Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 179

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.

House ethics panel sets trial in Daisy Baez residency case

The House’s ethics panel on Thursday set a Dec. 4 hearing on a charge that Democratic Miami-Dade Rep. Daisy Baez doesn’t live in the district she was elected to represent.

The Public Integrity and Ethics Committee will conduct an evidentiary hearing “somewhat like a court trial,” said chair Larry Metz, a Yalaha Republican. “You’re trying to find what the facts are and make a conclusion.”

The hearing will be the first time in modern memory that the House tried a member on a conduct violation related to residency. A scheduling order for the proceeding was released by the House later Thursday.

The committee’s verdict will then go to the full House of Representatives, two-thirds of which would have to vote to expel her.

The Select Subcommittee on Member Conduct already found “probable cause,” meaning more likely than not that a constitutional or legal offense occurred.

Mark Herron, Baez’s Tallahassee-based attorney, said despite recent precedent for such a proceeding, his client is “getting a heck of due process. But again, we’ll really know when I need to seek a subpoena” on her behalf, and it’s granted or denied.

The committee on Thursday authorized their own subpoenas for information on where Baez gets her personal U.S. mail, her business and banking records, telephone and electric service, and even one for the “Greater Miami Animal Hospital.”

Metz will serve as presiding officer, with Herron representing Baez at the trial, and vice chair Tom Leek, an Ormond Beach Republican, acting as a prosecutor.

Baez was elected last year to represent South Florida’s House District 114, but questions soon arose whether she really lived in the neighboring District 112, represented by Democrat Nicholas Duran. 

The state constitution says “(e)ach legislator shall be … an elector and resident of the district from which elected.” The constitution also reserves to each legislative chamber the right to be the “sole judge” of its members’ qualifications.

The investigating subcommittee heard mixed evidence that she actually lives in the district she represents, including that Baez had a homestead exemption on a house and a driver’s license address outside the district, but was registered to vote within it.

Baez appeared to have had three “residences”: A Biltmore Way apartment and an Anderson Road condo, both inside the district, and a Malaga Avenue house in Coral Gables she bought in 2010, which is outside.

Leek said he also plans to subpoena neighbors and property managers at those addresses.

Baez told reporters earlier this week, “I believe I am a resident and I have evidence to support that … We want to move on with the business of working for the people of Florida.”

Regulators shoot down medical marijuana payment proposal

State regulators have rejected a California bank’s proposal to operate in Florida as a financial middleman for medical marijuana-related transactions.

The Office of Financial Regulation turned down a request from PayQwick for a declaratory statement so it could operate here.

Christian Bax, director of the Department of Health’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use, gave a presentation Wednesday to the House Health Quality Subcommittee on the state’s regulation of medicinal cannabis.

Though he did not mention the PayQwick case, decided in late August, Bax did say there has been “reticence” on the part of the banking industry to get involved with marijuana sales.

Florida has more or less legalized medical marijuana, through statute and constitutional amendment, but selling marijuana still is a federal crime. And banking, by its nature as “interstate commerce,” falls under federal law.

Under President Barack Obama, however, federal prosecutors did not criminally pursue those, such as “the seriously ill and their caregivers,” who distribute and use the drug “in compliance with an existing state law.”

Still, “life would be a lot easier for us and for patients if there were online payments,” Bax told the panel.

PayQwick’s “description of its contemplated business model is expansive,” OFR’s order says.

“For example, (it) describes its (potential) clients as not only registered medical marijuana patients, but also members of the public purchasing marijuana from a licensed retailer/dispensary.”

Florida’s current system is “vertically-integrated,” meaning businesses grow, process and sell their own marijuana, with each licensed as a medical marijuana treatment center, or MMTC.

But PayQwick based its request “on the erroneous assumption that the … distribution of marijuana is legal,” the order says. Because of that, “a declaratory statement is not available.”

PayQwick’s system, an “electronic payment hub,” was also aimed at making it easier for “ancillary” concerns, such as security alarm companies, to do “legal business” with the MMTCs.

