Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 5 of 137

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.
John Morgan

John Morgan had a different kind of stump speech for Tallahassee

Orlando trial lawyer and possible gubernatorial candidate John Morgan was a study in highs and lows Thursday as he spoke to Tallahassee’s Capital Tiger Bay Club.

In wide-ranging remarks, Morgan – who said he still hasn’t decided on a 2018 run – pinballed between self-deprecating fat jokes and curse-word spiked anecdotes, and more serious musings about social good and the nature of God.

“There is more right about America than wrong,” he said at one point. “And there is more right about you than wrong. And there is more good about all of you, when we get to know each other, than bad.

“My politics is like my religion; I’m not the most religious guy,” he went on. “I do believe in God, I do pray to God … but I don’t ever pray to the God with a big long beard up in the clouds. The God that I pray to, the God that I talk to, lives in you, and lives in you, and lives in you. That’s where God is, that’s what I was told.”

Indeed, it seemed the only thing the 60-year-old Morgan did not touch on was the perfect ratio of Jack to Coke.

Morgan, a champion of Florida’s medical cannabis movement whose face is on ubiquitous billboards, TV ads and bus placards across the state, announced he was thinking about a run for governor late last year. He hasn’t even decided under which party.

Those expecting surprises from the maverick counselor were disappointed: Morgan repeated many themes he’s sounded recently, including the need to raise the minimum wage, ending the war on drugs and questioning what he called a “war on teachers.”

“Do you know what they make?” he asked. “They don’t make (scratch). And they work like crazy. But, all of a sudden, they’re the enemy?”

The real enemies, Morgan said, are charter school proponents like U.S. Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos.

“All these people who want charter schools are rich people who had a silver spoon stuck up their (posterior) so far their whole lives that their eyes are bloodshot,” he said.

Morgan also explained Donald Trump‘s presidential win as the result of an unnerved electorate.

“What we saw in the last election is that America is afraid,” he told an audience of several hundred. “People don’t make enough money to survive … People are losing hope; they’re losing the American Dream. It’s like they’re in quicksand and there’s no bottom.”

Morgan also called concerns over illegal immigration “the biggest hoax that’s ever been played on America.”

“You can build a wall. That ain’t the problem,” he said. “These immigrants are here to stay. If we wanted to get rid of them, we could do it today. You make it a third-degree felony to hire one and a $50,000 fine to keep one.

“But that’s never gonna happen, because we want this free, slave-like labor … We don’t want those people to leave. We like paying people off the books … to do the jobs Americans just won’t do,” he said.

With all his concerns, however, Morgan said his daughter recently told him he needs to “focus more on gratitude.”

“All we do is focus on what’s wrong,” he said. “Teachers are bad, crime is bad, illegal immigrants are bad. What’s good? Well, there’s a lot of good.”

The Dalai Lama once told him the secret to life is kindness, he added. “Where is all that kindness? … I think what this world needs is to focus on right more than wrong.”

Fred Conrad, a conservative Tallahassee lawyer and former prosecutor, said he didn’t “agree with everything he said, but I think he’s a tremendous speaker. And it is easy to see why he is a successful trial lawyer.”

Mary Pankowski, another former prosecutor now in private practice, had asked Morgan at the end of his remarks to support Democrat Gwen Graham if he decides not to run in 2018.

“I like his philosophy,” said Pankowski, a lifelong Democrat, referring to Morgan’s call to decriminalize minor drug offenses. “I thought his ideas were refreshing.”

Dorothy Hukill extends legislative absence as she fights cancer

State Sen. Dorothy Hukill will be absent from the upcoming committee week as she continues her battle against cervical cancer, a Senate spokeswoman said Thursday.

“We expect her to return within a few weeks,” Katie Betta told FloridaPolitics.com. “Until then, she will remain engaged in the legislative process by working remotely as she continues her treatment and recovery.”

The Port Orange Republican disclosed her condition last November in a letter to Senate President Joe Negron.

“I am fortunate that it (is) in the early stages and my medical team advises that my prognosis for full recovery is good,” wrote Hukill, the chamber’s Education Committee chair and vice chair of its Regulated Industries panel.

Hukill, an attorney, was first elected to the Senate in 2012 after having served in the House.

