Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 5 of 182

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.

‘Wicked hatred’: Jewish lawmakers condemn Richard Spencer

The Florida Legislative Jewish Caucus on Thursday called white nationalist Richard Spencer, set to speak at the University of Florida later today, a “a vile, racist, carnival barker.”

Spencer’s “traveling circus of ignorance-fueled hatred is inhabited by insecure clowns unable to come to terms with a changing world,” according to a statement. “His ideology is that of a cowardly, small man, based on discredited nonsense and abject fear of those different from himself.”

It added: “Nothing less than total condemnation of this bigotry will do, as the perils of fascism are well documented in our history. For that reason, it is incumbent upon those in a position of leadership to denounce all forms of white nationalism and any belief systems that rely upon racial or ethnic superiority as their basis for existence.

The statement was signed by Rep. Richard Stark, the caucus chair, and by Rep. Lori Berman, a Lantana Democrat; Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat; Rep. Ben Diamond, a St. Petersburg Democrat; Rep. Katie Edwards, a Plantation Democrat; Rep. Joseph Geller, an Aventura Democrat; Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat; Sen. Kevin Rader, a Delray Beach Democrat; Rep. Emily Slosberg, a Boca Raton Democrat; and Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Miami-Dade Democrat.

“While respect for our Constitution should always be of paramount concern, we do commend Gov. (Rick) Scott for his commitment to ensuring the safety of all those in Gainesville tonight,” the statement said.

“Those who seek to counter this wicked hatred deserve to know they will be free to express their views peacefully without fear of suffering violence at the hands of white supremacists like those who were attacked in Charlottesville.

“As Elie Weisel said, ‘The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.’ So let no one among us be indifferent.”

Tampa Bay Times seeks court order for DCF investigations

The company that publishes the Tampa Bay Times is asking a Tallahassee court to order the release of records on “abuse, neglect or exploitation of vulnerable adults by providers of home health care services” from the state’s Department of Children and Families (DCF).

The petition, agreed to by the department, was filed this week by Times Publishing Co. and Times investigative reporter Kathleen McGrory in Leon County Circuit Civil court.

The newspaper aims to publish a “data-driven … examination of Florida’s methods of investigating and preventing maltreatment of the Florida families who rely on in-home health care providers.”

“Such an examination furthers the Legislature’s express intent ‘to encourage the constructive involvement of families in the care and protection of vulnerable adults,’ ” including senior citizens and the disabled, the Times’ filing says.

In May, McGrory filed a public records request with the department for “records of any DCF investigations involving home health agencies or providers” by county, the suit says. It says DCF has conducted more than 2,000 investigations of home health agencies since 2010, raising concerns of “unqualified personnel and other failures to provide proper care.”

The department responded with a spreadsheet listing cases and findings; McGrory then asked for “the underlying reports for each of the verified cases.”

State law “generally makes (those records) confidential and unavailable to the public,” but allows for a petition for a court order to release such documents if “good cause exists,” the filing explains.

The Times said it’s not asking for names of those who report abuse or victims or wrongdoers from the department, but will seek those identities through already-public court records.

In an agreed-upon process, McGrory will review “investigative summaries” in which DCF verified abuse, neglect or exploitation, then ask for corresponding reports as needed, the petition says. The department will take out any “personal identifying information.”

Veteran media attorney Alison Steele of St. Petersburg is representing the Times and McGrory. Steele has long represented the newspaper, as well as the Miami Herald, the New York Times, the First Amendment Foundation, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Karen Gievers. Steele requested an “accelerated hearing date;” an initial hearing has not yet been scheduled, according to court dockets accessed late Wednesday.

• Updated 10:30 a.m. — DCF spokesman David Frady issued the following statement Thursday morning:

“While all records related to adult protective services investigations are confidential per state law, the department has no objection to the Times’ request to waive confidentiality as long as a court determines releasing the information is in the best interest of the public. Furthermore, the department assisted the Tampa Bay Times in crafting the petition and has made it clear that we do not oppose the request.”

Darryl Rouson files constitutional amendment extending lobbying ban

State Sen. and Constitution Revision Commissioner Darryl Rouson has filed a proposed constitutional amendment extending the state’s lobbying ban on former lawmakers and other elected officials from two to six years.

