Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 153

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 PR machine turns to its version of state budget

The House of Representatives has released a new “explainer” video to explain its proposed 2017-18 state budget.

And—fun!—it’s a cartoon.

“Don’t have time to read hundreds of pages?” it starts. “That’s OK, because we’ve got the Florida House budget in under a few minutes.”

The nearly three-minute video explains that the House, led by Speaker Richard Corcoran, proposes no new taxes and adds another $25,000 on top of the state’s homestead exemption for property tax.

The House also “cuts pork barrel spending,” it says.

The House and Senate, having passed their respective spending plans, soon will go into conference to work out a compromise budget for 2017-18.

There are even suggested messages for members to tweet and create Facebook posts to promote the video.

“While cutting waste, the Florida House budget funds: kid care, schools of hope, Everglades cleanup and more,” reads one sample tweet.

And a suggested Facebook post says, “The Florida House budget slashes earmarks and member projects by hundreds of millions of dollars; all while spending LESS than we did last year. I believe cutting government waste and abuse is essential, and I’m proud to have voted for it. Learn more about how we’re eliminating waste and funding Florida’s priorities by watching this quick video.”

The House also will release a series of graphics that feature “nearly every aspect of the budget,” according to an email.

“The graphics are intended for you to use on social media to highlight whatever aspect of the budget is most important to your constituents.”


Rick Scott pushes ahead for VISIT FLORIDA funding

Gov. Rick Scott went once more unto the breach Tuesday, pressing his case for full funding of the state’s VISIT FLORIDA tourism marketing agency.

The Republican governor—surrounded by VISIT FLORIDA’s CEO Ken Lawson, board chairman William Talbert, and others—spoke with reporters outside his Capitol office.

The GOP-majority House of Representatives, which at first wanted to eliminate the agency, instead reduced its budget to $25 million for next year.

Scott wants $100 million to market the state to visitors, saying every dollar spent brings back $3.20 in tourism-related revenue, including from gasoline and sales taxes.

Scott mentioned that Florida is getting shellacked by ads—”…and they’re nice,” he said—from Utah, Michigan, California, Texas, and Georgia trying to divert tourists.

With Florida getting roughly 113 million tourists last year, “if we want even more tourists, we’re going to have to spend more money,” Scott said. “We have plenty of money in the budget … but the House has really limited our ability to market the state.”

The Senate supported the work of VISIT FLORIDA with about $76 million in its budget. Senators soon will go into conference with the House to work out a compromise budget for 2017-18.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has criticized both VISIT FLORIDA and economic development organization Enterprise Florida as needless dispensers of “corporate welfare.” Though both are public-private partnerships, both take in far more public money than private.

But Scott says they help create jobs, adding that 1.4 million jobs are tied to tourism alone.

Scott has gone around the state, including the home districts of Republican House members who voted against VISIT FLORIDA, to host “roundtables.” There, he has pointedly criticized lawmakers who went against him.

The people have his back, Scott added: They are “just shocked that the House would even think” about cutting money to promote tourism. “…I don’t want to lose any jobs.”

And he has enlisted them to the cause.

“I tell people, ‘look, this is your Legislature,’ ” Scott said. ” ‘You need to reach out to them.’ “


Booze bill ready for vote in Senate

A bill that would allow advertising by beer companies in the state’s theme parks is ready for a final vote in the Senate.

The measure (SB 388), carried by Republican Sen. Travis Hutson of Elkton, was heard on the floor Tuesday and placed on the third reading calendar.

It eases the state’s “tied house evil” law by allowing ads, which could include a beer company sponsoring a concert or festival within a park. Universal Orlando has supported the bill.

Some beer industry representatives had privately complained, however, they “fear being extorted by the theme parks.”

“We do a lot of business (with them), and we kind of see a situation where they say, ‘We do such-and-such theme night but now we’d like you to pay for it,’ by sponsoring it,” said one. “(W)e all feel like we’ll be put over a barrel.”

The bill also repeals a state law to permit wine bottles of all sizes to be sold.

That includes the “Nebuchadnezzar,” which hold 15 liters, or the volume of 20 standard wine bottles.

