Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 131

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.

Legislation covering Uber, Lyft filed for 2017

Online car services such as Uber and Lyft got a preliminary win in Florida after favorable legislation was filed Wednesday in the Legislature.

The bills (SB 340 and HB 221), which would apply to ridebooking companies like Uber and Lyft, combine parts of previous measures that have been introduced but not passed over the last few years.

Still, “transportation network companies,” or TNCs, pretty much got what they wanted, including a provision for driver background checks that don’t require fingerprints, which are more expensive for the companies.

Senate sponsor Jeff Brandes, however, says the checks provided for in the bills are still rigorous and comprehensive. He and state Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Pinellas County Republican who filed the House bill, spoke with reporters Wednesday.

Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who advocates for ridebooking and other “disruptive technologies,” mentioned running potential drivers through a national sex offender database and searching their driving history records.

Importantly, the bills also prohibit local governments from trying to regulate TNCs, another bugaboo of the companies.

Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Harrison called the bills “fair and comprehensive.”

The legislation “establishes common-sense guidelines throughout the state, and allows people in Florida to continue benefitting from Lyft’s affordable, reliable rides,” said Harrison, Lyft’s senior policy communications manager.

“More than two-thirds of states across the country have embraced modern transportation options like Lyft and we are hopeful Florida will soon join them in creating a framework that benefits drivers and passengers,” she added.

Such legislation has been opposed by taxicab and limo interests, and the head of the Florida Taxicab Association called this year’s bills “another attempt by Uber to have legislation written to codify their exact business practice.”

“The goal for policymakers should be what is in the best interest of the public, including drivers, passengers and third parties,” said Roger Chapin, also the executive vice president of Mears Transportation, Central Florida’s largest taxi and hired-car provider.

“A good start,” he added, “would be an appropriate level of insurance for any and all ‘for hire’ drivers that covers the additional risk associated with the more intensive use of the vehicle,” such as “24/7 commercial insurance.”

But the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America came out in support of the bills.

“Many drivers believe their personal auto insurance policy will cover them; this is almost never the case, as the majority of personal auto insurance policies exclude coverage when a vehicle is being used for hire,” association spokeswoman Logan McFaddin said.

“This legislative solution helps to ensure there are safe transportation options that protect drivers, passengers and the public.”

Among other things, the bills require the companies to insure drivers for at least $1 million when they’re giving a ride.

While drivers are on duty but waiting for a ride, they must insure them for death and bodily injury of $50,000 per person, $100,000 for death and bodily injury per incident, and $25,000 for property damage.

Chris Hudson, state director of Americans for Prosperity-Florida, a free market advocacy group, also came out in favor of the bills. He said TNCs “offer economic benefits to the economy by stirring market activity through new good paying jobs consistent with the American Dream.”

Lawmakers “need to strip away the red tape that is crushing innovation and opportunity for Floridians to thrive,” he added. “We will hold elected officials accountable that stand against common sense reforms to expand available services to entrepreneurs and consumers.”

Colin Tooze, an Uber representative, called the legislation “sound and consistent with the emerging national consensus” on regulating ridebooking.

“The bills have very robust safety, insurance, and consumer protection standards,” said Tooze, Uber’s public affairs director. “That’s what our drivers and riders are looking for.”

He also said the pre-emption language, reserving TNC regulation to the state, also was important to save drivers and riders from a “patchwork of regulations that’s very confusing.”

“We think people ought to have certainty and uniformity so that wherever in Florida you are, you can count on a good experience,” Tooze said.

 

 

accounting

Audit uncovers flaws in state’s accounting system

When you try to manage a multi-billion-dollar state budget with three-decade-old software, problems are bound to happen.

An audit has found security flaws in the Department of Financial Services‘ antiquated FLAIR accounting system, according to a report released Friday. (FLAIR stands for “Florida Accounting Information Resource Subsystem.”)

The department is run by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

Among those, “access privileges for some FLAIR and network users did not … restrict users to only those functions necessary for assigned job duties,” it said.

Also, the department’s “procedures and processes for conducting periodic reviews of user access privileges need improvement,” and other “security controls … need improvement to ensure the confidentiality, integrity and availability of Department data and IT resources,” the audit report said.

Atwater spokeswoman Ashley Carr has previously said the department must process nearly $90 billion in payments every year, and FLAIR is no longer meeting that need.

That’s why DFS continues to ask lawmakers for money to replace it with PALM, the Florida “Planning, Accounting and Ledger Management” system.

