Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics

Jim Rosica

Jim Rosica covers state government from Tallahassee for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

Personnel note: Chris Hart IV to head Court Clerks group

Chris Hart IV, who last was with Florida TaxWatch, will be the next CEO of the statewide Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers association, according to a Friday press release. He starts Dec. 4.

Hart “will provide strong leadership to our association,” said Marcia M. Johnson, Franklin County Clerk and Comptroller and 2017-18 Board President, in a statement.

“He brings extensive knowledge of the legislative process, which will be critical as we work together with lawmakers to establish sustainable funding for our offices,” she said.

Hart served in the Florida House of Representatives for Hillsborough County’s District 57 in 1998-2002. He later was president and CEO of CareerSource Florida, the state’s employment services operation, from 2007-17.

He left that position to become CEO of Enterprise Florida (EFI), but stepped down after less than three months on the job.

“I’ve come to realize that Gov. (RickScott and I do not share a common vision or understanding for how Enterprise Florida can best provide value within his administration,” he wrote in his resignation letter. “This difference of opinion is of such a critical nature that I no longer believe I can be effective in my position.”

He then joined TaxWatch as the organization’s executive vice president.

Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers represents the interests of Florida’s 67 elected Clerks of the Circuit Court and one independently elected County Comptroller.

“Clerks are independently elected as their duties provide a system of checks and balances, ensuring transparency, access and accountability in local government,” the release said. “While the Constitution Revision Commission convenes this year, Hart and the association will support preserving the roles of constitutional officers as elected, not appointed, positions.”

“Our association can achieve great things with a sharpened focus on our vision and mission,” Hart said in a statement.

“This is a pivotal point in time for the Clerks and Comptrollers, and I look forward to supporting them in their shared commitment to excellence as they seek to effectively and efficiently serve the citizens of Florida.”

He also has been interim director of the now-defunct Governor’s Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development under both Scott and Gov. Charlie Crist.

Hart was appointed by Crist in 2010 to chair the Governor’s Gulf Oil Spill Economic Recovery Task Force, responsible for coordinating state efforts in response to the Deepwater Horizon spill.

He received an MBA from the University of South Florida and an undergraduate degree in political science from Florida State University. Hart and his wife Amy reside in Tallahassee and have two adult children.

Florida unemployment down to 3.6 percent, lowest number in decade

After an uncharacteristically subdued release of September job numbers after Irma, Gov. Rick Scott was able to thump his chest Friday with October numbers.

The topline takeaway: unemployment is down to 3.6 percent, the lowest number in a decade.

Florida added more than 127,000 private sector jobs in October;  all told, 1,448,300 jobs have been added by the Scott administration.

“I am proud to announce today that Florida’s unemployment rate has reached a more than 10-year low of 3.6 percent and that more than 127,000 private-sector jobs were created in October. While Hurricane Irma was a devastating storm,” Scott asserted, “we have worked day after day to help communities recover and send a message across the world that Florida is open for business.”

“Recovering from Hurricane Irma has been our top priority. We are committed to ensuring Florida’s families and businesses continue to prosper. The unemployment rate has consistently declined while jobs are being added in diverse industries all across the Sunshine State, proving that we have the best economic climate in the nation,” added Cissy Proctor, head of the Department of Economic Opportunity.

According to DEO, other “positive economic indicators” include:

— Private-sector industries gaining the most jobs over-the-year were:

Professional and business services with 38,900 new jobs;

Trade, transportation and utilities with 38,300 new jobs;

Construction with 35,600 new jobs;

Education and health services with 17,600 new jobs; and

Other services with 17,600 new jobs.

— Florida job postings showed 240,297 openings in October 2017.

— In October, Florida’s 24 regional workforce boards reported 23,082 Floridians, including 1,273 veterans, were placed in jobs.

The Scott Administration frames job growth in a year over year framework, and Orlando continues to pace the state in job creation.

“I am proud to announce that Orlando leads the state with the most jobs created this past year, adding more than 37,000 new private-sector jobs. This growth, and the area’s low 3.2 percent unemployment rate, confirms that Orlando remains a great place to start or grow a business,” Scott said.