Further, it would repeal another state law that requires diners to order and consume a full meal — “consisting of a salad or vegetable, entree, a beverage, and bread” — before they can take home an opened bottle of wine.

It continues the legacy of the late Senate President Jim King‘s 2005 measure that first legalized carryout wine.

Trauma centers

Bill to remove limit on number of trauma centers moves in House

A bill that would do away with a cap on how many trauma centers can open in Florida cleared its latest committee Monday.

The bill (HB 1077), sponsored by GOP state Rep. Jay Trumbull of Panama City, was OK’d on a 10-5 party-line vote in the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Health Care.

He said the motivation for the bill was to end the flow of litigation against the state’s Department of Health, which now is charged with reviewing the need for new centers and approving them.

Almost every time a new application is filed, the department is hit with some kind of litigation, usually from neighboring hospitals that already operate a trauma center.

Records show 31 cases have been filed since 2014, most at the administrative hearing level, and the state has spent over $900,000 on outside attorneys in the last year and a half.

Trumbull instead wants the American College of Surgeons to certify new centers, even though the group is not mentioned by name in the bill, but is mentioned in the staff analysis.

Those in favor of the measure, including hospitals that want to open new centers, say the growing number of Florida’s residents and visitors justifies the need for more centers.

Opponents, generally those already operating trauma centers, said opening more centers would put a strain on the availability of trauma surgeons and would dilute the pool of patients.

Medical specialists have said they need 500-1,000 patients a year per center to remain profitable and maintain expertise.

For instance, the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, which represents facilities that provide care to a high proportion of low-income patients, opposes the measure.

Mark Delegal, its lobbyist, told committee members the “mere adding of trauma centers is not going to enhance access.”

Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, a St. Johns Republican, mentioned that her son soon will become a physician and brought up concerns over patient volume.

“What we’re saying is, allow the free market to (decide how many) centers open across the state,” Trumbull said. “A trauma center will not pop up on every corner and will not dilute the number of patients coming in.”

In 2004, the Legislature divided the state into trauma service areas, currently 19, and the statewide total of trauma centers is now capped at 44. There were 33 centers, including for pediatric care, as of mid-2016. The legislation also does away with the system of trauma service areas and regions.

Trumbull’s bill still has to clear the Health and Human Services Committee before it can be heard on the House floor. A Senate companion (SB 746) carried by Sen. Travis Hutson has yet to be heard.



Bigger wine bottles could be coming to Florida

Thanks to state Sen. Jeff Brandes, Nebuchadnezzar may come to Florida — the wine bottle size, not the king of ancient Babylon.

Current law generally makes it illegal to sell wine “in an individual container holding more than 1 gallon.” A typical bottle is 750 milliliters, roughly a fifth of a gallon.

Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, last week offered an amendment to a booze-advertising bill (SB 388). The amendment, adopted without objection, repeals the bottle-size law.

It would allow wine bottles of all sizes, including the “Nebuchadnezzar,” which hold 15 liters, or the volume of 20 standard wine bottles.

The bill would even allow the mammoth 50-liter “Sovereign” — the equivalent of a whopping 67 standard wine bottles.

“This bottle is quite probably only produced by Taittinger, who in 1988 created (it) for the baptism of the largest cruise ship in the world, named the ‘Sovereign of the Seas,’ ” according to the BigBottles website.

“This is about individual liberty,” Brandes said in a text message. And 50 liters is a lot of liberty.

His language also would place “the regulation of cider-bottle size on equal footing with beer,” he said.

And it would repeal a state law that requires diners to order and consume a full meal — “consisting of a salad or vegetable, entree, a beverage, and bread” — before they can take home an opened bottle of wine.

Call that one the “Pinot to go” provision. (“Merlot to go”? “Take-away Chardonnay”?) It’s the continuing legacy of the late Senate President Jim King‘s 2005 measure that first legalized carryout wine.

“Ultimately, in Florida, we trust adults to be adults and we don’t need laws that force us to eat our vegetables before enjoying a glass of wine,” Brandes said.

The Senate bill is now ready for the floor. A House companion (HB 423) doesn’t have provisions similar to Brandes’.