The amendment language was posted late Wednesday on the commission’s website.

The extended ban, however, would apply only “to those individuals who were members of the legislature or who were statewide elected officers at any time after November 6, 2018.”

If added to the state constitution, a 6-year lobbying ban would be the longest in the nation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But it previously has raised constitutional concerns over free speech and restraint of trade among critics.

Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat, is one of GOP House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s nine appointees to the commission, which convenes every 20 years to review and suggest changes to Florida’s governing document.

Rouson was elected to the Senate last year after serving in the House of Representatives from 2008-16.

Extending the lobbying ban has been a priority of Corcoran’s since his September 2015 designation speech.

That was when Corcoran, whose brother Michael is a prominent lobbyist, first called for a constitutional amendment banning “any state elected official from lobbying the legislative or executive branch for a period of six years.”

“We must close the revolving door between the Legislature and the lobby corps,” Corcoran said. “We need to restore the distance between those who seek to influence the laws and those of us who make the laws.”

Corcoran had once singled out healthcare lobbyists in Tallahassee during closing remarks on the budget, calling them “Gucci-loafing, shoe-wearing special interest powers.”

He later rewrote the House Rules to say that a “lobbyist who was a member of the Legislature at any time after November 8, 2016, may not lobby the House for a period of 6 years following vacation of office as a member of the Legislature.”

This past Legislative Session, the House passed an lobbying-ban extension bill (HB 7003) by a 110-3 vote. It too would have applied “only to those individuals who were members of the Legislature after November 8, 2016, or who were statewide elected officers after November 8, 2016.”

The measure later died in the Senate.

Larry Metz, the Yalaha Republican who chairs the House’s Public Integrity and Ethics Committee, has said he thought a longer ban would withstand legal attack because it addresses only paid lobbying.

The commission can place amendments directly on the 2018 statewide ballot, but they still must be OK’d by 60 percent of voters to be added to Florida’s constitution.

Tobacco bond cap repeal teed up again in Legislature

Tobacco companies are hoping next year’s try at a bond cap repeal doesn’t go up in smoke.

Legislation that would do away with the limit on the amount of money tobacco companies have to put up as appellate bonds has again been filed, this time for the 2018 Legislative Session. 

The one-line bill (SB 124) simply repeals the section of state law requiring the bonds.

But once more, the measure sets up another potential Session ‘food fight’ between tobacco companies, who have opposed a repeal, and the state’s trial lawyers, who back it. An attempt last year died during the committee weeks leading up to the 2017 Legislative Session.

Here’s how it works: Tobacco companies are required to put up bonds before they appeal unfavorable damages awarded to former smokers, but the state places limits on how much those bonds are.

The tobacco companies have said a repeal would be unfair because, in part, bonds would fall under the “150 percent of judgment” rule without a cap. And with some verdicts in the billions of dollars, bonds could be unreasonably large under that standard, they say.

The state’s trial lawyers, however, have supported a bond cap repeal. They say it will force settlements and end decades-long litigation over plaintiffs’ claims of irreversible illness or early death from smoking.

“Florida law gives the cigarette manufacturers a special deal that other businesses don’t get,” said Paul Jess, executive director of the Florida Justice Association, the state’s trial lawyers organization.

“This bill would repeal that special deal which allows cigarette manufacturers to post a lower appeal bond than other businesses,” he added. “This sweet deal allows the cigarette manufacturers who have lost in court to delay paying victims of their negligence.

“Often these victims and their families die before they can receive justice,” Jess said. “This legislation will end cigarette manufacturer’s legal gamesmanship to delay justice. It will restore equity with how other businesses are treated and promote efficiency in our judicial system by bringing these cases to closure more quickly.”

The tipping point for 2017 seemed to be comments from a CSX Transportation spokesman who told a Senate panel that a repeal of the tobacco companies’ bond cap would be an “erosion of reasonable tort reform” taken by the state in recent years.

Bob O’Malley further warned of a slippery slope, saying a bond cap repeal could lead to “repeal of the general bond cap, (which) would be a disaster for businesses.”

Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, again is sponsoring the bill, as he did last Session. It’s been referred to the Regulated Industries, Judiciary, and Rules committees.

An identical House companion was filed by Rep. Cord Byrd, a Neptune Beach Republican. His bill has been referred to that chamber’s Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee, Appropriations Committee, and Judiciary Committee.

Tom Lee may file constitutional amendment to ban dog racing

State Sen. Tom Lee, who also sits on the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), has been gauging support for a constitutional amendment to end greyhound racing, sources told Florida Politics on Tuesday.

Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican running for state chief financial officer in 2018, has called some of the state’s dog track owners to “take their temperature,” said one industry lobbyist, who asked not to be named.

“There’s not many people that know about that,” Lee confirmed after a CRC meeting Tuesday. “It’s something that has been on my mind … There’s no question I’m considering it.”

The details still haven’t been sussed out, he added, including whether to make it immediate or phase it in over time. He’s also still weighing what effect it will have on jobs. Commissioners face an Oct. 31 filing deadline.

“It wouldn’t be optional; this isn’t decoupling,” Lee, a former Senate president, said of his proposal. “This would be a mandatory ban for dog racing in Florida, to just prohibit it.”

“Decoupling” is the term for removing provisions in state law requiring dog and horse tracks to run live races if they wish to offer other gambling, such as cardrooms. Under decoupling, tracks could still choose to run dogs.

Lee also said his amendment wouldn’t affect any other gambling now permitted at tracks.

Efforts to remove the live racing requirement have failed in the Legislature in recent years, including this past session, as lawmakers continually fail to pass comprehensive gambling legislation.

Yet another lobbyist said the Lee amendment “is not an (pari-mutuel) industry thing … We didn’t bring this to him.”

That person added, “My guess? It’s a feel-good animal rights issue that probably polls well.”

Some pari-mutuels want decoupling because the audience for dog and horse races – and thus the money bet on them – continues to decline every year. Horse and dog interests say ending live racing will kill their business, many of whom have bred dogs for generations.

But track ownership’s reaction to his proposal has been a “mixed bag,” said another racing industry consultant. “Despite what they tell you, some tracks still make quite a bit of money” from dog racing, the consultant said.

Flagler Dog Track, for instance, reported nearly $4 million in revenue from greyhound races for 2015-16, according to state records. And Palm Beach Kennel Club reported close to $9.3 million in revenue from the “handle,” the total amount wagered at a track in a racing season.

Jack Cory, the lobbyist who represents the Florida Greyhound Association and National Greyhound Association in Florida, said “let it roll” when told of the proposal.

“That would be fine,” Cory said. “That is the only proper way to eliminate live pari-mutuels in this state, and that is what we would be talking about. Of course, that would also create mini-casinos throughout Florida.

“… But again, if (the commission) wants to run that amendment, hey, lock and load,” he added.

The Constitution Revision Commission is formed every 20 years to review and suggest changes to the state’s governing document. Any amendments it places directly on the 2018 statewide ballot must be OK’d by 60 percent of voters to be added to the constitution.

The panel is required to wrap up its work by May 10, 2018. 

Pam Bondi: ‘I don’t know’ if we even need a ‘drug czar’

Attorney General Pam Bondi on Tuesday said she was unsure whether the country needs a ‘drug czar.’

“I don’t know,” she told reporters after a Florida Cabinet meeting. “I’m in D.C. a lot. I can tell you the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) is doing great, all the executive offices are doing great ….

“Everybody works well together,” she added. “Whether that exact position is needed? I don’t know.”

Bondi’s name has for months been in and out of play to head the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, established in 1988 and colloquially known as the drug czar. Its “principal purpose is to establish policies, priorities, and objectives for the Nation’s drug control program,” its website says.

U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, President Donald Trump‘s drug czar nominee, withdrew from consideration this week following reports that he played a key role in weakening the federal government’s authority to stop companies from distributing opioids.

The move came one day after the president raised the possibility of nixing the nomination following reports by The Washington Post and CBS News. The reports detailed the Pennsylvania lawmaker’s involvement in crafting a 2016 law, signed by President Barack Obama, that weakened the Drug Enforcement Administration’s authority to curb opioid distribution.

