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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.

FPL power plant gets key backing

Turning aside objections from the Sierra Club, an administrative law judge Monday recommended that Gov. Rick Scott and the state Cabinet approve a plan by Florida Power & Light to build a new power plant in Broward County.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Environmental Protection issued an order Friday giving approval to a plan by Seminole Electric Cooperative to build a plant in Putnam County.

FPL and Seminole Electric Cooperative plan to build natural gas-fired plants at sites that already house generating units. Both projects also have received crucial sign-offs — known as determinations of need — from the Florida Public Service Commission, which regulates electric utilities.

Administrative Law Judge Cathy Sellers on Monday issued a 129-page recommended order that urged Scott and the Cabinet to approve “certification” of FPL’s plan for a 1,200-megawatt plant in Dania Beach. Under state law, Scott and the Cabinet serve as a sitting board that has final say in disputes about whether power-plant projects should move forward.

FPL intends to build the new plant while tearing down two generating units at the Broward County site. The Sierra Club has raised a series of objections to the project, focusing heavily on greenhouse-gas emissions that would come from the new plant. The environmental group has sought denial of the certification or, as an alternative, to have a series of conditions placed on the plant.

But Sellers rejected the Sierra Club’s arguments. For example, she wrote that the new plant would be more efficient than the older units it would replace. She acknowledged that the new plant might not reduce emissions at the Broward site because it would be used more than the older units, but she said it would help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions across FPL’s broader system.

“(The) competent, credible evidence showed that the operation of Unit 7 (the new plant) will reduce GHG emissions across FPL’s electrical power generating system because it will be operated more often than other, less efficient units, thereby displacing the use of those units across FPL’s electrical power generation system,” Sellers wrote. “Stated another way, because Unit 7 will be a significantly more efficient electrical power generating unit — meaning that it will produce more electricity per cubic foot of natural gas than FPL’s less efficient units — it will be operated more frequently than FPL’s less efficient units, resulting in reduced consumption of natural gas on a system-wide basis.”

Sellers’ recommended order came three days after Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein signed a final order approving certification of the Seminole Electric Cooperative plant in Putnam County. Valenstein had the authority to sign the order without the issue going to the governor and Cabinet because the project was not contested before an administrative law judge.

Seminole Electric Cooperative, which supplies electricity to cooperatives throughout the state, plans to build a natural-gas plant and tear down one of two smaller coal-fired plants at the Putnam County site. While Valenstein approved the certification, the Public Service Commission’s approval of a determination of need for the Putnam County project drew legal challenges last month. Those challenges are pending at the Florida Supreme Court, according to court dockets.

Parkland school footage case goes to Supreme Court

Prosecutors have asked the Florida Supreme Court to take up a dispute about whether more surveillance-camera footage should be released from the afternoon when a gunman killed 17 people at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

A panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 decision last week, upheld a circuit judge’s ruling that the school camera footage should be made available, but the Broward County State Attorney’s Office on Friday filed a notice of taking the issue to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, however, indicated Monday it would not move forward with the case until after the 4th District Court of Appeal rules on a motion for rehearing.

Some footage from the school was released in March, but media organizations expanded the request as they sought additional information about the response of law-enforcement officers to the Feb. 14 mass shooting. The Broward County School Board objected to the additional request, pointing to concerns that the video could divulge security vulnerabilities on the school’s campus. Also, the Broward County State Attorney’s Office objected to releasing the additional footage, saying it was part of an active criminal investigation.

But a majority of the appeals court rejected both arguments and said the Broward Sheriff’s Office must release the footage. The majority pointed, in part, to what is known as a “good cause” exception to a law that typically shields the release of information about security systems.

Public matching funds add up in state races

Nearly $3.5 million in public matching funds were distributed to seven candidates — including three gubernatorial candidates who drew a combined $2.6 million — when the first checks went out Friday.

The initial amounts indicate candidates may quickly top the state’s contributions to candidates in the 2014 election.

Four years ago, the state distributed $4.34 million in matching funds to six statewide candidates, including Attorney General Pam Bondi, former Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam during the primary and general elections.

The first matching fund checks issued in 2014, also distributed the final week of July, totaled $948,838.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist, who made an unsuccessful bid to return to the governor’s office in 2014, drew $2.58 million, the most of any candidate in that year’s election cycle.

This year, Putnam, who is running for governor, got $932,471 in Friday’s payments, while his Republican primary opponent, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, received $643,226, according to numbers posted by the Division of Elections.

