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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
The new deadline for the public to submit amendments for the state’s Constitution would be Oct. 6, under a recommendation OK’d Monday by the Constitution Revision Commission‘s (CRC) Committee on Rules.
The previous deadline to turn in proposals had been last Friday, but commissioners wanted to give more time after Hurricane Irma blew through the state the week before.
The rules committee also voted to recommend to the full commission that commissioners’ deadline to submit their own proposals to staff for drafting be extended to Oct. 17, with a final filing deadline of Oct. 31.
Moreover, any changes to proposals under consideration have to be turned in no later than 24 hours before the start of a CRC committee meeting at which it will be considered.
The extensions now must be approved by the whole commission. It is scheduled to meet next Monday at the Capitol.
The commission is convened every 20 years to review and suggest changes to the state’s governing document. Any amendment approved by the panel still must get 60 percent approval on the 2018 statewide ballot to be added to the state constitution.
Ana Ceballos, who was The Associated Press’ legislative session relief reporter in Florida this year, is joining the lineup of writers for Extensive Enterprises Media, publisher Peter Schorsch announced Friday.
Ceballos—whose stint included writing about immigration, the environment, criminal justice and social welfare for the AP—will join Capitol correspondent Jim Rosica in state politics and government coverage from Tallahassee. Michael Moline continues to cover the insurance industry for the organization.
She’ll also help edit and manage some of EEM’s growing portfolio of email newsletters, including the flagship SUNBURN, the “Last Call” evening news roundup, and “60 Days,” which comes out nightly during session.
“The first time I read one of Ana’s stories, I was deeply impressed,” Schorsch said. “There was an intellectual dexterity to her writing that told me she would be a perfect fit for our modular platform delivery system.”
Her original reporting will appear on the Florida Politics site, with guest appearances on SaintPetersblog and Orlando Rising, EEM’s newest website dedicated to Central Florida politics, as well as INFLUENCE Magazine, covering the personalities and policy in the legislative process.
Ceballos, who speaks English and Spanish and also is a photographer, lately has been covering immigration stories at the U.S.-Mexico border as a freelancer. She was born in California and raised in Mexico.
“It’s exciting to have the opportunity to come back to the country’s biggest swing state to cover important policy debates and nationally-watched elections,” she said. “I’m looking forward to joining the team.”
Ceballos, 26, previously worked for the Monterey County Weekly and Monterey County Herald, covering public safety and breaking news. She’s interned at the San Diego Union Tribune and the Trentonian in Trenton, N.J., the state’s capital.
Ceballos is a Chips Quinn Scholar and won the 2013 Roy W. Howard National Reporting Competition. She got her undergraduate degree from San Diego State University, and a Photographic Arts Certificate from the University of California, San Diego.
She’s a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the Online News Association.
A week after Hurricane Irma ravaged the Sunshine State, the long road to recovery is beginning in both South Florida — hardest hit by the storm — and in Tallahassee. Companies that deal in disaster relief and cleanup have begun lobbying up in advance of the 2018 Legislative Session, registration records show:
— AshBritt Environmental, a “rapid-response disaster recovery and special environmental services contractor” in Deerfield Beach, has hired Bill Rubin and Chris Finkbeiner of The Rubin Group. Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat, is AshBritt’s general counsel and director of government relations, according to his member page. South Florida’s Ron Book, one of the biggest names in Tallahassee advocacy, is also on the AshBritt lobbying team.
Leading the Deerfield Beach-based company is CEO Randy Perkins, the Democratic multimillionaire who self-funded an unsuccessful bid for Florida’s 18th Congressional District in 2016. Former Congressman Patrick Murphy vacated the Treasure Coast seat to mount a run for U.S. Senate. Murphy lost to incumbent Marco Rubio; Perkins lost to Republican Brian Mast.
AshBritt rose to prominence in the disaster mitigation industry after Hurricane Andrew passed through South Florida in August 1992. At the time, Perkins and his wife were running a small landscaping company which borrowed two wood chippers to help with Andrew as a local hurricane cleanup contractor. Since then, AshBritt has become one of the nation’s leading disaster-recovery and debris cleanup firms. Perkins himself is now worth about $200 million.
