Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 191

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.

Former Rep. Rich Glorioso re-applies for PSC seat

Rich Glorioso, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who served in the House 2004-12, has again thrown in his hat to be considered for a seat on the Florida Public Service Commission.

Glorioso’s was one of two initial applications for a vacancy created by the withdrawal of former Rep. Ritch Workman. The applications were released Wednesday by the Public Service Commission Nominating Council.

Gov. Rick Scott had picked Workman to replace Ronald Brisé on the panel, which regulates investor-owned utilities in the state. But Workman, a Melbourne Republican, bowed out after a sexual misconduct allegation.

Glorioso was a finalist last year to serve the unexpired term of former Commissioner Jimmy Patronis, who stepped down to replace Jeff Atwater as state Chief Financial Officer. The job eventually went to Gary Clark, then the Department of Environmental Protection‘s deputy secretary of land and recreation.

The other application released Wednesday was from Baldwyn English, who had been Brisé’s chief advisor for the last seven years. He cited his “competence, experience, commitment, and genuine interest in the areas of energy, gas, telecom, and water.”

Glorioso, a math major at Boston’s Northeastern University, checked off experience in public affairs, economics, accounting and finance on his application.

Before serving in the House as a Republican, he was a Plant City Commissioner in 1998-2004.

“I am a retired senior officer from the U.S. Air Force having spent 27 years serving our country,” Glorioso said in his application. “My last Command was a Logistics Group with five (5) diverse squadrons, including a Contracting Squadron.

“I feel qualified for this position because I bring with me years of experience in analyzing complex issues,” he added. “I found in my 14 years as an elected official and 27 years in the Air Force that many times reviewing budgets I had to distinguish between valid requirements and ‘nice to have’ items.”

Glorioso also received a graduate degree in Personnel Management from Central Michigan University and attended the U.S. Air Force Air War College.

The Nominating Council vets applicants and recommends finalists to the governor for the full-time position, based in Tallahassee and paying $132,036 a year. Scott’s pick must get Senate approval.

The deadline to apply for the post is next Friday, Jan. 12.

Bill would pave way for slot machines in north Florida

A north Florida lawmaker has filed legislation to again allow Gadsden County to hold a “countywide referendum” on authorizing slot machine gambling at a local race track.

Rep. Ramon Alexander, a Democrat who represents Gadsden and part of Leon County, filed the bill (HB 1111) Tuesday for the 2018 Legislative Session starting next week.

But the bill may be a long shot in a Republican-controlled House that opposes expanding gambling. Gretna and Gadsden County—which has “unique economic development challenges,” the bill says—have long sought to add slots.

A unanimous Florida Supreme Court last year ruled against the track and facilities in seven other counties that previously passed local referendums allowing slots, saying “nothing in (state gambling law) grants any authority to regulate slot machine gaming to any county.” 

The holding was limited to non-charter counties, however. Gadsden does not have a charter but did pass a slots referendum in 2012. Tuesday’s bill responds to the court’s ruling that “the Legislature did not specifically authorize” that referendum.

It would OK the following ballot question: “Shall slot machine gaming be authorized at the pari-mutuel quarter horse racing facility in the City of Gretna?”

 

Paul Seago, Executive Director of No Casinos, said his organization has “major concerns” with the bill.

“First, we think it violates the Florida Constitution, which prohibits expansion of casino gambling without a statewide vote,” he said. “Second, it sets up a violation of the compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe, jeopardizing millions of dollars in revenue.”

The Seminole Tribe of Florida enjoys exclusive rights to offers slots outside of South Florida; breaking that exclusivity entitles the Tribe to reduce or stop paying a cut of its gambling revenue to the state.

“Third, any municipality that thinks casino gambling is a key to economic development need look no further than Atlantic City to see the associated crime and social ills that come with it,” Seago added. “For these reasons we will vigorously oppose HB 1111.”

But Antonio Jefferson, city manager of Gretna, said allowing slots there is the best chance for his rural, impoverished area’s shot at revival. Gadsden, with a population of roughly 46,000, has a 20 percent poverty rate.

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which manages and operates the horse track known as Creek Entertainment/Gretna, has previously promised to invest in a new facility if they get slots. That could generate up to 1,000 new jobs.

