Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 146

Jim Rosica

Jim Rosica covers state government from Tallahassee for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

House to Enterprise Florida: Drop dead

The Enterprise Florida economic development organization and a multitude of business incentives would be eradicated under legislation passed by the Florida House Friday.

The bill (HB 7005) passed on an 87-28 vote, with some members voting against their respective parties’ position, including 12 Republicans.

The measure was pushed by Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has derided Enterprise Florida as a dispenser of “corporate welfare.”

But the legislation goes to a Senate that largely backs incentives and wants to keep the organization that, though a public-private partnership, doles out mostly public dollars.

Gov. Rick Scott supports it, saying it helps bring companies and their jobs to the state. The House earlier Friday also voted to overhaul VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing agency.

“Today, politicians in the Florida House passed job-killing legislation,” the governor said in a statement. “We can all agree that VISIT FLORIDA and EFI need to be absolutely accountable and transparent, and both agencies have already taken major steps and implemented reforms to ensure their operations meet our high expectations.

“However, today’s actions by the House curb the mission of VISIT FLORIDA and bury it in more government bureaucracy – along with decimating Florida’s economic toolkit and the very programs which are directly tied to the creation of thousands of jobs for Florida families,” he added.

“Many politicians who voted for these bills say they are for jobs and tourism. But, I want to be very clear: A vote for these bills was a vote to kill tourism and jobs in Florida. I will continue to fight for Florida jobs and never stop standing up for the families and businesses whose livelihood depend on a strong and growing economy,” Scott said.

Jay Fant, a Jacksonville Republican, delivered an impassioned defense of the organization: “I don’t want it to end, I want to keep it going … I want to keep the governor on his plane recruiting companies to this state.”

He added: “Killing this program will hurt people. I will not be a part of this … I want to preserve something that does so much good for our communities.”

But Evan Jenne, a Dania Beach Democrat, said the data on the organization’s effectiveness “is not kind,” in fact showing it an “abject failure,” and eliminating it “is not going to kill jobs.”

Legislative chief economist Amy Baker has told lawmakers that state incentive programs are more often losers than winners, with only a few incentives making money for state coffers.

In particular, Orlando Democrat Carlos Guillermo Smith derided the Quick Action Closing (QAC) Fund as Scott’s “slush fund.” He can draw up to $2 million from it without legislative approval to entice businesses to the state.

Though the state’s “return on investment” from QAC projects was $1.10 per dollar four years ago, it’s now down to 60 cents per dollar, Baker said last month.

Blaise Ingoglia, a Spring Hill Republican, homebuilder, and chair of the state’s Republican Party, told the chamber how he moved from New York to Florida in 1996 with $1,600 in his pocket.

“I moved for one word: ‘Opportunity,’ not ‘subsidy,’ ” he said.

House approves bill to rein in VISIT FLORIDA

VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing agency, will be subject to greater oversight under a bill passed the Florida House Friday.

State representatives passed the measure (HB 9), sponsored by Paul Renner of Palm Coast, by a vote of 80-35. Its reception in the Senate will likely not be warm: That chamber has not moved a matching companion bill.

The legislation has caused a war of words between Speaker Richard Corcoran and Gov. Rick Scott, who oversees the public-private agency that is funded largely with taxpayers’ money.

The speaker, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, has been critical of the agency, even threatening to sue after it refused to reveal a secret deal with Miami rap superstar Pitbull to promote Florida tourism.

The bill requires VISIT FLORIDA contracts “to contain performance standards, operating budgets and salaries of employees of the contracting entity,” and those deals would have to be posted online. It limits employees’ travel expenses and would cap annual pay at $130,000.

Stemming from the Pitbull deal, the proposal also would delete a public records exemption for “marketing projects and research.” It would ban any promotional project from “benefit(ing) only one company.” And it would force the agency to be funded with more private dollars.

In debate, some Democrats—including Tallahassee’s Loranne Ausley—faulted the bill for hurting the “mom and pop” businesses, such as family-owned hotels, who depend on help from the state.