Brevard County has also contracted AshBritt as one of the companies for its initial Irma cleanup efforts.
This week, the City of Tampa activated Ceres for its Irma cleanup, where the company will pick up neighborhood storm debris daily through Oct. 27. Earlier this year, Ceres was also hired to handle wreckage from a series of devastating tornadoes in Dougherty County, Georgia.
— ServiceMaster, which, among other things, provides “residential and commercial cleaning (and) disaster restoration,” hired Rubin, Melissa Akeson and Amy Bisceglia of The Rubin Group.
Based in Memphis, Tennessee, ServiceMaster has more than 7,000 locations worldwide — both company-owned and franchises — including 36 in Texas, where the Fortune 1000 company is already hard at work handling Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts. ServiceMaster’s Restore division specializes in disaster and flood damage restoration, cleaning, mold remediation, carpet drying and debris removal.
In related hires, Airbnb, the online home-sharing marketplace that allows people to find and rent vacation residences, will use the services of Southern Strategy Group‘s Kelly Cohen, who’s based in Orlando.
Airbnb, which opened a political committee in Florida this year, is helping Hurricane Irma evacuees this monthfind places to stay and free shelter. On Sept. 7, the company activated its Disaster Response Program for Airbnb properties throughout north Florida and Georgia, waiving service fees for those evacuating Irma from South Florida. Also known as “Open Homes,” Airbnb is also welcoming displaced neighbors, volunteers, and emergency relief workers to stay with Airbnb hosts. Listings will continue to through Sept. 28, with a possible extension.
The satellite-TV companies had challenged the state’s Communications Services Tax (CST), which taxes cable service at 4.92 percent and satellite at 9.07 percent. (Additional local and other taxes get tacked on; click here for an explanation.)
They said that difference was unconstitutional and asked for a refund. The high court reversed a 1st District panel’s 2-1 decision, which said that taxing the two services differently is unconstitutional.
Then-1st DCA Judge Simone Marstiller, in her dissent, had said there is no discriminatory purpose in the CST because satellite and cable providers are not “similarly situated entities.”
But the Supreme Court’s opinion, by Justice Peggy A. Quince and joined by the other justices, said there was “no evidence from the text of the statute that it was enacted with a discriminatory purpose.”
During oral argument last year, Justice Barbara Pariente had noted that “in the end, we’re really talking about the customer that either gets screwed or helped … It all gets passed on.”
A Tallahassee judge has tossed out a lawsuit against Attorney General Pam Bondi that accused her of improperly coercing businesses to donate millions of dollars to unregistered charities.
Those donations are part of settlements in consumer protection cases her office pursues under the “Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.” Orlando entrepreneur John D. Smith, who was investigated on a consumer fraud allegation by Bondi’s office, filed suit over the practice.
Since she first assumed office in 2011, Bondi’s office settled enforcement actions with 14 businesses in which they wound up paying more than $5.5 million to 35 unregistered charities, Smith’s suit said.
In a Friday order, Circuit Judge Charles Dodson agreed with Russell Kent, Bondi’s special counsel for litigation, that lawmakers “did not provide that any such contributions must either be charitable or go to a charity, registered or otherwise.”
In fact, the law “does not contain any statutory definition for ‘contributions,’ ” he wrote, granting Bondi’s request for summary judgment, which allows parties to win a case without a trial.
Smith had been investigated on a consumer fraud allegation by Bondi’s office in 2015 for his Storm Stoppers plastic panels, marketed as a “plywood alternative” to protect windows during storms.
He sued, saying some of the unregistered charities Bondi makes settling parties give money to is her own “Law Enforcement Officer of the Year” award and various “scholarship funds designated by the Attorney General.”
Scott Siverson, Smith’s attorney, on Tuesday filed a motion with Dodson to reconsider the decision. He had argued that Bondi’s office can’t have “unfettered discretion,” saying “the Legislature could never have possibly intended such a result.”
In an email, Smith said he found it “most interesting that Madame Bondi is all preachy to consumers about their need to MAKE SURE a charity is registered with www.800helpfla.com before donating via disclosures on her website, but then her office doesn’t follow her own advice as she gets to forward these ‘contributions’ of her shady investigations to all these charities that I discovered were unregistered.
