator Larry Ahern said.

“We’ve moved to a lot of the Senate positions. We concur with a lot of the student assistance, to continue to lower the debt that students might acquire through the college and university experience.”

That means more than $715 million for various financial aid programs, including textbook assistance for Bright Future scholars — who qualified for aid based on academic achievement.

The House also accepted the Senate position on community colleges. CS/CS/SB 375, the proposed College Competitiveness Act, would revamp their governing structure and re-emphasize two-year programs.

“It’s something the Senate president thinks is important and the speaker concurs with,” Ahern said.

The Senate offered a raft of compromises on proviso language.

“Nothing overly substantive — just to start matching up with some of the funding line items,” Senate negotiator Bill Galvano said. “We didn’t get into the meat of, like, SB 374, those kind of things.”

Homestead exemption boost moves from Rules Committee to full Senate

The Senate debated Friday whether to raise Florida’s homestead exemption to $75,000 on property values of as much as $125,000 — a key to the chamber’s budget compromise with the House, but bitterly opposed by local governments.

The increase would be subject to approval by Florida voters, but is a high priority for House leaders, and represents a major give by Senate leaders in the interest of compromise on a budget for next fiscal year.

The debate on HJR 7105 set the measure up for a final floor vote, and followed its approval in committee on a vote of 9-2.

Sen. Jeff Clemens asked sponsor Tom Lee whether it wasn’t unusual to take up a bill in committee and on the floor on the same day.

“The abnormalities that occur in the Legislative Session, they all occur in the eighth or ninth week,” Lee said. “It’s not abnormal for the eighth or ninth week.”

A companion measure would shield financially strapped small counties by promising state money to backfill any losses in revenue.

The House version of the legislation was priced at nearly $795 million. The Senate language reduces that to $644 million.

Some senators, mostly Democrats, worried about the hit to local government coffers.

That led Sen. Dennis Baxley to wonder: “Whose money is this and what’s the fiscal impact on them?”

Lee replied that many local government representatives spoke against the measure in committee, but “I didn’t see anyone’s constituents in there.”

Sens. Perry Thurston and Oscar Braynon voted “No” in committee.

“When we do these politically motivated cuts — things that sound great in a sound bite, or maybe make certain organizations happy — we don’t think about the real, legit consequences of it,” Democratic leader Oscar Braynon argued.

“I can’t in good conscience vote for this,” he said.

“I look on this more as an opportunity to do a broad-based tax cut that is directed at the middle class, and that will apply as equally as possible throughout the state of Florida — but recognizing that special designation of fiscally constrained counties,” Lee said in committee.

Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson argued the proposal would subvert home rule and undermine finances for local governments still recovering from the Great Recession.

“Your citizens are not asking for less services,” Robinson said.

“I get it — I understand that this is a good political bill. But it is not good government,” he said.

Sen. Rob Bradley asked the local government representatives in committee to declare their millage rates. Many were below the legal limit, and theoretically could raise tax rates.

Critics argued that would still burden local governments.

“I do not see this as a tax increase. I see this as a tax shift,” said Ralph Thomas, chairman of the Wakulla County Commission.

“Claiming a tax decrease by taking money away from the local community is like claiming to lower calories by taking away someone else’s lunch,” Thomas said.

“If you put it on the ballot, it will pass. Because people vote for what they want. And, of course, everybody always wants a tax cut,” said Eddy Labrador, intergovernmental affairs director for Broward County.

“But those things have impact, and we can’t ignore that. This is going to have significant impact for the people of Broward County.”

“The state government has been reducing recurring revenue every year since 2013. Now you are forcing local governments to reduce revenues in the same way. Working families will suffer,” said Rich Templin, lobbyist for the AFL-CIO.

Environment and natural resources conferees go light on details

If you can read a spreadsheet, you might be able to figure out the offer the House made Friday morning on the agriculture, environment, and natural resources budget.

If you can’t — well, lead House conferee Ben Albritton wasn’t willing to explain it to you.

Albritton distributed a spreadsheet listing the House position, but declined to discuss it. Even when asked by Rep. Loranne Ausley.

Sen. Rob Bradley, chairing the hearing, conferred with Albritton — inaudibly, to the audience — then announced:

“We’re not going to do that publicly at this time. The document reflects the two sides. This is a public document.”

Bradley added: “At our next gathering, we can have a discussion about the remaining differences. But at this time, we’re not going to do that.”

Albritton did offer that the line items for specific House changes had been highlighted. They included agreement with the Senate on items including citrus greening research and sea turtle restoration.

Following the meeting, Albritton and Bradley exited through a rear door.

“I’ve been here before. This is not the way it’s been done in the past,” said Ausley, who returned to the Legislature last year following a hiatus.

