Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 158

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.

Daniel Sohn withdraws from 2018 Agriculture Commissioner’s race

Daniel Sohn, a Democratic candidate for Agriculture Commissioner in 2018, announced on his Facebook page Wednesday that he is withdrawing from the race.

Sohn, district aide to Palm Beach Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisor Pat Edmonson, confirmed the post in a phone call.

“There are some serious reoccurring health issues that need my immediate attention,” he said in the post. “Over the next couple of months, I will be undergoing procedures that will require much recovery time. I promise during that time to get myself stronger and ready to continue to resist.

“This race was all about growing Florida stronger,” Sohn wrote. “I still believe the strength of Florida can and will be determined by how well we take care of our people and environment. In the future I hope to count on your support again.”

Sohn announced only last month he was running for the seat, being vacated by term-limited Republican Adam Putnam, who will run for governor in next year’s election.

Sohn’s withdrawal leaves Michael Damian Christine as the lone Democrat in the race.

Republicans Paul Paulson, state Sen. Denise Grimsley and state Rep. Matt Caldwell also have filed to run.

‘Lack of transparency’ causes calls for Rick Scott budget veto

Both citing a “lack of transparency,” the heads of the League of Women Voters of Florida and the First Amendment Foundation are calling for Gov. Rick Scott to veto the just-passed state budget for 2017-18.

But with the House of Representatives passing the budget 98-14 and the Senate approving 34-4 on Monday, there are enough votes there to override a veto, assuming none change.

League President Pamela S. Goodman and FAF President Barbara A. Petersen alerted their members in separate emails on Tuesday.

“The lack of transparency in the process enabled last-minute bills and amendments to be passed,” Goodman wrote in an attached letter to Scott, seeking the budget veto. “Many legislators are on record stating they did not have the opportunity to read and fully comprehend bills presented at the end after emerging from behind closed doors.

“It is the job of every elected official representing their constituents to be able to vote in an informed manner and with complete transparency of the process,” she added.

Goodman also criticized education funding that “starve(s) public schools and expand(s) privately run charter schools” and complained that Florida Forever, the state’s conservation land acquisition program, “was zeroed out in the budget.”

In her email, Petersen wrote that 17 new exemptions to the state’s open government laws were created this Legislative Session.

“Equally alarming is the secretiveness of the budget process this session and FAF will be asking the governor to veto the budget based solely on the lack of transparency,” she said.

Petersen added that her letter to Scott would be sent later this week.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has rejected claims of secrecy over budget negotiations, even though much was handled behind closed doors, instead calling the Legislature’s work “bold” and “transformative.”

Andrew Gillum

Andrew Gillum calls for ‘strengthening’ Obamacare in Florida

A day after the end of the 2017 Legislative Session, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum on Monday called on state lawmakers to pass a bill “strengthening insurance protections for those with pre-existing conditions.”

Gillum, the sitting mayor of Tallahassee, appeared at the Florida Press Center with two local women who told of their family members’ troubles getting coverage and treatment: One has a son with a chromosomal disorder and the other’s sister lives with Crohn’s disease, an incurable digestive malady.

Gillum’s proposal, a priority if he’s elected in 2018, has three goals: Prohibit insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions; charge them the same premiums as those without such conditions; and “end the discriminatory practice of charging women higher premiums than men.”

The first two already are part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as “Obamacare,” which President Donald Trump and GOP members of Congress have so far unsuccessfully tried to repeal. The federal law is the signature act of former President Barack Obama

Gillum’s proposal, light on specifics, may be more pipe dream than policy—at least for now—with a GOP-controlled Legislature and an insurance industry averse to change.

He said he had had “some behind-the-scenes conversations” with members of the industry, though he declined to say who, and couldn’t provide a financial impact of his proposal.

A request for comment was sent to Audrey S. Brown, the president and CEO of the Florida Association of Health Plans, which represents managed-care companies.

Gillum also dodged a question about whether he supported an “individual mandate,” insurance parlance for a legal requirement to buy health insurance. That’s also part of the ACA.

“We believe, and I certainly believe, that health care is a right,” he said. “We also know that it has a tremendous impact on this state’s economy. We unfortunately have a governor that did not allow the full benefits of the ACA to be felt. We would work toward a strengthening of the ACA.”

GOP Gov. Rick Scott, a former for-profit hospital chain executive who’s term-limited next year, has declined to expand Medicaid under the ACA to provide health coverage to more poor and working-poor Floridians. That decision was supported the Republican-controlled House.

Denise Wilson, a banking trainer, told of her young son’s struggle with Potocki-Shaffer syndrome, which affects bones and tissues. He’s needed surgery just to maintain his ability to move, she said.

She told of having “to go through hoops” to get him treatment: “And when you have a child with special needs, your life is hoops.”

