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.

Kathleen Peters bows out of contention for PSC seat

Rep. Kathleen Peters announced on Saturday morning she was withdrawing her bid to join the Public Service Commission (PSC), citing the need to fight St. Pete’s plan to pump wastewater underground.

Peters, a Treasure Island Republican, relayed her decision in an email.

“I felt that my experience in business, local and state government, and as Chair of the House Energy and Utilities Subcommittee would well suit me for the position,” she said.

“… Since submitting my application, I have learned that the City of St. Petersburg is seeking permission to pump sewage into the aquifer beneath Pinellas from which we draw our water,” she added. “Many of my constituents are very upset by this possibility and have urged me to fight this proposal.

“I believe I can best do that by continuing on the course I had previously set forth as a candidate for the Pinellas County Commission. With that in mind, I have decided to respectfully withdraw my application for the Public Service Commission and continue to focus first on the privilege of serving my constituents as a State Representative, and subsequently on my campaign for District 6 on the Pinellas County Commission.

“I believe I am uniquely qualified in so many ways to serve our residents, and want to devote my full energy to that endeavor.”

Peters, elected to the House in 2012, was one of 18 applicants to fill a seat on the PSC, which regulates investor-owned utilities.

Gov. Scott had picked former Rep. Ritch Workman to replace Ronald Brisé on the panel. But Workman, a Melbourne Republican, bowed out after a sexual misconduct allegation.

Remaining contenders include former Rep. Janet Adkins, a Fernandina Beach Republican; and former Rep. Ray Pilon, a Sarasota Republican.

Interviews by the Public Service Commission Nominating Council are set for Jan. 25 in Tallahassee. The full-time position, based in Tallahassee, pays $132,036 a year. Scott’s pick must get Senate approval.

Peters’ full statement is below:

Nursing home residents’ bill of rights wins approval

A modified version of a constitutional ‘bill of rights’ for residents of Florida nursing homes and assisted living facilities won approval by its only review committee on Friday.

The Declaration of Rights Committee approved the proposal (P88) by a vote of 5-2, sending it to the full Constitution Revision Commission for consideration.

But the measure was immediately lambasted by the Florida Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes, assisted living facilities and others who care for the elderly and people with disabilities, especially regarding getting paid by Medicaid, the joint federal-state program. It pays for nursing home care that Medicare does not.

“In reality it is nothing more than an avaricious ploy by trial lawyers to profit from increased lawsuits against nursing centers,” said Emmett Reed, the association’s executive director, in a statement.

The proposal, by Commissioner Brecht Heuchan, was filed after a South Florida nursing home lost air conditioning during Hurricane Irma last September.

Up to 14 residents died, though not all those deaths at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills have been linked to the lack of the building’s climate control. Still, Broward County authorities declared 12 of the deaths as homicides.

The measure includes a “right to a safe, clean, comfortable, and homelike environment,” which protects residents from “extreme climatic conditions and natural disasters,” for example.

It also contains a “right to know and hold accountable all persons or entities who either directly or indirectly own or operate the facilities.”

But Reed said the proposal “undermine(s) the hard work of thousands of health care professionals who provide outstanding care for some of Florida’s most vulnerable citizens. Existing state and federal laws guarantee the rights of nursing center residents, and these laws have been working well to support the advances in quality that are being made in Florida nursing centers today.”

He added that Florida “is among the best in the nation in nursing and Certified Nursing Assistants staffing ratios; that reforms in 2001 led to more systemic approaches to delivering care … and that new federal rules announced in November make major updates in residents’ rights, care planning, quality assurance, and assessments.”

After Friday’s meeting, Heuchan said he’s still open to tinkering with the language but called the current product “a step in the right direction.”

“People that live in nursing homes have (fewer) rights than people who don’t,” he told panel members. “It’s unconscionable.”

To be placed on the 2018 statewide ballot, the full 37-member Commission must approve the proposal by 22 votes. If so, 60 percent of voters must vote ‘yes’ for it to be added to the state constitution. The Commission meets every 20 years to review and propose changes to the Florida Constitution.

Crime victims’ bill of rights clears lone constitutional review panel

A proposed constitutional amendment to give equal rights to crime victims on Friday cleared its only review panel and heads to the full Constitution Revision Commission.

The amendment, if OK’d for the 2018 statewide ballot and passed by 60 percent of voters, includes the right “to refuse an interview, deposition, or other … request by the defense,” “to be heard in any public proceeding involving pretrial or other release,” and “full and timely restitution in every case.”

