News Service Of Florida, Author at Florida Politics

News Service Of Florida

The News Service of Florida provides journalists, lobbyists, government officials and other civic leaders with comprehensive, objective information about the activities of state government year-round.

GOP governors pour more money into Florida

With Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis locked in a battle with Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum, the Republican Governors Association has funneled another $2.41 million to Florida, according to a new finance report.

Between Sept. 8 and Sept. 14, the association put the money into “Florida Facts,” a type of entity known as an electioneering communications organization. Florida Facts during the same timeframe spent $2.51 million, with most of the money going to California-based Target Enterprises, LLC for television ads, the report shows.

The Republican Governors Association in early August also put $2.45 million into Florida Facts, which during the same period spent $2.35 million.

Blocked from ballot? Supreme Court asked to stop amendments

Arguing that the measures would violate First Amendment rights, an attorney urged the Florida Supreme Court on Friday to uphold a lower-court ruling that would block three proposed constitutional amendments from going before voters in November.

Joseph Little, a retired University of Florida law professor and constitutional scholar, filed a 50-page brief after Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office Monday requested that the Supreme Court allow the ballot measures to move forward.

The Supreme Court has not said whether it will hold oral arguments in the case, which stems from ballot proposals approved this year by the Florida Constitution Revision Commission.

Little represents retired Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead and another plaintiff, Robert Barnas, who contend that the Commission improperly “bundled” unrelated issues into single ballot proposals.

They argue the measures would violate the First Amendment rights of voters, who could have conflicting opinions about issues in single ballot proposals.

Circuit Judge Karen Gievers of Tallahassee issued a ruling that would block the amendments, which include a high-profile measure aimed at banning offshore oil drilling and banning vaping or the use of electronic cigarettes in workplaces.

The state appealed Gievers’ ruling, and the 1st District Court of Appeal quickly passed the dispute along to the Supreme Court.

Little (Photo: UF)

Little’s brief said the First Amendment “protects Florida voters from being forced to vote against their choices,” as he urged justices to uphold Gievers’ decision.

“It cannot be disputed that this (Supreme) Court has repeatedly exercised great caution in removing proposed amendments from the ballot,” the brief said. “Nevertheless, it is equally without dispute that this court has often found it necessary to remove propositions from the ballot because the ballot language was deceptive or failed to inform the voter of the content of the measure or denied the voter the right to intelligently cast a ballot.

“The number of these decisions is large, well known to this court, and need not be cited here. This case is simply another in the line that this court should hold denies voters the right to vote without undue infringement.”

Bondi’s office called Little’s First Amendment argument a “novel constitutional theory” and pointed to a history of bundled state and federal constitutional issues.

Along with the proposal on oil drilling and vaping, Gievers struck from the ballot a measure that deals with governance of the state-college system and death benefits for survivors of first responders and military members.

Also, she struck a measure that would remove constitutional language that prohibits “aliens ineligible for citizenship” from owning property and would revise language to make clear the repeal of criminal statutes does not affect the prosecution of crimes committed before the repeal.


Republished with permission of The News Service of Florida.

Judge upholds ordinance on greyhound injuries

Ruling against greyhound breeders and owners, a Seminole County judge has upheld a county ordinance forcing trainers at the Sanford Orlando Kennel Club to report dog injuries.

Breeders and owners challenged the ordinance, adopted two years ago, to try to prevent similar regulations elsewhere in the state.

The legal battle came after Florida lawmakers refused to adopt statewide regulations to require injury reports, an issue long pushed by Massachusetts-based Grey2K USA Worldwide and other animal-rights groups.

The Seminole County effort was spearheaded by the Committee to Protect Greyhounds, which presented local officials with more than 14,000 petitions in support of an ordinance to force greyhound trainers at the kennel club to report injuries.

The ordinance, which went into effect last year, also requires trainers to provide information about what happens to dogs after they stop racing at the track and mandates that the dogs be licensed by the county. County officials must also inspect the dogs’ kennels.

The lawsuit, filed by greyhound owners Scott Bennett and Jimmy Goodman, alleged, among other things, that the Seminole ordinance violates a statewide prohibition on local governments regulating the pari-mutuel industry.