Leisure and hospitality, manufacturing, finance, and professional and business services have all been growth sectors in the Orlando area, which has a 3.2 percent unemployment rate.

The Tampa metro is also strong, with a 3.3 percent unemployment rate. Professional and business services and construction were the main drivers for the 27,000 new jobs added year over year.

22 out of 24 metro areas in Florida had over-the-year job gains. Cape Coral/Ft. Myers and Homosassa Springs were exceptions to the rule.

On a county by county basis, unemployment ranged from 2.7 percent in Okaloosa and St. Johns Counties to 7.3 percent in Hardee County.

To view the October 2017 employment data, click here.

Capital correspondent Jim Rosica contributed to this post.

Tom Lee defends dog racing ban; Pam Bondi noncommittal

State Sen. Tom Lee fired off a tweetstorm Wednesday in support of his proposed constitutional amendment to ban greyhound racing in Florida.

Lee—a Thonotosassa Republican, previous Senate president and current candidate for Chief Financial Officer—called dog racing “cruel and inhumane,” and added the “greyhound industry opposes any real reform.” (His tweets are at bottom.)

He filed the proposal as a member of the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), which convenes every 20 years to review and propose changes to the state’s governing document.

Meantime, Attorney General Pam Bondi—a Tampa Republican who regularly brings shelter dogs to state Cabinet meetings to get them adopted—declined to say whether she would support the amendment. Bondi also sits on the 37-member CRC.

“As a member of the commission, I look forward to reviewing the more than one hundred proposals that have been filed,” Bondi said in a one-sentence statement to Florida Politics.

Lee’s amendment would phase out live racing over three years, mandating a one-third reduction in race days in 2019-20 and a two-thirds reduction in 2020-21.

“All dog racing in connection with any wager for money or any other thing of value is prohibited on and after July 1, 2021,” the proposal says.

Lawmakers have long failed to pass legislation that would remove the requirement that tracks offer live racing to offer other kinds of gambling, known as “decoupling.”

Efforts to ban the use of steroids in dogs also have died; in fact, a draft bill circulating this month would ensure that trainers could give dogs steroids and allow trace amounts of cocaine in their system.  The 2018 Legislative Session begins in January.

Jack Cory, spokesman for the Florida Greyhound Association, has said Lee’s proposal “is bad for Florida and it is bad for the greyhounds.”

“It would cost over 3,000 Florida jobs, put over 8,000 beautiful greyhounds at risk and create 19 mini-casinos throughout Florida,” Cory said, referring to other gambling, such as cards, that would continue at pari-mutuel facilities.

Lee’s tweets are below:

Legal challenges bog down medical cannabis process

A litany of lawsuits continues to jam up the state’s medical marijuana licensure process, the state’s top marijuana official told House lawmakers Wednesday.

Christian Bax, executive director of the state Health Department’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use, gave the House Health Quality Subcommittee an overview of his work, including the latest tally of legal challenges.

“(Our) position is, we need to see whether a judge will stop this process prior to accepting applications,” Bax said. “We want to start accepting applications and move forward.”

To name just a couple, Tropiflora of Sarasota recently sued the state over its preference in granting medical marijuana licenses to companies with underused or shuttered citrus factories.

Tropiflora calls that an “unconstitutional special advantage” that “adversely impacts” its chance of getting one of 10 more available licenses to be a “medical marijuana treatment center.”

There’s also a constitutional challenge pending from attorney John Morgan over lawmakers’ ban on smoking medicinal cannabis. Morgan was the main backer of the state constitutional amendment authorizing marijuana as medicine and approved by voters last year.

Morgan’s suit seeks a declaratory judgment that the smoking ban runs counter to the amendment’s intent. Lawmakers recently approved and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law an implementing bill (SB 8-A) for the amendment that does not allow medicinal marijuana to be smoked.

House Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues, for example, has said “we don’t believe you smoke medicine.” Edibles and “vaping” are permitted, however. Bax told the committee his office is still developing rules on edible marijuana products.

There also are administrative challenges, such as a bid protest over the contract for producing the marijuana patient ID cards.