“Her office sets a lousy example of good character, as my father used to say,” he added.
Bondi had called Smith’s suit “meritless” and “harassment.”
In the wake of Hurricane Irma, and with Hurricane Maria now churning the Atlantic, Florida lawmakers are forming or calling for blue-ribbon panels to improve the state’s readiness to deal with monster storms.
Separately, state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, asked Gov. Rick Scott “to form a commission to review the disaster preparedness, response, and recovery of state and local entities involved in Hurricane Irma efforts, as well as critical infrastructure institutions such as public utilities and medical facilities.”
The calls come after Hurricane Irma ravaged the state last week, causing at least $2 billion in damage tallied so far. Evacuees were hampered by gasoline shortages, and eight South Florida nursing home residents died after their air conditioning went out.
Money will be tight this year as the Legislature’s chief economist already warned legislators that next year’s relatively tiny state budget surplus will be erased because of costs from Irma.
In the House, Corcoran wants members to set aside “business as usual,” suggesting that filing local spending projects will be frowned upon, at least officially, during the 2018 Legislative Session.
“We spend a significant portion of money”—more than $630 million this year—”on what are considered‘pork’ projects,” he said at a Tuesday news conference in the Capitol. “If we took just some of those funds … you’re going to see us make tremendous (progress) toward hurricane hardening throughout our state.
“There is not one single (pork) project … that is worth the health and safety of Floridians,” he added.
But Senate President Joe Negron quickly shot down any self-imposed ban on hometown spending. He told the Tampa Bay Times that senators are “in the best position to know what projects are most important.”
“Let’s keep our constitutional roles straight,” he added. “The Legislature is the appropriating body. The Legislature should always have the prerogative and flexibility to write the budget.”
Among some of the ideas floated by Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican and possible 2018 candidate for governor: Creating a state gasoline reserve, looking at tree management policies, and better coordinating the flow of highway traffic before and after a storm. They would go into a “5- or 10-year plan.”
But when asked whether the panel would look hard at the possibility of human-caused climate change affecting hurricane severity or frequency, Corcoran punted.
“I think that what we should be doing is asking ourselves, ‘What can we do to protect the people of this state in the best way possible?’ ” he said, referring to conflicting government studies on global warming. “… The No. 1 function of government is to protect its citizens.”
Brandes, in a press release, thanked Gov. Scott, “emergency management officials, and our first responders,” but said “it is important that we have the appropriate oversight in place to stretch every relief dollar to the maximum benefit of Floridians.”
The commission he suggests would “review after-action reports created by state and local emergency operations centers, utilities, state agencies, medical facilities, and other critical service providers in order to evaluate and oversee recovery projects.
“The commission would ensure that state and county needs are met in a manner that best leverages disaster relief dollars. Additionally, it would make certain that the assessments of the recovery actions taken by both public and private entities become best practices to prepare for future events,” referring to similar oversight commissions for 2010’s BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina.
Later Tuesday, the House released the membership list for the special panel, which will be chaired by Miami-Dade’s JeanetteNuñez, the House’s Speaker pro tempore. House Republican Leader RayRodrigues of Estero will be vice chair.
In alphabetical order: Ben Albritton, a Wauchula Republican; Robert Asencio, a Miami Democrat; Danny Burgess, a Zephyrhills Republican; Cord Byrd, a Neptune Beach Republican; Bob Cortes, an Altamonte Springs Republican; Tracie Davis, a Jacksonville Democrat; Dane Eagle, a Cape Coral Republican; Michael Grant, a Port Charlotte Republican; Kristin Jacobs, a Coconut Creek Democrat; Larry Lee Jr., a Port St. Lucie Democrat; Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat; Elizabeth Porter, a Lake City Republican; HollyRaschein, a Key Largo Republican; PaulRenner, a Palm Coast Republican; SeanShaw, a Tampa Democrat; ChrisSprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican; RichardStark, a Weston Democrat; CyndiStevenson, a St. Johns Republican; and JayTrumbull, a Panama City Republican.
The pass rate for the summer Bar Exam has jumped a little more than 3 percent from last year, to 71.3 percent for this July from 68.2 percent last July, according to results out on Monday.