But nothing in state law “declares expressly that counties are pre-empted from regulating the welfare of greyhound dogs,” Circuit Judge Michael Rudisill wrote in Thursday’s order upholding the ordinance.

State gambling laws related to greyhound racing are “limited to regulation of pari-mutuel gambling, not animal welfare,” Rudisill wrote.

Christine Dorchak, general counsel for Grey2K USA, applauded the judge “for agreeing that greyhounds deserve to be protected just like all other dogs.”

Jack Cory, a lobbyist who represents the Florida Greyhound Association, which represents breeders and owners, said his group is reviewing the court decision.

“We might have lost the first inning,” Cory said, indicating the group is likely to appeal. “Obviously, the judge ruled for the hometown. The appellate court doesn’t have to stand for election in Seminole County.”

The greyhound-racing industry also faces a major challenge in November, when Florida voters will decide on a proposed constitutional amendment that would outlaw dog racing at pari-mutuel facilities.

Like all constitutional amendments, 60 percent of voters must approve the proposal for it to pass.


Main photo courtesy Van Abernethy

Associated Industries committees back GOP Cabinet candidates

Political committees linked to the business group Associated Industries of Florida poured hundreds of thousands of dollars last week into PACs supporting Republican candidates for state Cabinet posts and Republican Senate campaigns, newly filed reports show.

The AIF-linked committees known as Florida Prosperity Fund and Floridian’s United for Our Children’s Future gave $200,000 to Friends of Matt Caldwell, a PAC supporting Republican agriculture-commissioner candidate Matt Caldwell.

The AIF-linked Voice of Florida Business Political Action Committee gave $115,000 to Friends of Ashley Moody, a PAC supporting Republican attorney-general candidate Ashley Moody.

Floridian’s United for Our Children’s Future also gave $55,000 to Treasure Florida, a PAC supporting Republican state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, according to the reports posted on the state Division of Elections website.

Meanwhile, the Voice of Florida Business Political Action Committee gave a combined total of $100,000 to Innovate Florida, a committee led by incoming Senate President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, and the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, also led by Galvano.

The AIF committees receive money from major corporate players in the state. Contributions last week, for example, came from United States Sugar Corp., TECO Energy, Inc., Florida Crystals Corp. and Florida Power & Light, the reports show.

Use of drug database increases amid opioid fight

One of Florida’s main weapons to thwart “doctor shopping” has been expanding substantially after the passage of a tough new law aimed at addressing the continuing opioid crisis.

State officials on Thursday said more than 92,000 health-care providers had registered to use an electronic database that tracks patients who are prescribed controlled substances.

The August total is more than double the number of providers who were registered to use the system the previous year.

Bruce Culpepper, a consultant for the Florida Department of Health, told members of the Health Information Exchange Coordinating Committee about the “major uptick in activity” in response to the new law, which, for the first time, requires doctors to consult the database before writing prescriptions.

The providers made 4.75 million inquiries into the database during August, said Culpepper, who coordinates the department’s health-information exchange activities.

Moreover, Culpepper said Florida has been working with neighboring Alabama and Georgia, as well as Kentucky, on integrating Florida’s prescription drug database with their programs.

The Florida Legislature gave the green light to the monitoring program in 2009. The state required pharmacists to enter information about most controlled substances the following year when the database became operational.

But it wasn’t until this year that lawmakers also required doctors to use the database to ensure that patients weren’t “doctor shopping,” or seeking prescriptions for addictive drugs from multiple physicians.

The mandate that they check the system before prescribing was one of many changes lawmakers approved to try to abate the opioid crisis.

The Legislature also banned doctors from writing prescriptions for more than three-day supplies of controlled substances. In medically necessary instances, physicians can write prescriptions for seven-day supplies. The new restrictions don’t apply to cancer patients, people who are terminally ill, palliative care patients and those who suffer from major trauma.

Prior to the mandate, just 20.6 percent of the 73,085 licensed medical doctors in the state were registered to use the prescription-drug monitoring program, according to a December 2017 annual report. The medical doctors, however, accounted for nearly one-third of the 35.8 million queries that were made to the database.