House passes ‘Schools of Hope’ charter school plan

Despite bitter opposition from Democrats, the Republican-controlled House Thursday passed its proposal to create privately-run “Schools of Hope” to combat failing public schools in the state. 

The measure (HB 5105) was approved by a vote of 77-40 after more than three hours of debate. It now heads to the Senate, where leaders have said they’re open to any idea that seeks to help students at low-performing schools.

By mid-afternoon, House members had yet to debate the 2017-18 budget, the one measure they are constitutionally required to pass each year.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran proposed $200 million in financial help for nonprofit companies to open charter schools in the Sunshine State.

The idea was to provide alternatives to chronically failing schools, often in poor areas, though it’s been reported that many of the charter-school concerns the bill to tailored to aren’t interested in coming.

The schools would be within five miles of, or in the zones of, existing traditional public schools that have repeatedly earned low grades under the state’s school grading system. More than 100 schools statewide have been consistently ranked as low performing for more than three years.

A line of Democrats inveighed against the proposal, including Port St. Lucie’s state Rep. Larry Lee, who gave a long and personal speech in which he said he had asked God whether he was “doing any good” in Tallahassee.  

“I played football … it’s a team sport” like legislating, he said in debate. “Bipartisanship is not ‘I wrote it and you vote for it’ … we’re not here to rubber-stamp.” He later added that lawmakers “never give any spotlight to the public schools that are doing (it) right.”

Charter schools are considered public, but they are run by private organizations that sometimes pay other privately run companies to manage them.

“This bill is not about education—it’s about a cash cow for somebody else,” said Rep. Roy Hardemon, a Miami-Dade Democrat.

The “Schools of Hope” proposal is coming at the same time that the Legislature is considering a contentious idea to force school districts to share part of their local property taxes with charter school operators.

Patrick Henry, a Daytona Beach Democrat, brought up the specter of racial discrimination, asking whether Florida was “returning to the days of separate and not equal.”

“Do schools of hope have some secret formula?” he asked. “We can’t test our way out of (educational problems), we have to teach our way out of it.”

But Jason Fischer, a Jacksonville Republican, said students in persistently failing schools “need hope and we need to stand by them … This bill helps kids who are trapped in ‘failure factories.’ “

The House proposal would create both a grant program that would pay for expenses such as teacher training and other startup costs, and a loan program that would pay up to 25 percent of any school construction costs.

It would also extend the money only to school operators that are already either nationally recognized or have a record of successfully serving students with a high percentage of students from low-income families.

Background material from The Associated Press, reprinted with permission. 

satellite TV

Supreme Court OKs taxing satellite TV higher than cable

Satellite-television service can be taxed at a higher rate than cable TV, the Florida Supreme Court decided Thursday.

Satellite companies had challenged the state’s 16-year-old Communications Services Tax (CST), which now taxes cable service at 4.92 percent and satellite at 9.07 percent.

Those concerns, led by DirecTV, said that difference was unconstitutional and asked for a refund.

But the high court reversed the 1st District Court of Appeal’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.”

“There is no evidence from the text of the statute that it was enacted with a discriminatory purpose,” said Thursday’s opinion by Justice Peggy A. Quince and joined by the other justices. New Justice C. Alan Lawson didn’t participate in the decision.

“Consequently, the (satellite TV companies) are not entitled to a refund of the taxes paid,” it added.

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 spokesman for AT&T, which now owns DirecTV, declined comment.

The case is Florida Department of Revenue, et al. vs. DirecTV Inc., et al., no. SC15-1249.

Constitution Revision Commission

On display in Tallahassee: What people want – and don’t want – from constitutional rewrite panel

For as many people who asked the Constitution Revision Commission to do something, there were others who wanted the panel to do nothing at all.

And that’s not counting the fringe speakers Wednesday night who told the commission they were “imposters” and “impersonating delegates of the people.”

The 37-member panel, which convenes every 20 years to consider changes to the state’s governing document, held its latest public hearing on Florida A&M University’s campus in Tallahassee.

Kirk Bailey, political director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, asked the panel to refrain from proposing amendments that would restrict the state’s judges.