The Florida Board of Bar Examiners released the figures for the July 25-26 examination. The results are for first-time test takers only, of which there were 2,266; overall, 3,246 sat for the exam.
The latest first-timers pass rate is the first increase on the summer exam since 2012, when the pass rate ticked up a tenth of a percent to 80.2 percent from 80.1 percent in 2011.
But that means the latest passage rate is still down nearly nine percent from its 2012 high.
Like many state bar exams, Florida’s is given twice a year, in late February and late July. More law students traditionally take the exam in the summer, immediately after graduation and bar review. A smaller number, including those who fail the summer exam, take the bar in the winter.
The number of first-time Florida Bar takers who passed the winter exam this year plummeted to its lowest level in eight years: Of 751 first-time takers, 433 passed, or 57.7 percent.
Passage rates have been trending down nationwide in recent years. Law schools have lowered their admission standards to fill seats as the number of overall applicants has declined.
Here are the July 2017 passage rates broken down by individual Florida law schools:
Florida International University College of Law — 87.8 percent
University of Miami School of Law — 84.2 percent
Florida State University College of Law — 83.9 percent
University of Florida College of Law — 77 percent
Stetson University College of Law — 76.8 percent
Nova Southeastern University College of Law — 70.2 percent
St. Thomas University College of Law — 63.6 percent
Barry University School of Law — 58.9 percent
Ave Maria School of Law — 51.3 percent
Florida A&M University College of Law — 51.3 percent
Florida Coastal School of Law — 47.7 percent
Of test takers who went to law school outside Florida, 64.2 percent passed and lawyers from other states who also want to be licensed in Florida passed by 77.4 percent.
“Right now, families across the state are beginning the challenging process of repairing and rebuilding their homes and businesses after the impact of this massive storm,” said Scott, a Naples Republican.
“It is incredibly important that we do all we can to make it easier for these families to quickly and safely recover, which is why I have directed DBPR to take immediate action to suspend certain regulations that would hinder or delay recovery efforts,” he added. “We will continue to work closely with our communities across the state to make sure they have all they need to help Florida fully rebuild and recover from Hurricane Irma.”
Added DBPR Secretary JonathanZachem: “Many Floridians have been adversely impacted by Hurricane Irma. Under Gov. Scott’s leadership, the department is working to suspend burdensome regulations and provide the resources needed during this difficult time to help quickly repair and rebuild.”
Democratic candidates for governor are hitting Gov. Rick Scott and others hard in the wake of eight deaths in a South Florida nursing home that lost its air conditioning as Hurricane Irma hit the state.
But Scott’s office defended the governor’s actions, saying the facility never reported “that conditions had become dangerous.”
A criminal investigation by Broward County law enforcement in underway into the deaths at Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, including whether they were heat-related or from carbon monoxide poisoning from generators.
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum called for an independent investigation, slamming Scott for giving out “a special priority phone line – then fail(ing) to act when they received distress calls.”
“I am calling for a full independent investigation into this matter,” Gillum said in a statement. “The investigators must have full access to all public records and transcripts of communications, meetings, and conference calls between the Governor, his Office, and healthcare facilities in preparing for Hurricane Irma.
“In Tallahassee, we learned after Hurricane Hermine that communication is vital between first responders, government, and our most vulnerable populations,” Gillum added. “This year we took the proper steps of assigning utility workers as direct points of contact with nursing homes and other urgent care facilities, and we prioritized their power restoration during Irma.”
Former Tallahassee Congresswoman Gwen Graham also issued a statement that she had filed a public records request “for all call logs, text messages, and voicemails to a private emergency phone number Rick Scott distributed to healthcare providers.”
Scott, a Naples Republican, was formerly head of a for-profit hospital chain.
“There must be an immediate, independent investigation into reports Gov. Scott distributed a private line to healthcare providers and then ignored pleas for help,” Graham said. “It is 100 percent the governor’s responsibility to do everything in his power protect every Floridian.”
But Scott spokesman John Tupps said in an email “every call made to the Governor from facility management was referred to the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Florida Department of Health and quickly returned.”