Rep. Ralph Massullo, a Lecanto Republican and dermatologist, likened Health Department officials working on marijuana to the proverbial Dutch boy who plugs a dike with his finger: “They can only hold it for so long.”

At the same time, he said, department officials must “work hard to enforce the law that we worked hard to pass.”


Blackjack cash bolsters state budget

Gov. Rick Scott built gambling money from the Seminole Tribe of Florida into his proposed $85 billion state budget for 2018-19.

The Tribe and the state this summer settled a lawsuit over its ability to exclusively offer “banked card games” such as blackjack.

Since then, “the payments associated with banked card games that the state has held in reserve ($233.8 million) have been released into General Revenue,” according to the governor’s budget website.

“Future revenue share payments have been treated as non-recurring revenues,” it says. “These payments are estimated to be $272.5 million for Fiscal Year 2017-18 and more than $280 million for Fiscal Year 2018-19.”

A blackjack provision in a prior agreement from 2010, known as the Seminole Compact, expired in 2015. In December of that year, Scott had negotiated a new blackjack deal in return for $3 billion to state coffers over seven years. Lawmakers did not approve it.

The original 2010 deal actually wound up being worth more than $200 million per year in revenue share to state coffers. Blackjack and other gambling, including slots, has brought in billions for the Tribe.

A year later, a federal judge ruled that the state—in allowing other card games that played too much like blackjack at pari-mutuel cardrooms—broke the original deal and let the Tribe have blackjack till 2030.

The Tribe was no longer obligated to pay revenue share from blackjack games but did so out of good faith in the hopes of brokering a settlement. The cut of the money from blackjack was “administratively segregated” in the General Revenue Fund until the Tribe and state reached a deal.

The settlement terms are simple: The tribe still gets to continue dealing blackjack till 2030. The state will continue to accept a cut of the take.

The Seminoles have Vegas-style and other gambling at seven casinos around the state, including Tampa’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. They offer blackjack at their Tampa, Hollywood, Coconut Creek, Immokalee and Hollywood locations.

Judge OKs release of abuse reports to Tampa Bay Times

A Tallahassee judge has agreed to the release of Department of Children and Families (DCF) records on home health care abuses to the Tampa Bay Times.

Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers last week OK’d an agreement between the newspaper and the department that would allow Times investigative reporter Kathleen McGrory access to certain redacted investigative records.

State law “generally makes (those records) confidential and unavailable to the public,” but allows for a petition for a court order to release such documents if “good cause exists,” the paper’s original filing explained.

The newspaper has said it aims to publish a “data-driven … examination of Florida’s methods of investigating and preventing maltreatment of the Florida families who rely on in-home health care providers.” It does not seek the identities of victims of such abuse.

“The court is aware … that home health care service providers are playing an increasingly important role in the lives of Florida families,” Gievers’ order says. “The number of (verified) allegations of abuse, neglect and exploitation … are necessarily matters of great public concern.

“DCF’s methods of investigating and dealing with verified maltreatment … warrant the significant scrutiny the Times and Ms. McGrory propose to conduct,” it adds.

DCF spokesman David Frady previously said in a statement that the department had “no objection to the Times’ request to waive confidentiality as long as a court determines releasing the information is in the best interest of the public.”

He also said the department assisted the Times in writing its petition. Veteran media attorney Alison Steele of St. Petersburg is representing the Times and McGrory.

In an agreed-upon process, McGrory will first review “investigative summaries” in which DCF verified abuse, neglect or exploitation, then ask for corresponding reports as needed, the initial petition said. The department will take out any “personal identifying information.”

Right-leaning watchdog now wants judicial emails after ‘hot mic’

A conservative watchdog says it’s filed a public records request for emails from Justice Barbara Pariente and Chief Justice Jorge Labarga after what it calls “the justices’ overt political bias.”

The D.C.-based Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) late Monday released a copy of its request to the Florida Supreme Court.

It asks for copies of emails to or from Pariente and Labarga “that contain the phrases ‘Judicial Nominating Commission’ or ‘JNC,’ or any names” of members of the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission.