Bondi, however, has forged a drug-warrior reputation, especially with her battle to shut down the state’s pill mills, pain management clinics where drug users easily scored painkillers such as oxycodone.

Trump put her on his new President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. She’ll be back in Washington for a commission meeting this Friday, she said.

“I’ll sure I’ll be talking about on Friday. I’m sure it’ll be a major topic of discussion,” she said.

“This fentanyl and heroin crisis is more than you can even comprehend now,” Bondi said. “We’ve got to help our addicts, but on the same hand, we’re not doing them a service if we’re not locking up the dealers. They’re murderers, in my opinion.”

She also said she and a bipartisan “working group” of other state attorneys general are considering a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers.

“We’re all over it,” the attorney general said. “We’re gathering documents and we’re doing it the right way. We’re just didn’t run out and hire (law) firms. We’re looking at it, multi-state, with the federal authorities. This is a crisis and I’m sick of it.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report, republished with permission. 

Richard Corcoran says ‘enough is enough’ in new video

Call it the House of Representatives’ Greatest Hits – so far.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran took to YouTube Monday to highlight his chamber’s work in last week’s first legislative committee week.

An enthusiastic Corcoran, sporting a blue blazer-no tie look, sat in front of a bookcase stuffed with Florida Statute books, a miniature Liberty Bell, and an “It CAN Be Done” sign.

“We hit the ground running,” he said, jabbing his finger in the air. He’s also considering a 2018 run for governor, to be decided after the Legislative Session that runs Jan. 8-March 9. Corcoran is term-limited in the House next year.

The Land O’Lakes Republican’s highlights, mostly populist favorites, included:

— The Public Integrity and Ethics Committee‘s approving subpoenas to Tallahassee-based MAT Media and its owner, Pat RobertsVISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing agency, signed a contract with the company to produce a fishing show and a cooking show with celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.

“We had a contractor who took $14 million of taxpayer money and he refuses to let us know what he did with it,” Corcoran said. “If he misspent one single penny … we’re going to hold him to account.”

— The Government Accountability Committee‘s clearing of a bill to shut down any possibility of public money for privately-owned stadiums.

That’s “corporate welfare, so the billionaire owners can have you pay for their stadiums,” Corcoran said. “We’ll have that bill ready for the floor in January.”

— The Commerce Committee‘s approval of a occupational deregulation bill so “everybody can get their qualifications, pay minimal fees, and get out there in the workforce … We say, ‘enough is enough.’ ”

Other bills he mentioned include killing red-light cameras “just so some people can make money,” and his priority ‘Hope Scholarships’ measure.

“Principled conservatives … talk less, and we get more done,” he added.


House panel OKs subpoenas for Emeril Lagasse show

The House’s ethics panel Thursday voted to subpoena a television production firm for details on exactly how it spent millions of taxpayer dollars on a fishing show and a cooking show with celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse

The Public Integrity and Ethics Committee unanimously approved the move to compel information from Tallahassee-based MAT Media and its owner, Pat Roberts.

VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing agency, signed a contract with the company to produce the shows, which cost between $10 million and $18 million for five seasons or programming, House general counsel Adam Tanenbaum told the committee.

But the agency doesn’t have the detailed spending information the House seeks, and after informal and formal requests from the House, Roberts “has chosen not to take advantage of those opportunities,” Tanenbaum said. “… There was pretty much silence.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, has been withering in his criticism of the agency and of Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development organization, calling them dispensers of “corporate welfare.”

Democratic ranking member David Richardson, a retired forensic auditor from Miami Beach, raised a concern that the information sought might be confidential under the contract. But Tanenbaum said the House has “a role and a right” to seek records on how tax dollars are spent.

Committee chair Larry Metz, a Yalaha Republican, declined media requests for copies of draft subpoenas, saying they weren’t final documents subject to disclosure as public records.

Metz, an attorney, also asked Tanenbaum who owned the copyright for the shows. “That’s unclear at this point,” Tanenbaum said.