“Data security is imperative,” Carr said. “As noted within the report itself, we’ve addressed the few recommendations specific to FLAIR that were made, and we look forward to the continued progress of the FLAIR to Florida PALM transition project.”

Though FLAIR “has been repaired time and time again, findings will continue to arise that simply cannot be corrected on this more than 30-year-old system, reiterating the importance of the Florida PALM replacement project,” she added.

“As of May 2016, the Pre-Design, Development, Implementation (Pre-DDI) phase (of PALM) was in progress and expected to be completed in February 2018,” the audit report said.

fireworks

Greg Steube files fireworks legalization bill

Sis-boom-bah: state Sen. Greg Steube has filed legislation to legalize consumer fireworks in Florida.

Steube, the Sarasota Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, filed his bill (SB 324) Tuesday.

The legislation appears to be identical to a bill (HB 4005) filed for the 2014 Legislative Session by then-state Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican. That bill died in committee, records show.

Similar to Gaetz’s effort, Steube’s bill would repeal the prohibition on selling fireworks to the general public.

It also would remove requirements for testing and approval of sparklers and relieve those who make and sell sparklers from having to register with the state.

Although you can buy fireworks in the state, they’re not actually legal here. 

Retail sales are allowed only because of a 60-year-old loophole in the law, the only known one of its kind in the country. It allows “fireworks … to be used solely and exclusively in frightening birds from agricultural works and fish hatcheries.”

Anyone who has bought fireworks from a roadside tent over the years may remember signing a form acknowledging the buyer falls under an agricultural, fisheries or other exemption.

Fireworks can also be used for “signal purposes or illumination” of a railroad or quarry, “for signal or ceremonial purposes in athletics or sports, or for use by military organizations.”

Enforcement is up to local police and fire agencies, and case law says fireworks vendors aren’t responsible for verifying buyers actually intend to chase off egrets or light up a track meet.

As recently as 2016, only three states have outright bans on consumer fireworks: Delaware, Maine, and New Jersey, according to the American Pyrotechnic Association.

Blogger still irate over Justice James E.C. Perry’s continued presence at Supreme Court

Conservative blogger Ed Whelan isn’t giving up his position that retired Florida Supreme Court Justice James E.C. Perry continuing to work on pending cases “appears to be in plain violation of Florida law.”

Whelan wrote on National Review Online last week that Perry was wrongly “displac(ing)” Justice C. Alan Lawson, the newest conservative jurist on the state’s high court.

In the court’s defense, spokesman Craig Waters explained that the court’s “longstanding practice for many decades has been that retiring justices remain in senior status to complete their unfinished work after retirement.”

He also said “there are serious workload issues involved in processing cases because the work is cumulative … asking a new justice to step in … can greatly slow decision-making in those cases – a result that would impose delay and additional expense on the parties to those cases, some of which are facing the death penalty.”

Whelan’s recent rebuttal said “the proposition that the court has employed this ‘practice for many decades’ does not speak meaningfully to the legality of the practice.

“If the court can’t offer a compelling legal explanation for its practice of allowing a retired justice to continue to decide cases after his retirement, it ought to terminate that practice pronto.”

Moreover, “it’s one thing to decide already-argued cases without the new member. It’s quite another thing to allow the retired justice to displace the new member in those cases,” Whelan wrote.

Any “efficiency gains that Waters touts would be achieved by simply deciding the case without him,” he added.

“To be sure, there may be a small number of cases that would have to be re-argued because Lawson’s participation would break a tie among the six remaining justices who heard oral argument. But those are precisely the cases in which having Perry displace Lawson is most objectionable.”

Senate readies this year’s gambling bill

A Senate spokeswoman on Tuesday said the chamber’s legislative package on gambling should be ready for hearing later this month.

A meeting of the Regulated Industries Committee, which oversees gambling policy, had been set for this Thursday but was cancelled.

“Based on conservations with Sen. (Bill) Galvano, President (Joe) Negron anticipates having a bill ready to be heard during the second committee week in January,” Katie Betta said in an email.

“Based on that timetable, President Negron felt that it would be more productive to cancel the workshop scheduled for this week and instead schedule a hearing when the bill is available later this month.”

The Miami Herald reported late Monday that lawmakers were close to a deal to get approval of a new agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida granting them continued exclusivity to offer blackjack and “banked card games.”

That deal would “allow owners of declining pari-mutuels to sell their permits to others who want to install slot machines at newer facilities outside of South Florida,” the paper reported.

Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, has been hammering out a deal with state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the Miami-Dade Republican who’s the House’s point man on gambling.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has said “we’re a very conservative chamber, and if something is going to pass … it’s going to have to be a reduction in gambling.”

The deal satisfies that condition, the Herald reported, because it “lead(s) to a net reduction of live, active (dog and horse track) permits throughout the state.”

Don’t take that bet, said Paul Seago, executive director of No Casinos.

“Slots outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties should be a non-starter,” he said. “It violates the constitution and the promise made to Florida voters when they very narrowly approved the amendment to allow them there in 2004.

“We will strongly oppose any new compact agreement that allows for slot machines at pari-mutuels outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties.”

Progressive coalition supports Linda Stewart’s assault weapon ban

Democratic lawmakers and representatives of progressive organizations Tuesday stood in support of a gun safety bill (SB 254).

Whether it gets heard this year is an open question. Among other things, it would outlaw the sale, transfer or possession “of an assault weapon or large-capacity magazine” in Florida.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the measure – filed last Thursday – had not yet been assigned to any committees, nor had its House companion.

Democratic state Sen. Gary Farmer, a Broward County Democrat who co-introduced the measure with Linda Stewart, an Orange County Democrat, held a press conference at the Capitol with leaders from the League of Women Voters, Equality Florida and a host of other groups.

“I have a meeting scheduled with Senate leadership in the hopes that we will have a hearing,” Farmer said.

But one colleague he’ll have to convince is Greg Steube, the Sarasota Republican who chairs the Judiciary Committee and is backing a push to allow open carry of firearms in the state. His bill would grant that right to the state’s concealed weapon license holders.

Farmer, Stewart and others mentioned the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting and last June’s murders at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history, as evidence of the need for change.

Supporters handed out a list of over 120 groups and individuals who say they support the legislation, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, Florida chapter; Florida Council of Churches; the Pinellas County Urban League and Vice Mayor Linda Penniman of Naples, Gov. Rick Scott’s hometown.

Stewart, whose district includes the Pulse nightclub, said elected officials can’t continue to “just say I’m sorry” after gun violence affects a community.

“We need gun safety legislation,” she said. “We’re more than sorry – we need to act.”

Dan Raulerson qualifying challenge now in judge’s hands

A Tallahassee judge now will decide whether a lawsuit challenging state Rep. Dan Raulerson‘s re-election over the use of “Wite Out” will go forward.

“I’m going to review this and get an order out,” Circuit Judge Charles W. Dodson said Tuesday, after a half-hour hearing. “Good luck.”

Raulerson’s attorney had moved to toss out the case, saying it was moot with the Plant City Republican having won in November and been sworn in to represent House District 58. 

Only the House of Representatives, which is constitutionally the sole judge of its membership, now has jurisdiction over any challenge to Raulerson being seated, lawyer Emmett Mitchell said.

Vazquez (via Facebook)

Jose N. Vazquez Figueroa, who is representing himself, is seeking to disqualify Raulerson; Vazquez was his unsuccessful Democratic opponent last year.

The suit says Raulerson’s notary had incorrectly used “correction fluid” on his filing paperwork. The state’s notary manual says no correction fluid of any kind is allowed on notarized documents.

Specifically, Vazquez has said Raulerson’s notary “improperly completed” his paperwork by whiting out the date on her notarization of his financial disclosure, changing it from an April to a June date.

He sued Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer; Secretary of State Ken Detzner, the state’s chief elections officer; and Kristi Reid Bronson, records bureau chief for the Division of Elections, faulting all of them for not catching the error and allowing Raulerson to run in the first place.

“I never challenged his constitutional qualifications,” Vazquez told the court. “That’s a big difference … the fact is, Mr. Raulerson never qualified as a candidate. The document is not valid and so it’s a forfeit.”

Otherwise, Vazquez added, “we open a big Pandora’s box in the state of Florida where anybody can just ‘white out’ documents.”

Dodson did not say when he would issue an order.

Vazquez made the news in 2008 when he ran for the District 58 seat as a state prisoner. He was serving time on a charge of driving on a revoked license, records show. He himself was disqualified when he failed to include his full name on a written oath.

Charles Canady may be off Donald Trump’s Supreme Court wish list

The Above The Law legal website is “handicapping Donald Trump’s Supreme Court shortlist” – and Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles Canady isn’t on it.

“In case you missed it over the holidays, Jan Crawford of CBS News, one of the most plugged-in Supreme Court reporters around, revealed Trump’s five finalists” to replace the late Antonin Scalia, who died last February.