And Avril Wood, a “state worker,” said her younger sister’s need for Crohn’s treatment has caused her family constant worries over paying for insurance and medications.

Crohn’s “causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract, which can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

“My sister is loving and kind,” Wood said, verging on tears. “This has ravaged our family … My parents are wondering if they’re going to run out of money in their retirement. Given the choice between bankruptcy and keeping my sister alive, they will choose bankruptcy. And that thought is cruel.”

The 37-year-old Gillum was first elected to public office in 2003, when he became Tallahassee’s youngest city council member ever at 23. He was elected mayor in 2014.

He still faces an Leon County Sheriff’s Office investigation into whether he broke state ethics law by using a city-owned email program to send campaign-related and other political messages.

Other declared Democratic candidates for governor include former Tallahassee-area congresswoman Gwen Graham and Winter Park businessman Chris King. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is likely to be the the first Republican to declare; his announcement is expected Wednesday in Bartow.

Jose Felix Diaz, Eric Eisnaugle bid adieu to House

In comments more about family than policy, two House members said farewell to their colleagues Monday.

Diaz

Jose Felix Diaz, a Miami-Dade Republican, could become the next U.S. Attorney, or top federal prosecutor, for South Florida. Barring that, he has said he’ll run for the now-open state Senate seat vacated by Frank Artiles.

And Eric Eisnaugle, an Orange County Republican, on Monday was appointed an appellate judge by Gov. Rick Scott, replacing C. Alan Lawson, whom Scott elevated to the state Supreme Court.

Diaz addressed his remarks to his sons, Dominick and Christian, his “tornadoes,” telling them not to “be afraid to cry … It means that you are alive.”

The 37-year-old Cuban-American told his colleagues he “was never supposed to be here, because my grandparents came to this country with nothing … but they persevered.

“As a kid I spoke funny, I didn’t believe in myself, and I let others define my expectations of myself,” he said. “But I persevered.

“I pray that you realize that helping others is everything,” Diaz added. “There are rich people, and there are poor people. Help the poor ones. Help the disadvantaged; help the sick. Don’t do it because someone is watching—do it because it will make a difference in their lives, not yours.”

Eisnaugle

Eisnaugle, 40, said he might “bumble through” his farewell: He wasn’t expecting the announcement “so I literally prepared nothing.” Eisnaugle was first in the House 2008-12, then returned in 2014.

He too brought up his family, choking up when he mentioned the “sacrifice” his family made while he served in Tallahassee.

“It’s really hard,” he said. “My family has been my rock.”

When he told them he had applied to be a judge, “my oldest (child) picked up on something real quick. He said, ‘Dad, if you become a judge, does that mean you come home?’ And when I said yes, I knew they’d be pulling for me.”

Janet Cruz blasts USF’s treatment in proposed budget

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz blasted legislative leadership’s treatment of the University of South Florida, saying the school’s achievement of state “pre-eminent” status was snatched away from it at the last moment.

Language in an education conforming bill late last Friday was changed, preventing USF from pre-eminence, a status that would have qualified it for millions of additional dollars in state funding.

Cruz, of Tampa, asked pointed questions of fellow state Rep. Larry Ahern, chair of the chamber’s Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee. 

Who decides when we move the goalpost … who makes that decision?” Cruz asked. Ahern said the change happened in the Senate. 

Senate President Joe Negron has denied accusations of unfairness, saying they are “entirely unsupported by the facts.”

A bill originally had language that a university must achieve a four-year graduation rate of 50 percent or higher, a mark that USF has exceeded.

But the conforming bill — written after the budget was finalized Friday — reverted to a previous benchmark: A six-year graduation rate of 70 percent or better for full-time, first-time students.

“Did you know that USF was celebrating that they would finally, after years of preparation, would finally achieve pre-eminent status?” Cruz asked Ahern. 

“I’m not sure what they were doing Friday night,” Ahern said.

In debate, Cruz later lambasted the process: “I was ready to be supportive but then someone took from my hometown … (The university) followed the rules, and late at night, the goal posts were changed.”

Tampa Republican Shawn Harrison added, “We were there until we weren’t … this is a blow to USF.”

Tampa correspondent Mitch Perry contributed to this post. 

 

GOP Rep. Eric Eisnaugle appointed state appeals judge

Eric Eisnaugle is leaving the House for the bench.

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday announced he had appointed Eisnaugle, currently a Republican state representative, to replace former Judge C. Alan Lawson on the 5th District Court of Appeal.

Lawson now is a Florida Supreme Court justice.

Eisnaugle, 40, of Windermere, has represented House District 44 since 2014.

He officially dropped his 2018 re-election bid this February. Eisnaugle also had lost the unofficial race for House Speaker in 2020-22 to Pinellas County representative Chris Sprowls.

