Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 182

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: Eric Draper to become new state parks director

After 22 years, Eric Draper is going to work for The Man.

Draper, the executive director for Audubon Florida, will become the next director of the Florida State Parks system.

News of the hire was made public on Thursday. Draper’s first day is Nov. 28.

He replaces Lisa Edgar, who quit in February after less than two months on the job, citing a “family emergency.” Draper’s state salary is listed at $115,000 a year.

“Eric leaves Audubon with a legacy of real accomplishments,” said David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society, in a statement.

Draper spent 22 years with the nonprofit environmental conservation organization, the last eight as executive director.

“From partnering on the restoration of the Everglades, to working with the state on designating or expanding 18 Florida Critical Wildlife Areas, Eric has been a model state director for Audubon,” Yarnold added.

“Eric’s achievements also include being able to see the big picture, including protections for larger Gulf Coast conservation efforts, as well as being a lynchpin for birds in the Atlantic Flyway. The State of Florida is fortunate to have his commitment to conservation and his consummate political skills.”

Julie Wraithmell, Audubon Florida’s deputy director, will serve as interim executive director while Audubon searches for Draper’s successor.

The Florida Park Service manages 175 state parks, as well as trails and historic sites, and has more than 1,000 employees and 29,000 volunteers.

Jack Latvala says legislative ethics reform is ‘overdue’

A testy Sen. Jack Latvala, Republican candidate for governor, had earlier turned questions about sexual harassment in the Senate to his advantage, saying the Legislature needs wholesale ethics reform.

“An entire package of ethics reforms is probably overdue,” he told the crowd at Thursday’s Associated Press pre-Legislative Session planning meeting.

Latvala also said that former Sen. Jeff Clemens‘ extramarital affair with a lobbyist was leaked by “somebody that has an ax to grind.” He added that he had “figured out” by whom, but wouldn’t name names.

Some privately have suggested it was former Sen. Frank Artiles or his allies, seeking payback for his ouster from the Senate after accosting two black lawmakers last Session at the Governors Club and using racially charged language.

But in a gaggle with reporters, the Clearwater Republican and Senate Appropriations Committee chair made clear he would have no more of the “sex” questions.

POLITICO Florida has reported that he had been the subject of surveillance, including showing him kissing a lobbyist in a parking lot after a dinner meeting in Tallahassee.

“Latvala vehemently denied any romantic relationship with the lobbyist in an interview with POLITICO Florida,” the website reported. “The lobbyist sent POLITICO a sworn statement to the same effect.”

“I asked the (Senate’s) general counsel to find out whether I had any problems with this,” Latvala said Thursday, speaking to a POLITICO Florida reporter who asked if the chamber had a sexual harassment problem.

“And she wrote a memo to your boss — I didn’t know she was writing a memo — that said I never had any incidents like that,” he added. “But that very day, you were on the phone trying to stir up one.” He then walked away.

Latvala earlier took a swipe at Republican contender Adam Putnam, the current Agriculture Commissioner who’s also campaigning for governor in 2018, saying the state’s next chief executive needs “business experience.”

Latvala owns his own printing business; Putnam has a stake in Putnam Groves, his family’s citrus business, but has been in elected office since his twenties.

As he promised, Latvala has not toned down his gruff, sometimes combative style: “I’m an old school Republican. I’m not going to be one of those guys who changes their philosophy to run statewide.”

Awkward: Ray Rodrigues on sex and the Capitol at AP Day

As much as he perhaps would have liked to avoid it, House Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues fielded a “sex” question at Thursday’s AP Day at the Capitol.

Rodrigues, filling in for previously scheduled House Speaker Richard Corcoran, was asked about Corcoran’s comment on a “wall of silence” in the Senate to news that Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens had an extramarital affair with a lobbyist. Clemens has since resigned from office.

But Rep. Cary Pigman, a Republican, reportedly began an affair in 2015 with his then-district secretary, to whom he is now married. He still is in the House.