Users would download an app to transfer money from a “settlement account” to a “sub-account,” then to a “bank or credit union.”

PayQwick would have made money “by charging a percentage-based service fee for each re-allocation of funds from one client to another,” the OFR order says.

Senators sound skeptical of new state jobs fund

Lawmakers asked lots of questions but didn’t get the answers they wanted Wednesday as a Senate panel tried to get a handle on the state’s new $85 million jobs fund.

The Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee heard from Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) head Cissy Proctor on the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund.

In a Special Legislative Session earlier this year for economic development, tourism and education funding, Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders agreed to create the fund.

It’s aimed at creating employment by enticing businesses to relocate to the state. The fund promotes job training and public infrastructure projects.

Proctor said her department already has received 179 proposals, which include 96 infrastructure projects from local governments and 83 workforce projects, worth a combined $642 million in requested funding.

Senators soon started peppering Proctor with questions: “It’s a lot of money … we want to understand what the parameters are,” explained subcommittee chair Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican.

Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, wanted to know if any preference would be given to “depressed or deprived” areas.

All proposals “stand on their own,” Proctor said: “Almost all represent incredible needs of the communities. We want the proposals to shine, to show us how deep the need is.”

When will Gov. Scott make a decision on what gets money? Bradley asked.

“I can’t tell you a timeline,” Proctor said. “We are reviewing them as they come in.”

Bradley pressed on, asking if there were any “objective standards” that the governor and staff will judge by?

“We are looking at each proposal on its own,” Proctor said. 

What about the process of how the governor will be presented with, say, staff picks of top proposals?

“We are working right now on what that will look like,” Proctor said.

Gibson later said she didn’t like what she heard: “I’m really concerned what could be done won’t reach the people who really need it.”

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican, added that because demand exceeds supply, “it sets the stage for so many projects to get left behind.”

And she worried that there was no way to make sure money gets spread equally across the state.

In a statement, DEO called the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund “a critical tool for economic development in Florida,” adding it was “committed to accountability and transparency in this process.”

The department “has posted every proposal on a dedicated website, along with frequently asked questions and direct contact information for entities to call or email with any questions. Strong contracts with entities that receive these funds will ensure that each project has a strong, verifiable return on investment and taxpayer dollars are protected.”

DEO, “along with our partners at Enterprise Florida, the Florida Department of Transportation and CareerSource Florida, are working diligently to review more than 170 proposals from communities across the state,” the statement said.

“As outlined in legislation overwhelmingly passed during a special session earlier this year, projects will be approved that meet statutory criteria and promote economic opportunity in these local communities.”

By the meeting’s end, Bradley told colleagues that DEO was “asking for $85 million (next year for the fund) and they haven’t spent the first $85 million. This is the new world we’re working in.”

Janet Cruz heads to Puerto Rico on aid trip

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa is traveling to Puerto Rico Wednesday “to deliver 30,000 pounds of much-needed relief supplies, including food, water, and medical necessities,” her spokesman said.

Cruz is working with “Major League Baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays, and the Moffitt Cancer Center,” according to Anders Croy, communications director for the House Democratic Office.

“Additionally, the group will also be bringing back tissue samples currently on the verge of spoiling that represent years of critical medical research, cancer patients seeking care on the mainland here in Florida, and a group of nuns displaced by the storm,” he added.

In a statement, Cruz said, “After disasters, it’s our duty as citizens to look out for each other.”

“More than two weeks after Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico, the island’s power grid remains in shambles, and authorities say it will take months to fully restore electricity,” NPR reported. “Nearly 90 percent of the island is still without power, which means millions of people remain without electricity weeks after the storm.”

“We all must ensure we are doing everything we possibly can to help our Puerto Rican neighbors recover,” Cruz said.

FDLE seeking $29M for new Pensacola regional office

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) is asking for an additional $29.3 million in the 2018-19 state budget to build a local office in Pensacola.