His appointment means Florida’s House District 44 will now be open to a special election this summer, to serve west Orange County. Eisnaugle was not running for re-election, rolling his dice on what turned out to be a sure-thing appointment by the governor.

That means a Republican primary between former Winter Garden commissioner Bobby Olszewski and Dr. Usha Jain of Orlando will be moved up by more than a year, followed by a general election, more than a year earlier than expected. Only one Democrat is running so far, businessman Paul Chandler of Orlando.

Eisnaugle was not immediately available for comment Monday afternoon following the governor’s announcement; he was on the House floor for the chamber’s deliberations on the 2017-18 state budget.

He previously held House District 40 in 2008-12. In 2011, he was the point man on former House Speaker Dean Cannon‘s attempt to rein in the judiciary after the Florida Supreme Court rejected a trio of lawmakers’ proposed constitutional amendments for the ballot.

Measures pushed would have split the Supreme Court in two, with separate divisions for criminal and civil appeals, would have taken over the court system’s internal rulemaking process and opened misconduct investigations of judges to public view.

Eisnaugle has been with the Thorne and Storey, and Foley and Lardner law firms. He now is an “of counsel” commercial litigator for the law firm of Rumberger Kirk & Caldwell.

Eisnaugle received an undergraduate degree from Florida Southern College and a law degree from Vanderbilt University.

Orlando correspondent Scott Powers contributed to this post. 

Blaise Ingoglia: Agency for State Technology ‘is going to stay’

House members voted Monday in favor of a budget conference committee report that keeps the state’s Agency for State Technology.

The measure passed on a vote of 109-2.

The House had earlier angled for a major overhaul, even doing away with the agency, but agreed to keep it intact during budget negotiations.

The agency came under fire in January after a report by Florida Auditor General Sherrill F. Norman’s office laid out a laundry list of security and other problems at the relatively new agency.

Ingoglia

Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, a Spring Hill Republican, explained that the agency won’t be abolished: The agency “is going to stay,” he said.

But the measure reduces the agency’s “top-heavy” management structure, though it does create a “chief data officer.” It also requires the next agency head, the state’s Chief Information Officer, to have 10 years of “executive management experience.”

Because the state’s data center costs were “escalating out of control,” it also moves more information to cloud computing, Ingoglia said.

Jason Allison resigned as Chief Information Officer in February. He joined the Foley & Lardner law firm as a “director of public affairs” in the Tallahassee office.

The Agency for State Technology, which replaced the predecessor Agency for Enterprise Information Technology, was created by lawmakers in 2014. Allison was appointed its head that Dec. 9. He was paid $130,000 a year.

Among the January audit findings: The AST failed to “review user access privileges for the mainframe, open systems environments, and the network domains,” kept an inaccurate “inventory of IT resources at the State Data Center,” and “State Data Center backup tape records were not up-to-date and some backup tapes could not be located and identified.”

 

House OKs VISIT FLORIDA, Enterprise Florida funding cuts

House members on Monday approved a measure dealing with VISIT FLORIDA and Enterprise Florida funding on a 74-34 vote.

If vetoed, however, the “conforming bill” would need 80 votes to overcome Gov. Rick Scott‘s red pen.

Both chambers have begun discussing the 2017-18 state budget, which wasn’t completed on time to finish the 2017 Legislative Session last Friday. That caused a rare extension to Monday, using the weekend to count toward the constitutionally required 72-hour “cooling off” period before lawmakers can vote.

The proposed budget gives $25 million—down from around $75 million—in recurring operating funds for VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing arm, and $16 million to Enterprise Florida, the economic development organization.

Both are public-private entities but have historically received far more public dollars than private. The budget also zeroes out Gov. Rick Scott‘s favored business incentive programs for next year. It remains to be seen whether Scott will veto some or all of the Legislature’s budget.

Rep. Wengay Newton, a St. Petersburg Democrat, asked Rep. Paul Renner, a Palm Coast Republican, whether VISIT FLORIDA would be “able to function” at such a reduced amount.

“I think the word ‘function’ is in the eye of the beholder,” Renner said, adding that the agency would not be able to create new programs but all “existing programs will continue.”

Lori Berman, a Lantana Democrat, also asked Renner how new accountability measures would have prevented a contentious deal the agency cut with South Florida rapper Pitbull to promote tourism.

Speaker Richard Corcoran went to war against VISIT FLORIDA, threatening to sue after it refused to reveal a secret deal with Pitbull, who later voluntarily disclosed he was set to be paid up to $1 million.

The House majority has imposed measures including limiting individual employee compensation to $130,000 (equal to the salary of the governor), requiring Senate confirmation of new agency CEOs, disallowing new direct-support organizations, and requiring new contracts to be posted on the state CFO’s transparency website.

In addition, Renner explained that lawmakers could have nipped the Pitbull deal in the bud under a proposed 14-day “legislative consultation” period that “would have prevented it from going forward.”