Jeff Scott, general counsel of the Florida Medical Association, said doctors initially were confused by the new mandate and whether it applied to them. Scott, who has been with the FMA for 21 years, said it’s been one of the more controversial laws the Legislature has passed in his experience with the statewide physician group.

“We were getting quite a bit of questions about it prior to it going into effect,” he said, adding that the FMA’s offices were fielding as many as 30 phone calls a day over the summer before the law took effect July 1.

Legislators acted this year to address the growing opioid problem. In 2016, for example, fentanyl caused 1,390 deaths, heroin caused 952 deaths, oxycodone caused 723 deaths, and hydrocodone caused 245 deaths, according to a House staff analysis.

Meanwhile, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams on Thursday released a report that said, based on preliminary data, opioid overdoses were responsible for killing 131 Americans daily last year. In 2016, more than 115 Americans died daily from opioid overdoses.

Ballots trickle in for November election

The first ballots of Florida’s 2018 general election have been cast, according to the state Division of Elections.

A division webpage said Thursday morning that four Democrats and one Republican had returned vote-by-mail ballots and that more than 1.5 million vote-by-mail ballots had been requested.

Two of the Democratic voters who had already returned their ballots were from Monroe County, with the other two from Manatee and Leon counties. The Republican was from Lee County.

In the Aug. 28 primary elections, 1.28 million vote-by-mail ballots were cast from 2.4 million that were sent out.

Earlier this week, the division announced that Saturday is the deadline for county supervisors of election to send the first vote-by-mail ballots to uniformed service members who are absent overseas or stateside and to civilian voters who are overseas.

The initial window for supervisors to get the first ballots in the mail to other voters is from Oct. 2 to Oct. 9. The last day a voter can request that supervisors send a vote-by-mail ballot is Oct. 31. The last day for supervisors to send mail-in ballots is Nov. 2. Voters can pick up vote-by-mail ballots from their local supervisors’ offices up to the day before the election. The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 9.

Ron DeSantis, Andrew Gillum back boosting vocational programs

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis and Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum have vast differences in their education policy proposals, but they agree on one area: Not everybody needs to get a four-year college degree.

Although the details are somewhat scant, DeSantis and Gillum this week emphasized their support for energizing Florida’s technical and vocational programs as part of their overall education priorities.

“We are going to add major investments in jobs and skills training,” said Gillum, a Florida A&M University graduate and former student leader. “While college worked for me, for my older siblings, it was access to woodwork and shop and mechanical and technical degree programs that allowed them to gain a skill that they could monetize, go to work and get a good job.”

Gillum gave credit for the visibility of the issue to Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who made the issue a top priority during his gubernatorial primary campaign against DeSantis.

Among other issues, Putnam noted that more than half of the jobs expected to be created in Florida’s fastest-growing employment sectors by 2025 will require advanced training but less than a four-year degree.

Putnam, who lost in the Aug. 28 GOP primary, also noted that while Florida’s Bright Futures merit-scholarship program will receive a record $523 million this year, the scholarships for vocational students represent only 1 percent of the students receiving those awards.

Of the 103,000 Bright Futures scholars this academic year, state analysts project only 1,000 will qualify for the “Gold Seal” vocational scholarships. Putnam noted that Florida had more than 10,600 Gold Seal scholars when the Bright Futures program began in 1997.

 “I believe there can be bipartisan agreement around our need to reinvest in those early skills programs that don’t allow for any of our students’ talents to go to waste,” Gillum said.

DeSantis made similar comments Tuesday after touring a science and technology school in Okaloosa County.

He said he would support enhancing programs that let students earn industry or technical certifications while in high school, allowing them to more quickly enter the state’s workforce rather than pursuing four-year degrees.

“You then can go and get gainful employment, maybe you do some more training, but you’re not having to go $100,000 into debt, get a degree in zombie studies and then end up in a job you could have had out of high school anyways,” said DeSantis, who is a Harvard-educated lawyer.

But Gillum and DeSantis are likely to clash on other higher-education issues.

Gillum criticized DeSantis, a former congressman from Ponte Vedra Beach, for supporting a budget plan in the U.S. House in 2015 that sought to freeze Pell grants for 10 years as a cost-cutting move. Pell grants, which currently have an annual cap of $6,095, are awarded to students from low-income families and do not have to be paid back.