An FDLE representative told a meeting of the Florida Cabinet Aides on Wednesday that the budget request was being moved from the Department of Management Services (DMS), the state’s real estate manager.

“The total estimated cost is $32.3 million for design and construction,” according to a Cabinet meeting agenda item. “An additional $4.8 million will be required for fixtures, furniture and equipment in (fiscal year 2019-20).”

If the agency doesn’t get the building money, it says it “will be forced to re-sign a new lease agreement with the same owner despite the building condition,” the agenda says. The agency’s “growth in operations” in northwest Florida “has outgrown the current leased space which is in need of costly renovations.”

Based on market research, “there are no suitable leases in the area to accommodate the agency’s unique business needs of investigative and crime lab services,” the agency said.

“The department is anticipating growth in domestic security functions and biology services and the current location is unable to accommodate expansion and suitable renovations to meet future workloads.”

The request will be considered by Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet – Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and CFO Jimmy Patronis – at next Tuesday’s meeting.

Dana Young will try for fracking ban again

Democrats and Republicans from both sides of the Capitol rotunda came together Tuesday to back Sen. Dana Young‘s latest try to ban fracking in Florida.

Also known as hydraulic fracturing, the drilling technique involves shooting water and chemicals deep underground, breaking up rock to get at oil and natural gas that’s unreachable by conventional drilling.  

“Advocates insist it is a safe and economical source of clean energy,” the LiveScience website explains. “Critics, however, claim fracking can destroy drinking water supplies, pollute the air and contribute to the greenhouse gases that cause global warming.”

In Florida, the process “makes no sense,” said Young, a Tampa Republican, at a Tuesday press conference. This is the second year she’s run a fracking ban bill (SB 462).

“It puts our drinking water supply, and everything we build our economy on, at risk,” she said. “I filed this bill for my children, and for all future generations of Floridians.”

But an outright ban likely will face opposition in the House. Last year, Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues said that a scientific study should first be required, adding it would be “foolish” to ban fracking without hard evidence.

But Sen. Keith Perry, a Gainesville Republican, said “we already have data that shows problems in other areas of the country” where fracking has been performed.

“We should put science first,” Perry said. “If science comes back later and says there’s a safe way to do it, that’d be different … We need to stop this.”

Along with Perry, Young was joined by Rep. Kathleen Peters, a South Pasadena Republican who filed an identical House companion, as well as Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat; Sen. Linda Stewart, an Orlando Democrat; Sen. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat; and Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, a Miami-Dade Democrat.

Young’s bill has not yet been referred to committees.

Daisy Baez residency investigation moves to trial

A House investigative panel Tuesday found that Miami-Dade Rep. Daisy Baez likely broke member residency rules.

The Select Committee on Member Conduct decided to refer Baez’s case to the Public Integrity and Ethics Committee for the equivalent of a trial.

A finding of “probable cause,” required for further proceedings, means it is more likely than not that a violation occurred.

Baez, a Democrat, was elected last year to represent South Florida’s House District 114, but questions soon arose whether she really lived in the neighboring District 112, represented by Democrat Nicholas Duran. 

On a voice vote, the 5-member panel’s two Democrats—Tracie Davis of Jacksonville and Emily Slosberg of Boca Raton—did not say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ They later said they agreed there was enough evidence to move forward.

The Republican members—Chair Tom Leek, an Ormond Beach Republican, Cord Byrd, a Neptune Beach Republican, and Jason Brodeur, a Sanford Republican—audibly voted ‘yes.’

“When we did a voice vote, that kind of caught us off guard,” Davis explained. “This is new process for all of us … But there is probable cause, absolutely.”

Slosberg, standing next to her, added: “The probable cause standard has been met.”

Baez attended Tuesday’s hearing with her lawyer, Tallahassee’s Mark Herron. She said she will work with the committee.

“I believe I am a resident and I have evidence to support that,” she told reporters. “We want to move on with the business of working for the people of Florida.”

The panel heard mixed evidence that she actually lives in the district she represents, including that Baez had a homestead exemption on a house and a driver’s license address outside the district, but was registered to vote within it.