The commission’s Declaration of Rights Committee heard the well-known but harrowing story of Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat, who was sexually abused for six years by her nanny. She has since created Lauren’s Kids, an organization to prevent childhood sexual abuse and help its survivors.

During a deposition in the subsequent criminal case, Book had been asked by the abuser’s attorney, “You wanted it, right?”

A staff analysis notes that “many of the constitutional rights established by the proposal currently exist under Florida law,” a point echoed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which called the measure “overly broad and unworkable in practice.”

The proposal creates a Marsy’s Law for Florida, named after Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas, a California woman who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Only one week after her death, the accused murderer confronted Marsy’s mother and brother, Henry T. Nicholas, at a grocery store. The family was not informed that the accused was released on bail.

The bill’s sponsor, Commissioner Tim Cerio, called it a “commonsense proposal that will bring the scales of justice into balance for Florida victims and their families.”

Now, the full CRC has to approve the approval by no less than 22 votes out of its 37 members.

In a statement, Book credited the “courageous voices of victims, survivors, and families from across the state who have opened themselves and their stories to this process to help us make things different and better for others.”

The Commission meets every 20 years to review and propose changes to the Florida Constitution for voter consideration.

The big thing that’s not in the Senate’s gambling bill

The Senate on Wednesday began moving its omnibus gambling bill for 2018 without addressing one looming issue sure to cause headaches:

Sports betting.

And there’s a reason it’s not in this year’s legislation (SB 840), according to Sen. Travis Hutson, chair of the Regulated Industries Committee:

To avoid a meltdown with the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the gambling-averse House.

The committee OK’d the bill, which addresses several issues held over from recent years, such as allowing race tracks to stop running live races while still offering card games, and lowering the slot-machine tax rate.

But the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule this summer or earlier on a challenge to a 1992 federal law that now “prohibits government entities, including the states, from authorizing sports wagering,” as Observer.com explained this week.

Many court watchers think the justices will overturn the law.

The state of New Jersey challenged the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) as unconstitutional “because it dictates the extent to which the states must maintain their prohibitions on sports wagering.”

New Jersey “specifically argues that PASPA violates the 10th Amendment, which prohibits the federal government from ‘commandeering’ the states to enforce federal law,” the site reported.

The Seminole Tribe almost certainly would consider any legislative movement in Florida toward sports betting as violating its exclusive deal with the state to offer Las Vegas-style gambling here. The Tribe, which now fully controls the Hard Rock brand, operates casinos throughout the state, including Tampa and Hollywood.

It already raised an alarm over fantasy sports bills violating the Seminole Compact, their gambling contract with the state.

“We’re very aware of” the pending Supreme Court decision, Hutson said after Wednesday’s meeting. “We’ll look at the issue as we go forward with the House and in regard to the Compact ….

“It’s certainly something that shouldn’t be taken off the table yet,” Hutson added, referring to sports betting. “It’s something we all need to sit down and have a discussion about … (but) we have kept (our bill) very narrowly defined to stuff that the House and Senate have previously agreed to.”

The House is working on its own gambling bill for 2018, expected in the next couple of weeks. But Hutson doesn’t expect pushback this year from the House, which has historically blanched at anything that remotely looks like an expansion of gambling.

“I would love to see where the Florida House thinks I am too expansive in the bill,” Hutson said, smiling.

His measure next will be taken up by the Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax.

Greyhound steroids ban moves in Senate

A bill to ban all uses of steroids in racing dogs has cleared a key Senate panel.

The Regulated Industries Committee, which generally gets first crack at gambling-related bills, OK’d the measure (SB 674) 7-2 on Wednesday.

State regulations now allow use only of a “low-dose, non-performance enhancing” form of testosterone in greyhounds, and only as birth control, according to Florida Greyhound Association (FGA) lawyer-lobbyist Jeff Kottkamp, a former Florida lieutenant governor.

Bill sponsor Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, took a jab at the association in her closing remarks. In Florida, live dog racing is still conducted at 12 tracks. Young calls steroid use in dogs “doping.”

“I find it interesting that the (association) seems to think that they have any credibility on drug issues when they had an incident in Jacksonville where 12 racing greyhounds were … found with cocaine in their bloodstream,” she said, after no senator opted to debate the measure.

That incident resulted in a challenge in which an administrative law judge struck down the state’s greyhound drug testing program, leading to regulators having to enact an temporary rule to continue testing.