Rodrigues, of Estero, was asked whether anyone in the House made an issue of that affair, or asked for an investigation.

“The first thing I would say is, those actions—if true and accurate—occurred before we initiated our rules changes,” he said, referring to added rules on sexual harassment.

“To my knowledge there was no complaint filed against Rep. Pigman,” he added. “Had there been, we would have initiated an investigation.”

Pressed further, Rodrigues was asked whether he personally thought lawmakers having any kind of consensual relationships with staff or lobbyists was “problematic.”

“I think we’ve made it clear sexual harassment won’t be tolerated,” he said.

But harassment isn’t “consensual,” he was told. What about consenting adults who, essentially, should know better?

“I don’t think elected officials should be using their position, whether it’s a staff member or a lobbyist, … and that kind of behavior is unacceptable. Period.”

Coda: Rick Scott’s last stand at AP Day at the Capitol

Talking about the future and reminding the audience of his past, Rick Scott appeared one last time as Florida’s governor at the annual Associated Press planning session at the Capitol.

Scott did not present a proposed state budget Thursday, as he has at previous AP events, but began with a recap of recent hurricane recovery, then a synopsis of his seven years as the state’s chief executive: Employment up, debt down, for example.

“A lot of people forget where we were when I ran in 2010,” he said. Since then, he’s reduced taxes 75 times, he said. He’s term-limited as governor next year.

Scott also teased some details of his state spending proposal for 2018-19, including $10 million for Department of Children and Families abuse investigators and $198 million for adoption subsidies.

He said he was confident the state has enough money without having to dip into any rainy-day funds, even after all the costs associated with Hurricane Irma.

“We have the revenue … It all comes down to how you allocate the dollars,” he said, adding “I will spend every dime I can to protect lives.”

On the environment, he’ll ask for $1.7 billion in funding, including $355 million for the Everglades, $100 million for beach restoration, and $50 million for state parks.

Scott also wants $50 million for repairs to the dike at Lake Okeechobee: “We cannot afford another (Hurricane) Irma coming up” to the lake, he said.

He added, in response to a question, that he will not seek the chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association (he’s vice chair), saying “I’m sure somebody (else) will step up.” Scott, a Naples Republican, is widely expected to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson for his seat in 2018.

Till then, “I will fight every day until I finish this job … I will keeping fighting for families,” Scott said.

Voting restoration amendment has 750,000 signatures

The main backer of a proposed constitutional amendment that would automatically restore some felons’ voting rights after they complete their sentences says his group now has collected over 750,000 signatures.

Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, also said on Wednesday that he’s confident the amendment will have a million signatures by year’s end.

“The needle is moving,” he said in a phone interview.

The Florida Division of Elections website showed as of the end of Wednesday that the citizen ballot initiative, known as “The Voting Restoration Amendment,” has 301,064 verified signatures.

Initiatives need 766,200 valid signatures for ballot placement. Signatures must be spread across Florida’s 27 congressional districts, with the total number due pegged to voter turnout in the most recent presidential election.

According to the ballot summary, “This amendment restores the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation.

“The amendment would not apply to those convicted of murder or sexual offenses, who would continue to be permanently barred from voting unless the Governor and Cabinet vote to restore their voting rights on a case by case basis.”

Former state Senate Democratic Leaders Arthenia Joyner of Tampa and Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale separately filed the proposal with the Constitution Revision Commission, which has the power to put it directly on the ballot.

During his term as Florida governor, then-Republican Charlie Crist worked with Cabinet members Alex Sink and Charles Bronson to push through restoration of rights for more than 150,000 non-violent felons. That process was quickly halted by Gov. Rick Scott when he took office in 2011.

Current law requires Florida convicts to wait years after they complete their sentences to apply for rights restoration through the Board of Executive Clemency, made up of Scott and members of the Cabinet.