Another lawmaker, state Rep. Dan Raulerson, had been away from the Capitol recently as he was dealing with back issues, leading to speculation he was stepping down from office.

Untrue, the Plant City Republican said in December: “It’s third grade playground stuff, and you can quote me on that.” Raulerson couldn’t be immediately reached by phone Thursday.

Fla. court says Uber drivers are independent contractors, not employees

A Florida appellate court has ruled that a former Uber driver isn’t entitled to unemployment benefits because he was an independent contractor, not an employee.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami ruled Wednesday for the Department of Economic Opportunity, the state’s jobs agency, against Darrin E. McGillis.

The ruling is another win for the San Francisco-based ridebooking service, which is fighting a multi-state legal battle not to be considered an employer so it doesn’t have to pay certain benefits under state labor laws.

McGillis filed for unemployment after Uber “revoked his access” to its app because of “alleged violations of Uber’s user privacy policy.”

The court’s opinion noted that Uber “does not provide benefits such as medical insurance, vacation pay, or retirement pay.”

It sends all drivers an Internal Revenue Service form known as a “1099,” “used to report payments to independent contractors.”

“Drivers exercise a level of free agency and control over their work different from that of the traditional … employer-employee relationship,” said the opinion by Judges Barbara Lagoa, Vance E. Salter and Thomas Logue.

“… Drivers are permitted to work at their own discretion, and Uber provides no direct supervision,” it says. “Further, Uber does not prohibit drivers from working for its direct competitors.

“… Uber drivers like McGillis decide whether, when, where, with whom, and how to provide rides using Uber’s computer programs,” the opinion adds. “This level of free agency is incompatible with the control to which a traditional employee is subject.”

Uber last year settled lawsuits for millions of dollars in California and Massachusetts that allowed it to keep classifying drivers as contractors.

As CEO Travis Kalanick blogged last April, the company hadn’t “always done a good job working with drivers.”

“For example, we don’t have a policy explaining when and how we bar drivers from using the app, or a process to appeal these decisions,” he wrote.

“At our size that’s not good enough. It’s time to change,” he added, saying Uber would “publish a driver deactivation policy for the first time.”

More recently, the company tweeted that Kalanick would authorize Uber to “compensate drivers impacted by (President Donald Trump’s travel) ban pro bono for next 3 months.”

Lobbying firms misreported income, ethics panel finds

Three Florida lobbying concerns are being reported to Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet for incorrectly tallying their income, the Florida Commission on Ethics said Wednesday.

In at least two of the cases, however, the errors were basic accounting mistakes. Lobbyists’ compensation is subject to random audits, some of which are reviewed by the commission.

In a press release, the commission said it found probable cause to believe Dean Mead, a law firm with a lobbying practice, “inaccurately reported compensation received from a principal for the first quarter of 2014.”

The firm also “inaccurately reported compensation received from two principals in the third quarter of 2014.” Probable cause means it is more likely than not that a violation has occurred but is usually not a definitive finding.

Firm shareholder Pete Dunbar in the Tallahassee office said the mistakes were “bookkeeping errors” that were “quickly corrected” before his firm’s audit was finalized. Dunbar’s long government service includes being former Gov. Bob Martinez’s general counsel and legislative affairs director, as well as serving as a member and chair of the ethics commission.

It also found probable cause that Buigas & Associates “overstated compensation received in the second quarter of 2014, as well as the third quarter of 2014.” A message seeking comment was left on an office voicemail.

And the commission found probable cause that D. Darling Consultants “overstated compensation received from a principal for the first period of 2014, and failed to report compensation received from a principal for the fourth period of 2014.”

Firm principal Doug Darling, a “sole shingle” lobbyist, represents only two clients: Accenture and Grant Thorton, both consulting companies. He said he uses the “cash accounting” method, used by most small businesses, instead of the “accrual” method.

“The cash method accounts for revenue only when the money is received,” Investopedia explains. “On the other hand, the accrual method accounts for revenue when it is earned.”

Darling also said the commission’s press release is in error, explaining that the reporting periods in question are fourth period of 2013 and first period of 2014.