“We just want the citizens’ voices to be heard on this issue,” Jefferson told Florida Politics. “We want our kids to be able to climb the economic ladder right here. Considering the many millions that the tribe promises to invest here, how could that not be a good thing?”

Lottery lawsuit on ‘pathway to resolution,’ new filing says

Attorneys for the Florida Lottery and House Speaker Richard Corcoran have confirmed a tentative end to their fight over a multi-million dollar agency contract, saying in a Tuesday court filing they’re officially on a “pathway to resolution.”

The sides filed a status report in the case, now with the 1st District Court of Appeal, asking that the lawsuit stay open but continue in a holding pattern till April 1, after the end of the 2018 Legislative Session.

That’s because the “resolution of this matter will turn on the results of the appropriation process,” the report said. The 60-day Session is scheduled to end March 9.

Last month, the Lottery agreed to tweak a multi-year deal—for new equipment and other items—to require legislative oversight and approval.

The Lottery, which reports to Gov. Rick Scott, already released redacted documents detailing changes in what was originally a contract worth $700 million over an initial 10-year period, with three available 3-year renewal options.

Among others, the changes include reducing the number of “full-service vending machines” and requiring the vendor, International Game Technology (IGT), to “support the Lottery’s marketing efforts” by kicking back $30,000 a month. 

Corcoran had sued in February, saying the Lottery was guilty of “wasteful and improper spending” and “signing a contract that spends beyond existing budget limitations.”

The contract was for new retailer terminals, in-store signage, self-service lottery vending machines, self-service ticket checkers and an upgraded communications network. Lottery proceeds go into the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, which helps pay for public education.

Corcoran’s lawsuit said the Lottery “cannot enter into a contract that obligates the agency to pay more in subsequent fiscal years than its current budget authority allows.”

Tallahassee-based Circuit Judge Karen Gievers agreed with Corcoran and invalidated the deal in March. The Lottery appealed. Both sides asked the appellate court to put a hold on the case as they worked on a resolution. 

Handful of new laws go into effect Jan. 1

Four bills passed during the 2017 Legislative Session go into effect on the first day of the new year.

HB 435: This bill updates the Office of Financial Regulation’s regulatory procedures and requirements for international financial institutions.

SB 590: This bill authorizes the Florida Department of Revenue to establish parenting time plans agreed to by both parents.

SB 800: This bill requires health insurers and health maintenance organizations to offer medication synchronization to align refill dates for certain drugs at least once a year.

HB 911: This bill amends various statutes relating to insurance adjusters, including eliminating licensure for public adjuster apprentices.

But another bill OK’d by lawmakers that would have taken effect Jan. 1, 2018 was rejected by Gov. Rick Scott.

That measure (HB 937) would have required one of six rotating warnings to be printed on lottery tickets and advertisements. One was “WARNING: YOUR ODDS OF WINNING THE TOP PRIZE ARE EXTREMELY LOW.”

Scott vetoed the bill, saying it would have imposed “burdensome regulations on the Lottery and its retail partners,” and could have cost the state $31.5 million for education.

Lottery proceeds go into the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, which helps pay for public education.

Flags ordered at half-staff for Don Hahnfeldt

Flags will be flown at half-staff next Tuesday to honor the late state Rep. Don Hahnfeldt, Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday.

Hahnfeldt

Hahnfeldt, first elected last year to represent House District 33, died on Christmas Eve. The district includes Sumter County and parts of Lake and Marion counties.

Scott ordered the U.S. and state flags to be flown at half-staff at the Sumter County Administrative Building in Wildwood, the Sumter County Courthouse in Bushnell, and at the Capitol in Tallahassee, from sunrise to sunset on Jan. 2.

Hahnfeldt, of The Villages, “distinguished himself during his 32-year career in the U.S. Navy, commanding two nuclear submarines and serving as Commander of the Pacific Fleet’s Strategic Submarine Squadron,” according to Scott’s statement.

“After retiring from the U.S. Navy, he continued to serve in leadership positions in numerous boards and committees, and was elected to the Sumter County Commission in 2012.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with his entire family during this difficult time,” the governor added. “We will always remember Rep. Hahnfeldt’s commitment to The Villages and our nation.”

A ‘Red Bull rule’? State strikes back on drugs in race dogs

Calling it an “immediate danger” that needs “emergency action,” gambling regulators this week filed a temporary rule to allow them to keep testing racing greyhounds for drugs.