The Republican majority in the House of Representatives is now pushing legislation to place term limits on appellate judges and Supreme Court justices and to require the Supreme Court to produce an annual case handling report.

“We’ve all heard a lot lately about ‘activist judges’ and we’re anticipating that’s going to be part of a larger narrative about how they ‘overturn the will of the people,’ ” he said later. “Our message is not to succumb to that belief by proposing amendments that will limit the (independence of the) judiciary.”

Matt Jordan, who handles government relations for Tobacco Free Florida, similarly asked commissioners not to change the constitutional provision that provides for funding of the organization’s work.

“We want to make sure they know tobacco prevention is working,” he said in an interview. “Mainly, we just don’t want them to do anything.”

But still others used their two minutes to ask the panel to consider a range of additions to the constitution, some of which were mentioned at previous hearings:

— Opening primary elections to independent voters.

— Allowing ex-cons to automatically regain their voting rights.

— Creating a “bill of rights for children.”

— Requiring employers to verify the citizenship of their workers.

— Creating an independent redistricting commission.

Many speakers held up green cards to show they agreed with an idea; red cards were waved angrily when they disapproved.

Any amendments proposed still have to be approved by 60 percent of voters on the 2018 general election ballot, chair Carlos Beruff reminded the audience.

Several anti-abortion speakers, as had others at previous hearings, also asked the commission to consider a fix to a 1989 state Supreme Court decision that interpreted abortion rights in the constitution’s right-to-privacy provision.

That had longtime Florida National Organization for Women lobbyist Barbara DeVane taking to the microphone. She sat with a group of young women who wore pink “I Stand With Planned Parenthood” T-shirts.

No matter what the commission decided to do, DeVane said, she’d fight for “reproductive rights”—even though she no longer has “any reproductive parts.”




Constitution Revision Commission chairman outlines rule-making plans

The chair of the Constitution Revision Commission has told commissioners an internal “working group” will finalize the body’s operating rules by early June.

Carlos Beruff, who leads the panel charged with reviewing and suggesting rewrites to the state’s governing document, said in a Wednesday memo that several members will form a committee and “hold noticed and open meetings to deliberate the proposed rules.”

The commission held another public hearing Wednesday night on the Florida A&M University campus in Tallahassee.

Critics, including the League of Women Voters of Florida, have complained that the commission is holding hearings without having adopted final rules since its March 20 organization meeting.

“None of us can have confidence in the work of the CRC without having rules to guide the Commission’s work and assure the public that this will be an effort worthy of respect,” LWVF President Pamela Goodman said in a recent letter to Beruff.

Beruff said that the rules working group will include Tim Cerio and Brecht Heuchan, selected by Gov. Rick Scott; Don Gaetz and Carolyn Timmann, selected by Senate President Joe Negron; state Sen. Tom Lee and Rich Newsome, selected by House Speaker Richard Corcoran; and Arthenia Joyner and Roberto Martinez, selected by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga.

“We will vote on the proposed rules, and on all amendments, at a full commission meeting to be held in early June,” Beruff wrote.

The draft rules raised hackles among good government groups because they allow any two commissioners to meet out of the “sunshine.”

Legislature still hasn’t begun conferencing on gambling legislation

A proposed conference to resolve differences between the House and Senate gambling bills, originally planned for this week, was postponed till next week.

That’s because, as of Wednesday, lawmakers continued to talk with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which has six casinos in the state.

One lobbyist suggested an end game: Passing only a new agreement on exclusive blackjack rights for the Tribe, promising $3 billion to the state over seven years.

Otherwise, the two chambers are at odds, with the House holding the line on gambling expansion and the Senate open to some expansion, including allowing slot machines at pari-mutuels in counties that approved a referendum.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran called a compromise “a heavy, heavy lift” and state Sen. Bill Galvano has said he “couldn’t guarantee we’ll ultimately have a final resolution” this year.

Also on Wednesday, the Senate announced its conference members: Galvano, Lizbeth Benacquisto, Oscar Braynon II, Anitere Flores, Travis Hutson and Perry Thurston.

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