“We know a robust marketing budget translates to more visitors,” she said.

St. Petersburg’s Wengay Newton added, “I think this is too severe a measure to happen today.” But some Republicans, including Key Largo’s Holly Raschein, also voted against the bill.

“This bill is not about whether we should promote tourism in this state,” Renner said. “This bill is about accountability and whether VISIT FLORIDA wants to submit to accountability to move forward.”

The bill does not address next year’s funding for VISIT FLORIDA, which will be worked out as lawmakers debate the 2017-18 state budget.

House passes 6-year lobbying ban on former lawmakers, others

The Florida House has approved extend the state’s lobbying ban on former lawmakers and statewide elected officers from two to six years.

With no debate, House members on Friday voted 110-3 for the measure (HB 7003), a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran. The bill now heads to the Senate.

If signed into law, the measure would be the longest lobbying ban in the nation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But it has raised constitutional concerns over free speech and restraint of trade among critics.

The new ban, carried by Larry Metz, the Yalaha Republican who chairs the Public Integrity and Ethics Committee, is aimed at “the perception, if not the reality, of the ‘revolving door,’ ” he has said.

It would apply “only to those individuals who were members of the Legislature after November 8, 2016, or who were statewide elected officers after November 8, 2016.”

Metz later said he said believes the longer ban will withstand legal attack because it addresses only paid lobbying.

Jay Fant is down on bill that would end Enterprise Florida

State Rep. Jay Fant says he will not vote for a bill, backed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, that seeks to abolish the Enterprise Florida economic development organization.

After Thursday’s floor session, he told FloridaPolitics.com he doesn’t “like going against leadership on a vote, and I stick with them on just about everything, but this just isn’t one of those things.”

The Jacksonville Republican had asked critical questions of bill sponsor Paul Renner, a former political rival, in the floor session.

Fant, first elected in 2014, said killing Enterprise Florida “will hinder our ability to bring businesses to Florida.” He instead favors heightened scrutiny of the agency, which is funded mainly with public dollars.

The entity is “the right thing at the right time,” he said.

The bill (HB 7005) gets rid of the organization and many business incentive programs favored by Gov. Rick Scott. Corcoran regards them as “corporate welfare.”

“I’m not passing judgment on particular projects,” Fant added. “I would just love to see us back off from where we are on the bill now.”

The bill could go to a final vote as early as Friday; as a Corcoran priority, it’s virtually ensured to pass.

But it faces an uphill slog in the Senate, where Republican leaders—including Appropriations Committee chair Jack Latvala—back Scott on keeping Enterprise Florida and incentives in general.

House looks at bill to kill Enterprise Florida

The Florida House Thursday began its consideration of a bill to obliterate the Enterprise Florida economic development organization, castigated by Speaker Richard Corcoran as a dispenser of “corporate welfare.”

The bill (HB 7005) also gets rid of a swarm of business incentive programs that sponsor Paul Renner said fail the return-on-investment test. (They are listed in the bill analysis.)

Several Democrats peppered Renner with skepticism, but the bill also was questioned by Jay Fant, a Jacksonville Republican.

“Do we have to throw away everything,” Fant asked, with Renner answering, “In fact, we do not,” explaining that some incentives will be kept.

The effort to abolish the organization, a favorite of Gov. Rick Scott, has fueled a feud between him and Corcoran. The governor says incentives ultimately help create jobs for Floridians.

Scott recently traveled to the home districts of House members supporting the bill to publicly shame them under the guise of promoting his 2017-18 budget recommendations.

Renner also was questioned over the elimination of television and film incentives that take the form of tax breaks for producers.

Because of the state’s climate and scenery, “Florida (itself) is a permanent incentive,” Renner said.

That stoked a comeback from Rep. Matt Willhite, a Wellington Democrat. He noted the “Ballers” TV series relocated to California from Florida, and the “Bloodline” series, which was shot in the Keys, ended after it was clear those shows wouldn’t get incentives.

“Is the beach and the sun really enough to bring the entertainment industry to Florida?” Willhite mused.