Baez appeared to have had three “residences”: A Biltmore Way apartment and an Anderson Road condo, both inside the district, and a Malaga Avenue house in Coral Gables she bought in 2010, which is outside.

“She took steps to move to the Anderson Road property to establish residence,” Herron told lawmakers at the hearing. ” … It’s an uneven process to establish residence, but it’s one of those situations … where the intention and the acts must be considered together.”

The state constitution says “(e)ach legislator shall be … an elector and resident of the district from which elected.” The constitution also reserves to each legislative chamber the right to be the “sole judge” of its members’ qualifications.

‘Water bills’ already on the move in the Senate

A Senate panel on Monday cleared a ‘water bill’ aimed at cleaning up some of the state’s waterways.

The Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee OK’d the measure (SB 204) with a unanimous vote. Legislative committees are meeting in the Capitol this week, in advance of the 2018 Legislative Session that starts in January. 

The bill, by committee chair Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, would approve spending at least $75 million a year on springs projects and $50 million annually on projects related to the restoration of the St. Johns River—the longest entirely within Florida—and its tributaries, as well as the Keystone Heights Lake Region. 

Bradley said it’s “incredibly important” that the river “remain healthy”: “It really defines the character of so much of our state.”

But, he added, “there’s a limited pie of dollars and we need to figure out where to put them,” he added, referring to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund.

A 2014 constitutional amendment, known as the Water and Land Legacy Amendment, or “Amendment 1,” requires state officials to set aside 33 percent of the money from the real estate “documentary stamp” tax to protect Florida’s environmentally sensitive areas for 20 years. That amendment, which needed a minimum of 60 percent to pass, got a landslide of nearly 75 percent, or more than 4.2 million “yes” votes.

The mechanism to spend that money is through the Florida Forever conservation program. Florida Forever regularly received upward of $300 million annually after it became law in 1999, but those expenditures were dramatically reduced after the recession hit a decade ago.

The current 2017-2018 state budget included nothing for Florida Forever, but the Department of Environmental Protection has asked for $50 million for Florida Forever in next year’s state budget.

Moreover, environmental advocacy groups filed suit in 2015, saying lawmakers wrongly appropriated “doc stamp” money for, among other things, “salaries and ordinary expenses of state agencies” tasked with executing the amendment’s mandate. A Tallahassee judge scheduled a trial for that suit next July 23-27.

The committee also took up a bill (SB 174), filed by Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican. It would set aside at least $50 million a year to help address issues such as beach erosion.

“We’re gonna get (the bill) out early so there aren’t any questions” about its effect on appropriations, Latvala said.

The bill, supported by the affected coastal counties, also cleared the committee without opposition.

Both pieces of legislation next head to the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources and the full Appropriations Committee.

Background provided by the News Service of Florida, reprinted with permission. 

Beer, wine from vending machines? Fla. company says ‘yes’

A newly-formed Miami-Dade company is seeking an OK from state regulators to install what it calls “self-checkout micro marts” with beer and wine.

Or, as one regulated industries lobbyist privately put it, “Hey, booze from vending machines? What could go wrong?”

Nothing, the company suggests.

La Galere Markets of Coral Gables, which filed articles of incorporation with the state in August, submitted its request with the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco on Sept. 27, records show.

The company asked the agency for a declaratory statement that the machines would be legal under existing law and regulations.

Pennsylvania, for instance, in 2010 tried but ultimately pulled the plug on self-service “wine kiosks,” which verified age through a driver’s license scan and required customers to blow into a Breathalyzer. They were in some of that state’s supermarkets, where wine isn’t allowed to be sold.

And earlier this year, “American Green, a Phoenix-based medical-cannabis technology company, unveiled a prototype for a vending machine that uses biometric verification to sell controlled and age-restricted items,” USA Today reported.

“Besides (marijuana), it can dispense other items where positive identification is a purchasing prerequisite—pharmaceuticals, casino chips, alcoholic beverages or even guns.”