Under state law, “probable cause findings … of this nature are forwarded to the Governor and Cabinet,” the commission’s release says, referring to Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam

“The firms have 14 days to submit a written request for hearing to the Governor and Cabinet.” it says. “However, the Governor and Cabinet may, on (their) own motion, require a public hearing and may conduct such further investigation as deemed necessary.”

Adam Putnam agrees: Business experience essential for governor’s job

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam agrees with Gov. Rick Scott that Florida’s next governor should have “business experience.”

“I think someone having business experience that they bring to public life is very helpful,” said Putnam, who spoke to reporters after a speech at Tuesday’s Associated Press annual Legislative Session planning session at the Capitol.

In a recent interview, Scott – who is term limited in 2018 – said the next governor needs to have experience in the business world.

Some took that as a slight to Putnam, long rumored to be eyeing a run for governor in 2018.

The 42-year-old Republican was first elected state agriculture commissioner in 2010 after serving 10 years in Congress. The Putnam family owns Putnam Groves in Bartow.

“As a guy who is part of a small business, I get it,” he said. “You have a better feel for what regulations mean, what the paperwork translates to, and things that often sound like a good idea in Tallahassee, by the time they get to Main Street businesses, they’re a hot mess. It’s helpful to know what it means to create jobs in this state.”

Putnam’s political committee, Florida Grown, has raised funds at an impressive clip, logging nearly $6.8 million in contributions since March 2015, state records show.

This January, it collected $392,500, including a $250,000 contribution from Florida Power & Light, according to its website. It now has cash on hand of almost $4.5 million.

Though Putnam Tuesday continued to decline comment on his future political plans, the latter part of his remarks at the AP event veered into ‘stump speech’ territory, mentioning how the state needs to bolster workforce development, education and rural economic development.

Above being a retirement destination, Florida “needs to be the kind of place that attracts people four decades sooner,” he said, “so that they raise their families here, and they start their businesses here and grow those businesses here, because that’s a very different emotional investment for the long-term good of Florida.”

That sounds strikingly familiar to remarks he made at his political committee’s “Friends of Florida Agriculture Barbecue” in April at Peace River Valley Ranch in Zolfo Springs.

“I want Florida to be the place where people come as a young person, graduate from our universities, raise their families here — start, build and grow their businesses here, so that they are passionately, emotionally invested in the long-term good of Florida, where Florida’s going, how Florida got to be what it is, and what makes Florida special,” Putnam said at that event.

Supreme Court: Attorneys can collect fees for claim bill work

The Legislature can’t limit the amount of attorney fees to be paid out of money it OKs for a claim bill, a narrowly divided Florida Supreme Court decided.

The 4-3 opinion was one of nine in an unusual out-of-calendar release from the court this Tuesday. The Supreme Court normally releases opinions 11 a.m. on Thursdays.

Senior Justice James E.C. Perry and Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy A. Quince were in the majority. Justices Charles Canady, Ricky Polston and Chief Justice Jorge Labarga dissented.

Perry’s “senior” status after his December retirement was considered improper by conservative critics of the court. Perry was replaced last month by former state appellate Judge C. Alan Lawson, a conservative.

The Florida House of Representatives was even prepared to legally challenge Perry’s continued work on the court until he finally withdrew into full retirement this week.

In the claim bill opinion, the majority sided with the Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley law firm, which represented Aaron Edwards, a brain-damaged man who received a $15 million claim bill from the Legislature.

Edwards was born brain-damaged in 1997 because of medical malpractice at Lee Memorial Health System, according to briefs in the case.

Florida law limits local governments and other public bodies to paying no more than $200,000 per person in damages. To get more, lawmakers must pass a claim bill, also known as a relief act, for extra money.

The “contingency fee contract” between the firm and Edwards’ mother called for attorney fees of 25 percent.

The 2012 claim bill, however, says the “total amount paid for attorney’s fees, lobbying fees, costs, and other similar expenses relating to the claim may not exceed $100,000.”

The majority said lawmakers may approve or deny a claim bill but they can’t “impair an pre-existing contract” between an attorney and a client.

On the other hand, Polston noted in dissent that the firm’s fee agreement said, in part, that “Federal and Florida Law may limit the amount of attorney fees charged by [Searcy Denney], and in that event, I understand that the fees owed to [Searcy Denney] shall be the amount provided by law.”