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz later argued in debate that she did not “believe $25 million is enough to sustain tourism at the level we’ve seen it in the state of Florida.”

“We’ve probably punished (them) a little too harshly” in this budget, she said.

Rep. Jay Fant, a Jacksonville Republican, has been the rare GOP House member who never bought into gutting the agencies, especially doing away with incentives. He suggested the proposed funding all but invited Scott to veto it.

The proposal “jeopardizes our entire budget, and bills and special projects, and it doesn’t have to be that way,” Fant said. “Why not compromise on some basic principle of business incentive? We can tailor it, we can negotiate it.”

But Renner said “it’s always still the taxpayers’ money … we’ve seen too many times that that has been forgotten.”

Tallahassee not only capitol with ‘sine die’ traditions

Tallahassee is devoted to certain traditions on “sine die,” the final day of the yearly Legislative Session, but it’s the not only state that has them.

In Idaho, capital reporters wear ugly ties near session’s end to “encourage legislators to finish their business quickly and go home,” says a Legislative Research Librarians newsletter.

In the Magnolia State, Mississippi State University lobbyists put tomato seedlings “on the desks of legislators, staff members and sometimes statehouse reporters.”

“The tradition started several decades ago after university researchers engineered a robust tomato plant capable of traveling well,” according to a Stateline blog post. “Proud of their development, they sent some to the Capitol, where the tomatoes were a hit.”

In Georgia, lawmakers toss ripped paper into the air above their desks, and in Alabama, legislators give a “shroud” award to the bill deemed least likely to pass.

Here in Florida, traditions focus on colors: Pink, red and white.

Pink, as in the color of ties, sport coats, dresses and flowers worn by lobbyists, lawmakers and others, especially as they mill about in the 4th floor Rotunda between the two chambers.

Wearing pink, for those who still remember the reason, is to honor the late insurance lobbyist Marvin Arrington, who wore a pink sports coat on the last day of session.

Arrington died the last week of the 2002 Session, succumbing to a heart attack in his car near the Capitol. (For last year’s story on that tradition, click here.)

The red refers to the same-colored Solo cups ubiquitous on the last day. Capitol Police frown on drinking alcohol in the building, so (mainly) lobbyists sneak their tipple in the plastic chalices — though now it’s pretty much an open secret.

The same cups also were immortalized — maybe even “immoralized” — in song by Toby Keith, who called them “the best receptacle/For barbecues, tailgates, fairs and festivals.”

And white, as in the handkerchiefs ceremonially dropped by the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms to mark the precise moment of Session’s end.

As the State Library and Archives of Florida explains, in the days pre-technology days in the Old Capitol, the presiding officers of each chamber couldn’t see each other and weren’t in communication by telephone.

“The House and Senate sergeants would stand in the rotunda where they could be observed by the Senate President and House Speaker,” the website says. “The sergeants would drop a handkerchief at the moment agreed upon for adjournment and the gavels would fall in each house to formally signal the end of the session.”

That tradition, though, has taken a hit in recent years.

In 2011, the chambers were at odds over a flurry of competing priorities, including claim bills and tax breaks. They adjourned separately in the wee hours of the morning, eschewing the traditional joint “hanky drop.”

And last year, the House went home three days early after the chambers deadlocked over health care funding, forcing a Special Session to finish the 2015-16 state budget.

self defense

Legislative fix to ‘Stand Your Ground’ law goes to Rick Scott

The Senate blinked in a fight over a standard of evidence, sending a fix to the state’s “stand your ground” law to Gov. Rick Scott.

The House on Friday voted to “insist” that the Senate accept its amendment to Sen. Rob Bradley‘s bill (SB 128), which aims to streamline claims of self-defense.

Last month, it OK’d the bill but changed the burden of proof to “clear and convincing evidence,” a lower threshold than the Senate’s “beyond a reasonable doubt,” to overcome self-defense.

By Friday evening, the Senate finally accepted the change on a 22-14 vote.

Bill proponents want the burden to be on “the party seeking to overcome the immunity from criminal prosecution,” usually prosecutors, requiring a separate mini-trial, of sorts.

In legal terms, clear and convincing evidence is a “medium level of burden of proof,” according to the Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School.

“In order to meet the standard and prove something by clear and convincing evidence, a party must prove that it is substantially more likely than not that it is true,” it says. “This standard is employed in both civil and criminal trials.”

The Republican majority in the Legislature wants to shift the burden to prosecutors, making them disprove a claim of self-defense. A state Supreme Court decision had put the onus on the defendant to show self-defense.

Democrats have inveighed against the measure, saying it would encourage bad actors to injure, even kill, and then claim self-defense.

The stand your ground law, enacted in 2005, allows people who are attacked to counter deadly force with deadly force in self-defense without any requirement that they flee.

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