The two jurists had been caught on a ‘hot mic‘ immediately after a Nov. 1 oral argument in a case over Gov. Rick Scott’s judicial appointment power.

Progressive groups claim Scott doesn’t have authority to appoint three new Supreme Court justices on the last day of his term. The openings are caused by the mandatory retirements for the court’s liberal-leaning trio of Justices R. Fred Lewis, Pariente and Peggy A. Quince.

Moments after the argument ended, Labarga can first be heard on a recording from the courtroom saying what sounds like, “…anything on there, Panuccio.” Jesse Panuccio, once Scott’s general counsel and a former head of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, is a member of the Supreme Court JNC.

Pariente then can be heard saying what sounds like “crazy.” That’s followed by Labarga: “Izzy Reyes is on there, he’ll listen to me.”

JNC member Israel U. Reyes is founder of The Reyes Law Firm in Coral Gables and a former circuit judge. He’s also one of four members nominated to the nine-member commission by The Florida Bar; the others are appointed by the governor.

Kendra Arnold, FACT’s executive director, used the 14 words that could be made out in the conversation to assign “political bias” to the two justices. Pariente has served almost 20 years on the high court; Labarga has served nearly nine years.

“Judicial temperament that includes threatening lawyers short and long-term as Justice Labarga has done, attacking other public officials in the midst of a political campaign as Justice Pariente has done, and now attacking members of the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission, destroys public faith in the courts,” Arnold said in a statement.

The organization was formed “in 2014 as a conservative counterweight to watchdog groups viewed as more left-of-center, such as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington,” according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The Governor’s Office also filed a records request for a piece of paper on the bench to which Pariente and Labarga were ostensibly referring during their exchange. That document turned out to be the current membership list of the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission.

When asked if he might pursue recusals of Labarga and Pariente from his case, Scott has said, “I think we have to find out. Let’s put the facts on the table. Then we can make a decision of how we should go forward.”

In her statement, Arnold was less circumspect: “Both justices should immediately recuse themselves from this case as they have demonstrated a bias against the governor.”

Personnel note: Katherine San Pedro joins Ballard Partners

Ballard Partners has hired Katherine San Pedro as its newest partner in the lobbying firms’s Tallahassee and Miami offices, according to a Tuesday news release.

“Katherine has a stellar reputation in Florida politics, having forged key relationships with members of the Florida Legislature from her years campaigning and working in the Capitol,” said Brian Ballard, the firm’s president.

“Her intricate knowledge of policy analysis, crisis communications and campaign management will be an asset to both our team and our clients.”

San Pedro “will hone her extensive political, public relations and legislative experience to serve clients’ state government and issue advocacy needs,” the release said.

She is joining the firm as its youngest Hispanic female partner, according to Ballard. Here’s the rest of the release:

Most recently, San Pedro was the External & Legislative Affairs Regional Director for AT&T Florida, where she led the telecommunication giant’s teams in Miami Dade, Monroe, Lee, Collier Counties.

Prior to this private sector experience, she served as legislative assistant to state Rep. Bryan Avila as well as Florida House Speaker pro tempore Jeanette Núñez.

A seasoned campaign manager, San Pedro has spearheaded fundraising, operations and strategy for competitive local, state and federal elections throughout South and Central Florida.

Named one of SaintPetersBlog’s 2014 “30 Under 30 Rising Stars in Florida Politics,” San Pedro has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Miami.

More hits to citrus: Forecast portends further decrease

As Florida’s citrus industry “seeks consideration for federal emergency funding,” a U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast Thursday “confirmed a continuing decline in production due to Hurricane Irma’s impact on this season’s crop,” the Florida Department of Citrus said in a press release.

“The report predicts Florida orange production for 2017-18 at 50 million boxes of oranges, a 27 percent decrease over last season,” it said. “Florida grapefruit is expected to produce 4.65 million boxes, a decrease of 40 percent.”

“Unfortunately, I don’t think this will be the last decrease we see,” said Shannon Shepp, the department’s executive director.