Jack Cory, spokesman and lobbyist for the association, countered after the meeting that the Association of Racing Commissioners International, or ARCI, as recently as last month approved of orally-taken anabolic steroids for birth control. (Owners usually don’t neuter racing dogs so they can continue breeding them.)

Moreover, Kottkamp has said the association—which advocates for the state’s race-dog owners and breeders—has “a zero tolerance policy for anyone that would give a racing greyhound any illegal substance.”

But Rep. Carlos G. Smith, an Orlando Democrat carrying the House version of the bill (HB 463), soon tweeted that “FGA has ZERO credibility. Their new motto should be, ‘LET THEM HAVE COCAINE’!”

The Senate bill next heads to the Agriculture Committee.

slot machines

Gambling amendment wins enough signatures for ballot

A proposed constitutional amendment aimed at limiting gambling’s expansion in the state now has enough signatures to be placed on the 2018 ballot.

Division of Elections records show the “Voter Control of Gambling” amendment now has 817,766 valid signatures—more than the 766,200 needed for placement. The total doesn’t count signatures still undergoing verification.

The Division posted its usual disclaimer: “Verified totals are UNOFFICIAL until the initiative receives certification and a ballot number.”

[Updated 4:45 p.m. — Secretary of State Ken Detzner later in the day “issued a certificate of ballot position (Amendment #3) for the Voter Control of Gambling in Florida constitutional amendment proposed by initiative petition for the 2018 election,” according to an email from his office.]

“Over 1.1 million Floridians have gone on record wanting Florida voters, not Tallahassee politicians, to decide whether to legalize casino gambling,” said John Sowinski, chairman of Voters in Charge, the committee behind the initiative. It’s been supported by Disney and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which operates casinos in the state.

“We now turn our full attention to building voter support for our amendment, and in the coming days we will formally launch our campaign for passage of Amendment 3.” The amendment “consistently polls near or above 70 percent approval,” Sowinski added.

The amendment would “ensure that Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling,” the ballot summary says.

The state Supreme Court already approved the amendment for ballot placement, though Justices Ricky Polston and R. Fred Lewis dissented, saying “the ballot title and summary do not clearly inform the public that the proposed amendment may substantially affect slot machines approved by county-wide (referendums).”

That concern is moot since the same court has since also ruled unanimously that counties passing local referendums allowing slots will not be able to offer them because “nothing in (state gambling law) grants any authority to regulate slot machine gaming to any county.” That applies to non-charter counties.

Judge could give early win to companies over insurance law

A Tallahassee judge now will consider whether life insurance companies are in the right over a 2016 law requiring them to track down beneficiaries.

After hearing argument Wednesday, Circuit Judge Terry Lewis said he would rule on the companies’ motion for summary judgment “fairly soon.” Such motions allow parties to win a case without a trial.

The plaintiffs — United Insurance Co. of America, Reliable Life Insurance Co., Mutual Savings Life Insurance Co. and Reserve National Insurance Co. — write policies in Florida.

They sued the state over the law, which makes them check which policyholders have died back to 1992, then track down any beneficiaries. If beneficiaries can’t be found, insurance proceeds must be turned over to the state as unclaimed property.

The bill was a priority of former Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and featured on CBS’ “60 Minutes.” It passed both chambers of the Legislature unanimously and was signed by Gov. Rick Scott.

The companies say the law’s retroactivity is unfair, making them have to sift through potentially millions of old death records to find beneficiaries. That’s too burdensome, they’ve said, especially when the law prohibits them from passing along their search costs to insureds or beneficiaries.

Insurance companies’ attorney Carol Lynn Thompson argued the law is unconstitutional because it imposed a “substantive new duty,” with Lewis at least agreeing it was “onerous.”

But Andy Bardos, a GrayRobinson lawyer representing Atwater’s successor, state CFO Jimmy Patronis, noted that searching for beneficiaries was something companies were always supposed to do: “People should be paid.”

At a previous hearing, however, whether insurance companies had that duty under previous law was undecided. Still, Bardos—a former special counsel to the Florida Senate—added that unpaid life insurance policies are by nature “uncompleted transactions.”

The law itself says its changes are “remedial in nature and apply retroactively.” It adds that “fines, penalties, or additional interest” related to non-payment of any unclaimed policies are waived till May 1, 2021.

Six finalists picked for open Tallahassee judgeship

Two veteran prosecutors are among the six finalists that Gov. Rick Scott will choose from to fill an open judicial seat for the Tallahassee region.