“At no time did the facility report that conditions had become dangerous or that the health and safety of their patients was at risk,” he said. “In fact, on Monday, Department of Health staff advised this facility to call 911 if they had any reason to believe that their patients were not safe.”
The office also provided background material that the Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills “reported into the state’s facility status monitoring database 17 times since Thursday, Sept. 7. Throughout the course of these reports, the facility never requested any assistance or reported the need for evacuations.”
Until 1:30 p.m. this Tuesday, “the facility reported that they had full power, that heating, cooling systems and generator systems were operational and they had adequate fuel.”
By 5 p.m. that same day, “the facility reported that they had partial power, but that their heating and cooling systems and generator were operational. They did not request anything beyond help with FPL,” referring to Florida Power & Light.
Then on 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, “the facility (again) reported that they had partial power, the generator was operational and they had adequate fuel supply. At that time, they reported their heating and cooling systems were not operational.”
“Let’s be clear—this facility is located across the street from one of Florida’s largest hospitals, which never lost power and had fully operating facilities,” the statement said. “The tragic and senseless loss at Hollywood Hills Rehabilitation Center is the subject of a criminal homicide investigation by law enforcement.”
In an interview with FloridaPolitics.com earlier Friday, Winter Park businessman Chris King lashed out over what he described as longtime state neglect of senior housing concerns.
“The Broward tragedy I think is another example exposing what I hope I’m getting across throughout the state, which is for a very long time there’s been very little leadership on housing and on aging issues,” King said.
“My concern is less on what happened in Broward and more the decision making that created that environment, and why we’re still not out of the woods in the larger issues of housing and aging, and why the state is in an absolute crisis,” he added.
Scott is term-limited as governor next year but is said to be considering a run for U.S. Senate against incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.
A South Florida senator has filed the first bill in response to the deaths of eight nursing home residents this week after Hurricane Irma knocked out their air conditioning.
Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat, filed the measure (SB 284) on Friday afternoon.
Among other things, it would require the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) “to determine compliance with standards for electricity and emergency power sources during the routine inspection of a licensed nursing home facility.”
Hollywood Police Chief TomSanchez has said investigators believe the deaths at Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills were heat-related, adding that a criminal investigation is underway, according to the Associated Press. The chief said authorities have not ruled anything out in the deaths, including carbon monoxide poisoning from generators.
Book’s bill also would require “a licensed nursing home facility to have adequate electrical equipment, an emergency power source, and a supply of fuel.” Book, elected last year, is also the Senate’s Democratic Leader pro tempore.
“The loss of eight lives at Hollywood Hills was completely preventable, and that is what is so heartbreaking about this situation,” Book said Friday night in a statement. “One of the residents who perished (was) 99 years old – but because of air conditioning failure and human negligence in the days following a storm, this very special life was lost.
“We can prevent these things – which never should have happened in the first place – from happening again, and we must, for the sake of our senior citizens and their families,” she added.
Earlier this week, Gov. Rick Scott directed AHCA to block the Hollywood facility from receiving Medicaid payments.
It “was responsible to provide patients a safe environment and they failed to do so,” Scott’s office said in a statement. “The state has had multiple points of contact with this facility prior to the tragedy, and at no time did the facility communicate any imminent threats to their patients’ life or safety.”
The Florida Health Care Association, an advocacy group for long term care providers, Thursday called the Broward County deaths an “isolated incident” and “not representative of the larger long term care profession in Florida.”
But Senate President pro tempore Anitere Flores, a Miami-Dade Republican, told reporters in Tallahassee Friday that she expects criminal charges to be filed.
“I think someone, more than someone, is going to go to jail over this,” said Flores, speaking after a Legislative Budget Commission meeting.
State officials said later Friday they were calling facilities and personally conducting “wellness checks” in homes that couldn’t be reached by phone.
“Hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities in Florida are required to have emergency operation plans,” the Department of Health said in a news release. “Requirements vary by facility type, but are all based in statute and rule.” A complete list is here.
As of Friday afternoon, 34 nursing homes were on generator power, 669 had electricity restored, 10 reported being closed and 40 reported post-storm evacuations, the department and AHCA said.
Of assisted living facilities, 193 were on generators, 1,978 had power, 182 reported being closed and 177 reported post-storm evacuations.