• Additional reporting by Peter Schorsch •

 

Tom Lee files greyhound racing ban in Florida

As expected, Constitution Revision Commissioner Tom Lee has filed a constitutional amendment to ban greyhound racing in Florida.

Lee, a state senator from Thonotosassa and a previous Senate president, filed the 2-page proposal late Tuesday, the deadline for commissioners to submit proposed amendments for the state’s governing document.

Lee last month said he had been considering filing such a measure, and gaming industry sources said the senator had called some of the state’s dog track owners to “take their temperature.”

“There is growing recognition that many of these animals live in inhumane conditions, a reality that is out of line with the moral standard of Floridians,” Lee said in a statement.

The amendment as filed 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.

“For over a decade, the Legislature has fought to end greyhound racing, but special interests derail the issue every year,” Lee said. “Now is our opportunity to finally end the mistreatment of greyhounds, reduce the amount of gambling in our state, and restore community values.”

Lee’s measure goes beyond the usual “decoupling,” the term for removing provisions in state law requiring dog and horse tracks to run live races if they wish to offer other gambling, such as cardrooms. Under decoupling, tracks could still choose to run dogs.

Efforts to remove the live racing requirement have failed in the Legislature in recent years, including this past session, as lawmakers continually fail to pass comprehensive gambling legislation.

Carey M. Theil, executive director of GREY2K USA Worldwide, called the Lee amendment “a common sense proposal that will have broad support.”

Greyhound racing “is cruel and inhumane,” he said. “According to state records, a racing dog dies every three days at a Florida dog track. Greyhounds endure lives of confinement, and are given dangerous drugs including anabolic steroids. This is an opportunity for the industry to gracefully transition away from greyhound racing.”

On the other hand, Jack Cory, spokesman for the Florida Greyhound Association, said the “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,” he said, referring to other gambling, such as cards, that will continue at pari-mutuel facilities.

The Constitution Revision Commission is formed every 20 years to review and suggest changes to the state constitution.

Any amendments, which it can place directly on the 2018 statewide ballot, still must be OK’d by 60 percent of voters to be added. The commission must wrap up its work by May 10, 2018.

Lee also filed two other amendments, including one to also make the lieutenant governor “Florida’s Chief of Elections, Chief Cultural Officer, State Protocol Officer, head of the Department of State, and (the position) will have the power to cast the tie-breaking vote in the Florida Senate on the final passage of legislation.”

The other amendment would “increase watchdog authority over state contracts and spending” by expanding the powers of the state’s chief financial officer—an office Lee is seeking in 2018.

Open government watchdog barks at privacy measure

The Tallahassee-based First Amendment Foundation, the state’s public records and open meetings watchdog, is giving a thumbs down to a proposed Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) amendment on “privacy” for the 2018 ballot.

Foundation President Barbara Petersen, in a letter this week to Lisa Carlton, chair of the CRC’s Declaration of Rights Committee, said her group is “most alarmed by the dramatic impact this proposal would have on the constitutional right of access to public records.”

The committee will meet Wednesday afternoon for a right-to-privacy workshop but won’t yet consider the measure, its schedule shows.

Constitution Revision Commissioner John Stemberger, the committee’s vice-chair, is sponsoring the proposed amendment in question, drafted by former state Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Bell. It would clarify that the right to privacy in the state constitution applies to “privacy of information and the disclosure thereof.”

Here’s how we got here: At public hearings across the state, anti-abortion activists had urged the commission to change the constitution to undo a 1989 Florida Supreme Court decision striking down a state law that required parental consent before a minor can get an abortion.

Speakers complained that the constitutional right to privacy had been misconstrued to apply to abortion rights instead of a right to “informational privacy” against the government.

Stemberger, an attorney and president of the conservative Florida Family Policy Council, did not use the word “abortion” in a response to Petersen’s letter, which he released Tuesday evening. 

“The language will require Florida courts to interpret the privacy clause in the manner intended by its original drafters and the people who adopted it,” he said. “The intent being to protect the people from the government’s collection and more importantly, disclosure, of personal and private information.”