“The speaker started this session saying this was going to be the most transparent session ever. This process, to me, is not transparent,” she said.

“I’ve been going to the other conference meetings, and they’ve been going line by line. Last night, we got a sheet, so I thought today we’d at least get more information. It’s helpful to the public to go through this as well,” she added.

“It remains to be determined whether supporting this is in the best interest of the people of Florida. I don’t know, because we don’t have enough information at this point,” Ausley continued.

“It’s clear that a lot of decisions have been made not in these rooms. It would be helpful to the public and to those of us who are ultimately going to make decisions to know what the background is, and what’s going on with all these things that are important.”

Senate offers to cull $21 million in projects as higher ed conference opens

Sen. Bill Galvano delivered the bad news first as the House and Senate opened conference negotiations on higher education spending Thursday evening.

The Senate would have to cut at least $21 million in projects from its version of the budget to reach the level agreed upon with the House, he said.

“Many of you on this conference committee, as well as advocates for your positions in the audience, have what we traditionally call placeholders, in the hopes that somehow these placeholders will find additional dollars as the process goes on,” Galvano said.

“I just want to manage expectations in that regard. Because when you are starting with a significant reduction, it’s highly unlikely that a placeholder is going to move in the upward direction, as opposed to either staying where it is or in a downward direction.”

The higher education conference subcommittee was among the first to meet after Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced how much each subcommittee would have to play with, and who would serve on those panels, earlier in the day.

The panel has $7.8 billion to spend.

Galvano, serving as chairman of the higher ed conference, made the Senate’s first offer; Rep. Larry Ahern, the vice chairman, was expected to present a counter-offer around 8:30 Friday morning.

“The gist of what the Senate is proposing, with regard to projects, is a significant reduction — a $21 million reduction,” Galvano said.

“The other two big takeaways are the mitigation of the developmental ed funding in the college system, as well as the restoration of the performance funding in the state college system.”

Meaning the final budget won’t hurt the 28-member state college system as badly as expected.

About those projects — the Senate had voted to spend $71 million on them.

Galvano expected similar bad news for House projects.

“For sure, for sure. We’ve got to get where it balances out and move on. We had the difficult exercise of being the offerer in a budget scenario where our allocation required us to start by negotiating against ourselves. It should get easier for us here. Maybe not so much for the House.”

Ahern thought the opening meeting went well.

“It all has to start somewhere. We were able to come together and agree that this is a good place for both of us to get started. It looks like a pretty good offer at first blush — at least something we can work with.”

Rick Scott’s demand for budget priorities leaves Carlos Trujillo unfazed

House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo did not appear especially intimidated by Gov. Rick Scott’s tough talk on the state budget Thursday evening.

That $200 million Scott seeks to repair the Herbert Hoover Dike, for example? Not likely.

“That showed up about a week ago, and we’d already gone a far way down the road as far as crafting our budget,” Trujillo told reporters.

“It’s something I wish had been included in the original budget, and its something I wish we would have had an opportunity to discuss and debate early on as we crafted our own budgets,” he said.

“I think there’s merit in doing it. I don’t there’s merit in ever lending the federal government $200 million that they should be responsible for.”

Trujillo sees no need to build a veto-proof majority.

“We just have to pass a budget. If he vetoes it or he doesn’t veto it, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

He believes House Democrats “have had a meaningful seat at the table the entire time,” and have supported key House spending priorities.

“You look at our House budget — in committee, only two Democrats voted against it. On the floor, we had a substantial amount of Democrats vote for it — much more than a veto-proof majority.”

House and Senate leaders finally reached agreement in principle Thursday on an $83 billion state budget for next fiscal year, and put conference committees to work on refining the deal.

Scott all but demanded his way on his own priorities — also including boosting Visit Florida’s funding to $100 million, and providing business incentives money for Enterprise Florida.

The House-Senate budget deal provides about $25 million for Visit Florida and no incentives money for Enterprise Florida, although that agency would be allowed to live.

Scott figures the Legislature can afford his projects because of the $1.5 billion in Low Income Pool, or LIP, money promised by the Trump administration to reimburse hospitals for charity care.

Neither of the House or Senate plan on spending close to that amount for the care. Still, Trujillo was reluctant to spend the federal money before it’s in hand.

“We’re still waiting for the terms and conditions before we can figure out how much we can actually use,” he said.

“We are including the money, but it’s outside of the budget. We will appropriate it depending on the terms and conditions” imposed by the Trump administration. He was still negotiating how to handle the matter with Senate budget chief Jack Latvala.

Regarding Lake Okeechobee, the House does plan to take up SB 10, Senate President Joe Negron’s $1.5 billion restoration plan, which would not pay for the repairs to the dike around the lake.