In alphabetical order, they are Judge Steven Colloton (8th Cir.) of Iowa; Judge Thomas Hardiman (3d Cir.) of Pennsylvania; Justice Joan Larsen of Michigan; Judge William Pryor (11th Cir.) of Alabama; Judge Diane Sykes (7th Cir.) of Wisconsin, according to Crawford.

“These five judges all appeared on Trump’s first SCOTUS list of 11 names, suggesting that his supplemental list of 10 names might represent something of a second tier,” ATL reported.

Canady’s name was on that second list.

The former lawmaker has been one of two reliable conservative votes on the state’s highest court, along with Ricky Polston. But now joining them is conservative jurist C. Alan Lawson, replacing retired Justice James E.C. Perry.

Canady, a Lakeland native, served three terms in the Florida House of Representatives (1984-90) and four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives (1993-2001) as a Republican, rising to chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution.

He became general counsel to Gov. Jeb Bush, who later appointed him to the state’s 2nd District Court of Appeal in Lakeland in 2002, the bio says.

Gov. Charlie Crist then named him to the state Supreme Court in 2008. Canady also served as the court’s chief justice in 2010-12.

 

diapers

Soon-to-be new mom Lauren Book wants diapers exempt from sales tax

New state Sen. Lauren Book, who’s eight months pregnant with twins, also has filed legislation to exempt diapers and baby wipes from the state’s 6 percent sales tax.

Book

Book, a Broward County Democrat, filed her bill (SB 252) Thursday. A similar provision was filed last month by House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa.

The 32-year-old lawmaker, elected in November, said the idea came to her as she attended pregnancy classes. Book is having a boy and a girl, due in February.

“For many families, buying diapers can be a (financial) burden,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s not a luxury item.”

The average child “will use more than 2,700 diapers in the first year alone, which can add up to more than $550 (based on an average price of $0.20 per disposable diaper),” according to Investopedia. “And don’t forget an average of $20 per month for wipes.”

Based on that, Book’s bill could save a family about $48 a year.

Another example: A 128-count box of newborn-size Pampers Swaddlers Diapers costs roughly $35 at Wal-mart. A tax exemption would save about $2 per box.

And the language would extend the exemption to adult products, such as Depends.

The legislation defines diapers as “a product used to absorb or contain body waste, including, but not limited to, baby diapers and adult diapers and pads designed and used for incontinence.”

Baby wipes, as defined by the bill, are “a moistened, disposable, often antiseptic tissue used chiefly for cleansing the skin, especially of babies and children.”

Bills also have been filed for the 2017 Legislative Session to create sales-tax exemptions on feminine hygiene products such as tampons.

blackjack

Judge says no to Gretna track in gambling dispute

A federal judge has turned down a request by a North Florida race track to alter his ruling allowing the Seminole Tribe of Florida to keep blackjack at its casinos.

But the loss turned out to be a win for the track’s own card games.

Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle issued his order Wednesday. Gretna Racing in Gadsden County had moved to intervene last week.

Its attorneys, David Romanik and Marc Dunbar, had asked Hinkle to remove the part of his ruling they say could make it a “crime” for the track’s cardroom to continue offering certain card games. Romanik and Dunbar also are part-owners of Gretna Racing.

Hinkle called the move “untimely.”

The track “has no protectable interest in the compact between the Seminole Tribe and the State,” he said. “The judgment in this case has no binding effect on Gretna, and the order explaining the judgment will have a practical effect only to the extent a future tribunal finds the reasoning persuasive.”

Hinkle’s decision, then, in the Tribe’s case has no effect on Gretna’s or other tracks’ card game operations.

“We are certainly appreciative of the judge’s consideration,” Dunbar said.

At issue was the track’s offering certain card games that Hinkle based his Seminole decision on.

The judge ruled that regulators working under Gov. Rick Scott allowed certain Florida dog and horse tracks, including Gretna, to offer card games that mimicked ones that were supposed to be exclusive to tribe-owned casinos for a five-year period.

Because of that, Hinkle decided the Tribe could keep its blackjack tables till 2030.

The state wanted Hinkle to instead order the tribe to remove the games because a blackjack provision in an agreement between the state and tribe expired last year.

The Gretna track also has a case pending before the Florida Supreme Court on whether to expand slot machines in the state. Voters in Gadsden County, where the track is located, and six other counties passed local referendums to approve slots.

Background material from The Associated Press, reprinted with permission. 

 

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