Candidates are eligible to receive matches of individual contributions of $250 or less. No public money is dispensed until candidates for Cabinet positions reach $100,000 in such relatively small-dollar contributions received since last September. For gubernatorial candidates, the threshold is $150,000.

Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, the only Democratic gubernatorial candidate to qualify for the state public funding program, received $991,598.

Among attorney general candidates, former Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Ashley Moody, a Republican, got $283,748, and Democrat Sean Shaw, a state House member from Tampa, received $138,993.

Republican Frank White, who is battling Moody in the GOP primary for attorney general, has made an issue of her statements that she stands for reducing government waste while she has sought public matching funds.

Moody has countered that the public matching-dollar program was established to combat “self-funding” by inexperienced candidates.

White has put $2.77 million of his own money into the campaign, while the family-owned auto dealership Sansing Holdings, where he is general counsel and chief financial officer, has added $250,000 through the political committee United Conservatives.

State Sen. Denise Grimsley, a Republican from Sebring running for agriculture commissioner, received $225,696 in matching funds.

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, a Republican who has no primary opponent, picked up $268,668 in matching funds.

In 2014, Putnam, seeking re-election as agriculture commissioner, received $459,009 in matching dollars. In 2010, when first running for the office, Putnam drew $587,396 in matching funds.

In 2010, the state doled out a combined $6.1 million in matching funds.

Bill McCollum, a former state attorney general who sought the Republican nomination for governor in 2010, was the biggest user of the program. McCollum received $1.82 million before being knocked out in the primary.

Gov. Rick Scott, who topped McCollum in the 2010 primary, didn’t draw any matching funds in 2010 or 2014 as he used his own personal wealth in both campaigns.

Bondi received $328,016 in matching funds in 2014 and $432,619 in 2010.

Atwater used the program to receive $418,396 in 2014 and $744,250 in 2010.

State appeals conservation funding case

Legislative leaders are appealing a Leon County circuit judge’s ruling that the state has not properly carried out a 2014 constitutional amendment that required spending on land and water conservation.

Attorneys for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, and Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, filed a notice this week of taking the case to the 1st District Court of Appeal.

As is common, the notice does not detail the arguments that the Legislature will make at the appeals court. Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson last month ruled that lawmakers had failed to properly comply with the voter-approved constitutional amendment, which required using money from a real estate tax to bolster land and water conservation.

Environmental groups filed legal challenges against the state, contending that lawmakers had diverted portions of the money to other expenses.

The notice of appeal was filed after Dodson refused to grant a rehearing in the case.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Jeff Greene plows $3M more into gubernatorial bid

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Greene has put another $3 million into his campaign, bringing the total to $13.6 million since Greene entered the race last month, according to a newly filed finance report.

Greene, a Palm Beach billionaire, loaned $3 million to the campaign on July 16.

The $13.6 million includes loans and contributions from Greene, who has almost totally self-funded his campaign.

During an interview this week with The News Service of Florida, Greene didn’t put a limit on how much he will spend as he competes with fellow Democrats Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham, Chris King and Philip Levine in the Aug. 28 primary.

“As of now, I know that I’ve probably spent a little more than Gwen Graham, less than Philip Levine,” Greene said. “There are only five weeks left, I don’t have any idea what it will take.”

Silver screen star Doris Day’s group gives dog racing ban a boost

Supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban greyhound racing at Florida dog tracks got a $1.5 million boost from a foundation established by Doris Day, the critter-loving movie star who’s devoted much of her life to rescuing animals.

The Doris Day Animal League made the contribution last week to the Committee to Protect Dogs, a group backing the ballot measure known as Amendment 13, according to committee co-chairwoman Kate MacFall.

The money will be spent on a $1.85 million ad buy, starting in October, for advertising spots in the Tampa, Miami and Orlando media markets.

“Truly this is a turning point, and a very positive turning point, for the campaign, that Doris Day made this a priority and her generosity to help the greyhounds,” MacFall told The News Service of Florida on Friday.

MacFall, who also serves as state director for The Humane Society of the United States, said a majority of Floridians support the amendment when they learn more about the issue.

MacFall and other backers of Amendment 13 are hoping Day’s money and the ads will help the proposal reach the 60 percent threshold required for constitutional amendments to pass.

“It’s an exciting time for us because we know, from our polling, that when Florida voters know dogs are confined 20 to 23 hours a day, they’re being injured, and one dog is being killed every three days, they will support Amendment 13. It’s just making that connection,” she said.

The committee secured the pre-election advertising time on Friday, a day after opponents of the proposal tried to persuade a Tallahassee judge to strip the amendment from the November ballot. The Florida Greyhound Association, which represents breeders, owners and trainers, contends the ballot title and summary are misleading. A ruling has not yet been issued.