Here’s La Galere’s “unique business model”:

The company intends to place the micro marts “in residential condominium developments in several Florida locations,” the filing says. They would also sell food, including sandwiches and snacks, but the company does not have a liquor license.

Condo residents would have to go through “checkpoints” to get to the machines, including building security, and use their fingerprints to buy any alcoholic beverage.

Scanned prints would be in a “pre-approved” database. Moreover, the machines would be monitored at all times by surveillance cameras.

All that is to prevent minors’ access, the company says. To compare, the state now allows hotel mini-bars, “which have no employee supervision and generally lack anything other than superficial age verification,” the filing says.

La Galere’s president is listed as Rashid Siahpoosh, who couldn’t be reached Friday at his Miami office.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who sits on the Senate’s Regulated Industries committee, said he’d “be shocked if that’s legal.” The committee handles, among other things, alcohol-related legislation.

Brandes, informally known as a member of the Legislature’s “disruptive technology caucus,” has long championed shaking up the status quo, including supporting ride-booking services like Lyft and Uber, legalizing delivery drones, and allowing digital versions of state-issued licenses.

“Look, I’m open to considering all kinds of options, but (as a state) I don’t think that’s where we heading,” he said, referring to La Galere’s business idea.

Oscar Braynon II, the Senate Democratic Leader who also sits on the committee, laughed when told of the plan.

“I have never heard of that,” said Braynon, who’s from Miami Gardens. “There’s a smile on my face because I think that’s funny. But I don’t know if it would fly.

Braynon surmised getting ABT’s approval “would be a challenge,” he added. “But it might be a good idea … you know, go in, get your six-pack or whatever.”

But Susan Pitman, founder and executive director of Drug Free Duval, an alcohol and substance abuse prevention group, said “it doesn’t sound like a really good idea.”

“We know that whenever we increase access (to alcohol), we increase use,” she said. “I don’t want (condo residents) walking by the machine, thinking, ‘Some wine would be great right now.’

“I’m not freaking out about it, but as a society, do we have to be just a vending machine away from our booze?”

Constitution review panel could tackle ‘write-in loophole’

A Constitution Revision Commission committee on Wednesday began considering whether to change Florida’s primary election system, including buttoning up what’s known as the “write-in loophole.”

That allows a write-in candidate to close a primary. The commission’s Ethics and Elections Committee heard from advocates and some of the state’s elections supervisors, but took no action.

Here’s how it works now: A Florida primary is open to all voters if candidates from other parties don’t qualify to run. But state elections officials have opined that a write-in candidate qualifying for a general election in a race keeps a primary closed.

And here’s how political parties and others have gamed the system: They’ve been known to line up a political novice to file as a write-in to close a primary, which usually benefits the incumbent. On average, primary elections in 10 of 67 counties will be closed because of write-ins, Polk County Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards told the committee.

Some voters also indirectly game the system by registering with a party just so they can vote in a primary, then switch back to no-party affiliated status, or NPA.

As of Aug. 31, nearly 27 percent—around 3.4 million—of Florida’s 12.8 million active registered voters were not registered with a political party, according to the state Division of Elections.

The loophole “directly decays the intent” of free and open elections, said Steve Hough, director of Florida Fair and Open Primaries, who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting. “We’re all about independents, non-affiliated voters, voting in primaries … It does not give all voters equal access to our electoral process.”

He filed a proposed amendment to change that, saying in part, “All qualified voters shall be guaranteed the right to vote for the qualified candidate of their choice in all elections. No voter shall be denied the right to vote for the qualified candidate of his or her choice in a primary or general election because of his or her party affiliation or lack thereof.”

A subsequent meeting of the committee has not yet been scheduled, its website shows.

Florida is unique among states in that its constitution allows for a panel to meet every 20 years, “examine the constitution, hold public hearings and … file its proposal, if any, of a revision of this constitution or any part of it.” Any amendment must go onto the 2018 statewide ballot and get 60 percent approval to be added to the constitution.

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