“Because the fee agreement explicitly anticipates and agrees to an award of fees as limited by Florida law and in the amount provided by law, there is no impairment of contract,” Polston said.

Christian D. Searcy, the firm’s president, told the court during oral argument in June he took the case because no other firm wanted it and he believed Edwards needed to be compensated.

In emotional remarks to the court, he called the fee cap a “confiscatory limitation,” adding that “no seriously injured child will ever be able to get an attorney … or anybody with a serious claim.”

Searcy was not immediately available at his office Tuesday.

 

Richard Corcoran: ‘No incentives’ in House budget

Saying he believes in compromise but not in “compromising your principles,” House Speaker Richard Corcoran Tuesday said again there would be “no (economic) incentives” in his chamber’s proposed 2017-18 state budget.

Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, spoke at the annual Associated Press Legislative Session planning session at the Capitol, then took questions from reporters afterward.

Corcoran hasn’t backed down from his stance that incentives, favored by Gov. Rick Scott, are little more than “corporate welfare” that he won’t allow in the state’s yearly blueprint for spending.

He added there is “no chance” VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s public-private tourism organization, will be funded at previous levels. It got $76 million for the current budget year, and is asking for the same amount for 2017-18.

The speaker also opined on an array of other issues Tuesday:

— President Donald Trump’s administration: “If you would have told me two years ago that these are Donald Trump’s appointments, his first swath of executive orders … I could not be more pleased. His selections have been terrific. I think they’re true conservatives … And my hunch is, I’m going to be ecstatic with his first Supreme Court nominee. I would give him an A-plus.”

— Medical cannabis regulations: “The people have spoken, we will honor their will and we’re going to do it in a manner that protects the state of Florida.”

— Press-driven narratives: “There are always ‘collision courses’ between the two chambers in the Legislature and the Governor … In 71 days, we have written the most transformative, aggressive rules in the history of 50 states and 200-plus years. That was Republicans and Democrats coming together.

“…Every year, you ask, ‘how are you guys going to get it done this session?’ ‘Does it zero?’ ‘What about the governor and the Senate?’ Did it all work out? I’ve told you a thousand times, there is good compromise and bad compromise. I’m all for good compromise. I despise bad compromise.”

— Keeping his job as an attorney at a law firm that lobbies the Legislature: “There’s nothing wrong with my job at Broad & Cassel. I thought (Senate President) Joe (Negron) did a great job of addressing his issue that he had. [Negron resigned from his law firm this week.] There is no bill that I have filed that gives a specific appropriation to a client.”

Former ABA head warns of possible danger to judiciary from constitutional panel

The upcoming Constitution Revision Commission will likely take on the state’s judicial branch, and “the focus will not be on strengthening it,” the former president of the American Bar Association said Tuesday.

Rather, retired Florida lawyer Martha Barnett, who was a Holland & Knight senior partner, said she expects an effort to “restrict, narrow and weaken the judicial branch.”

“And if that happens, it is to the peril of the life and liberty of the people of this state,” she said during a panel discussion at The Associated Press’ annual Legislative Session planning meeting.

Barnett was a member of the 1997-1998 Constitution Revision Commission, appointed by Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles.

Florida is unique among states in that its constitution allows for a panel to meet every 20 years, “examine the constitution, hold public hearings and … file its proposal, if any, of a revision of this constitution or any part of it.”

The next commission is expected to be formed in the days before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session on March 7. As governor, Rick Scott will choose 15 of the 37 commissioners, and he also selects its chairperson.

The heads of the two legislative chambers get nine picks each, and the Republican-controlled House has been particularly irritated by the courts over the last few years, especially when they overturn favored policy initiatives. 

Most recently, the House was getting ready to challenge Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga’s decision to let Justice James E.C. Perry keep working on pending cases even after his Dec. 30 retirement. Labarga just ended Perry’s “senior” status, however, mooting the issue.

Hopefully, Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran won’t use his picks to just place loyalists on the panel, said Sandy D’Alemberte, a Florida legal legend who was president of Florida State University and chaired the 1977-78 commission.

That will be like “issuing a death warrant to the commission process,” D’Alemberte said. “It’s not going to succeed.”