Rep. David Richardson, a Miami Beach Democrat, later tried to amend the bill to put those incentives back in the overhaul bill; the attempt failed on a voice vote.

“We get enormous free publicity out of the films shot in the state,” he said, mentioning “Moonlight,” which recently won the Oscar for best picture and was shot in Miami.

The movie “got no incentives, by the way,” Richardson added. Renner’s bill is now ready for debate and a final vote.

House begins looking at VISIT FLORIDA overhaul

House Democrats on Thursday grilled the sponsor of a bill that would overhaul and clamp down on VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing agency.

The full House began its consideration of the measure (HB 9) with questions to bill sponsor Paul Renner, a Palm Coast Republican.

“It is simply a bill about accountability,” he said. The agency is a public-private endeavor, but is overwhelmingly funded through taxpayers’ dollars.

Public money that goes to VISIT FLORIDA, he said, should be spent on promoting tourism—”not on bonuses, free trips and the like that embarrass this agency.”

The legislation has caused a war between House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Gov. Rick Scott, who oversees the agency. The speaker also is after the Enterprise Florida economic development organization, another Scott favorite. A bill to kill it and a slew of state business incentives will also be discussed today.

Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, had been gunning for the agency, threatening to sue after it refused to reveal a secret deal with Miami rap superstar Pitbull to promote Florida tourism.

The rapper later disclosed the terms, including his pay of up to $1 million. The ensuing controversy cost former agency CEO Will Seccombe his job.

Former Secretary of Business and Professional Regulation Ken Lawson now leads VISIT FLORIDA. He has opposed the legislation.

Meantime, Corcoran changed course, deciding to salvage the organization with stricter oversight, rather than eliminate it.

Among other things, the legislation limits employees’ travel expenses and would cap annual pay at $130,000.

The bill requires VISIT FLORIDA contracts “to contain performance standards, operating budgets and salaries of employees of the contracting entity,” and those deals would have to be posted online.

Stemming from the Pitbull deal, Renner’s proposal would delete a public records exemption for “marketing projects and research.” It would ban any promotional project from “benefit(ing) only one company.” And it would force the agency to be funded with more private dollars. 

State Rep. Katie Edwards, a Plantation Democrat, asked why Renner seemingly wanted to change VISIT FLORIDA back into a state agency.  

“If someone misuses a credit card, you don’t give it back to them without some pretty specific guardrails,” Renner said. 

The House later voted to accept Renner’s own amendment to impose reporting requirements only when VISIT FLORIDA funds a project slated to get more than 50 percent of its budget from tax dollars. The bill could be teed up for debate and a final vote as early as Friday.

The oranges

Orange, grapefruit crop forecasts take another hit

The forecast for Florida orange production has dropped again, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, down a whopping three million boxes.

The March report, released Thursday, projects a reduction in the state’s orange crop to 67 million boxes.

“Two million of that comes from the early and mid-season varieties, which are now fully harvested,” it said.

In more bad news, grapefruit crop expectations were “reduced by 100,000 to 8.9 million boxes.”

“While news of a decrease is never welcome, the sweet scent of citrus blossoms floating on the breeze brings back fond memories and reminds us that spring is a time of renewal,” said Shannon Shepp, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus.

The department, funded mostly by box taxes paid by the state’s citrus growers, serves as the chief marketing and promotion arm for the industry.

“Growers are optimistic that the strategies they are implementing now will pay off in the future and that, as an industry, we will overcome,” Shepp added.

The state’s citrus industry has been hobbled by a citrus greening epidemic. The so-far incurable disease is attacking fruit, causing it to turn green and bitter, and eventually killing the tree. Florida’s famous oranges are most at risk.

Later Thursday, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said the “historically low forecast is the latest example of citrus greening’s continued devastation of Florida’s citrus industry.”

“Until a long-term solution is discovered, which some of our state’s brightest minds are working on, we must support Florida’s multi-billion dollar citrus industry and the more than 60,000 jobs it supports,” he said in a statement.