The Second Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC), after interviewing 12 applicants Tuesday, now sends their list to Scott. He has 60 days to make a decision.

The finalists, according to JNC chair Christi Gray, are:

Georgia Cappleman, an assistant state attorney in Tallahassee.

Eddie Evans, an assistant state attorney in Tallahassee.

Cedell Garland, a senior assistant attorney general.

Joseph Jones, a partner in Berger Singerman’s Tallahassee office.

James Marsh, chief of corrections litigation for the Attorney General’s Office.

Amanda Wall, administrative magistrate for the 2nd Judicial Circuit.

Among those not making the cut are Alan Abramowitz, executive director of the Statewide Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Office. This was his third application for a judgeship.

The other unsuccessful applicants are Russell Kent, special counsel for litigation at the Attorney General’s Office; Acelo “Ace” Pedroso, magistrate for the 2nd Judicial Circuit; Jacqueline Smith, child support hearing officer for the 2nd Judicial Circuit; Donna Christine Thurman, a family law attorney in Tallahassee; and Zachary R. White, an attorney in private practice in Tallahassee.

The opening was created by the retirement of Circuit Judge Charles Francis. Francis, first appointed to the bench in 1999, will step down from judicial office on March 31.

The 2nd Judicial Circuit, headquartered in Tallahassee, covers Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty and Wakulla counties in north Florida.

It’s on: Former lawmaker declares ‘Twitter war’ on Trump

“Good Americans” should start “a Twitter war” with President Donald Trump over his comment that the U.S. shouldn’t admit people from Haiti and other “shithole countries,” former Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner said Friday.

Joyner, now a member of the state’s Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), appeared at a press conference of legislative Democrats to express their outrage over Trump’s remark.

In an Oval Office conversation Thursday, the president asked “why the U.S. would accept more immigrants from Haiti and ‘shithole countries’ in Africa rather than places like Norway, as he rejected a bipartisan immigration deal,” the AP reported.

“Let’s have a Twitter war,” said Joyner, a Tampa attorney, referring to the president’s fondness for the social media service. “Everybody should be tweeting at him and demand an apology.”

Friday happened to be the eighth anniversary of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that killed as many as 300,000 people and displaced roughly 1.3 million.

The Trump administration has said “it will end immigration protections for about 59,000 Haitians living in the United States in July 2019, concluding that conditions … have improved enough … for residents to return,” according to USA Today.

Also Friday, the House’s leadership rejected Trump’s comments—if they’re true, they said.

“If the remarks attributed to President Trump are accurate, they have no place in our public discourse,” said the statement from Speaker Richard Corcoran, Speaker-designate Jose Oliva, Speaker pro tempore Jeanette Nuñez, Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues, Democratic Leader Janet Cruz, Democratic Leader-designate Kionne McGhee and others.

“America’s greatness is self-evident, we do not need to tear down other nations,” they added. “The leadership of the Florida House celebrates our diversity.”

Joyner, who was in Tallahassee for CRC meetings, called for a backlash from “organizations and individuals, black and white, Jewish, Muslim, everybody.”

“It’s time now for him to get the message from Americans that they will not tolerate the bigotry and hatred that he emits every time and every day,” she said. “It’s time to speak up. This has reached a crescendo.”

A Periscope video of the press conference is below:

Denise Grimsley calls for opposition to constitutional amendment

The chair of the Senate’s Agriculture Committee, who’s also a candidate for state Agriculture Commissioner, is slamming a proposed constitutional amendment.

Denise Grimsley, a Lake Placid Republican, wrote a letter Thursday to Bill Schifino, head of the Constitution Revision Commission‘s Judicial Committee.

The panel is considering a proposed amendment that has caused angst among business interests because it expands the right to bring environmental-related lawsuits. The measure (P23) will be considered by Schifino’s committee Friday. 

It “would unleash a no-holds-barred wave of interventionism and frivolous lawsuits that I know my own farming operation would be unable to fend off,” Grimsley wrote. “It stands to undermine environmental gains and rolls out a red carpet to the court system for anyone with an ax to grind, regardless of legal standing or science.

“Imagine the unintended consequences of freezing permitting processes and clogging the courts with challenges that could paralyze the ability of farms – and all small businesses for that matter – from operating with any shred of predictability,” she added.

“… I urge you and your fellow committee members to oppose Proposal 23 and support the hard work of those who raise the crops, feed our families and manage the resource with integrity.”

It’s also opposed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida.

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