The moves comes after an administrative law judge struck down the testing program, saying it was “invalid.”

The Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, which regulates gambling in Florida, also asked Judge Lawrence P. Stevenson to reconsider his ruling. In Florida, live dog racing is still conducted at 12 tracks.

It barred the state from relying on a 2010 testing manual because it wasn’t properly adopted, though as one of the division’s  lawyers said, “There aren’t that many ways to do urine collection.”

 

The emergency rule, for example, includes using “evidence tape” to seal samples and storing them in “lockable freezers” until they’re sent off for testing.

Stevenson’s ruling already has had ripple effects.

Another administrative law judge this week recommended a fine and suspension for a West Palm Beach greyhound trainer after his dogs tested positive for drugs in late 2016 and early 2017.

That included one greyhound whose “caffeine level … was approximately 42 times the permissible limit.”

But that same judge, Cathy M. Sellers, said trainer Areci Robledo could ask to “re-open” the case based on Stevenson’s previous decision.

In that case, Robledo testified dogs sometimes consume food and beverages containing caffeine, such as chocolate and Red Bull, because they’re “often left unattended in areas where they are accessible to the racing greyhounds.”

Attorney Jeff Kottkamp, who represents the Florida Greyhound Association, has said it has “a zero tolerance policy for anyone that would give a racing greyhound any illegal substance.” The organization advocates for the state’s race-dog owners and breeders.

A cocaine-in-dogs controversy came to light in Jacksonville this summer. That partly spurred the filing of a constitutional amendment for the 2018 ballot to ban greyhound racing in the state.

State just says ‘no’ to booze from vending machines

State regulators this week rejected a request to install high-tech beer and wine vending machines in South Florida, a proposal opposed by lawmakers and industry groups.

A Miami-Dade company had sought an OK from the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (ABT) to offer what it calls “self-checkout micro marts” with wine and beer.

The day after Christmas, however, ABT director Thomas Philpot in part said the “unmanned, albeit remotely monitored, sale of alcohol from vending machines would contemplate a sale in a manner not permitted by the (state’s) Beverage Law.”

His administrative filing added: “To find otherwise, the Division would be substituting its judgment for that of the Legislature, and the Division is unable to effectuate such a statewide shift in policy….”

The Beer Industry of Florida, the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, and the Florida Independent Spirits Association opposed a request from La Galere Markets of Coral Gables to declare the machines legal under existing law and regulations.

La Galere intended to place the micro marts “in residential condominium developments in several Florida locations,” its original filing said. The machines would also sell food, including sandwiches and snacks, but the company does not have a liquor license.

Condo residents would have had to go through “checkpoints” to get to the machines, including building security, and use their fingerprints to buy any alcoholic beverage. Scanned prints would have been in a “pre-approved” database, and the machines would have been monitored at all times by surveillance cameras.

“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,” the beer concerns said in their own filing.

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

Philpot’s ruling can be appealed to the District Court of Appeal within 30 days.

Open Tallahassee judgeship gets a dozen applicants

When it comes to applying for a judgeship, the third time could be a charm for Alan Abramowitz. 

Abramowitz

Abramowitz, executive director of the Statewide Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Office, is one of 12 applicants for a Tallahassee-area circuit judge seat opening because of the retirement of Charles A. Francis.

Abramowitz has applied to become a judge twice before.

Francis, first appointed to the bench in 1999, will step down from judicial office on March 31.

The 2nd Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) will meet Jan. 9 to review the applications and decide who to interview.

Interviews are scheduled for Jan. 16 at the Leon County Courthouse Annex on Thomasville Road in Tallahassee.

The JNC will eventually recommend 3-6 names to Gov. Rick Scott, who makes the final selection.

The other 11 applicants 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.

Russell Kent, special counsel for litigation at the Attorney General’s Office.

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

Ace Pedroso, magistrate for the 2nd Judicial Circuit.

Jacqueline Smith, child support hearing officer for the 2nd Judicial Circuit.

D. Christine Thurman, a family law attorney in Tallahassee.

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

Zachary R. White, an attorney in private practice in Tallahassee.

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

High-profile Florida Supreme Court cases still hanging fire at year’s end

Partly because they came late to the court this year, some high-profile cases before the Florida Supreme Court will remain unresolved by the close of 2017.