The forecast “represents a decline of more than 70 percent since the peak of citrus production at 244 million boxes during the 1997-98 season,” his office said. The state is seeking permission from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to use antimicrobial treatments to combat greening.

Sponsor proposes changes to VISIT FLORIDA bill

As the House gets ready to start considering a bill to overhaul VISIT FLORIDA, its sponsor filed an amendment to dilute some of its strict requirements.

The measure (HB 9) will be on the House floor today (Thursday) for questions. Rep. Paul Renner, a Palm Coast Republican, filed the amendment Tuesday, records show.

It would impose new reporting requirements on the state’s tourism marketing agency only when a project it funds is slated to get over 50 percent of its budget “from funds derived from a tax.” The bill now applies to deals that involve any amount of public dollars.  

But the proposal still mandates disclosures such as “specific performance standards,” “the value of any services provided,” and “salaries of all employees and board members … and (their) projected travel and entertainment expenses.”

Originally, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, aimed to abolish both Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development organization and dispenser of many of the state’s business incentives, and VISIT FLORIDA.

Both are officially public-private endeavors, but both are overwhelmingly funded through taxpayers’ dollars. House leadership later decided to split the legislation, still eliminating Enterprise Florida but saving and overhauling VISIT FLORIDA.

The speaker had threatened to sue VISIT FLORIDA after it refused to reveal a secret deal with Miami rap superstar Pitbull to promote Florida tourism, later revealed to be worth up to $1 million. The ensuing controversy cost former agency CEO Will Seccombe his job.

courthouse in b&w

Senate Rules panel temporarily postpones prejudgment interest bill

A Senate bill that would allow plaintiffs to recover prejudgment interest on noneconomic claims, including pain and suffering, was suddenly postponed during its final review panel Thursday.

Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, moved to yank the bill (SB 334) from consideration during its public comment period before the Rules Committee.

When done during a hearing, such a move suggests a lawmaker has counted votes and determined a measure isn’t going to pass.

The bill is being pushed by Sarasota Republican Greg Steube. A companion bill is in the House.

Business interests largely oppose the proposal because they fear it will increase the cost of doing business; the state’s trial lawyers are in favor.

“Prejudgment interest is the interest on a judgment which is calculated from the date of the injury or loss until a final judgment is entered for the plaintiff,” a bill analysis says.

Current law provides for prejudgment interest only on economic claims, or tangible financial losses, or when both sides bargained for it in a contract.

Senate redistricting bill clears last review panel

A bill aimed at streamlining the handling of political redistricting court cases cleared its last committee Thursday.

The legislation (SB 352) was OK’d by the Senate Rules Committee on a 7-3 party-line vote. It’s now ready for the full Senate.

It also “encourages” courts “to follow certain procedures to maintain public oversight when drafting a remedial redistricting plan,” the bill’s analysis says.

That’s because bill sponsor Travis Hutson, an Elkton Republican, was concerned that previous redistricting cases were decided “behind closed doors, outside of the public eye” by judges, he said.

“We need more transparency,” Hutson told the committee.

To that end, according to the analysis, his bill asks judges—but does not require them—to:

— Conduct public hearings involving proposed district configurations.

— Record and maintain minutes of meetings on the plan if the meetings are closed to the public.

— Provide a method for the public to submit and comment on additional maps.

— Offer the public an opportunity to review and comment on any map before a plan is finalized.

— Maintain all e-mails and documents related to the creation of the remedial plan.

But opponents, including The League of Women Voters of Florida, raised concerns about separation of powers. Ben Wilcox, research director for Integrity Florida, a Tallahassee-based ethics watchdog, called the bill a “solution in search of a problem.”

The bill is a response to court challenges over the state’s redrawn districts after the 2010 Census.

“The Florida Supreme Court issued eight separate apportionment opinions, the trial court issued additional opinions, and litigation spanned nearly 4 years in the state courts,” the analysis said.

“The litigation often proved confusing to candidates hoping to qualify and run for office because the candidates were uncertain where the district boundaries were located,” it added.

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