MacFall accused the greyhound industry of “a desperate attempt” to keep voters from deciding on the racing issue. “We feel really confident that it will go favorably for our side,” she said.

Republished with permission of The News Service of Florida.

Clashes emerge on education amendment — two decades later

One group, describing itself as the “framers” of an education constitutional amendment, was largely appointed by former Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles. Another group was appointed by 1990s-era Republican legislative leaders.

But two decades after the groups served together on the 1997-1998 Florida Constitution Revision Commission, they are clashing in the state Supreme Court.

The root of the clash is an amendment that the Constitution Revision Commission placed on the 1998 ballot that spelled out a duty for the state to provide a high-quality system of public schools. The Florida Supreme Court is now considering a case about whether the state has properly carried out the amendment — and the two factions of the long-adjourned Constitution Revision Commission have injected themselves into the case on opposite sides.

The latest move came Thursday when the group of six Republican appointees asked for permission to file a friend-of-the-court brief that would oppose a stance that the 10 “framers” took in a brief early this month. The Supreme Court on Friday granted permission for the additional brief.

The groups include movers and shakers of 1990s-era Florida politics. Among the framers’ group are former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, former Supreme Court Justice Gerald Kogan and former House Speaker Jon Mills. Among the opposing group are former Senate President and Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings and former Senate President Jim Scott.

The underlying lawsuit at the Supreme Court involves a voter-approved 1998 constitutional amendment that said it is a “paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.” The amendment fleshed that out, in part, by saying adequate provision will be made for a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high-quality system” of public schools.

Critics of the education system, including an organization known as Citizens for Strong Schools, have waged a legal battle in recent years arguing that the state has not done enough to meet the requirements of the amendment.

But a Leon County circuit judge and the 1st District Court of Appeal ruled against the plaintiffs. The appeals court said, in part, that the issues in the case “raise political questions not subject to judicial review, because the relevant constitutional text does not contain judicially discoverable standards by which a court can decide whether the state has complied.”

The plaintiffs then appealed to the Supreme Court, which has agreed to take up the case.

The framers’ group — which also includes 1997-1998 commission members Martha Barnett, Robert Brochin, Ellen Freidin, Clay Henderson, Robert Nabors, H.T. Smith and Stephen Zack — took the unusual step of seeking permission from the Supreme Court to file a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the plaintiffs. That brief, filed July 2, disputed the 1st District Court of Appeal’s conclusion that judges should not resolve the issues about the education system.

“To find that there are no judicially manageable standards is to find (the constitutional amendment’s) text and its intent meaningless and unenforceable,” the framers’ brief said. “Under that interpretation, a future legislature could appropriate one dollar for public education or allow patently unsafe public schools and the courts could do nothing.”

But in a filing Thursday seeking permission from the Supreme Court to file the counter brief, the six-member group — which also includes 1998 commission members Carlos Alfonso, Chris Corr, Valerie Evans and Paul Hawkes — backed the 1st District Court of Appeal ruling.

Also, the group argued that the Supreme Court should not take into consideration of the views of individual members of the 37-member commission, which meets every 20 years to suggest changes to the Constitution.

“To present evidence now as to the CRC’s intentions in 1998 through some, but not all, CRC members would not reflect the views of the entire 37-member CRC,” the filing said. “Therefore, (the six) members have interest in this appeal to emphasize that their individual views, and views of other members of the CRC, are not probative of the meaning of the Florida Constitution and should not be used in determining whether (the education constitutional amendment) sets forth justiciable standards.”

Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham

Poll gives edge to Gwen Graham, Ron DeSantis in governor’s race

With the primary elections almost exactly a month away, a poll released Friday shows Democrat Gwen Graham and Republican Ron DeSantis as the front-runners in the race to replace Gov. Rick Scott.

The Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy poll came after Florida Atlantic University also released a poll this week showing Graham and DeSantis leading their gubernatorial primaries — though the margins were larger in the Mason-Dixon results.

“Democrat Gwen Graham and Republican Ron DeSantis have established themselves as the clear front-runners in their respective gubernatorial primaries,” Mason-Dixon said in analysis accompanying its results.

The Mason-Dixon poll showed Graham, a former congresswoman from Tallahassee, getting the support of 27 percent of Democratic voters, followed by former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine at 18 percent.

They were followed by Palm Beach businessman Jeff Greene at 12 percent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum at 10 percent, Winter Park businessman Chris King at 7 percent and other candidates at 1 percent. Many Democratic voters — 25 percent — were undecided as the Aug. 28 primary nears.