“We’re making a lot of progress in getting that passed in our chamber,” Trujillo said of the overall Lake O plan. “I don’t know if we’ve agreed to bond, but we’ve agreed in concept to the policy.”

Resolution to replace Confederate general with educator passes the Senate

A resolution to depose Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, CSA, from his place in the National Statuary Hall collection and install Mary McLeon Bethune cleared the Senate Thursday on a voice vote.

SCR 1360, by Perry Thurston, went to the House, where its future was uncertain.

Smith is one of two historical figures whose likeness stands in the Statuary Hall collection, which is distributed throughout the U.S. Capitol grounds.

The other is John Gorrie, an Apalachicola doctor who invented the ice machine.

The Legislature voted last year to bid Smith adieu and create a citizens committee to propose a replacement. Bethune, founder of Bethune-Cookman College, finished first in a poll.

In the House, a resolution to replace Smith with Marjory Stoneman Douglas was held up in committee by Rep. Scott Plakon, who said he prefers Walt Disney — who never lived in Florida.

Smith was born in Florida, but left at a young age to attend the U.S. Military Academy. He resigned his commission to join the Confederate army, and is best known as the last of its generals to surrender his forces. He lived most of his life outside the state.

Kevin Rader carries campaign against lobbyist into the Capitol’s lifts

If you entered an elevator in the Capitol Thursday, you might have spotted a piece of paper resembling a wanted poster bearing the pixelated photo of a smiling woman.

“Senator Kevin Rader would like to know… Where is ‘Concerned Citizen’ Mary Beth Wilson,” the letter-sized document announced.

Surrounding the photo were six red question marks — three per side. In the top left corner, the Senate seal.

The woman pictured looked an awful lot like Lisa Miller, a lobbyist with clients including Demotech Inc., a company that rates Florida insurance companies.

Rader, a Democrat from Boca Raton, asked Gov. Rick Scott in February to look into whether Miller had posed as “concerned citizen” Wilson during a conference call between Demotech and industry figures.

A number of Tallahassee lobbyists were certain they recognized Miller’s voice, as Jeff Grady, president and CEO of the Florida Association of Insurance Agents, reported on his blog (password protected).

Miller and Demotech president Joe Petrelli have strongly denied it.

Asked about the elevator sheet following the Senate’s session, Rader issued a non-denial denial.

“That wasn’t Lisa Miller. It was about Mary Beth Wilson,” he said.

But he acknowledged his hand in posting the fliers.

“It’s just a reminder that I would still like the governor to take a look into it,” Rader said.

“When you have, allegedly, a lobbyist impersonating a fictitious person on behalf of her client, I think that says really awful things about that profession,” he said.

Had he received any response from the governor?

“None,” he said.

“Remember, to file a Senate complaint with the Rules Committee, you have to have first-hand knowledge. Which means you would have had to be on the phone call. I wasn’t on it, so I don’t have the ability of filing a Senate complaint.”

How many elevators got tagged?

“I think it was 12 — I’m not 100 percent. We had someone who did it.”

Any reaction?

“I haven’t had any negative reaction. Obviously, people have seen them, and are curiously interested in how this person is still operating as a lobbyist.”

Rader hadn’t heard from Miller, either.

Was plastering someone’s face around the Capitol perhaps a little extreme?

“I didn’t plaster her face. When you look it — I showed several people — most people thought it was a young boy, actually.”

But it was Lisa Miller?

“I’m not sure how it was created, but it was created.”

He added: “I don’t think any person who’s related to this process is shedding a tear on what I’m doing.”

Miller hadn’t responded to a voicemail message seeking comment as of this posting.

Budget conference committee gets down to work, with time running short

The House-Senate budget conference committee convened Thursday, exchanged pleasantries, and dispersed to begin working toward a compromise $83 billion spending plan for next fiscal year.

“Let the games begin,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, who’ll serve as chairman of the conference.

“We look forward to making quick and aggressive counter-offers, and we look forward to passing a budget on time,” said Carlos Trujillo, the House budget chairman and vice-chairman of the conference.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron attended the gathering. They’d appointed the members earlier in the day.

Members of the committee, including various subcommittees, were scheduled to work through the weekend to place a compromise budget before the House and Senate and adjourn on time on May 5.

“It’s Thursday, and so we’re hoping that the committees will move quickly with offers and counteroffers. But I think we have plenty of time for all the members to be engaged,” Negron said.

Getting here required resolving competing priorities, Negron told reporters. He mentioned House proposals to boost charter schools and Best and Brightest scholarships, and his own ambitions for higher education.

The House even accepted Negron’s Lake Okeechobee restoration plan, which would require floating bonds.