As of this writing, the court’s weekly opinion release was going to be on holiday hiatus until Jan. 11, though “out-of-calendar releases” are still possible, a spokesman said.

Here are a few of those pending matters, starting with the court’s official summary:

— Herssein & Herssein v. United Services Automobile Association: “This case asks whether judges commit an ethical violation if they are Facebook ‘friends’ with litigants in cases pending before them.”

The justices decided to weigh in after an August ruling by the state’s 3rd District Court of Appeal that rejected a request to disqualify Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Beatrice Butchko.

The dispute stems from Butchko being a Facebook friend of attorney Israel Reyes, who was hired to represent an insurance-company executive in a case before her.

The Herssein Law Group is seeking the disqualification; it sued a former client, United Services Automobile Association, for alleged breach of contract and fraud.

— School Board of Alachua County v. Richard Corcoran: “This case involves a challenge to an education bill passed by the 2017 Legislature.”

A group of school boards is asking the court to block a wide-ranging education law passed this May. The boards filed a constitutional challenge to the bill, known by its number, HB 7069.

The 274-page bill, backed by House Speaker Corcoran, deals with controversial subjects such as charter schools and teacher bonuses. The challenge contends that the law violates part of the Florida Constitution that requires legislation to deal with single subjects.

Those named in the case are the school boards of Alachua, Bay, Broward, Hamilton, Lee, Polk, St. Lucie, Volusia and Wakulla counties.

(Ed. Note: The Supreme Court has since transferred the case to a Tallahassee trial court to handle.)

— International Association of Firefighters v. State of Florida: “This case involves a challenge to the Governor’s 2015 veto of firefighter pay raises.”

The union wants the court to strike down Gov. Rick Scott‘s 2015 veto of pay raises for the state’s firefighters.

The 1st District Court of Appeal previously ruled that Scott’s veto of $2,000 pay raises did not violate collective-bargaining rights. That court said Scott acted within his authority to veto spending items in the state budget, and that lawmakers could have overridden the veto but did not.

The Legislature included the $2,000 raises for firefighters in budget fine print known as “proviso” language, which Scott subsequently vetoed.

Attorneys for the state say the appeals court “merely applied a clearly articulated constitutional right” of the governor to veto spending items.

— Dante Martin v. State of Florida: “This case challenges criminal convictions related to a college hazing incident.”

Martin is appealing his convictions in the 2011 hazing death of Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion. Oral argument is set for Feb. 7.

Martin and Champion were both members of the school’s famed “Marching 100” band. Champion, 26, succumbed to internal injuries after a brutal beating ritual with fists, mallets and drumsticks in a band bus that was parked outside a game in Orlando.

According to an Associated Press story, “the case brought into focus the culture of hazing in the band, which was suspended for more than a year while officials tried to clean up the program.”

Martin, now 30, was sentenced in 2015 to 6 years and 5 months in prison on felony manslaughter and hazing charges, according to the Department of Corrections website. He is currently serving his time in the Wakulla Work Camp, with a release date of April 2020.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this post, republished with permission.

Jim Rosica’s review of top state government stories of 2017

Spoiler alert: If you’re a regular of this site, and reading this story, you can guess what the #1 pick is.

Otherwise, 2017 still offered a bounty of material to Tallahassee’s reporting ranks. We still chuckle at the uninitiated who ask, “What do you write about when the Legislature isn’t in session?”

Without further ado, here’s the admittedly subjective list of the Top 10 (and a half) stories to come out of the Capitol in the Year That Was:

#10 — State finally passes ride-sharing legislation: After years of trying, lawmakers OK’d, and Gov. Rick Scott signed, a bill (HB 221) creating statewide regulations for ride-booking companies like Uber and Lyft. In fact, lawmakers had considered such legislation for four years before passing a bill this year.

The legislation, among other things, requires Uber, Lyft and similar “transportation network companies” to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury or death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged into the app, but hasn’t yet secured a passenger. When a driver gets a ride, they need to have $1 million in coverage.

The bill also requires companies to have third parties run criminal background checks on drivers. It also pre-empts local ordinances and other rules on transportation network companies, or TNCs.

The losers? Local governments, whose attempts to regulate or rein in ride-share got pre-empted, and, well, taxi companies.