The Florida Atlantic University poll, by comparison, gave Graham a four-point edge over Levine.

Graham has large leads over her primary competitors among women and Hispanic voters, according to the Mason-Dixon poll. But she also might be benefiting from Greene’s entrance into the race last month, with Mason-Dixon saying Levine’s “previously growing base of support appears to be stalled.”

“Levine had been running about even with Graham until Greene jumped in,” the Mason-Dixon analysis said. “Both men have extremely similar profiles: Politically experienced, successful business owners who are white, male, Jewish and from South Florida. They each have tremendous personal wealth that gives them the ability to put a considerable amount of their own money into their campaigns. With this over-lapping appeal, the two are drawing a combined 30 percent of voters, slightly more than Graham.”

In the Republican gubernatorial primary, meanwhile, the poll showed DeSantis, a Northeast Florida congressman who enjoys support from President Donald Trump, with a double-digit lead over state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Mason-Dixon’s analysis pointed to Trump’s support as a key factor for DeSantis. The president is slated to hold a rally Tuesday in Tampa in which he will tout DeSantis.

“It is likely that President Donald Trump’s endorsement of DeSantis is the driving factor behind the shift in the race,” the Mason-Dixon analysis said.

The poll said 41 percent of GOP voters backed DeSantis, while 29 percent supported Putnam. The Florida Atlantic University poll, by comparison, gave DeSantis a nine-point edge over Putnam. Mason-Dixon’s results indicated DeSantis has large leads over Putnam among male and white voters.

Mason-Dixon, a longtime pollster in Florida, conducted telephone interviews of 625 registered voters statewide who said they were likely to vote in the November general election. The poll was conducted from Monday through Wednesday.

AIDS foundation files records case against Rick Scott

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation filed a public-records lawsuit Thursday in Leon County circuit court alleging that Gov. Rick Scott’s staff refused to provide copies of his public calendar and travel schedule.

The lawsuit came after the group said it tried to contact the governor about concerns with the state Agency for Health Care Administration’s recent decision to not renew Medicaid contracts in Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties for an AIDS Healthcare Foundation managed-care plan known as Positive Healthcare.

The foundation also has filed a legal challenge about the contracts in administrative court. If it loses in administrative court, more than 2,000 patients with HIV and AIDS will have to enroll in a different Medicaid managed-care plan.

The new lawsuit alleges that the AIDS Healthcare Foundation asked Scott’s office for copies of the governor’s electronic calendar and hard-copy calendars showing all meetings, events and appearances for Scott from July 20 through Oct. 31. It also requested all documents and records that indicate where Scott will travel — and reside — for those months. Also, the organization wants a list of all campaign and fundraising events Scott will attend as part of his race for the U.S. Senate.

Imara Canady, regional communication and community engagement director for the Southern bureau of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said Scott has made increasing transparency a campaign promise in his bid for the U.S. Senate but has failed to deliver on that as governor.

“What exactly is he doing? Where is he now? No one seems to know what he’s doing as governor,” Canady said.

The governor’s office did not immediately comment on the lawsuit.

Requested vote-by-mail ballots top 2 million

More than 2.3 million ballots have been sent out for the Aug. 28 primary elections, according to the Florida Division of Elections.

As of Thursday afternoon, 2,361 had been returned, 1,064 from Republicans, 920 from Democrats, 39 from third-party voters and 338 from people without party affiliation. Republicans had requested 913,071 vote-by-mail ballots and Democrats had asked for 933,777, according to the Division of Elections. The rest had been sent to people registered with third parties or without party affiliation.

The county with the most ballots out was Miami-Dade with 287,443, of which 88,677 had been sent to Republicans and 124,879 to Democrats.

The GOP had a slight edge in Pinellas County, where of the 256,906 vote-by-mail ballots sent out, 100,866 had gone to Republicans and 100,083 to Democrats.

In Hillsborough County, with 197,525 vote-by-mail ballots sent out, 84,634 had gone to Democrats and 71,229 to Republicans.

Of the 183,408 ballots out in Broward County, 109,702 were requested by Democrats and 43,020 by Republicans.

Of the 135,184 ballots so far requested in Orange County, 65,481 were sent to Democrats and 39,278 to Republicans.

The state had more than 12.9 million registered voters as of June 30. Voter registration numbers will be updated after Monday, the final day in which people can register to vote in the primary. The last day for voters to request vote-by-mail ballots is Aug. 22, and the last day for supervisors to send out the ballots is Aug. 24. Voters can also pick up vote-by-mail ballots from local election supervisors up to the day before the election.

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