In her letter, Petersen said if the proposal is adopted, “legislative powers would be broadly expanded, and the Legislature could ‘provide by law’ that certain ‘private’ information is not public record. This would give the Legislature the power to selectively pull existing public records from the public domain.”

She added: “Equally troubling is the potential for the courts to hold that certain information is ‘private’ pursuant to the revised privacy right and thus not subject to disclosure under Florida’s public records law.” She urged the committee to vote down the amendment. 

Stemberger countered that the “rapid growth of technology” has resulted “in the increased invasion of personal and private information through various forms of surveillance and the monitoring of personal electronic devices.

“This information can be collected directly by government or obtained by them from private corporations,” he said. “This alone warrants the amendment.”

The main concern, however, “raised by people speaking during the CRC’s ten public hearings around the state was fixing the privacy clause so that it could no longer be hijacked by Florida’s high court and used for purposes other than what it was intended,” he said in his statement. “Concerned citizens wanted the privacy clause returned to its original purpose – to protect informational privacy.”

The CRC’s Declaration of Rights Committee meets 1-5 p.m. today. It will hear presentations on constitutional rights to privacy from Major B. Harding, a retired Florida Supreme Court chief justice, and Sandy D’Alemberte, law professor and past president of Florida State University.

Orange you mad? Citrus language leads to marijuana lawsuit

A Florida nursery is suing the state over its preference in granting medical marijuana licenses to companies with underused or shuttered citrus factories.

Tropiflora LLC of Sarasota filed suit against the Department of Health‘s Office of Compassionate Use—now the Office of Medical Marijuana Use—in Leon County Circuit Civil court on Friday, court records show.

The lawsuit is the latest in a long line against the state over its medical marijuana licensing scheme.

Tropiflora, which previously filed an administrative protest over the award of medical marijuana licenses, already “has two judicial challenges pending,” its complaint says. One is still in circuit court and another is on appeal.

The latest is over the citrus provision.

For up to two licenses, “the department shall give preference to applicants that demonstrate in their applications that they own one or more facilities that are, or were, used for the canning, concentrating, or otherwise processing of citrus fruit or citrus molasses and will use or convert the facility or facilities for the processing of marijuana,” state law says.

Tropiflora calls that an “unconstitutional special advantage” that “adversely impacts” the company, putting it at a “disadvantage” in competing for 10 available licenses to be a “medical marijuana treatment center.”

It further says there is no “rational basis for granting a special privilege” to concerns that own facilities once used for processing citrus.  

The complaint asks the court to declare that portion of statute an “impermissible special law (that) grants a special privilege.”

Lawmakers claimed ignorance about that language’s origins when it was added to this year’s bill that implemented the 2016 constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana in the state.

Nonetheless, Sen. Rob Bradley—the Fleming Island Republican who sponsored the Senate’s legislation—called it “good public policy” during the 2017 Special Session. He mentioned the shellacking the industry took in recent years from the citrus greening malady. 

“If you travel parts of the state, it breaks your heart to see these old orange juice factories, jobs lost,” he said. “Transitioning some of those facilities to something new is good.”

But Sen. Jeff Brandes, the St. Petersburg Republican who tried unsuccessfully to remove the citrus language, said it was “a carve-in for a special interest … It doesn’t look right; it doesn’t feel right.”

Tallahassee attorneys Steve Andrews, Ryan Andrews and Brian Finnerty of the Andrews Law Firm are representing Tropiflora. The case is currently assigned to Circuit Judge Jim Shelfer.

Booze from vending machines? No way, beer and liquor groups say

Beer distributors and independent liquor stores are lining up to oppose a proposal for high-tech beer and wine vending machines in South Florida.

The Beer Industry of Florida, the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, and the Florida Independent Spirits Association filed separate motions to intervene in the case last Thursday.

A newly-formed Miami-Dade company is seeking an OK from the state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco to install what it calls “self-checkout micro marts” with wine and beer.