House ethics panel sets trial in Daisy Baez residency case

The House’s ethics panel on Thursday set a Dec. 4 hearing on a charge that Democratic Miami-Dade Rep. Daisy Baez doesn’t live in the district she was elected to represent.

The Public Integrity and Ethics Committee will conduct an evidentiary hearing “somewhat like a court trial,” said chair Larry Metz, a Yalaha Republican. “You’re trying to find what the facts are and make a conclusion.”

The hearing will be the first time in modern memory that the House tried a member on a conduct violation related to residency. A scheduling order for the proceeding was released by the House later Thursday.

The committee’s verdict will then go to the full House of Representatives, two-thirds of which would have to vote to expel her.

The Select Subcommittee on Member Conduct already found “probable cause,” meaning more likely than not that a constitutional or legal offense occurred.

Mark Herron, Baez’s Tallahassee-based attorney, said despite recent precedent for such a proceeding, his client is “getting a heck of due process. But again, we’ll really know when I need to seek a subpoena” on her behalf, and it’s granted or denied.

The committee on Thursday authorized their own subpoenas for information on where Baez gets her personal U.S. mail, her business and banking records, telephone and electric service, and even one for the “Greater Miami Animal Hospital.”

Metz will serve as presiding officer, with Herron representing Baez at the trial, and vice chair Tom Leek, an Ormond Beach Republican, acting as a prosecutor.

Baez was elected last year to represent South Florida’s House District 114, but questions soon arose whether she really lived in the neighboring District 112, represented by Democrat Nicholas Duran. 

The state constitution says “(e)ach legislator shall be … an elector and resident of the district from which elected.” The constitution also reserves to each legislative chamber the right to be the “sole judge” of its members’ qualifications.

The investigating subcommittee heard mixed evidence that she actually lives in the district she represents, including that Baez had a homestead exemption on a house and a driver’s license address outside the district, but was registered to vote within it.

Baez appeared to have had three “residences”: A Biltmore Way apartment and an Anderson Road condo, both inside the district, and a Malaga Avenue house in Coral Gables she bought in 2010, which is outside.

Leek said he also plans to subpoena neighbors and property managers at those addresses.

Baez told reporters earlier this week, “I believe I am a resident and I have evidence to support that … We want to move on with the business of working for the people of Florida.”

Regulators shoot down medical marijuana payment proposal

State regulators have rejected a California bank’s proposal to operate in Florida as a financial middleman for medical marijuana-related transactions.

The Office of Financial Regulation turned down a request from PayQwick for a declaratory statement so it could operate here.

Christian Bax, director of the Department of Health’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use, gave a presentation Wednesday to the House Health Quality Subcommittee on the state’s regulation of medicinal cannabis.

Though he did not mention the PayQwick case, decided in late August, Bax did say there has been “reticence” on the part of the banking industry to get involved with marijuana sales.

Florida has more or less legalized medical marijuana, through statute and constitutional amendment, but selling marijuana still is a federal crime. And banking, by its nature as “interstate commerce,” falls under federal law.

Under President Barack Obama, however, federal prosecutors did not criminally pursue those, such as “the seriously ill and their caregivers,” who distribute and use the drug “in compliance with an existing state law.”

Still, “life would be a lot easier for us and for patients if there were online payments,” Bax told the panel.

PayQwick’s “description of its contemplated business model is expansive,” OFR’s order says.

“For example, (it) describes its (potential) clients as not only registered medical marijuana patients, but also members of the public purchasing marijuana from a licensed retailer/dispensary.”

Florida’s current system is “vertically-integrated,” meaning businesses grow, process and sell their own marijuana, with each licensed as a medical marijuana treatment center, or MMTC.

But PayQwick based its request “on the erroneous assumption that the … distribution of marijuana is legal,” the order says. Because of that, “a declaratory statement is not available.”

PayQwick’s system, an “electronic payment hub,” was also aimed at making it easier for “ancillary” concerns, such as security alarm companies, to do “legal business” with the MMTCs.

Users would download an app to transfer money from a “settlement account” to a “sub-account,” then to a “bank or credit union.”

PayQwick would have made money “by charging a percentage-based service fee for each re-allocation of funds from one client to another,” the OFR order says.

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