“He voted for a 30 percent cut in Pell grants over the next 10 years,” Gillum said. “I don’t know if this point has been lost on Mr. DeSantis or not, the candidate for governor of the state of Florida, but 41 percent of Florida tuition is covered by Pell grants.”

As of the fall of 2016, 38 percent of the students enrolled in public universities in Florida were on Pell grants, according to the state university system’s Board of Governors. Some 63 percent of the students at Florida A&M University were on Pell grants, as well as more than half of the students at Florida International University, according to the data.

House Republicans defended the proposed Pell grant freeze, which was not enacted, as a means of making the program “more sustainable.” A memo in support of the plan noted the grants had been expanded to more students from higher-income families.

“Increasing eligibility to those with higher incomes drains resources from those who need the most help,” the memo said. “Our budget adopts a sustainable Pell grant maximum.”

This report includes information from David Bishop of FLA News.

FEA committee spends $100K to back Andrew Gillum

With Democrat Andrew Gillum and Republican Ron DeSantis offering vastly different plans to address the state’s public schools, a Florida Education Association political committee spent $100,000 during the past week to boost Gillum’s gubernatorial campaign.

The Florida Education Association Advocacy Fund on Friday sent $100,000 to a Gillum political committee known as Forward Florida, according to a report on the state Division of Elections website.

Among other contributions, the FEA committee also sent $25,000 to Sean Shaw for Florida, a committee tied to Democratic Attorney-General candidate Sean Shaw.

Gillum and DeSantis, the Republican nominee for governor, launched competing education plans Wednesday.

Gillum, in part, wants to provide a minimum starting salary of $50,000 for teachers and would boost the state’s corporate income tax to fund it. DeSantis, meanwhile, released a plan that includes requiring 80 percent of school funding to be spent in classrooms and not on administration. He said the plan could help boost teacher pay. But the FEA, the state’s major teachers union, was highly critical of DeSantis’ plan.

Court keeps Rick Scott records ruling on hold

Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday received a legal ruling that will at least temporarily allow him to keep from turning over his calendar — including information about fundraising events and where he will reside at night — to a health-care organization.

A Tallahassee appeals court agreed to extend a hold on a Sept. 5 ruling that mandated Scott provide the requested information to the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which has been wrangling with the Scott administration over a canceled Medicaid contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The 1st District Court of Appeal also agreed to expedite Scott’s challenge to Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson’s Sept. 5 ruling that said Scott should turn over the information.

The order extending a stay on Dodson’s ruling negates a move by attorneys representing the foundation to have Scott found in contempt of court and fined $1,000 for each day he didn’t provide the information. The foundation had filed an emergency motion, arguing that Dodson’s 10-day window for Scott to provide the information had expired.

“This earned him a brief reprieve from the contempt,” said Tallahassee attorney Ryan Andrews who is handling the public-records case for the foundation.

In their emergency filing, attorneys for the foundation said holding Scott in contempt and fining him would be the “least intrusive and most effective” means to ensure the governor complied with the initial court order.

“Imposing contempt sanctions are not only appropriate to accord petitioner relief but also proper as this court has the inherent authority to impose such sanctions when a party — i.e. EOG (the executive office of governor) — intentionally or willfully refuses to obey a court order,” the emergency filing said.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation filed the underlying public-records lawsuit in July after the administration did not provide the requested calendar information in response to a public-records request. The request was made after the state Agency for Health Care Administration did not renew a five-year Medicaid contract with the foundation’s subsidiary, Positive Healthcare, to provide Medicaid services in Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

The Scott administration argued that releasing the information could jeopardize the governor’s safety, but Dodson disagreed, noting it “simply is information regarding the governor’s travel schedule.”

Florida governors and other elected officials have routinely released their schedules to the media outlining commitments for each day. Often, those schedules were released in advance.

But the Scott administration has been less forthcoming with the details. And the schedules that get released haven’t always accurately reflected the governor’s meetings

Andrews, a Tallahassee lawyer, said he recalled seeing former governors Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist often walk downtown by themselves. “For them (the Scott administration), to say nobody can know where this governor is, is disingenuous and not supported (by law),” Andrews said. “Their argument is that he’s so unliked that people can’t know where he is because his life would be in danger.”