La Galere Markets of Coral Gables asked regulators for a declaratory statement that the machines would be legal under existing law and regulations.

In their filing, the beer distributors say the company is seeking to sell “alcoholic beverages through ‘self-checkout’ procedures with no human being present on the licensed premises.”

La Galere intends to place the micro marts “in residential condominium developments in several Florida locations,” its original filing says. The machines 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, and the machines would be monitored at all times by surveillance cameras.

That’s a non-starter, the beer concerns say: “A determination that sales of alcoholic beverages may be made by a vendor completely in the absence of any (on-site) human supervision is the type of decision that should be made by the Legislature, not by the Division.”

Allowing the La Galere proposal “would open the door to other technological supervisory schemes that may not be as sophisticated,” their filing says.

“In other words, it’s a slippery slope that could lead to other concepts … such as the purchase of beer and wine from a manufacturer’s or distributor’s warehouse location that is supervised only through technology,” it adds.

But La Galere already has argued that the state now allows hotel mini-bars in rooms, “which have no employee supervision and generally lack anything other than superficial age verification,” that filing says.

The beer interests are represented by Donna Blanton, an attorney with Tallahassee’s Radey Law Firm and a former Tallahassee bureau chief for The Orlando Sentinel. The liquor store group is represented by lawyers Dan Russell and Marc Dunbar of Jones Walker‘s Tallahassee office.

An administrative hearing in the matter has not yet been scheduled.

Proposal would assure governor’s power to name justices

A proposed constitutional amendment would ensure that future governors could appoint new judges and justices up to their last day in office.

But John Stemberger, the member of the Constitution Revision Commission who filed the amendment Thursday, said he was temporarily withdrawing the proposal to correct a drafting error. 

The amendment would make certain that judicial terms end the day before a new governor takes over from a sitting one.

“The proposal should have had an effective date of 2020, well beyond the current legal dilemma that potentially presents itself in January of 2019 when the new Governor is sworn in,” he wrote in an email early Friday.

Attorneys are set to argue a related case against Gov. Rick Scott before the Florida Supreme Court next Wednesday.

“I am not seeking to interfere with the circumstances of legal battles for the judges currently set to retire in 2019, but merely to avoid this miniature constitutional crisis into the future by simply changing the dates so they do not coincide together,” he added.

Progressive groups have challenged Scott’s authority to appoint three new Supreme Court justices on the last day of his term in 2019.

Stemberger, an Orlando attorney and president of the conservative Florida Family Policy Council, aims to “revise the date on which the term of office begins for judicial offices subject to election for retention.”

The amendment aims “to avoid the ambiguity and litigation that may result by having the terms of judicial officers and the Governor end and begin on the same day.”

It would change the start and end dates of judicial terms from “the first Tuesday after the first Monday in January” following the general election, to “the first Monday in January.” 

The League of Women Voters of Florida (LWVF) and Common Cause sued Scott this summer. They seek a “writ of quo warranto,” a court action against government officials to demand they prove their authority to perform a certain action.

Liza McClenaghan, state chair of Common Cause of Florida, said Stemberger’s amendment “thwarts the will of the people and makes government less accountable.” Oral argument in their action is set for next Wednesday morning.

The age-required retirements of three justices—R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy A. Quince—occasioned the suit. They are considered the more liberal-leaning contingent of the high court. 

Scott, a Naples Republican, has said he plans to name their replacements the morning of his last day in office—Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019.

His attorneys have argued that the justices’ age-mandated retirements also will become effective that Jan. 8.

The League and Common Cause counter that Scott can’t replace those justices because he’ll be out of office earlier on the same day they retire, and their terms last till midnight.

If the commission eventually decides to place Stemberger’s amendment on the 2018 statewide ballot, it still would have to be approved by 60 percent of voters to be added to the state constitution.

The 37-member board is convened every 20 years to review and suggest changes to the state’s governing document. Stemberger was named to the panel by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican.

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