The monthly forecasts are best guesses; the real numbers come after the growing season ends. It’s those figures that tell the story of citrus in Florida.

The state’s citrus industry also has been hit by the citrus greening epidemic. The so-far incurable disease attacks the fruit, causing it to turn green and bitter, and eventually killing the tree.

“Hurricane Irma had widespread impact on our industry and growers are still trying to pick up the pieces,” Shepp added. “High winds and flooding rains damaged already weakened trees making it even more difficult to hold on to the fruit that’s left.

“Luckily, Florida citrus growers are a resilient group of hardworking individuals and I know they’ll find a way to carry on like they always do.”

In a separate statement, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam later said the “lowered forecast shows that the damage to Florida citrus from Hurricane Irma is still unfolding.”

“And it will continue to for some time,” Putnam said. “Florida’s growers need support and they need it fast. I will continue to work with Gov. (Rick) Scott and leaders in Washington to get Florida’s growers the support and relief they need to rebuild as quickly as possible.”

Here’s more from the Department of Citrus release:

Florida growers reported 30 to 70 percent crop loss after Hurricane Irma’s landfall on Sept. 10, with the southwest region of the state receiving the most damage.

The hurricane uprooted trees and left many groves sitting in standing water for up to three weeks, potentially damaging the root systems.

In October, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced that Florida citrus sustained more than $760 million in damages due to Hurricane Irma. Those numbers are expected to grow as the season continues.

Bill would permit trace cocaine amounts in racing dogs

A draft of a bill is circulating in the Capitol that would, among other things, expressly legalize steroids and trace amounts of cocaine in racing greyhounds, critics say.

One lawmaker made aware of the language on Thursday jokingly asked if it was “written by The Onion.” But an industry representative said the legislation, backed by his organization, would cement protections for the animals. In Florida, live dog racing is still conducted at 12 tracks.

“Animal safety is and always has been our No. 1 issue,” said Jack Cory, spokesman and lobbyist for the Florida Greyhound Association, which represents breeders and owners. The proposed bill “moves that one step further.”

The industry is on the defensive, however, with a proposed state constitutional amendment in the works—backed by GOP state Sen. Tom Lee of Hillsborough County—that would ban greyhound racing in Florida, phasing it out over three years after passage.

The draft legislation, for example, would mandate a “safe track surface” and require insulation of any electrical wires with which dogs could potentially come into contact.

But it would also pre-empt local efforts to regulate dog racing and would allow dogs to have “environmental levels” of “prohibited substances” in their system.

Cory explained that state regulators already permit steroids, which trainers use as a form of birth control.

Furthermore, “you can get a nanogram of cocaine from touching a 20-dollar bill,” he said. “Having one nanogram in your system is not going to affect any dog or any person and that is what is we are trying to clarify.”

Earlier this year, regulators suspended a Florida racing-dog trainer’s license after 12 dogs in his care tested positive for cocaine, First Coast News has reported.

“Wow,” said state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat, when told of the language. “Only in Tallahassee would the industry solution to the epidemic of cocaine and steroid use in greyhounds be to legalize cocaine and steroid use in greyhounds.”

Smith was behind a recent bipartisan effort to ban the use of steroids on greyhound racing dogs. The legislation died during the 2017 Legislative Session.

“This proposal is going nowhere, but it’s also really disturbing,” Smith said. “And we are supposed to trust these people with greyhounds?”

Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat opposed to dog racing, asked in a text message, “Was this written by The Onion?” – referring to the news satire website – when asked to comment on the proposal.

“I can’t speak for Speaker (Richard) Corcoran, but I cannot imagine any situation where he would allow a bill to be heard that would effectively legalize cocaine in dogs,” Moskowitz said in a later phone interview.

“… This is not serious policy. This is satire,” he said. “(The industry) is recognizing that dog racing is coming to an end, and they are throwing every ridiculous idea to see what sticks.”

Kate MacFall, Florida state director of the Humane Society of the United States, said “common sense would tell you this is a really bad bill.”

Dog racing opponents “have really won the debate,” she added, calling the proposed legislation a “ludicrous” last-ditch attempt by a “dying industry.”


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