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation also filed a second public-records lawsuit in circuit court alleging that the administration did not provide records of communications with managed-care plans that bid on the Medicaid contract.

The organization also requested any correspondence between the Scott administration and lobbyists for managed-care plans, a list that includes a lengthy list of Tallahassee lobbyists.

That lawsuit is slated to be heard Friday by Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers.

In addition to filing the public records lawsuits in circuit court, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation also has challenged in administrative court the state’s decision not to renew the organization’s Medicaid contract.

The Scott administration has maintained that all the legal wrangling is tied to money. Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis reiterated that argument Tuesday, when he released to the press an e-mail exchange between attorneys for the Scott administration and attorneys for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

In an email, Andrews wrote to Scott’s outside counsel, Barry Richard, and offered a deal to end the litigation. In the exchange, Andrews described a proposed settlement in which the AIDS Healthcare Foundation would withdraw its legal challenges in exchange for a Medicaid contract in Broward, Miami Dade and Monroe counties.

“This vendor offered to drop their two public records lawsuits if they were awarded a state contract — that’s not in the best interests of taxpayers or the patients who will benefit from enhanced HIV/AIDS services that the state is offering,” Lewis said.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation offered no apologies on Tuesday.

“As a public official, Rick Scott should have to appear publicly and answer questions about his policies,” AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein said in a statement. “The court has already ruled that hiding behind a cloak of security is counter to Florida law and the democratic process.”


Bill Galvano, NRA clash over political contribution

Incoming Senate President Bill Galvano is not backing down after finding himself in the crosshairs of the National Rifle Association for receiving a sizable political contribution from a group that backs gun restrictions and has ties to former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who is slated to become Senate president after the November elections, pointed Monday to the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 people. After the shooting, lawmakers passed a bill (SB 7026) that included raising the minimum age from 18 to 21 to purchase rifles and other long guns — a restriction the NRA has challenged in federal court.

“I will make no apologies for the responsible steps we took in a bipartisan manner in the wake of the worst school shooting in our state’s history,” Galvano said.

Galvano’s comments came after NRA Tallahassee lobbyist Marion Hammer, a former national president of the gun-rights organization, called him out for accepting a $200,000 contribution from Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, which has been heavily backed by Bloomberg. The contribution went to a political committee known as Innovate Florida, which is chaired by Galvano.

Hammer, a longtime powerful lobbyist in Tallahassee, sent out an “alert” Monday to members of the NRA and Unified Sportsmen of Florida about the Sept. 4 contribution to Galvano’s committee.

“Incoming Florida Senate President Bill Galvano calls himself a Republican but is rumored to be the one who colluded with anti-gun Democrats to engineer the gun control package included in SB-7026 this past session,” Hammer wrote to members of the groups. “SB-7026 contained three major gun control provisions and was rammed down the throats of Senate and House Republican legislators.”

“Looks like our Second Amendment Rights were sold for a large contribution from anti-gun former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg,” Hammer wrote. “All of this while the anti-gunners keep accusing legislators of taking money from NRA. In reality, no Florida Senate or House member or candidate for the Florida Senate or House has received a direct contribution from NRA in almost 20 years.”

The NRA filed a federal lawsuit against the state in March immediately after Gov. Rick Scott signed into law the bill that includes a wide range of school-safety and gun-related measures. Along with the age requirement for gun purchases, it also included imposing a three-day waiting period on buying long guns and banned what are known as “bump stocks,” which allow semi-automatic rifles to mimic fully automatic weapons. The lawsuit remains pending.

“I have made it clear that as Senate president I will continue to advocate for increased safety and security in our schools. I am grateful for the support,” Galvano said Monday.

The alleged shooter in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas case, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, legally purchased a semiautomatic rifle that was used in the massacre.

Gun-rights supporters have been frustrated in recent years by the Senate, which has blocked proposals such as allowing people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry firearms on college campuses. Bills have stalled after years of the Republican-dominated Legislature generally being supportive of positions backed by groups such as the NRA.

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