Under aggressive questioning by reporters, the presiding officers resisted giving a line-by-line account of the trade-offs.

“There are other issues that both sides care about, and I think it’s incumbent on me as the presiding officer in the Senate to make sure that priorities both of us share get passed in the last week,” he said.

“You’ve seen it all in the open, including amendments. We’ve traveled the state and talked about all those things that are priorities of the Senate and priorities of the House,” Corcoran said.

“I know all of you wrote that it was going to be a train wreck, we were going to go into 18 special sessions, we’re never going to get done. But now that we have come together, we’ve worked out our differences, and now we’re having a conference, I think it’s going to be a spectacular session,” Corcoran said.

“There’ll be no crashes, despite your reporting. And I think it’s going to be a good day for the state of Florida.”

Latvala spelled out some of the details. The Senate got a commitment for $50 million for beach restoration — “the magic number we’ve been looking for,” he said.

Visit Florida would receive $25 million, and Enterprise Florida would be kept alive with operating money but none for incentives. “That’s a long way from where the House was when they wanted to do away with both of them,” Latvala said.

He said he has been in contact with Gov. Rick Scott, who has pressed for his economic incentives programs this week via press releases. Scott has been meeting with House members and senators since returning from a trade mission to Argentina.

“The governor is very committed to the economy of the state of Florida. He’s committed to economic development. He’s committed to jobs. There’s nobody I know who pays more attention and focuses more on those issues than the governor,” Latvala said.

The Senate wins an across-the-board pay raise for state employees, with extra money earmarked for police and corrections officers, but has agreed to steer state workers — except for high-risk employees — who don’t express a preference into private-market retirement-savings plan rather than the traditional state pensions. They’d have nine months to choose.

The House gets its way with the required local effort — the minimum property tax rate for schools. The rate will be rolled back so that the amount paid will stay the same as it is now, notwithstanding rising property values.

House and Senate settle budget allotments, appoint conference committees

The House and Senate agreed upon the outlines of a state budget Thursday and appointed conferees to work out the details, beginning that afternoon.

Senate President Joe Negron said the deal would provide an across-the-board raise for state workers — their first in about nine years, according to Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, for whom the raise was a priority.

“This has not been the least difficult negotiation that either of us has ever been in,” Latvala told Negron from the floor.

“It’s been a long negotiation. We’ve had a lot of reports that we were done when we weren’t really done. But we’re here now to start the conference process,” Latvala said.

Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran together settled the major points of contention between the two chambers, Latvala said.

Conference subcommittees have until noon Saturday to complete their negotiations, he said. Anything they can’t settle will go to the full committee. Any controversies still unresolved will go to the presiding officers by noon Sunday.

The House-Senate budget conference has nearly $83 billion to spend. Hereis how the allocations break down.

The biggest pot is for health care — $34.2 billion. Next come PreK-12 education, at $15 billion; transportation, tourism, and economic development, at nearly $13 billion; higher education, at $7.8 billion; civil and criminal justice, at $5 billion; agriculture, environment and natural resources, $3.6 billion; and general government, at $2 billion.

There’s about $1.7 billion for “administered funds/statewide issues.”

Senate sends Groveland Four resolution to Governor and Cabinet

The Senate voted unanimously Tuesday to apologize to survivors of the Groveland Four — African-American men who were brutalized in 1949 following a false accusation of rape.

The senators first voted, 36-0, to sign on as cosponsors, then approved the resolution on a voice vote.

“This is a great miscarriage of justice,” sponsor Gary Farmer said.

“This is Florida’s version of the Scotsboro Boys. This is our To Kill a Mockingbird. We cannot change the hands of time. We cannot go back to this terrible event and undo it. But we can acknowledge our wrongs. And we can bring peace, and healing, and closure to the families who have suffered so long.”

Those family members traveled to Tallahassee to watch the House approve the resolution on April 18 and could not return for the Senate vote, Farmer said.

“But I have met with the survivors, and they have told me of the years of dealing with this, and the years of shame and injustice that they have had to endure.”

He credited former Sen. Geraldine Thomspon, who sponsored the apology legislation in past years. “I only picked up the torch that she lit,” he said.

The resolution, CS/HCR 631 declares that injustice was done toward Charles GreenleeWalter IrvinSamuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas, offers an official apology on behalf of the state of Florida, and urges Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet to exonerate them.

It urges Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet to pardon Irvin and Greenlee, the two who lived long enough to be convicted and imprisoned.

“(W)e hereby acknowledge that Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas, who came to be known as ‘the Groveland Four,’ were the victims of gross injustices and that their abhorrent treatment by the criminal justice system is a shameful chapter in this state’s history,” the resolution reads.

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