Carol Weissert, director of the LeRoy Collins Institute, a nonpartisan policy think tank at FSU, explained that each commission sets its own rules, including a schedule of public hearings around the state.

Any changes the commission proposes would be in the form of constitutional amendments, which would have to be approved by 60 percent of voters on a statewide ballot.

Barnett ended on a positive note, noting that once people are on the commission, they don’t serve at the pleasure of the official who picked them.

“You are an independent voice … because of that, most rise to the occasion,” she said.

Dana Young files fantasy sports bill

State Sen. Dana Young on Monday filed her own version of a bill that would legalize and regulate fantasy sports play.

The Tampa Republican’s “Fantasy Contest Amusement Act” (SB 592) declares such games to “involve the skill of contest participants and do not constitute gambling, gaming, or games of chance.”

And it would prohibit the playing of fantasy sports on any “live pari-mutuel event” that could include dog and horse racing or on any amateur sports, such as college athletics.

“Today, more than 3 million Floridians participate in fantasy sports,” Young said in an email. “This bill ensures the games they love will continue to be legal in the State of Florida, while adding several consumer protection measures.

“The relevant laws on the books were written a long, long time ago in a different era, and they need to be updated to reflect current technology and to ensure that our friends and neighbors who enjoy fantasy sports can do so without any legal ambiguity.”

Young’s bill also comes after the filing of the Senate’s omnibus gambling overhaul for 2017 that already includes a provision to legalize and regulate fantasy sports through an “Office of Amusements.”

That legislation (SB 8), carried by state Sen. Bill Galvano, was cleared unanimously last week by its first review panel, the Regulated Industries committee.

But signs of future trouble in the House began when Speaker Richard Corcoran derided the 112-page measure. It would expand lottery ticket sales at gas pumps, authorize more slot machines, and approve the long-delayed gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

“I’ve seen the bill, and look, it’s not where we’re at,” Corcoran said last week. “(I)t has to be a contraction (of gambling).”

A similar fantasy sports bill (HB 149) has already been filed in the House by state Rep. Jason Brodeur, a Sanford Republican.

It would exempt “fantasy contests” from regulation by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR), which oversees gambling in the state.

Young’s bill, like Galvano’s, creates a separate “Office of Amusements” within DBPR. It requires an “initial license application fee (of) $500,000, and (an) annual license renewal fee (of) $100,000” and makes applicants submit fingerprints for vetting.

The bill requires fantasy sports operators to “yerify that contest participants are 18 years of age or older,” submit to independent audits and maintain records of daily operations for at least three years.

Still no word on makeup of constitution revision panel

With about a week before the start of the 30-day period in which it’s supposed to have its first meeting, the membership of the state’s Constitution Revision Commission is still unknown.

Representatives for Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran Monday said they still have not officially closed their application periods.

“The President is currently accepting applications,” said Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta, who provided the latest list of 81 names already in.

Because of continued interest, Corcoran also is still taking applications, spokesman Fred Piccolo said, after initially extending his deadline to last Friday.

Each man, however, only has nine picks allotted under the state constitution, which allows for a panel to “examine the constitution, hold public hearings and … file its proposal, if any, of a revision of this constitution or any part of it.”

But the first meeting of the commission, mandated to form every 20 years, must occur within the 30 days prior to the first day of the 2017 Legislative Session. It kicks off March 7.

As governor, Rick Scott will choose 15 of the 37 commissioners, and he also selects its chairperson.

The Governor’s Office has posted its applicants online, a who’s who of current and former lawmakers, prominent attorneys, former state officials and others.

“The application is still open,” spokeswoman Taryn Fenske said. “Members can be appointed any time within 30 days of session convening.”

Republican Pam Bondi is automatically a member as Attorney General, and Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga gets three picks. Court spokesman Craig Waters Monday had no news on Labarga’s picks.

The commission has met twice before, in 1977-78 and 1997-98, but this will be the first to be selected by a majority of Republicans, virtually ensuring it will propose more conservative changes to the state’s governing document than previous panels.

Any changes the commission proposes would be in the form of constitutional amendments, which would have to be approved by 60 percent of voters on a statewide ballot.

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