#9 — Rick Scott, Aramis Ayala and the debate over the death penalty: Ayala, a Democrat and the Orlando area’s top prosecutor, enraged Scott and conservative lawmakers when she announced in March she would not seek capital punishment in any murder cases.

Scott, a Naples Republican, began unilaterally reassigning death penalty-eligible cases to another state attorney. Republican Rep. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs called for Ayala to be removed from office for dereliction of duty.

The controversy made it to the Florida Supreme Court, which ruled Scott has the authority to transfer murder cases away because she refuses to pursue death. Ayala, elected in 2016, responded by announcing she would set up a special panel to review the death penalty’s appropriateness of each case.

But as of this month, Ayala and Scott were still sniping, with the governor accusing her of missing a deadline and blowing a capital punishment prosecution. Ayala denied that but did cut a plea deal with Emerita Mapp, in which she pleaded guilty in exchange for a life sentence for a Kissimmee slaying.

#8 — Puerto Rico migration could remake Central Florida: With many still without power after Hurricane Maria slammed the island in September, more than 250,000 residents of Puerto Rico have now decamped to Florida, most to the Central Florida region, with one advocate calling it a “migration of biblical proportions.”

Curbed said the “sudden influx will also put pressure on housing, social services, and the job market that have yet to be fully addressed by state, local, and federal officials.”

But Scott ordered the opening of “disaster relief centers” providing state services to thousands. Cortes filed a bill to address housing needs for evacuees. Sen. Vic Torres, a Kissimmee Democrat, pressed FEMA to provide more housing relief. U.S. Reps. Darren SotoStephanie Murphy, and Dennis Ross co-signed a letter to the feds for Florida get its full funding as a host state to support the migration.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart is working on a plan to allow Puerto Rican high schoolers to receive Puerto Rico diplomas in Florida, in case they can’t meet Florida’s graduation requirements. And those are just a few examples.

#7 — The fight over HB 7069: The wide-ranging education law passed this May — a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran — has been called a “brew of bad policy” and “a textbook example of a failure in government transparency” by opponents.

They say it will benefit charter schools to the detriment of traditional public schools. Supporters counter that it “helps all students” by holding failing public schools to account.

The law offers all kinds of changes, including requiring recess and reducing mandatory testing. It accelerates state tax dollar funding to for-profit and nonprofit charter and private schools, expands parents’ abilities to choose schools, and tightens Tallahassee’s control over what local school boards can and cannot do.

A group of school boards sued in the Supreme Court to block the law; the justices, in a 4-3 decision, have since transferred the case to a Tallahassee trial court to handle. 

#6 — Enterprise Florida, VISIT FLORIDA survive a hit: Corcoran went full frontal this year, trying to scuttle Scott’s favored organizations and a multitude of business incentives last Legislative Session.

He derided Enterprise Florida, the state’s jobs-creating organization, as little more than a dispenser of “corporate welfare.” Though a public-private partnership, it doles out mostly public dollars.

He slammed VISIT FLORIDA, the tourism marketing group, for secret deals and an overall lack of transparency. Scott and lawmakers eventually worked out a deal to save the agencies and create an $85 million Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, focused on promoting public infrastructure and job training.

Meantime, the organizations now are subject to heightened oversight. And Ken Lawson, the former DBPR secretary whom Scott moved to head the tourism agency, toured the state to meet with local tourism leaders. “I want to earn your trust and learn from you first hand. This has been a hard year for all of us,” he said.

#5 — Special elections churn the Legislature: The turnover in legislative seats began with former South Florida Sen. Frank Artiles resigning after an epithet-laden tirade against two black lawmakers was made public, eventually leading to the seat flipping to a Democrat, Annette TaddeoRepublican Jose Felix Diaz lost that race but had to resign the House to run, meaning his House seat is open.

Plant City Republican Dan Raulerson quit the House this year for health reasons; Republican Lawrence McClure won the District 58 seat in a December special election. Republican Alex Miller, just elected in 2016, also resigned her Sarasota-area House seat this summer. She cited a need to “spend more time at home than my service in the Legislature would allow.”

But wait — there’s more. Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens quit after his extramarital affair with a lobbyist came to light. Republican Neil Combee resigned the House to take a job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture; the GOP’s Eric Eisnaugle also left the House to become an appellate judge, and Democrat Rep. Daisy Baez resigned before pleading guilty to perjury in a criminal case over her residency in Coral Gables-based House District 114.

#5(a) — Speaking of Artiles … : He resigned his Senate seat rather than face a hearing that could result in his expulsion. The Cuban-American Republican from Miami-Dade County made national news after he accosted Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, calling her a “b—h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation at The Governors Club.

Artiles also used a slang variation of the ‘N-word,’ referring to white Republicans who supported Joe Negron as Senate President. Thurston and Gibson are black. Artiles apologized on the Senate floor, but Thurston filed a Senate rules complaint. Artiles, elected to the Senate in 2016 after six years in the House, initially called efforts to remove him politically motivated. (Sound familiar?)

#4 Speaking of Clemens … : The Lake Worth Democrat was the first in the Legislature this year to resign after reports of sexual misconduct. “I have made mistakes I ashamed of, and for the past six months I have been focused on becoming a better person,” he said in a statement to news media. 

“But it is clear to me that task is impossible to finish while in elected office. The process won’t allow it, and the people of Florida deserve better. All women deserve respect, and by my actions, I feel I have failed that standard. I have to do better.”

Clemens, the incoming Senate Democratic Leader, apologized for having an affair with a lobbyist during the last legislative session. That woman “came into possession of Clemens’ laptop, gained access to all his contacts and personal information, then informed his wife of the tryst,” according to POLITICO Florida.

#3 — Jimmy Patronis replaces Jeff Atwater: Patronis had been a Panama City restaurateurstate representative and Public Service Commissioner when Scott tapped him to replace Atwater and become the state’s fourth Chief Financial Officer this June. Atwater quit his term early to become chief financial officer of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

As CFO, Patronis — a Scott loyalist — now is one vote on the Florida Cabinet, in addition to Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. And he has since announced he will seek a full term as CFO in 2018.

The position heads a roughly 2,600-employee agency that includes the state treasury and insurance regulators, as well as being state fire marshal. The CFO also oversees management of the state’s multibillion-dollar financial portfolio. The office was created after the 1997-98 Constitution Revision Commission recommended collapsing several state departments into one, including Insurance, Treasury, State Fire Marshal and Banking and Finance.

#2 — The politics and policy of Hurricane Irma responseIrma’s size and strength put the entire state on notice; thousands of residents and visitors left in advance of catastrophic winds and flooding.

The most significant casualties were in a South Florida nursing home. The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills was evacuated Sept. 13 after the facility lost power to its air conditioning system. Eight elderly residents died, with another six perishing in the weeks that followed. Most died from heat exposure. The deaths were later classified as homicides, with a police spokeswoman saying, “Who gets charged is part of the continuing investigation.”

Scott took his own heat after Democrats charged that he had ignored calls for help from the home’s administrators to his personal mobile phone; he said his staff took the messages and forwarded them to the appropriate state officials.

The governor also ordered an emergency generator rule to “ensur(e) that facilities across Florida are coming into compliance and are installing generators to keep their patients safe during a disaster,” he said. But the facilities themselves challenged that move.

The Florida House formed its own special panel to consider the state’s readiness to deal with monster hurricanes. The Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness has been meeting since October. 

#1 — Jack Latvala quits the SenateIn the face of two damning reports on his alleged serial sexual harassment, Latvala turned in his resignation, not effective till Jan. 5, on Dec. 20.

The Clearwater Republican said in a statement he “never intentionally dishonored my family, my constituents or the Florida Senate.” He first served in the Senate 1994-2002, then returned in 2010. Latvala was term-limited next year.

In his characteristically defiant manner, he said: “Political adversaries have latched onto this effort to rid our country of sexual harassment to try to rid the Florida Senate of me.” The 66-year-old Latvala admitted, however, that he “ … perhaps (had not) kept up with political correctness in my comments as well as I should have.”

An investigative report found Latvala “on multiple occasions” offered to trade his vote for sex with an unnamed female lobbyist. That bombshell came toward the end of retired appellate Judge Ronald V. Swanson‘s report into a complaint filed by Rachel Perrin Rogers, a top aide to future Senate President Wilton Simpson.

Perrin Rogers accused Latvala of sexually harassing her and assaulting her on a number of occasions over several years. A second investigation into sexual harassment claims against Latvala, prompted by a POLITICO Florida story, turned up another witness who bolstered an allegation that the senator would offer to trade sex for favorable votes on legislation.

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